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After the Preamble, the PCA Report on Human Sexuality makes 12 summary statements. Before I address the actual statements, I’d like to say that the order of the Report is a bit frustrating to me at times. The Report makes these summary statements before it spends any time defining and explaining terms used in the summary statements. At times I’m not sure they define the terms sufficiently, or at least in terms to the tensions in my mind. But in the Twelve Statements there are times I ask myself “what do they mean by that, in which sense?”.

As I noted from the Preamble, each of these Statements address each of the two fears: compromise & cruelty. They defend the Biblical doctrine first, and then address the pastoral nuances necessary so we aren’t correct but cruel. We don’t want to break bruised reeds or snuff out smoldering wicks. We want to be clear about sin (a want of conformity unto or transgression of the Law of God) and compassionate to justified believers struggling with same sex attraction.

Marriage

We affirm that marriage is to be between one man and one woman (Gen. 2:18-25; Matt. 19:4-6; WCF24.1). Sexual intimacy is a gift from God to be cherished and is reserved for the marriage relationship between one man and one woman (Prov. 5:18-19). Marriage was instituted by God for the mutual help and blessing of husband and wife, for procreation and the raising together of godly children, and to prevent sexual immorality (Gen. 1:28; 2:18; Mal. 2:14-15; 1 Cor. 7:2, 9; WCF24.2). Marriage is also a God-ordained picture of the differentiated relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19:6-10). All other forms of sexual intimacy, including all forms of lust and same-sex sexual activity of any kind, are sinful (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10; Jude 7; WLC139).

Marriage is heterosexual and monogamous. This is obviously counter-cultural today, but it was generally understood until just over a decade ago. We are not compromising on this issue. While our culture practices same-sex marriage we don’t recognize or bless it. The statement also affirms that sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage, and only limited to those two people. Polygamy and polyamory are necessarily excluded. It also affirms marriage as an analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Church, a differentiated rather than inter-changeable relationship.

There is a helpful footnote on the two terms used in 1 Cor. 6. These terms reflect Leviticus 18 and 20, pointing, in part, to the active and passive roles. In Roman culture, it was okay to take the male role, seen as dominating another as a “good Roman”. Those who took the female role were seen as weak, inferior. Paul does not agree with this distinction but finds both roles in same-sex activity to be contrary to the law of God.

Nevertheless, we do not believe that sexual intimacy in marriage automatically eliminates unwanted sexual desires, nor that all sex within marriage is sinless (WCF6.5). We all stand in need of God’s grace for sexual sin and temptation, whether married or not. Moreover, sexual immorality is not an unpardonable sin. There is no sin so small it does not deserve damnation, and no sin so big it cannot be forgiven (WCF15.4). There is hope and forgiveness for all who repent of their sin and put their trust in Christ (Matt. 11:28-30; John 6:35, 37; Acts 2:37-38; 16:30-31).

We also need to recognize that marriage doesn’t fix people, as far too many people discovered. They still experience unwanted sexual desire, heterosexual and homosexual. Sex is also not sinless because one is married to the partner. Some sexual activity is sinful in marriage, and some attitudes in marital sex are sinful. For instance, your sexual intimacy should not degrade your partner. A marriage license doesn’t make sinful activity righteous.

This means, as they note, that all of us are sexual sinners of some sort in need of God’s grace. All sexual sins deserve condemnation, not just same-sex activity, incest, bestiality and adultery. On the other hand, none of these sexual sins is beyond God’s mercy and grace. The gospel is for all manner of sexual sinners. There are no unpardonable sexual sins. No sinner, including homosexuals, need fear they are beyond grace if desired.

Image of God

We affirm that God created human beings in his image as male and female (Gen. 1:26-27). Likewise, we recognize the goodness of the human body (Gen. 1:31; John 1:14) and the call to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:12-20). As a God of order and design, God opposes the confusion of man as woman and woman as man (1 Cor. 11:14-15). While situations involving such confusion can be heartbreaking and complex, men and women should be helped to live in accordance with their biological sex.

God’s design in creation was two genders: male and female. They also affirm the goodness of the human body. This is a rejection of Gnosticism. If affirms that men should live as men, and women as women. They are stressing the normative in this affirmation. They are also affirming that all those who struggle with same sex desire and gender dysphoria do so as people made in the image of God. They have dignity. But the Report also recognizes that gender confusion is both heartbreaking and complex. The goal should not be to help them live out of accordance with their biological sex (transvestism, transgenderism, and gender reassignment). Thankfully it doesn’t stop there.

Nevertheless, we ought to minister compassionately to those who are sincerely confused and disturbed by their internal sense of gender identity (Gal. 3:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26). We recognize that the effects of the Fall extend to the corruption of our whole nature (WSC18), which may include how we think of our own gender and sexuality. Moreover, some persons, in rare instances, may possess an objective medical condition in which their anatomical development may be ambiguous or does not match their genetic chromosomal sex. Such persons are also made in the image of God and should live out their biological sex, insofar as it can be known.

Here they add a key element that was missing from the Nashville Statement as far as I was concerned. We need to offer compassion to those “who  are sincerely confused and disturbed” by gender dysphoria and who suffer from objective medical conditions. They affirm the reality of the Fall’s effect on our bodies, including sexual development and genetics. Such people are also made in the image of God. There is a recognition that doctors don’t always have the answers regarding what biological sex such a person may be. But we should help them live faithful Christian lives in light of their medical conditions.

Original Sin

We affirm that from the sin of our first parents we have received an inherited guilt and an inherited depravity (Rom. 5:12-19; Eph. 2:1-3). From this original corruption—which is itself sinful and for which we are culpable—proceed all actual transgressions. All the outworkings of our corrupted nature (a corruption which remains, in part, even after regeneration) are truly and properly called sin (WCF6.1-5). Every sin, original and actual, deserves death and renders us liable to the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23; James 2:10; WCF6.6). We must repent of our sin in general and our particular sins, particularly (WCF15.5). That is, we ought to grieve for our sin, hate our sin, turn from our sin unto God, and endeavor to walk with God in obedience to his commandments (WCF15.2).

The intention of this statement is to affirm the effects of the fall on the whole person which includes inherited guilt and depravity. The original corruption is sinful. From the context I’d say “a want of conformity to the law of God” rather than transgression. From this corruption our “actual transgressions” proceed. This will be examined more thoroughly in other sections. However, I wish they were more clear regarding which part(s) of the definition of sin they were referring to at a given point. Their distinction is “original and actual”, or corruption and transgression. I’ve generally processed this in light of the WSC instead. So, they are affirming that we are to repent from our corruption, not just our transgressions.

Nevertheless, God does not wish for believers to live in perpetual misery for their sins, each of which are pardoned and mortified in Christ (WCF6.5). By the Spirit of Christ, we are able to make spiritual progress and to do good works, not perfectly, but truly (WCF16.3). Even our imperfect works are made acceptable through Christ, and God is pleased to accept and reward them as pleasing in his sight (WCF16.6).

This addresses one objection I had in earlier discussions over this controversy. We are to rejoice in our salvation, not wallow in our sin thru self-flagellation. We remain corrupt, and therefore sinful. This is not true only for those with SSA, but every Christian. Our on-going sinfulness is discouraging in itself. We need to affirm the balancing truth of justification: all our sins (corruption and actual) have been pardoned. They have been crucified with Christ as well (Gal. 5). All believers, whether they experience SSA or not, need to live in light of this. They are also to remember that we are able to make spiritual progress. This is balance: real hope, realistic expectations. There is progress, not perfection. We and our works are acceptable due to Christ’s work for us. God rejoices in the progress we make, however slight. He is pleased when we resist temptation- sexual or otherwise.

Desire

We affirm not only that our inclination toward sin is a result of the Fall, but that our fallen desires are in themselves sinful (Rom 6:11-12; 1 Peter 1:14; 2:11). The desire for an illicit end—whether in sexual desire for a person of the same sex or in sexual desire disconnected from the context of Biblical marriage—is itself an illicit desire. Therefore, the experience of same-sex attraction is not morally neutral; the attraction is an expression of original or indwelling sin that must be repented of and put to death (Rom. 8:13).

We affirm that due to the Fall we are inclined toward sin. It recognizes that our fallen desires are sinful, and we are back to the lack of distinction that drives me a bit crazy. In counseling I want to be able to say enough but not too much. It is inaccurate and defeating to claim that unbidden desires are transgressions. Those desires flow from our corruption, and if entertained become transgressions in thought and possibly in act. The unbidden desires lack conformity to the law of God, and are sin in that respect.

Illicit desires are just that, illicit. They don’t limit that to SSA but all sexual desires “disconnected from the context of Biblical marriage”. Such desires aren’t neutral precisely because they flow from our inherited corruption. In some discussions along these lines, I’ve interpreted/misinterpreted sin in this context as transgression/actual. In some discussions, others appeared to deny the sinfulness of our illicit heterosexual desires. This statement affirms they are, in fact, illicit.

Nevertheless, we must celebrate that, despite the continuing presence of sinful desires (and even, at times, egregious sinful behavior), repentant, justified, and adopted believers are free from condemnation through the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21) and are able to please God by walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-6).

This balancing statement is in line with the WCF when speaking about sanctification and assurance of salvation. Real Christians experience real temptation, and commit real sins. Real Christians can experience SSA, and at times may not only transgress by lust but also by sexual activity. We are free from condemnation, but not temptation and transgression. Praise God for the active obedience of Christ imputed to us by faith.

Concupiscence

We affirm that impure thoughts and desires arising in us prior to and apart from a conscious act of the will are still sin. We reject the Roman Catholic understanding of concupiscence whereby disordered desires that afflict us due to the Fall do not become sin without a consenting act of the will. These desires within us are not mere weaknesses or inclinations to sin but are themselves idolatrous and sinful.

Since this is a summary statement, they don’t really define the Roman Catholic view of concupiscence. That comes later. They do offer a brief explanation whereby our disordered desires aren’t sinful unless we also consent to them with our will. Later they will note that in Catholic theology our corruption is removed by baptism. Baptized people are “innocent”.

We reject that notion known as baptismal regeneration. We affirm the fact that those desires are corrupt, not mere weakness.

Nevertheless, we recognize that many persons who experience same-sex attraction describe their desires as arising in them unbidden and unwanted. We also recognize that the presence of same-sex attraction is often owing to many factors, which always include our own sin nature and may include being sinned against in the past. As with any sinful pattern or propensity—which may include disordered desires, extramarital lust, pornographic addictions, and all abusive sexual behavior—the actions of others, though never finally determinative, can be significant and influential. This should move us to compassion and understanding. Moreover, it is true for all of us that sin can be both unchosen bondage and idolatrous rebellion at the same time. We all experience sin, at times, as a kind of voluntary servitude (Rom. 7:13-20).

The balancing statement is that we recognize that particular desires are not chosen, though they are corrupt. We affirm the complexity of causality for SSA. One of those causes is our sinful nature, but can also include being sinned against. This is true for many other sinful desires like lust, pornography and more. The actions of others, and our experiences, interact with the ever-present corrupt nature. We should not only be clear about sin, but also express compassion and understanding, particularly when there has been abuse and trauma.

Temptation

We affirm that Scripture speaks of temptation in different ways. There are some temptations God gives us in the form of morally neutral trials, and other temptations God never gives us because they arise from within as morally illicit desires (James 1:2, 13-14). When temptations come from without, the temptation itself is not sin, unless we enter into the temptation. But when the temptation arises from within, it is our own act and is rightly called sin.

This affirms that there is temptation from inside and outside. The first arises from our inner corruption, and the other from trials or situations or persons. For example, my lustful temptation can arise from my sinful nature. This is in itself “sin” in terms of corruption and possibly transgression as well. Temptation can arise as a person offers me drugs or sex. I’m not guilty for that temptation unless it hooks me. These are important distinctions to make.

Nevertheless, there is an important degree of moral difference between temptation to sin and giving in to sin, even when the temptation is itself an expressing of indwelling sin. While our goal is the weakening and lessening of internal temptations to sin, Christians should feel their greatest responsibility not for the fact that such temptations occur but for thoroughly and immediately fleeing and resisting the temptations when they arise. We can avoid “entering into”temptation by refusing to internally ponder and entertain the proposal and desire to actual sin. Without some distinction between (1) the illicit temptations that arise in us due to original sin and (2) the willful giving over to actual sin, Christians will be too discouraged to “make every effort”at growth in godliness and will feel like failures in their necessary efforts to be holy as God is holy (2 Peter 1:5-7; 1 Peter 1:14-16). God is pleased with our sincere obedience, even though it may be accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections (WCF16.6).

While temptation from within is corrupt (sin in that regard) we don’t want to think, well I might as well transgress. To transgress is morally different than to be tempted. While both fall into the category of sin, they are not morally equal. We shouldn’t be surprised when we experience temptation. Our goal is to weaken our temptations, to mortify them. We are to flee from them when possible. They build on Owen’s “entering into temptation” which happens when we entertain the temptation, moving along the short road to transgression. The experience of temptation should rightly drive us to grow in godliness. It should not drive us to despair, unless we have an unrealistic expectation of perfection in this life.

When I’ve talked to people who’ve left the Church to follow their same sex desires one thing that has popped up is that the temptation never went away. Often they didn’t seek help from others as well, but they had an unrealistic expectation that temptation would disappear. Especially if they got married. Some people experience a freedom from such temptations, but most have persistent temptations for years. We need to keep how we speak in mind lest we create unrealistic expectations.

I’ll save the rest for part two since this is a good stopping point for today.

 

 

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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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I’ve been studying the subjects of introverts and evangelism. How introverts evangelize to be precise. I want to help the introverts in our congregation to bear witness. This quest led me to Evangelism for the Rest of Us: Sharing Christ withing Your Personality Style by Mike Bechtle. So, if you are tired of reading about introversion, read no more. But I invite you anyway so perhaps you’ll recognize their faithfulness that went unnoticed by you before.

Bechtle begins with his own relationship with the Great Commission. Some of the stories are funny (I’d probably enjoy having lunch with him). Like many of us, he went to evangelism training seminars, had to do evangelism at Bible College, participated in campaigns to evangelize etc. It all didn’t “feel right” or seemed so very unproductive. He experienced increasing dissonance.

“But something didn’t make sense. I knew God wanted me to witness- but I always dreaded it. I knew God was supposed to give us power and boldness if we asked for it, but it never seemed to help.”

So, much of his evangelism was motivated by guilt. Been there? Most of us have.

He didn’t “relish the idea of an impending conversation with complete strangers.” Some people feel that way. Some people love those conversations. If we think THAT is evangelism, well ….

He also thought about those moments when Christians came to share their faith with him. He wondered if non-Christians felt that way when we shared our faith with them (some do, some don’t). He didn’t want others to feel the way he felt (a thought that often comes to me as an application of the Golden Rule). Maybe we should evangelize in the way we’d want to be evangelized (which doesn’t include anger-filled debates for most of us). But I get ahead of myself, and Bechtle.

“I wondered how many other people put up thicker emotional walls against Christians because of the evangelism encounters they’d endured.”

So he wondered. For himself, and for many other people.

“The seed was a simple thought: What if the problem isn’t obedience? What if the things I’ve always been taught about evangelism aren’t the full picture? What if there’s more to it than I’ve been told? What if God has a variety of ways we can share our faith- ways that are different from the traditional methods we’ve been taught?

His goal isn’t to dismiss the methods he’d been taught. His goal is to say there are other effective means too. That effectiveness is rooted in being appropriate for each of us based on who we are as the evangelist. Faithful effectiveness will look differently since each of us is different. There is no one-size-fits-all method of evangelism. He wants each of us to discover ways in which we can engage in evangelism in a way that honors who we are and the people we evangelize so we do see people coming to Christ.

His second chapter focuses on how function follows form. We are not talking about inventing something to fulfill a function. We want to be faithful in light of who God made us (and His work of sanctification in renewing us in His image- Belchte overlooked that part). Life goes better when all works as it should. When we use the right tools to do what they were designed to do. God makes us like snowflakes. Not to melt under heat, but uniquely.

There are moral absolutes. And there are differing methods to fulfill many commands. We are to sing in worship. We can sing in many styles, keys, notes etc. We can sing accompanied by a variety of instruments, or not. How your church worships is not how every faithful church worships. How you evangelize is not how every faithful Christian has to evangelize.

“We’ll find our greatest fulfillment and joy in doing the things God designed us to do and the greatest frustration when we work outside our unique, God-given design.”

Part of our creation is being introverts and extroverts. These parts of who we are affect how we evangelize. This book explores that. This chapter notes common themes he encountered as he talked with Christians.

  1. I really want to evangelize.” The problem is that method they learned, or what they think it means to evangelize is intimidating or poorly suited for who they are.
  2. It would be easier if I were more outgoing.” Like Adam McHugh, he notes that western civilization seems to be structured around extroversion. When it comes to evangelism, many introverts feel like square pegs being forced into a round hold.
  3. I’ve tried, but I don’t see any results.” While he doesn’t include God’s providence, there is that factor. But it can also be that we are using a method that is not the best method for us.
  4. I don’t know how to lead someone to Christ.” Some people have never experienced training. They don’t know how.
  5. There has to be a better way.” This is what drives the book, finding better ways for each of us to bear witness to Christ, His sufferings and subsequent glories.

Let us consider ways to share our faith that may feel more “natural” to us, and be more effective.

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The next subject McHugh covers in Introverts in the Church is that of community and relationships. He notes that this is the chapter he didn’t want to write. Contrary to some people’s opinions, introverts have relationships. They participate in community. They often feel the burdens of community, pressure to engage early and often.

“I cannot escape the fact that growth inevitably involves the messiness of genuine human contact and the struggles of intimacy.”

The goal is love because God is love. The commandments hang on the frame of love: love to God and love to one another. Love requires relationships. Many of the fruit of the Spirit require relationships because they are aspects of love. For humans like us, this means relational struggles so we can learn how to forgive, be patient, long-suffering, perseverance etc.

Different cultures have different understandings of the individual and the community. In modern western culture we focus on the individual: self-identity, self-actualization, self-fulfillment. In Ancient Near East cultures, the community took precedence. The individual didn’t cease to exist, but understood himself within the context of community and the roles & responsibilities they had as a result. We misunderstand the Bible if we try to interpret it from our American individualistic point of view. Why? We misunderstand the author’s intention and original meaning since they weren’t writing to “me” so much as “us” (contemporary English obscures this by not differentiating between the 2nd person singular & plural).

This means that much of Evangelical Theology and practice has been shaped by individualism. We neglect the communal emphasis of the Bible. This is one of the presuppositions that drives many people’s understanding of baptism. The New Covenant didn’t do away with “you and your children” (see Acts 2 for instance) or a focus on the people of God. We see it with Good Shepherd having a flock, the church as the Body of Christ, and a living temple. The Bible isn’t just about you & Jesus but about you, Jesus and everyone else united to Jesus (commonly called the communion of saints in older creeds and confessions).

This means there will necessarily be a culture clash between western society and the church (if we are faithful to Scripture). We will be counter-culture to modernist individualism and post-modern communalism. We see unity and diversity in the Body of Christ!

In terms of introverts, they often belong to churches that view belonging in external ways: attendance at corporate  worship, small group etc. Those can be manifestations of belonging and maturity. But they aren’t absolute manifestations. You can attend lots of things but really not belong or really not be mature. Your reason for attending can be erroneous- social or business- rather than an expression of your union with Christ.

The converse can be true too. You can belong and/or be mature in Christ even if you aren’t there every time the doors are open. As a pastor, I confess I want measurable things to know if I’m doing my job. It can be difficult to trust God is at work in ways you cannot see.

“Too often churches ask introverts to change, rather than stretching their own understandings of participation.”

Another way churches can measure belonging is “vulnerability”. Usually that is in a particular setting, like small group. In an earlier post I noted that for introverts there is a smaller circle of people with whom they are vulnerable. We can’t expect people (introvert or extrovert) to be vulnerable in the settings we want them to be vulnerable.

I think I’m pretty vulnerable. A friend calls me “King of the Over-share” and teases me that I wear this moniker with pride. But there are things about me I don’t share with just anyone. It’s my story to tell, and I don’t tell many people. Need to know basis stuff. I should get all this. But sometimes I struggle with the vulnerability or lack thereof in our small group. I need to remind myself they won’t share their secret sins unless this group is their closest group of friends. You can’t demand it. But some churches essentially do.

Introverts share like I get into a swimming pool. One step at a time, slowly. I don’t like cold water. Introverts often gauge how you handle information to see if you are safe. If you are, they will trust you with a little more. Little by little they reveal themselves to you. If they sense danger, they will pull back.

McHugh notes the “introvert spiral”. I’ve seen this in some people, but certainly not all introverts. They spiral in and out of the community depending on whether or not they are overloaded. This dynamic is about trust and their personal limits. They move in and pull back, rather than slowly moving in. To others it may look like they are double-minded.

“Sometimes introverts need to step outside of a community for a period of time, even after years of faithful participation.”

This can also be described as a rhythm in which they engage and then retreat. Like a dance. For the more pronounced introverts “too much time in social interaction, no matter how satisfying, is disruptive and disorienting”. They need to get some space to “rediscover a sense of identity.” Every relationship includes togetherness and apartness. Each person has a different blend that works. Introverts need more apartness. Sometimes they can lose their sense of self in community and need time to regain it so they can reengage.

Like extroverts, introverts have gifts to offer. God has gifted them. How they utilize or offer those gifts will look different. They are likely to be used behind the scenes, and they won’t necessarily tell others when making small talk. Ironically, some of those gifts are born out of their self-awareness: compassion and insight, for instance. Instead of acting, they may be observing and have a better idea of what is going on.

Introverts, who like space, are more likely to give space to others. This shows up in conflict, where they don’t press in hard but give others room to think (whether they want it or not, or know how to use it). I wonder if this fits in with my distaste for micromanagement as both employee and supervisor. If I need direction I’ll ask, and expect employees to do the same. I want space to work, and give space to others to work.

Space is also given to people to talk. Since they take time to formulate thoughts, they don’t fill every opening because the other person may be formulating a thought. This means that an introvert among extroverts can feel left out since they may not leave room for him/her to think and speak.

He offers a few ways in which introverts can find their way into community easier. I’ve discovered some of them on my own. But one is to identify the influential people. This is not to gain influence for yourself, but this person will connect you to others. They network for you. It is also helpful to identify a role you can play. You have a sense of responsibility within the community which also enable interaction with others.

“While some introverts are attracted to smaller communities, others are drawn to the resources and anonymity of larger churches.”

In those larger communities, it is helpful to join a group. This regular interaction with a smaller pool of people helps build relationships. This can be a SS class, small group, ministry team etc. When working with others, talk through your process and not just your conclusions. This may feel pointless or boring (and at times it may be) but it helps others see how you arrived there and may increase buy in.

He then notes some relational challenges. Introverts are prone toward enmeshment- when your identity gets intertwined with another person. We can become overly dependent on them, or surrender our interests to theirs. Introverts can also fall prey, so to speak, to relational parasites who take and don’t give. All of the relational energy flows in one direction. Many introverts struggle to think on their feet (not so good in interviews!) which makes conflict difficult when it involves quick-thinking extroverts. Introverts are better at replaying the conflict and realizing what they should have done than actually doing it.

Most introverts need to remember that extroverts prone to speak first and think later. They regret more of what they say (introverts regret more of what they failed to say). Give them room to back up, and forgiveness when they realize what they said was hurtful.

Introverts were made for community. This is because they are made in the image of God too. How they experience and engage in community will be different. This provides challenges for both introverts and extroverts. Love doesn’t avoid these challenges but presses on despite them. Both introverts and extroverts needs to flex. It is not just one or the other. Whenever we think only one side must flex, conflict will destroy both parties.

 

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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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Rejoicing in Christ (entitled Life in Christ in the UK) is the follow-up to Michael Reeves’ excellent Delighting in the Trinity. The titles indicate that Reeves takes the answer to WSC #1 seriously. These books are not meant to simply satisfy your intellectual curiosity but inflame your religious affections.

“Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.” Robert Murray M’Cheyne

This book is very much like its predecessor. It is brief (just over 100 pages), it has brief sections within chapters that focus on an historical figure or idea, and it has some artwork. This last one may prove a problem to some. Some of this classic artwork includes what many would consider a 2nd commandment violation. I see these as instructional, not doxological, thought the point of book is to feed doxology. It is a tough line that perhaps requires more consideration.

Reeves has chapters focused on Christ’s pre-incarnate work, the Incarnation, the death & resurrection, our union with Christ and the return of Christ. This is done with succinct historical reviews, quotes from theologians of days gone by representing the eastern and western churches, pre- and post-reformational. His work is not caught in a moment of historical theology. He also has a Keller-esque way with words as he unfolds contrasts revealing the sweetness and excellency of Christ to help us rejoice in Jesus.

The OT, according to Jesus, teaches us about Christ and His sufferings. Reeves draws on people like Charnock and Calvin to remind us that we only know God as we know Christ. Even in the beginning we see the Word, God speaking as He works. This Word, John tells us is Christ, a God who reveals Himself through His works. The eternal Word indicates to us a God who communicates, who wants to be known, can be known. He also does some apologetics with regard to myths and stories similar to those we find in Scripture. Often they are used to undermine the uniqueness and authority of Scripture, as though it copies them. He relies on C.S. Lewis to flip this; these myths are corrupted reflections of the true Story, they are derivative. This is similar to Currid’s argument in Against the Gods.

The Father is fully delighted in His Son, and for Reeves this transforms our understanding of the gospel. The Father shares His treasured Son with us.

“If the Father can be infinitely and eternally satisfied in him, then he must be overwhelmingly all-sufficient for us.”

Christ, the One through whom the Father created, is also the One through whom the Father redeems or saves. Reeves spends time examining Original Sin and applies the concept of firstfruits to the subject and that of redemption. Adam was the firstfruit of sin & death. Jesus is the firstfruit of resurrection & righteousness & life. Here was find one of those historical reviews on Irenaeus who saw Jesus as undoing all that Adam had done, restoring creation and humanity from the ravages of sin.

“In a garden, Adam fell down into death; in a garden tomb, Christ rose up from it.”

As Incarnate, Jesus becomes the perfect Man for us. He becomes the perfect image of God to give this status to us. We are called sons of God, whether male or female, because Jesus shares His Sonship with us. Jesus was conceived by the Spirit and fulfilled His ministry in dependence on the Spirit gives us the Spirit so we can walk as He did in newness of life.

“Christ shows what it is to be a human, fully alive in the Spirit. And he is the head of a new, Spirit-filled humanity; all in him share in this anointing of his.”

Christ is our only hope for salvation. His righteousness for us. His death for us. His resurrection for us. We face an Accuser who wants us to look to our unrighteousness, our condemnation etc. True assurance of salvation is found in Christ in whom we believe, not in ourselves. He explores this in terms of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness as Adam & Eve were clothed in the first sacrificial animal, as Jacob received the blessing clothed in Esau’s clothes, etc. He also moves into the Christ entering the true sanctuary for our salvation as foreshadowed in the High Priest entering the earthly copy.

Our salvation and reception of spiritual blessings is “in Christ”, a result of our union with Christ. Reeves doesn’t focus on the union itself so much as the benefits we receive in the union and its focus on Christ. Salvation is a participation in the life of Christ through our union with Him (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20 for instance). Because of His life we bear fruit. Our identity is derived from Him, not one we gain for ourselves. We may suffer spiritual amnesia, forgetting our identity in Christ, but God never forgets our identity in Christ.

“Where self-dependent efforts at self-improvement must leave us self-obsessed and therefore fundamentally unloving, the kindness of God in Christ attracts our hearts away from ourselves to him. Only the love of Christ has the power to uncoil a human heart.”

In addressing Christ’s return Reeves contrasts Jesus with the Dragon and the beasts in Revelation. He helps us to focus on the return of Christ, not all the other stuff people focus on in eschatology seminars. Christ’s return completes the restoration of creation. It will be new and improved. Our future includes a physical and earthly existence. Gnostic views of creation are to be rejected.

“Where the Lamb has suffered death for others, the dragon only seeks to inflict death on others. The one gives out life; the other sucks in life. … where the Lamb speaks for God, the beasts speak against God; where the Lamb rises from the dead to give life to others, the beast rises from its mortal wound only to take life. Where the Lamb goes out to conquer evil, the beast goes out to conquer the saints. Here are two utterly opposed approaches to power and judgment.”

With some books you can be glad you are done. Reeves once again leaves me wanting more. I look forward to reading more from Michael Reeves in the future.

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While I was in a Presbytery meeting our denomination “dropped” the study report on Women Serving in the Ministry of the Church that is going to be presented at General Assembly this June. I’ve seen some very critical statements about this report. I wonder if we are reading the same report. I am not done reading it, but so far I’ve found it to be edifying. In light of that, let’s look at the first chapter which serves as an introduction.

The report begins by laying out their commitments and affirmations that form the presuppositions of our denomination and this study report.  This includes:

  • Confessional commitment to the complementarity of men and women.
  • The full dignity of men AND women as created in God’s image.
  • The Scriptures teach that eldership is comprised of qualified men (they embrace this “humbly and happily”).
  • Marriage should display mutually-edifying complementarity.
  • Male headship is to be expressed in sacrificial love to his wife.
  • It is expressed when a wife “welcomes her husband’s headship with respect”.

This means they are laying out the boundaries, biblical and confessional, that exist for our denomination and this study. The purpose is not to examine things outside of the boundary markers, or to change the boundary markers. The purpose is to examine questions that lie within these boundaries. Within these boundaries there are some differences of opinions. Another way of saying this (as I’ve said before) is that complementarianism is not a monolithic movement. There are a continuum of views that exist within the bounds of biblical and confessional complementarianism. These are the differences in view. The goal was not to ordain women elders as some have asserted (and have intentionally or unintentionally stirred up fear).

At least half of the adult membership of the church are women. How they can serve, and how we can empower them, are important questions to ask if we actually want to see them serve God to the fullest as God permits.

They note that in BCO 9-7, both men and women may be appointed by the Session to assist the diaconate in their work. There are elders in the PCA who think that the PCA should permit women to be deacons. Some others favor an office of deaconness which supports the diaconate particularly in its ministry to women. Some see this as a position, not a church office. Others have an unordained diaconate so women may be deacons. So, recognizing these big differences in opinion we ought to consider the question more carefully.

“The committee is not recommending any Book of Church Order changes.” page 2, line 44

Historically they note that the PCA was formed during a time in which the women’s rights movement was popular, and many denominations, including the PC (US), were beginning to ordain women to the office of elder (including teaching elders). The PCA affirmed complementarianism then and still does now. However, “members and ministers are asking how to equip, encourage, and utilize women in the church’s ministry in ways that are consistent with our confessional and theological commitments to complementarianism.” This, I think, is a worthwhile project.

I recently saw some of the Overtures that have been made to the upcoming General Assembly. One is Overture 3 from Westminster Presbytery which calls for the dismissal of the study committee. The report responds to this overture recommending that GA answer it in the negative. It deals point by point with the objections (except that it has reported disturbed the peace in Westminster Presbytery which was vague- are they fighting among themselves or just in existential agony because we’re considering how women may serve within the boundaries of our biblical and confessional commitments?).

One idea put forth by the Overture is that it is improper for women to serve on voting committees since this might involve “having authority over men.” I’m confused. Don’t women vote in congregational meetings? While we don’t recognize it as a court, congregational meetings function like a court and decisions are made by vote, like whether or not to call a particular man as teaching elder. Additionally, as the Study Report notes, committees made recommendations that must be voted on by the Assembly. It has no authority, the authority lies with the Assembly to approve or deny the report  and its recommendations.

To summarize: this report is addressing questions within our denominational boundaries, and not trying to make us PC(USA)-lite. This study committee was properly called, and women may serve on such a committee.

May God use this process to further the purity, peace and prosperity of the Church (and churches) through this process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The subtitle to Bavinck on the Christian Life is Following Jesus in Faithful Service. In part 1 John Bolt laid the foundations of creation, law and union with Christ. In part 2 he framed it with imitation of Christ and worldview. In the third and final section of this book, The Practice of Christian Discipleship, Bolt gets to the areas where we follow Jesus in light of a Christian worldview.

For lack of a better term, I’ll use spheres. They could be called vocations, the places were are called. As Christians Bavinck stresses that our faith is not simply lived out in prayer closets and on Sunday mornings. We are to follow Jesus in our marriage, family, work, culture, education and civil service (politics).

In the historical context, Bavinck was often dealing with “the revolution.” It was a time of incredible instability in Europe. The impact of Rousseau and Marx were shaking the foundations of Europe. There were challenges and changes looming  in nearly every arena, sphere or vocation. As a result he was not writing in an Edenic setting or ivory tower. He was not only a theologian and churchman, but also a statesman. In many ways it is a situation that reflects our contemporary situation. Faith does not retreat from cultural challenges, but seeks to imitate Jesus by serving in the midst of such changes. But it always seeks to follow Jesus, not simply embracing change or preserving human tradition. For instance, women’s suffrage was a good thing, a good change reflecting their equal status as made in God’s image in civil society.

As Bavinck wrestled with these changes he doesn’t simply analyze the proposed solution, he brings them back to the real problem. For instance, “inequality” was looked at as the great cultural sin (sounds familiar, right?). He brings us to God’s providence to recognize that inequality is not intrinsically wrong. For instance, God has not distributed resources equally. Some geographic locations are rich in natural resources, and others lack. God has placed each of us in a particular place, to a particular family (with its own resources, or lack thereof).

But this is not the only, final word on inequality. We have to see it in light of the creation mandate as well. We are not to sit fatalistically with our lot in life. If we believe we are called to “subdue and rule” we will seek to maximize the resources and opportunities that do exist. (Either Bavinck or Bolt does not spell this out as clearly as I would have liked.)

Bavinck also brings inequality to sin. Some are motivated by self-love rather than love for God and neighbor. Therefore they oppress, exploit and steal. Some are lazy and refuse to maximize anything at their disposal but live for the present, not the future. There is no eschatalogical pull for them, no deferred gratification for something far greater.

Therefore, the pull toward socialism or the massive re-distribution of wealth doesn’t fix the problem. It fails to address sin (note the gross inequalities in every Communist country we’ve seen). Rather, ways must be found to eliminate oppression, exploitation, theft, laziness and entitlement not “inequality”. Inequality isn’t the problem.

Bolt applies Bavinck’s creational norm to the question of sexuality as well. Marriage is meant to be a reflection of the trinity- unity in diversity. One of the creational realities that must remain in marriage is procreation, unless providentially hindered. In other words, many of our supreme court justices, as well as citizens, don’t really understand the meaning of marriage. The gospel “restores” nature rather than overthrowing nature. It is sin which seeks to corrupt, destroy and overthrow nature.

Because our fundamental problem is sin, Bavinck focused not on social solutions to our problems, but brought us back to the gospel first (not only). People need to be restored to fellowship with God before they can see the real problems in society and apply God’s law to create an increasingly just society (as defined by God’s law which reflects His character). As a result, we must humbly accept the fact that there will be no perfectly just society until the return of Jesus because sin remains. Again, this does not mean fatalism but realistic expectations. It does mean we seek to address the real issues, not just the symptoms.

Bolt ends the book with Bavinck’s only printed sermon “The World Conquering Power of Faith”. This sermon ties a number of these things together. We cannot fix the world with the world’s means precisely because they are part of the world which is in rebellion against God. By faith we are able to “conquer” the world, but only because our faith is in the One who has overcome the world and is currently at work to make His enemies His footstool.

As a result, the Christian life of following Jesus in faithful service often looks foolish to the world. It often feels foolish. It seems so powerless, and the needs presented by the world seem so great: oppression, slavery (sexual & economic), mental illness, terrorism and violence, government corruption, sexual abuse, domestic violence …

People must be united to Christ by faith, seeking to walk in light of the law (justice) and the creation mandate (subdue & rule). This is how Bavinck views the Christian life.

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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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This year General Assembly was in Chattanooga, TN. This presented some unique opportunities for the PCA. Chattanooga is where New City Fellowship is, one of the far too few churches that is multi-ethnic. It is also the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL (if you haven’t, WATCH the movie!).

All Presbyterian denominations have struggled with issues of race, particularly southern ones. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Notable Southern Presbyterian theologians tried to justify race-based slavery that was the result of man-stealing (a death sentence sin in the OT and condemned in the NT as well).
  • The Southern Presbyterian church supported the Confederacy in the War Between the States. The Confederacy defended state’s rights, but one of those rights was to own slaves.
  • The Presbyterian Church refused to stand against the Jim Crow laws, and stand with their brothers and sisters of color for their basic human rights.
  • The Presbyterian Church did not protect the lives of defenseless and innocent African-Americans from racists individuals and organizations like the KKK.
  • At least one of our “founding fathers” has taught (at least) proto-kinism which is a false doctrine that rejects the reality of the dividing wall of hostility being torn down in Christ so that the vision of Revelation 4-5 is not just eschatalogically true but intended to be ecclesiastically true today.
  • Many of our churches have tolerated kinism.
  • Many of our churches and private schools were founded to avoid the move toward integration in some churches and in public school districts.

A little over a decade ago, the PCA admitted the sins of our fathers with regard to slavery. But there are other issues that keep African-Americans, who remember the history better than we white people do, out of our churches. It is time for us to address these additional issues.

There were many things I found encouraging about General Assembly. For instance, the 3 worship services were all very different. Prior to Bryan Chapell’s excellent sermon from Psalm 32, the music was very traditional including a choir, organ/piano and strings. The second service was led by the worship team of New City including James Ward and some incredible singers, both black and white, in what was a very different vibe for GA. Then their pastor Kevin Smith delivered a powerful sermon on the 6th commandment tying it in to Southern Presbyterians failure to protect the defenseless and innocent in those dark days we want to forget about. It is only my fourth PCA General Assembly but Kevin is the only African-
American I’ve seen preach so far. (During my years in the ARP I don’t remember any African-Americans preaching to the synod.) In the final worship service, I think the worship team from Lookout Mountain lead us in a southern folk style that was quite interesting. The sermon by Rankin Wilbourne on Union with Christ was very good as well. Unfortunately, during the liturgy there was a line that created some offense by thanking God for the particular founding father who paved the way for kinism.

Bryan Chapell led an assembly-wide panel discussion entitled How to Advance Ethnic Outreach and Ministry in the PCA. We heard from 4 brothers: 1 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American and 1 Caucasian who works among the generational poor. It was a much too short conversation though a good one.

During the seminar times, there were opportunities for us to learn more about this subject. Lance Lewis lead one called Moving Forward: Actively Engaging Issues of Race/Ethnicity from a Biblical Point of View which argued for a proper ecclesiology that expressed the multi-ethnic character of the church. I also sat in on Duke Kwon’s Building a Racially Inclusive Church which was excellent as well. Unfortunately I missed Jemar Tisby’s seminar The Image of God and the Minority Experience. I bought the CD and plan to listen to it soon.

People could avoid these opportunities if they wanted to. But they could not avoid the personal resolution that was put forward by Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas with regard to our sins against our African-American brothers and sisters during the civil rights era.

Initial reports were that the Overtures Commission was quite divided on this issue. Before it returned to the floor they had met with some key members of the African-American Presbyterian Fellowship. The unanimous recommendation was to prepare a much improved version which would also include specific suggestions as to the fruit of repentance. This would allow time for those unaware of the history to learn, particularly from Lucas’ upcoming history of the PCA. There was also a desire for overtures to come thru the lower courts. In many ways they encouraged a year of reflection and repentance by our Sessions and Presbyteries leading up to next year’s GA in Mobile.

On the floor, things got … interesting. Some saw the need to do something NOW. I agreed with that sentiment. We do need a perfected statement with the kind of fruit we are looking to see. But we needed to start now. This discussion was long and heated. Parliamentary procedure once again made like more confusing and frustrating. If you go down the wrong path you can’t go back. There is no room for “repentance” with parliamentary procedure. One of the remaining founders of the PCA stood to speak. While he disavowed racism as a motive for founding the PCA, he confessed sins of omission during the years of the civil rights movement. This was very important.

What did happen after the vote was positive. First, the moderator opened the mics for a season of prayer, focusing on repentance. There were many men on their knees, literally, praying for mercy and for God to work in our midst to bring repentance and fruit in keeping with it. He initially said about 5-6 guys would pray at the mics. I lost track of how many men were able to pray at the mics. Someone (wink, wink) noted that we offended our brothers in our worship that very evening because we don’t listen to them and learn from them.

Then there was a protest of the decision which allowed those who wanted to do something now to register their names up front. There was a very long line of men wanting to register their protest. God is at work to deal with these issues. Hopefully within a generation we will be an integrated denomination filled with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in the pews and positions of power and responsibility.

I asked a friend about the ARP. I am delighted to say that they also have begun a similar process. The Theological and Social Concerns Committee has been tasked with this matter. There was no apparent opposition to this. May the Father heal these denominations for His glory.

Here is the text of the resolution:

Whereas, last year and this year mark significant anniversaries in the Civil Rights movement: 2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Selma-to-Montgomery March; and

Whereas, many of our conservative Presbyterian churches at the time not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement, but actively worked against racial reconciliation in both church and society; and

Whereas, the 30th General Assembly adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that confessed its covenantal, generational, heinous sins connected with unbiblical forms of servitude, but failed to deal with the covenantal, generational, heinous sins committed during the much more recent Civil Rights era (cf. Daniel 9:4-11); and

Whereas, the 32nd General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on “the Gospel and Race” that was produced under the oversight of our Mission to North America committee, but that also failed to acknowledge the lack of solidarity with African Americans which many of our churches displayed during the Civil Rights era; and

Whereas, our denomination’s continued unwillingness to speak truthfully about our failure to seek justice and to love mercy during the Civil Rights era significantly hinders present-day efforts for reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters; and

Whereas, God has once more given our denomination a gracious providential opportunity to show the beauty, grace and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ by showing Christ-like love and compassion towards the greater African American community;

Be it therefore resolved, that the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period; and

Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly recommit ourselves to the task of truth and reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and

Be it finally resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek to further truth and reconciliation for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.

TE Sean M. Lucas

TE J. Ligon Duncan III

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In the first chapter of The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman looked at the forces in society that are making it more difficult for Christians to use creeds and confessions to summarize and make their faith known. In his second chapter Trueman goes on the offensive and builds the case for creedalism and confessionalism.

He does not refute all the challenges in this chapter. He more clearly and expansively builds the case for the assumptions that he made to begin the book. These assumptions provide the foundation for seeing creeds and confessions as helpful and authoritative summaries of the faith for communities of faith.

He begins with the adequacy of words. Seems strange to have to do this since we read all the time: blogs, books, recipes, novels, school books etc. Words, oddly enough, reflect back to a biblical understanding of God’s nature: He is the God who speaks. We see this in Genesis 1 and that continues through the rest of the Scriptures. God speaks, and what he speaks are obviously words. He speaks to make himself known. He speaks to have communion within the Trinity and with creation. The use of language therefore is not incidental, but how God defines and sustains his relationship with humanity before and after the fall. It is “a means of his presence.”

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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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Where I live now isn’t like where I lived immediately before this. It isn’t about geography, or the population. There are many differences between here and there. One significant difference is its view of homosexuality.

There homosexuality was still in the closet. We knew someone whose son is a homosexual in a long term relationship with another man. Everyone pretty much knew, but they were considered “friends” for the sake of other family members. I really don’t recall seeing any homosexual couples expressing affection while I lived there.

Where I live now is known, so I’m told, as a popular place for lesbians to live. In the last month I’ve seen 2 different couples expressing affection. First, I was picking my family up at the airport and 2 reunited women had a few kisses. I was hoping my kids didn’t notice because I’m not sure I’m ready to have that conversation that HGTV wants to make me have. Last night 2 younger women made out briefly in the restaurant I went to.

In some communities, particular lifestyles are still closeted. In others, people are quite open. In the church, some sins are still closeted. Peter Hubbard considers this question after realizing that in all the years of testimonies he’d heard, he couldn’t remember anyone including SSA as part of that testimony.

Hubbard has a few theories in the first chapter of Love Into Light: The Homosexual and the Church. He also refutes each of these theories with the gospel.

Possibility #1: Homosexuals are not like us; they are “abnormal.” The church has often made this argument. We shouldn’t wonder why people don’t want to confess this particular sin in our congregations. They are (often for good reason) afraid they will be rejected.

“He couldn’t wait any longer for me to reject him, so he rejected himself for me.”

I’ve had people admit to having an abortion, giving up a child to adoption and addiction to pornography. Not homosexual porn however. I’ve had women admit to me that they’d been sexually abused. But no men (at least with me as their pastor).

I have had a few people admit to profound sins. One recognized at the end of our counseling session that they had crossed the Tiber so to speak. Fearing I’d never look at them the same way, and always have questions about them, they left the church. Right there, right then. One hung around for awhile, but I wonder if they were trying to get me to reject them in the months that came. Or perhaps they assumed I was rejecting them as a result of that confession when other issues were in play. People expect to be rejected and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Reading a book on theology by a woman for women? Cavman, are you getting in touch with your feminine side? Well, the last time I tried that, it slapped me.

More seriously, our women’s ministry is considering The Gospel Centered Woman: Understanding Biblical Womanhood through the Lens of the Gospel by Wendy Alsup for the summer and asked me to take a look at it. Wanting the women to get a healthy diet, I read the book. (It looks like this was self-published, but you can find her book Practical Theology for Woman: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives at WTS Books).

I’ve generally found that books written by women, particularly theology books, have a very different feel than those written by men. That is not good or bad, just different. I guess if you are a woman reading it, it is good. That is to say that I’m trying to evaluate it on its own merit, recognizing she won’t write like Sinclair Ferguson (for instance).

The subtitle is important here. She is writing about biblical womanhood, and is a complementarian. Some people miss the main point about complementarianism- it is not about who cooks, cleans or mows the lawn. It is not about who is smarter or wiser.

This is not a defense of complementarianism. It is rather assumed. He goal, the subtitle again, it to view this through the lens of the gospel. She wants women to understand who they are on account of the gospel, and how that fleshes itself out in daily life.

“It is the gospel alone that equips us to bridge the gap between God’s good plan for His daughters and the fallen reality in which we all live.”

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It isn’t every day that you read a book that received its title from the liner notes of a classic jazz album. John Coltrane used it to explain A Love Supreme. Tim Keller borrows the phrase, and idea, to talk about work in Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

If I could summarize the book oh so briefly I’d say: If you like his other books, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, you probably won’t. If you haven’t read any of Keller’s books, what are you waiting for?

Tim Keller is pretty consistent in his writing approach. This book is another testament to that consistency is approach. That means that he seeks to bring together various threads of Christian tradition to show us the richness of our biblical heritage, he makes it accessible to ordinary people (including non-Christians), and keeps the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center in a winsome way.

He begins with God’s Plan for Work, pulling together the various emphases of different parts of the church. He wants us to recognize there is no one view of work, but that Scripture has a broader, deeper understanding of work. Various groups emphasize one or two aspects of that broader, deeper understanding. So, he is not trying to play them against one another, but they are different perspectives or aspects on the one whole. He brings in the Lutheran concept of vocation, and therefore the dignity of work. He brings in the ideas of work as cultivation, we produce something beneficial to others as well as ourselves. Work is also intended to be loving service to others. Holding all of these together is our creation in God’s image such that we are designed to work just as God works in creation and providence.

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In the third chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung looks at the pattern of piety found in Scripture. It is not enough to know we are called to holiness, but we also need to know what it looks like, and doesn’t look like.

Holiness means separation. That is the bottom line. God sets us apart from the rest of humanity in two ways. First, we are definitively set apart at justification. We are set apart as Gods’ people. So, every Christian is sanctified. But God continues to set us apart from the world morally. This is progressive sanctification. You don’t have one without the other. Both of these are a result of grace.. The first is an act of grace (one time event) and the second is a work of grace (a process) according to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

What Holiness is Not

It is not rule keeping. Holiness certainly includes obedience. People often get off course by thinking about non-biblical rules. We are set apart for God. We are to obey his law. Jesus was not too keen on the Pharisees for neglecting God’s law from man-made traditions. It is not about dancing, whether or not you drink a beer with dinner, or have the occasional cuss word slip out when you smash your thumb with a hammer. It is about gentleness, not getting drunk, and having lips used to edify and express gratitude.

“Holiness is more than middle class values. … checklist spirituality is highly selective.”

It is not generational imitation. Some people think it is having the standards and practices of an earlier generation. It could be the 1950’s in Amercia, Calvin’s Geneva or the Puritan’s England. This is what got the Amish in trouble. DeYoung notes that the 50’s may have had a better standards of sexual decency. But when it came to race relations, not so good. Just an example. We are trying to apply the timeless law in our time, not recreate another time.

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“In Christ” is one of Paul’s favorite phrases. A parallel phrase he uses is “with Christ”. Both of these phrases are his shorthand for union with Christ. This is undeniably one of the most important theological concepts in the Scriptures, for our salvation is “in Christ”. Yet, this subject has been largely ignored by theologians for over 100 years. The contemporary church is much weaker as a result of the neglect of this foundational doctrine.

There have been a much needed spate of books that have sought to address this weakness and restore this doctrine to its rightful place in our minds and hearts. That this took so long reveals one of the weaknesses of the current state of publishing. Even Christian publishers are too focused on sales at the expense of needed truth. Thankfully, some smaller publishers have been acting contrary to common practice.

One of the authors of these books is Robert Letham. I must confess that I had not read any of his books, nor owned any until this past year. Now I own three of his books, including Union with Christ: In Scripture, History, and Theology. It shares its subtitle with his book on another neglected subject, the Trinity. The other work of his I recently purchased and began to read is on the also neglected Work of Christ (part of the excellent Contours of Christian Theology series).

Letham, for those unfamiliar with him, is the Senior Lecturer in Systematic and Historical Theology at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. He has advanced degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and the University of Aberdeen. The book has an academic feel to it, and I was intellectually stretched while reading much of it. This is not a bad thing, people. This is not a fluffy topic, but one that requires rigorous thinking in addition to the illumination of the Spirit to grasp.

I was well rewarded for my efforts. This book is only about 140 pages long, but it is a dense 140 pages. It is full of meat as he grapples with the topic at hand. True to the subtitle, Letham examines Scripture, the history of the Church and theological formulations to help us understand and apply this most important subject. The importance of this subject is evidenced by how many doctrines Letham addresses in the course of examining it: creation, incarnation, the atonement, justification, adoption, resurrection, sanctification etc.

“Because man was created in the image of God, he was made for communion with God, to rule God’s creation on his behalf.”

Letham begins with creation, which surprised me. But since Jesus is the 2nd Adam, this is the best place to begin. Humanity’s communion with God was destroyed by the first Adam’s sin. Jesus would become man in order to restore this communion, and be the means of that communion. So you see that the book takes a few unexpected twists (I’ll be interested to see how the other books I’ve picked up on the subject work thru this). He spends a chapter on the Incarnation, surveying the development of the doctrine. The Eternal Son united himself with human nature, joining Himself with humanity in order to secure our salvation. In salvation, He then unites Himself with the elect as the means of their salvation thru the Spirit. We only partake of the benefits of salvation if we are so united to Him. This is one of the tougher chapters since it grapples with the nature of the hypostatic union. He traces its development through the ecumenical councils and expressions by Athanasius, Cyril, Nestorius and others. He also shows how this is not neglected by the Westminster Confession of Faith but expressed most often in the Larger Catechism.

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