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Posts Tagged ‘Incarnation’


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Many years ago, C.S. Lewis was not the only prominent Christian to do a series of radio addresses. J. Gresham Machen gave a series of addresses on the person of Jesus in 1935. These are collected in The Person of Jesus: Radio Addresses on the Deity of the Savior.

When he gave these, he had already resigned from Princeton Seminary to form Westminster Theological Seminary in 1929. Having set up an independent missions board, Machen was battling in the church courts. In 1936 he would be suspended and found the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He would fall ill and pass away on January 1, 1937. As a result, these are among the last public words from Machen whose most important works had already been written.

In the course of the addresses, Machen lays out the objections of liberal theology and secularism to the deity of Christ, and positively puts forth the case for Jesus as the second person of the Trinity. Machen was at the forefront of the struggle against liberalism as evidenced by his books Christianity and Liberalism, and The Virgin Birth of Christ. He lays out all of this in a very simple, understandable manner. In other words, he doesn’t come across as an academic, but one addressing the common man that they may believe. This was his goal, that people would believe that Jesus was God the Son and Savior.

While interacting with liberal views, you’d think such a man might sound bitter, but he doesn’t. He succinctly addresses their presuppositions, and brings us back to Scripture to show that the Jesus of liberalism is a fiction.

There are seven addresses presented here. The first is on the Triune God, explaining briefly the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He covers a lot of ground in a short time, including God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. He does recognize mystery in that finite man can’t comprehend the infinite God, but that we can understand what God reveals to us. For him, the OT assumes the Trinity while it is taught in the NT. He gives a few of the places we look to in order to understand where we find this doctrine.

He then moves to the deity of Christ. The problem he addresses is the differing understanding of this phrase. People have different definitions so you may think you are in agreement when in reality you aren’t. His personal and denominational history does arise here as men with a liberal understanding of this phrase entered the ministry and subverted congregations and denominations. We must have a biblical understanding of God to understand what it means that Jesus is God.

He continues with whether or not the Bible teaches the deity of Jesus. In discussing the meaning of Messiah, he brings the audience to Daniel 7 to show that the Son of Man is a representative of the people but not also a supernatural figure. He connects Malachi’s coming of the Lord with the angel’s words to Zachariah about John the Baptizer. He precedes Jesus who is Jehovah coming to His people.

Machen then turns to the Sermon on the Mount to address another way people try to avoid the divinity of Christ to focus on a great teacher. He shows how the sermon both assumes the deity of Jesus, and reveals this authority. Jesus has authority as law giver and judge of humanity. He isn’t just a rabbi. He pronounces blessings on those who obey Him and curses on those who don’t.

In What Jesus Says About Himself, Machen brings us back to Daniel 7 to understand the Son of Man sayings of Jesus. This covers some similar ground as the previous chapter. It focuses on the more explicit sayings.

The last two chapters focus on miracles. The first focuses on miracles in general and the second on the resurrection. Miracles are often a stumbling block for people. If we removed them, like Thomas Jefferson did, “It would be far easier to believe, but then, you see, it would not be worth believing.” We don’t need another teacher; we need a Savior. Machen then spends some time on the subject of David Friedrich Strauss’ book Life of Jesus as an attempt to find the “real” Jesus. Strauss argued against finding rational explanations for accounts of miracles, as liberals had been doing. He asserted they were myths, pure and simple. Now skepticism about the whole Bible emerges. How can you find the real Jesus? How can you find the source to sort this out? We can’t escape a supernatural Jesus. If we follow Bultmann we get to a Jesus we can’t believe in, a phantom of sorts.

The greatest miracle is the resurrection of Jesus. Without this none of the others really matter. While the resurrection is often debated, what is not debated is the effect on the disciples. They changed from people hiding for their lives. to people who spread Christ’s message around the world often as the expense of their lives. It spread peacefully, not at the edge of the sword like some other religions. What changed these men and woman?

The only coherent answer is what the New Testament claims, that Jesus rose from the dead. He also mentions some of the ways the reality of the resurrection is denied, like the “vision theory”: they all had a similar vision of Jesus. Machen notes that this “means that the Christian church is founded upon a pathological experience of certain persons in the first century of our era”. He also brings up the “spiritual resurrection” theory. But Christianity is based on an event, recorded in Scripture with eyewitnesses who could be questioned at the time of its writing.

“What we are trying to establish is not the resurrection of any ordinary man, not the resurrection of a man who is to us a mere x or y, not the resurrection of a man about whom we know nothing, but the resurrection of Jesus. … It is unlikely that any ordinary man should rise; but it is unlikely that this man should not rise; it may be said of this man that it was impossible that he should be holden of death.”

These addresses by Machen are a handy apologetic tool for people wondering who Jesus really is. It is not technical, but for the average person. It does not presuppose much knowledge of the Bible. It is brief, not overly complex, and to the point.

“The direct evidence for the resurrection must be taken together with the total picture of Jesus in the Gospels, and then that must be taken in connection with the evidence for the existence of God and the tremendous of man which is caused by sin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visual Theology by Tim Challies and Josh Byers is an attempt to present basic doctrine for the purpose of growth in godliness using not only the written word but also diagrams so people can see the connections that Challies and Byers want them to see.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive systematic theology. It is meant to help you “see and understand the truth about God”. They avoid academic issues but focus on the issues and doctrines that promote godliness.

I purchased the book for two reasons. These reasons direct my review of the book. The first was an interest in materials for discipleship, particularly of men. Many of the men I work with are very busy (and often have tons of books already in their queue). So the prospect of a relatively short book that has diagrams is appealing.

I also wanted access to the diagrams, or at least some of them, for SS lessons since I often use Power Point. Some of the diagrams are quite helpful. I found some of them to be “over-stimulating” or too busy. Some just didn’t connect with me. Overall the diagrams are a help to the book.

I don’t envy Challies & Byers, or their editor. I’m sure there were difficult questions about what doctrines to discuss, and which ones to leave out.  In the introduction they lay out the purpose and methodology. They offer the material in four sections: Grow Close to Christ, Understand the Work of Christ, Become Like Christ, and Live for Christ. Under the first they cover the Gospel, Identity and Relationship. The second covers the Drama, or Story of the Bible, and Doctrine. The third covers sanctification: putting off the old life and putting on the new life. The last section hits Vocation, Relationships and Stewardship.

What isn’t here is any meaningful discussion of doctrines like the incarnation and theories of the atonement, which I think would be considered central to “the work of Christ”. But there are topics often missing in discussions of discipleship,  like vocation and stewardship. This meant there were times I was frustrated, and times when I was grateful they addressed something. It is not meant to be a theology book so much as a book about how to grow which includes some theology. So, in a sense, the book’s title doesn’t really help you understand what the book is about.

Much of what is written is good, if perhaps too brief. Challies is part of the neo-Calvinist movement. He’s Calvinistic in his soteriology (doctrine of salvation), but baptistic in his understanding of ecclesiology and sacraments. I suspect he is also in the New Covenant Theology camp based on some recommended books, and from his blog. As a result, at times there were ideas I thought were incomplete, lacking or just too baptistic.  In terms of the latter, on the first page of chapter 1 in discussing our need for regular reminders of the gospel we see this:

“The reason we celebrate the Lord’s Supper is to remind ourselves of what Christ has done and what he has promised to do.”

That is certain one of the reasons, but not the only reason (which is implied by the definite article). It communicates a memorial view of the sacrament that I find less than fully biblical. It is not less than that, but thankfully so much more. I found a similar sentiment later in the book as though “take and eat” and “take and drink” are unimportant. We need Christ like we need bread and wine. In his section on “ordinances” (pp. 25-26) this plays out in a focus on us, and then Christ in the sacraments. Historically, Reformed Theology has pointed to Christ and then us in the sacraments. The objective is the grounding the subjective elements. Instead They focused on the subjective elements first. The real issue in the sacraments is union with Christ, not the pledge of a good conscience. God’s work produces any work on my part, even in the sacraments. The section ends saying “In the celebration, Christ is present, you are present, and your shared relationship grows.” In the margin I wrote, “So, what does that mean?” It is a profound but largely unexplained statement.

In an otherwise very good chapter on identity, they discuss justification. They don’t do it justice: “You have been declared innocent.” Not less than that, but more. We have been declared righteous!! Innocent people still need positive righteousness. Merely innocent people aren’t accepted by God, righteous people are. I don’t think I’m nitpicking. This is something young Christians need to know precisely because it is intended to shape their life in the face of God. I am always and only acceptable because of Christ and His righteousness imputed to me. It is humbling and yet provides confidence. It frees me from my own paltry attempts at self-righteousness.

One disconcerting note was a relative absence of the Holy Spirit and His work, particularly in sanctification. This shows up in the chapter on the Bible, and the chapters on putting off and putting on. Their thesis on page 53 is “The Bible makes you godly.” To explain they say “To be godly is to be God-like in your character. The Bible enables you to live according to God’s standards and to reflect his character.” I wrote two things in the margin: “What does this mean?” and “Necessary but insufficient for sanctification.” The Holy Spirit makes us godly, and He uses the Bible to do it. The power (what I’d mean by “enables”) is the Spirit. He is the engine car to the Bible as tracks. This is fodder for the “radical grace” guys. Clarity matters, and sometimes the quest to be succinct means important distinctions are left out, distinctions that can create other big problems down the road.

Nothing downright heretical here. Just some troubling imprecision that would lead me to not accept these answers on an ordination exam. If given to a younger Christian, I would strongly suggest they read it with a more mature Christian who can fill in some of the gaps.

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In Sunday’s sermon I mentioned John Irving’s novels, and particularly The Cider House Rules. I have a love/hate relationship with John Irving.

I often appreciate his sense of humor (though this probably reflects poorly on me), his New England settings and the “God-haunted” quality of his work. God is seldom absent from Irving’s work, even if He is rejected, scorned or ignored by characters. You get the impression that Irving wrestles with his own religious upbringing.

Back when The Cider House Rules was made into a movie John Irving did an interview in which he said it was a defense of abortion on demand. At the time I remember thinking, “has he lost his mind?” I still do. But let’s ponder the plot for a few minutes.

The book begins in an orphanage located in Maine. Homer, played by Tobey Maguire, is an older orphan there. Among the staff is Dr. Larch, played by Michael Caine. He loves the kids, who are often in his care too long. There aren’t enough couples willing to adopt. There is a touching scene as a young couple arrives and all the kids are doing their best to appear adoptable. It is heartbreaking that they only choose one, and to see the disappointment sink the rest of the kids. Except like those like Homer who is older and slightly cynical. This is part of the reason why Irving has his views, I think.

Yet, he does not portray this orphanage as a place of abuse. There is love. Homer has been well-loved by the staff and loves the younger kids well. The Dr. has taken Homer under his wing and believes Homer can take his place one day.

Soon another young couple shows up. Not to adopt, but to abort. Dr. Larch raises extra funds for the orphanage by performing abortions. Homer is torn. He loves and hates the orphanage. Part of him wants to escape and find his own way in the world. This young couple perhaps senses this. He also seems to be attracted to her. He ends up leaving with them, having a conflicted relationship with her while he goes off to war. He also works in the apple orchard.

As a result he lives in the cider house with the migrant workers. Here we see the crux of the movie in two ways. First, the workers chaff at the list of rules on the post of the Cider House (hence the title). They were made, the workers argue, by people who don’t work or live in the Cider House. They feel like someone who doesn’t understand them, their circumstances, needs and desires is forcing these rules upon them. This is a metaphor for God’s law, and the common human response to it. “Who is God”, people think, “to tell us what to do? He doesn’t walk in our shoes! He doesn’t understand what it’s like and the pressures we face.”

Homer soon finds himself in another bind; another complicated relationship. There is sin in the camp, so to speak. He is friends with the workers, especially Mr. Rose and his daughter Rose (yeah, Rose Rose). He has thrown off God’s law (and social convention reflecting it) and had an incestuous relationship with his daughter who is now pregnant. What can Homer do?

Homer, using the skills learned from Dr. Larch, performs an abortion for Rose. In a sense, he gains clarity on how he wants to spend his life. He wants, so he thinks, to relieve misery. In particular the misery caused by sin. So he returns to the orphanage to learn more from Dr. Larch and take his place.

Soon though, Dr. Larch dies from an overdoes of the ether he uses to get to sleep. Though he, like the migrant workers, has rejected the rules, he still wrestles with guilt over the lives he has taken. So, while we see abortion as an attempt to relieve the misery of sin it actually creates more misery because it too is sin.

Is Irving right? Do we have a right to toss out the rules? Is life in an orphanage a fate worse than death/non-existence? Is abortion the best answer to rape & incest?

Let’s start with Jesus. To stick with Irving’s metaphor, Jesus entered the Cider House, lived in the Cider House. The accusation of an absentee deity doesn’t work with Jesus. He not only made the rules, but also lived under the rules He made.

Though He never broke the rules, Jesus suffered the penalty for law breaking for others. Though He never sinned, He tasted the misery produced by sin. He lived in poverty, and suffered injustice for others. This is the essence of the gospel, which refutes Irving’s cry in the mouths of the migrant workers.

We see this same God loves orphans, the abandoned. He loves them so much He calls His children to welcome and care for orphans. Christians have a long history of doing just that. When it was still an illegal religion, Christians were well-known for taking in the children abandoned by their parents. Many pastors, famous and unknown, have established orphanages to care for orphaned and abandoned children (Spurgeon and Mueller for example). Today many pastors in Africa still do. In the west orphanages are seen as passe. We have the foster care system and adoption. Christians are among those most likely to foster or adopt children. My wife and I are thankful for orphanages since 3 of our children were adopted out of orphanages.

Pregnancy as a result of rape or incest is a real problem. It seems as if we are punishing the woman. I understand a traumatized woman wanting to abort the child.

That doesn’t mean it is the right thing. Or the best thing. Remember, the gospel centers on Jesus who suffered for the benefit of others. The gospel calls us to suffer with, and sometimes for, others. A life transformed by Christ’s work will choose to suffer at times. A woman could carry the child to term and give him/her up for adoption. Or raise the child. I’ve known of people who did this. It seems impossible. It happens only by the grace of God.

Jesus doesn’t just pardon our sin after the fact. He can help us to say ‘no’ to unrighteousness. Our moral code is not to be a lowest common denominator kind of thing. Jesus works in us to do the right thing, the best thing not just for us but for others.

Irving’s argument works in a world without God, or the world of an absentee God. But it doesn’t really work in a world where Jesus is God Incarnate, the Lamb of God and reigning king.

What was John Irving thinking?

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1422489_10202619602351025_1890806628_nThis coming Sunday I begin a new sermon series on the Gospel of John. While I have preached individual sermons or holiday series from John, I have yet to preach thru the Gospel. As I begin the series I have a stack of books that will be read along the way. Some of you may find some of these helpful.

Teaching John: Unlocking the Gospel of John for the Bible Teacher by Dick Lucas & William Philip. This is a short book (137 pages) uses a few of the stories in John to help you understand the bigger picture.

Getting to Know John’s Gospel: A Fresh Look at its Main Ideas by Robert A. Peterson. This is another short book that gets you oriented to the 3 purposes for the Gospel of John. It looks at some of the main groupings: “I Am” statements, 7 signs and others that help teachers to get a better handle on what is going on.

The Seven Signs: Seeing the Glory of Christ in the Gospel of John by Anthony Selvaggio. This is another short book of more limited scope- the 7 signs. He goes more in depth with those signs than the previously mentioned books.

The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation by Graham Cole. This is an entry from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D.A. Carson. This book will be particularly important in the first chapter.

Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel by Andreas Kostenberger & Scott Swain. This is another entry in the New Studies in Biblical Theology. This is a key subject in John’s Gospel and a book like this really should be read as a result.

The Gospel According to John by D.A. Carson. This is part of the excellent Pillar Commentary series and done by a well-respected exegete & theologian. This is one of the standard commentaries on this gospel.

The Gospel According to John by Leon Morris. This is the older entry from the New International Commentary of the New Testament series. It has since been phased out and replaced by Michael Ramsey. I love Morris’ work and I’m glad I’ve got it.

The Gospel According to John by John Calvin. This is another good “old time” commentary. We interpret in community across time, and Calvin is a good one to study with.

Homilies on the Gospel of John (1-40) by Augustine. This is a good way to get in touch with the historical community of faith. I look forward to reading these sermons.

Books I Don’t Have Time to Read

No pastor can read everything. We have families to care for each day. There are also congregants that need our time and love. Here are some others that come recommended by others.

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Weakness is not something we tend to spend much time thinking about. We usually spend time avoiding it or trying to get out of experiencing weakness. Thankfully there are men like J.I. Packer who don’t (or can’t) run from it. Recent health problems have provided him with the opportunity to consider his own weakness. More importantly it gave him the opportunity to consider 2 Corinthians and how Paul, when faced with his own weakness, found strength in Christ.

The fact that weakness is not option is found in the title of the book that resulted: Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. This is a short book with only 4 chapters. Size should not be confused with significance. This is no Knowing God, but it is a balm for the soul plagued by weakness, which will eventually find all of us.

“The memory of having fallen short in the past can hang like a black cloud over one’s present purposes and in effect program one to fail.”

Many of us live with such black clouds. It could be moral failure. It could be vocational failure. I was the pastor of a church that closed. That black cloud hung about me for years. It still shows up  at times seeking to distract & deceive me. For Packer, his childhood accident and its consequences have hovered over him his entire life: weakness, alienation, left out…

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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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This week I’m working through Matthew 1:1-17.  In part I’m grappling with the incarnation.  The Eternal Son, who was fully God, became man.  This is pretty much how one of the children’s catechisms puts it.  Simple, but utterly incomprehensible.

We have a tendency to keep Jesus in the cradle.  My kids love “baby Jesus” and are excited to see the holiday (a compound word meaning holy day btw) lights and manger displays.  But we run the risk of trying to keep him baby Jesus, meek and mild.

One of the funniest scenes in Talladega Nights is the debate over which Jesus to pray to- grown up Jesus or the  8 lbs. 6 oz Christmas Jesus with his little baby Jesus powers.  And it gets worse.  “I want to be formal, but I’m here to party.”  “I like to picture Jesus as a ninja, fighting off samari.”  It is a guilty pleasure, teetering on blasphemy (If you watch the clip, it does contain foul language and violations of the 5th commandment).

They have domesticated Jesus in order to serve their own interests.  They grapple with the mystery of the incarnation, but don’t bow before it.  A domesticated Jesus.  A made in their own, or preferred image Jesus.  A counterfeit Jesus!

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Advent is coming.  This year I’ll be preaching out of Matthew.  We get to celebrate the incarnation, a much assumed but not well understood doctrine.  It is essential to biblical Christianity.  So, here are a  few options to read up on the Person of Christ.

  • Incarnation in the Gospels is part of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.  It is geared for pastors and driven by the text more than by systematic theology.
  • B.B. Warfield The Person and Work of Christ.  One of the best of the Old Princeton theologians working through both His person and His work on our behalf.  The incarnation took place for the work to take place.  They are essentially connected.
  • Donald MacLeod The Person of Christ.  From the Contours of Christian Theology series MacLeod follows the development of the church’s understanding of this important doctrine.
  • G.C. Berkouwer The Person of Christ.  This is part of his Studies in Dogmatics, which is a rather lengthy series.  R.C. Sproul spent time studying under Berkouwer.  It is fairly academic.

What is interesting to me is that I have read none of these books.  In seminary we used David Wells’ The Person of Christ.  I might still own the Berkouwer volume.  The commentary is a relatively new volume I am interested in purchasing and using.  This shows us how little there is out there focusing on this subject.

Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? touches on the incarnation as a basis for the atonement.  This I have read, but he is not really wrestling with texts.  It is written as a dialogue between 2 people.

 

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Sometimes there is a synergy to your reading that is unexpected.  Books will pick up a similar thread, though they are not obviously related.  I had one of those moments today.

My progress through the Letters of John Newton has slowed lately.  But this morning I read one of his letters to Mrs. Thornton.  Apparently she had recently undergone a crisis of some sort.  He was responding to that crisis and pointed her our Great High Priest.

“He with whom we have to do, our great High Priest, who once put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, and now for ever appears in the presence of God for us, is not only possessed of sovereign authority and infinite power, but wears our very nature, and feels and exercises in the highest degree those tendernesses and commiseration, which I conceive are essential to humanity in its perfect state.”

He brings up the hypostatic union to make his point.  The exalted Christ is still fully human.  As a perfect human, he is prone to tenderness and the ability to commiserate with our weakness and misery.  Or as Newton says later, “compassions dwell within his heart.”  He is not just our Savior, but also our Brother and unashamed to declare this among the assembly.  As a result:

“No, with the eye, and the ear, and the heart of a friend, He attends to their sorrows; He counts their sighs, puts their tears in his bottle; and when our spirits are overwhelmed within us, He knows our path and adjusts the time, the measure of our trials, and every thing that is necessary for our present support and seasonable deliverance, ….”

He has experienced our weakness and frailty (though not our sin).  He loves us and is concerned about those things that weigh us down.  He pays attention, and is moved to act.  He is not cold, unconcerned and unmoved.  He is full of compassion.

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IMarrow of Modern Divinity  -     By: Edward Fisher
recently wrote a post on Gospel Pardon as part of my interaction with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity.  That book is about the errors of both legalism and antinomianism.  In that post I mentioned Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel which I had read and reviewed earlier this year ( Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 with increasing frustration).  He has what I consider to be extreme views based on a hyper-dispensationalistic hermeneutic.  We engaged in an on-line discussion where it became increasingly clear to me that we were talking past each other as a result of our very different approaches to interpreting Scripture.

While I thought I was ending communication he left one last ginormous comment.  So, I’ll use that comment to have one last installment of our discussion.  If you have questions about the relationship of the OT and NT, law and gospel, and what really is the rule of life for Christians you may find some interesting points made here.  Then again ….

Thanks for this! It’s been fun to dialogue. The ideas you are presenting are familiar to me, but it has been good practice for me to think about which Scriptures to share. In this post, I will clarify that:

1. the New Covenant was put into effect at Jesus’ death (Hebrews 9:16-17)

This is not at issue at all.  What is at issue is the relationship between the Old Covenant and New Covenant.  Both the Old and New Covenants were manifestations of the Covenant of Grace (Live & Do This).  As we will note later, some treated the Old Covenant as if it was the Covenant of Works (Do this & live).  As John Piper notes, “The flesh turns the law into a ladder.”  As people born in Adam (Romans 5), we are under the covenant of works.  As a result the Law works death in us since we are sinners.  But even the Mosaic covenant was given to redeemed people.  It was not given for them to earn life, but to manifest life.  All who believe in the promises of God (keeping in mind the progressive nature of revelation, we know more than Abraham) are under the Covenant of Grace.  This why Hebrews 4:2 says they (the wilderness generation) had the gospel preached to them.  The gospel is not only in the New Covenant.  In fact, Paul often uses OT figures to explain the truth of the gospel.  For instance, Paul quotes Ps. 32 about the bliss of forgiveness/justification in Romans 4.  You’ll note it is not tied to the sacrificial system but his confession of sin as the instrumental means (this after David had been a believer for years- gospel pardon!)

The Old and New Covenants are not identical though.  There was real progress, and the issue in Hebrews was a temptation to leave the newer, better covenant for the Old Covenant, which at that point in the history of redemption (and now) amounts to apostasy.

2. Jesus was born under Law (Galatians 4:4) and his audience was too (Galatians 4:4) and Jesus expanded on the Law (Matthew 5:21-48).

Yes, Jesus redeems all those under the Law as a Covenant of Works.  He does this in 2 ways.  First, he perfectly fulfilled the law as our Substitute.  Second, he suffered the curse of the law as our Substitute (Galatians 3).

3. The Lord’s Prayer teaches a conditional forgiveness (“as we forgive others”) while in contrast Colossians 3:13 and Ephesians 4:32 teach the opposite (unconditional forgiveness) after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’m not so sure it teaches conditional forgiveness.  But if it did … think about who is teaching this.  Am I to disregard anything the Eternal Son of God in flesh teaches?  In your hermaneutic, yes.  In a biblical one?  No.  We find no basis for this, unless we do violence to 2 Timothy 3 as you have done by neglecting ALL that Paul says the law is useful for.

In fact, the Great Commission (given AFTER his death & resurrection!!) includes the instruction to “teach them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.”  That would seem to include how to pray from earlier in that same gospel.

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The second neglected aspect of discipleship John Stott addresses in The Radical Disciple is Christlikeness.  This, in my mind, is the very goal of discipleship.  So I guess that if there is actually neglected, we don’t even have discipleship.  That is a radical concept.

Stott lays out 3 texts that are foundational to this concept of Christlikeness.  The first is from Romans 8.

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For 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. (ESV)

Here the process of becoming conformed to the likeness of Christ (instead of the world) is largely passive on our part.  It is God who is working all things in our lives (including our sin) for this purpose.  His love resulted in election with this purpose of being conformed into the image of Jesus.  God’s goal, as C.S. Lewis put it, is perfection and He will not rest until He is done.  It will often be an arduous process for us.

Paul returns to the process in Romans 12.  Again, we are the objects of transformation.  This time it is not through our circumstances (God’s providential working in our lives), but the renewal of the mind.  This won’t happen unless we actually read the Scriptures, but God is at work when we do to transform us so we are no longer conformed to the likeness of the world.

From Romans we see, in part, that God is ultimately in control of the process not us.  One of the strengths of the Puritan’s theology was providence, and seeing sanctification as taking place (in part) through those providentially arranged circumstances.  Instead of avoiding hardship, they wanted to be shaped by it through the gospel.

Where Stott errs is in limiting this text (Romans 8) to the past.  Our election takes place in the past, but God is working now to conform us to the image of Jesus.  That is a small problem, not a big one.

The second is 2 Corinthians 3:18.

6But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (ESV)

One again we are passive.  At conversion, God removes the veil that covers our faces when we read the Old Covenant.  Interesting, the problem is not the Old Covenant but the veil which is removed.  Now we are being transformed from glory to glory.  When?  When we we behold the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus (4:6).  Once again Scripture is central to our sanctification, for it is there that we behold Jesus (not in some mystical experience).  After all, Paul was talking about reading the Old Covenant to see the glory of God.  But we do see the present work of God to remake us in the image of Jesus.

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A few weekends ago, CavWife and I watched District 9.  It was certainly different, part pseudo-documentary and part sci-fi action adventure.  It was dark and portrayed an ugly world filled with prejudice.  CT puts it well in calling the look “gritty and gruesome.”

Last night a friend and I saw Avatar in 3-D.  It portrayed a beautiful world that was being marred by humanity.  It looks lavish and slick.  But in many ways, it was the same movie (though it also has elements of Dances with Wolves, The Mission, Alien Resurrection and a nod to Apocalypse Now as well).

Both movies are about the conflict between humans and aliens.  District 9 takes place in this world (supposedly from 1982-2002).  Avatar takes place on Pandora.  The former has ugly aliens that look like, and are derisively called Prawns.

In Avatar the Na’vi are beautiful, sensual “aboriganies that live in trees.”  The technology is amazing, as Sigorney Weaver’s avatar looks like a huge, blue, hot version of her with a tail.  The facial structure is similar enough that you can recognize her.

Prawn- definitely not sensual

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Galatians Sermon Series
“Back to the Gospel”

January 11   No Other Gospel Galatians 1:1-10

January 18   A Gospel-changed Life Galatians 1:11- 24

February 1   Living in Line with the Gospel Galatians 2:1-21

February 8   Faith or Observance of the Law Galatians 3:1-14

February 15   The Law and the Promise Galatians 3:15-25

February 22   Sons and Heirs Galatians 3:26-4:7

March 1  Christ Formed in You! Galatians 4:8-20

March 8   An Illustration: Hagar and Sarah Galatians 4:21-31

March 15  Freedom in Christ Galatians 5:1-15

March 22   Walking by the Spirit Part 1 Galatians 5:16-26

March 29   Walking by the Spirit Part 2 Galatians 5:16-26

April 5  Boasting in the Cross Galatians 6:14

April 12  New Creation Galatians 6:13-17

April 19  Doing Good Galatians 6:1-10  (due to technical difficulties, the first few minutes are missing)

Parables of Grace

April 26  The Sower & the Seed Luke 8:4-15

May 3  A Tale of Two Brothers Luke 15:11-31 (previously recorded)

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I finished reading Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus by Paul Miller just before heading off to New York for a week.  Paul is the son of C. John (Jack) Miller, and has a ministry, See Jesus,  that offers 2 helpful small group programs.  The Person of Jesus is based on this book, and PrayerLife.  Both are interactive studies that come from a strong grace-orientation.  But, back to the book.

One of the things I found interesting was the variety of endorsements.  It does my heart good to see Tremper Longman, Steve Brown, Jerry Bridges, Dan Allender and Joni Eareckson Tada endorsing the book.  Max Lucado … not someone whose opinion really matters to me.  Brian McLaren … interesting choice.  Glad he endorsed it, it may mean he’s keeping his toe within the bounds of historic Christianity.

That last sentence is indicative of why a guy like me needs to read this book.  It reveals just how little I love like Jesus.  I can see why Brian McLaren would like most of the book- but he probably struggled with the last few chapters.  You’ll see why.

Paul’s 2 main premises is that Jesus alone shows us what true love looks like in action, and that we can only love well because we have been loved perfectly (including thru his penal substitutionary atonement- which is something McLaren has discounted publicly).  To bring us along, Paul uses numerous incidents from Jesus’ life to show us the richness of variety in his love, and the many barriers we have to showing love to others.  So this book is often convicting as our judgmentalism, self-righteousness, legalism and more are put on display as violating the 2 great commandments upon which all the Law and the Prophets hang.

But the emphasis is positive- love shows compassion, speaks the truth, depends on God and is energized by faith.  Miller weaves those biblical accounts from the life of Jesus with personal stories (he is not the hero of any of them), and some great quotes by various figures from history.  So you will find that it is an easy book to read, even if it hits you hard at times.

But it is not a self-help, try harder book.  The book ends with a section on how love moves from life to death.  It is about the centrality of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and how our lives are intended to follow that same track.  He is our model as well as our Substitute (see 1 Peter for plenty of that tension).  As a result, the book challenges those of us who err toward Phariseeism AND those who err toward a more “liberal” view of Jesus that maximizes his Incarnation while rejecting his finished work.  Miller does a great job of maintaining that tension of a suffering Savior whose love is rich and varied, perfectly suitable for the differing needs of its object.   So the book is biblical, accessible and applicable.  I heartily put my name up there with the other endorsees (even McLaren).  See, God’s using it in my life too.

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Though my sermons for Advent seem to be more about the Resurrection than the Incarnation (though the former requires the latter), I’ve been doing some reading on the Incarnation.  Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus is a very good book.  I’m not done yet, but I’m getting there.  I’ll do a review when I am done, but I wanted to process some thoughts with all y’all.

“The person of Jesus is a plumb line to which we may align our lives.”

He is the standard and I fall woefully short, particularly when it comes to love.  This is one of those “ouch!” statements that fill the book.  In view of God’s kindness in presenting Jesus as a propitiation for my sin, it drives me to repentance instead of despair.

“Jesus has shown us how to love: Look, feel, and then help.”

Much of what we call love may not really be love.  That is because we do not “feel” the other’s pain.  We move from looking to helping- avoiding the emotional attachment necessary to love them well.  Jesus identified with people in their pain rather than just wave a magic wand.  Oh, miracle wand.

“Loving means losing control of our schedule, our money, and our time.  When we love we cease to be the master and become the servant.”

Love is not just inefficient, but it is costly.  And humbling.  Now wonder we avoid it whenever we can!

“Jesus lowers himself in order to care, while the disciples elevate themselves in order to judge.  (speaking of John 9:1-7) … Compasson affects us.  Maybe that’s why we judge so quickly- it keeps us from being infected by other people’s problems.  Passing judgment is just so efficient.”

They were more concerned with how this happened, why the guy was blind.  Jesus was more concerned with restoring sight.  Like the religious leaders who later interrogated the man, the disciples were spiritually blind.

“Love often doesn’t erase worries- it just shifts them to a different set of shoulders- our own.”

Yeah, that whole bearing one another’s burdens thing (Gal. 6).  It is bearing those burdens that is often instrumental in our own growth, though at the time it seems to impede our growth.  We think our time would be better spent elsewhere.

“He doesn’t just need an assist from God; he needs a complete overhaul, so he cries out, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’  He has come to the earth-shattering conclusion that he, not his circumstances, caused  the mess in his life. … It is a huge relief to admit that you are a mess: that you turn inward and instinctively take care of your needs first. … Knowing you are a mess means you can stop pretending you have it all together.  Jesus says to people, ‘Relax- you’re much worse than you think!’  It is a little scary to move in this direction because you lose control of your image- of how others see you.  But did you ever control it anyway?  … Getting in touch with your inner tax collector makes room for God’s energy in your life.”

 This is part of the joy of interviewing for pastoral positions.  What they see is what they will get with me- I’m not trying to sell myself and create false impressions.  That doesn’t always work well … but it will with the people God wants me to work with.  At least that’s what I tell myself.

“Our helplessness is the door to the knowledge of God.  Without changing the heart, obsessing over rules is like spray-painting garbage.”

Nice imagery.  One last quote…

“Because he has the love of God in his heart, he doesn’t need other people to love him.”

This is what I aspire to- so I’m not pretending with anyone so I don’t lose their ‘love.’  Only as we depend solely on the love of God for us will be truly be able to love people as God intends rather than the shallow substitute we offer.  We call it sugar, but its not; butter, but its “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.”  Oh, what wretches are we.

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