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Posts Tagged ‘legalism’


Here are my notes from Sinclair Ferguson’s lecture on Legalism in the Marrow Controversy.  As an interesting aside, I’m currently reading Costly Grace which is a modern application of Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.  Many of the formulations there sound much like the conditional grace which plagued the Pharisees and the Church of Scotland.  That bears more thought.

Legalism

Robert Trail:  men who take a middle way have more kindness toward that extreme toward which they move than that from which they come.

John Simpson has been accused of propogating Arminianism.  He would later teach Arianism.  He was merely warned not to grant too much to natural reason.  The General Assembly had been moving away from free grace and toward legalism.  They were kind to this halfway house to full blown legalism.

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This Sunday I’m sort of preaching on the Ten Commandments since it is 10/10/10.  What I’ll be doing is grappling with Law and Gospel.  I want my people to understand the nature of their relationship to the law because of the gospel.

I’ve had a few of those conversations on the internet lately.  It is a difficult issue to grasp and we tend to head toward the extremes of legalism and antinomianism.  They are the 2 ditches on the side of the road.  And both ditches are deadly.  I don’t advise falling into either.

So, I started to listen to Sinclair Ferguson’s Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  Here is a short history of the Marrow Controversy.  I thought my notes might help a few people to understand what was going on, whetting the appetite about this pastorally important theological controversy.

The History of the Marrow Controversy

1717- the Presbytery of Auchterarder examined a candidate for ordination, William Craig was asked a question unique to that Presbytery.

“Do you subscribe to the following: I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.”  Craig hesitated and they refused to grant him ordination.  This brought the Auchterarder Creed before the General Assembly.

It was condemned by the Church of Scotland “as unsound and detestable doctrine.”

Thomas Boston was there, and he was quite disturbed by the proceeding.  He saw this as an attack upon the gospel of grace, falsely accusing it of antinomianism.  In 1700 Boston had discovered The Marrow of Modern Divinity which enabled him to grasp the relationship of law and gospel.  He recommended it to James Drummond who gave it to James Hog who ended up reprinting it.

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I’ve written on modesty recently.  It is not a popular topic.  It is an under-addressed topic, including among Christians.  The issue was driven home to me the other day while checking the Fox News website.  Under their style section, there was an article on how to best present your “girls”.  I did not click the link since I didn’t need to see “well presented” breasts.  My calling is to satisfied with the breasts of the wife of my semi-youth.  Most men want to see them, but this is meant to be part of the exclusivity of marriage- I am to enjoy my wife’s, and not those of another.  This is not so easy with many women wanting to display theirs for all the world to see.

In his book Undefiled, Harry Schaumburg has a number of appendices.  One of them is on modesty.  In light of 1 Timothy 2, he says that one of the male issues tends to be “anger or quarreling.”  This is painful to hear, but you see it all the time.  Too many times I hear such quarreling come from my own lips, including with my wife.  I can be a contrarian at times.  I am not immune.

The female issue Paul addresses in that same text is modesty.  “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness- with good works.”

Paul hits displays of wealth.  It is immodest to display one’s material wealth.  It can quickly establish sinful barriers in the body of Christ.  Men can be guilty of this, no doubt.  But women are especially vulnerable to this.  One of the things that drew me to CavWife was the absence of flash.  Of course, she was not wealthy.  But aside from a few earrings, she did not wear jewelry or much make-up.  Her concern was with inner beauty.

It is also immodest to display one’s physical assets with plunging necklines, short shorts, miniskirts and the like.  It is a heart issue.  Such people (men can also do this, and as pathetically comical as it sounds I did).  In our hearts we want to be desirable, found to be attractive.  And so, out of this messed up heart comes the flaunting of the physical and material so that people will notice us and find us attractive or important.

Schaumburg quotes Carolyn Mahaney regarding this:

“If we earnestly apply his word in our hearts, it will be displayed by what we wear.  When it comes to selecting clothes to buy and wear, however, we can often feel lost and confused.  Which items are seductive and immodest and which display a heart of modesty and self-control?”

I understand that sometimes this comes from a place of sexual brokenness, a lack of appropriate boundaries due to abuse.  I remember one group I led with a female friend.  One of the women in the group often wore revealing clothing.  I was not sure how to address that, and should have talked with my co-leader.  But one day it became clear.  She announced that the janitor at work has placed his hand on her breast.  She asked us, “is that okay?”.  She thought she was community property, and by her dress he sinfully thought so too.

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I’ve finally begun to read The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  It is the newer edition with Thomas Boston‘s notes.  So, you get 2 Puritans for the price of 1.  Hard to hate.

I am finding it a tough go at times.  Perhaps I’ve been slack in my reading of the Puritans lately.  Perhaps it is the layout.  The longer notes by Boston are laid out together, but cover a few different pages.  Since I don’t want to continually flip back and forth I sometimes lose the context.

The books starts with a few historical questions.  It briefly recounts the Marrow Controversy in the Church of Scotland and Thomas Boston’s involvement in that Controversy.  It also examines the identity of E.F. and which Edward Fisher probably wrote this important book that discusses the Christian’s relationship with the law.

The book is like Cur Deus Homo? in that it is in the form of a dialogue.  But instead of 2 characters, there are 4 to represent 2 erroneous views (legalism and antinomianism), the proper view and the new Christian who is caught in the crossfire.

One of the interesting aspects for me is that occasionally Boston disagrees with Fisher on finer points.  There are quite a few finer points I disagree with one or both on due to how they are using Scripture in particular instances.  These are non-essential to the arguments, however.  Boston does not require that Fisher agree with him on everything to recommend him as beneficial.  Sinclair Ferguson (his Pastoral Lessons on the Controversy are excellent!)and Philip Ryken also recommend the book (as well as a few other prominent Puritans like Burroughs) which goes to the point that a recommendation does not entail approval of every jot and tittle.  They agree with the main point, not every rabbit trail.

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In the Letters of John Newton, he writes often to Rev. Symonds.  His friend was preaching the gospel well enough, but his personal application of the gospel had fallen on hard times.

His problem?  His focus on evidences of faith and one’s spiritual condition.

“You may think you distinguish between evidences and conditions; but the heart is deceitful, and often beguiles our judgment when we are judging concerning ourselves.”

We are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith.  He was right to do that, but wrong in how he approached it.

“Because you lean to conditions, and do not think yourself good enough.”

He was looking at his obedience and “spiritual temperature” (how much prayer, Bible reading, witnessing etc.).  Being the sinner saved by grace that he was, Rev. Symonds saw evidence of disobedience and spiritual lukewarmness in his life.  He did not live up to God’s standards (yes, quite shocking).

He was not doing this to see where he needed to grow in godliness.  That would be quite different.  He was gauging the authenticity of his faith.  He found himself wanting and was beginning to despair.

“It is certainly a delusion to imagine oneself of the number of elect, without scriptural evidence. … You tell me you what evidences you want, namely, spiritual experiences, inward holiness, earnest endeavors.  All this I may allow in a right sense; but in judging on these grounds, it is common and easy in a dark hour to turn the gospel into a covenant of works.”

He was not looking at the one sure sign of being elect- faith in Christ and His work ALONE.  He was looking for spiritual experience- today people look for the spiritual mountain top, ecstatic experiences, charismatic gifts etc. as proof of regeneration.  They are not.  Freedom from temptation and sinful thoughts?  That’s not it either.  Involvement in spiritual disciplines or a cause?  We can turn devotions or the pro-life movement, ministry etc. into signs of whether or not we are Christians instead of marking progress in our faith.  Newton rightly discerns that he has turned the gospel into a covenant of works.  His focus has shifted from what Christ has done to what he does.

Lest we be rough on Rev. Symonds, remember he is not alone.  Most of us struggle with this very same temptation in its numerous and varied forms.

I see here and early version of something Tim Keller talks about.  Picture a see-saw (or teeter-totter depending on the region of the country you’re from).  The “evidence” in question serves as the pivot point.  If the evidence is found we struggle with pride, often looking down on those who “don’t measure up.”  If it is not found, we despair and are crushed under the weight of condemnation.

“For my own part, I believe the most holy people feel the most evil.  Indeed, when faith is strong and in exercise, sin will not much break out to the observation of others; but it cuts them out work enough within.”

Paul, toward the end of his life, saw himself as the biggest of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)- present tense not past tense.  If we were to look upon him, we’d think him one of the most godly people we know.  But the closer to the light you come the more you see the stains on your clothing.  Being closer to Jesus meant seeing the stains on his heart- the sins only God sees because they don’t find manifestation in behavior.  But they are sin nonetheless.

“You will not be steadily comfortable till you learn to derive your comfort from a simple apprehension of the person, work, and offices of Christ.  He is made unto us of God, not only righteousness, but sanctification also.”

Now he points his friend in the right direction, echoing Hebrews 12.  Keep your focus on Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith- your justification and sanctification before the Holy One.

“… the best evidence of faith is the shutting our eyes equally upon our defects and our graces, and looking directly to Jesus as clothed with authority and power to save to the very uttermost.”

Saving faith looks to Christ, and only Christ.  Look to your graces and pride will soon grow.  Look to your defects and despair will soon swamp your heart.  Jesus saves us from both legalism and license.

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Treasure trove of counsel

I am still slowly making my way through The Letters of John Newton (you can read the Introduction here).  In his letters to Lord Dartmouth, he opens up his life a little with regard to the reality of our continuing struggle with sin and sinfulness.  Even in this he is guarded in some ways.  We could write it off to him being a Brit, but I suspect there is some wisdom to it as well.

“Permit me to tell your lordship a little part, (for some things must not, cannot be told,) not of what I have read, but of what I have felt, in illustration of this passage.”

He is referring to Galatians 5:17.  He focuses on the experiential side of Christianity here, not just some book learning.  He unveils his heart o so briefly.  He wants Lord Dartmouth to know the reality of his struggle, but not necessarily the specifics of his struggle.  This is the wisdom, lest his sins be used against him at some later date.  It does not matter what sins Newton is struggling with (since this is not a James 5 moment of confessing his sins to another).  He is attempting to console him, and this should be enough.

He begins with allusions to the Proverbs:

“I would not be the sport and prey of wild, vain, foolish, and worse imaginations; but this evil is present with me: my heart is like a highway, like a city without walls or gates.  Nothing so false, so frivolous, so absurd, so impossible, or so horrid, but it can obtain access, and that at any time, or in any place: neither the study, the pulpit, nor even the Lord’s table, exempt me from their intrusion.”

I know of what he speaks.  I’ve had too many of those moments, in the unlikeliest of moments.  “Where did THAT come from?” since it seemed so disconnected to my task or circumstances.  One evidence of our continuing sinfulness is our thought life.  Particular the spontaneous thoughts, and what they reveal about us.

“In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me, which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should as if a toad or serpent was put in my food or in my bed.”

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The second section in Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel is called Religion is a Headache. I couldn’t agree more.   The idea that our relationship with God is dependent upon us, and our works, is not only burdensome but untrue.

The nature of justification is that it is an act of God’s free grace in which He imputes the righteousness of Christ to all who receive Christ as He is presented to us in gospel.  It is not increased nor decreased by our works, good or bad.

The trouble is, Farley never defines justification.  Farley never defines sanctification, and never distinguishes between the two.  This is at the root of the problem.  Like Roman Catholicism, he does not distinguish between the two.  Unlike Roman Catholicism which then declares that faith AND works are necessary for justification, he says that the law has NO role in our sanctification.

He continually makes two appeals.  The first is that “legalism” as he defines it, makes Christianity look unattractive to non-Christians.  Our lack of joy and satisfaction resulting from our misunderstanding of Christianity drive people away.  The second is to say that if we are to follow the Law we must follow ALL of it, and how absurd it would be for us to follow the 600+ laws given in the Pentateuch.

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An acquaintance asked me if I’d read The Naked Gospel: the Truth You May Never Hear in Church by Andrew Farley.  Read it, I hadn’t even heard of it.  He provided me with a copy so he could get my impressions of the book.  The packaging was a bit different, and fairly cool.

In the first few pages I knew that danger was ahead.  Sometimes I think pastors should not write books.  They assert things without demonstrating how they are true.  This book suffers from this problem in spades.  Sorry I’ve already shown you my cards.

It starts provocatively with a quote from Arthur Bury, whose 1691 book entitled The Naked Gospel was burned by the church of his day.  This sort of sets up a martyr complex of sorts if he too is rejected.

“The naked gospel [is] discovering what was the gospel which our Lord and his apostles preached; what additions and alterations latter ages have made in it; what advantages and damages have thereupon ensued.”

That is a noble and desirable task.  I have never heard of Arthur Bury, but other influences of note are Hannah Whitall Smith (author the The Christians’ Secret to a Happy Life which I read decades ago) and Andrew Murray (a devotional writer).  They are advocates of Christian passivism often portrayed as “let go and let God”.  Pastor Farley is very excited about discovering this view.  Sadly he bases his theology on the work of devotional writers.  There is no evidence of research into the work of any respected pastor-theologians or respected theologians past or present.  This lack of exegetical depth beneath the popular treatment is sad.

In some ways I don’t blame him for his excitement.  His description of his life before this discovery of “the naked gospel” was one of intense legalism and frustration.  He was laboring under a serious misunderstanding of the gospel.  He believed he must do certain good things to maintain God’s acceptance.  Sadly, I fear he went to the opposite extreme though he denies being an antinomian.  But he uses his own unsatisfactory definitions of both legalism and antinomianism rather than the usual theological definitions.  This is proof positive of why studying the Marrow Controversy is so important to us today- it addresses the very issues at play here.

Many Christians still walk in Old Covenant bondage.  Regarding the law as a Divine ordinance for our direction, they consider themselves prepared and fitted by conversion to take up the fulfillment of the law as a natural duty. – Andrew Murray

So, any use of the law as a guide is legalism in Farley’s mind.  This is far different from relying on the Law for your initial or continuing acceptance from God.  Farley defines antinomianism is as being against the law, not a theological, exegetical or practical view that the law has no place in the Christian’s life.  But we get ahead of ourselves.

Here is a quiz he offers, answer whether or not each statement is true.

  1. Christians should ask God to forgive and cleanse them when they sin.
  2. Christians struggle with sin because of their old self within.
  3. We should wait on God even before making everyday decisions.
  4. When we sin against God, we’re out of fellowship until we repent.
  5. Old Testament law is written on Christians’ hearts so we want to obey it.
  6. The Bible tells us that Christians can obtain many rewards in heaven.
  7. Christians will give an account for their sins at the great white throne.
  8. Christians should tithe at least 10 percent of their income to the church.
  9. God gets angry with us when we repeatedly sin against him.
  10. God looks at us as though we’re righteous, even though we’re really not.

He says the answer to each one is false.  His book then sets out to show why.  And we’ll examine that in posts to come.

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The Marrow Controversy is one of those obscure questions that appears on the ARP examinations.  Many a student has little knowledge of this controversy that involved, among others, the Erskine brothers.  As a result of the Erskine brother connection, the ARP holds to the “free offer of the gospel”.  The Marrow Controversy shaped the groups that would one day shape the ARP.

I heard of the Marrow Controversy while in seminary, but it was not discussed or examined in any great detail (I can think of a few guys who were examined in Central Florida Presbytery who wish it had so they could answer R.C. Sproul’s questions about evangelism as Calvinists).

One of my favorite Puritans, Thomas Boston, was central to the Marrow Controversy.  The Controversy involved The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher.  Thomas Boston witnessed its censure by the Church of Scotland and saw this as an attack on the gospel itself.  He and the Erskines were among “the Marrow Men” who believed Fisher’s book defended true Christianity against both anti-nomianism and legalism.

Phil Ryken’s introduction to a recent (and needed) reprinting of this book is helpful to put some of this together.  This new edition includes Thomas Boston’s explanatory notes.  Even more helpful is Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures Pastoral Lessons from the Marrow Controversy.  It has 3 lectures that examine its history, the twin problems of license and legalism, and their resolution in the free grace of God.  In many ways, Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God is a modern defense of free grace against license and legalism.  It is the Marrow Controversy applied to today.

“Anyone who comes to grips with the issues raised in The Marrow of Modern Divinity will almost certainly grow by leaps and bounds in understanding three things: the grace of God, the Christian life, and the very nature of the gospel itself.”– Sinclair B. Ferguson

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As I slowly work my way through Luke’s gospel, there is a slight difference in the accounts of Matthew & Luke.  Matthew says, “Then the devel left him, and angels came and attended him.”  Luke puts it this way, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.”  Many see that opportune time to be the final week.  But I notice Jesus being tempted throughout Luke’s gospel. 

In chapter 4 he faces the temptation to reveal his messianic identity too soon, as the demons try to “out him” repeatedly.  Jesus was also tempted by the crowds to disobey the Father and stay in one location to preach.  He had been sent to preach the gospel all through the region.

As the reports of his great authority and power spread, Jesus would often withdraw to isolated places to pray.  He was resisting the temptation to pride.  He was also tempted to fear men as he was verbally attacked in the synagogue (5:21ff).  Later in that chapter he was tempted to give in to the legalism of the Pharisees, and John’s disciples.  He faced this again in chapter 6, along with the temptation harden his heart to another man’s misery, as the Pharisees had.

So you see that a pattern of continual temptation emerges.  This is why we find that he “faced all of the same temptations we do, yet did not sin (Heb. 4 15).”  Like us, Jesus was continually tempted to sin- but didn’t.  He did what we could not do.  So, when he endured the curse (Galatians 2), he did it for us instead of for his own sin.  My little girl knows that Jesus died for our sins.  One day she asked “who died for Jesus’ sins?”  Honest question from a 4 year-old.  Honest answer- he had no sins but ours.

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I’m struggling with my sermon for Sunday.  I’m struggling because I know the sinful, legalistic tendencies of our hearts.  I’m struggling with communicating the truth in such a way as to reveal our idols/substitutes in a more concrete way without establishing “man-made” rules which we use to attack others or exalt ourselves.

In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah returns from Susa to discover that Israel has broken all the promises and oaths they had made to God.  They were once again becoming like the nations, being assimilated, instead of honoring God with their money, time and relationships.  They were not providing tithes & offerings for the worship of God, they were breaking the Sabbath, and they were taking foreign wives.  They had lost their saltiness.

And so have we.  The Church in America struggles with assimilation- being squeezed into the world’s box, conformed to their values rather than conformed to Christ and His values.  We start to worship self and success.  Here’s a chart I put together to summarize it:

 

Love God

Love of Self

Money

Joy in Christ => simplicity + generosity

Covetousness => status symbols + luxuries

Time

Boundaries + balance

Excess to fulfill my agenda

Marriage/Family

Kingdom building + character

Focus on beauty or economic advantage

Church Leadership

Biblical (gospel) principles

Business models (control)

We have a tendency to want to make this clearer so we can better know (we think) if we are being obedient.  This way we can establish our righteousness over our less obedient brothers and sisters.  This permits us to criticize them.  Sometimes they need to be confronted by their own worldliness- but I can’t be the standard by which they are measured.

We also do this so we can play the martyr.  I think of this primarily financially.  We can point to our simplicity- “see what a junky car I drive because I love Jesus”- to show how much more we love Jesus than our brothers.  We aren’t content to say “don’t covet, be generous and keep your treasure in heaven.”  We want to know what that looks like, and we start this Pharisaical process to gain credit instead of relying on Jesus, His work for us, and to work in and thru us.  Or am I the only one whose heart is so twisted by indwelling sin?

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I’m not sure if enjoying is the right word.  I guess the right word would be benefitting.  I am greatly benefitting from my reading of The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.  He is able to expand on some ideas found in his sermons on the Parable of the Lost Sons.  He develops a better understanding of both sin and lostness.

We tend to tie sin in with rebellion- which it is.  But sin is craftier than that.  It can look like obedience!

It is not his sins that create the barrier between him and his father, it’s the pride he has in his moral record; it’s not his wrongdoing but his righteousness that is keeping him from sharing in the feast of the father.

His obedience produces a pride that keeps him apart from his father and younger brother.  Sin can work thru “obedience” to keeps us from Christ and His people.  We seek to save ourselves.  This is the work of the religious fanatic Martin Luther said lives in each of us, the default of our hearts, trying to earn merit before God.

You can avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws.  If you do that, then you have “rights.”  God owes you answered prayer, and a good life, and a ticket to heaven when you die.  You don’t need a Savior who pardons you by free grace, for you are your own Savior.

Because sin is not just breaking the rules, it is putting yourself in the place of God as Savior, Lord, and Judge just as each son sought to displace the authority of the father in his own life.

Keller continues to say that these 2 conditions are not equal.  It is easier for the licentious to see his sin and seek to return home.  The legalist thinks he already is home!  He is more blind to his sin because he looks so good.

What are the signs of an elder brother (legalist, self-righteous, Pharisee)?

The first sign you have an elder-brother spirit is that when your life doesn’t go as you want, you aren’t just sorrowful but deeply angry and bitter.

Keller notes this can function in 2 ways.  If I perceive I have been obedient- I am angry with God and rage against him.  If I perceive I have not been obedient- I am angry with myself and become filled with self-loathing.  Hey, been there, done that- and still take trips there.

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I recently had a dialogue with another pastor about the office of prophet, priest and king in church leadership.  He had been re-reading Dan Allender’s Leading with a Limp, chapter 14: Three Leaders You Can’t Do Without (wow, how did I not blog on that chapter?!).  He wondered what my primary & secondary gifting were (prophet-priest if you’re interested).  One of these days I may try to put my more theologically oriented material into a leadership oriented book working through these issues.

In the meantime, I visited Drew Goodmanson’s blog and he had links to the Acts 29 regional conference in Raleigh.  He and David Fairchild had some seminars working through this triperspectival view of leadership.  I highly recommend them after listening to them today.  The first was on the foundations of triperspectival leadership, and the second was on the applications of triperspectival leadership.  David provided some background into their church plant, the struggles they had and how they have benefited from applying John Frame’s triperspectivalism to church leadership.

Here are some thoughts I jotted down in my notebook to keep track of them:

“When you plant (a church) you’re reacting to something you think you’ve seen wrong in the church, so you’re in this heavy, heavy deconstruction mode.”  David relating advice given by Mark Driscoll

There are differences between how Jesus exercised His office during the Incarnation and how He exercises it now in His exaltation (yes, still incarnated).  For instance, while on earth He preached directly to the people.  In his heavenly prophetic ministry, He worked through the Spirit to complete the giving of Scripture and works through the Spirit in the preaching of the same Scripture.  In His earthly priestly ministry He offered up His body as the perfect sacrifice for sin.  In His heavenly priestly ministry He lives forever to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25).

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Here are 2 of my favorite, non-colorful (or Driscollesque), Luther quotes.  I used them in my sermon yesterday on the Lost Sons.

 “Something inside of us strongly compels us to keep trying to earn God’s approval.  We look for good works, in which we can place our trust and which will bring us praise.  We want to show God what we have done…  None of us should be overconfident when it comes to forgetting our own good works.  Each one of us carries in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic. … We should realize that we all carry in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic, who will destroy faith with foolish delusions of good works.  … God’s approval doesn’t come to us by what we do.  Rather it comes through the holiness of Christ, who suffered for us and rose again from the dead.”  Martin Luther

”Therefore we make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not he who has no sin, but he to whom God does not impute his sin, through faith in Christ.  That is why we so often repeat and beat it into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.”  Martin Luther

The first quote is found in a devotional called By Faith Alone.  The second is from his Commentary on Galatians.  When I was a kid there was a local hardware  chain called Grossman’s.  The ads declared “There’s a little Grossman’s in everyone, there’s a little Grossman’s in you.”  Luther would concur, if it is acknowledged that the little Grossman in you is a religious fanatic.  The default of our heart is to seek to establish our own righteousness.  Every other major religion has this as it basic idea.  This is the primary way people run from God- religion, or legalism (being a good person).  We make an idol of our own goodness/sincerity, and subtly despise the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This is why Luther talks about ministry as “beating” the doctrine of justification into people’s heads.  We must do this because people are prone to lapse back into a legalistic mindset and earn their blessings for God.  Hard message to sell, since it undermines the idols of men’s hearts.  But this is primarily what gospel ministry is.

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I think this will be my final post on The Future of Justification: a Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper.  I think it is more of an assessment than a response.  Piper does a good job of laying out N.T. Wright’s distinctive views on these issues, and then weighing them.  Piper does more than assess them by his own views, he tries to examine if they fit the evidence of Wright’s secondary sources, and (more importantly) the biblical texts.  He also weighs Wright’s criticisms of evangelical theology on this matter (which have some merit) as well as these proposed solution (not so much merit there).

Piper avoids the common traps of polemical theology.  He affirms where N.T. Wright is correct.  He does not demonize him or attack him personally.  In all this I think Piper writes a book that is clear, fair and convincing.  If disciples of N.T. Wright want to hear a fair case of the other side- this is it.  They might not be convinced that Wright is going in unhelpful ways in this matter, but allegiances can work that way.  And then my question becomes, are there areas in which you disagree with him?  If not, then you probably aren’t thinking.  I disagree with John Piper on a few issues, but not here.

Anyway… in chapter 10 Piper assesses the implications of ethnic badges and self-help moralism.  Wright sees “the works of the law” “as an ethnic badge worn to show that a person is in the covenant rather than deeds done to show they deserve God’s favor.”  Wright points to Romans 3:26-30.

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Richard Lovelace’s discussion of destructive and protective enculturation in Dynamics of Spiritual Lifegot me to thinking about worship and nominal Christianity.  He mentions the Puritan Regulative Principle of worship as a type of protective enculturation.  It can be, if used improperly (thinking only the worship of a particular time is pure & acceptable).  And Luther’s view of worship can easily lead to destructive enculturation (worshipping like false religions).

The Regulative Principle states that Scripture regulates our worship.  How one interprets that makes all the difference in the world.  Scripture does address the elements of worship- and these are what should be regulated.  We find lots of singing, prayer, offerings, confession, sacraments and preaching as part of worship.  We then remove the cultural baggage, disenculturation, of previous cultures so we can exercise these elements of worship in our particular culture.  We cannot put a protective cocoon around them that says only Psalms, or hymns written in a certain time frame, or only certain kinds of prayers and songs may be said and sung.

Our worship should be both like and unlike our culture.  It should fit in regarding style, who we dress & speak, how affection is shown etc.  It should be unlike our culture in that it conveys the gospel clearly and consistently, and removes any cultural aspects that are contrary to the gospel.  Christian worship will look different as you cross cultures- even within the same city.  But it should have the unifying aspects of leading us to faith in the triune God, particularly depending on the person and work of Jesus for our salvation, and dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It should emphasize God’s holiness & love, our sin and humility, reverence and joy in the reality of justification & sanctification etc. (John Frame’s Worship in Spirit and Truthis a great book to work through some of these issues in interpreting the Regulative Principle)

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