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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The final section of The Explicit Gospel has to do with implications and applications. The majority of the section has to do with what happens if you stay on the ground or in the air too long.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son.”

Think of it as a cross country trip. If you drive it you easily get lost in the details. Especially in west Texas. Monotony can set in. The hours grind by and you lose sight of the big picture- why you are going there. You just want to get there.

If you fly, let’s say a small private plan like my friend Steve, you can’t stay in the air too long or you’ll run out of fuel. You see the big picture, but you miss out on the details. You see the expanse of canyons and mountains. But you miss the nuances of those same places.

Not the best illustration, but hopefully it helps. Unfortunately it does break down because the two modes of transportation are not as obviously complementary. They are often mutually exclusive. Too often people treat the gospel on the ground and the air as mutually exclusive instead of complementary. These are the dangers that Chandler wants to make explicit.

He begins with a discussion of slippery slopes. Most theological errors are the result of over-emphasizing something that is true at the expense of something else that is true. In trying to protect one thing, we go too far and deny something else. His goal is to encourage us to avoid this by holding both together.

“So it is not usually in the affirmation of a truth that someone goes down the slippery slope, but in the denial of corresponding truths.”

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The book What is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission by DeYoung and Gilbert has been on my list of books to read since it came out. The recent “controversy” regarding the book moved it up the list faster. It is really difficult to talk about this book without referencing at least some of what has gone on.

In the book, they noted that some people received early copies of the manuscript to elicit feedback. They were thankful for that, and included some people who would “push back”. In other words, they didn’t send it to people who would love all over it. This book is a contribution to a larger discussion on the topic of the mission of the church. So they read a number of books on the subject, drew upon their own experiences as pastors and studied the Scriptures (not necessarily in that order). They tried to do their homework. But no book is met with unanimous affirmation.

Ed Stetzer’s review, in particular, has received a great deal of attention. He affirms them in many ways, but also criticizes their views for being too narrow. As I read his review, I get the impression he wasn’t really listening.

“The mission of the church always must include making disciples, but the life of disciples will always produce work unique to its time and place, relating to the various needs and corruptions in the world around us. And such work is not only the fruit of discipleship, but is also, through modeling, part of the process of making disciples.” Ed Stetzer

I didn’t get the impression they would disagree with what he said. But he misses the point. That is the life of disciples, which they distinguish from the mission of the church. As disciples, we act justly and defend the rights of others. But he’s saying this to criticize their view of the mission of the church. The book is about what the Church is to invest it’s limited resources doing. And that, in their view, is to make disciples. Those disciples will do many things that they institutional church does not, and should not do. Let’s put it this way: John Newton was right to encourage Wilberforce to remain in politics and work for the abolition of slavery. And John Newton, who aided that cause with his personal testimony and records, was right not to establish a program of the church designed to work for the abolition of slavery. At least this is how I understand both the Scriptural testimony and the Westminster Confession of the topic of Civil Magistrate.

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I did something I rarely do yesterday.  I checked my Facebook via my semi-smart phone (or is it quasi-smart?).  I was traveling with the family all day and decided to do a status update for some reason.  That’s when I saw that one of my friends mentioned John Stott’s death.  If the death of His saints is precious in His sight, it should also be in ours.

Acts says that David served God’s purposes for his generation.  The same, I think, can be said for John Stott.  Oh, some will lament his views on annihilation (as do I), but overall he was a faithful servant of Christ and was a key figure among British evangelicals, as was J.I. Packer.  His impact was not limited to England.  In the late 90’s I went on 3 mission trips to assist Armonia, a ministry in Mexico City committed to urban transformation.  Saul Cruz had studied under John Stott, and their ministries were linked in some way if I remember correctly on this sleep-deprived day.

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After considering the idea of justice, Tim Keller moves to the topic of Justice and the Old Testament in his 2nd chapter of Generous Justice.  This chapter is about how to interpret the Old Testament law with justice as the example.  I think that best summarizes it.  Keller does this to answer the question of whether or not the laws of the Old Testament are binding on Christians today.

This is a thorny issue, and your answer reflects your method of interpretation.  Dispensationalists, Covenant, and New Covenant theology answer this question differently.  Keller comes from a Covenant Theology perspective.  He recognizes the differences between moral, ceremonial and case/civil law in the Old Testament.  The New Testament is pretty clear that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law in a way that means it is not binding on us any more.  We are ceremonially clean in Christ, and He is our Sacrifice which brings pardon and fellowship.

“So the coming of Christ changes the way in which Christians exhibit their holiness and offer their sacrifices, yet the basic principles remain valid.”

Keller brings a concept from Craig Bloomberg into the mix.  “Every command reflects principles at some level that are binding on Christians.”  So, Christians need to be ceremonially clean, have a sacrifice for sin etc.  The Christian looks to Christ for all this and more, however.  The need still exists, but the reality is in Christ.  Romans 12 teaches us that additionally we offer our whole lives in view of this great mercy.  We offer the sacrifice of praise (Hebrews), not the blood of animals or food offerings.

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One of last year’s more important books was on the topic of helping the poor.  When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … and Yourself was written by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert.  This is no treatise hatched in the hot house of academia.  They have been engaged in developing these models on the field.  They have often had to learn from their mistakes.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so my comments are only with regard to the first 5 chapters of the book.  The book does come with an endorsement from John Perkins who has worked in tranformational ministry for decades.  He’s one of those guys shaking his head when Glenn Beck lumped everyone who talks about social justice in the same bucket.  John Perkins sees a connection with redemption (we seek it as redeemed people longing to see that redemption extended to others) and the need for solid theology- not liberation theology.  The book has the “dubious” distinction of being recommended by people as diverse as Ron Sider and Bryan Chappell (or Joel Belz) and Steve Childers.  This means it has enough gospel in it to be Christian, and enough justice in it to get Ron Sider to buy in.

It starts with the premise that much of the work going on around the world to alleviate poverty actually makes matters worse.  John Perkins recognizes this with the U.S. government’s war on poverty.  It left people dependent on the government.

John Perkins

Another important premise is that most Americans (and other westerners) live as though there is nothing wrong in the Majority World.  We have no grasp of how serious things can be, and think a little money can make it all better (or a concert fundraiser).  We live as if not much is wrong.  We don’t need to feel guilty for our wealth, but we do need to think of ourselves as stewards instead of consumers.

Theologically they embrace both the individual and cosmic implications of the redeeming work of Christ.  Yes, there is the forgiveness of sins.  But there is much more too!  Some churches (and Christians) seek to bring forgiveness but neglect the justice of the kingdom.  Some people seek the justice of the kingdom without bringing the forgiveness of the king.  They illustrate this from the story of a southern pastor and civil rights workers.  They both got it partly right and partly wrong.

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One of the books I picked up at the PCA General Assembly was The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens and the Bible by James Hoffmeier, currently a prof of OT and Biblical Archeology at Trinity.

His own history is interesting.  He grew up in Egypt, the son of missionaries.  When Egypt went to war with Israel, their visa was revoked and the left Egypt with only suitcases never to return (he did return as an adult, but they lost nearly all their possessions).  They spent 2 weeks in a refugee camp on Cyprus.  He has lived in other countries, as a legal immigrant.

On the basis of his background, I’m very interested in how he develops the material.  He notes the release of Christians on the Border by M. Daniel Carroll just as he was finishing this book.  While not a response to Carroll’s book, he does mention a few points of departure in their approach.

In terms of the Christian community there are 2 main camps- the Sanctuary camp, and the Law and Order Camp.  These are the camps you see in my (altogether too brief) interview on a local news station.  The female pastor (?) of a PC (USA) supported the PC (USA) boycott and was offering their church as a sanctuary.  She reported anecdotal evidence of racial profiling- which is odd since at the time SB 1070 had yet to become law.  It was not being enforced.  She didn’t seem able to distinguish between a law and unjust enforcement of the law.

What is interesting is that groups like the Sojourners fear the Religious Right.  Apparently they aren’t afraid to use the Bible in politics, just not when Conservatives try to use it.

“Typically those who want to apply biblical law to the western culture do so selectively, accepting laws they personally feel comfortable with and rejecting those that create unease.”

Often both sides use the Scriptures improperly.  Hoffmeier address hermeneutical issues in the first chapter.  He lays out 4 primary approaches to understanding and applying the Scriptures to this (or any) political issue.

Looking for the literal correlations between past and present.  It is very common among Conservatives, but was also practiced by the “Sanctuary” proponents as well.  This view fails to understand the original historical and cultural context, and does not make adequate epochal adjustments.

Applying the biblical demand for justice to the current laws.  This was used by Martin Luther King Jr..  He rightly called for the laws to be applied fairly to blacks as well as whites.  It requires just laws in the first place.  That seems to be one of the missing pieces in this puzzle.

Examine the legal material to develop the theological or ethical principle there to shape or critique modern laws.  Walter Kaiser takes this approach.

Establish a biblical worldview as a way to evaluate contemporary social and legal issues.  This approach, used by Christopher Wright, takes the theological, social and economic context of Scripture into consideration to “preserve the objective” while changing for the context of any culture or time.  This is the approach that the author will use.

When discussing this issue with other Christians who differ, it is important to understand how they are using the Bible in making their arguments.  This is just as important as their views.

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