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Posts Tagged ‘substitutionary atonement’


Last year at this time I was preaching through Jonah. I wish I had Tim Keller’s latest book at the time. The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy should raise any controversy with the title. I’m sure there will be plenty to annoy some. But I loved reading this book.

The book is dedicated to John Newton whose life and ministry made a big impact on Keller. Those familiar with Newton’s writings will find his influence in many places.

He makes two passes through the book, exploring the themes that are found there. The first pass (9 chapters) handles the text sequentially. The second goes back through thematically to address our relationship to God’s Word, God’s world and God’s grace.

It is in Keller’s typical winsome style that points out where we tend to go wrong whether to the left or the right. He’s an equal opportunity offender, but it is so gentle I don’t understand how people get so mad at him. He’s generally right.

In the introduction he alludes to one of his other books. In the first half of the book Jonah is like the younger brother who goes to the far country to avoid his father. In the second half he’s like the angry older brother who is upset about the Father’s joy in repentance.

Jonah stands out as the willfully disobedient prophet to a willfully disobedient people. He is the representative Israelite. Jonah doesn’t trust God. He doesn’t trust that God has his best interests in mind. He is so like, … us.

“And that is the problem facing Jonah, namely, the mystery of God’s mercy. It is a theological problem, but it is at the same time a heart problem. … The story of Jonah, with all its twists and turns, is about how God takes Jonah, sometimes by the hand, other times by the scruff of the neck, to show him these things.”

Keller starts with the storms of life. “All sin has a storm attached to it.” (btw: I read people who claim Keller never talks about sin, or uses the word. What are they talking about?!) Jonah’s disobedience brought a literal storm not only into his life but the lives of the Gentile sailors. Sin’s storms don’t remain isolated to the particular sinner in question. “Sin is the suicidal action of the will upon itself.” He does clarify that most storms are from the condition of sin, meaning that we live in a fallen world and we don’t need to find the particular sin/sinner behind each hurricane, flood or drought. But know that when we sin, there are often earthly consequences.

For the Christian, the storms of life (afflictions) are meant to produce good. He is at work in this storm to bring Jonah to Ninevah for them to receive mercy. For example, I saw a recent interview with Donna Rice who experienced a storm of publicity due to her affair with Senator Gary Hart. She said that the storm brought her back to her Christian faith.

Next Keller explores the idea of who our neighbor is. These Gentiles are better human beings than the prodigal prophet. God is using the disobedient prophet to lead Gentiles to faith and repentance through his disobedience. Jonah only wants to see himself as an Israelite, as part of a faith community. He needs to also see himself as part of humanity, the broader community. Frankly, Christians have the same problem. We don’t have much concern with those around us as long as our lives are going okay. And so Keller explores common grace.

He then moves into the “other”, the question of identity and those who have a different identity than we do. Jonah’s national identity blinded him in many ways. The early church would struggle with the same problem. We use that identity to exclude other people unnecessarily. We dehumanize people who don’t share our ethnic, national or political identities. We’ve seen this as one of the early steps in the holocaust and other genocides (Rwanda, Armenian etc.). This was very helpful as I preached thru Philippians 3 and the false identities we can boast in.

Keller moves to the pattern of love, and the heart of the gospel with substitution. Jonah is a type of Jesus who would die for our sins instead of sins of his own. The storm of God’s merciful wrath (the phrase I used in my sermons, adapted by a phrase of Luther’s) is stilled.

“To deny God’s wrath upon sin not only robs us of a full view of God’s holiness and justice but also can diminish our wonder, love, and praise at what it was that Jesus bore for us.”

In this context he connects wrath with love too. God’s wrath is directed at actions (and people) who harm what He loves. He again clearly articulates the gospel contrary to what the discernment blogs claim about him.

The Gentile sailors end up offering praise and sacrifices to YHWH after the storm is stilled. Keller notes the irony in that Jonah sought to avoid bringing truth to Gentiles, aka wicked pagans, but actually does anyway.

Image result for jonahHe then delves deeper into grace as Jonah wrestles with God in the belly of the fish. He’s gone as low as he can go (the literary irony) because he didn’t go up to Ninevah. Jonah “does business” with God only when he can no longer run from God. He’s trapped and finally admits the ugly truth. Often God has to bring us to similar places before, like addicts, we admit we’ve made a complete mess of things by our disobedience and can’t fix it.

With Jonah finally going to Ninevah, the discussion moves to repentance. They repented of their injustice, and moved toward justice. They were a violent, oppressive people. Repentance meant turning away from their violence and oppression. When the gospel calls us out of sin, it also calls us out of injustice. This is Keller’s connection between the gospel and “social justice”. He’s not preaching a social gospel, but the gospel of Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement with implications for justice in society. He’s not preaching a privatized faith nor a civil faith or religion. Personal faith is lived out in society as well as the community of faith.

With God relenting another storm arises, this time in Jonah’s heart. He’s beyond angry. In Jonah’s mind, relenting from destruction means the inevitable destruction of Israel. He’s blind to Israel’s sin, apparently, just as we tend to be to our sin and the sin of our communities.

God responds with patience and instruction. He is not only concerned about Israel, but all these people who also bear His image. He even cares about the livestock. That’s who He is. Unlike Jonah, Jesus wept over Jerusalem over the impending destruction for its wickedness.

“They want a “God of love,” but a God of love who does not get angry when evil destroys the creation he loves is ultimately not a loving God at all. If you love someone, you must and will get angry if something threatens to destroy him or her.”

Both God’s righteousness and His love are functions of His goodness! We don’t play them against one another but embrace them both as grounded in His goodness. So, this same God can justify the wicked because He loved them in sending His Son as a propitiation for their sin. Jesus satisfied His righteousness and His love. He didn’t satisfy His righteousness so God was then free to love.

Keller then moves to the three final themes of his book. Like Jonah (following Adam and Eve) we struggle to believe God’s Word is good for us. We minimize His wisdom and magnify ours. We trust our word over His.

“Sin always begins with the character assassination of God. We believe that God has put us in a world of delights but has determined that he will not give them to us if we obey him.”

Keller defends the substitutionary atonement from the charge of “divine child abuse” as infamously made by Steven Chalke. That charge does damage to the Trinity, not simply atonement. The one God in three persons works to save us. Jesus is not some lesser being offered to change the mind of an angry deity.

IImage result for dodo birdn terms of our relationship to God’s world he returns the question of our neighbor. Calvin, he notes, reminded us that all our neighbors bear the image of God and we must remember that. Keller applies this to politics. We must find a way between the erroneous beliefs that we should just preach the gospel and avoid politics, or that politics is all-important. The two party system tries to push a “package deal” on us instead of allowing us to vote “a la carte”. Pro-life Democrats are going the way of the dodo. But this doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Republican. They have anti-Christian views too. The gospel of the One who died for us when we were His enemies, calls us out of our partisanship and demonization of the other side. Loved by One we hated, we can begin to love ones we hated.

Keller moves into how privileged status can play out in perverting justice. The same laws should apply to all within a society. He mentions “citizens over immigrants” without any mention of their legal or illegal status as immigrants (I think this matters in light of Romans 13). But immigrants and other vulnerable groups should not be taken advantage of by the powerful. Christians, who worship a just God, should care about justice.This is not at the expense of the God but on account of the gospel.

“We must realize that since all our social problems stem from our alienation from God, the most radical and loving thing you can do for a person is to see him or her reconciled to God.”

IImage result for c.s. lewisn our relationship to God’s grace Keller clearly puts a changed life as a result of salvation, not the cause of salvation. In this it differs from every other religion. Here he explores Lewis’ The Four Loves to discuss our attachment to our people and culture. Lewis affirms a love for our people, but notes “We all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god.” Love of country is not the same a fascism or racism. Lewis rejects anti-patriotism as extremism just as he rejected any nationalism that begins to denigrate and destroy those who are different. [It is important to understand what is meant when someone uses the term ‘nationalism’. It can simply refer to the love of country that is normal for most people, and not the political movement used to justify the supremacy of a nation.] When do you know love of country has gone toxic? When it ignores the blemishes of its past. EVERY country has very ugly blemishes in its past. In the present, every country is full of “good” and evil people (law abiding vs. criminals). Lewis notes that when a country begins to intentionally suppress or erases its misdeeds they begin to express racial/national/ethnic superiority. We then find ourselves on the doorstep of racism and oppression. This is a very helpful section. This is pertinent because it helps us to understand what Jonah experienced in himself. Turning from grace he was in the throes of a toxic nationality that wanted to withhold God from other people groups.

Jesus purchased people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language. The gospel mission focuses on loving other people groups, not just your own. This is the heart of Jonah’s struggle and ours. Will we embrace the mystery of God’s mercy or will we try to bottle it up as exclusively for people just like us? Jonah doesn’t resolve that question in his life, because it isn’t fully resolved in the readers. The question is, what will you do next knowing that God cares about those people too?

In the future I hope to read Anthony Carter’s book on Jonah,Running From Mercy: Jonah and the Surprising Story of God’s Unstoppable Grace, which was released at about the same time.

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Jared Wilson’s new book is a bit of a departure for him. He has written mostly for the church and its relationship to the gospel. With Unparalleled he seeks to talk to the world about the gospel. The subtitle is How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling. That is Wilson’s goal in this book, to reveal this compelling uniqueness.

This is not an evidentialist kind of book like Evidence that Demands a Verdict. It is more in the tradition of Mere Christianity and The Reason for God. Wilson covers the territory in different ways but it winsome rather than confrontational. He adds some humor. He removes some of the philosophical sophistication of Lewis and Keller’s books. But he is speaking to a similar skeptical world to the ones they did.

He begins with how the God of Christianity is different and cycles through the following: the Trinity, Human Dignity as the Image of God, Human Depravity as Fallen in Adam, Jesus is God, His Substitutionary, His Resurrection, Salvation, Mission and Eschatology. So he treats the major doctrines of Christianity, in a good logical order, He does this with an eye toward showing not simply the reasonableness of Christianity but how it is profoundly different (and better) than any other faith tradition.

This is really the important thing- that profound difference in what we teach about God, man and salvation. As he does this, he often brings us into conversations with cab drivers like Omar and (the midnight) Tokar. There are dying church members, high school friendships and a boss. The questions and comments of skeptics and atheists often move the discussion forward.

“The deepest, most profound evil I will ever face is that which is found in me.”

This is a book I would commend. It isn’t perfect, obviously. Perhaps because I was studying the Trinity shortly before reading the chapter I found it took abit too long to get to the crux (as least for Augustine and Michael Reeves); God is love. This is what makes the God of Christianity profoundly different from the god of Islam or any other faith. He gets there near the end of the chapter, but dabbles in some unsatisfying material first. The incomprehensible nature of the Trinity isn’t really what matters, though it is true. That people want a God of love is important. Not just loving, but love as central to His essence and character.

“Think about it: A solitary god cannot be love. He may learn to love. He may yearn for love. But he cannot in himself be love, because love requires an object.”

The Christian understanding of mission is very different. It is not a self-salvation project. It is a response to grace received. It is also about offering grace instead of demanding change. Christianity thrives as a minority faith, and one that serves the ones deemed unworthy by society. While he notes the great things Christians do he also notes we don’t have cameras following us to show the world. This is why the new atheists can get traction with the claims of religion causing so much harm. They ignore the damage done by atheistic regimes, but more importantly the many hospitals, schools, poverty agencies etc. founded by Christians.

His chapter on eschatology isn’t what many might think. Like many, he heard about “heaven”. I’m guess he also heard about the rapture and great tribulation. But the focus here is not on these, but on the new heavens and earth. There is a physical, as well as spiritual, hope for Christians. While the world seems to be running down, these groans are birth pains for the renewed or restored creation in which all God’s people will spend eternity. We don’t have a faith that hates this world, but one that hates sin and misery while longing for the removal of the curse from creation.

“All of our attempts at orchestrating community cannot keep our self-interest at bay. The vast injustice of the world- in everything from slavery to racism- is the result of our failure at community. Sin messes up our souls; sin messes up our societies.”

As you read you do find a comprehensive world and life view that makes sense, and better sense of the world than any other. The tension between the dignity and depravity of man helps us understand why we see glory and why we experience evil. The gospel of grace is fundamentally different than the salvation offered by other faiths. Grace and glorification leave the others in the dust. It is a faith for real people, real sinners, as I listen to Johnny Cash’s American VI which was largely about his hope in Christ.

This book if for the real people in your life. The ones who would find C.S. Lewis dry or Tim Keller a little intellectual. It is for the skeptics in your life. The power to change their hearts and minds lies not in Wilson’s words. Like Tokar they may just shrug. But God may use it to see and delight in Christ for their salvation as a result.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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The 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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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming things at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated for the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

Well, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

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Today is Fat Tuesday which used to have a different meaning than it currently has in secularized America.  It refers, originally, to the end of the feast in the church year and the beginning of a time of fasting in the church year.  It has turned into a time of feasting, not on food, but sin before fasting from sin.  America has turned it into another excuse to get drunk, naked and engage in immoral activity.

“Fat, drunk and stupid is not any way to go through life, son.”  Dean Wormer

For some, the Lenten practice is to give up something they love or enjoy.  It is something of a sacrifice to fast from TV, drinking, candy etc.  I don’t want to say sacrifice is a bad thing.  I believe I am saved from my sin by sacrifice- the sacrifice of Jesus.  In the Old Testament, the sacrifices were intended to point us to Jesus and His once for all time sacrifice.  Sometimes people fell into the misguided notion that those sacrifices were the real deal.  They missed God’s point since the blood of bulls and sheep can’t take away or cover your sin.

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I’ve reviewed some specific sections and issues from Andrew Farley’s The Naked Gospel.  He wrote the book in order to relieve people from the bondage of legalism which can come from misunderstanding the gospel.  That is a great thing.  But Farley seems to misunderstand the gospel in a different way.

He begins the book by inviting theological discussion.  Theological disputation is an important thing, but it must be done properly.  Where Farley, and his book,  ultimately fails is how he pursues theological disputation.

His book is filled with exegetical and hermeneutical errors.  Texts are often taken out of context.  His method of interpretation is profoundly flawed. He ignores texts that may have something to say about his points.  When talking about how we won’t stand before God at the Great White Throne, he tosses out Matthew 25 due the fact that it took place before the Cross.  Nor does he refer to Romans 14:9-12.

9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  11 It is written: ”‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’”  12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

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I was a little surprised when CavWife said she wanted to see Taken.  I had heard of the brutal torture scene (yes, though extracting information it was torture and tainted by revenge), and thought she wouldn’t be interested.  Ironically, while watching a preview she commented “that’s just about revenge.”  Nevertheless, while at Redbox, I picked up Taken and a Val Kilmer movie I’d never heard of, Columbus Day.

Liam Neeson plays a former CIA “preventer” named Brian Mills.  His casting in this role seems less likely than even Matt Damon as Jason Bourne.  Perhaps I should be cast as Mitch Rapp.  But, I’ve never seen Liam in person so I have little context for this assessment.  Perhaps he’s stronger and quicker than I imagine, but I think it is largely the result of quick shots and editing.

Anyway, his teenage daughter Kim travels overseas.  She tells her father she’s going to Paris to see the museums, but he discovers she’s really going to follow U2 around on a European Tour.  Shortly after arriving in Paris, she and her friend are taken by human traffickers.  Brian uses his skills to track the traffickers and retrieve his daughter.

There is not much of a plot besides this, and it moves at a rather quick pace.  He’s working against the clock, and he’s been trained to compartmentalize so he’s not agonizing over any of this.  But he kills and maims his way around Paris to find his daughter (granted, more noble than Bourne’s escapades in Europe).

As I lay on my bed it came to me- this was a picture of grace (granted, a stunted one).  I realized this when I reflected on the fact she didn’t deserve it.  To be rescued (yes … I’d rescue my daughter, perhaps even creating similar carnage).  She lied to her father and manipulated him.  She was also lied too by her friend who put her in such a dangerous position.  But she was essentially a spoiled, ungrateful child who disobeyed and betrayed her father and placed herself, by her selfishness, into the arms of human flotsam.

That is me.  I didn’t deserve to be rescued from the mortal danger I’d placed myself in.  Romans 5 says that Jesus died to save us while we were ungodly, sinners and enemies of God.  We do not deserve this, nor can we earn it (as Capt. Miller told Private Ryan to do).

Perhaps that is why she exclaims “you came for me!”  Maybe, while being to be sold as a sexual slave she realized how selfish she had been.  Some days I need to recapture the amazement that “He came for me!”

Unlike Brian Mills, He didn’t rescue by taking out the even more evil ones.  Oh, that will happen later.  But Jesus came to rescue by offering His life in our place.  This is why I say the redemptive theme in Taken is stunted.  Brian Mills only risked his life, and offered to pay a ransom.  He wasn’t the ransom.  Jesus was.

But, as I lay on my bed after a sin-filled, selfish day, I was reminded how undeserving I am, what grave danger I was in, and that He came for me.  Yes, a picture of grace.

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On Nightline, there was a Face Off regarding the reality of Satan.  Mark Driscoll was one of the participants.  Mark did a great job integrating the reality of the Evil One with a presentation of the gospel.  He offered hope in the midst of our personal and societal struggles.

And then there was Deepok Chopra gave a bunch of ying & yang psycho-babble (quoting Freud, but in line with Jung’s work) about how “healthy people don’t need the devil.”   Bishop Pearson forsakes his calling based on a false stereo-type.  Nice.  Another “bishop” denying the teaching of Scripture.  I guess we solve the problem of evil by just not thinking about it.

Both of argue against the belief in the devil on the basis of wars- religious wars.  just because some nuts believe you can drop the bomb on the devil to destroy him does not make this a reason to deny personal evil.  It is a Straw Man argument, fallacious to the core.  The devil is not material, can’t be bombed, shot or drugged out of existence.  Only Jesus destroys the work of the devil (Hebrews 2, I think), which Pearson forgot to mention when saying Jesus would not be pleased by all that bomb dropping.  I’m pretty sure Jesus isn’t pleased with those who think dropping bombs (or flying planes into sky scrappers) is the way to defeat The Great Satan.  Now, legitimate governments bearing the sword against those who pose a threat against those they are charged to protect (Romans 13) is another story.  But the ultimate solution is only Christ and Him crucified to destroy, among other things, the hate in our hearts and the evils that flow from that.

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Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Way back in 1517, Luther attacked the use of indulgences by the Church of Rome.  They were used to provide a false hope, and a steady flow of cash for Papal building projects.  The Reformation was born.

Many, Cavman included, think we need a new (or renewed) Reformation since the doctrine of justification by faith alone as fallen on hard times in evangelical circles.  People have once again put sanctification prior to justification, just in a different form than Rome did.

But the Church of Rome has made a change that was not expected by many people.  Indulgences are back.  Yes, like the Terminator they have returned, and that is not a good thing either.

“Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”

Like the Latin Mass and meatless Fridays, the indulgence was one of the traditions decoupled from mainstream Catholic practice in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops that set a new tone of simplicity and informality for the church.

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Back to working my way through Steve McCoy’s Big 5 Books, today the Cross.  As Spurgeon once said:

“Endeavor to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavor especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ.” C.H. Spurgeon

Here are the best books I’ve read:

The books I have yet to read, and hope to:

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Yesterday I was meeting with a group of pastors to talk about our sermon text, Nehemiah 1.  In the course of our discussion Tim Rice mentioned the ‘grid’ he uses: Christ’s work for us & Christ’s work in us.  The example he gave, since we were discussing prayer, was Jesus praying for us and the work of the Spirit in us so we pray with Jesus.

In light of where the text was taking me regarding Nehemiah’s name (YHWH has comforted or the comfort of YHWH), I saw Christ’s work through us.  He not only comforted Nehemiah, but comforted Jerusalem through Nehemiah (see 2 Corinthians 1).

I thought of this in the triperspectival grid this morning.

Christ’s work for us (normative) => Christ’s work in us (existential/subjective) => Christ’s work thru us (circumstantial/situational)

This is how I need to be thinking as I approach sermons.

Christ died in our place <= His Work for Us => Christ obeyed in our place

Mortification of sin <= His Work in Us (sanctification) => Vivification of godliness

Justice <= His Work thru Us (service) => Mercy

or

Discipleship (inward) <= His Work thru Us => Mission (outward)

This warrents some more thinking, but first I must return to Nehemiah 1!

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I finally finished reading In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson.  You can preview the first 3 chapters

This book, as I mentioned earlier, is the compilation of articles written by Sinclair Ferguson.  As a result, it is more accessible for the busy lay person.  You don’t need to invest lots of time and energy into reading a chapter since they are short.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have some rich content.  There are some great chapters and ideas in this book.  But it isn’t written with lots of technical jargon.

The book is broken up into 6 sections.  The first, The Word Became Flesh, addresses issues regarding the Incarnation.  The second, The Heart of the Matter, focuses on issues related to the gospel.  It goes into justification, substitutionary atonement, the offices of Christ and how the resurrection matters to us.  Section 3, The Spirit of Christ, briefly explores the Spirit’s role in our salvation.  He then addresses the Privileges of Grace – union with Christ, indwelling of the Spirit, regeneration, sanctification, prayer etc.  He moves to a more practical theology in A Life of Wisdom which talks about discernment, humility, God’s will and more.  In concludes with Faithful to the End addressing issues of perseverence.  So in many ways this functions as a brief systematic theology.

The one weakness would be the “YBH Factor”.  Huh?  “Yes, but how?”  Due to the brevity of the articles he obviously couldn’t develop the application as much as he normally would or could.  This can be mildly frustrating at points, but the the other factors greatly outweigh this to make a book I would highly recommend to my not so theologically oriented friends and those with overburdened schedules.  I think it would be helpful for young Christians to gain a good theological foundation.  A study group of young Christians could learn much from reading and discussing this book.

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In chapter 3 of The Future of Justification, John Piper pretty much dismantles N.T. Wright’s views concerning law-court dynamics and the meaning of God’s righteousness.

Wright tends to prefer  that justification, and the law-court imagery, refer primarily, though not exclusively, to the final law-court.  He does tie this to what has happened in Christ.  The issue revolves around his distinction between the righteousness of a judge and that of the defender.  Wright points to 4 senses in which the Judge is righteous: “his faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham, his impartiality, his proper dealing with sin and his helping of the helpless.”  So, for the Judge it refers to His actions.  Wright does not go deeper into His character that produces those actions.

With regard to the defendant, righteousness is a status- that one is a part of God’s family.  It is not status in terms that one is righteous (in the greek, righteousness and justice are the same word group, and context determines the meaning).  So, Wright writes “it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendent.  Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. … To imagine the defendent somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.”

I would agree, to a point.  The defendent is receiving the righteousness of the Substitute, the Representative.  His righteous actions, according to all Paul belabors in Romans 3-5, are imputed to all who believe, or trust in, that Representative.  The Judge declares us righteous because we are united to the Righteous One.  It is Wright who makes a profound “category mistake”.  He misleads through his use of the law-court imagery, not the imagery itself.

Piper focuses on the issue of God’s righteousness, asserting that Wright’s understanding is too superficial as I noted above.  He summarizes his argument from his book The Justification of God (very good, but very technical book).  “The simple way is to say that God’s righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to do what is right.”  What is right?  “‘Right’ actions are those that flow from a proper esteem for God’s glory and that uphold his glory as the most valuable reality there is.”  Piper then goes on to show how this fits Paul’s argument from Romans 1-3, showing Paul had this view in mind.  As a result, we find that this view of righteousness creates a problem for covenant faithfulness, in that we have become idolators, and God should bring covenant curses on our heads.  While sins went unpunished, it seemed like God didn’t value His glory.  “When he justifies the ‘ungodly’ (who have treated his glory with contempt, Rom. 1:18, 23; 4:5), he is not unrighteous, because the death of Christ exhibits God’s wrath against God-belittling sin.”  Sin has a big part Paul’s notion of justification.

In the basis of Romans 3:5 & 7 (parallels) Piper shows that it is righteous for God to show wrath for his own glory.  This is something Chalke wants to deny, which is why Wright’s endorsement of his book is problematic.

As Piper works through Romans, he asks that we do that same thing with his definition of righteousness that he did with Wright’s: does it work in the whole text?  Remember, Wright’s didn’t make sense in many parts of Paul’s argument (part of the same context, so we’d expect it to have a similar if not identical meaning).  Piper’s makes much more sense.  The implications of this will be explored more fully in his fourth chapter.

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Chapter 2 of Piper’s The Future of Justification is on The Relationship Between Covenant and Law-Court Imagery for Justification.  Here Piper begins to address Wright’s definition of justification and his use of law-court imagery.  In the process we find places where N.T. Wright is right, and places where he is not so right.

N.T. Wright says that “‘belonging to the covenant’ means, among other things, ‘forgiven sinner.'” (from Paul in Fresh Perspective)  He rightly connects justification with the doctrine of election.  But here he makes an unusual definition of justification- “declared by God to be His people” (also from Paul in Fresh Perspective).

Piper does not go there, but Wright is conflating justification and adoption.  See, sometimes those systematic categories are helpful.  Justification and adoption are connected- you cannot have one without the other (like justification and sanctification) but they must be distinguished or you lapse into similar errors.  This leads Wright to at the least neglect, if not reject, our imputed righteousness in his understanding of justification.

In Piper’s footnote #7 on page 40, he quotes a letter from Andrew Cowan who rightly states that “Covenant membership was never a guarantee that one would participate in the covenent’s blessings.  ‘In the covenant’ as a salvific category is inadequate.”  This is something that I think those who hold to believer’s baptism don’t understand when they criticize the Reformed view of infant baptism.  Scripture consistently reminds us that there are covenant breakers- beginning with Ishmael, then Esau and more.  Those who are truly saved are part of the covenant community, but being in the covenant community (church membership) does not mean one is truly saved.  So, defining justification as “covenant membership” is at best superficial and at worst misleading and disasterous.

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The fourth chapter of Velvet Elvis is called Tassels.  Rob is referring to the tassels on a prayer shawl.  He connects this with the passage in Malachi about Messiah coming with healing in his wings (referring to the shawl).

Rob tells the story about the beginning of Mars Hill and how success almost killed him.  He had to come face-to-face with who he was and the things that were really driving him.

As an aside- it was great to hear that they had no vision, no marketing, he’d read no books on church planting, no 5-year plan, no demographic.

Where Rob Bell goes with this is to actually recapture a more biblical understanding of salvation.  The doctrine of salvation has been reduced in many circles to encompass forgiveness, and a ticket to heaven.  Christianity then becomes about following some rules.

He puts it this way: “When we understand salvation from a legal-transaction perspective, then the point of the cross becomes what it has done for us.”  I don’t think this is a necessary conclusion.  Many who embrace the substitutionary atonement as (in part) a legal-transaction (as Paul does in Romans) recognize that the point is the glory of God in the salvation of sinners.  But, yes, many Christians have been influenced by individualism and sinfully make themselves the center of the universe even in salvation.

Our salvation is not less than justification (the pardon of our sins, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness so we are accepted by God).  But we must include sanctification (the transformation of the character so that we are like Jesus).  This is more than following a ethical code.  It is the transformation of the heart- meaning we begin to dig up our idols.

Rob reminds that our individual salvation is part of the renewal of the entire cosmos that will occur when Jesus returns.  It is important to remember this when individualism runs rampant in our culture and churches.  It does not deny the salvation of individuals, but recognizes that they are brought into the holy community, the Body of Christ, and receive the renewed heaven and earth.

Where Rob loses me is the end, or rather his process- “go to a counselor”.  Okay, I’ve got a degree in counseling, so I don’t think that biblical counselors are wrong.  But he seems to view sanctification as therapy.  He does also say “Go on a retreat.  Spend a couple of days in silence.  Do whatever it takes.”  He advises things that remove you from community to find healing or restoration.  He does not point you back to the community of faith, say like James 5 does.  Or Ephesians 4-6.  Odd for a guy who beats the drum of community.  Sanctification is a community project, not an individual affair.  It is more than therapy, but a putting to death of the sin that seeks to take my captive.

Repainting sanctification from total transformation via the means of grace => transformation via therapy.  Man, he got so close in this chapter.

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Since Jerry Falwell passed away yesterday, I was reminded of his latest “foot in mouth” moment, when he called Particular Atonement a heresy.  Many people may not know what this is, and why it may be important.  So… I figured I’d spend a few moments explaining it.

It is often called Limited Atonement, which drives Arminians crazy.  “How can you limit the atonement?!”  Well, they limit the atonement too, just in a different but dangerous way.

Limited, or Particular, Atonement is the doctrine that Jesus died to save the elect, and only the elect.  Some proponents may recognize a common (for all people, but not saving) grace element purchased by Jesus in His death on the Cross.

Arminians will point to passages like John 3 that stress “the world”.  Oddly, the context of all/most of those passages is to point people to the fact that God loved non-Jews too.

Calvinists, like me, point to the passages that limit the extent of the atonement.  In John 10, Jesus says that He lays down His life for the sheep.  Not everyone is one of His sheep.  He points, again, to both Jew and Gentile (sheep not of this flock).  In Ephesians 5, Paul says that Jesus died for the Church.  We connect this with the biblical teaching that God chose to save some “before the creation of the world” (Eph. 1) in Christ, and before they had “done good or bad” like Esau & Jacob (Romans 9).

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Britain’s Radio 4 recently had an interview with Jeffrey John, a church leader there.  His comments concerning the atonement are similar to Stephen Chalke’s (and echoed by Brian McLaren here in the States).  Here’s what he said:

“The explanation I was given went something like this. God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished. But instead of punishing us, he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place . . . In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him. Well, I don’t know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive, as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we’d say they were a monster. Well, I haven’t changed my mind since. That explanation of the cross just doesn’t work, though sadly it’s one that’s still all too often preached. It just doesn’t make sense to talk about a nice Jesus down here, placating the wrath of a nasty, angry Father God in heaven . . . the wrath of God is no more than a human projection . . . The cross, then, is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it’s almost the opposite. It’s about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God, but by God . . . (more…)

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I finished DA Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  As always I find him thought-provoking and his analysis penetrating.  There will be a review of the book on the other page (along with Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes).

Here are Carson’s main complaints, which I cannot deny.

1. Their critique of modernism is superficial.  It is quite reductionistic.  There are problems with modernism, and they have distorted the church’s view of itself and its mission.  But it was not all bad.

2. Their analysis of postmodernism is superficial.  They focus on it effects, not one the fundamentally flawed theory of knowledge.  They push us into a false antithesis which undercuts the notion of truth.

3. Their most vocal spokespeople are doctrinally fuzzy at best, and heretical at worst (the last part is my assessment).  I’m thinking that if you deny the substitutionary atonement, you have missed the essence of Christianity.  You have substituted another religion in its place.  Sorta like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  McLaren, for one, has done this.

So, while I have great sympathies for the Emerging Church, I can’t buy into it.  I agree with many of their critiques of contemporary Christianity (though not all).  I share many of their longings for authentic community where lives are transformed and we aren’t afraid of the past.  But I can’t go all the way.  This makes me sad.  Not because I want to be all trendy.  But this hope for a more authentic church is currently mired in trendy worship, fuzzy/heretical teaching and is just as much captive to culture as the contemporary/modernist churches they despise.  It is the product more of their biases than biblical teaching.

[originally from my previous blog]

Update: Carson is primarily critiquing the Emergent Church which is the most radical of the Emerging Churches.  He is actually quite influential among what Mark Driscoll calls the Relevants.

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