My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful book that explores so much: conversion, repentance, adoption, family and church life, and living by faith.
Carl Trueman did a really nice review of it here.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a wonderful book that explores so much: conversion, repentance, adoption, family and church life, and living by faith.
Carl Trueman did a really nice review of it here.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wright preached a short sermon each day of Holy Week in Easington Colliery, England, in 2007. I enjoyed his theme throughout: that when we hear the main melody of the story of Jesus, we should also hear the bass line of the Old Testament that grounds the whole thing, and we also hear the tenor and alto lines of the stories of our society and personal lives, respectively. In each of the sermons, focuses on God’s redemptive purposes in Christ for the world and specifically for Easington Colliery, an old coal town whose mine was closed in the 1990s.
In an exhortation to his congregation this past weekend (Fathers’ Day), Doug Wilson talked briefly about the implications of regeneration, where God gives new life to the believer and become’s the Christian’s Father. He concludes:
This is one of the greatest miracle that God performs, and He does it all over the world. He has done it here, with us. New life, but do not think of this as a mere infusion of some spiritual joy juice. No, in regeneration God gives us a new set of ancestors.
Not only does He radically alter our future, He also gives us a new past.
Peter Leithart has been writing some really interesting stuff about Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox relations lately. I’ve catching up on some of them, and was struck by two reflections on why he is, as he puts it, “too catholic to be Catholic,” that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches (as well as many Protestant churches) are sectarian in their practice of the Lord’s Supper. You can find his reasoning here and here. His first post concludes:
One final reason has to do with time. I cut my theological teeth, and still cut them, on James Jordan’s biblical theology. At the end of Through New Eyes, Jordan argues just as the temple was unimaginable to Israelites living through the collapse of the tabernacle system, so the future of the church is unimaginable to us. We can’t see the future; we can’t know how God is going to put back the fragmented pieces of His church. We can trust and hope that He is and will, but all we have access to are the configurations of the past and present. It’s tempting to imagine that the future of the church will be an extension of some present tradition – Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Anabaptist, whatever. But the future never is a simple extension of the past and present (how can it be, with the massive surge in Christianity in the global South?). So I remain contentedly and firmly in my reformed catholicity, but I remain also eager and impatient for the church to come. Of that church we know nothing except that it will be like nothing we know. We worship a living God, which means (Jenson tells us) a God of constant surprises.
After the first of these posts, he received a lot of feedback, and wrote a follow-up. He believes that the division of the kingdom of Israel offers wisdom in a time of a divided church. He explores the analogy, and concludes:
With this figural history in mind, we also have a basis for celebrating the faithfulness of men and women in parts of the church where liturgical idolatry remains in place. I have often said that I regard John Paul II as the greatest Christian leader of the last century; yet I would also add that, like Asa and Jehoshaphat, he did not remove the high places. Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar are among my favorite theologians, and their labors cast down idols and falsehoods; yet they did not remove the high places. Alexander Schmemann is a prophet to Orthodoxy, and another of my favorite theologians; yet he did not call for a removal of the high places. These and other great figures in recent Catholicism and Orthodoxy are my brothers; yet they did not push their reforms to the limit. They did not remove the high places.
Eventually, kings arise who did remove the high places – Hezekiah and Josiah. And the latter not only removes the high places in Judah but also destroys the shrine of Jeroboam at Bethel (2 Kings 23:15-20) and other high places throughout the northern territories (2 Kings 23:19; 2 Chronicles 34:33). That is to say, Josiah’s purge of the land extends into the territory that once belonged to the northern kingdom of Judah. When he calls the great Passover in his 18th year, Josiah not only gathers the people of Judah but invites the people of the conquered northern kingdom as well: The feast is celebrated by “all Israel and Judah who were present” (2 Chronicles 35:16-19). One can imagine that not everyone liked what Josiah was doing: Israelites from the north might complain about the arrogance of the Davidic king asserting his power in their lands; Judahites in the south would no doubt be hesitant to share a Passover with former calf worshipers of the north. But it happened: After centuries of political and liturgical division, Israel and Judah were reconstituted as one people – as “all Israel” – at a great feast.
Josiah’s reign gives us a vision of the church’s future devoutly to be wished: Brothers separated for centuries sharing one table; a divided people guilty of multiple idolatries restored to fellowship with God and with one another. If the history of Israel figures the history of the divided church, Josiah’s reign gives hope that the rending of the corporate body of Jesus is not permanent, and that like the rending of Jesus on the cross it will in time be followed by a glorious corporate resurrection.
Are we in a “Josiah moment” when the divided church can finally share a single feast? I believe there are signs that it is such a moment. If it is, then the agenda for every branch of the church is the double agenda of Josiah: Remove the idols, whatever they are, tear down the high places, and join with all brothers and sisters at the one table of the one Lord.
As you’ll see if you read the whole post, Leithart does not think that Protestants are perfect. Roman Catholic and Orthodox readers would doubtless like to see him discuss Protestant shortcomings more.
I’m not posting this because I necessarily accept the entire analogy, but because I’ve enjoyed chewing on it, and thought that you might as well.
Peter Leithart wrote a nice defense of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura (Latin for “Scripture alone”), which is part of the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. Sola gratia (“grace alone”), sola fide (“faith alone”), solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and soli Deo gloria (“for the glory of God alone”). He put it in the context of God’s relationship with the church and showed how it applies to his preaching as well. Here are some key excerpts:
Sola scriptura is a theological claim. It is Christological: It says that Jesus is Husband of His Bride, and still speaks to her. As Barth understood, sola scriptura is about the Lordship of the Lord of the church. All Christology is also ecclesiology, and so is sola scriptura: It says that because Christ is Head of the Body, He directs the Body, as and by Word. It is also, as my colleague Toby Sumpter pointed out recently to me, pneumatology: It means that the Spirit speaks to the church not merely through her.
It means that tradition is not the church talking to herself, but God talking to the church and the church talking back. To affirm sola scriptura is to acknowledge that tradition is prayer. To affirm sola scriptura is to say that tradition is liturgy. To affirm sola scriptura is to affirm the primacy of dialog over monologue.
Sola scriptura, despite the apparent import of the word “sola,” doesn’t claim that Scripture is the only authority. Scripture itself affirms the validity and real authority of other authorities: Obey your leaders (Hebrews 13), and the brother who refuses to listen to the church is treated as a tax collector (Matthew 18). But the Reformers followed the example of Jesus, who challenged Jewish tradition with an appeal to the written text (Matthew 15:1-6; Mark 7:1-13). Jesus argued that the Pharisaical tradition (or some thread of that tradition) taught that it was legitimate for children to give money to God rather than caring for aging parents. Jesus refuted them by saying that their tradition nullifies Scripture. Scripture is Jesus’ trump card. He doesn’t point to alternative threads of Pharisaical tradition (though he doubtless could have). One might say, for Jesus Scripture has final authority to judge the legitimacy of tradition. One might say, sola Scriptura.
Paul taught the same in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. Paul reminds Timothy of the people who taught him Scripture. But Paul speaks of Scripture as a “God-breathed” text, which, one might assume, makes it quite different from other texts. In the final clause of the passage, Paul tells Timothy that the Scripture is useful to equip the man of God “for every good work.” Is there a good work that Scripture fails to equip us for? Paul says No. Is there a good work that is not in some fashion an application of Scripture? Paul says No. That’s the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture in a nutshell. That’s sola scriptura….
Of course, of course, of course: When we talk about Scripture correcting the church, we are talking about people reading and studying Scripture and coming to the conclusion that a traditional belief or practice violates Scripture. Of course, that process is subject to all the dilemmas and pitfalls of any interpretation. But then the question again becomes a question of theology proper, not simply of Scriptural authority. Suppose God wants to correct a corruption in His church. Is He able to speak to it? Can God’s voice break through to rebuke and correct and train in righteousness? Can our traditions muzzle the Lord of the church? Can He by His Spirit speak independently of, and against, the tradition? Is tradition a conversation, a liturgy of antiphon and response, or is it the church’s monologue? Is Jesus Lord of His church? Or has the Head been absorbed into the body?
See his whole post for, among other things, his appreciation of the Roman Catholic tradition and the reforms that have taken place within it.
I think that in part Leithart’s post was part of the on-going conversation about the resignation from the Presbyterian Church of America of Jason Stellman (who unsuccessfully prosecuted Leithart in a PCA presbytery for deviating from the Westminster Confession). You can see Stellman’s letter here. Stellman lost confidence in sola fide and sola Scriptura. Here’s what he said about sola fide:
Regarding Sola Fide, I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4). While this is all accomplished entirely by God’s grace through the merits of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, it is at the same time not something that occurs through the imputation of an external and alien righteousness received through faith alone. Rather, as Paul says, God’s people are justified by a faith that works through love—itself the fruit of the Spirit—and with God’s law inscribed on our hearts and minds we sow to the Spirit and reap everlasting life (Gal. 5:4-6, 14, 16, 22; 6:8).
Here’s how Doug Wilson responded to Stellman on this issue:
With regard to sola fide, he is quite right to see the very narrow position he was nurtured in as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to sinners, and the instrument of a God-given faith is what receives that gracious gift. But the gift received is that of living faith, breathing faith, loving faith, the only kind of faith the living God bestows. It is sola fide, not nuda fide. Stellman was wrong to identify his previous narrow view of sola fide as the doctrine of sola fide itself.
You can see Leithart’s more direct response to the matter here.
Last year, James K.A. Smith wrote an article for The Banner, a Christian Reformed Church magazine, that urged CRCers to preserve and restore their Reformed heritage, rather than de-emphasize it. Like Todd Billings’ article that I linked to a couple of years ago, Smith’s article points to a tradition that includes the famous Five Points of Calvinism but also a great deal more:
What attracted me to the Reformed tradition? It was not any one thing. Instead, it was a kind of seamless cloth of related emphases that, I think, are the unique “apostolate” of the Reformed tradition, and the CRC in particular. That is, the CRC is a unique expression of the Reformed tradition that tends to hold together an array of gifts that in other places are separated. I’ve especially appreciated the following four distinct emphases:
- A celebration of a covenant-keeping Lord. Central to the Reformed tradition is a unique emphasis on both the unity of the narrative of Scripture and a strong sense of our communal identity as “a people.” There is an entire theology packed into the pronouns of Scripture. From the opening us of the creational word in Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make human beings in our image”), to them in Genesis 1:27 (“male and female he created them”), to the plural you of the creational mandate in Genesis 1:29 (“I give you every seed-bearing plant”), God’s creation is laden with plurals!
And all those you’s throughout the Bible are plural. Those of us formed by the individualism of North American culture tend to read Scripture as if it were addressed privately to each of us (to me). But I think our indigenous and Korean brothers and sisters hear Scripture more clearly on these matters: the you is us. It’s not me, but we. It’s just this sort of communal emphasis that the Reformed tradition’s covenant theology highlights—which is also why it yields a holistic, unified reading of Scripture as the one unfolding story of God’s covenant with his people.
- An affirmation of the goodness of creation. Contrary to the dualism and functional Gnosticism of wider evangelicalism—a focus almost exclusively on the spiritual—the Reformed emphasis on the goodness of creation (especially as taught by Abraham Kuyper) is one of the real gems in the Reformed treasure chest, and one that distinguishes the CRC’s heritage from other, narrower versions of Reformed theology.
- An exhortation to “make culture” well. Growing out of an affirmation of the goodness of creation, the Reformed tradition values good work as an expression of God’s calling. But it is also discerning and knows that God desires culture and institutions made for the flourishing of creation. It is precisely this emphasis on culture that informs our concerns about justice: think of the laments in Our World Belongs to God [a CRC statement of belief], which recognize the range of ways God wants to delight us but also the plethora of ways that we’ve fallen short, creating institutions and practices that run counter to the grain of the universe.
- A connection to our catholic heritage. This might seem a little strange, but for me, becoming Reformed was a way of becoming “catholic.” What do I mean by that? The Reformers were not revolutionaries—that is, they were not out to raze the church to the ground, get back to some “pure” set of New Testament church principles, and start from scratch. They didn’t see themselves as leapfrogging over centuries of post-apostolic tradition. They were re-forming the church. And in that respect they saw themselves as heirs and debtors to the tradition that came before them. Indeed, they understood the Spirit as unfolding the wisdom of the Word over the centuries in the voices of Augustine and Gregory the Great, in Chrysostom and Anselm.
To say the Reformed tradition is “catholic” is just to say that it affirms this operation of the Spirit in history, and thus receives the gifts of tradition as gifts of the Spirit, subject to the Word. This is inscribed in the very heart of the Heidelberg Catechism, which explicates the Christian faith by unpacking the Apostles’ Creed—a heritage of the church catholic.
Peter Leithart recently wrote a longer-than-usual post on the proper goals and the historic and contemporary shortfalls of Christian liturgy. Here’s his conception of the purpose of liturgy:
The Christian liturgy is the fulfillment of the liturgy of the temple. The temple was Yahweh’s palace, and the liturgical procedures of the temple constituted Yahweh’s kind invitation to His people to draw near. The liturgical regulations of the temple were protocols of approach to Yahweh. Yahweh brought people to His table, where they were permitted to eat in His presence. At certain times, the priests in the temple read out the Torah to the assembly, and in the synagogues, outposts of the temple courts throughout the land, Israelites gathered to hear Yahweh’s Word read and taught every Sabbath. Israel’s worship centered on Word and Table: Israel came into Yahweh’s presence so that He could speak to them, and so they could take the crumbs that fell from His altar.
Israel approached, entered Yahweh’s courts, but still remained at a distance. Lay Israelites could not enter the temple, or eat the bread of the presence. No one could drink wine in the temple itself. In Christian worship, though, these restrictions and exclusions are broken down. Worship still centers on Word and Table, but now everyone is brought near, equally near, and especially equally near to the table. Properly liturgical, biblically liturgical worship is Scripture-saturated; properly liturgical worship includes the solid food of biblical teaching; properly liturgical worship allows everyone to come to the table every week (“when you come together”). This is the kind of worship that was advocated, but for one reason and another, not always practiced by many of the Reformers. This is the heart of Lutheran liturgics: You want to know where to find God, look for the Word, Water, and Bread, signs of the presence of the Incarnate Son. In a different way, it is also the heart of Calvin’s liturgical theology: Worship is God giving us the gifts of His Word and His meal, and both, Calvin thought, should happen every time the people of God gathered. For the Reformers, that is a “properly liturgical” worship. This was the impetus behind the early English Reformers as well.
The whole post is worth reading.
T.M. Moore passes on this quote from Basil’s homily on Psalm 1:
A psalm is the tranquility of souls, the arbitor of peace, restraining the disorder and turbulence of thoughts, for it softens the passion of the soul and moderates its unruliness. A psalm forms friendships, unites the divided, mediates between enemies. For who can still consider him and enemy with whom he has sent forth one voice to God? So that the singing of psalms brings love, the greatest of good things, contriving harmony like some bond of union and uniting the people in the symphony of a single choir.
My friend Rick linked to an article by Kevin DeYoung about why his church switched to the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible. Throughout the article, he compared the ESV with the once-ubiquitous (in the evangelical world) NIV. As you may know, the ESV follows the translation philosophy called “formal equivalence,” the same as the King James, RSV, and NASB. In fact, the ESV is itself a revision of the RSV text. The goal is, as much as possible, to preserve the original order of words from the original manuscripts. The NIV uses the “dynamic equivalence” philosophy, which goes thought for thought.
DeYoung argued for the formal equivalence philosophy, arguing that it allowed the reader more access to the original. A comment on Rick’s post linked to an article by the commenter, which made some interesting points as well. One point that he made was that the ESV preserved “archaic words”:
When was the last time you heard anyone use any of the following words in everyday conversation: manslayer, beloved, behold, kindred, O, abhor, abide, abode, adjure, ascribe, chide, confute, convocation, counsel (as both a noun and a verb), entreat, exult, festal, haughty, invoke, kin, ordain, portent, rail (as a verb), rend, revile, sated, shall, smitten, sojourn, stripes, or swaddling? The average person simply does not speak this way anymore. This is “Christianese.” If you have heard these words, chances are it was in a church setting or on Christian radio. Translations should make the meaning of God’s Word clear. God ordained that the NT would be written in Koine, i.e. common Greek. I submit that the ESV is not Koine English.
As Allan Chapple has written, “Something more substantial than style or taste is at stake here, therefore. In my judgment, unacceptable consequences flow from the ESV’s choice of language. In practice, it is an elitist translation. As such, it may well be ‘user-friendly’ for the highly literate. It may also be preferred by older Christians, for whom it will satisfy any lingering nostalgia for the RSV. But I doubt that it will be easily understood by believers under thirty-five or so, especially if they come from an unchurched background and have not already been enculturated into ‘church-speak’. If they have to use the ESV regularly, such people will need to learn two ‘languages’: the great words that speak of who God is and what he has done for us—and ‘high-English’ or ‘olde-English’. They will be glad to learn the first; they should not need to learn the second.” I think Chapple overstates his case, but there is truth in his words.
This would seem to be an important consideration, but I’m not convinced by his point. To me, it would turn on what level of writing the koine was. Did it have difficult words as well? Would dropping the “church-speak” water down the translation too much?
I don’t know much about translation, so I’m curious to know what others think. Also, what philosophies do Catholic and Orthodox translations tend to take, or are there are diversity of those as well?
You can find links to DeYoung’s and the commenter’s articles at Rick’s blog post that I linked to above.
I stumbled on a Slate column by Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh the other day. It’s a short but interesting piece. In his discussion of the origins of the belief in resurrection, he gives a late date (2nd century BC) for Daniel but also takes the discussion between Jesus and the Saducees seriously. I’ve often wondered what the Hebrews believed about the afterlife. Perhaps some readers have ideas about when God revealed the idea of an afterlife and resurrection. Was it from the very beginning or was it later? Perhaps readers have some ideas.
The last three paragraphs of Hurtado’s article stuck out:
In Christianity’s first few centuries, when believers often suffered severe persecution and even the threat of death, those who believed in Jesus’ bodily resurrection found it particularly meaningful for their own circumstances. Jesus had been put to death in grisly fashion, but God had overturned Jesus’ execution and, indeed, had given him a new and glorious body. So, they believed that they could face their own deaths as well as those of their loved ones in the firm hope that God would be faithful to them as well. They thought that they would share the same sort of immortal reaffirmation of their personal and bodily selves that Jesus had experienced. Elaine Pagels, a scholar of early Christianity, has argued that those Christians who regarded the body as unimportant, perhaps including “Gnostics,” were less willing to face martyrdom for their faith and more willing to make gestures of acquiescence to the Romans—for example, by offering sacrifices to Roman gods—because they regarded actions done with their bodies as insignificant so long as in their hearts they held to their beliefs.
By contrast, Christians who believed in bodily resurrection seem to have regarded their own mortal coils as the crucial venues in which they were to live out their devotion to Christ. When these Christians were arraigned for their faith, they considered it genuine apostasy to give in to the gestures demanded by the Roman authorities. For them, inner devotion to Jesus had to be expressed in an outward faithfulness in their bodies—and they were ready to face martyrdom for their faith, encouraged by the prospect of bodily resurrection. Indeed, Christian martyrs are pictured as engaged in a battle with the Roman authorities (and the Devil, whom Christians saw as behind Roman malevolence toward them), with the martyrs’ bodies as battlegrounds in which the integrity of their person and their personal salvation could be lost or retained.
Historically, then, how Christians have understood Jesus’ “resurrection” says a lot about how they have understood themselves, whether they have a holistic view of the human person, whether they see bodily existence as trivial or crucial, and how they imagine full salvation to be manifested. Does salvation comprise a deliverance from the body into some sort of immediate and permanent postmortem bliss (which is actually much closer to popular Christian piety down the centuries), or does salvation require a new embodiment of some sort, a more robust reaffirmation of persons? This sort of question originally was integral to early Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection. In all the varieties of early Christianity, and in all the various understandings of what his “resurrection” meant, Jesus was typically the model, the crucial paradigm for believers, what had happened to him seen as prototypical of what believers were to hope for themselves.