Monthly Archives: September 2005

A time to argue

I have avoided being critical of the Bayly brothers because one of them has said some things about me that provide circumstantial evidence if someone wanted to accuse me of being motivated to find fault. All I can say is that God knows my motives and I have not lost fear of the judgment seat of Christ. I offer this opinion for what it is worth.

I think this letter against the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is irrational and wrong. The idea that women can never have a prophetic voice in a parachurch situation is a textbook case of binding people under yokes that are not found in Scripture and fly in the face of Biblical precedent. The English word “Council” implies nothing ecclesiatically in the 21st century. I could go on but that is enough to give a general idea of my concerns about rationality

But, more importantly, in an age of when we must constantly defend ourselves and our flocks from reactionary zealotry, we should be thankful for rational apologists for a Biblical worldview who actually use persuasion, rather than encourage and recruit the self-righteous. I’m speaking here of other ministries centered on issues of Biblical gender roles, not of David or Tim. I thought CBMW was supposed to be an alternative to several less helpful possibilities. We certainly need such a thing.

The idea that we will promote faithfulness, please God, or spread the kingdom by multiplying litmus test and shibboleth tests (“patriarch” is a standard of righteousness over “complementarian”?) and purity tests of this sort is simply the reverse of reality. We will only build a rapidly fissionable sub-culture of Pharisees with ever more extreme codes of conduct, speech, and thought. This is a dead end that will not do anything to actually promote a culture of Biblical gender roles in the Evangelical church or in any other group larger than a tight kinship group.

This is exactly the situation Jesus addressed most of his ministry as we find it in the Gospels, and it is something the Apostle Paul constantly has to ward off.

I may well have some common concerns with David and Tim, but this was a perfectionistic attack at best (i.e. if they were right on every single issue they raise). Why not try to get the most important of these reforms in place without writing public wishlists to the public? After all, where is this supposed to end? Is it likely the CBMW will adopt all this at their next business meeting? So what then? Do we need another group of letters to remember representing yet another Evangelical organization? How long before someone reads out of their Bible yet another way in which that new acronym has fallen short of God’s patriarchical standard and demands a yet another, more marginal, organization? Is this path from extremism to extremism really the path God demand of us?

Of course, I have fallen short of all that I am no invoking more times than I know. But I do think this is the upward call of Christ to which we should all strive in the grace of God. It is true the Bible time and again warns us against all compromise. But that has never been the only warning in the Bible. The Gospels give us both Saducees and Pharisees, and anyone can pick up the book of Jeremiah and see how obvious it was was to his contemporaries that he was merely a “fifth columinst” for an encroaching pagan establishment. Daniel was ruling with Nebuchadnezzar when Jerusalem was destroyed; what did the conservative Israelite patriots think of him?

If David and Tim have considered all these issues and consequences and think their concerns still warrant this road, they are welcome to travel down it. I have no written standard by which to make these decisions. It takes wisdom and good Christians will disagree. Wolves are real but so are sheep who make mistakes and/or who sin. But it seems obvious to me that we are all called to live in peaceful fellowship with other sinners, and this means we have to have areas in which compromise is not only allowable, but demanded. American sectarian utopianism is a heritage going back further back in our land than feminism. In my opinion, there may well be a cause and effect relationship between the two phenomena.

I do think that Tim and David are ministers called and equipped by the Holy Spirit. I trust that they posted their list publicly in order to have public discussion. For what it may be worth, here is my initial reaction. I trust it has stayed within Christian bounds. Since I’m going out of town for a couple of days, I’m leaving the comments closed for the time being.

On the incarnation

Creation and providence happen first. God is not breaking into anything alien to himself in the incarnation. He is not uniting himself to stuff he “finds.” He started history and has controlled history all along the way.

That’s why revelation is never derivative. Every concept, every word, is a concept or word God planned from eternity. The word spoken and written do not break into history and neither did the Word made flesh.

History always belonged to him. Otherwise, the incarnation would simply be impossible.

unclassified stuff

Here’s a possible application of James 1.20: Having prominant pastors on the radio sounding like they could work for the FoxNews network does not accomplish the righteosness of God.

This morning I listened briefly to a snippet about what’s hopeful and worrisome in Evangelicalism. I thought the point made was intriguing that the younger evangelicals are typically optimistic and the baby boomers are pessemist about the future of the Gospel. I must say I agree with this. But I would add that, in my own denomination, it is hanging out with the younger presbyters that makes me real optimistic about the future of the PCA. We have truly great potential.

Ugh. For some reason I could not sleep last night. Instead of getting up early to finish a Bible Study prep this morning, I finished it last night (or rather, this morning). If I was, say, single and/or childless, this would have worked great. But, of course, I still had to get up early this morning to get the children ready for school.

Gotta run.

Faith v. the Martyrdom Complex

I’ve been re-reading Rich Lusk’s excellent essay from the “Knox Seminary Colloquium” where he brings the resources of Biblical theology in explainng and defending the basics of Protestant soteriology, nailing it down from explicit Scriptural teaching. (OK, I admit I have a quibble I was thinking of blogging about; but it is a minor one that I’ll mention at some point). One thing I had forgotten is that he uses some of my material, which means I get to feel flattered all over again.

However, I also had one of those “how-could-I-miss-that?” experiences at precisely a point where Rich is invoking my writings. In fact, I have been teaching a Bible study and completely missed an opportunity to drive this point home because I was incognizant of it. We were covering this passage:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (ESV)

Now, I have always wondered at the fact that Jesus responded so positively to Peter’s bluster. I never mentioned this because I didn’t know what to do with it, but it has bothered me.

Here is what Rich wrote:

The story of the rich young ruler also presents an interesting slant on the keep-ability of the law. Jesus did not give commands to the young man as a hypothetical “covenant of works” to show him he was really a law breaker. Rather, Jesus is outlining the way of discipleship for this man, which at this particular juncture in redemptive history would have included selling all his possessions and journeying with Jesus to Jerusalem. We know this is the way the story should be read because immediately afterwards, Peter indicates that he and the other disciples have done precisely what the young man refused to do (Matthew 19:27). Jesus does not correct Peter’s claim; in fact he agrees with it, and then goes on to remind the disciples that they should not feel self-pity over the sacrifices they have made for the kingdom because it will all be paid back to them many times over (19:28ff). See Mark Horne online at Correcting 2 Mistakes in the Law/Gospel Hermeneutic and Did Jesus Preach Law or Gospel to the Rich Young Ruler?

The part that I had completely missed and forgotten was: “…and then goes on to remind the disciples that they should not feel self-pity over the sacrifices they have made for the kingdom because it will be paid back to them many times over.”

Peter and the rest had made real sacrifices–the same sort that the rich young ruler had refused to make. Yet, if they really believed in Jesus, they could not really regard these as acts of moral heroism. If someone were to offer a tenant in a hovel a free mansion to live in at no cost, then the disruption and expense of moving would be real. But no one would ever say that the family had “made a great sacrifice” to acquire the mansion.

Faith simply doesn’t allow for us to make a great deal of the sacrifices we have made for God. If we really trust God to care for us and to give us what he has promised, then what he calls us to leave behind, however hard it may be to do so, cannot be seen as some great sacrifice. When Jesus responded by assuring Peter of how much he would get back, he was rebuking any thoughts of grandness in Peter’s statement. The problem with the rich young ruler was not that he was unable to live up to the demands of great moral heroics. The problem with the rich young ruler was that he didn’t trust Jesus.

Thinking about this brings to mind Jesus’ promises of rewards in the Sermon on the Mount and his warning about doing good works in order to be seen by men because they you have already received your reward. The point is that you are supposed to really believe that God watches over you and cares for you. You are supposed to trust him. You don’t need the paltry rewards of human praise when God offers you His own praise.

And this an essential feature of saving faith. As the Apostle Paul writes, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Caring about praise from God rather than man is, in my opinion, the most challenging ideal–one that proves to anyone who is honest that the flesh is always at war against the Spirit. Love God with all my mind, heart, soul, and strength? Please! Let me just spend a day (or even just a moment of a day) when I care more about God’s praise than man’s flattery.

Thank God that, no matter how sin obstructs us, if we trust him at all we are valuing his praise and his promises, and we are acceptable in his sight through the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord. The more we become self-conscious of what it is that God promises, the more we will realize that our efforts never amount to any real sacrifice. God accepts our offerings, but they are no real sacrifice for us.

By the way, if you haven’t listened to Rich’s sermons you are missing something great. Also, my question about Rich and imputation will have to wait for some other day when I have the time. In the meantime, those of you who have read his excellent work might be able to figure out my basic concern here.

A suggestion for a litany

We could use this for our new annual celebration: “Post-Reformation Day” or in slang, “Day of the Doctors.”

O, Lord God of our Fathers, who has set the boundaries through their works, and has given us a pleasant heritage right now: defend and deliver us, we pray, from those who believe and teach your Word. Give us relief, we beseech thee, from all teachers of Holy Scripture, from everyone who would insist that the language of your own Holy Spirit be used by your Bride for her profit, or who would spread confident delusions that your sixty-six books are sufficient for our day, for our piety, and for our faith. By your Spirit, instill in your faithful flock, a firm assurance that all such teachers, no matter what they say, are no better than JWs and other infidels who give lip service to Scripture. Let them learn from words like Trinity that every single word they have been taught by tradition is just is essential to believing the true Faith. And most of all, O Divine Protecter, vouchafe thou to us, a true confidence, that all doctrinal development clamaxed in the Protestant Scholastics, and nothing is left to us, but to receive what you have provided through your faithful teachers, and spread it to the poor, ignorant, unenlightened, Evangelicals, and always, to repeat it endlessly, with great pretention. This we ask in the name of your dearly beloved Son, for the preservaton of his Kingdom, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen

The Gospel: God is King

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Thus spake God through Isaiah (52.7). But let’s improve this translation:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings the Gospel,
who publishes peace, who brings the Gospel of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” [or "Your God is king"].

The Greek translation of the OT–the one popular at the time of the NT–used the same word that is translated as “Gospel” over and over again in our English versions of the NT. Nor is this simply reliance on a human tradition. Jesus himself makes the same equation from Isaiah’s Hebrew:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news ["the Gospel"] to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4.18, 19).

Jesus was quoting Isaiah 61.1, 2. It is worth mentioning here that, though Jesus declared that his announcement was, objectively, good news, it was going to be received quite badly by the hearers in his home town. The gospel can bring judgment but it does not cease to be the gospel, the Good News.

But the point here is that declaring that God is coming to be king is the Gospel. That is the message of Isaiah and that is the message of Jesus, which they both declare to be a Gospel, good news. Mark introduces his own Gospel to make the same point:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Mark has lots to write about in order to explain the Gospel, but this introduction gives us his shorthand summary and tells us that there is continuity between Isaiah and Jesus’ preaching in Israel: God is coming to be king.Incidentally, Luke makes it clear, if one wants to insist that Mark does not explicitly tell us, that John the Baptizer also preached the Gospel (Luke 3.1-20, especially v. 18; an interesting text to think about).

And after Jesus death and resurrection, this message continues to be about God as king and a new kingdom. Matthew’s Gospel assures us that both before and after Jesus’ death and resurrecton it is “the Gospel of the Kingdom” that is to be proclaimed (Matthew 4.23; 9.35; 24.14). Thus, the first sermon of the church:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

God is king in and through Jesus whose coronoation occurred through his death, resurrection, and ascension. This is the Gospel, the good news. In Christ, God is now king.

Of course, one can get confused because the Bible teaches that God is always ruling creation. That is a Biblical doctrine that needs to be preserved, but so do the Biblical priorities which rarely refer to God’s role as being king of a kingdom. No, God is king when the powers that rebel against him have been subdued and God’s people have been rescued from them. God’s general sovereignty does not mean there is no difference between God’s kingship over Israel when they are slaves in Egypt and his Kingship when he is dwelling among them in the Tabernacle leading them into the Promised Land. If we are going to simply gloss these great transitions as insignificant in comparison to God’s general unchanging control over the universe, then we will be unable to account for much in the Bible or in distinctively Christian theology.

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that “Jesus is Lord” is the essential content of saving faith and the good news for all people irrespective of their place in life. He writes:

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

God is king–this is truly good news.

My favorite Anglican scholar / minister – Part 6

PART ONE / PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR / PART FIVE

The desire not to be found indistinguishable from the pagans who were moving in led the Pharisees into a program of hedge-building–not so much a hedge around the Torah as we were taught in Sunday School, but more a hedge around themselves and their families. In some ways this distinction amounts to the same thing, but not in all cases. They needed to remain holy–not ethically perfect, or necessarily doing some number or value of good works to outweigh their bad ones–but separate from those who were not trusting in God and showing it by remaining faithful.

(Wright doesn’t go into this, as far as I can remember, but, according to Jesus’ own testimony, the Pharisees attributed their willingness to stay distinct from others to God’s grace and not to themselves (see the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collecter in Luke’s Gospel).

Of course, if one was going to remain distinct and separate from pagans–pagans who occupied your land and ruled over you–you were also going to need to stay distinct and separate from the compromised Israelites–who didn’t remain properly distinct and separate from pagans. Which meant that you would also need to remain distinct and separate from those who did not remain distinct and separated from the pagans…. ad infinitum. Pharisaism, driven by a desire to remain faithful, could only result in an ever expanding schism and condemnation within the people of God. (Is there a warning here for well-meaning Protestant apologetic ministries?)

By the way, I should mention how important it is to try to at least initially view Jesus enemies in the Gospels as “good guys.” Christians assume they are being faithful when they present the Pharisees as the opposite of all that is Christian and virtuous. But this ends up, running the risk of allowing us to harbor sin and unbelief. If we don’t think the Pharisees, caught in the middle of a culture war, trying to raise their children straight in a crooked world, have no common temptations to us, then we miss the challenge that Jesus brought them. Hating the Pharisees does not make one a lover of God.

Somone has called these posts a retrospective, but it is all from memory and too confused to deserve such a worthy name, in my opinion. Still I hope these are of some help to you in seeing the value of Wright’s apologetic work.

The next entry will be about Jesus & the Victory of God. By way of transition, let me point out a book by a Jesus-Seminar scholar, Marcus Borg. Here is what I wrote (partly) in my Amazon book review of Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus:

Borg has written a beautiful and challenging book that helps us imagine Jesus as a real historical figure. I would disagree with some of the details of Borg’s analysis and reject out of hand some of his “pre-theoretical commitments” (to borrow a term from the Dutch Reformed philosophers), but I found the basic thesis extremely helpful.

Borg insists on placing Jesus in the historical and socio-political milieu of first-century Palestine. Specifically, Jesus was in a “conflict” over the “politics” of “holiness” embraced by the majority of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were not simply “religious leaders” as we think of them today. Their concern for “holiness” was not simply limited to individual piety. Rather, “holiness” fit in a scheme designed to protect their culture from the pagan dominance of that day and faithfully await vindication from God. Jesus, however, taught that their strategy could only doom them to destruction, a destruction that would not be a faithful martyrdom but rather the actual wrath of God delivered through the Romans.

What was wrong with the Pharisaical program? It interpreted the call to be holy and separate as a call to make visible the distinction between faithful Jews and their Gentile neighbors along with those Jews who, in some way, compromised with them. What this meant was that many Pharisees taught practices that put up increasing barriers between themselves and the Gentiles (My own example: the refusal to come into Pilate’s house to try Jesus as recorded in John’s Gospel. You will look in vain in the OT for a law that says going into a pagan’s house will make one ceremonially unclean). Furthermore, since these practices were onerous, especially to the poor, the holiness concern meant deepening divisions among the Jews, as those who didn’t practice the right sort of separation from the Gentiles found themselves treated like Gentiles by others. Zealotry without and division within were the fruit that Jesus saw coming from the pharisaical agenda.

Thus, Jesus’ “dinner club” (to coin my own term to summarize his ministry) was a highly subversive and radical practice. He took the code, “Be holy for I am holy,” and reinterpreted it to mean, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36). He insisted that everything the Pharisees were doing to promote righteousness was actually wicked in God’s sight. Note: The issue is not that the Pharisees were trying to be good and were not quite good enough to please God. Rather, what the Pharisees sincerely believed to be good was actually evil.

I don’t plan to say all the negative things I could say about Borg’s book in this review, but instead focus on its positive content. The reason I feel free to do this is that the present edition has an introduction by Borg’s friend N. T. Wright that really covers all the bases quite well.

I will only add two things. The first is simply my conviction that Borg’s textual criticism is based on a flimsy foundation. The discrepancies between gospel accounts can be adequately explained by the fact that many of the teachings were given repeatedly with local variations and the fact that different witnesses are summarizing in Greek what were certainly much longer statements in Aramaic. Alleging an “original” teaching that the gospels have distorted is simply groundless. I am sure that there are some areas in which we will always wonder what happened during the entire event (i.e. what we would see if we were there with a camcorder). But we have no rational grounds for dismissing the reports we have as inaccurate or in taking sides with one Gospel writer against another. Borg himself is rather good at critiquing Enlightenment rationalism as it affects the study of the Gospels. I’m sorry he seems to have adopted it so uncritically in his stance to the text of the canonical Scriptures.

Secondly, the idea of analyzing the Pharisees as if they were simply good people is going to raise hackles in some circles, and understandably so. However, I would respectfully suggest that Evangelicals would be well served to try to benefit from such analysis. After all, if the Pharisees were obviously evil, then siding with Jesus against them is rather easy. We are really only reinforcing our own superiority. But if the Pharisees were more like us that we wish to imagine, then by acknowledging this fact, we may “again for the first time” find ourselves truly confronted by Jesus, not as a safe friend, but as one who comes to us in Judgment but in whom alone we might find salvation. (An example from another book: John 6 records the Jews trying to force Jesus to be their king because he fed them miraculous bread. I had never blinked when I read Jesus rebuking them for caring more about their stomachs than God. Then I read Horseley’s and Hanson’s Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus and realized that, in all likelihood, these people knew what it was like to literally starve due, in part, to burdensome taxation. No wonder they wanted Jesus to save them and their children. Wouldn’t you? Of course, Jesus did what was right, but now I realize that it was not easy to follow him and I had, by assuming I knew what lay behind the text, invented an easy road.)

Constraints of space forbid me from listing some of the exegetical gems to be found here. If any Evangelical wants to delve into the debate on “the historical Jesus” and read from “the other side,” he could not do better than Borg. There will be much to dissent from but you will not have wasted your time. Using discernment, you will understand Jesus better than before.

TO BE CONTINUED