Monthly Archives: November 2005

Waiting for the price to come down?

Common sense would say that the price should come down for a new product. Eventually I suppose that will happen, but I’m surprised to learn that the new Xbox is being sold for less than production cost. Of course, I shouldn’t be that surprised. We get all sorts of freebies in softwear and elsewhere from vendors hoping to sell us something and to use the gift as a foot in the door to our wallets.

In this case, the profitability will come from games. At least that’s the plan.

A note about acusations of “heresy” and the so-called “Federal Vision”

I don’t often do this, but I point you to this comment in context:

The RPCGA says that Fv denies justification by faith alone. The PCA hammer has not yet come down. However, the majority of the PCA is noton board with FV, as is the OPC. So, the majority of orthodox communities see’s consistantly that FV denies justification by faith alone. All the other groups that deny this doctrine you freely call heretical, no?

OK this is how Presbyterianism is replaced with a completely new system using the same terminology. Presbyterianism is about Presbyteries which are regional church units in which Ministers of the Gospel have their membership and to whom they are accountable. PCA ministers are in good standing in their presbyteries after they have been examined and received by them. Sticking ones virtual finger into the cyberspace to predict which way the wind is blowing is not judicial process. It’s just passing on railing accusations and blackening reputations.

There is a lot that could be said here, but I don’t have the time. For those who care, here’s a few things I’ve written:

“Do you even remember the day you sold out?”

I remember (imperfectly, I’m sure) that line from the protagonist in a John Grisham movie adaptation. The young lawyer sat across the table from an older lawyer. The older lawyer was defending a health insurance company that had deliberately refused their obligations to the point that a young man was now fatally sick. The young lawyer was supposed to be inquiring about the company’s deliberations, but he was overwhelmed. He got personal: “Do you even remember the day you sold out?”

While there are many unchurched people in our present culture, I think there are even more who need to be asked that question. People who were attracted for some reason to a Bible study or a church or a Billy Graham conference. But also, much more seriously, people who were raised Christians, who were baptized and catechized and then left home and now are unbelievers.

As someone who occasionally makes contact with friends from many years ago when we went to a Christian college together, this has almost become a haunting fear–a paranoia learned from experience. They were professing believers once. Are they now? What happened in the between time? “Do you even remember the day you sold out?”

It is something a pray about with all my children. God, I thank you for what they have, but please give them steadfastness in that faith. Don’t let them leave you. Guard their hearts. Remind them of what they have in Christ. Someday they’re going to leave home. My role in discipling them will diminish drastically. Will they stay or will they go?

Understand, I think the Bible shows us that we should be optimistic and positive for the most part. But I’ve witnessed many cases of selling out. Any time you catch up on a church that you’ve been away from for about a decade you will find cases. People sold out. And, for the most part, they make sure that they forget they did it. “Do you even remember the day you sould out?”

So what I’m saying could be abused. Comfort and assurance could be undermined. That’s understood. We should never make the Christian life look like some sort of shaky affair–as if the world was more attractive than the promises of Christ or stronger than the Spirit who raised him from the dead.

Nevertheless, I simply can’t express how pastorally suicidal it is to tell professing Christians that they never need to be concerned about eternal issues–that Christians are somehow incapable of selling out. Which is why I think it is pastorally harmful to go around saying that no one has ever sold out–that whatever common graces we have in common with those who left us are simply to be discounted so that the Christian can never both trust Christ (and/or view himself as one who trusts Christ) and heed God’s warnings that he will be eternally damned if he doesn’t continue to follow Him. It is not like this is a close or confused issue in Scripture. The Apostle Paul gives us loads of pastoral theology (Is there any other kind? Am I being redundant in that expression?) in which he arduously encourages believers to continue in the faith and cast off distractions in order to inherit eternal life. Christian security is no bobsled-ride from conversion.

I’m not saying that warnings are the only or even a primary means of encouraging perseverance among professing Christians. It depends on circumstances. Ephesians, First and Second Corinthians, Galatians and Hebrews don’t sound the same and neither should we pastors sound the same in all situations. But I became a Calvinist not because it was a self-attesting and self-contained tradition handed to me but because I was convinced that my own tradition (Evangelical Arminian) was in error and that I had to follow the Bible wherever it led. It would be a rather stone-cold extramarital affair if I was going to let an abstraction like the ordo salutis permit me to reject the Holy Spirit’s own language of pastoral exhortation as theologically dangerous:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”

FOR FURTHER READING:
The Necessity of New Obedience
Comments by Charles Hodge on Perseverance Texts in First Corinthians

Preferable to the thrill of the hunt?

Paul writes:

Paul J Dean’s Comments on Wright do seem a bit thin
Thirdly, in Duncan’s own words, the New Perspective ‘has gotten the Reformers wrong. They have done a disservice to Luther’s and Calvin’s exegesis. This has been pointed out not only by Carl Trueman, but by Lee Gatiss, Kim Riddlebarger and many others who have done good historical work on this issue.’ Duncan enjoyably offers this shot: ‘I love the quotation from Stephen Westerholm (no flaming evangelical, mind you), who in responding to Dunn and Wright and Stendahl and others, says this: ‘Students who want to know how a Rabbinic Jew perceived humanity’s place in God’s world will read Paul with caution and Luther not at all. On the other hand, students who want to understand Paul, but feel that they have nothing to learn from Martin Luther, should consider a career in metallurgy. Exegesis is learned from the masters.’

So in telling us why Wright is wrong, we don’t get an argument, but we get a citation of an authority (Duncan), citing an authority (Trueman, Riddlebarger, Westerholm) to the effect that an authority (Luther and Calvin) got it right.

And why is it important to note that Duncan “enjoys” his “shot”? Though I guess I’ve never much cared for the ‘wailing and gnashing’ variety of theological trial (“My heart is greived brother…”) I think I prefer it to the thrill of the hunt.

Well, shooting is more merciful than taking apart limb by limb.

Even using such a term…

What does it mean when someone’s orthodoxy would be impeccable except that the person in question is claiming that certain words can be used by the orthodox in certain ways that jive with, subtantiate, or even extend the influence of orthodoxy–words that have also been used by the unorthodox?

Why it means we can cast all manner of suspicion and even outright accusation upon the perpetrator. “Guilt by associaton” is no longer a fallacy; it is the sacred road to truth.

Wrong on Wright

This post is rather sad.

According to Wright, the gospel has nothing to do with the message that Christ died for sinners and that His work can be applied to sinners that they might be justified before a holy God.

Nothing to do? Wright’s argument that the term Gospel does not mean a string of doctrines, is turned into a claim that the term does not entail and has nothing to do with these things. I’ve written about this commonplace slander, which is simply a piece of unquestioned internet gossip among certain theological coffeeclutches, here, here and, by implication, here. If I felt it was my calling, I could easily write a new defense every other week against someone somewhere parroting the charge. One can also take a look at Doug Green of WTS Phillie, or Reggie Kidd, or even Charles Hill whose overwhelmingly negative review of Wright doesn’t say anything half so bad as this. Why is that? Is someone going to tell me Hill is disposed to promote Wright?

I’ll take the time to mention one point. Our auther writes that

a problem exists with Wright’s definition of the gospel itself. He makes the gospel about the person of Christ and not about the work of Christ. His mantra is “The gospel is ‘Jesus is Lord and Messiah’ not ‘Jesus died for your sins.’” No doubt exists that Jesus is Lord and Messiah and that truth is indeed part of the gospel message. But, to leave out the work of Christ as part of the gospel message is far from evangelical, much less biblical. In Wright’s thought, the gospel is the simple announcement that Jesus is Lord.

It is simply too easy to find Wright pointing out, in line with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, that Jesus was installed as Lord by his resurrection. The title not only refers to his deity but to his office as the faithful man called by God to go through death and resurrection for sinners. It involves his work as well as his person. Anyone who had read Wright would know this.

The other day, Pastor Phil Ryken quoted Machen as “perennially relevant”:

If you have the peace of God in your hearts, you will never shrink from controversy; you will never be afraid to contend earnestly for the Faith. . . . But God save you from . . . neutrality! It has a certain worldly appearance of urbanity and charity. But how cruel it is to burdened souls; how heartless it is to those little ones who are looking to the Church for some clear message from God! God save you from being so heartless and so unloving and so cold! God grant, instead, that in all humility but also in all boldness, in reliance upon God, you may fight the good fight of faith. Peace is indeed yours, the peace of God which passeth all understanding. But that peace is given you, not that you may be onlookers or neutrals in love’s battle, but that you may be good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

This quotation, in Machen’s context, and undoubtedly in the context of the Presbyterians Pro-Life News is immensely valuable. But I worry how Machen’s words may have borne fruit in other contexts. We don’t get to choose the times in which we live. If God has not permitted us to be a Luther among the Romanists or a Machen in a denomination going Modernist, we have to submit to God’s (perhaps seeminly boring) will and make it our ambition to live quiet lives. I fear that basic lesson, and Paul’s many exhortations to pursue peace and unity, are not being learned among us split-P’s who maintain the Evangelical Faith.

“Unity must be around truth.” Well, duh; no kidding. If you can demonstrate the Gospel is at stake, well and good. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. But if you have to assure people that it’s a matter of trust, then I have questions. I would have questions under almost any circumstances. I would especially have questions when the context is obviously more than Wright but involves accusations about the orthodoxy of PCA ministers. It seems to me, and I have some intimate knowledge of these matters, that we may be setting up an ecclesiolological gossiper’s paradise.

Polarization

No Roman Catholic of any real sincerity would consider mere disillusionment with that denomination to be grounds for leaving it. Yet, mere disillusionment with Protestantism is often treated by Roman Catholics as if it were grounds for defection. Protestants find out that they’ve been taught a bunch of phobia-driven revisionist nonsense about Church History, or that their denominational leaders are not what they thought, and suddenly it is okay to talk to dead people and bow to things.

And then, on the other side, there is a whole industry claiming that all is rosy since everything important to ever think about was settled a few centuries ago by a Protestant document, and that anyone who says otherwise is really trying to recruit for Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or the “emergent church” or whatever. One almost wonders sometimes if some Protestant apologists wouldn’t prefer to lose more Evangelicals to Rome if they could just make sure that the rest who stayed were more reactionary and more nostalgic for some special period of alleged Protestant prosperity and for some utopian Presbyterian homeland of that age.

Meyers on Mercersberg – And my own nostalgic romanticism

In 1994, George Grant got invited to speak at Covenant College at Lookout Mountain, GA and he invited me to come with him. I readily agreed because I would get to spend time with George (I worked for/with him then) and because I’d get to meet Cal Beisner again, someone I respected a great deal and had only met once or twice before (when he was visiting Coral Ridge when I worked there at CRM for George).

Anyway, to pass the time, George bought a tape player with a couple of plug-in speakers so we could listen to audiotapes of the last Biblical Horizons Conference. That was the first time I had ever heard Jeff Meyers’s voice listening to this lecture on “the Mercersberg Theology.” (I can’t remember if we had the outline or not).

That was the beginning. Later, when I was contacting CTS about attending, the student in charge of recruiting me happened to be a member of the church Jeff pastored. (Since that time, he has been Jeff’s assistant, associate, and now a church-plantier). Those lectures were fresh on my mind and I took it upon myself to tell this guy what a bright pastor he had. I was not sure I was going to attend Covenant. In fact, enquiring there was rather an afterthought. But the next thing I know Jeff has called me up (I think he had seen my name in association with World Magazine–I actually even wrote a couple of feature articles back in the first half of the nineties) and really tried to talk me into Covenant. He succeeded, in part because, at Providence, I realized one gets a great deal of pastoral attention as a seminary student. It is almost like having an training institute in addition to the seminary.

So, those lectures ended up changing the course of my life, when you think about it. And that seems appropriate because they are very good. Of course, their not quite is important as they used to be. At the time, Jeff was, as far as I can tell, the only Reformed Evangelical pastor doing anything with Mercersberg. Keith Mathison and Robert Letham (“Nevin was right and … Hodge … failed to grasp his own theological tradition”) changed that slightly. But only the Hart book gave us another study that really concentrated on what Mercersberg was about. What is good about this is that I don’t see any evidence (yet) that Hart was aware of Jeff’s work, and yet they compare rather well. I think this is good evidence that their position is what an informed Reformed Evangelical will come to think about Nevin and his value to us.

William Ames, Post-Modernist?

Something I wrote awhile back which seems to refelct on current controversies about the nature/task of theology:

One of the astounding oddities of the beginning of the English translation of Bavinck’s first volume of Reformed Dogmatics (pp. 34, 35) is that he lists William Ames as a bad guy for defining theology as “the art of living to God.” He also mentions as a danger a man name Calovius who argued that claiming God is the object of theology is as wrong as making “a prince instead of the commonwealth the object of the study of politics.” To me, that sounds quite compelling. But for Bavinck it only leads to Kant: “Thus, step by step, the subjective practical notion of theology began increasingly to find acceptance.”