Monthly Archives: January 2006

The reason Firefly was cancelled so quickly?

Daniel sent me a link to this article. It is amazing (and probably not true in many places). My favorite section:

So why did Fox kill Firefly so deliberately? Did they want to punish creator Joss Whedon for his “unexpected” successes with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel? Demonstrate to him conclusively that it is not the few genuinely creative people in Hollywood who hold the real power in the industry, but the men and women who hold the purse strings?

Long ago I reached the conclusion that the medieval system of patronage, whatever its faults and drawbacks, was infinitely superior to the modern “market” system of “free-enterprise” for encouraging the creation of lasting works of literature and art. I put these in quotes because market economics is only a tool, and hence is only as good—or bad—as those who wield it. A society of intelligent, thoughtful individuals could, no doubt, produce the highest art ever known to man through a market economy. A society of lowest-common-denominator swine, sheep, slaves and mindless, pap-programmed robots could only, I submit to you, produce the kind of utter dreck that is foisted on gullible audiences today as “entertainment,” and for which the swine, sheep, slaves and robots are only too eager to pay, and, by so doing, to support its continuance.

Bear in mind that medieval society was likewise comprised of swine, sheep and slaves (they didn’t have the John Dewey-style system of “public education” in those days required to turn out the robots), so that the system of patronage actually could work; rich aristocrats who genuinely had an interest in the arts could selectively choose who to support and who not to with a taste and consideration which, clearly, the vaunted “common man” of any age is incapable.

But now this hints at another problem with Firefly, and which may have contributed to its undoing. This was an uncommon show, aimed at uncommon people….

God has emotions: a ranting rant

[RANT ON]

OK, last post today; I promise.

Remember when you first met your wife, and fell in love with her? Remember your heartrate? Remember the difficulty breathing? Remember the shakes?

Do you dare presume to think you’ve had a richer emotional experience than God? Do you think God doesn’t know what it’s like to fall in love? You think the crazy sick feeling is original with you?

And something else.

Ever been a day when you feel on top of the world and the weather is gorgeous and traffic is easy and you come home whistling (I can’t whistle, but you probably can) and you walk into the kitchen (or whatever room you walk into) and your wife is sitting slumped crying her eyes out because of something you don’t know about? Do you stay happy? Does your emotional state not change?

And is not God rejoicing when you rejoice and then, when you encounter something new and sad, weeping when you weep? Is the way you react to your wife’s emotional state with your own corresponding emotions something unique to you and alien to God?

If Christians think only creatures can emphatize with them no wonder so many pray to the saints.

Jesus is not an exception to God but a revelation of him. God is emotional. God loves and hates and does it in response to events and the plights of his people. He gets provoked to anger though he is long-suffering. I’ve heard more than one good explanation as to what it means to say God is without passions. If it means he lacks emotions then it is just wrong.

If you associate emotions in God with free will theism, you will only drive many into free will theism. People who read their Bibles know that God is passionate about them is fully engaged in their circumstances. God isn’t Deism + divine concurrence. He’s more like Dionysus.

The fact that God is transcendant over all is an odd excuse for disbelieving what he tells you about his feelings.

[RANT OFF]

Finding the tradition rather than inventing it

I read some seventeenth-century Reformed theologians arguing that because baptism is effective it must be more than a seal. I read others arguing (against Socinians) that baptism is effective because it is a seal, not just a sign.

Someone needs to wade through the literature and give us a dissertation on this. As it stands now, I don’t understand how anyone can claim to speak for the whole of Reformed theology and say what it means for the sacraments to be seals.

Best sci-fi TV season ever!

Of course, I haven’t watched every show out there. Stargate remains a complete unknown to me, for example.

And sci-fi is so vast a field that it really is implausible to put them all in one group. The X-files was nothing like Star Trek at all (thankfully). Star Wars and Gattaca…. it seems wrong to even put their names in the same sentence [in case that is not clear: it is demeaning to Gattaca]. Dark Angel could be labeled many things. It is post-apocalyptic, but nothing like Mad Max or any of those things. Most of the show’s great aspects could be put in a private-eye drama with a contemporary setting.

Some of my attraction to the show is rather idiosyncratic. I was pastoring in Auburn, Washington when it first aired and I caught maybe the first five shows. Dark Angel is set in Seattle (filmed somewhere in or near Vancouver BC). The Northwest feel both in sets and in rural locations is quite authentic..

The Seattle of the show is a “post-pulse” Seattle. Terrorists set off a nuclear warhead that was too high up to do a great deal of damage but sent out an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out all the computers in the (at least Western half) of the US. This triggered an economic meltdown which, in turn, destroyed the US as a unified entity. While it is still held together under some sort of national leadership, the idea of states are gone. The local governments are pretty much military bases which are able to get away with a lot of corruption. Hoverbots patrol Seattle and our protagonists “squat” illegally in an abandoned building, paying “rent” to the local cop who drops by on patrol and radios in that there is no one in the structure.

But before the pulse, in the forests of Wyoming, there was (and still is we find out) a secret base known as Manticore. Throught a combination of genetic engineering, psychological programming, and regimented training from infancy, crop after crop of “supersoldiers” were raised as their own unit/family taught to follow any order. At one point, shortly before the pulse, a dozen of these X-5s escaped.

Max was one of them.

She now wears her hair long enough to cover the barcode on the back of her neck (removing it at a tatoo parlor only works for a couple of weeks before it reappears). She is a bike courier by day and a burglar by night, trying to avoid detection on the part of the government/military agents that want to get their “kids” back.

In Seattle there is also a rogue reporter–the eyes only streaming freedomcast–who has found a way to hack into all broadcasts untracably (this may be the most unbelievable part of the whole scenario) and report on the real news hidden by the banana-republic powers-that-be. His identity is secret but Max meets him when she breaks into his penthouse apartment to steal. He slowly gets her to abandon her amoral survival-instinct-led life and take chances on helping others.

What makes the show is Max’s hard-boiled attitude, both in conversation and in voice-over monologue, that is combined with outbreaks of great emotion. I think if I had seen the script I would have doubted anyone could pull it off without sounding fake, but Jessica Alba pulled it off (and was much more interesting than she was in the Fantastic Four, no surprise). There are plenty of thin plots where her secrets and those of Eyes Only should have been revealed to the world. But entertaining TV shows have contained worse problems. These are probably only noticeable because the show naturally leads you to expect higher standards (if Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t understood as campy, would any of us really take it seriously?).

That parenthetical off-the-cuff mandates I say more, I guess. I suppose it was natural that in 2000 people would compare the show to Buffy because they both involve superheroines. Almost all such comparisons would be superficial since DA is a much more serious sci-fi show (the fact that both BtVS and DA are sci-fi is more evidence of the uselessness of the genre; the genre has no reason to exist other than to allow some people to feel too important to participate in it…). But one comparison does stand. Buffy’s survival record has a good deal to do with her rejection of a loneliness and insistence on staying close to friends. Max has a similar commitment, even though at one level it endangers her, it also allows her to de-soldierize despite Manticore’s comprehensive brainwashing and get reprogrammed through socialization. We see some interesting (and sad) glimpses of what happened to the rest of Max’s “family” of refugees and how they did or didn’t escape the internal hold of Manticore.

I could say more, but I’ll stop here. It was truly a great season. I understand that the second season was not nearly as well done, but I’ve never seen it so I can say nothing first hand.

(By the way, I am not recommending the show for children not only due to language, but also because Max’s friend Original Cindy is an out Lesbian. The good news is that the show only descends into soft-porn conventions [i.e she makes out briefly with a girlfriend] in one episode. The rest are pretty tame).

(One other thing: it is funny to see how the present has surpassed the near-future scenario. The flatscreens are all as thick as my iMac and there is not a USB port in sight. Everything is connected with big clunky cables and multi-prong outlets. The rotary phones are there on purpose, but the rest is simply an outdated set.)

Called by the Gospel to Unity

A sermon on Ephesians 4.1-7

I may have told you all before about a friend of mine who was a ruling elder in a Presbyterian Church. They received as new members a mother and adult son who had recently come to affirm the Reformed Faith as the proper expression of the Gospel according to the Scriptures.

It turned out that the young man had actually had the opportunity to suffer for the sake of the Gospel. He was a student in a Bible college and he started to listen to a radio program on Reformed Theology. As he became convinced of what he was hearing, his brothers in Christ who taught and ran the college expelled him from school and refused to give him his transcripts. His years of studying and the money he paid to do so were all stolen from him, all in the name of Jesus.

So like Paul, this young man had suffered for the Gospel.

But all did not go well with this young man and his mother as time went by at their new Presbyterian Church. My friend noticed that they hadn’t been in Church for a while. After some visitation, the elders discovered that the young man had decided that this Church was too compromised for him to attend. What made him think so? Well, real Gospel preaching means that the pastor always presents sermons that first present the Law and its requirements. Then, after showing how the Law condemns and we can never be good enough, the preacher presents the Gospel of how Jesus died in our place.

Now, I know the pastor did in fact preach the Bible and did preach the Gospel. But because he did not follow that precise pattern in every sermon, this young man viewed the Church as unworthy of his attendance, and he simply stopped going on Sunday orany other day. Not only did he cease attending that particular church, but also in the name of faithfulness to the Gospel, he stopped worshiping at any church because one couldn’t be found that was faithful enough for him.

That’s one story. Here is another.

I’m at a conference for people from Reformed and Presbyterian Churches. I meet a man who lives in the same state that I do. He tells me he’d like to get me to visit his and a few other families to lead in some sort of worship. They have been praying for some help in planting a Reformed Church in their area.

Oh, I’m sorry that there’s not one there yet, I say. Where do you go to Church now?

Well, it turns out, they don’t go to Church at all. They are not members of any church in the area because there are no Reformed or Presbyterian Churches. That is this man’s application of the Gospel as he understands it–that he and his wife and children “worship” in their home without being members of a local congregation or gathering every Lord’s Day to worship at one.

So the practical result of these families allegiance to the Gospel in all its purity is a refusal to attend public worship in Church.

It was only a few months later that our congregation was visited by a family I had never met before. They introduced themselves as Christians and ones who embraced the doctrines of the Reformation. I discovered later that they had visited many times but also dropped out of sight for months or years at a time.

Where did they go to Church, I asked? Well, normally they don’t. They just worship in their living room with Daddy giving a message to his wife and children.

So again we have a man refusing to associate and lead his family in membership of another church. We have a man refusing to worship with the Church in the name of a correct understanding of the Gospel.

You and I were called by the Gospel. In Baptism, in our hearing of the Gospel preached by one another and by representatives, in our regular participation in public worship, in our regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper, we are being drawn by the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus is Lord.

And the Gospel does not entail the kind of behavior that is often perpertrated in the name of the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel is often opposed to the kind of behavior that is displayed in the name of the Gospel.

The Gospel is our calling with which we have been called. It is the voice of the Lord. And it calls us to one hope, as Paul says in verse 4. What is that hope? Paul stated it early on in his letter to the Ephesians, back in chapter 1 he wrote that God made “known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” That’s the purpose, that’s the plan, and that’s our hope. And the fact that God is accomplishing this plan in what Jesus has done–that’s the Gospel.

So when Paul talks about what Jesus has done in coming among us incarnate as a Human and suffering and dying and rising again and ascending into heaven, he continues to present us with the fact that God has brought us together in unity. Ephesians 2.13 and following:

now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

And so with that description of what Christ has done for us and in us by the Spirit inhabiting us as one dwelling place, Paul then speaks of the Gospel that he has been called to proclaim to the nations. Ephesians 3.6-10:

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

That’s the Gospel that calls us. Paul says he’s been given the mystery and he says that he has been given the Gospel. Plainly the mystery is the Gospel. The Gospel calls us to reconciliation in Christ by the Spirit. Thus, to walk in a manner worthy of that call–to live the way the Gospel deserves–entails that we walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”

Last week I pointed out that to be delivered from sin is to be graciously placed on a new path, a new walk. Paul has begun here to list the specific route we must take. He told us earlier, back in chapter 2 about this walk in vague terms.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Well, good works can mean anything. And depending on our circumstances, we need to be open-minded about what those good works might entail. But Paul has some more specific ideas in mind, ideas based on the content of his Gospel.

The Gospel entails reconciliation between God and man and between man in man and the end to the divisions that were put in place in the Law of Moses. Before Christ came, only the Israelites could take part in Passover, only the Levites could approach the furnishing of the Tabernacle, only the priests could bring offerings to the alter and enter the Holy Place, and only the high priest could go beyond the holy place to enter the Holy of Holies. There were barriers between God and man that were simultaneously also divisions between different groups of people.

But now the dividing wall has been broken down. When Christ died on the cross the veil in the Temple was ripped in two from top to bottom. Reconciliation was declared. And that reconciliation, that bond of Peace, which is Jesus through the Spirit, demands specific sorts of good works.

Jesus Christ has made us one so we must adopt a manner of living that allows us to live as one. Look at verse 2. Living as one with sinners means we’re going to have to be humble. Living as one with sinners means we need to learn to be gentle. Living as one with sinners entails a need for patience. Living as one with sinners demands that we be willing to bear other’s weaknesses out of love.

The Call of the Gospel demands that we eagerly pursue these things—that we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.

Why should we pursue these things? Notice that the idea is not that we’re trying to attain to a unity and bond of peace but that we already have them and we want to grow in them rather than try to weaken in them. Because we are one we need to live as one. That’s called going from the indicative to the imperative—from statements about who you are and what you have to statements about what you now must do and how you now must live.

We have this bond of unity we have because we are all under one Lord—as Paul states in verse 5—which makes us one kingdom united by his rule and under his protection. Paul has stressed the Lordship of Christ already. For example, in chapter 1, verse 20 and following, he states that God not only raised him from the dead but also enthroned him at his right hand in heaven and put all things under his feet. In chapter 2, he states that all of us who believe—irrespective of where we’re from, or what color we are, or anything else—are enthroned with Christ. Our exaltation is through faith and nothing else.

Now, if we remember that Christ is a title designating Jesus as God’s promised King in the line of David, it makes sense that the rule of Jesus entails the unity of his people no matter what nation or culture they are from. Thus, Paul writes the Romans in Chapter 10, verse 12: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call upon Him.”

The one faith we share is trust and allegiance to one king. We have more in common with Iraqi Christians than we have with our own nonchristian family members. That’s what Paul is saying here. If Jesus is God’s king, then all other dominions and rulers and other sources of identity must take, at most, second place.

That’s one reason why Paul speaks of baptism as something that breaks you off from your old identity in your nation and family and culture of your birth and puts you in a new family—the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. First Corinthians 12.12-13:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks—slaves or free.

And Galatians 3.27-29:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Now that sounds real mysterious but it can at least partially be understood in a commonsense way: Baptism is a ritual that officially entrusts us to the governance and royal protection of King Jesus. It enrolls us in his entourage. It therefore at least relativizes all our other relationships. Our primary loyalty must be to our King Jesus and our identity must be found in our relationship to him.

We belong to Jesus. Let nothing else obscure that most basic fact. We are a congregation that belongs to God through Christ Jesus. We are his. He is ours. God loves us. God saved us. God sent his son to die and live for us. God’s son now reigns in the heavens and we are his royal court.

We belong to King Jesus. That is the Gospel. That’s a dangerous thing to teach and proclaim. Paul has again reminded the Ephesians that he is a prisoner of the Lord. Both Caesar and the synagogue rulers have a problem with Paul’s declaration that Jesus is Lord and Christ and that nothing else can matter. They want Caesar-worship or circumcision to matter more.

And we face that trial in ways that are just as important, even if the consequences we suffer are rather trivial in comparison to what Paul faced in his day.

I think of our school children. If you compare the time they spend gathered corporately with the body of Christ in worship or discipleship to the time they spend through out the week as members of classes and teams I think it must be very easy to forget that their identity comes first from Christ and not from their peers and teachers. It is very easy to make Christianity simply a support for another group identity, whether that of the member of the class of some year, or a band member, or a member of the football team, or anything else. Paul reminds us to zealously pursue a corporate identity as a church—a unity that requires love and suffering on behalf of one another.

We face that trial in other ways. It is very easy to forget about the members of one’s congregation and allow one’s relatives to be the only people you spend time with. You’re not doing anything spiteful by doing so. It comes naturally to all of us. But you know there may be people in town or in this church who are new and have little family around and Paul is telling you that you need to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit. If you’re not proactive in hospitality and in befriending new people, that unity will be weakened rather than maintained.

Zeal for the Gospel should not result in schism and infighting and holier-than-thou attitudes, nor should it result in apathy for others in the congregation while you get most of your affirmation from other relationships. We need to pray for strength to eagerly work toward maintaining the unity of the Spirit in Christ.

We all serve one Master. For his sake let us love one another.

Does Witsius give us a persuasive argument?

The Reformed tradition has largely understood that the OT was an administration of the Covenant of Grace before Christ came. There have been attempts to deny this but they are, in my view, completely unconvincing. The most that can be said is that some have emphasized a relationship between Adam’s covenant and the covenant with Moses that hinged on a requirement of perfect obedience. Some of the prooftexts used with the Westminster Standards are evidence for this, though the Confession itself contains no hint of this idea.

One of the main historica advocates for this point of view is Herman Witsius. Here is an extract from one of his works in which he discusses whether or not the Decalogue represents the covenant of works or the covenant of grace.

Since this has become a debate (and a rather distasteful one) I should mention several points that need to be kept in mind:

ONE

No one denies that there is significant continuity between the Adamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant. In fact, that is really the distinctive point of the Mosaic Covenant. Adam and Eve were put in a sanctuary at the top of the world (water runs down hill and at least two of those rivers were huge) in a special land that one entered through the santuary (Adam and Eve were driven East so that they were exiled from both the garden and the land, in the midst of the other lands. Through Moses God first restored to his people a sanctuary and then led them to a special land in the midst of the other lands. The Re-Edenification (with more glorious transfigurations) is the whole point of the plans given on Mount Sinai.

The problem is that it is highly debatable that the main point of contact between Adam and Moses is a requirement of perfect obedience in order to inherit glory. The whole point of sacrifice (among other things) is that perfect obedience is not an option. Since Adam’s fall all God’s people are tainted with sin and guilt. End of story. There is no hypothetical possibility that they could reconceive themselves as morally pure and outside of Adam’s legal representation as guiltless. One didn’t just use sacrifice for one’s sins; one needed sacrifice for the pollution revealed from having a baby. There is no moment in the pentateuch where meeting a requirement for perfect obedience is even a hypothetical use of the Law.

TWO

No one denies that God hates all sin and must respond to it in wrath. This was true in the Garden, at Mount Sinai, at the cross, and now.

But this has nothing to do with whether the Mosaic Covenant required perfect obedience for salvation It obviously did not. Before and after Christ the covenant of Grace was the same in its mediator, grace, and basic requirements:

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.

Q. 152. What doth every sin deserve at the hands of God?
A. Every sin, even the least, being against the sovereignty, goodness, and holiness of God, and against his righteous law, deserveth his wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come; and cannot be expiated but by the blood of Christ.

Q. 153. What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.

Both the Law (the Mosaic covenant) and the Gospel (the New Covenant) are administrations of one Covenant of Grace which involves, in both cases, conditions on the part of those who would be saved. As Zacharias Ursinus wrote,

There is but one covenant [as opposed to two], because the principal conditions, which are called the substance of the covenant, are the same before and since the incarnation of Christ; for in each testament God promises to those that repent and believe, the remission of sin; whilst men bind themselves, on the other hand, to exercise faith in God, and to repent of their sins.

This in no way denies that Christ is the one who fulfilled all righteousness and whom we must trust for an alien righteousness conferred upon us.

THREE

No one denies that there was a transition in history from wrath to grace at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Mosaic Covenant has no glory compared to the glory that came next (2 Cor 3.10). Since the salvation that is in Christ had not yet been fully realized in history, the Mosaic covenant was relatively deficient and relatively vulnerable to death. Propitiation had not yet been made, new life was not yet given, and mankind was still in exile from the throne of God. When Jesus, died, was raised by the Spirit, and ascended to God’s right hand, all that changed. To hang onto the Mosaic Covenant in the face of the New Covenant is to embrace death and Satan. It was glorioius good news for its time, but that time is past.

But this contrast between the Law and Gospel has nothing primarily to do with conditionality. If the Apostle Paul warns, as many believe, that turning to the Law means putting oneself under the demand for perfect obedience to God, then this is a result of turning away from Christ in order to show oneself loyal to the Law. It is not something that was ever intended, even hypothetically, by the Law itself. (I have no theological problem with this at all, but I have doubts that Paul makes the explicit claim.) While the Law, as the Word of God, revealed that God is holy and antithetical to all sin, the Law never requires perfect obedience as a condition for inheriting immortal life and glory. Rather, the Law promises that God will forgive sin for all who respond to the Law in faith and repentance. The Law is, in a real way, simply the Gospel before Christ.

WITSIUS

Now, with that out of the way, lets look at Witsius’ first argument, which runs in part:

For both the very same precepts are inculcated, on which the covenant of works was founded, and which constituted the condition of that covenant; and that sentence is repeated, “which if a man do he shall live in them,” Lev. xviii. 5. Ezek. xx. 11, 13. by which formula, the righteousness, which is of the law, is described, Rom. x. 5

Why would anyone believe that “do this and live” is something unique to the covenant with Adam and somehow only appies to the Mosaic covenant in some special way that can be contrasted with the Covenant of Grace. What is the difference between these three statements?

Do this and live.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved

Trust in Jesus, repent toward God, and diligently make use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates the benefits of His mediation and you will escape the wrath and curse of God that you deserve because of sin.

Consider the passage from Ezekiel with context:

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. 4 Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Let them know the abominations of their fathers, 5 and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. 6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. 7 And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. 8 But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. 9 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. 10 So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. 11 I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. 12 Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. 13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned.

“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. 14 But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. 15 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, 16 because they rejected my rules and did not walk in my statutes, and profaned my Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. 17 Nevertheless, my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make a full end of them in the wilderness.

18 “And I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not walk in the statutes of your fathers, nor keep their rules, nor defile yourselves with their idols. 19 I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and be careful to obey my rules, 20 and keep my Sabbaths holy that they may be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am the Lord your God. 21 But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths.

All right, there is nothing here about one needing to be morally perfect in order to live which is the only possible way to claim this sort of continuity between the Mosaic requirements and the Adamic requirements. Because Israel adopted pagan religions they were judged. If this is no longer the case, then it would mean that a Christian can become a Buddhis and still be within the Covenant of Grace. But that is not true. To go after other gods and other religions is to inherit death instead of life. This is true for Israel in Ezekiel’s day and it is just as true for the church to whom was written the letter to the Hebrews. It is was true for “Jezebel” and the church in Laodicea. Read Revelation 2 and 3. Were those seven churches under a covenant of works?

Do this and you will live

To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.

Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.

Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star.

Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Et cetera.

Those whom I love… Is this not the same as what Jesus said to Israel by Ezekiel. Do we not have some of the most outrageous jealous rants in that book of all the book in the Bible which graphically describe Israel as a w!fe who has gone wh0ring? (Just trying to avoid the wrong sort of google traffic.) And what Ezekiel says is perfectly in line with the text in Leviticus:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

Did the Canaanites and Egyptians teach that one must be perfectly obedient in order to inherit an afterlife reward? Until and unless someone provides evidence for such a thing there is nothing in context that indicates that the obedience expected of Adam and Eve is being expected by the Mosaic Covenant.

Think about listening to the average RUF minister preaching to convince his audience that they are sinners in need of a savior. Does he say that everyone there has literally murdered their children, or does he argue that everyone has been less than perfectly loving to their children and that this is sin? Obviously the former argument would be useless for anyone but a very specific group of people (abortionists and their customers, lifetime felons, etc). He is takes the latter option. In so doing he is obviously not restricting himself to the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant. God never sent Israel into exile because husbands yelled at their wives or because teenagers told dirty jokes. He sent Israel into exile for institutional apostasy from the true faith, the very same reason that causes Jesus to have John write a letter ot the seven churches in Asia. If this is the covenant of works, then we’re still there.

Rather than deal with these obvious contextual problems with his argument, Witsius appeals to Romans 10.5 as if it were self-evident. In fact, he is probably in the grip of a mistranslation:

For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them and the righteousness of faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, 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 [remember: "Do this and you will live"].

I have dared to correct the ESV in this passage. You can get their take here. The choice of a highly contrastive “but” is just that, a choice that isn’t necessary. And the “base on” seems like a huge interpretive gloss to my mind. We have to believe, to adopt the ESV’s position, that there was a huge contrast between Deuteronomy and Leviticus and what they were talking about. This simply doesn’t seem credible.

Also, Paul himself has argued that the Jews rejecting the Gospel were perverting the Law (Romans 9.30-32). It makes no sense that he would turn around and say that Moses taught them to pursue righteousness in the wrong way.

I am surprised Witsius never bothers to mention Galatians 3.12 which would provide some backing for taking the ESV’s translation in Romans 10. I won’t go into it here, but I’ll simply say there are other explanations available that are more convincing than than playing Leviticus against Deuteronomy.

Witsius second argument runs this way:

those tremendous signs of thunders and lightnings, of an earthquake, a thick smoke and black darkness, were adapted to strike Israel with great terror. And the setting bounds and limits round about the mount, whereby the Israelites were kept at a distance from the presence of God, upbraided them with that separation, which sin had made between God and them. In a word, “Whatever we read,” Exod. xix. (says Calvin, on Heb. xii. 10.) “is intended to inform the people, that God then ascended his tribunal, and manifested himself as an impartial judge. If an innocent animal happened to approach, lie commanded it to be thrust through with a dart; how much sorer punishment were sinners liable to, who were conscious of their sins, nay, and knew themselves indited by the law, as guilty of eternal death.” See the same author on Exod. xix. 1, 16. And the apostle in this matter, Heb. xii. 18-22. sets mount Sinai in opposition to mount Zion, the terrors of the law to the sweetness of the gospel.

This is an unbelievable argument. Witsius stops at verse 22 of Hebrews 12. Here is the passage:

8 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 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. 26 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.” 27 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. 28 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, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

And the author of Hebrews is here reiterating what he has already said. Chapter 10:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 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? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Chapter 6:

1 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, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. 7 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. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Read also chapters 3 and 4. For that matter, read the whole book, asking yourself, “Are the two covenants being contrasted because one is real threatening and the other is all sweetness and light?” Is it not plainly evident in the passage that Witsius partially cites that the New Covenant contains more fearful sanctions than the Mosaic Covenant?

Witsius is simply at odds with the Bible on this stuff. Nothing I read in this passage from his book explains why people hold to his position. As far as I can tell people somehow know that Witsius’ perspective must be the right one and simply assume his arguments hold up.

But for myself, I’m going to need to see some new ones.

Personal piety or theological abstraction?

The new theme at Reformation21′s blog and the first installment therein are direct and forceful reminders of why Norman Shepherd has been so helpful to Presbyterian pastors in North American Evangelicalism.

The theme is why exposing sin is easier for us than applying grace. The assumption is that the problem and the solution lies in the private spirituality of the Minister.

Norm Shepherd has addressed this same issue. He insists that pastors need to be just as direct and pointed in asserting God’s grace in Christ as they are in asserting our listeners’ sinfulness and need. We should preach to Christians that God loves them and Christ died for them with just as much certainty and confidence as we preach to them that they are sinners.

The reason we tend to not be known for such even-handed preaching, in Shepherd’s opinion, is because of a widespread mis-application of the doctrines of “sovereign grace.” Many Reformed preachers are beset with the idea that, while they know that everyone is a sinner under God’s wrath, all they can say about God’s grace is that some people somewhere at some time are recipients of it. But who are these people? Why, it turns out, no one is quite sure.

You are a sinner but Christ died for his people.” The doctrine of limited atonement is true but it does not necessitate this imbalance. We should be encouraging people as much as warning them.

In my last year of seminary I got to meet with a classmate who had graduated the year before and was now an RUF minister. We had lunch once and got to chat a bit about ministering in an pluralistic context. This was the Bible belt so there were lots of professing Christians, but not many Reformed ones. He talked to me about some of the challenges of theological debate. One issue that was causing people to hesitate to listen to him was their certainty that it was proper and right to declare God’s love for everyone.

“But we can tell people that God loves them too,” I pointed out, “and that he desires their salvation. You remember what Jones taught about the free offer of the Gospel.”

Well, not all that precisely. We reviewed the data for a minute. My concern was that he not make people think they had to embrace a stingier God in order to be calvinists. He agreed with me. The problem was that he went to seminary quite new to the Reformed Faith and simply hadn’t had the time or space to digest all the issues while he was still trying to process TULIP and paedobaptism.

In any case, it seems to me that if this can be an issue in evangelism it could also be an issue more generally in pastoral practice.