Monthly Archives: August 2012

How the gospel reveals God’s wrath

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:15-18 ESV).

The typical interpretation, I think, is that the Gospel reveals God’s righteousness, and is the solution to God’s wrath which is revealed somehow “from heaven.” The idea is that God’s wrath is God’s actions of turning people over to further sin because they sin, as is vividly described in Romans 1.18ff.

God does indeed give people up to sin, and is just in so doing. But that process described beginning in Romans 1.18 is not the fullness of God’s wrath. Paul clearly states that this whole process, rather than satisfying God’s wrath, actually requires his patience and kindness. He writes at the climax:

 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them
(Romans 1:32 ESV).

And yet death has not overtaken all human history. God has not sent a worldwide flood. God has not consumed the world by fire. Why not?

Then in the next chapter it is stated more clearly that God’s mercy is involved in all of this:

 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed
(Romans 2:2-5 ESV).

This plainly tells us that this whole process, where God gives up sinners to more sin, was not a simply an exercise of God’s justice, but involves a work of grace. Furthermore, the “day of wrath” is not an ongoing aspect of this history, but a future date.

This raises the question: Is Romans 1.18 telling us that God’s wrath is revealed in the Gospel because the Gospel tells us about this future day of wrath?

As Paul writes a little further on:

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15-16 ESV).

If the Gospel reveals God’s wrath, we might understand Romans 1.16-18 as follows:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For [in it] the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1:16-18 ESV)

I think this is right, but I don’t think the fact that the Gospel foretells the day of judgment is what Paul is referring to when he says that the Gospel reveals the wrath of God.

How does the Gospel reveal both the righteousness of God and the wrath of God?

The answer, of course, is spelled out in Romans 3.21ff. God displays both his faithfulness or righteousness and his wrath by publicly subjecting Jesus to His wrath.

 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who trust. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, through [his] faithfulness. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who belongs to the faithfulness of Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

First, notice that once again we see that God’s wrath was not revealed in the process described beginning in Romans 1.18ff. Paul reiterates that God had “passed over former sins.”

But by putting Jesus forward as a propitiation, God has revealed his righteousness and faithfulness. He revealed his wrath on Jesus.

The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel because the Gospel reveals the wrath of God by preaching the cross of Christ.

Thus,

 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh
(Romans 8:1-3 ESV)

And again:

    You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:19-24 ESV)

Note that, in that last passage above, Paul is not claiming that all the unbelieving Jews are beyond the possibility of redemption. There is still time to repent. He goes on to say that only a “partial hardening has come upon Israel” (Romans 11.25). The wrath here is not the eternal wrath on unbelieving sinners at and after the day of Judgment. Rather, it is the wrath displayed on the cross. Israel’s hardening brought salvation to Jew and Gentile alike.

    So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!
(Romans 11:11-12 ESV)

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
(Romans 11:30-35 ESV)

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NEWSLETTER.

We need to take off the spacesuits and adapt to the Bible.


In his 1952 SciFi classic, City, Clifford D. Simak wrote of an attempt to colonize Jupiter by transforming humans into an entirely different race of creatures called Lopers. The problem was that none of these transfigured humans were returning to report their findings. Finally, the base commander, fearing he had sentenced others to some strange death, volunteered to go himself. What he found was that, as a different creature, Jupiter was a paradise. Rather than a place to endure under artificial conditions, as he had been doing, it was now a perfect home for him. No one had returned because they could not endure being changed back into human beings stuck under a metal dome in a crushing gravity field.

This is a fitting metaphor for how Christians should know their Bibles. Rather than throwing life-support systems over a small part of the Biblical world (mainly the Gospels and the Pauline Epistles, and not even them completely), Christians need to be transformed to be at home in the Bible—the whole Bible. They need to adapt to Scripture rather than trying to remain in a few places that seem comfortable.

I never thought of these passages together before, but they seem to belong to each other…

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV).

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

No comment needed, I don’t think. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,… One Book, One Commission.

Who is Paul referring to as “one of the law”

A few days ago I invited readers to

consider Galatians 3.10:

“For all who rely on are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Galatians 3:10 ESV, corrected).

There are current debates about what this means and why some people are under a curse. I’m not going to contribute to that debate, except to point out that those arguing for the common and traditional idea that Paul is claiming that people are cursed because no one can perfectly keep the Law need to admit to the problems with that argument. How could Paul claim and convince people who knew the Scriptures that this was how the Law was supposed to function?

via Is “keeping the law” the same as sinless, perfect obedience?.

In this post I want to point out that the term “one of the Law” (the idea of someone “relying on” the Law is an ESV interpretation masquerading as a translation) most likely refers simply to Jews in Paul’s day.

The evidence for this comes from Romans 4.16:

That is why it is of faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the one of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all

Notice here that faith does not exclude “the one of the law” but includes him along with the believing Gentile who, as Paul explains in the rest of Romans 4, trusts God while uncircumcised the way that Abraham did when he was uncircumcised. As John Calvin writes of this text, the words “mean simply the Jewish nation, to whom the law of the Lord had been delivered.” Both Jews and Gentiles are justified by faith.

Then how did a different interpretation of the words in Galatians 3.10 become “the tradition”? Good question.

Indeed, John Calvin and many others insisted not only on giving a different meaning to Galatians 3.10, but even to Romans 4.14, though it is in the same passage as 4.16. In my opinion, such a violent shift in meaning is simply impossible. But that is now the tradition, even though it necessitates a definition of “keeping the law” which Paul does not endorse, and is incompatible with the rest of the Bible.

But the fact that the idea is traditonal doesn’t make it true or convincing. Whoever “one of the law” is, he or she is someone who can be justified by faith along with Gentiles. In Galatians 3.10, Paul is explaining why such a person needs to be justified, and we need to study the passage carefully to figure out his reasoning. But to claim that his language refers to people “relying on” the Law, is an insertion of an idea not found in the text of that passage.

Israel is under a curse and the Israelites need to be justified by faith, as do the Gentiles. That bedrock truth needs a better exegetical framework than what “the tradition” gives us.

Inaccurate Bible translations solve nothing.

Weirdly inaccurate concerns about Tri-Perspectivalism

To understand where this fits into the Reformed theological tradition in particular, we can put it this way: Frame’s TP is a creative attempt at expanding on John Calvin’s and Cornelius Van Til’s Reformed epistemologies. I think in many ways I can say he has succeeded. His work is full of profound insights. But I still think his experimentation, if it does not risk some real theological precipices, it will at the very least risk some serious misunderstanding. In the first couple chapters of his institutes of the Christian religion, Calvin laid out a Reformed (and quite historically catholic) epistemology of the word. This was called the knowledge of God and self. There he proposed that man knows God through knowledge of himself, and man knows himself through the knowledge of God. Yet for Calvin, both the knowledge of God and Self is facilitated by the man encountering the word of God (the law) primarily. As we encounter the word, we learn both more of who God is and who we are. To sharpen that, we learn more of how righteous and holy God is and how we are not. We further learn from revelation what we are becoming because of Christ. My concern with Frame is that though he only calls the knowledge of self a “perspective” that is not independent of the knowledge of God, it does practically risk being another medium for true knowledge. What this means is that it risks operating apart from the law/word on the one hand, or collapsing word revelation and natural revelation on the other.

via “Tri-Perspectivalism”: An Introduction to John Frames Reformed Epistemology (Part I).

Hopefully this critic is just being premature in going to press. The whole “But for Calvin..” line starts a startlingly inaccurate line of reasoning. Frame is equally clear that all autonomous interpretation of reality is sin. He defines theology of the application of all of life.

The critic seems to be missing the point that, in encountering the word of God, one is also encountering the experience of that encounter. One’s knowledge of the Bible (This is what is said by the words on the page faithfully transmitting and translating the text the Holy Spirit inspired to be written and subsequently preserved and providentially transported) and ones knowledge that one is reading the Bible (My eyes are looking at these words and my mind is reading them) are both interrelated. Thus Calvin’s own statement that he doesn’t know which comes “first.”

Here is John Frame:

“On the first page of his Institutes, Calvin observes that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are interrelated. We might expect Calvin (as a good Calvinist!) to add to that of course of course of the two, the knowledge of God “comes first”. remarkable, however, Calvin says instead that he doesn’t know which comes first. This comment I take to be enormously perceptive. The best way to look at the matter is that neither knowledge of God or knowledge of self is possible without the other, and growth in one area is always accompanied by growth in the other. I cannot know myself rightly until I see myself as God’s image: fallen, yet saved by grace. But also I cannot know myself rightly until I seek to know Him as a creature, as a servant. The two kinds of knowledge, then, come simultaneously, and they grow together. The reason for this is not only that each of us is part of the “situation” that is essential to the knowledge of God but also the additional fact that each of us is made in God’s image. We know God as He is reflected in ourselves. Furthermore, all the information we receive about God, through nature, Scripture, or whatever source, comes to us through our eyes, ears, minds and brains – through ourselves. Sometimes we dream fondly of a “purely objective” knowledge of God – a knowledge freed from the limitations of our senses, minds, experience, preparation, and so forth. But nothing of this sort is possible, and God does not demand that of us. Rather, He condescends to dwell in and with us, as in a temple. he identifies himself in and through our thoughts, ideas and experiences. And that identification is clear; it is adequate for Christian certainty. A “purely objective” knowledge is precisely what we don’t want! Such knowledge would presuppose a denial of our creaturehood and thus a denial of God and all truth.” (From The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John M. Frame, P&R, 1987, p. 65-65).

There is absolutely nothing in this that implies we can know ourselves apart from God’s revelation of Himself. And nothing in Frame’s writings would lead to that idea.

Of course, even when we learn about God, we know also that we are his creatures. So, again, knowledge of God (our Maker) and of ourselves (His creatures) are always interrelated.

I don’t understand how the critic can produce a concern about an “independent medium.” Nothing in Frame’s writings allows for independence. And to deny any kind of creaturely medium would be to deny that God gives external revelation at all..

Unlike the rulers of this age, Jesus only demands of us what he has already done–and only in a lesser and derivative way

Unlike the rulers of this age, Jesus doesn’t ask us to shed our blood for his empire; he instead gave his own life for his realm

via Incarnatio: What does Church have to do with Kingdom?.

I love the politics in this, but I have to ask if it is completely accurate. While Jesus doesn’t sacrifice us for his own glory or power, I think he does demand that we also be sacrifices.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:13-16 ESV).

Later, the man under discussion, Paul,wrote about his call to suffer for the kingdom.

 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints (Colossians 1:24-26 ESV).

Jesus himself said that, to have authority in the Kingdom, one must follow his example, even his example of giving up his life.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45 ESV).

And this is presented as a challenge and a promise to believers. We inherit glory through suffering just as Jesus did. Thus Jesus wrote to the church in Thyatira,

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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:25-29 ESV).

It is right to contrast King Jesus with other human authorities. But perhaps we need to remember that Jesus, while King, has blessed us to be kings ourselves. God made us all to have dominion. Jesus is uniquely king, but not exclusively so. He offers us all a royal road so that we gain a kingdom by serving–in some cases even to the point of death.

Defending the Future of Jesus: The pretense that Reformed Biblical Theology is uniformly Amillennial

What I like about this quote is how Horton explains the City of Man, ruled by Satan, is a rival to the City of God. Properly understood, this makes me wonder about common phrases like “redeeming the culture” or “redeeming the city” which are tossed around in reformed circles. If the City of Man is at war with the City of God and is trying to supplant it, why do we go to such pains to get cozy with the culture? Why do we look for church-planters who are good at contextualizing the Gospel instead of men who understand this tension and antithesis?

via Joshua Judges Ruth: Dr. Mike Horton on the City of God and the City of Man.

Well, if you don’t think the Reformed tradition is correct in its understanding of Scripture and the Great Commission, then you might wonder about current Reformed slogans. But the fact is that Horton is, IF he were to claim to speak for the whole of the Reformed Tradition, a revisionist. And treating his conclusions as the unquestionable standard for judging the behavior and speech of Reformed churches is to engage in such revisionism.

The Reformed tradition has been both amillennial and postmillennial. Recently, some Reformed thinkers have embraced historical premillennialism. I have no problem with Horton or anyone else picking one side rather than the one I happen to think is true. But worrying about run-of-the-mill Reformed understanding of the Great Commission is not peaceful co-existence.

And, while I respect his Reformed bona fides (and in so doing hopefully set a good example for him and others) I think Horton is wrong, as I read the Great Commission.

 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

When is Jesus given all authority in heaven and earth. At the end? “On the last day?” No. We are called by the King to disciple all the nations. The whole reason there is an “antithesis” between God and Man is because they are claiming the same territory at the same time. The new city begins now. Or rather, began then. Jesus is building it up not from invisible ghosts, or in the future, but in living breathing people who dwell here and now on the earth:

    As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
and
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy
(1 Peter 2:4-10 ESV).

Yes, we are in one sense exiles from the city of Man, but that city is crumbling now. And we are called to minister in a new one now. Not later. Not at the end. Horton is quoted as saying that all humanity is outside of the Garden blocked from re-entering by the Cherubim. But in Acts 1 the two Cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant are gone. Rather two men now hold that office.

Jesus has been raised. And Humanity has been raised up with him to a far better place than the Garden of Eden. Yes there is more to come, but the path there is not an invisible one that leaves the city of man intact. Rather we are to replace it with the city from above that is our Mother.

 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:22-26 ESV).

Not one giant battle at the end with every rule and every authority and power. But only one last remaining enemy gets knocked down at the last Day.

For further reading.

Not “Old” and “New” but FOUR Testaments

The “Old Testament” and “New Testament” division in the Bible is so taken for granted that many Bibles actually start the page numbering over again, as if they were too separate books.

Yes it is true that one is written (mostly) in Hebrew and the other in Greek, but I don’t think that justifies the idea that they are separate books. If a difference in language is all it took, A hefty portion of Daniel would have to be torn out and published as a separate book.

Of course, there is a time gap between the “New Testament” and the earliest previous book. But in fact, there are two other time gaps.

So the Bible is made up of four “Testaments.”

FIRST TESTAMENT

Hexeteuch

Within the Hexeteuch, the first six books of the Bible, Genesis could be interpreted as first “Old Testament” and the following five books as First “New Testament.” Genesis, remember, is actually a compilation of ten books and were probably existent and recognized as Scripture before Moses was born.

OR

Within the Hexeteuch, the Penteteuch, the first five books, can count as the first “Old Testament,” and Joshua as first “New Testament.” There is probably more backing in the rest of the Bible for this interpretation, since Jesus was a new Joshua leading the people to a new land and leaving Moses behind…

But let us move on.

SECOND TESTAMENT

Judges through Kings and Psalms & Wisdom

To use language from our “New Testament” the first group of books are the equivalent of the Gospels and Acts,while the second group are like the Epistles.

Some Prophets may also belong in this section. Not sure.

Note that Kings ends with the exile.

THIRD TESTAMENT

Chronicles through Esther and Prophets (but maybe some prophets go with previous “Testament”?)

Note that Chronicles is written from a perspective after the return from exile.

FOURTH TESTAMENT

The Gospels and Acts and the Epistles.

Do Presbyterians believe that sanctification is by faith alone?

It really looks that way. In chapter 14 of the Westminster Confession of Faith we read that

the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

So we rest upon “Christ alone” not only for justification but also for sanctification.

I have to admit I feel like I’m missing part of the story that might help explain why the Divines used this precise formulation. I don’t doubt that sanctification is God’s sovereign gift, and is given monergistically. But I find it hard to put the precise expression together with how we are supposed to work out our sanctification. Subjectively speaking, I often here statements from Reformed exegetes that indicate that a person’s means of pursuing justification and pursuing sanctification are different.

Q. 77. Wherein do justification and sanctification differ?
A. Although sanctification be inseparably joined with justification, yet they differ, in that God in justification imputeth the righteousness of Christ; in sanctification his Spirit infuseth grace, and enableth to the exercise thereof; in the former, sin is pardoned; in the other, it is subdued: the one doth equally free all believers from the revenging wrath of God, and that perfectly in this life, that they never fall into condemnation; the other is neither equal in all, nor in this life perfect in any, but growing up to perfection.