A Resolution on New Year’s Resolutions

by reed depace

A Weekly Prayer Devotional Seeking God to Pour Out His Spirit in Revival on Us*

[This is a weekly prayer devotional I write for our church. It focuses on some aspect of our need for the Holy Spirit to bring revival to our church. Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Ps 85:6;Isa 44:3-4) Each week, we ask our members to pick a 15 to 30-minute time-block, and use this devotional to focus their prayers for our revival.]

Image courtesy of Norwood Themes, Unsplash

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

I talked with a brother this week who noted that he and his wife were not going to make their traditional New Year’s resolutions. They find the process only results in greater pressure and frustration in their lives. My response to him was, “Praise God!” Not that the custom of New Year’s Resolutions is inherently wrong for a Christian to engage in, yet this secular rooted custom presents some painful missteps for the child of God trying to learn to walk by faith.

The making of New Year’s resolutions goes at least back to the earliest period in the Babylonian kingdom, in the third millennium BC (around the time of the Tower of Babel, Gn 11:1-9). The Roman Empire also had a custom of making New Year’s Resolutions (around the time of Jesus’ birth). This ancient secular custom is basically the same as our secular custom. We make resolutions about making our lives better. Typically, about 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions.* Almost all of them can be categorized as self-help commitments to make one’s life better. Most of these resolutions are abandoned quickly: 25% after one week, 40% after one month, and 55% after six months. By year’s end, only 9% of people who made resolutions say they fulfilled them. As we might expect with efforts based on a resource that 100% of the time dies, New Year’s resolutions are but another example of the futility of life without a saving relationship with God (Eccl 12:1-8).

While the practice of making resolutions can be found in Church history, the adaptation of the secular custom goes back to John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service (1755), usually held on New Year’s Day. This was a service in which Christians recommitted themselves to discipleship. Notwithstanding the theological differences we have with Arminian Methodism, the liturgy for this service is Christ-focused. If informed by a specific commitment to the doctrines of grace, this adaptation might have some discipleship benefit.

Nevertheless, as is usually the case when the church adapts a secular idea, many Christians who make New Year’s Resolutions actually follow the secular practice. Being gospel presumptive, they’ve forgotten or were never taught that not only is salvation by the gospel alone, but so is growth in the Christian life (Col 2:6-7). Relying on self-help effort to grow in Christ, they’ve forgotten or never learned that there is no power for lasting change in their own efforts (Joh 6:63). Even with Jesus’ name on their lips and the intention to serve him in their hearts, Christians who rely on self-help techniques such as New Year’s Resolutions have forgotten or never learned that the Christian life is only lived by faith through the Spirit, not by flesh through self (2 Cor 5:7).

So, with my brother, I say, “Praise God! And good riddance!” to the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.

Do Make New Year’s Prayers

Now, lest you think I’ve left the poor baby hanging by his fingernails on the window ledge in throwing the New Year’s Resolution bathwater out the window, I do think making a biblical resolution is a healthy discipleship practice. For example, Daniel and his three friends resolved not to break their faith in God by disobeying through eating King Nebuchadnezzer’s food (Dan 1:8). Paul made a resolution to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 19:21), a resolution he kept even after being told he would face persecution (Acts 21:10-14). Finally, the Scriptures themselves urge on us the practice of making resolutions as part of our discipleship:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Th 1:11-12, emphasis added

If we begin with a firm commitment to the sovereignty of God, recognize that our role is to express our God-given repentance and faith, want to achieve something which will glorify God, and rely on the Holy Spirit to be the presence whose power transforms us, then resolving to grow in Christ is actually a very spiritually healthy thing. Indeed, as we consider Paul’s admonition here for resolutions that are good works of faith by the Spirit’s power, and as we consider the generally weak and anemic condition of many Christians’ lives, we might even conclude that we need to make more such resolutions (1 Pt 4:7)!!

But what makes such resolutions expressions of faith-by-the-Spirit, instead of flesh-by-self? It is found in Paul’s words at the beginning of these verses, “To this end we always pray for you.” The difference between a secular resolution and a Christian resolution is found in believing prayer.

It is not found merely in prayer. A Christian who prays, “Lord, this year I promise I am going to do such and such …” is basically telling God what they intend to do this year, in their own flesh-based, self-help power. The only difference between that and the atheist who doesn’t pray, or the goof who prays to the Spaghetti God is, well, nothing. A self-help prayer does not honor God. Instead, it simply builds on “The Waterboy” lie Satan told our first parents, “You can do it!” (yourself)!+

The potency of biblical resolution making is found in believing prayer. Trusting in God’s sovereignty, wanting to show God’s glory, relying on the Spirit, it is through such believing prayer that we express our repentance and faith. So, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, let me encourage you to make New Year’s Prayers. Jot down a handful of sinful traits or habits you know are dishonoring God. Pray for these each week. Write down the four or five godly habits you want to develop (e.g., Bible reading, weekly worship – personal, family, and church, being discipled, regular witnessing, etc.). Then pray these each week as well. Don’t worry if you forget to pray for these in a given week. Just repent the next week and pray for them again! What you will find is that the Spirit will do exactly what Paul prayed for the Thessalonians (and us!). The name of Jesus will be glorified in and through you this year in more powerful ways, with a more lasting glory than even the most potent New Year’s Resolution could achieve!

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, we confess that too much of this past year has been given to self-indulgence. Be it wicked sins we don’t want anyone else to find out about, or the common sins we excuse every day, because Jesus is the Resolute One who never wavered in his commitment to face the cross for your glory and his and our joy, forgive and cleanse us.

Then Holy Spirit, who love us enough to resolve to complete the work of holiness in us until we are perfect like Jesus, guide us to what we should be praying for this year. Show us the sins we need to regularly pray the promise of repentance upon. Show us the obedience we need to regularly ask for in faith that hears only Yes and Amen from our Father. Use us this year that your glory in and through us might draw others to yourself. We long for your glory!

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. To Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.

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Photo courtesy Olivia Snow, Unsplash

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* Statistics on New Years’ resolutions found at: https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/.

+ “You can do it!” is a line from the movie Waterboy (1998), epitomizing our culture’s belief in the power of self-help to overcome anything.

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Expository Preaching and Redemptive-Historical Models

A generally helpful post on what expository preaching is not led me to think particularly about redemptive-historical models. His seventh “busted myth” runs like this (quoted in full):

Expository preaching is not always historically-redemptive preaching. Biblical preaching proclaims the Person and Work of Christ. It also explains what the text means by what it says. Surveying the history of redemption may present the gospel and protect the sermon from moralism. But faithful preaching does not ignore the historical and literary setting of the text. 1 Samuel 16 is not primarily about how Christ slays the giant of sin for us. It is about how God helped David defeat Goliath to introduce the young shepherd as the newly-anointed king. We must preach the former without neglecting the latter.

The problem here is one of definition. Some, like myself, would see the the first two sentences as a contradiction. If we are to preach the person and work of Christ from the Old Testament, how can we possibly do that without historically-redemptive preaching? Other models would be closer to pure allegory. But the problem here is one of definition. If, by “historically-redemptive” (I usually reverse the terms to read “redemptive-historical”), we mean that the preacher stays inside the history of redemption, and never applies the text, then that isn’t preaching at all, but rather a lecture. If we mean an A.W. Pink-ish tendency to find Christ under every rock and cranny, that is not helpful, either (though some of Pink’s ties to Christ work quite well; we shouldn’t throw out the redemptive-historical baby with the allegorical bathwater!). If, however, we mean that every sermon on an Old Testament text takes into account the fact that the entire Old Testament is about Jesus Christ, and gives us a history that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ, then all Old Testament preaching (and NT too, for that matter!) must be redemptive-historical. One of the most crying needs in our day and age is to put the Bible together for the person in the pew. How does it all fit together? So it depends on what Mr. Charles defines as “historically-redemptive” as to whether good expository preaching is or is not historically-redemptive.

Synchronic Versus Diachronic

One of the biggest debates in biblical scholarship today is the debate between synchronic and diachronic methodologies. Synchronic approaches read the text in its final, completed form. That is the only form that really matters, because it is the canonical form. It is called “synchronic” because it reads all parts of a given book of Scripture simultaneously, or synchronously. Diachronic approaches are determined to search out possible development of the text from earlier to later versions, hoping that this will cast light on the meaning of the text. The Documentary Hypothesis of JEDP (popularized by Julius Wellhausen) is a good (and famous) example of diachronic analysis.

Most Christians will not care very much about this distinction. However, what they don’t know could hurt them. It is important at this point to stress that not all diachronic approaches undermine the canonicity of a book. Consider, for instance, Kings and Chronicles, both of which are anonymous to us. We do not know who wrote them. It is theoretically conceivable that God could (through the Holy Spirit) have inspired a process of a developing book. Not every book of the canon need have been written all at one sitting. However, there is a great danger to the diachronic methods: atomization of the text. Context must be defined synchronically, since this is how God has providentially preserved His text. Diachronic methods often wind up destroying that context in favor of a completely different context. Furthermore, these methods are highly speculative and subjective. They rely on supposed stylistic differences to find “seams.” The problem with all stylistic arguments is that we do not have a large enough sample size, either in OT or NT, to determine different styles to such a nicety that we can base entire theories on them. Some stylistic differences are visible in the Bible. One can tell the difference between Paul and John, for instance. However, this has limited usefulness, because all the writers of the Bible could have written in a different style than the one they are known for, unless we want to posit the “stupid original writer hypothesis” (SOWH), whereby biblical writers are artificially limited to one and only one style.

In the Pentateuch, it seems important, biblically, to be able to say that Moses wrote it. That being said, we can ask the question of the last chapter of Deuteronomy. Is it possible that Moses wrote the account of his own death? Certainly it is possible. God could have revealed to Moses what would happen after his death. This is hardly difficult. However, isn’t it more likely that Joshua, also writing by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, added a final chapter to Deuteronomy? It is like Frodo and the red book, telling Sam that there is room for a little more, and leaving it to Sam to finish. It is also possible that there are minor editorial additions (in order to address a new context of living in the promised land) in the Pentateuch that Joshua could have added by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This would not preclude us saying that Moses is still the author of the Pentateuch. But it is possible that it is slightly edited. This should not cause concern among us. There is a difference between saying something like this versus something like the JEDP hypothesis, which essentially denies to Moses any hand in creating the Pentateuch. They will often answer that it is not necessary to affirm Mosaic authorship, since Moses is the main character of the Pentateuch, then we can say it is the book about Moses. This would not, however, seem to square with Jesus’ confident assertion in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him (Jesus). Surely a straightforward reading of John 5 would come up with Jesus making a claim that Moses did the writing. There is no evidence that Jesus is speaking metaphorically or symbolically. He is speaking of typology, but that is something else entirely.

A growing number of scholars believe that there need be no opposition between synchronic and diachronic approaches. In fact, some believe that the diachronic approach can help us appreciate the final synchronic reading better. Perhaps. I have read several authors who claim this, but are unconvincing so far. Separating out layers of a text is still going to run counter to seeing the final form as the ultimate context in which we read any given part.

Where I think we need to be as Christians on this matter is two-fold. On the one hand, we need not have as rigid a view as is sometimes held. Some people think that saying any word of the Pentateuch was written by someone other than Moses is heretical liberalism. Editing has been going on for thousands of years. Are we seriously going to suggest that God could not use it or inspire it? We can say that if there is any editing in Scripture, that editing happened by inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to address a new state of affairs. On the other hand, I think we need to reject the more radical, subjective, hypothetical forms of diachronic analysis. The final form of the text is what we interpret in the church. Period. That is the form God has decreed should be the norm and guide for the church. Diachronic analyses should not be confused with exegesis, for these analyses do not interpret the text. Rather, they dissect it.

Parallelomania

It is quite the fashion these days in scholarly circles to find parallels between biblical texts and either Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts, for the Old Testament, or Greco-Roman texts, for the New Testament. Very confident pronouncements are then made about organic literary connections, even determining the direction of dependence. Samuel Sandmel, a rabbinic scholar, warned against extravagances in this direction in his address to the Society for Biblical Literature in the early 1960’s. The article was published in JBL 81.1 (1962), 1-13.

It is quite difficult to prove literary dependence. Similarity of verbiage does not prove literary relationship. Even if it did prove it, it does not prove the direction of literary dependence. Not even the relative age of manuscripts can prove literary dependence. What happens in the vast majority of biblical scholarship is that the foreign influence is always deemed to be prior, and the biblical text late and derivative. It is not difficult to detect a direct attack on the inspiration of Scripture: did the biblical ideas come from God, or did they come from humans?

One could argue, I suppose, that God could somehow use already existing human materials in a new way in the process of inspiration. However, that is not how parallelomaniacs argue. They argue that the biblical text is fully derivative. They start from an assumption that the Bible could not possibly be breathed out by God. It is merely a human document.

The problems with this position are two-fold: 1. it undermines the doctrine of inspiration; 2. it ignores the often apologetic tone of Scripture. What I mean by the second point is that if Scripture “sounds like” the ANE or Greco-Roman literature, it is usually done so as to reject those ideas, not appropriate them.

Old Testament scholars will immediately cry foul and point out the similarities of, say, the biblical book of Proverbs and the Egyptian Proverbs of Amenemope. To such scholars, I ask the following question: on what basis could one possibly prove that the scriptural book of Proverbs is dependent on the Egyptian document? The date of manuscripts? This is not conclusive in the least. Date of manuscript does not prove date of origin. Secondly, is it completely outside the realm of possibility that God’s common grace might reveal some wisdom to those outside the covenant? The covenant, incidentally, constitutes the major difference between the biblical book of Proverbs and the Egyptian document. The fear of the Lord in 1:7 and in chapter 9 is a covenantal fear, and this controls the whole book of Proverbs. In other words, the wisdom of Proverbs is not secularly derived, but rather from the fear of the Lord.

Thankful for Stumbling

[This is a copy of the weekly revival prayer devotional I send out to our congregation. Thought I’d share this week’s, as I have a little extra time waiting for the family to get back from shopping for turkey and trimmings. Nothing special, but maybe it will encourage. Reed DePace]

What Am I Thankful For?

I’m old enough now that a lot of my natural curmudgeon-ness has worn off. At Christmas, my family no longer worries if I’ll decide to reprise my award-winning role as Scrooge. At my birthday It is rare to hear a “harrumph.” But at Thanksgiving, I still struggle with one of the table traditions in our family, “Let’s everyone go around the table and share one thing we are thankful for.”

Now, it is not that I am not thankful. But it is kind of awkward for everyone else when you share, “I’m thankful I’m not as big a jerk as I used to be.” Some sitting there think I’m making a joke. Some (the quiet ones) know I’m not.

The Stone of Stumbling

So, with that bit of uncomfortable transparency to start our devotional this morning, let me share with you one thing I am thankful for. We’re visiting family this week, and so I am writing this in less than ideal circumstances for a person who does his best thinking and writing sitting in a dark corner with jazz lightly playing in the background. I’ve been a bit distracted, worrying a tad, “What am I going to write for this morning’s devotional?

I’d like to share with you something from my personal worship that just now grabbed my faith. I’m reviewing passages on election for an upcoming sermon series. This morning I completed Romans 9, looking at verses 30-33. There Paul explains why he was discussing election in the previous verses: to explain why most of the Jews who professed faith in God still rejected Jesus. He became for them the Stone of Stumbling.

But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said, “I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Romans 9:31-33

This is scary. All those folks raised in the heart of the Church with all the right blessings: adoption as God’s own family, the ministry of glory and joy, the covenant of grace, the law to teach them their need of Christ, worship based on faith and repentance, and the promises of the fullness of salvation (Rom 9:4-5). Yet when Jesus came along, they stumbled over him. They heard him speak truth about their sin, their need for salvation, and him as their Savior, and they rejected him!

Yes, I know, they were not among the elect. Yet, as I read this passage this morning, I found myself thinking about how many Christians, folks like you and me, maybe me and you, still stumble over Jesus. If it is all by grace, not of our efforts (Rom 9:30), them why do we still live by” do this or else”, and “don’t do that or else”? We’re still stumbling.

Or for others of us, we may not stumble at this point. But, ignoring that IF the Spirit really has saved us, then we WILL find ourselves increasingly loving and longing for Jesus and for what he loves and longs for, we stumble in a different way. Instead of rejoicing and learning to dance with Jesus, far too many of us professing faith in Christ are still having fun dancing to the world’s tunes, living the world’s life. Professing “we’re saved!,” we can’t even find the strength of faith to even be faithful in worshiping him, the primary place where Jesus gives dance lessons!

The Blessed Stumbling

This passage caused a blessed stumbling in me this morning. I worry too much for those who aren’t taking Jesus seriously. Yeah, I worry for some of those to whom I am witnessing. But the ones I fret over are those who’ve professed “Amen, Jesus my Lord,” and yet often do not even struggle with the fact that they don’t show much fruit of the new life that Christ says proves they are his disciples (Jh 15:8). I get worried enough that my “gotta fix this” mentality goes into overdrive.

This is what I’m thankful for this season of Thanksgiving. This has been rolling around in the back of my soul for a while, yet I’ve never really focused on it. Yeah, I’ve acknowledged it is wrong (repentance) and asked God to change me (faith), but I never really sat down and examined just how dangerous and offensive is this sin.

So today I am thankful that God kept his promises once again to work in me, to bring me just a little closer to the Christlikeness that is full maturity (Eph 4:13). Today I am thankful that he showed me how, in worrying for those who aren’t dancing with Jesus, I stumbled on him like those Jews Paul was talking about. All the promises and power Present for me, and yet I still run back to self-reliance. How thankful I am not just that he will keep his promises, but that right now, Jesus IS keeping this promise.

I don’t see the end of my self-reliance yet. But I do see it better than ever before. And I am enabled to recognize even sooner when I’m beginning to trip over Jesus instead of just resting on him. And I find right now, and will throughout my tomorrows, that I can dance with with more intention and sincerity, that is praying with more faith and repentance, and rely on Jesus, alone. This is something to truly be thankful for.

How about you? Do you find yourself still dancing to the world’s tunes? Be careful, you might stumble over Jesus one too many times, and never dance again. Are trying to do the Christian thing, but dancing solo? Ask that you might trip over Jesus now and learn to only dance with him. No more solos! The great news, what we can all be thankful for, is that stumbling over Jesus does not have to be fatal. Indeed, he often causes us to trip that we might not slip out of his hands (Jas 1:3-5).

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to dance with him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Col 2:6-7, NLT, slightly paraphrased)

Prayer Advice

Dear Lord, thank you for causing us to stumble over your Son Jesus. Thinking we’re ready for dancing with the stars, we fail to see how much we’re lurching toward destruction. Forgive us for where we’re still self-reliant, trying to solo on the dance floor. Forgive us for where we are chanting Jesus’ name, but still dancing to the world’s tune.

Stop us from being those who try to obey you through self-effort (solo dancers). Stop us from being those who don’t obey you (world dancers). Turn us into children who dance holding on to their Father’s hands. Make us into people who line dance with the Spirit. Let us dance for your glory and joy, held tightly in our Bridegroom’ arms.

Restore to us the years the locusts have eaten. Pour out Your Spirit in revival on us. For Your glory, together with Your Father and Your Spirit, we ask, Amen.”

 

reed depace

Historie and Geschichte

Liberal German theology invented a distinction between two supposedly different ways of looking at history. The term Historie referred to what actually happened. The term Geschichte referred to an interpreted history, or what the meaning of history is. On one level, this could be a helpful distinction. There can be a distinction in our minds between an event and the interpretation of that event. However, the Germans did not limit the distinction to this. They believed that true scholarship could go behind the Geschichte in order to find the Historie. Or, to put it in easier terms, that scholarship could rid itself of all biases in order to be able to see an absolutely objective historical reality.

In a post-modern world, very few people are willing to say that an objective view of history is possible. In fact, the pendulum has swung the other way. If, in the old German model, reality was located in Historie, and it was the historian’s duty to try to get to that objectivity, in the post-modern world, the reverse has happened: now there is no objective reality beyond our interpretation. The locus of reality has shifted to the mind and to Geschichte, except in one realm: science. There is still the great delusion that science is still objective.

What is the biblical view of all this? The biblical view is well expressed by Geerhardus Vos. There are events in history (especially salvation history) that are then interpreted. We can never escape our situatedness in order to achieve a truly objective interpretation of history. All views of history are biased, since they are necessarily selective, and the principle of selection will inevitably involve bias. Some are more self-aware than others. Those who are self-aware are the better historians. The question for the Christian is not whether we will have an interpretation of history, but whether our interpretation of history will match up with God’s interpretation or not. As Ken Ham would say, the real question is which bias is the right bias to be biased with in the first place. Here is where we have to fight post-modernism tooth and nail. For post-modernism denies that there is such a thing as correct and incorrect interpretation of Scripture and history. Christians, on the other hand, argue that God’s interpretation of history is correct, and that our interpretation should align with God’s.

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The week of Thanksgiving is coming up. I do not intend to engage the argument here about whether Thanksgiving services should be held. Rather i wish to engage the question of the biblical concept of thanksgiving.

Adam and Eve’s fall into sin can be seen in the light of this question. Instead of being thankful for what God had given to them, they became discontent with what they had, and desired to rule over their own lives. They believed that they knew what was good for them better than God did. Instead of being thankful that they could eat of all the tree of the garden except from one tree, they believed Satan’s lie that God was somehow keeping something from them.

The history of idolatry in the times of Old Testament Israel has this same aspect to it. Instead of being grateful to God for the peace and prosperity that God had given them in the promised land, they hankered after something more. Ironically, that something more wound up always being something less, for how could anyone have something more than God?

What humanity needed was a new heart full of gratitude. So the gospel itself comes into view as God’s solution to the problem of ingratitude. And when God changes a person’s heart, the ingratitude and dissatisfaction becomes gratitude and satisfaction, as God’s infinite goodness to sinners becomes so clearly evident. The gospel, in this way, is all about thanksgiving. That is, the gospel always produces thanksgiving (among many other things).

The Rift Between Exegesis and Systematic Theology

Some exegetes believe that systematic theology (ST) has no place in exegesis. There are various reasons why people might believe this. Some might believe that ST would artificially narrow down the valid exegetical possibilities (horror of horrors!). Others believe that because ST is not their specialty, that therefore they cannot venture in to that field when they are doing their exegesis. Still others believe that exegesis is for the academy, while ST is for the church (and never should the two meet!). I will answer these objections one at a time.

To the first objection, I would answer that ST never narrows down the number of valid exegetical possibilities. One must define “valid exegetical possibilities.” For some exegetes, this would mean (in line with reader-response criticism) that they can understand the text to mean whatever they want the text to mean. So, when one comes to the text in Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man that He should lie,” a valid exegetical possibility for the reader-response critic might even be “God is just like a human, and is quite capable of lying; in fact, He often does.” What exegetes fail to realize in this regard is that we already have a ST grid of our own that narrows down interpretive options. So, the question is not whether we will have an interpretive grid, but which grid we have. The people who claim not to have a grid are the ones with the most fiercely narrowing grids of all. The reason for that is that they are not even aware of their own grids. And it is the invisible grids that are the most pernicious.

This also answers the bit about ST not being someone’s field. If one is a theologian, then ST is part of what we do. Period. Just because an exegete might not have read all the ST’s ever written in history does not mean that he is exempt from engaging the aspects of theology that fall under the rubrics of ST. ST is not just for the specialist. We all do it anyway. The question is whether we will be honest and upfront about doing it, or whether we will pretend that we are not doing it, when we really are.

Thirdly, exegesis is, most obviously, not just for the academy. Actually, most exegetes recognize this. Some merely think that their own exegesis is for the academy, and not for the church. The gulf between academy and church is particularly huge and disturbing. One expects the gulf with unbelieving scholarship. However, even some exegetes who believe in Christ as Lord and Savior also posit a huge gulf between academy and church, thus refusing to love what Christ has loved. I do not understand how believing scholars can do their work for the academy and not for the church, unless they are motivated by the fear of man, and the idol of prestige and honor among men.

Was Jesus Able to Sin?

This is a thorny question that has received more than one answer in history. Some Reformed authors like Sproul and Hodge have argued that Christ was not truly human if He was not subject to the possibility of falling into sin. Others have said that the unity of the God-man implies that the divine nature would have prevented the human nature from falling into sin. Both sides would agree that Jesus did not, in fact, sin. The question is whether it was possible or not.

I would argue that it was not possible for Christ to sin. However, this must be argued carefully. I would argue from the analogy of Christ’s sin-bearing that it was not possible for Christ to sin. How could Christ, as the God-man, bear the infinite weight of the punishment for sins? A mere human could not do so. Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg, argues that it is the divine nature which sustains the human nature in the sin-bearing. I would argue that Christ’s divine nature does the same with regard to withstanding temptation. Some versions of the position I hold wind up endangering the distinctiveness of Christ’s human nature. If we use the concept of sustaining, then we do not run the risk of attributing divine attributes to the human nature. This would be a more Lutheran communication of attributes that we should avoid. We can attribute characteristics of either nature to the person, but not human attributes to the divine, or vice versa.

Another way to get at the problem is to ask what kind of impossibility of sin are we positing? The impossibility I argue for is an impossibility of character. Not only was Christ’s human nature in the state of innocence, but also the divine nature sustained him in the temptations so that He would not fall into sin. This in no way minimizes the ferocity of the temptations directed Jesus’ way. Satan threw everything he had at Jesus. It is because Jesus resisted to the very last, to the very utmost heights of temptation, that he can be our Savior.

Did God’s Essence Become Incarnate?

One of the most difficult questions in Trinitarian theology is how the essence/person distinction relates to the Incarnation. The classic formulations state that God is in essence one, and that one essence is shared fully and completely in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of God must be involved somehow in the Incarnation, but finding a way of expressing that is difficult. On the one hand, it is vitally important not to drive a wedge between the essence of God and the three persons. Otherwise, we wind up with the classic problem of a quaternity (essence plus three persons).

The way this problem has been avoided in the past is through the doctrine of perichoresis, or mutual indwelling of the persons. The three persons interpenetrate each other in such a way that the persons remain distinct, and yet share fully in the essence. Perichoresis is also the only resource we have for understanding how God can be one essence that is simple (not divisible), and yet also be three distinct persons.

Objections to this doctrine usually bring God down to man’s level. For instance, someone will object that an essence cannot be so shared. The objection will only prove true, however (upon close examination), of mortal and finite essences. An infinite essence such as God’s essence is not limited by such problems.

The other problem we will have to avoid is in saying that the essence of God underwent any change whatsoever in the Incarnation. Here the Chalcedonian formulations help us out. The two natures of Christ remain distinct, even though inseparable. Therefore, the divine nature of Christ did not change at all when the Son added a full human nature to Himself.

This helps us answer the question: did God’s essence become incarnate? We have to say that God’s essence did not change into something else at the Incarnation. At the same time, we have to say that God’s essence was involved in the Incarnation. The Reformed scholastics help us out here. Their formulation is that God’s essence is incarnated, but only in one of its hypostases or persons (see Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4, p. 211). The process of incarnation is one of addition. A full human nature is added, taken up in hypostatic union with the second person of the Trinity, the essence of God in the second person. This must not be understood in any way that would imply that a separate already-formed human person was joined to the divine person. The full human nature (body and soul) of Christ only ever exists in hypostatic union with the divine nature. This being said, the Father and the Holy Spirit were not passive spectators in the Incarnation either. All the outside works of the Triune God are indivisible (which means that all three persons of the Trinity are at work in everything God does). The Father sent both the Son and the Spirit in the process of incarnation, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. This must qualify what was said about only the second person being incarnated. For while it is true that only the second person became incarnated, yet it is also true that the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved.

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