Tired of “Church Programs?”

We live in an age where the church is increasingly convinced that it has to create gimmicks in order to convert people. Oftentimes, the church is only really concerned about getting people in the door. The Gospel thus drops out of sight entirely. Has God actually prescribed for us the way to make disciples? Yes, and the Great Commission tells us how. This book should help us to return to the Gospel as the Gospel, and not what we try to make (or twist!) out of it. This book is 50% off right now at WTS bookstore.

College Preparation

Preparing for college has one main problem with it: preparing for the assaults that come your way. This book has just come out, and looks to be a very helpful book dealing with these kinds of issues. It is on special right now at WTS.

Wishing Dr. Thomas All the Best

Dr. Derek Thomas has accepted a call to Columbia, SC to be associate pastor there alongside his longtime friend, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson (now there’s a one-two punch!). This blogger, who has certainly benefited greatly from Dr. Thomas’s books, wishes him all the best. No miser is First Presbyterian Church, to allow Dr. Thomas to go! They will miss him greatly. Speaking of Dr. Thomas, make sure you check out his new commentary on Acts (it has been published, but is not quite yet available at WTS).

“Commandments” in Matthew 5:17-20?

(Posted by Paige)

While puzzling this week over the referent for “these commandments” in Matt. 5:19, I came across two distinct explanations in two of D. A. Carson’s older commentaries. I think they end up in the same place, but they begin quite differently. What do you think?

Here is the familiar passage, from the ESV:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Carson writes this in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World (Baker, 1978; but I have the 1987 edition):

The expression ‘these commands’ does not, I think, refer to the commands of the OT law. It refers, rather, to the commands of the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom mentioned three times in verse 19f. They are the command already given, and the commands still to come, in the Sermon on the Mount…It is worth noting that Jesus’ closing words in Matthew’s Gospel again emphasize obedience: the believers are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded (28:18-20). Jesus’ commands are highlighted, much as in 5:19.” (40, 41; bold added, italics in original.)

And he writes this in his article on Matthew in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (ed. Gaebelein; Zondervan, 1984):

“But what are ‘these commandments’? It is hard to justify restriction of these words to Jesus’ teachings…, even though the verb cognate to ‘commands’ (entolon) is used of Jesus’ teachings in 28:20 (entellomai); for the noun in Matthew never refers to Jesus’ words, and the context argues against it. Restriction to the Ten Commandments…is equally alien to the concerns of the context. Nor can we say ‘these commandments’ refers to the antitheses that follow, for in Matthew houtos (‘this,’ pl. ‘these’) never points forward. It appears, then, that the expression must refer to the commandments of the OT Scriptures. The entire Law and the Prophets are not scrapped by Jesus’ coming but fulfilled. Therefore the commandments of these Scriptures – even the least of them… — must be practiced. But the nature of the practicing has already been affected by vv.17-18. The law pointed forward to Jesus and his teaching; so it is properly obeyed by conforming to his word. As it points to him, so he, in fulfilling it, establishes what continuity it has, the true direction to which it points and the way it is to be obeyed. Thus ranking in the kingdom turns on the degree of conformity to Jesus’ teaching as that teaching fulfills OT revelation. His teaching, toward which the OT pointed, must be obeyed.” (146; bold added)

So…which is it, Dr. Carson? (Anybody have his new edition of the Expositor’s commentary?)

Trust and Belief

Sean Gerety has posted a thoughtful short essay on saving faith and trust. I thought I would respond to it here and see what people thought about this.

First of all, I think two problems are evident. On the one hand, when looking at the Clarkian position, the tendency has been to say that Clark believes in salvation by intellectual assent alone. This is not what Clark is saying. Clark most definitely includes a personal appropriation of the truth of the Gospel when he talks about saving faith.

On the other side, when people look at the three-fold definition of knowledge, assent, and trust, that last word is ambiguous. What is trust? Is it a once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God? Or is it a lifelong loyalty to the covenant? Here is where the rubber hits the road. It becomes a little bit more complicated once we introduce the distinction between justification and sanctification into the picture.

I would say that if we use the word “trust” in relation to justifying faith (faith as related to justification specifically), we absolutely have to eliminate any thought of life-long loyalty from the discussion, because then we would be justified by loyalty, which obviously includes works of loyalty. So, if we use the word “trust,” then we have to limit it to the once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God.

Now, let us relate this once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God, on the one hand, to belief in a personal appropriation of the Gospel, on the other hand. Are they not really the same thing? The former is what most Reformed theologians have said. Clark has said it in the latter way. Might they not actually be the same thing? At this moment in time, I am more inclined to favor the personal appropriation language of belief to describe the third element of faith, precisely since, as Sean has pointed out, the word “trust” is so ambiguous.

To conclude, when Clark/Gerety et al say “justification by belief alone” they are not talking about just knowledge, or even just assent. They are also including in that a personal appropriation of that truth to the sinner. I do not see a whopping difference between that and what others have said concerning trust. Are you not placing your trust in God when you come to the belief that God’s Gospel applies to you personally? Maybe the two orthodox sides are not so different after all.

The New Perspective on Paul Schools the FV

I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans. Given the recent discussions on faith versus faithfulness, I thought people might enjoy mulling over this quotation. Dunn is commenting on Romans 4:21 (which describes Abraham’s confidence that God fulfills His promises):

It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be though of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect (p. 239 of volume 1).

It should be noted here that in the context of Romans, Paul goes on immediately to apply Abraham’s faith as a template or example for us (see 4:23). I should note that this quotation does not alleviate the other problems in Dunn’s theology. However, on this point, Dunn seems to agree with the critics of the FV.

Israel’s Calling?

(Posted by Paige)

A friend and I have started a lively conversation about N. T. Wright’s writings, and of course part of the landscape we’ll be galloping through will be Wright’s understanding of Israel’s calling or mission to “bless the nations.” Wright reads Gen. 12:3b (“and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”) as the commission that Israel failed to achieve, leaving it up to Jesus (as a sort of “Plan B” [meaning simply “the next step”]) to fulfill the calling of the obedient son. (Of course, Jesus fulfilled this largely by his death; it is unclear how Israel ought to have fulfilled its calling to save the world in the first place.)

What do you make of Wright’s reading of the “mission” of Israel? (I have some ideas, but maybe yours are better.) Here are a few representative passages from Justification (IVP, 2009):

“…the unfaithfulness of the Israelites is not their lack of belief. The point is that God has promised to bless the world through Israel, and Israel has been faithless to that commission.”(67)

“God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite.” (68)

“…the task of the Messiah, bringing to its appointed goal the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world, was to offer to God the ‘obedience’ which Israel should have offered but did not.” (104) [Wright immediately goes on to talk about Jesus’ obedience as “unto death.”]

“Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the ‘obedience’ which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission…What is needed…is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all.” (105)

“The problem with the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world was that Israel had failed to deliver…Israel had failed to deliver on the divine vocation…Instead of the nations looking at Israel, listening to God’s word and learning his wisdom, they have looked at Israel and said, ‘We don’t want a god like theirs.’” (196)


Support for the Leithart Trial

Jason Stellman is asking for funds to help fly in key witnesses for the trial of Peter Leithart. If you or your church is able/willing to do this, it would be a great boon, so that the trial can be done correctly (plus, you gotta love the Bartles and James reference!).

A Worldview Tree Arboretum

(Posted by Paige Britton)

Here is an interesting thinking exercise for our interesting and thoughtful readers:

A while back I described a graphic organizer, shaped like a tree, which is a potentially helpful tool both for apologetics and for teaching the flock about different thought systems. I’ll review the levels of the “Worldview Tree” and the corresponding questions below, but for more information on the origin and use of the Tree see this post. (And don’t miss Jared’s suggested alternative configuration in the comments of that post, as well as my further explanation about the usage and order of the terms on the original Worldview Tree.)

Here is a link to a PDF of the Tree — please feel free to use it in your ministry. (If I get around to creating a b&w version I’ll let you know.)

After sketching the Tree-as-graphic-organizer again, I’m going to list potential “Worldview Trees” to plant in our virtual arboretum – and I invite you to plant one! (I’ll start off the comments with one example.) If you take me up on this project by filling out a Tree for a thought system you happen to know something about, I think you’ll be offering other readers tools for their own (and others’) edification. I know that I will make use of the best ones whenever I have the chance, so please share the wealth of your knowledge with us. (And if someone else plants the Tree you were thinking of planting, you get first dibs on its pruning.)

The point of the Tree is that a consistent thought system can be shown to run organically from “roots” to “fruits.” Not that people generally walk around with well-articulated or particularly consistent thought systems in their heads – but as an apologetic tool, this graphic organizer can be used to visually emphasize inconsistencies in somebody’s system (e.g., the fact that certain “fruits” were stolen from the Christian Tree and duct-taped onto a non-Christian one) and also to display the beautiful consistency of the biblical worldview. As a teaching tool for Christians, the Tree can be used to present identifiable worldly thought systems over against the biblical view of reality, and it can be used to organize data gathered from a speaker or author in order to figure out what Tree he or she is sitting in.

Here are the levels of the Tree (which looks pretty cool if you draw it — see below!! – notice I have reversed the order I gave previously so the Tree comes out right-side-up this time):

(Leaves or fruit)THERAPY: How do we get better? (This could be construed ultimately or regarding a specific concern.)

(Main branchy area) AXIOLOGY: What is right and wrong / good and bad?

(First branch divisions) TELEOLOGY: What is the goal or purpose ? (This can be construed either as an ultimate – “What is the purpose of everything?” – or as a specific that leads to an ultimate – e.g., “What is the purpose of wealth?”)

(Trunk) ANTHROPOLOGY: What is a human being?

(Ground line) EPISTEMOLOGY: How do we know things?

(Main roots) METAPHYSICS: What is the nature of ultimate reality? (Or, What’s really going on in the universe?)

(Root tips) ONTOLOGY: What is Ultimate Being? (Or, What is the ultimate thing that BE’s?)

Now, you can just cut and paste bits of that list to fill out your own Tree, as I have done in the first comment below. Don’t even worry about the html stuff – I’ll come back through and set that up for you after the fact. Just plant us a Tree! Share around your knowledge a bit.

Here are some interesting sources of thought systems to start with – feel free to borrow from this nursery, or come up with your own variety. No need for doctoral dissertations here, either; these are just saplings after all. Just give us the main ideas (in your own words, unless otherwise noted or you know some good quotes). And leave blank what remains unknown if necessary.

So what would the Tree look like if it belonged to…

Peter Singer
The world of The Matrix
Chairman Mao
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Westminster Standards (yes, this is also the biblical Tree, but use phrases from the Standards to fill it out)
Richard Dawkins
Thomas Jefferson
Joel Osteen
Joseph Stalin
Arminian Theology
Osama Bin Laden
John Calvin (give us some good quotes)
The other Calvin (“& Hobbes”)
& etc.

Have fun!!

Two Baptisms Or One?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Federal Vision believes in two baptisms. Consider this point: do they expect an infant baptism to work the same way an adult baptism would? This presupposes another question, of course: should our doctrine of baptism be able to take into account all baptisms? The answer to this latter question is yes, since we believe in one baptism, as Ephesians 4:5 tells us, and as the creeds tell us. So the problem for the FV is this: if the sign and the thing signified are tied so closely together that you can’t even insert a credit card in between the two, then how to explain adult baptisms? Does the adult get the thing signified at the time point of faith, or do we have to tell him, “Whoa there, slow down, pardner! You don’t have union with Christ and forgiveness of sins until you’re baptized.” Isn’t that telling an adult that faith alone is not sufficient for justification?

Let’s try a thought experiment that seeks to make infant baptisms and adult baptisms work the same way. Let’s suppose that an adult comes to faith before he receives the sign and seal (like Abraham in Romans 4, for instance). Could this be paralleled in an infant’s life? Sure thing. An infant can trust in its Creator even in the womb (an implication of John the Baptist, not to mention David’s strong language of infant faith in the Psalms). Okay, what about coming to faith after baptism, can that happen? This is also very possible. An adult can fool himself into thinking that he has real faith, and only realizes his mistake after baptism. We would certainly not re-baptize such a person. His faith came after the sign and seal. This also happens with infants, since it happened with me. I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant. And no, no one doubted my words when I said I came to faith. I was always encouraged to hold to what I said. I was encouraged both before and after my conversion to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. My parents did not assume one way or the other whether I was saved or not. In other words, I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

If one believes, then, that the thing signed and sealed always comes at the time-point of baptism, then one believes in two baptisms, because it never happens that way with an adult, and almost never with an infant. Would a church responsibly baptize an adult who did not have a credible profession of faith? Of course not. In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present. Therefore, the FV believes in two baptisms. It works one way for infants, and another way for adults. This is not tenable, and it is certainly not confessional. The Westminster standards says that the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the moment when they are administered. It comes in God’s own appointed time. That appointed time is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in power and changes that person from a citizen of Hell to a citizen of Heaven. That happens by faith alone.

This is why saying that sign and thing signified always or even mostly occur at the same time is very dangerous. Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted. God is not tied to the moment of baptism to give that.

One commenter long ago wrote on this blog that the FV is a baby-driven theology. I think this is true. Rather than coming at the sacrament in such a way that all forms of it fit the same template, so as to have only one baptism, they think almost exclusively in terms of how a baby experiences baptism, and it is not consistent with how the adult baptism works. They should work the same way.