The Fear of Man Versus the Fear of God

Most Christians have probably heard something about the fear of man and the fear of God. However, many Christians fail to see when they do not have the proper perspective on what they do. The fear of man is insidious, creepy, and sneaky. It can disguise itself in many ways, and people rationalize it in many ways. Carl Trueman has talked about one form of it in terms of conferences: only the best-known names get invited, and they get invited again, and again, and again. Why is this? Is it simple marketeering? Or is there a fear of man involved, in the sense that organizers think that only well-known names will be convincing. Where did the Holy Spirit go, I wonder?

Reasonably mature Christians will know that the fear of God, being the beginning of wisdom, constitutes a proper awe and reverence for the Lord God. However, what even mature Christians often forget is that the fear of man and the fear of God are on a teeter-totter. Austrian economics helps explain how wealth is created much better than Keynesian economics (in my opinion), but when it comes to the fear of man and the fear of God, it is a zero-sum game. As one goes up, the other goes down.

It seems to me that the more important a person becomes, the more famous, the more well-known, the wealthier, and the better placed, the temptations of the fear of man grow exponentially. Power is intoxicating, in whatever form one has it, and people who acquire this kind of power and respect become very loath to risk it in any way whatsoever.

In the Reformed world, this kind of respect comes from publishing a book, or becoming a professor at a seminary, or having a prominent position in the denomination, or having a large church. It is easy to forget how eminently expendable we are, and instead start to think (even if it is not as crassly put as this) how lucky God is to have us around.

The rubber really hits the road when these famous gurus are tempted to moderate their theological views for the sake of political expediency. If someone is just moderate enough, then he can win yet more influence. It can be rationalized by saying that we will still try to pull people over to the more conservative side by thus appearing more moderate. The only pulling that results, however, is toward the liberal side. Once we have begun to abandon our convictions, the game is up, and we have lost any ground that we thought to have gained.

What we really need is a return to the fear of God. Does God care more for how influential we are or how faithful we are? Do remember that Jeremiah, for instance, was told that no one would listen to him, but he should go anyway. How many of our gurus would be willing to go somewhere and preach if they were told that their message would pretty much automatically be rejected? Do we fear God at all? Or do we really fear man, and thus trust in our resources?

I say all of these things first and foremost to warn myself. I feel the pull of these things. I have never been a very good political operative. The joke about my family is that we aren’t precisely good material for the diplomatic corp. However, I do not relish conflict. Some of my readers will guffaw at this point, reading these words on a blog that has been known for debate since its inception. However, I have always been able to keep distinct in my mind debate from conflict. Debate is about issues, whereas conflict often has personalities getting involved, and tempers flaring, which I most certainly do not relish. Debate is often fun and as long as people stick to the issues and the logical arguments for and against, it can be helpful.

The thing about the fear of man is that it also tempts us to rather severe forms of narcissism. On that subject see this post I wrote about a year ago. The fear of man is what drives us to react in narcissistic ways both to praise and to criticism, things which ministers, in particular, get by the ream. A constant return to the fear of the Lord is a healthy antidote both to the fear of man, and to narcissism.

Advice to Young People

James Montgomery Boice has some excellent advice to young people in his sermon series on the Minor Prophets (volume 2, p. 510). He identifies a major problem with young people today:

As I counsel with people in our day, many of them young people, I am convinced that one of their biggest problems is that they expect shortcuts. They want a simple principle that will explain all the Bible and eliminate the need for concentrated and prolonged Bible study. They want an experience that will set them on a new spiritual plateau and eliminate the need for hard climbing up the steep mountain paths of discipleship. They want a fellowship that has all the elements of a perfect heavenly fellowship without the work of building up those elements by their own hard work and active participation. This is not the way God has ordered things. He could have given shortcuts, but he has not.

To young people out there: there are no shortcuts. And if there are, they usually lead to long delays, as Pippin would say in The Fellowship of the Ring. Things are not going to be handed to you on a platter. Life is not something you can simply let happen to you. This is not a popular message in an age of instant gratification.

Young Christians often think this way as well. After the euphoria of conversion is passed, they often come to a hard shock: the Christian life is hard work! They often think that they didn’t sign up for this. As Pliable turns back in the Slough of Despond, the very first sign of trouble, so also do many today who call themselves Christians. However, as any seasoned Christian can tell you, conversion is the peace with God that starts the war on the world, the flesh, and the devil. In many ways, life is far more difficult after conversion than before.

Do not think of the Christian life as having shortcuts. Study your Bible thoroughly and deeply. Pray over it and meditate over it. Wrestle with God in prayer. Prepare for the Sabbath Day every single week, so that the Word will dwell richly in you. The Christian life is cumulative.

If Necessary, Use Words?

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the proverb “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I think I know what most people mean by this. Most people mean that the gospel has to be embodied in our lives, and that if unbelievers cannot see that, then the ethos of the gospel will not match the evangelist’s life. Integrity is the ultimate thing at issue here. To this extent, the quotation has a useful place.

However, some people take it too far, as if evangelism doesn’t need to use words. Just evangelize by means of your lifestyle. People don’t need to hear the Word. Preaching is over-rated. We don’t need to study apologetics, or have an answer ready for the person who asks us for the reason of the hope that lies within us. Readers can probably guess where I’m going with this one. The quotation can lead to a despising of preaching, of the Word, and of evangelism by means of talking with people.

I hate to break it to the lifestyle-evangelist folks, but the ethos of our lives is not enough. Sooner or later (if our lifestyles are Christian ones), the unbeliever is going to ask us why we’re different. When that happens, we should have an answer ready.

Some people use the Assisi quotation in order to avoid speaking with people, and thus lose many opportunities. Still others use it to ridicule the role of preaching, and thus promote other forms of worship that God has not commanded.

The fact of the matter is that words are necessary. That doesn’t mean that conversion is dependent on us, as the Finneyites would have us believe. The Holy Spirit is the one Who converts. So, we should not get ourselves into a sweat about whether we have the right words or not. Our best arguments, if not accompanied by the Holy Spirit, are useless to convert. By the same token, the Holy Spirit can use our most imperfect efforts to convert. Faith comes by hearing, which implies words. Therefore, I think that even Assisi went too far in the comment, and his zealous followers certainly have.

Is Musical Beauty All in the Ear of the Behearer?

The following is a talk I gave at the worship conference at Christ Church of the Carolinas. It is a longer post, because it is a talk that lasted a little less than an hour.

“You like what you like, and I’ll like what I like.” “It’s all a matter of personal preference.” “You have your music and I have mine.” “Different strokes for different folks.” Is musical beauty all in the ear of the behearer, just as visible beauty is all in the eye of the beholder? Is it all just a matter of personal preference and taste? Or does the Bible and natural revelation teach us something more nuanced than that? We can phrase the question this way: is musical beauty all entirely relative, or are there standards that we can discover from the Scripture and from nature that point to some objective standards? Now, let me be clear: personal taste and preference are not irrelevant. And, in suggesting that there is such a thing as an objective standard for musical beauty, I am not suggesting that therefore everyone has to like only a certain kind of music. Nor am I suggesting that an objectively beautiful piece of music would need to be appreciated by everyone alike. Different factors can play in to whether a person “likes” a certain piece of music. I know many professional musicians, for instance, who have heard Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony so often that would really rather not hear it yet again, as beautiful and magnificent a piece as that is. I know of piano teachers who refuse to teach Beethoven’s Für Elise, for similar reasons. However, I am not primarily here to talk about personal preferences, and why people like some kinds of music and not others. My purpose is to ask about the music itself. Is there anything like a standard of beauty apart from what we think about it? My position is that there is a standard of beauty, and that Scripture and natural revelation tell us about it. Just about everything that I am going to say today goes out on a limb. Just about every sentence would be contested by someone or other. Just know that I am aware of that. I will try to make a case for a particular view of musical beauty. It is not the majority position among Americans.

For Scripture, I would direct us to Philippians 4:8, which reads as follows in the ESV: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are two points I wish to draw our attention to in this text. Firstly, Paul’s words imply that there are things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. They are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise regardless of our reaction to these things. This state of affairs would, in fact, be true even if no human being could appreciate it. I’m sure that some of us have heard about the old saw that if there was a rose in the middle of a field that no one ever saw, would it still be beautiful? Similarly, if an avalanche of rocks happened, and no one heard it, would it still make a noise? According to Paul, the answer is yes. These philosophical questions, of course, usually presume that God is not part of the picture. However, we cannot take God out of the picture. There is always an audience. God makes many things that only He appreciates fully. Stars that are tens of billions of light years away that we cannot study properly because we cannot see them clearly, God still appreciates the work of His fingers. And when God creates something, it is always good. Ultimately, that is the reason why Paul says what he says. In studying whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, we are thinking God’s thoughts after Him. We follow his fingerprints, in order to figure out what God is doing, and thereby marvel at God’s creative power and infinite wisdom. So, these things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, because God makes them so, ultimately speaking. Even things that humanity creates can only be so because God creates humanity. Our creativity is always derivative. We create because God first created us.

What logically follows from God’s creation of things on earth is that God defines what is beautiful in His creation. And that is everything that He has made. The refrain in Genesis 1 is that God saw what He had made and pronounced it good. Then, when God looked at everything He had made, He says that it was very good. All creation, as God created it, is good, and therefore worthy of pondering. Humanity, however, has not gone in the same direction as God’s original creation. The Fall brought ugliness, chaos, sin, rebellion, evil, and death into the world. We believe that the creation is still good, but that we humans have marred the creation. We have distorted creation, and put it out of kilter. This means also that rebellious humanity has often substituted the ugliness of sin and rebellion for the beauty of God’s creation. We have called good bad and bad good. The Fall has had a profound effect on our ability to recognize beauty as well as manufacturing our tendency to make God’s creation ugly. Similarly, when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, that also affects their ability to recognize beauty. Even as we say that, we have to remember that the existence of beauty is one thing, and the appreciation of that beauty is something different. This can help us to understand that something can be beautiful even if it is not appreciated, or appreciated differently. Something outside of us can be objectively beautiful, even if our subjective capacity is not up to appreciating it. So, beauty in music is objective. Our subjective likes and dislikes do not change whether something is beautiful or not. It only affects our enjoyment or appreciation of it.

Equally important is that the existence of the Fall means that many things that humans create are not beautiful. If we say that all art or all music is beautiful, then we are denying the Fall. How can a book, for instance, that praises drunkenness, sexual immorality, and idolatry be a beautiful book? The Bible describes these things, yes, but it condemns them! It is possible to describe a fallen world (even the ugly parts most affected by the Fall!) in a beautiful way. The Bible does this perfectly. However, it is not possible to glory in the ugly parts in a beautiful way. So Paul is saying that there ARE things that are beautiful, which implies that there are other things which are not.

The second point I wish to point out in the passage is Paul’s word choice at the end of the verse. He says, “think about these things.” The verb that Paul uses (logizomai) is defined this way in the Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Lexicon: “to give careful thought to a matter, think about, consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on.” Paul’s use of the verb here implies that what you think about or ponder must be able to sustain that kind of thinking and pondering. For example, it would be quite impossible to do what Paul is exhorting us to do with a song such as “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” That kind of song simply doesn’t have enough meat on the bones to sink your teeth into! The only way the song is even endurable to someone singing it, is if the singer is drinking all 99 bottles himself! It’s a trivial song. Maybe it was invented purely for annoying people. If so, the inventor was a genius at achieving his goals in life. So, the point we are making is that the material to be pondered must be capable of sustaining that kind of attention. This means that there needs to be a certain amount of depth to whatever it is we are studying in our following Paul’s instructions. It might be difficult to define precisely what it means for something to have depth, but in general, we can think of it this way: is the substance completely accessible on the first seeing or hearing? Or is there more to it than that? If there is more to it than simply complete and instant accessibility, then we are dealing with something that has depth enough to be considered according to Paul’s criteria. We can probably all agree that “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” just doesn’t cut it as something worthy of sustained attention and meditation! So, to summarize where we have gone so far: Paul tells us that there are things worthy of sustained attention, and that we should give sustained attention to those things. Along the way, we have noticed that God the Creator defines what is beautiful, and that we humans have often substituted something ugly for something beautiful, and we have often denied the effects of the Fall in the realm of art. Now, we will turn our attention to natural revelation, and see if it can tell us anything about beauty in music.

We immediately run into problems here, however, for music is difficult to define. Finding the one essential aspect of music that makes something music is difficult. If we go with melody as the essential aspect, then what do we do with a drum solo that has no melody? Is that not music? Harmony does not always exist either, for there are hundreds of songs that have no harmony, but only melody. Rhythm is firmer ground, because all music has a rhythm of some kind. The notes or sounds have to occur in some kind of order, even if that order is not always intentional. Here is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines music: “That one of the fine arts which is concerned with the combination of sounds with a view to beauty of form and the expression of emotion.” Later on, it gives an even more basic definition: “Sounds in melodic or harmonic combination, whether produced by voice or instruments.” I would want to add rhythmic in there, so as not to offend our dear friends, the percussionists. So the definition would then run like this: “Sounds in melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic combination (or any two or all three of these three elements), whether produced by voice or instruments.” The thing I like about the earlier definition, however, is the emphasis on beauty of form and the expression of emotion. These are two very important elements to which we will be returning. That gives us enough of a definition of music to go on with. The question now is this: how can we tell if a given piece of music is beautiful or not?

I believe the first place to start is with a recognition of music’s parallels with human language. Music is a form of communication, and it has a language. Even that is disputed by some musicologists (as is almost every sentence of what I am writing!), but for the purposes I have in mind here, the parallel will serve as a very helpful illustration. Music is a kind of language. We know when someone is communicating to us well or poorly, depending on whether they are expressing themselves accurately or imprecisely. But, even more than that, we can tell the difference between language that is beautiful and language that is ugly. Humans have not left language alone with regard to the Fall either! We can tell the difference between Revelation 21:4 on the one hand, which says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away;” and four-letter curse words on the other hand, which are vulgar and ugly forms of communication. However, there is more to it than that. Revelation 21:4 could be recited in an ugly way. This introduces the person who reads the words (or, in the case of music, performs the notes). If I read the text in such a way that each word exists all by itself and has no apparent relationship to the other words, then we have what a computer would do. This is something I always do for my voice and piano students. I recite the first words of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” in two ways. The first way is like this: Once…there…were…four…children… whose…names…were…Peter,…Susan,…Edmund,…and…Lucy. The second way I read it is the more natural way that we would use in normal conversation. The point I am trying to raise with that is that music is a language and there are significant parallels.

For instance, English, to pick the obvious candidate for our purposes (though most any language would work for the analogy), has letters that make up words that are grouped in phrases and sentences. Those sentences are then grouped into paragraphs, chapters, and then books. Similarly, music has notes instead of letters (and even those notes are called by letter names!), small groups of notes instead of words, phrases that match English phrases, and longer phrases that match sentences. The phrases are then grouped together into periods and sections, which can then be grouped into movements in some cases, and entire works.

This parallel from verbal language to music has a very important point of application to us. What makes effective communication that will not bore the listener to tears? There needs to be form and order, as well as expression. How do we communicate this in music? Here is, I believe, the secret to all great music: the arch. Another way to say it is musical line. There are many pianists out there, say, who can play absolutely anything with their fingers because they have complete dexterity, and they have practiced their technique to the point of mastery, but couldn’t express something emotional or otherwise to save their lives. This is what I usually call the computer syndrome. Computers have come a long way since they first started being able to make sounds. You can even, with a great deal of work, get a computer to have a crescendo (gradually getting louder) or a diminuendo (gradually getting softer). However, the one thing a computer still can’t do (at least I’ve never heard it yet) is musical line. Arch. Rising and falling action. Let’s go back to English language. In a novel, what do you have for most of the book, if it is well-written? You have rising action. Rising tension. The protagonist(s) are struggling with obstacles in the way to achieving some goal. These obstacles must prove very difficult to overcome, or else you could not have an entire novel about it. At a point near the end of the book, there is a crisis. It is the point of greatest tension, greatest dissonance. Then the action resolves somehow. If it resolves in favor of the protagonist, then you have some form of “he lived happily ever after,” a happy ending. And if it resolves against the protagonist, then you have a tragedy. In music, you have a very similar structure in well-composed music. There is rising action, rising tension, greater and greater dissonance until you reach the high point of the phrase, or section, or piece. After that, the dissonance is resolved. Obviously, the resolving has to be near the end. In the case of a novel, it is quite impossible to have the climax of the novel be in the middle, because what would the author do for the remainder of the book? Just repeat himself over and over again about how happy the protagonist is? That just doesn’t work. It’s lame, and the audience won’t stay to read the rest of it! No, the climax is always near the end. The end consists of wrapping up loose threads of the narrative. Music is very similar. What is true about good music is that there are arches within arches. Phrases have this rising and falling action, and the phrases are connected together in a much larger pattern of rising and falling action. The whole piece is also rising and falling action. Bad music doesn’t look like this. Bad music hovers around a fixed point, like someone reading in a monotone. And bad performance takes those arches and flattens them into a pancake. Any of you who were here last night heard lots and lots of arches, whether you knew you were hearing them or not.

This observation about music as compared to novels can be supported greatly from special revelation, the Bible, and I mean here the structure of biblical revelation as a whole. The Old Testament is nothing if not rising action. The obstacles (antagonists) are sin and Satan. The protagonists are God and the seed of the woman. Which seed will win out? The seed of the serpent or the seed of the woman? Through the promised seed in the promised land, God brings to completion in Jesus Christ the ultimate plan of redemption. There, too, we can see that the crisis, the climax of all redemption is the person and work of Jesus Christ, focused especially on the cross and the empty tomb. And, if you look at the size of your Bible, and where that climax occurs, it occurs near the end of each of the gospels, which is well past the half-way point in the Bible. The rest of the Bible after that is teasing out all the implications of what Christ has done, and leaves us with the ultimate resolving of all things in the book of Revelation.

So, since this has all been pretty much at the level of the concepts, what does this look like in the worship music of the church? I have until now avoided the so-called “worship wars,” because I believe that these standards of musical beauty cross many lines. The most obvious divide is that between “Contemporary Christian Music,” or CCM, and traditional hymnody. I would say this: there are good and bad hymns, just as there is good and bad CCM. The date of composition is not what matters. All music was once new. What matters is whether it communicates in the way we have been demonstrating. That being said, I will say that, in general terms, hymns communicate musically in a more beautiful way than CCM does. This is because good hymns tend to have the arch-shaped phrases, whereas CCM tends to hover around a fixed point. Notice that I said “tends.” That is because there are some really terrible hymns out there that have no arch at all to the phrases. I think of many hymns from the revivalist tradition, for instance. Now, if I step on your toes at this point, because there might be some revivalist hymns you love, or some CCM that you love, realize it is not my purpose to be combative here. And, there are good modern hymns that have the arch-shaped phrases.

The other principle that is absolutely essential is whether the tune fits the words. Here also I must raise an objection to CCM. CCM has no resources for setting sad words. Psalm 88, for instance, is a very sad Psalm, a Psalm that mourns, and that sees and plumbs the depths of darkness. It should not have happy, major-key upbeat rhythmically snappy tune to go with it. It should have a sad tune that laments. Incidentally, the whole issue of lament is one that we need to think through in churches. Carl Trueman, one of my professors at Westminster Theological Seminary, once wrote a spot-on article entitled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing? (now printed in this book) When you’re feeling depressed, or sad, you don’t always feel like singing something cheerful. You tend to want to sing something that expresses how you are feeling.

However, and this is a big caveat, music in worship is not primarily about how we feel. This is a mistake that 99% of Christians make when they are trying to decide what to sing in worship. They want to sing something familiar, or something catchy, or something upbeat. Why? Because of how it makes them feel! The whole point of this conference, however, is that worship is service to God, not service to us, and that includes our music. So the question we should be asking ourselves is not whether we feel a certain way when certain music is done in worship, but what words and music will best serve and glorify God? That doesn’t mean we check our emotions at the door and sing in a monotone. Everything we have been saying militates against that sort of thinking. Singing in a monotone is not artistic music. It is a computer.

One last thing deserves mention here. This view of art does not make hymn singing or hymn-playing impossible for the average person. It is not a question primarily of technique. As I mentioned before, plenty of people with technique to burn are thoroughly non-artistic. When you sing, remember language. Remember rising and falling action. Remember how the words fit together with the music. Sing in sentences. In the best hymns, the words fit the music and the music fits the words. That is true beauty in worship music. That should be our goal.

On Preaching Revelation

I am nearing the end of preaching through the book of Revelation, and it has been something of a revelation. First of all, it is far easier to preach than most preachers think it is. Reformed preachers have neglected this book wrongfully. The book is a tremendous encouragement to Christians living in a world where the wrong seems oft so strong. Christians have blinkers on, and they can only see the trouble that is right before them. Revelation lifts them out of that blinkered existence to see how it all turns out. Seeing the end of the story has a profound effect on how we live in the meanwhile.

To compare and contrast with other sections of the canon, I find preaching through any of Paul’s letters to be absolutely exhausting. Paul’s thought is so dense, that unless you take a Puritan-speed approach, you have to decided constantly what you are going to leave out. With Revelation, that is unnecessary. Instead, you help people to understand the imagery. I have found that applying the text of Revelation is generally fairly easy, as well. The application of the main point of Revelation (see point 5 below) is that since Jesus Christ is going to win, we should live as people who are on the winning side (not to mention that we should be on the winning side!).

Part of the joy of preaching Revelation has been helping people realize that Revelation is actually much simpler than most people think it is. Now, if you are a dispensational premillenial interpreter, then Revelation is exceedingly complex indeed. However, for your average, run of the mill Amillenial interpreter, Revelation is governed by very simple principles. 1. The Old Testament controls all the imagery, since the imagery comes from the Old Testament. 2. According to Revelation 1:1, Revelation communicates through the use of symbols (see Beale’s commentary on this point). 3. Therefore, the default interpretive mode should be symbolic, not literal. 4. The reason why Revelation shouldn’t become a wax nose is principle number 1. 5. The main point of Revelation is that Jesus Christ is going to win. 6. Any attempt to apply the text to only one sector of the Christian church, or only one era of the Christian church is doomed to fail. This makes overly preterist or overly futurist views untenable. The text needs to apply to the first-century readers, to the church in the interim, to us, and to the final days. This doesn’t mean that we understand the meaning of the text to be so all-inclusive all of the time. However, it does mean that we should be reluctant to limit the meaning of the text to one time period.

Fortunately for Reformed preachers, there are plenty of excellent resources out there to help understand the text. Pride of place goes to Beale’s magnificent volume. It is the first port of call, especially because no one explores the Old Testament allusions as thoroughly and helpfully as he does. I have then found Dennis Johnson, Vern Poythress, James Resseguie, Craig Koester, James Hamilton, Paul Gardner, Derek Thomas, Doug Kelly, Michael Wilcock, and Steve Wilmshurst to be the most helpful after Beale for preaching purposes. There is no excuse for Reformed pastors neglecting this important book. It ties together all the threads of biblical revelation. It is much easier than most think it is. There are plenty of resources out there to help. To any pastors who have been holding back, jump in!

Are Good Works Necessary for Salvation?

People often ask the question of whether good works are necessary for salvation. Of course, a great deal depends on how one defines salvation in the question. The Bible’s usage is various. It can mean the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). It can mean the future glorified state (Romans 13:11). Surely, it can mean the entire order of salvation as well. Normally, of course, we refer it to simple conversion, “when we were saved.” Realizing these different aspects of our salvation is important to understanding the place of good works.

The other word that can be defined differently in the equation is the word “necessary.” Necessary can mean more than one thing as well. Is the noise of a cannon necessary to its being fired? Yes, but not as the cause of the firing of the cannon, but as part of the effect. Similarly, the time when something is necessary is important to consider. Is something necessary before something else, or after that something else? So, with his usual care and precision, Turretin helps us to understand just how works are necessary to salvation (17.3.14):

Works can be considered in three ways: either with reference to justification or sanctification or glorification. They are related to justification not antecedently, efficiently and meritoriously, but consequently and declaratively. They are related to sanctification constitutively because they constitute and promote it. They are related to glorification antecedently and ordinatively because they are related to it as the means to the end; yea, as the beginning to the complement because grace is glory begun, as glory is grace consummated.

Are works necessary for salvation? Yes, as long as we understand our terms correctly, and so avoid both legalism and antinomianism. If we identify good works as necessary for justification in a constitutive way or a causative way, we have lapsed into legalism. Rather, good works are related to justification much as the noise of a cannon is related to the shot itself. The noise obviously does not constitute the cannonball flying through the air, nor does the noise cause the cannonball to fly through the air. But the noise is always there accompanying and resulting from the cannonball being fired.

Conversely, if we deny any relation of good works to justification, then we lapse into antinomianism. One simply cannot be truly justified without at the same time having the sanctification process start. We cannot separate justification and sanctification.

One last thing ought to be mentioned here. It is fatal to over-react to one error by lapsing into the other error. We can see this happen in history (Richard Baxter’s neonomianism as an over-reaction to the antinomianism of his day comes to mind). The way to react to the one error is to come back to the straight and narrow central path of the gospel that addresses ALL our needs with regard to sin: its condemning power, its reigning power, and its existing power. Justification answers the condemning power of sin. Sanctification answers the reigning power of sin. Glorification answers the existence of sin. Our good works, empowered by the Holy Spirit are a necessary part of the whole picture, in the way that Turretin explained above.

Quote of the Week

This month’s quote of the week (!) is from Geerhardus Vos, my favorite theologian of all time. It is located in volume 4 of his Reformed Dogmatics, which just became available. Volume 4 covers soteriology, and this quotation comes from the chapter on justification (p. 173):

33. What should we answer when someone says that in justification, declaring us to be righteous, God does not act according to truth, since in ourselves we are still full of sin and unrighteousness?

a) God’s judgment pronounced in justification does not mean that we possess a perfect inherent righteousness. If God said that, he would be making an untrue declaration. But He does not do that.

b) God’s judgment would likewise be untrue if He imputed to us an imperfect righteousness of the Mediator as if it were perfect. This would be ex injuira (by injustice). But this, too, is not the case. Nothing at all is lacking from the righteousness of Christ.

c) God’s judgment would be precisely untrue if He declared us righteous on the basis of our persistently imperfect subjective righteousness. On Rome’s position, a justification according to truth during this life is impossible.

d) The truthfulness of God’s judgment rests on the truthfulness of imputation. This is no fiction. In reality, God ascribes the merits of Christ to our account. To deny that this is a reality is also to deny the reality of the atonement, in which, conversely, our sins are imputed to Christ. If the mediator can occupy our legal position without that detracting from the truthfulness of God, so also we can occupy the legal position of the Mediator, and God’s judgment concerning that can be fully according to truth.

The Decline and Fall of Westminster Theological Seminary?

Dr. Tremper Longman has opined, along with Dr. Sam Logan, and Dr. Clair Davis about the supposed decline and fall of Westminster Theological Seminary. In their taxonomy of eras at WTS, there is a beginning era, a middle era, and a new era. For them, the middle era is the golden age. It is characterized by names such as Dillard, Longman, Enns, Groves, Kelly, Fantuzzo, Clowney, etc. In Clair Davis’s rather sweeping dismissal of the beginning era, the target is E.J. Young, who, according to Davis, relinquished pursuit of understanding the meaning of the OT in favor of crushing liberal arguments (I am sure Davis means this as a generalization, not an absolute statement).

I find it interesting that Van Til is not mentioned, who was certainly part of the beginning era. I also find it interesting that Gaffin was not mentioned much, who is really a bridge figure in some ways, having studied under Murray, and taught during most of the “middle” era, and having quite a large presence in the “new” era as well, given that Tipton and Garner are quite thoroughly cut from the same cloth as Gaffin. No one could conceivably learn about Paul from successors to Gaffin, could they? But then, the post is really about the OT department, isn’t it?

I find it sad that the generalized opinion is that WTS students really won’t learn much about the Bible from such (impliedly) pitiful scholars as Iain Duguid and G.K. Beale. I consider both of these men to be successors to Geerhardus Vos, and I can offer no higher compliment. I have learned immensely from them, about what the Bible means.

In my time at WTS, the OT department was Groves, Kelly, Enns, and Green. I learned from all of them. A lot, in fact. But I have also learned from Duguid, one of my very favorite OT commentators. I do not think that WTS has declined.

The real issue is whether the OT department respects systematic theology or not. In the “middle” era, I would say that the relationship of the OT department at WTS to systematic theology was ambivalent at best, antagonistic at worst. I heard many stories of “debates” between ST professors and OT professors where cardinal points of orthodoxy were challenged by OT professors, points such as the ultimate sovereignty of God over all creation, and the very validity of ST itself (if some OT profs were to be believed, then Gaffin, as professor of biblical AND systematic theology, ought to have been highly schizophrenic). To put it mildly, I never experienced any such schizophrenia from Dr. Gaffin, from whom I took five classes.

The publication of Vos’s Reformed Dogmatics could not come at a better time. Vos was a generalist theologian. He could do biblical theology (NO one better!) and exegesis, systematic theology (I have read the first three volumes, and am now in volume four of a truly masterful systematic theology), historical theology (his treatment of the history of covenant theology makes him look a lot like Richard Muller), and he could preach! The successors to Vos today are men like G.K. Beale and Iain Duguid. They, like Vos, respect the claims that systematic theology has to put a boundary around exegesis. The loss of the “creativity” that such boundaries supposedly stifle is, in my mind, what folks like Longman, Davis, and Logan mourn. Others like myself will consider the newfound respect for ST in the OT department to be a gain, not a loss. Creativity with regard to the boundaries of orthodoxy is not a virtue. We need to dig deeper into the Word, not shift sideways. True creativity comes in the context of boundaries that are clear and, yes, small, as any true artist knows.

Quote of the Week (Month?)

I have always thought of “Contemporary Christian Music” in much the same way that Voltaire said of the Holy Roman Empire that it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. As usual, T. David Gordon nails it on the head. The longer article (well worth reading) is here.

“Contemporary worship” to me is an oxymoron. Biblically, worship is what angels and morning stars did before creation; what Abraham, Moses and the Levites, and the many-tongued Jewish diaspora at Pentecost did. It is what the martyrs, now ascended, do, and what all believers since the apostles have done. More importantly, it is what we will do eternally; worship is essentially (not accidentally) eschatological. And nothing could celebrate the eschatological forever less than something that celebrates the contemporary now. So ultimately, I think the Apostles’ Creed will stick its camel’s nose into the liturgical tent, and assert again our celebration of the “holy catholic church, the communion of the saints.” The sooner the better.

Don’t Try to Impress God

One of the easiest traps into which believers fall is the trap of trying to impress God. We do this in quite a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

One way we try to impress God is by trying to pray in a certain way. This is a little difficult to describe, but some of the elements include using flowery language because we think it will be more easily heard (important caveat: if the translation you use is the KJV, and you are rightly trying to pray God’s Word back to Him, then your language will inevitably sound archaic, and in this case that is excusable); not being honest in our prayers (because we think God can’t handle the truth); trying to maintain always a perfect facade in front of others, no matter how torn up we are inside (forgetting that God sees the heart); and using fake emotion to try to manipulate ourselves into greater piety through an emotional jolt.

Another way we try to impress God is through busyness. I am more and more convinced that there are lots of people out there, even in the church (and maybe especially in the church!) who think that they will either get into heaven by busyness, or will get a substantially greater reward of another kind by being busy. Busyness is not inherently bad, but which kind of busyness are we espousing and for what reason? Being busy about our Father’s business for His glory is one thing. Being busy to try to impress (especially so that God will tell us how lucky He is to have us around) is no good at all.

Often going along with this busyness is an attitude of impressiveness. We try to take on a persona that is fake to anyone who knows us really well, but quite effective at making us feel important. It is only a small step from here to the belief that we are indispensable to God.

Of course, these ways of trying to impress God are often really an attempt to mask ourselves from the real problem, which is that we fear man. Putting on an aura of perfection serves as an excellent cover-up to the fact that when it comes to God, we really feel empty and lifeless. Sometimes it is even more than a cover-up. We can use our aura of perfection as a substitute for a good relationship with God. Or, we can often think that impressing our neighbors is a way of impressing God. Yes, there are people just this deluded on planet earth.

It has been said often, and quite correctly, that one of the most amazing things about grace is that God sees everything inside us and loves us anyway. He knows the worst bits, the parts we keep from almost everyone (sometimes even our spouses), and He still loves His children.

Remember that Jesus’ blood is more powerful to cleanse than any sin is to stain. As has also often been pointed out, thinking that our sin is unforgivable is a form of spiritual pride (“Jesus’ blood would have to be extra special to take care of my sins, because they’re so much greater than anyone else’s”).

It might sound trite, but it is still good advice: get real with God. Be honest with Him in your prayers. I have a sneaking suspicion that He can handle it. Read Psalm 88, which is an excellent lesson in honesty with regard to prayer.

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