Douglas Bond hit it out of the park in Grace Works!

Posted by Bob Mattes

Bottom line up front: Take a little of your Christmas cash and buy this book, then read it cover to cover. The gospel is under attack on many fronts, even from those with advanced degrees who claim to be Reformed. Mr. Bond sets record straight in the modern battle over the gospel of grace.

I have to admit my skepticism when I first received a copy of Douglas Bond‘s Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t). In this day and age, we see the free use of euphemisms like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is anything but democratic or accountable to the people. The history of the Church records power and sovereignty of God in preserving Christ’s bride, but it also contains the record of heretics and their heresies that claimed to be true to the Scriptures whilst gutting the gospel of grace.

Douglas Bond’s book, though, remains true to its title and will prove to be a great blessing to the modern Reformed church if widely read. Mr. Bond serves as a ruling elder (RE) in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and writes as one with first-hand experience with the errors that he corrects in his book. Given the presbytery in which he serves, I have no doubt of what he sees on a regular basis. Overall, RE Bond displays an excellent knowledge of both church history and current controversies over the gospel.

Grace Works! provides an easy read. RE Bond broke the book into seven parts, each with several short chapters that end with discussion questions. Thus, the book would make an excellent Sunday school or small group resource. RE Bond wrote Grace Works! for real people in real pews, easily digestible yet powerful in its defense of the gospel of grace. You won’t find any clever, human “cutting-edge” theology here, just the matchless gospel of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

RE Bond starts the book by appealing to history to show that any church can lose the gospel, and very quickly. He cites Calvin and Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’ demon from The Screwtape Letters, to illustrate Satan’s scheme for undermining the gospel down through the ages and even today. The strategy never changes because people never change. RE Bond doesn’t speculate or pontificate, he cites specific examples from church history of the slide into apostasy, of which there are no shortages. The worst of it lies in the fact that when a denomination slides into apostasy, it puts the orthodox on trial, not the heretics.

RE Bond hits the nail on the head on page 30 early in the book:

In our hatred of strife and controversy and in our love of peace and unity, we Christians sometimes play the ostrich. We hope controversy and gospel attack will just go away; we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it won’t happen to us.

Those of us in the PCA have seen this time and again. I saw a popular teaching elder who started a secret political party in the PCA turn around and publicly declare as “cowards” 29 ordained church officers who together took a public stand against serious gospel error. The sizeable audience apparently missed the blatant hypocrisy displayed, but then it wouldn’t be polite to question a popular teaching elder, would it? The orthodox make easy targets because they just won’t change or compromise the gospel of Christ. How intolerant are the orthodox!

RE Bond goes on to lay the groundwork by clearly explaining the gospel from Scripture and the Reformed confessions. The gospel presents the matchless grace of God freely given to all those who will trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone – how simple! Yet, sinful human beings prefer to obtain their salvation the way Smith Barney claimed they made their money, the old fashioned way – by earning it.

Then in creeps the mixing of works into justification, replacing  or “augmenting” grace with some form of legalism. RE Bond does a great job of tackling the errors and consequences of legalism. He adroitly covers the order of salvation (ordo salutis), the confusing of justification and sanctification, the Scriptural use of law and gospel, the proper place of faith and works, and the correct rules for Biblical interpretation – the analogy of faith.

In Part 6 of Grace Works!, RE Bond then deals with current errors creeping into the conservative Reformed denominations, including the mythical “objective covenant”, confusion on the sacraments, and final justification. He does so without naming names, although anyone who has been paying attention to the last 20 years or so can easily fill in the blanks. RE Bond clearly demonstrates the corrosiveness of those who take an oath that the Confessions contain the doctrines taught in Holy Scripture, yet write and teach against those same Confessions and doctrines. He also cautions against the “fine print,” where officers espouse orthodoxy but then caveat with fine print that guts the orthodox statement. I’ve seen this myself during Internet debates and even in church trials. As RE Bond quotes from various sources on page 222:

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.

RE Bond encourages us, citing the apostle Paul, to be Bereans. Don’t accept the clever words or “cutting-edge” theology of PhD holding teaching elders at face value. Dig into the Scriptures and the Confessions to see if they are right. Paul commands us to do no less. We’ve seen several prominent examples in the PCA of officers denying errors at trial that they later lead and teach openly in seminary-like settings after their acquittal. The Enemy stands proud of such tolerance.

Grace Works! closes by encouraging readers to catechize their children, to actively teach them what Scripture teaches about the gospel of grace. If we don’t, apostasy is just a generation away. RE Bond lastly encourages us to stand in unity on the gospel and the law of Christ, the means of grace rightly understood and administered, and in our Reformed Confessions without small-print caveats. Only then will our denominations remain orthodox for the next generation and those to come.

Your church officers need to read Grace Works! Your congregation needs to read it. And not just read it, but stand for the gospel of grace and teach it to your congregations, your children, and you children’s children.

Full disclosure: Bob received a courtesy copy of this book from P&R for review.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Shaking Things Up: Hebrews 12:26-29

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another Hebrews puzzler for you! In our study we have finally made it to ch. 12, and I am contemplating possible readings of 12:26-29, where the author exposits Haggai 2:6 re. the “shaking” of the earth and the heavens. In his 2010 commentary Peter O’Brien sums up the general consensus on this passage when he writes in a footnote:

The shaking that God will do ‘once more’ is usually taken to mean that the whole universe will be shaken to pieces and the only things to survive will be those that are unshakeable. It is understood as the eschatological judgment to be visited upon the earth at the end of the age, when the material universe will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 21:1). At that point only the kingdom of God will remain, the kingdoms of this world having been utterly destroyed (Guthrie, 422). (O’Brien, p.495n.262)

This eschatological reading seems largely to be based on the phrase “ὡς πεποιημένων,” usually translated “that is, created things.” But John Owen points out (in an appendix of Calvin’s commentary) that this could also be read as “things that are completed, accomplished, finished,” allowing us to read as the object of “shaking” the Old Covenant, or the Jewish religion, instead.

I am wondering whether there is any legitimacy to the suggestion that the author has in mind here NOT the final eschatological transformation to new heavens and new earth, still pending; but rather the completed, accomplished, finished “shaking” of heaven and earth that occurred when Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant, new kingdom, new world order by the sprinkling of His blood (cf. Heb. 12:22-24). This event would still have been future in relation to Haggai’s time, but (in contrast to the eschatological reading) would have already been accomplished by the time Hebrews was written.

Although I have not encountered it in my resources outside of Owen, I find this possible reading compelling in light of the stress in this epistle on the dramatic and decisive change from Old Covenant to New; and it is also in keeping with the author’s assertion in v.28 that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” indicating that this unshakeable kingdom is already an accomplished state of affairs.

What do you think? Does this passage give us information about a future event involving the material universe, or is it conveying the earth-and-heaven-shattering nature of the already-accomplished work of Christ?

Thanks in advance for your perspective!

Is the HRM Legalistic?

Is the Hebrew Roots Movement (also known as the Messianic Jewish movement) legalistic? One has to acknowledge that there are a variety of views on particular aspects of the law even within the HRM. It is not a monolithic movement in regard to specific points about the law. Also, it is important to point out that there is more than one definition of legalism. One does not necessarily avoid legalism simply by saying that such and such law is not integral to salvation. For instance, if an HRM proponent claims that circumcision is necessary, but not for salvation, said proponent might still be legalistic, even if not so in the ordinary way. It is my contention that at least some forms of HRM are legalistic.

One would think that if an HRM proponent believes the Gospel, and sees that someone else is preaching the gospel, that great rejoicing on that account would result. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and in session at the right hand of the Father, is the only Lord and Savior of sinners. The salvation that was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ is applied to us by the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the praise of the glory of God alone, told to us in Scripture alone. If a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus (which happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling), that person is saved. This is redemption accomplished and applied. If a person believes in Jesus Christ in this way, he will be saved. Let any HRM people reading this blog know that this is what I preach.

Nevertheless, one HRM proponent in particular has accused me of having no light in me whatsoever, because my views on OT law are not HRM. According to this person, if a person is not HRM in their viewpoint, they have no light in them whatsoever. On three occasions in that thread, I asked the person to clarify his quotation of Isaiah 8:20 (here, here, and here). He did not choose to answer that question. Now, I don’t know why he chose not to answer it. However, in the context, the comment means that those who do not have the same view of the OT law as he does have no light in them at all. It doesn’t therefore matter whether I preach the true gospel or not. If I don’t have an HRM view of the OT law, then I am in complete darkness. I say this not out of defensiveness. I am not on defense right now, but most definitely on offense. Would not this view of non-HRM proponents qualify as a legalistic view? I do not believe in the erasure of any OT laws. I believe that the application of them has changed. So the question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is true. We do. The question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is still authoritative. We do. The question has to do with the interpretation of that Old Testament. Does Christ’s person and work change the application of the OT law, and if so, how? That is the question. I would simply argue that if an HRM proponent accuses a critic of having no light in them whatsoever because of a differing view of how the OT law applies, then the HRM proponent is not focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but on the law. He is not preaching Christ crucified. He is preaching feasts, dietary laws, and Saturday Sabbath, which are not changed or affected by Christ’s coming. He is a legalist. He cannot rejoice in another’s preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is de-centralized. I would argue that any view of the Bible that de-centralizes Jesus Christ’s person and work is legalistic. The reasoning for this is simple: anything that is not gospel is law in the Bible. So, if we are not preaching the gospel, we are preaching law. And if we preach law in any way that does not make a beeline straight to Jesus Christ, then we are not preaching the law correctly. We would be preaching the law legalistically.

Preaching law is essential, don’t get me wrong. But it must lead to Christ’s fulfillment of the law, or else we are not believing John 5 and Luke 24. We need to preach the law in its three uses: pedagogical (leading straight to Christ), civil (as a restraint on evil in the world), and normative because of salvation (the third use of the law). Of these three uses, while the second one is present in Scripture, it is not hugely emphasized. The first and third uses are of paramount importance, and both are Christ-centered, since the first use leads us to salvation in Christ, while the third use leads us from salvation in Christ.

Matthew 5:17-20, the Smoking Gun of the HRM?

There is no doubt of the importance of Matthew 5:17-20 in any discussion related to the law and its place in the Christian life. Indeed, there are few passages more important. However, what often happens is that this passage is simply quoted rather than explained. Sometimes, it seems to be treated as a smoking gun, as if people who do not agree with the HRM (Hebrew Roots Movement) have never read this passage before. The fact of the matter is that this passage is a minefield of difficulties, and is hardly as straightforward as the HRM seems to assume by simply throwing it at their adversaries (as has happened to me many times on this blog). The HRM folk have quoted this to me and then asked the double question, “Why do you hate the Torah so much?” Of course, this question makes a rather whopping assumption: that I do in fact hate the Torah, which is false. I love the law, since it is a reflection of who God is, and it teaches me about God, and because the essence of the law is love for God and love for neighbor. A couple of other preliminary questions need to be dealt with before we can address the exegesis of the passage itself.

One issue that needs to be addressed is the big picture of the Old Testament. What is the point of the Old Testament? According to John 5 and Luke 24, Jesus is the point of the Old Testament. Jesus flat out says in John 5 that Moses wrote about Him. What is so fascinating about that claim is Moses never directly talks about Jesus. The name of Jesus is not mentioned except by way of typology in Joshua’s name. And yet Moses wrote about Jesus. That was the content of Moses’ writings. All of Moses’ writings had a direction arrow saying “This way to Jesus.” As we will see from an exposition of Matthew 5:17-20, this includes the law. The law is not ahistorical, timeless and changeless, but has a telos, a goal. The law points forward to Jesus. It is sometimes objected at this point that the character of God forbids any change in the law. This does not follow. God created everything there is. Everything that God created reflects the glory of God in one way or another, and yet it changes, because it is created. Now, God’s character does not change. But time and people on earth do change, and the way God relates to His people does change in some ways over time. The law can therefore change. Hebrews says this explicitly: “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must be a change of law as well.” The text is Hebrews 7:12, which in context is contrasting the order of Aaron and the order of Melchizedek, portraying Jesus as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. The implication is that when Jesus comes as the great high priest in the order of Melchizedek, there is a change of the law to match the change of priesthood. The word for “change” is “metathesis” which means an alteration from one state into another, or a transformation. So, that thing which the HRM says never happens to the law (i.e., change), Hebrews expressly and explicitly states does happen to the law. Verse 18 confirms this interpretation by stating that a former commandment is in fact annulled. The reason it was annulled is because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing) as verse 19 states. This does not mean that the law is bad, of course. It just means that the law cannot perfect people, and that when people think the law can do that, they quickly find that it is weak and unprofitable. The law needs to be used for its proper uses, and not for something it cannot do. The whole issue here in Hebrews 7 is the change of priesthood from Aaronide priesthood to Melchizedekian priesthood. There had to be a change in the law, since the law stated that a priest had to come from the tribe of Levi (this is the point of verses 13-14). This verse (as well as John 5 and Luke 24) has a great impact when we come to Matthew 5.

A second issue is the clarity of Scripture. HRM advocates often quote Scripture as if all Scripture were perfectly clear, and all that is needed is to quote it rather than discuss its meaning. The Reformed church has always believed that everything necessary for salvation is clearly revealed in Scripture in one place or another. But the Reformed church has never believed that because of the clarity of salvation issues, that therefore all Scripture is equally clear. This is proven conclusively by 2 Peter 3:15-16. The irony in those verses is clear. They clearly teach that not all Scripture is clear. Given the interpretive issues that have come up in the exegesis of Matthew 5:17-20, I would say that Jesus’ meaning in those verses is not initially clear, and must be carefully treated in context.

Matthew 5:17-20 seems to be directed against a possible misunderstanding of what Jesus is going to teach. What Jesus teaches about the law could give rise to a misinterpretation of His words that results in Jesus rejecting the law. The issue is not rejection, but fulfillment.

The form of verse 17 has the exact same form as Matthew 10:34 right down to verbal parallels, which are precisely the same. The form is this: “Do not suppose that I came in order to do X. I did not come in order to do X, but rather Y.” This raises the question of whether Matthew 5:17 is absolute or not (this point is raised by Carson in his commentary). No one would suppose that Jesus did not come into this world to bring peace of any kind. Of course He brought certain kinds of peace (most notably peace between God and man: otherwise, Luke 2:14 is meaningless!). Certain other kinds of peace He did not come to bring (such as peace between Christians and non-Christians). These kinds of statements need to be interpreted in their proper context. So, it is at least possible that what Jesus said in Matthew 5 does not have reference to all forms of abrogation. In this regard, Carson is extremely helpful: “The antithesis is not between ‘abolish’ and ‘keep’ but between ‘abolish’ and ‘fulfill.'”

In fact, the meaning of the entire text hinges on the meaning of “fulfill” (Greek “pleroo”). Whatever the word means, it has to mean more than simply “do.” The reason for this is the inclusion of the prophets in Jesus’ purview. It is highly unlikely, incidentally, that the word “pleroo” reflects the Aramaic word “qum,” (which means “establish, validate, or confirm”) since the LXX never uses “pleroo” to translate that word “qum.” The LXX uses the words “histemi” or “bebaioo” to translate “qum.” The verb “pleroo” translates the Hebrew word “male'”. The meaning of the word in this context is therefore almost certainly “fulfill,” and not “establish.” However, even that word “fulfill” can have more than one meaning. Whatever meaning is correct must be able to account for the law and the prophets being in the text. This is where John 5 and Luke 24 help us out. Jesus is saying in those two passages that the entire Old Testament has a direction arrow pointing straight to Him.

An assumption that is gratuitous in the HRM is that change equals annulment. This is certainly not obvious. If a law changes in its application because of some great eschatological change, such as the coming of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that does not mean it is annulled.

This understanding of verse 17 allows verse 18 to have its full force without any equivocation: not the smallest part of the law will pass away. And it hasn’t. The whole law, in its entirety, and in every part, is still there for us, helpfully teaching us about Jesus, helpfully pointing us to Him, and teaching us important spiritual principles that are always valid. The law has a prophetic function. The word “Torah” points in this direction, with its common meaning of “teaching.” Again, notice the difference between “pass away” and “change.” The text does NOT say that no change will ever occur in the way the law is applied. It says that nothing in the law will pass away. That is, nothing in the law will be erased from the law.

Verse 19 must be understood in the light of what has already been said. Verse 19 does not prejudge the question of whether any change has happened to the law. It does rule out a Marcionite rejection of the Old Testament law. The upshot of the passage is that there are aspects of continuity and discontinuity with regard to how the law of God applies after the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus will illustrate how that works in the rest of chapter 5. In some cases, that means drawing out the meaning of the law that was already there in the OT, but in certain other cases, it means a modification of the law in its application. An example of the former would be Jesus’ treatment of the sixth and seventh commandments in verses 21-30. The implications of those laws are already present in the Ten Commandments. Any one of the Ten Commandments commands all the lesser virtues of the same kind, and forbids all sins of the same kind. However, examples of modification include the teaching on divorce, the teaching on oaths, and the teaching on the eye for an eye. Jesus offers serious qualifications to the law that were not present in the original setting. These modifications are based on Jesus’ own authority as the law-giver (see 7:28-29). He is the new Moses, giving an authoritative interpretation and modification of the law on the new Mount Sinai. Whatever is new in Jesus’ teaching has to do with what time it is: time for fulfillment, and the kingdom promised in Jeremiah 31.

This passage is fraught with difficulties. The meanings of the words “annul,” “fulfill,” “pass away,” and “accomplished” all have an impact on the meaning of the passage. Furthermore, the interpretation we wind up with must match the rest of Scripture, such as Matthew 10, John 5, Luke 24, and Hebrews 7. Any interpretation of Matthew 5 that states that there is no change that ever happens to the law will bring it into direct contradiction with other passages of Scripture.

Is the Name “Jesus” Anti-Semitic?

It has been argued by some people in the HRM that the English name “Jesus” is Anti-Semitic. I intend to show that this is false. It is not inherently any more Anti-Semitic than the name would be translated into any other language on the face of the earth. To illustrate the point, I will use a word completely on the opposite end of the spectrum of attractiveness: “nigger.” Some people, for instance, would probably call me racist even for bringing up this word. However, what if I used the word this way: “Anyone who uses the term ‘nigger’ today to describe an African-American is a racist.” I’m using the word, yes, but how am I using it? I am using the term to encourage people not to call African-Americans by that term, which they tend to find offensive. The word is not the same thing as how it is used, and it does not inherently convey a clear meaning all by itself. The word could be used in a racist way by one person and in a non-racist way by someone else.

To use a less charged word, take the word “lie.” There are two main definitions for this word possible, and they are not even remotely related to each other. I could lie down on the sofa, or I could tell a lie. The word is spelled exactly the same in both cases. But it changes meaning completely based on its usage.

These two examples illustrate a common fallacy making the rounds today: the word-concept fallacy. This fallacy (see the excellent discussion in D.A. Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies) makes words equal ideas and ideas equal words. For instance, just because the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible doesn’t mean that the idea is absent also. Conversely, just because the Greek word “dikaioo” is being used in a text doesn’t mean that the text is talking about justification. Words have a semantic range, and do NOT always mean the same thing everywhere they are used. To argue otherwise shows a lack of understanding of how language works.

In the New Testament, the word “nomos” (law) is an excellent example of semantic range. When Paul says (Romans 7:23), “I see another nomon at work in the members of my body, waging war against the nomo of my mind and making me a prisoner of the nomo of sin at work within my members,” we can see easily that if Paul means Torah in all three uses of the word “nomos” (the differences in ending are only differences in case endings) then Paul is setting the Torah against itself. It would make the passage absolute gibberish. Words cannot possibly mean the same thing in all contexts. This fact makes it exceptionally dangerous to say that we are going to build our theology based on a concordance. If we say that our theology of law is going to be based entirely on the word “nomos” we would be screening out passages that DO talk about the law and including passages that may NOT be talking about the law. It would be to commit the word-concept fallacy. Meaning is not just in words, but in how words are used.

The arguments concerning the Anti-Semitism of the name “Jesus” that I have seen make this word-concept fallacy. That there are many incorrect ideas about Jesus out there is undeniable. He was a Jew, not a Caucasian. This means that He almost certainly did NOT have blond hair and blue eyes, and look like a girl with a beard. This is one (among many) reasons I am opposed to pictures of Jesus. If He was a Jew (and He certainly was), then He almost certainly had black hair and black eyes, and quite possibly swarthy skin. The long hair one usually sees on pictures is also a misrepresentation, since the point about Nazareth is not that He was a Nazarene, but that He was from Nazareth, the town. We do not know how long His hair was. The Bible never tells us.

Be that as it may, the misconceptions referred to in the previous paragraph cannot possibly be attributed to the fact that people use the English name “Jesus.” That would commit the word-concept fallacy. That, in short, is my argument. That some people have such an Anti-Semitic conception in their heads when they use the term “Jesus” is quite likely. The solution is education, not panning the name “Jesus” and labelling those who use it as Anti-Semitic.

We must go further, however, and speak of the nature of translation. Some HRM proponents believe that the NT was originally written in Hebrew. The only book of the NT about which this can reasonably be argued at all is the book of Matthew, and the arguments are slim when set against the vast manuscript collections of Matthew in Greek that we have (in addition to the fact that all the Hebrew manuscripts are much newer than the Greek). The manuscripts support a Greek original. There are no Hebrew manuscripts of the NT surviving in the first ten centuries A.D., to my knowledge, compared to thousands of Greek manuscripts. Almost all NT scholars today agree that the entire NT was written in Greek, even Matthew (notwithstanding the testimony of a very few early church fathers). Are there Semitisms in the NT? Of course. Lots of them. For most of the authors of the NT (being Jewish!), Greek was a second language. They spoke Greek with an accent, if you will. Some, like Luke, have very few Semitisms in their writing at all.

The reason I bring up this issue is that if the NT was originally written in Greek, or any part of it that uses the Greek name “Iesous” (which is a direct transliteration of the Greek letters), then “Iesous” cannot be inherently Anti-Semitic, since then the accusation would have to be levelled against God Himself for inspiring authors to use the Greek instead of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

Lastly, I simply note that older English translations usually translated Greek iota with a “J.” Witness “Jehovah” instead of the more correct “Yahweh.” That gets us to “Jesous” if we use the older transliteration style. It is quite simple to see that only the omission of the omicron gives us the English name “Jesus.” Folks, this is a matter of translation and transliteration that goes back hundreds of years (and therefore predates modern evangelicalism’s misunderstandings about Jesus’ appearance!).

One last word. I have zero problem with anyone saying “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus.” It still communicates to me perfectly well the Person about whom we are conversing. I wouldn’t expect native Hebrew speakers to use any other name than “Yeshua,” unless it be “Yehoshua.” I sometimes wonder if it not used in an effort to be “holier than thou,” but I make no assumption that such is the case. People can come to use that name for a variety of reasons, some better than others. I have a real problem with people accusing users of the name “Jesus” of Anti-Semitism. That is not likely to gain a sympathetic audience, especially among those who, like myself, know that they do not use the name “Jesus” in an Anti-Semitic manner. For just as surely as people can use the name “Yeshua” for a variety of reasons, so also can people use the name “Jesus” for a variety of reasons (just witness taking the Lord’s name in vain for a very negative example!).

Announcing the New Covenant

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a curious question that arose in our Hebrews study recently (starting our second year at ch. 8!):

We understand that the Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex. 34) and its terms were verbally established for God’s people through the giving of the Law. If the New Covenant was similarly inaugurated with blood (Luke 22), when was its content verbally established?

I suspect possible answers might include one or all of these: at the articulation of the Abrahamic Covenant; in Jeremiah 31; whenever Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand; whenever the gospel was/is proclaimed after the resurrection of the Son. More? How does the NT itself fit into this picture?

Just curious how any of you would frame an answer, and what you would choose to emphasize as the verbal establishment for God’s people of the terms of the New Covenant. Thanks!

Job and Bunyan Versus The Shack

I am reblogging this book review of The Shack (originally posted January 7,2009), as it was a post most people found to be helpful.

The book entitled The Shack has been a marketing phenomenon among “evangelicals.” Blurbs compare the Shack to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. I am here to tell you that the hype is a bit forced. Let’s do a bit of comparison, first with the book of Job, then with Bunyan, interjecting a bit of C.S. Lewis in for fun.

The Shack is the story of a man whose beautiful daughter is brutally murdered. The man leaves the faith, only to receive a message from God to meet him at the shack, the very place where his daughter was murdered. He then meets God. The Father is a big jolly black woman, the Son is a Jewish carpenter, and the Holy Spirit is a wispy, mysterious Asian woman (we’ll get to that blasphemy in a moment). The upshot of the plot is that God explains to the main character the why’s and the wherefore’s, and the man is healed. The theological upshot is that God is good, but not all-powerful. Young takes Rabbi Kushner’s prong of the dilemma. What is important to notice here is a combination of rationalism and experientalism. On the one hand, Young tears at the heart strings, making the reader bleed for the main character. On the other hand, in order for the man’s faith to be “restored,” God has to explain himself.

Contrast Job. Job lost much more than the man in the story (ten children!), and it was due to the prince of demons being opposed to him, not a mere man, even if Job didn’t know that. He lost all his possessions, and then finally his health. He had much more to complain about than the man in The Shack. He too wanted God to explain. He wanted to vindicate himself as well. But when God finally has His say, He tells Job that He does not have to come to the bar of human reason. Humans have to come to the bar of God. This is where C.S. Lewis comes in. In his brilliant essay entitled “God in the Dock,” he makes the point that the really important thing for autonomous man is that he is the judge, and that God is in the dock. The man may very well be a kindly judge and acquit God of wrong-doing, if God shows Himself up to the task of defending himself. But the really important thing is that man is the judge, and God is in the dock (on trial). Job shows us that the reverse is true. God is the judge, and man is in the dock.

Rationalism always results in God losing one of His attributes. If God is all-powerful and all-good, then how come evil exists? The Bible does not allow us to lessen the difficulty of this question by jettisoning one of these attributes. The reason the problem is so acute for the believer is that God is both all-benevolent and all-powerful.

Just to begin an answer (and not leave the readers hanging), God allows evil to exist for various reasons, but evil will not continue to last. God has dealt with the problem of evil on the cross and the empty tomb, and will finally eradicate the very presence of evil in this world in the future. No other religion, by the way, or atheism, has an answer to this question. Pantheism believes that evil is naturally part of the world. No hope of eradication there. Atheism cannot define right and wrong, so his faith in his own reason becomes shockingly apparent when he confidently talks about the problem of evil. Deists don’t believe that God has anything to do with the world. These all lack hope and eschatology.

Bunyan and Young go in fundamentally different directions. Christian’s journey is to the bar of judgment as a defendant whom God will acquit based on the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to him. The man’s journey in The Shack is to the bench, where he magnanimously acquits God of wrong-doing, once it becomes evident that God is really powerless to stop it. Of course, if God is powerless to stop evil, then He is also powerless to eradicate evil, and so that road is also a dead end eschatologically speaking.

In talking with one of my friends, he made the very interesting point also about faith. What moves Christian? It is the scroll, the evangelist, the Interpreter, the fellow believers he meets on the way, the key of faith in Doubting Castle. It is the means of grace which compels Christian to a life of faith. In The Shack, it is a one-time rationalistic showdown where God pleads and begs with the man (in effect) not only to give Him a hearing, but to acquit Him of wrong-doing. Ultimately, the man’s faith is in himself.

My friend also noted the contrast between the way in which God is portrayed in the Bible as opposed to how God is portrayed in The Shack. The God of The Shack is hardly a God with the least little hint of awe and majesty. He is not the God of the whirlwind, which is how God treated Job. He is not the God before whom all bow their faces to the ground. Instead, He is a God whose booty sways to the music. Anyone who cannot see the blasphemy and rank heresy of this portrayal of God is seriously lacking in discernment. God is Spirit, and only the Second Person of the Trinity has a human body which exists only in hypostatic union with the divine nature, and is currently a glorified body. I choose to believe the God of the Bible, who will eradicate evil because He is completely omnipotent and completely free of sin.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology

(Posted by Paige)

I’m pleased to be able to share this resource with those of you who are involved in Christian instruction at your churches. Last October I had the privilege of giving a thirty-minute overview of biblical theology as the opening speaker for World Reformed Fellowship’s Women in the Word Workshop, held at Calvary PCA in Willow Grove, PA. (Note that though the context was a women’s conference, the content of my talk was not gender-specific!) This little talk, and the pages I created to go with it, might be useful to someone you know who is not familiar with the redemptive-historical approach to reading the Bible, but is ready to learn more. Give it a listen and see what you think, and then please pass it along:

“Beginning With Moses: Jesus’ Story from Genesis to Revelation”

These are the handouts that I reference in the talk:

* A partial outline of my talk, with vocabulary words & timeline
* A page for independent investigation of how biblical authors retold the story of redemption
* A self-evaluative exercise for assessing one’s familiarity with different parts of the biblical story

 This was my first public speaking opportunity outside of past classroom teaching experiences, and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m looking forward to more. (Though it was disconcerting to this introvert to realize after I spoke that now I couldn’t just vanish into the crowd…)

Soli Deo Gloria!
Posted in honor of RE Greg Donovan, father in the faith (d. 2/17/13).

The Devil in his Redemptive-Historical Context

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a pair of theological questions related to the “fear of death” topic and deriving from the same pair of verses, Heb. 2:14-15. One of my curious laypeople asked about it in our Hebrews study:

In what sense did the devil ever hold “the power of death”?

How was this power altered by Christ’s defeat of the devil?

We are looking for a way to speak accurately about the “Before” and “After” of the devil in redemptive history. Any insights?

The Hebrews verses again are:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

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