Friday, October 31, 2008

Seriously, It's Been On The Calendar All Year Long

You forgot again, didn't you. The fact that today is Reformation Day didn't even enter your mind until you flipped on your television and saw Martha Stewart demonstrating how to make a Diet of Worms cake. Then you stepped outside and saw everyone wearing their Martin Luther masks. You got into your car and every radio station was playing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (Natalie Cole's rendition is particularly good.) When you arrived at work, you discovered you were the only one who forgot a gift for the Reformation Day office gift exchange and thought to yourself, "Another Reformation Day ruined. Why do I always forget about these things?"

Never fear. Reformation Day 2008 can still be salvaged. Check out the following links for the perfect Reformation Day gift:

Here I Stand Socks - in navy or black!

Little Lutheran Onesie - for your littlest Lutheran friends!

Lutheran Rose Tattoo Pack - you'll be too cool for school!

Martin And Katie Wind-Up Dolls - why not?

German Reformers Poster - the one element missing from my new home.

Classics Of The Christian Faith CDs - Max Mclean narrates 5 classics by Luther, Augustine, Edwards, Bunyan, and Whitefield.

John Calvin T-Shirt - really, can you ever have too many t-shirts?

Ulrich Zwingli Poster - sure, all the other girls have Martin Luther hanging on their dorm room walls. But since when did you care so much about fitting in?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

File Under...Convicting

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both...He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (trans. John W. Doberstein: San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1954); 27.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rick Reilly on John Wooden

Rick Reilly is about as good of a writer as I know, even if you have little to no interest in sports. Every time I see an old issue of Sports Illustrated I pick it up and immediately flip to the back page where his column used to be until he switched over to ESPN. Now you can find his column on for free.

Just about every one of his columns is great, but his profile of now 98-year-old UCLA coaching legend John Wooden is about about as good as it gets. I liked it so much that I couldn't bring myself to save it for the link post on Sunday. Even if you don't like sports, go read it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Plumbing the Depths of John's Gospel

Augustine reportedly said that John's gospel is deep enough for an elephant to swim, and shallow enough for a child not to drown. The more I read this gospel, the more I concur with St. Augustine. Our small group is just starting to study through the gospel. Tonight we talked a bit about the purpose of the gospel, and delved into the prologue (1:1-18). As I studied the passage this past week, I was amazed by the number of allusions to Exodus 33-34 in John 1:14-18. I tend to be reticent of taking an intertextual echo and making it the key to interpreting a passage. However, the allusions here are numerous and unmistakable. Andreas Kostenberger (pictured above) provides a helpful chart which demonstrates as much;

Exodus 33-34

1. Israel finds grace in Yahweh’s sight (33:14)
2. No one can see Yahweh’s face and live (33:20)
3. Yahweh’s glory passes by Moses (33:23-34:6-7)
4. Yahweh abounds in lovingkindness and truth (34:6)
5. Yahweh dwelt in a tent (33:7)
6. Moses was given the law (34:27-28)
7. Moses mediator between Yahweh, Israel (34:32-35)

John 1:14-18

1. Disciples receive “grace instead of grace” (1:16)
2. No one has seen God at any time (1:18)
3. The disciples beheld the Word’s glory (1:14)
4. Jesus is full of grace and truth (1:14, 17)
5. The Word “tented” among the disciples (1:14)
6. The law was given through Moses (1:17)
7. Jesus, mediator between God and man (1:17-18)

- Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective (EBS: Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999); 52.

There is much worthy of reflection in these verses. The Israelites had a mediator who could not behold the glory of God. We behold a mediator who is the glory of God. The Israelites understood God through laws written on stone. We know God the Father through his unique son, Jesus Christ. We receive in Christ the abounding love and faithfulness that constitutes God's name (cf. Ex 34:6-7). We need not enter a tabernacle, because the tabernacle has come to us. I think my wife summed it up well tonight; "I'm so thankful to be living on this side of history."

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Didn't Read The Chronicles Of Narnia Until College

And apparently my vocabulary skills were still not up to the task. Are yours? Take Fred Sanders' vocabulary quiz on The Horse And His Boy to find out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

These Are a Few of my Favorite Links

Since we first introduced our Sunday "These Are a Few of my Favorite Links" weekly post, we've posted precisely, well, one link post. Just that first one. Shame on us.

Anyway, we still think it's a good idea and I (Andrew) decided it was time to get back on it. So in case you missed it last time, rather than giving you a general smattering of links for the week, each CiC contributor each week will enter his or her link that s/he thinks is the absolute best thing s/he has read on the internet from the week. Quality over quantity, like when you order shrimp instead of beef...

Andrew: Fred Sanders reflects on the coming of the book in the story of salvation history.
Damian: Justin Taylor interviews R. C. Sproul on his new children's book, The Prince's Poison Cup.
Jenny: Brian M. Carney looks at the McCain and Obama tax plans.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

California Dreaming

A good friend once told me, "Texans think that their state is the best one in the union. Californians think that their state is the only one in the union."

As a native Californian, I think my state is pretty spectacular. Perhaps the greatest state in the history of states. I may not be able to locate Ohio on a map, but I've been to Disneyland over fifty times. And I can see the Golden Gate Bridge from my parent's attic.

Thus, I was bitterly disappointed at the results of the Geography of Personality study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. Apparently my beloved state only ranked 38th in Extraversion, 28th in Agreeableness, and 27th in Conscientiousness. However, we did rank 37th in Neuroticism and 6th in Openness. But I expect more out of you, Golden State! I mean, we were absolutely creamed by North Dakota - what gives?

Click here to see how your state measures up and be sure to check out the interactive graphics.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are Elders and Pastors the Same Thing in the NT?

In the early days of my CiC blog career I, Andrew Faris the complementarian, argued that women could be called pastors. For those understandably not willing to go back and read that post, let me inform you that my argument hinged largely on my idea that the term "pastor" in the NT is a functional term rather than an official term. "Elder" is the more consistent and defined term for a local church leader, whereas "pastor" is really quite rare. Of course this is flipped around today when "pastor" is the far more common term. If you want to see how that relates to women in ministry, go read the post. It's not worth re-explaining (though note that the woman I referred to in that post is Jenny Bruce, who of course is one of our esteemed bloggers).

As a proud conservative evangelical Calvinist complementarian, I really like getting the rare opportunity to be even slightly edgy. Most times this shows up in my staunch charismaticism (son of a Vineyard-preacher man), with which I like to ruffle the theo-practical feathers of my brothers and sisters who give only lip service (if that) to the gifts. But when the charismatic well of edginess runs dry, I fall back on other rare edgy positions. Thus far the most notable has been my defense of gay marriage, which drew some attention, but I'd like to think that my complementarianism combined with my willingness to call a woman a pastor qualifies as well. This leaves me then with precisely three edgy to moderately edgy positions.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I read these words from Ken Berding's What Are Spiritual Gifts?:
It is probably proper to think in terms of the role of a pastor (literally, a shepherd) in New Testament times as synonymous with overseer and elder. Note particularly Acts 20:28: 'among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God'; and 1 Peter 5:1-2, 'Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as a co-elder...shepherd the flock of God which is among you, exercising oversight.' - Berding, 296 (fn. 15 from p. 90).
Perhaps you see the problem: if elder and pastor are synonymous and I think that women cannot be elders (which is indeed what I think) according to NT teaching, then women can also not be pastors. Which leaves me with only two edgy positions.

So here's my edginess-saving resolution: is it possible that all elders are pastors but not all pastors are elders? I think so, and here is why:

1. Pastors are never told to do the work of elders in the NT- the examples Berding gives necessarily point towards elders doing pastoral work, but not necessarily the other way. So the position is possible.

2. Besides generally exemplary character, the Pastoral Epistles (esp. 1 Tim. 3) give two major requirements for being an elder: having a good home and being able to teach. 1 Tim. 5:17 seems to indicate that some elders did not, in fact, teach. Still, this was likely a major role. It is less clear that "pastoring" necessarily includes teaching. But what about Eph. 4, you ask? Keep reading!

3. This corresponds well with the oft-noted hendiadys in Eph. 4: pastor-teacher is two parts of the same position. If my thesis here is correct, then "pastor-teacher" is basically another way of saying "elder" in Ephesians. So why not just say elder? Is it so far-fetched to think that perhaps some people were doing only one part of those roles, such that while mostly elders would be in mind, God also equips His people by providing leaders who labor primarily (though not necessarily exclusively) in only one of those ministry roles? That is, perhaps there are more leaders than just elders, and Paul wanted to include an at least slightly broader range of equippers in his ministry list in Eph. 4.

4. This makes practical sense. How many people in your church can you name who shepherd other people? Probably more than just the elder(s). But how many consistently teach, or even have teaching as a major part of their job description? Probably mostly just the elder(s). That is probably in part because no single or small group of elders can pastor an entire congregation. Healthy congregations have more functional leaders than just those who are official leaders. But they tend not to have too many teachers, which seems reasonable enough.

OK, so maybe it's a stretch and maybe I am doing nothing more than trying to maintain my edginess. But I do honestly like reading Eph. 4 with that recognition of the hendiadys in mind while still maintaining a distinction of positions, and I do really think it makes sense.

Funny thing is, since I first came up with my "Just Call Her a Pastor" position for women, it's still been really difficult for me to conceptualize calling a woman "Pastor so-and-so." I'm stuck in the limbo of my own wannabe edginess.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Scholarship and Discipleship

As an undergrad, I often pondered how my studies contributed to my existence as a disciple of Christ. Then I read this excerpt from N.T. Wright and it straightened a lot of things out!

I regard the continuing historical quest for Jesus as a necessary part of ongoing Christian discipleship. I doubt very much if in the present age we shall ever get to the point where we know all there is to know and understand all there is to understand about Jesus, who he was, what he said and what he did, and what he meant by it all. But since orthodox Christianity has always held firm to the basic belief that it is by looking at Jesus himself that we discover who God is, it seems to me indisputable that we should expect always to be continuing in the quest for Jesus precisely as part of, indeed perhaps as the sharp edge of, our exploration into God himself.

The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (Downer's Grove, Ill: IVP, 1999); 15.

Guy Davies interviews John Hendryx, founder of

Anyone who knows about will find this interview interesting and edifying.

Click here!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Calvin on Scholarship as Service to the Church

I have officially begun to read a reasonably large portion of Calvin's Institutes, a venture that I'm almost embarrassed to have started so late in my theological life. Needless to say it has been fruitful from the beginning, and I've not even gotten past his prefatory work.

I wonder what goes through the head of most scholars as they approach their academic theological publications. Is it just another day in the office, reading and thinking and writing? Or is it a prayerful attempt to serve the Church by aiding the understanding of God's Word? Calvin's prefatory letter to his reader touches on this subject in a way that must challenge the attitude of all evangelical academics (not least the humble writers of this very blog, if we may call ourselves academics). Listen to Calvin's words:
In any event, I can furnish a very clear testimony of my great zeal and effort to carry out this task for God's church. Last winter when I thought the quartan fever was summoning me to my death, the more the disease pressed upon me the less I spared myself, until I could leave a book behind me that might, in some measure, repay the generous invitation of godly men. Indeed I should have preferred to do it sooner, but it is done soon enough if it is done well enough. Moreover, I shall think my work has appeared at an opportune time as soon as I perceive that it has borne some richer fruit for the church of God than heretofore. This is my only prayer.
My guess is that this sort of zeal for producing good theology that is useful to the church (two phrases that Calvin seems to suggest are synonymous) ought to rebuke even the slightest stagnant professionalism that creeps into the minds of scholars. Calvin wrote to put the Bible into the hands of common men and women, not to take its theology from them. We must do the same.

If I may add one more potential application, perhaps those of us who have given some consideration to doctoral studies in theology ought to use thinking like this to measure whether it is worth the time, effort, and money. Will we be able to serve the Church more fruitfully? If so, it is probably worth whatever sacrifice it costs us. If not, we are sacrificing wastefully.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Volf on the Eschatological Transition

Volf's understanding of the final judgment has some fascinating social nuances. In The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), he claims it is not enough that evil be punished and sins be forgiven at the final reconciliation. Why? Because, "forgiveness may well leave the forgiven one humiliated on account of having been forgiven and therefore also repelled from the forgiver; and it may leave the forgiver proud on account of having forgiven and therefore disdainful of the forgiven one" (pp. 180-181). There is an additional step necessary for transition into the redeemed creation; the step of mutual embrace.

So even after the question of "right and wrong" has been settled by the judgment of grace, it is still necessary to move through the door of mutual embrace to enter the world of perfect love. And through that door the inhabitants of the world to come will move enabled by the indwelling Christ, who spread out his arms on the cross to embrace all wrongdoers. When former enemies have embraced, and embraced as belonging to the same community of love in the fellowship of the Triune God, then and only then will they have stepped into a world in which each enjoys all and therefore all take part in the dance of love. (181)

If this sort of massive reconciling embrace will occur among us at the last judgment, then we should act in ways that point to it in the present. Forgiveness is difficult, but embracing those who have wounded us is even more difficult. However, if we are to be people of the future living in the present, then these sorts of actions should characterize us.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Watt's Up?

On this Monday afternoon, I'd like to take a moment to express my gratitude for the following things that are consistently excellent: Christopher Guest movies, Bittersweet Cafe hot chocolate, my mom's jokes, Stephen Sondheim musicals, Martha Stewart DIY projects, my dad's sermons, Zachary's deep dish pepperoni pizza, Tim Keller Bible studies, Anthropologie sweaters, discussions at my small group, Project Runway, Amy Butler textiles, Tim Goodman's column in the SF Chronicle, service at San Leandro Honda, Safeway, Mimi's buttermilk spice muffins, Spark on PBS, Disneyland, Discount School Supply products, and Isaac Watts' hymns, including "Is This The Kind Return." Enjoy!

Is this the kind return,
And these the thanks we owe,
Thus to abuse eternal love,
Whence all our blessings flow?

To what a stubborn frame
Has sin reduced our mind!
What strange rebellious wretches we,
And God as strangely kind!

On us He bids the sun
Shed his reviving rays;
For us the skies their circles run,
To lengthen out our days.

The brutes obey their God,
And bow their necks to men;
But we, more base, more brutish things,
Reject His easy reign.

Turn, turn us, mighty God,
And mold our souls afresh;
Break, sov’reign grace, these hearts of stone,
And give us hearts of flesh.

Let old ingratitude
Provoke our weeping eyes,
And hourly as new mercies fall
Let hourly thanks arise.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Won't Somebody Please Think Of The Children?

One of my favorite things to do as a child was put on dress up clothes, play Christian kids’ music, and sing in front of my full length mirror. (I’ll admit that staring at oneself for hours was probably not the ideal way to digest the meaning of those songs, but there you go.) At age five or six, I was particularly troubled by the refrain of the song “Love Never Fails” from “The Music Machine.” It went “love never fails, love never fails, there ain’t nothing love can’t do, aren’t you glad that God loves you.” After listening to this chorus I promptly told my dad, “I know something that love can’t do. Not love.”

Many of you have probably heard of the fantastic children's CD “Awesome God” that is bound to help kids ponder even deeper issues than what love can or cannot do. Each song is wonderfully God-centered and teaches great theological concepts. Consider the lyrics to “Mighty Mighty Savior”: “Sin is too strong, for me to conquer on my own. I need someone to help me. I am too weak, I cannot change my evil heart, I need someone to cleanse me." Our Sunday schoolers (even the wildest boys) love singing “Sovereign One”: “Sovereign One, You work all things to Your plan. Sovereign One, You hold all things in Your hands.” At this week's kids' choir we had a great conversation about how nothing can compare to God after singing, "For You Are Holy": "Only You have no beginning, only You could make the skies. Only You are truth unending, only You are always wise." My person favorite is “Three in One” and I think it may be my favorite song ever about the Trinity.

“Awesome God” is produced by Sovereign Grace Ministries and it definitely deserves a place on the shelf next to “Singsational Servants” and “Bullfrogs and Butterflies.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Latest on Abortion

Over the last week or so J. T. has linked to a number of different voices on the abortion issue, most of which have been exceptionally stimulating. I figured it would be worth reproducing each of the ones I have enjoyed in one post here:

- Randy Alcorn doesn't think that Christians should vote for Obama because he is pro-choice, and has interacted with Donald Miller about it.
- Donald Miller is pro-life and voting for Obama.
- Russell Moore compared single issue pro-life voting to single issue anti-slavery voting.
- J. T. himself outlines what the Freedom of Choice Act (which Obama is dead set on implementing) actually is.
- Al Mohler is a single issue pro-life voter, but sees evangelicals unfortunately getting tired of fighting this battle.
- Robert P. George doesn't understand how voting for the ultra pro-choice Obama could possibly reduce the number of abortions.

One more reason why if you only read one blog, you should read J. T.'s (it certainly shouldn't be ours!).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Do I Always Miss These Things?

This afternoon, my dad informed me of an upcoming debate involving Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright. The debate is entitled, "A Good God? A Dialogue about the problem of Suffering and Evil." (I'd rather not call it a dialogue, as these men hold wildly divergent convictions on this issue and each presumably will - quite amicably - try to show the bankruptcy of the other's position). This debate is quite the tour de force. Wright is probably the most influential conservative scholar in the world, and Ehrman is arguably the most influential liberal scholar. Moreover the debate is right in my backyard. But alas, it's 40 bucks and it's tomorrow night, which means the chances of me going are slim. However, if any of you out in the blogosphere are going, let me know, and I'll try to make it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Prosperity Gospel and Subprime Mortgages

My theology professor Dr. Horner used to incessantly remind us that ideas have consequences. What we believe determines how we behave, and ultimately who we become. I was recently reminded of his dictum while reading an article in Time by David Van Biema entitled, "Should We Blame God for the Subprime Mess?" Van Biema notes the research of Jonathan Walton, a religion professor at the University of California Riverside.

While researching a book on black televangelism...he realized that Prosperity's central promise — that God will "make a way" for poor people to enjoy the better things in life — had developed an additional, dangerous expression during the subprime-lending boom. Walton says that this encouraged congregants who got dicey mortgages to believe "God caused the bank to ignore my credit score and blessed me with my first house." The results, he says, "were disastrous, because they pretty much turned parishioners into prey for greedy brokers."

I'm no expert on the prosperity gospel, but a few late-night viewings of TBN incline me to concur with Walton's analysis. Every manifestation of the church has cultural blind spots, and materialism is one of the biggest in America. The greed, individualism, and opportunism so rampant here have begotten a theology that is biblically bankrupt and personally disastrous. Perhaps such an aberrant theology could only develop in a country like ours. It grieves my heart that this garbage is being exported all over the world, even to the poorest of the poor. O God, deliver people from the prosperity gospel. May we be known not for the stuff we possess, but for our faith; that faith so evident in our spiritual forbears...

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, "Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him." 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
(Heb 10:32-39; ESV)

Monday, October 13, 2008

And How Do We Keep Our Balance? Tradition!

One of my favorite traditions as a child was Saturday breakfasts. Every weekend without fail, my dad cooked massive amounts of pancakes, waffles, or French Toast (we were never quite sure which one he was going to make, which added to the excitement.) Then my brother and I would sit at our kitchen counter, smother my dad's creations in syrup and peanut butter and watch "Gummi Bears." I'm pretty sure that this tradition lasted until I entered college (except, perhaps for the watching "Gummi Bears" part) and my dad's pancakes remain the best I've ever tasted.

I used to love traditions. I loved how an Easter basket brimming with See's candy and a new outfit would mysteriously appear outside my bedroom door every Easter morning. I loved that each night before I went to sleep, my dad would place his hand on my head and pray that the Lord would bless me and keep me. I loved how we always stopped to eat at the exact same McDonald's with the amazing play area on our trips to Disneyland. I loved dying hard boiled eggs. I loved that my mom's side of the family always gathered on Christmas Eve and put on a talent show.

As a twentysomething, my feelings about traditions have shifted. Some traditions that used to add joy and consistency to my life now feel obligatory and stale. Just as I used to delight in traditions, now I rather delight in breaking them. For instance, I adored having a Christmas tree in our house as a child and loved decorating my very own tree in my first apartment. But over time, the hassle of lugging a tree up three flights of stairs, cleaning the dirt and needles off the carpet, watering the tree each day, and disposing of the tree overshadowed the joy of having a decorated tree in my home. So a few years ago, I stopped buying Christmas trees. And you know what? It's been wonderfully freeing. Last year, my family decided to refrain from buying each other Christmas gifts after 27 years of fabulous Christmas mornings. And it was delightful.

Traditions that used to carry so much weight now seem rather unimportant to me. If I have the opportunity to host a Thanksgiving dinner, I definitely want to serve steak instead of turkey. If I get engaged, I don't particularly want to register for gifts. I like the idea of staying in and going to sleep at 11:30 p.m. on New Years' Eve.

As much as my little unsentimental heart currently enjoys breaking traditions, I do see great merit in observing them. They add consistency and joy to life - especially for kids. They often encourage us to think of others. They remind us of our heritage. They reinforce deep truths (communion and baptism, for example.) And I'm sure I'll eventually buy a Christmas tree. And maybe even cook a turkey dinner.

So here are my three questions for you: 1. Why are traditions important? 2. What traditions add meaning, joy, and depth to your life? 3. What traditions have you currently chosen not to observe because they lack personal meaning? I'd appreciate your thoughts!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Understanding Paul through Isaiah

After completing my series with Michael Bird, I was inspired to better understand "the righteousness of God" in Paul's letters. One day, as I was reading through Isaiah, I thought to myself, "hey, Paul seems to be heavily influenced by Isaiah, and Isaiah (along with his hypothetical and potentially mythical brosephs deutero and trito) uses righteousness language quite liberally. Perhaps I should figure out how Isaiah uses righteousness language to figure out Paul." And this epiphany gave birth to the list below. Allow me to make a few disclaimers...

(1) The categories employed are quite broad, and hence do not reflect all the possible nuances of Isaiah's usage.

(2) To make matters more conviluted, I'm not sold on my categorization of some of the usages.

Righteousness as Justice: Is 1:21, 27 (possible punitive element); 5:7 (punitive element); 9:7; 11:4 (with emphasis on equity); 16:5; 26:9, 10 (emphasis on holiness); 28:17; 32:1, 16-17 (note that the effect of righteousness is peace; cf. Rom 5:1); 33:5; 48:18 (not as clear); 56:1 (note 1: that God's deliverance will be "revealed", 2: the close relationship between justice, righteousness, and salvation); 59:9, 14; 60:17 (not as clear).

Righteousness as Salvation/New Creation:
45:8, 13 (wasn't as sure about this one, but it is used in the context of God as creator/King), 23-24 (note the close connection between righteousness and "justified" in v. 25); 46:12-13; 51:5, 8; 54:14; 58:8; 59:16, 17; 61:10 (note that righteousness here is worn as a robe; similar to the Pauline concept of justifying union with Christ); 61:11; 62:1, 2 (this usage could fall under the category, "faithfulness"); 63:1.

Righteousness as Faithfulness: 1:26; 11:5; 16:5; 42:6; 48:18; 51:1 (not as clear); 51:7; 57:12; 58:2; 61:3; 64:5.

Punitive Righteousness: 10:22

Here are some observations I had:

(1) The first portion of Isaiah emphasizes the "justice" nuance of righteousness (e.g. the injustice of Israel, the equity and justice of the coming king, etc.). However, the focus shifts in the second half of Isaiah, wherein righteousness pertains more to God rectifying the situation with his covenant people through deliverance from exile.

(2) The categories often collapse into each other. There is an effortlessness with which Isaiah alternates between the various connotations of righteousness.

(3) Righteousness is both faithfulness to a relationship and adherence to a norm. Isaiah conceives of righteousness both as the enforcement of just rule, and covenant fidelity. Neither nuance can be dismissed.

(4) There are a few places where the relationship between Isaiah and Paul seems undeniable. See especially Is 56:1, where God says that his deliverance (lit. his righteousness) will be revealed (cf. Rom 1:16-17).

So, how does Isaiah help us understand Paul? Moreover, is he the starting point for understanding the apostle's use of "the righteousness of God"?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Your Vote Doesn't Matter

If you live in California, your vote for president doesn't matter. I was talking to a political junkie friend of mine recently who told me that he was going to write Ron Paul in this year. I responded, as I usually do in conversations like this, "Well I don't love McCain, but it's a lesser of two evils vote for me and I don't want to throw my vote away on some third party guy who, while I might like him more, has no shot. Writing in Ron Paul is basically voting for Obama."

This had been a satisfying line of reasoning for me for quite some time, but my friend responded, "Yeah, but we live in California, so it doesn't matter. Our electoral votes are going to Obama one way or the other, and it won't be close."

And he's right. It doesn't matter. This has become a liberating truth: I no longer have to feel constrained to vote Republican, because thankfully, my vote doesn't matter. No more internal turmoil. If only something like this would have been the case when I voted for the Governator over McClintock when Grey Davis got ousted.

I am a supporter of the idea of an electoral college, although I do wish that California's electoral votes could somehow be divided up regionally (including the removal of Bakersfield's voice altogether, because who wants to listen to Bakersfield?) just because the state is so populous and has so much diversity. But in lieu of that, I now have a whole new choice in front of me. And for many of our faithful readers: so do you.

My friend told me that he wants to make a statement, which is why he's writing in Ron Paul even though he's not so sure that Mr. Paul has even asked his supporters to do that. I am considering doing the same, or perhaps voting for Bob Barr, the Libertarian candidate. In any case all of my political interest has taken on a whole new shape.

If you are not in a swing state, are dissatisfied with the two major options, and are quite sure that your lesser of two evils candidate will lose, perhaps you too should consider voting for a third party candidate. If you're going to vote for someone who will lose anyway, why not someone who will lose that you really like? Who knows- maybe a noticeable increase in third party voting will send the two major parties a much-needed message.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Caneday on the Already and Not Yet of Justification

Back in college, I struggled quite a bit with the relationship between initial and final justification. During my senior year, my quest for closure on this subject became spiritually exhausting. One resource that brought some sweet relief was a blog post from Ardel Caneday entitled; Forty Theses on Perseverance. The list is well worth your time to wade through. If you do muster the fortitude to read through it, I'd like feedback. Are there any theses that you find disconcerting?

1. Every human when born is by nature a sinner in rebellion against the God and Father of Jesus Christ and enters the world under God’s wrath and condemnation, apart from Jesus Christ (Rom 1:18).

2. No human can, by one’s own endeavors, do anything to escape God’s wrath, nor does anyone have a moral ability to do anything that might endear one to God and attract his favor (Rom 3:9-20).

3. There is one alone who has the authority to render a verdict of acquittal for sinners, and that is God, who justifies the sinner on the basis of Jesus Christ, the obedient one, who voluntarily gave himself up to die the death of the sinner and criminal in order that we might be released from God’s wrath. God’s righteousness, that is his loyalty to the promise he made long ago to Abraham, is revealed from heaven in Jesus Christ, the obedient one, who took upon himself the full measure of God’s wrath as he showed his justice so that at once he is both righteous and the one who declares sinners to be righteous, that is sinners who entrust themselves to Jesus Christ (Rom 3:21-26).

4. God’s verdict of justification (i.e., forgiveness of sins) is biblically conceived as God’s verdict that issues from his judgment of sin. Justification is essentially eschatological; it derives its meaning from the judgment that God has appointed for every human at the end of the age. Thus scripture repeatedly turns the believer to the coming Day of Judgment as it appeals to us to Christian obedience and faithfulness (Matt 12:36, 37; Rom 2:13; Gal 5:5; 2 Tim 4:7, 8).

5. The whole New Testament accents a focus upon the Day of Judgment as the day of redemption (Luke 21:28; Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14; 4:30), as the time of adoption as God’s children (Rom 8:23), as the point of entrance into eternal life (Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Rom 2:7; 6:22; Gal 6:8; Jude 21), as the day when salvation will be ours (Rom 13:11; Phil 2:12; 1 Thess 5:8, 9; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2:2), as the giving of the crown which is life (James 1:12; Rev 2:10) and righteousness (2 Tim 4:8). A wide range of imageries direct us to focus fully upon the Last Day as the time that we will be found not guilty but be found in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:9; e.g., cf. the race imagery).

6. The scriptures focus our attention upon the fact that the salvation promised to us in the Last Day is “not yet” ours as they exhort us to persevere in holiness and righteousness, to hold fast to Jesus Christ. While this “not yet attained” (Phil 3:12) perspective upon our salvation is universally present in the New Testament, it is not the only perspective that we need to lay hold of. “Already” in the “present time” God has revealed his righteousness (Rom 3:21ff) and has begun his good work (Phil 1:6) by calling rebellious sinners through the gospel to believe “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:24). It is to those who believe in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (4:17), in imitation of Abraham, that God credits righteousness (4:22f).

7. The Day of Judgment has not yet come, but rather God has graciously revealed his righteousness through the gospel (Rom 1:17), for the gospel announces that God’s obedient son, Jesus Christ, has already appeared in the flesh (Rom 1:3f) and has already borne God’s wrath for us as he became a sin offering (Rom 8:3). Thus, God has already rendered his judgment for sin in Christ at the cross. The cross of Christ brought to light God’s Day-of-Judgment verdict by executing judgment for sin in the present time in the sacrifice of his unique son. The eschatological gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17) is given in Christ Jesus (3:24).

8. For since God has revealed the verdict of his judgment in advance of the Last Day (John 3:19), whoever believes in Jesus Christ, the one who has taken upon himself God’s condemning sentence of wrath, that one already stands not condemned in advance of the Day of Judgment. However, everyone who refuses to acknowledge God’s verdict upon sinners as announced in his gospel but rather continues to do evil, that person already stands condemned in God’s courtroom (John 3:18ff). This is so because God has disclosed ahead of time that acquittal in the Day of Judgment is irrevocably bound up with the sinner’s acknowledgment of God’s judgment of sin in Jesus Christ upon the cross. One who refuses to acknowledge God’s verdict as it is revealed in Jesus Christ will never be raised to eternal life but remains under God’s wrath forever (John 3:36). To believe in Jesus as God’s condemned sinner and criminal who took God’s wrath in our place as sinners is to be assured already that no condemnation but only acquittal will be ours when we stand in God’s courtroom in the Last Day (John 3:18; Rom 5:1; 8:1).

9. Therefore, as far as the believer is concerned, the verdict of God’s judgment is already in; it is acquittal (Rom 5:1; 8:1, 30-34). Precisely because God in Christ has rendered his judgment for sin at the cross, the believer may, with resolute confidence, face the entire future, for since Christ Jesus died and was raised to life, there is no one in all earth and heaven who can successfully prosecute the believer in God’s court (8:33ff; cf. John 3;18; 5:24).

10. Not only has God’s judgment, already rendered in Christ at the cross, function to give believers such confidence now to face the Day of Judgment, but we are also assured that God who has already begun his good work of restoring us into his image will surely renew us to reflect fully the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ (Rom 8:29f) who is the last Adam (1 Cor 15:45ff), the Creator of the “new man” (Col 3:10).

11. Furthermore, on the basis of God’s judgment already rendered in Christ at the cross, the scriptures not only assure us that God’s work of restoration will be invariably and fully realized (Rom 6:5), they also exhort us to become what we already are in Christ (6:11ff; 12:1ff; Col 2:6; 3:9ff; Eph 4:20ff; 1 John 3:1-2).

12. Yet, though divine judgment against sin is already rendered in Christ at the cross, the New Testament never relinquishes the Old Testament Judgment-Day-orientation concerning justification; justification remains the eschatological verdict of acquittal. Therefore, scripture exhorts us to fasten our gaze upon the Day of Judgment in hope that we shall receive the promised salvation (Rom 8:23-25; 13:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3), promised to those who persevere to the end (Matt 10:22; Heb 1:14-2:4; 3:14; 6:1-12; 10:19-31; 12:14-17).

13. This Judgment-Day-orientation is heard throughout the New Testament whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ calls people, whether believers or unbelievers, to heed its announcement of God’s gracious verdict in Christ. God’s voice in the gospel appeals to all with a range of exhortations and admonitions. Consider these: “strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24); “overcome” the world (Rev 3:21); “hold fast the word” (1 Cor 15:2); “do not grow weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9); “persevere in doing good” (Rom 2:7); “remain in Christ” (John 15:5; 1 John 2:28f); “forgive others” (Matt 6:14). Every one of these admonitions has in view eternal life as the thing we are to gain as the outcome of obedience to the gospel.

14. This Judgment-Day-orientation is also the basis for threats or alarms addressed to all people, especially to all who profess to be Christians, whether baptized or not. The threat of judgment and of condemnation is universally present in the New Testament. We are repeatedly warned against neglecting to forgive others (Matt 6:15), indulging the flesh (Rom 8:13), being cut off from the covenant of promise (Rom 11:22), putting confidence in the flesh (Gal 5:4), disowning Christ (2 Tim 2:12), neglecting God’s great salvation (Heb 2:3), falling away from Christ (Heb 6:4-6), deliberately sinning (Heb 10:26ff), missing the grace of God through bitterness (Heb 12:15), subtracting from scripture (Rev 22:19), and many other similar warnings.

15. All these threats of the gospel, frequently expressed by conditional expressions (e.g., “if”), call upon all people indiscriminately, without separating people into the “elect” and “non-elect,” “genuine believers” and “spurious believers,” or “regenerate” and “unregenerate.” The gospel does not make any room for anyone to presume, “I am of the elect” or “I am a genuine believer.” We are all sinfully prone to disconnect God’s election from obedience (contra 1 Pet 1:1-2), as if salvation is ours apart from perseverance. The entire gospel cries out against the exercise of presumptive logic that, though not always verbalized, is nonetheless often thought:

16. “I am a genuine believer! Therefore the warnings are not for me! The warnings of scripture must be addressed to those who merely profess to be Christians but are not genuine. Those people, alone, are in danger of eternal death, of being cut off from the promise, of being severed from Christ, of failure to escape punishment, of failing to be brought back to repentance, of facing God’s raging fire of wrath, of missing the grace of God, of having snatched from them a part in the tree of life and of the holy city. I am safe without the warnings and exhortations! The warnings are superfluous for me. I do not need to be warned against loss of eternal life because I already have it! I need no caution against missing the grace of God because it is already mine! It is wasted breath to warn me against losing my share in the tree of life and in the holy city because these are already mine!”
This reasoning is fundamentally flawed. It presumes that since eternal life, salvation, and justification before God in the Last Day are already ours. It presumes upon God’s promise in the gospel that they all are irrevocably ours apart from heeding the conditions of the gospel as if deliverance from every snare and conquest over every obstacle that lies between the present and the Last Day is ours apart from obedient perseverance. Such a view collapses the not yet consummation of God’s salvation into the already realized aspect so that there is no need to persevere in obedience to Christ in order to attain the promised salvation. People who adopt such a view of things have fallen into the same presumptive error that Paul endeavors to correct when he rebukes the Corinthians: “So then, you who think you stand, watch out lest you fall!” (1 Cor 10:12).

16. The call of the gospel is always to persevere in faith and not to presume upon God’s grace. The exhortations that call us to endure in good deeds and the warnings that appeal to us lest we fall away from Christ function, not to cause us to doubt our justified standing before God in Christ, but rather to elicit steadfast obedience which is faith’s authentic behavior (cf. Rom 1:5; 6:16-17; 16:25-26). Thus, they establish by the Spirit bold confidence that we who obey the gospel are precisely the ones to whom the promise of justification unto eternal life is given.

17. The gospel’s call to persevere in obedience is in full agreement with the gospel’s promise of justification unto eternal life and salvation. The promise of righteousness before God is to those who, like Abraham, do not waver in their belief in the God who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that formerly did not exist” (4:17). It is to this kind of faith, persevering faith, that God credits righteousness (4:22f). The gospel promises eternal life “to those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory and honor and immortality” (Rom 2:7). The hope of salvation held out to us in the gospel becomes ours by persevering through tribulations, for perseverance yields character that is proven which assures us of the thing for which we hope (Rom 5:3-5), namely deliverance from God’s wrath that will come upon all who disobey the gospel (Rom 5:9; cf. 1 Thess 1:9-10; 2 Thess 1:6-8).

18. Therefore, as the gospel continues to appeal to us all throughout our earthly pilgrimages, it frames the call in keeping with the way the promise is cast. As the gospel’s promise is conditional, so the gospel expresses its exhortations and warnings conditionally. If the gospel promises—“Whoever overcomes will be clothed in white garments, and I will not erase that one’s name from the book of life, and I will confess this one’s name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:5)—it is only proper that the gospel should use the conditions of the promise to exhort us to overcome and to warn us against slacking off and failing to attain the promised salvation. If the gospel promises that God will reward faithfulness to Christ unto the end with eternal life, it is entirely right that the gospel should exhort us, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown which is life” (Rev 2:10).

19. The gospel’s threats against failure lest we lose eternal life and its admonitions for us to persevere in order to attain salvation function to emphasize the inseparable connection between perseverance in holiness and attainment of salvation. The gospel inseparably links by obedient and persevering faith the attainment of what we have not yet received with what is already ours. According to the gospel, on the Day of Judgment there will be no admission into God’s kingdom for anyone who has failed to do “the heavenly Father’s will” (Matt 7:21). Furthermore, in this passage Jesus makes it abundantly clear that our election to be God’s children will be demonstrated at the judgment only by doing “the heavenly Father’s will.” For apart from works of obedience, Christ the Judge will disown those who presume that election theirs because of religious activity. He will disown them with the eternally resounding words, “I never knew you!” (Matt 7:23).

20. The scriptures provide examples of some who apparently had a good beginning in the gospel but failed to persevere (cf. John 6:70; 17:21 Tim 1:19; 2 Tim 2:16ff; 4:9f). This apparently good beginning is even described with the verb “believe” (cf. Luke 8:13f; John 2:23-25; 8:30ff). However, the scriptures indicate that those who fail to persevere in belief are not examples of God’s failure to preserve them unto the salvation to be revealed in the Last Day (1 Peter 1:5). Rather, they are examples of people who failed to believe and thus failed to be saved (cf. Heb 10:39). They are examples of people who loved this world more than they loved Christ. Just as Christ’s gospel calls for radical devotion to him that eclipses all other affections so that love for others looks like hatred (Mark 10:29-31; Luke 14:26ff), so anyone who begins to follow Christ but gives in to affections for things of the world is regarded as one who has failed to persevere. Scripture explains such failure of faith as a failure from the beginning. “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).

21. We need to allow the various expressions of the gospel to function as scripture intends. Consider a passage such as 1 John 2:19. True as it is, we must not superimpose it upon exhortations and warnings to interpret them. What do I mean? To explain a warning, such as Hebrews 6:4-6, by appealing to the truth that people who fail to persevere were never really members of God’s people is to prejudice how one hears the warning. The tendency is to nullify the warning’s effect by treating it as if the thing warned against has already become a reality in the persons warned. That is precisely not the function of a warning. The function of a gospel warning is to keep those warned from doing the thing against which it warns.

22. Therefore, the conditional “if” warnings and admonitions indicate a cause and effect relationship. The cause is not the effective cause or ground of one’s salvation with God. Rather, the cause is the instrumental cause or the cause of means. Thus, all gospel warnings and exhortations (whether an explicit or implied “if”) express the inseparable connection of the end with the appointed means.

23. We who believe find that our justification and hope of standing justified in the Last Day is exclusively grounded in the obedience of Christ Jesus (Rom 5:19). At the same time, the gospel unequivocally affirms that our obedient faith, which was the condition called for initially by the gospel, is the necessary condition or means by which we shall finally be welcomed into God’s presence as justified and blameless (Col 1:21-23; Gal 5:1-5; Acts 13:43).

24. Therefore, Christian obedience and holiness is not only the evidence of salvation or of authentic faith; obedience or perseverance in holiness is also the means or pathway that the gospel requires us to follow in order that we might enter into eternal life and salvation in the day Christ finally calls us heavenward (Heb 12:14; Phil 3:9-14; John 5:28-29).

25. Obedience is not only the evidence that God has begun his good work of salvation in us (Phil 1:6) but it is also the means of salvation precisely because, according to the gospel, faith, repentance, obedience, and good works are inextricably bound together though distinguishable. So when the gospel calls upon us to do good deeds which are profitable (Titus 3:8; 1 Tim 6:17-19) or to forgive others (Matt 6:14-15) or to obey God’s commandments (Luke 18:19; 10:25-28), the gospel is commanding the activity of belief, the kind of belief that is required in order for anyone to be saved. What the gospel requires is obedience of faith (Rom 1:5; 16:26). All obedience is the obedience of faith so that only those who obey Christ receive his gift of eternal salvation (Heb 5:9).

26. How can we affirm at once that “good works” are both the evidence and means of salvation without irremediably confounding the gospel’s proclamation of salvation by “grace through faith”? Wherever scripture exhorts us to ponder the coming judgment as an appeal to obedience, the formula that is invariably used states that we shall be judged according to our deeds: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done” (Ps 62:12; cf. Eccl 12:14; Matt 16:27 John 5:22-30; Rom 2:6; 14:10-12; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 22:12-13).

27. Nowhere does scripture say that God will judge us on the basis of our deeds; everywhere the formula is “according to our deeds” (kata ta erga autou, e.g., Rom 2:7). Were God to judge us on the basis of our deeds, every one of us would be condemned. But the gospel of Jesus Christ inseparably links together God’s one free act of acquitting sinners in both the already and not yet aspects. This linkage is drawn through the one obedient Man, Jesus Christ, for it is on the basis of his one obedient act that the many will be set in order as righteous (Rom 5:19). We who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of righteousness through this one man already have this eschatological hope of being constituted righteous (Rom 5:17, 19). This hope of being made righteous is ours only through the kind of faith that Abraham exercised (Rom 4:17-25). Our hope is grounded in the fact that we are already declared righteous (Rom 5:1; 8:1). We who shall be constituted righteous are already declared righteous and are in process of becoming what we are (Rom 6:2-6). God’s verdict of righteousness, which is already ours on the basis of Christ’s obedience and not our own, is our assurance that in the Day of Salvation God will thoroughly transform us from the sinners we became through Adam’s disobedience to fully righteous people through Christ’s obedience. God’s power, which is the gospel, will invariably and finally transform us fully into the image of his Son just as God has predestined us to be (Rom 8:29) so that Christ’s one act of obedience will finally reverse the effects of Adam’s one trespass just as the gospel announces to everyone who receives the gift of righteousness.

28. Consequently, without doubt, the basis upon which anyone can or will stand justified before God is Christ’s obedient act alone. Therefore, the gospel never announces that we shall be judged on the basis of our deeds but only according to our deeds. Paul’s gospel affirms two realities simultaneously. First, his gospel announces that we shall be declared righteous if we believe in the God of Abraham who raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Rom 4:22-24). Also, his gospel affirms that God will judge us according to our deeds (Rom 2:6) and will reward with eternal life only “those who by persevering in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality” (Rom 2:7). The reward is not earned, for the judgment rendered will not be grounded upon those deeds but upon one deed alone, namely Christ’s obedience. Rather, the judgment is rendered according to or in keeping with the deeds that the gospel requires and enables. So, God’s judgment in the Last Day is a judgment in keeping with our deeds precisely because his judgment will expose us for what we really are, obedient slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:16-18). We who are already justified find that our faith is already obedient (Rom 1:5; 6:16-17; 16:25-27), and we shall find that we are the ones who will pass through the judgment according to deeds and will be revealed to be God’s children (Rom 8:12-21), made in the likeness of our elder brother—Jesus Christ, glorified and made righteous (Rom 8:29-30; 5:19). In the day that has not yet come when God judges all humans, God will spare no one from his scrutinizing eye that looks for the thing that his powerful gospel has already begun. Only those who do the truth and come into the light already will, in the day, that has not yet come, be exposed by the same light to be the ones whose deeds have been done by God (John 3:21).

29. The obedience of faith we are describing, which is necessary for justification in God’s heavenly courtroom, is not already a perfect obedience, for we all sin daily (Phil 3:12ff). Instead, it describes our basic life-orientation, so that our change of character is evident, though less than perfect. The imperfection of us as believers in this present age stands under the already but not yet eschatology of the New Testament. We believers already are cleansed, we already stand justified (1 Cor 6:11), but our salvation is not yet perfected or consummated and will not be until the Day of Salvation which is nearer now than when we first believed (Rom 13:11). Thus, we most certainly agree with Paul that we do not now nor will we ever in this present life consider ourselves to have already laid hold of perfection (Phil 3:12-13). We are not saying that anyone can or must live a sinless life or perfectly submit to the lordship of Christ in order to be saved. We are saying that the change of character, brought about by the gospel that is God’s power for salvation, is truly observable, significant, substantial, and necessary, but not perfect.

30. Because faith that is neither obedient nor active is dead (James 2:17), and because repentance is necessary to receive God’s pardon for sin (i.e., justification), and because remaining in Christ by keeping his commandments (John 15:5, 10; 1 John 3:12, 24) are essential evidences that we are already God’s children (Rom 8:12-17; 1 John 3:1-2) and are necessary conditions to inherit the adoption that is not yet ours (Rom 8:18-25; 1 John 3:2-3), we should preach these things urgently to all in order that all may lay hold of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

31. Scriptures never disparage good works. Instead, the gospel calls us to acknowledge the following: that good works are profitable for us (Titus 3:8), that being rich in good deeds is inseparably linked with laying hold of eternal life (1 Tim 6:18-19), that those who do good deeds will be rewarded with eternal life (Rom 2:7), and that only those who have done good deeds will be resurrected to eternal life in the Last Day (John 5:28-29).

32. Never does scripture confuse “good works” with the kind of works that are contemptible to God (e.g., Eph 2:9; Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; Titus 3:5). Rather remarkably, in precisely the same contexts where certain kinds of works are rejected, “good works” are praised (see esp. Eph 2:10; Titus 3:8). God is just, for he takes note of our good deeds and works of love (Heb 6:10) and will grant to us our inheritance in due time (Heb 6:11-12) in keeping with these deeds.

33. “Good works” are precisely what God in Christ has brought forth in us, his “new creation.” God prepared our good deeds beforehand in order that they should be our pattern of behavior (Eph 2:10). We do good works from true faith (1 Thess 1:3). We accomplish good works only by the power of the residing Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9; Gal 5:22-23).

34. We who do the “good works,” that God appointed for us, find no place for boasting as if we have produced them from our own strength or resources. The gospel plainly tells us that whatever good we do arises not from ourselves but from God who is at work in us. Both the desire to do good and the ability to accomplish the good we desire comes from God (Phil 2:13). Now this is not a disincentive to persevere but rather a strong incentive, for it is the basis upon which we are exhorted to “bring to an accomplishment our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Because our God is at work in us both at the level of desires and actions we who practice the truth are glad to come into the light of God’s verdict that it might be fully disclosed to all that our deeds have been done by God (John 3:21). With Paul, while we do labor in the deeds commanded by the gospel, we are pleased to affirm that all our labors that are called “good” originate not from us but from the “grace of God which is with us” (1 Cor 15:10). We openly confess our complete impotence to do any good out of our own strength and we candidly affirm with gratitude to our God: “all that we have accomplished you have done for us” (Isa 26:12). Though we may express surprise (Matt 25:37-39) in the Day of Judgment when the King will praise us for deeds of love done toward him, we will not begin to boast then. For after we have completed everything that we have been commanded to do, we will humbly say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (Luke 17:10).

35. The inseparable linkage of faith and obedience and of being declared righteous and being made righteous is spanned by the gospel’s promise and by its incessant calls framed as warnings and exhortations. The gospel that promises salvation to all who obey its urgent call also marks out the pathway that will lead us from where we are already to the place of salvation to which we have not yet arrived. This, then, is the function of the many warnings and exhortations. Warnings function as signs that caution against the multitude of dangers that lie on every hand. Admonitions function as signs that point us to the right path as they exhort us to press forward in order that we may enter into God’s kingdom and inherit the life that has been promised (cf. Heb 6:12).

36. The gospel that warns and exhorts is the same gospel that promises eternal life and provides the Spirit for us who enables us to obey the call of the gospel with all its appeals (Rom 8:1-12). The eternal life, for which we strive, and the promised Spirit, for whose fullness we eagerly hope, are already ours. Therefore, we are not left helpless to obey the gospel, but rather we obey the gospel only because it is the Spirit of God that already enlivens our mortal bodies with heavenly life; it is the same Spirit who enlivened Christ in his resurrection (Rom 8:11). It is only by this enlivening Spirit that we, then, can understand and heed the paradoxical call of the gospel: “if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).

37. It is this same Spirit, who in conjunction with enabling us to obey, also testifies with our spirits that we are God’s children (Rom 8:15-16). The Spirit of sonship does this only for those he leads in the path of righteousness. Spirit-given assurance is not restricted to what we already are (God’s children) but it also encompasses what is not yet ours (our inheritance). Thus, we are assured that we are not only on the right pathway but that we who have already been declared righteous will not be condemned by God at the close of this journey (Rom 8:31ff).

38. The gospel assures us that we belong to God’s elect only as we adorn our faith with the Christian virtues that God’s Spirit is pleased to work in us (2 Pet 1:5-11). We assure our own hearts that we are God’s elect children only as we exercise obedient faith. Assurance that we are truly God’s children does not come to us by logical deduction; it is ours only as we walk the pathway of obedient faith. Assurance is not the happiness to be found at the end of the course; it is our divinely implanted joy that accompanies us in the journey itself.

39. God promises that he will finish the good work he started (Phil 1:6). God also promises that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love (Rom 8:35-39), that all whom he calls and justifies will be glorified (Rom 8:30), that God will keep us from apostasy (Jude 24-25), that those who have eternal life will never perish or be snatched from the Father’s hand (John 10:28-30), that all those who are given to the Father by the Son will be raised on the Last Day (John 6:40), that the one who called us will establish us until the end so that we will be blameless in the day of Christ (1 Cor 1:8), and will sanctify us completely on the day of redemption (1 Thess 5:24). All these promises give us believers great assurance because we know that just as we did not initiate our salvation, neither can we sustain it apart from God’s grace. These promises assure us that God will complete what he started. They protect us from a paralyzing fear that looks within and sees no resources to persevere to the end. The gospel promises that God will grant the grace necessary to finish what he began. None of these promises, however, rules out the threats and warnings or exhortations and admonitions in the scriptures. Indeed, the gospel’s threats and warnings and the gospel’s admonitions and exhortations are means that God uses to see to it that the promise of perseverance will be realized in us.

40. Christian assurance of salvation is not retrospective; it is prospective. It is not introspective; it is Christ-focused. The assurance that the gospel holds out to us does not focus our attention upon the beginning of salvation but upon its consummation. Furthermore, the assurance that the gospel calls us to embrace does not look within ourselves but away to Christ who is the prize to be won (Phil 3:8). Though the gospel does frequently appeal to past perseverance as reason for continued faithfulness to the end (e.g., “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure” [Heb 6:11]), assurance concerning the past is now passed. The kind of assurance the gospel gives is never content either with the past or with what we already are. Rather, the assurance that the gospel provides for us is of the essence of faith, for this assurance is “being sure of what we hope for” (Heb 11:1), namely confidence that we shall be what we are not yet –fully like Jesus Christ (1 John 3:2-3). This assurance is born out of faith that acknowledges that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6).

This is the perspective that I believe the apostle Paul has in mind when he appeals to the Philippian believers with these words:

“Not that I have already arrived or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, if I also may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not yet regard myself as having laid hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I pursue the goal to attain the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. As many as are perfect, let us think like this. And if someone thinks differently, God will reveal this understanding to you also. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:12-16).

HT: The Race Set Before Us

Monday, October 6, 2008

Halloween And Christmas: Part 3

Here's the third and final post in my little series on the similarities between Christmas and Halloween.

There are positive aspects to both holidays.

Pros for Halloween include:

1. Neighbors spend time together and get to know each other as everyone opens up their homes for one night. It's a prime time to build relationships within the community.

2. Children experience the fun of planning their costumes and dressing up. It's a delightful tradition that they look forward to all year long.

3. Parents bond with their children as they take them trick or treating.

Pros for Christmas include:

1. It encourages people to reflect on Christ's birth, which is always a good thing.

2. In our frantic individualistic society, Christmas is a holiday when people actually spend extended time with their family and friends.

3. Christmas encourages the development of family traditions, which can bond families and bring joy to children.

4. Starbucks Peppermint Hot Chocolates.

There are also negative aspects to both holidays.

Cons for Halloween include:

1. The trivialization of witchcraft and the devil.

2. Frightening and evil images on television, in the movies, on people's front lawns, and on first graders.

3. Some people use this day to celebrate things that are evil.

Cons for Christmas include:

1. Disrespect for the Bible including: children's stories told from the donkey's point of view, countless Christmas cards with pictures of a lily white Jesus and angels that look nothing like their description in the Bible, the emphasis on three wise men, etc.

2. Rampant materialism and greed. We spend hundreds of dollars and rack up credit card debt on things we don't need or will soon throw away, often while ignoring the basic needs of others.

3. A confusing collection of traditions and stories combined into one holiday so Santa and Jesus have equal standing.

It seems that Christians often want to abandon Halloween while embracing Christmas. Yet both holidays share roots in paganism, a fairly secular history in America, and can at times blatantly disrespect God's Word. When both holidays have so much in common, it seems inconsistent to heap praise on one and condemnation on the other. I think we may need a more balanced approach - making sure we don't throw the baby out with the bath water in the case of Halloween and making sure the baby doesn't drown in the bath water in the case of Christmas.

For example, Halloween is a prime time to build relationships with our neighbors. Christians are called to share the gospel with their community and Halloween provides a fun and natural way to connect with others, whether by trick or treating together or greeting people at the door. Maybe Christians should stay in their homes, hand out candy, and get to know their neighbors on Halloween. (Disclaimer: While people often see Halloween as simply a fun evening for children, the holiday can have demonic connotations for others. Those whose consciences are troubled by involvement in Halloween activites should absolutely not participate.)

There are some Christmas traditions that we might want to rethink, such as overspending. Instead of going into debt for presents, what if Christians donated their money to people in need? I know of a family that adopted another family that was struggling financially. When the parents bought their children Christmas presents, they made sure to buy presents for the kids in their adopted family as well. We could also be more careful of how we communicate the Christmas story, especially to children. We can make sure we focus on the facts of the Bible (not adding extra characters like the mean innkeeper or the little drummer boy) and make Jesus the main character (as opposed to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the talking cow in the barn, the littlest angel, the star who could never do anything right but on one special night got the chance to shine . . .)

Halloween and Christmas share checkered pasts and some less than admirable traditions. They also present great opportunities to further God's Kingdom. I believe that if we approach each holiday with thought, care, and biblical conviction, we can use them to show love to our communities and bring honor to God.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Halloween And Christmas: Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my little series on the similarities between Halloween and Christmas. Here's another ghost of Halloween past. You've got to admit that the red crepe paper Raggedy Ann wig is pretty awesome.

There are several more similarities between Halloween and Christmas.
Neither is mentioned in the Bible.

Christians have opposed both holidays.

European immigrants brought their Halloween traditions to America during colonial times, but most of New England refused to celebrate the day due to Puritan influence in that area. Many Christians also oppose the celebration of Halloween today.

At the time of the Reformation, the Protestants refused to celebrate Christmas because they considered it a holiday concocted by the Catholic Church. The Puritans also opposed the celebration of Christmas and often with good reason. In England, people would dutifully go to church and then celebrate the holiday in a drunken, Mardi Gras like atmosphere. In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans wanted to rid England of her decadence and Christmas was canceled until the reign of Charles II. The American Puritan settlers did not practice Christmas and the holiday was actually outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Anyone showing Christmas spirit would be fined five shillings.
The American incarnations of each holiday bear little resemblance to the original religious celebrations.

Interestingly, the American incarnations of each holiday were not embraced out of religious convictions, but rather because of their supposed benefits to the community.

European immigrants brought many of their Halloween customs to America and the flood of Irish immigrants in 1846 helped popularize the holiday. Americans began to dress up in costumes and go door to door asking for food and money. This practice waned during the nineteenth century when the holiday was primarily celebrated with parties in homes, but became popular again between the 1920's and 50's. By this time, Halloween had lost most of its religious undertones and became a secular and community centered holiday directed primarily at children. Today most children have no concept of the religious origins of dressing in costume or trick or treating.

The celebration of Christmas in America was not widespread until the 19th century (it wasn't even a federal holiday until 1870) and the celebration of the holiday was greatly influenced by two authors: Washington Irving and Charles Dickens. Both wrote Christmas stories which emphasized charity, goodwill, and kindness to the poor and evoked old English Christmas customs. This struck a chord in a time of great class conflict and the Victorians saw the benefit of celebrating the holiday.

Each holiday has its own heartwarming Peanuts special involving Linus discovering a great truth.

All right, this isn't really relevant. But it's true.

Check back on Monday to find out the problem with nativity sets.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Say what you will about the sundry peculiarities of Ron Paul. His foresight regarding the current economic crisis is uncanny. Check out this quote from 2003.

The connection between the GSEs and the government helps isolate the GSE management from market discipline. This isolation from market discipline is the root cause of the recent reports of mismanagement occurring at Fannie and Freddie. After all, if Fannie and Freddie were not underwritten by the federal government, investors would demand Fannie and Freddie provide assurance that they follow accepted management and accounting practices.

Ironically, by transferring the risk of a widespread mortgage default, the government increases the likelihood of a painful crash in the housing market. This is because the special privileges granted to Fannie and Freddie have distorted the housing market by allowing them to attract capital they could not attract under pure market conditions. As a result, capital is diverted from its most productive use into housing. This reduces the efficacy of the entire market and thus reduces the standard of living of all Americans…

Like all artificially-created bubbles, the boom in housing prices cannot last forever. When housing prices fall, homeowners will experience difficulty as their equity is wiped out. Furthermore, the holders of the mortgage debt will also have a loss. These losses will be greater than they would have otherwise been had government policy not actively encouraged over-investment in housing.

Perhaps the Federal Reserve can stave off the day of reckoning by purchasing GSE debt and pumping liquidity into the housing market, but this cannot hold off the inevitable drop in the housing market forever. In fact, postponing the necessary, but painful market corrections will only deepen the inevitable fall. The more people invested in the market, the greater the effects across the economy when the bubble bursts….

I hope today’s hearing sheds light on how special privileges granted to GSEs distort the housing market and endanger American taxpayers. Congress should act to remove taxpayer support from the housing GSEs before the bubble bursts and taxpayers are once again forced to bail out investors who were misled by foolish government interference in the market

Ron Paul Revolution 2012!

HT: Joshua Sowin

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Worldwide Classroom...

For anyone interested, I came across a ministry today that an offshoot of Covenant Theological Seminary which offers more than 20 Seminary level classes for free. Most classes include a transcript and a study guide. You'll find such classes as Calvin's Institutes, Youth Ministry, Christian Worship...even Christ Centered Preaching.

For more information, click here.