Monday, November 23, 2015

You May Safely Ignore the Philosophers, but not the Theologians

The things of divinity not only concern ministers, but are of infinite importance to all Christians. It is not with the doctrines of divinity as it is with the doctrines of philosophy and other sciences. These last are generally speculative points, which are of little concern in human life; and it very little alters the case as to our temporal or spiritual interests, whether we know them or not. Philosophers differ about them, some being of one opinion, and others of another. And while they are engaged in warm disputes about them, others may well leave them to dispute among themselves, without troubling their heads much about them; it being of little concern to them whether the one or the other be in the right.

But it is not thus in matters of divinity. The doctrines of this nearly concern everyone. They are about those things which relate to every man's eternal salvation and happiness.
—Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1739–1742 (vol. 22 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Harry S. Stout; New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 92.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grace Felicity Wencel

"We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11). This was the testimony of the apostles at the Church's first council in Jerusalem around 49 A.D. And it is our testimony, the Wencel's witness, along with countless millions. From first to last, we live our lives, and we receive our salvation from sin and God's wrath, as a free gift. It is all of grace! Ephesians 2 puts it like this: it "is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not of works, in order that no one should boast" (vv. 8–9). That is, except in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).

And as partakers of the covenant of grace bought by Jesus' freely shed blood, we are constantly conscious that all we enjoy in this life comes to us from the gratuitous goodness of our triune God, who is the "God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10). And this includes not least of all the children God has given us, as we have asked him for these gifts for his glory.

And so on October 24, 2015, at 3:30 in the afternoon, in Joliet, IL, at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the hospital where I work, God brought forth from Emily's womb our fourth child, a gorgeous girl, whom we have named Grace Felicity Wencel. Grace is from the Greek New Testament "charis," which refers to God’s free favor. Felicity derives from the Latin "felicitas," and means "happiness."

Now Grace Felicity is named "Grace" for two main reasons. First, as noted, we live our lives, and have our all, through the free grace of God in Christ. But, second, we have also named her Grace because she is a special gift to us after losing to death's clutches our second and third children (named Anastasis and Elisha, respectively).

Consequently, we know full well that Grace's being conceived and sustained and brought forth into this world, healthy and whole, are not a given. We do live, after all, we're reminded daily, in a broken and fallen world. We know therefore that possession of life for Grace comes to us through the sheer goodness and good pleasure of God, a God who is sovereign over all, a God who is Lord of the womb and Lord of the tomb. And last, though by no means least, we know that salvation from her sins and from God's just judgement—a salvation freely held out to her in Jesus' death and resurrection according to God's everlasting covenant—this salvation, from first to last, from top to bottom, from head to toe, from cradle to grave, from womb to tomb, from first breath to first death, from dust to glory, is all of it of the sheer graciousness of God.

And so standing in grace (Rom. 5:2), we receive from God's good hands, the hands of a loving heavenly Father, our beautiful tiny gift, specially crafted by a Master Maker—Grace Felicity Wencel. And now it's clear why we've named her “Grace.” She's a gift to us from God, and she's dependent on God's good Gift, even as we are. And perhaps, then, you've also perceived why it is that we've given her the middle name "Felicity." As already said, Felicity means "happiness." O the happiness! In our minds this middle name indicates the happiness that overtakes one touched by God's free favor reaching down when the sinner is not reaching up, and it points to the portion of one who is the object of God's free selective favor—divine grace!—a favor freely bestowed before the foundation of the world in Christ. O the happiness! And it also speaks to the happiness God has given us as Grace's parents, in the gift of her life, a life to be offered back up to him in our joy and for his glory.

Now, Grace Felicity Wencel, we shall address you directly. This comes from the hearts and faith of your parents. We would have you know the following, our heart’s desire, and also our prayer to God:

Our precious Grace Felicity Wencel, you are indeed a gift from God to your parents. And we are so thankful for you. In fact, we are doubly thankful, thankful for your physical life, but thankful even more for God’s gracious promise to you of eternal life in Jesus Christ your Lord. We pray that you will never doubt, not for a moment, not for the blink of an eye, the favor of our heavenly Father toward you in his Son. We pray that you will never doubt that God holds out to you freely the justification that is "by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).

Grace Felicity, you have been born into a covenant home, your parents are recipients of God's free favor, and so grace is already pouring forth from heaven over your life. You are "holy," according to God's Word (1 Cor. 7:14). All you need do is receive it, receive grace, that is, by receiving Christ. Receive him just like you are now receiving all you need from your parents, without a hint of deadly doing, without trying to earn what comes freely to you, coming through those (your parents) who possess far less resourcefulness than your heavenly Father possesses.

And, remember, Grace, even your receiving of the grace of God through faith is a gift of God. Faith itself is a gift. It's not something you can work up on your own (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). God has designed it this way, so that you'll never be able to brag about being saved through your own good sense, your own biological pedigree, or your own autonomous willing. No, you are entirely dependent on God’s Gift. Dependent on God's grace!

And you need to know—because your parents' lives know it full well—that grace is sovereign. It is God's doing. Just as you didn't choose your parents, so also your salvation from sin does not come by your own choosing. It comes because God's grace pursues you, it goes after you, it lays hold on you, it will follow you all of your days (Ps. 23:6; ask your daddy about the translation of the Hebrew here). Knowing God as your parents do, and how he has reached down and grabbed hold of us when we weren't reaching up after him, it is our prayer (and expectation!) that God's grace will grab a hold of you and be your portion forever.

And you need to know, our dear daughter, that this is what we've prayed for from the moment that God formed you in the womb. For all we know (and it wouldn't surprise us in the least), God's grace has already transformed you and given you new life. John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb at the voice of the mother of the Christ (Lk. 1:41). And in Psalm 22 David said this, speaking to God: "You are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God" (vv. 9–10).

So we, your mother and I, pray earnestly that you will never try to earn God's acceptance. If you ever dare do that, you will "nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). We pray that you will regularly recall that by the grace of God you are who you are (1 Cor. 15:10). We also pray that you will know deeply in your own life that grace is not just pardon but also power, so that grace toward you will not prove vain, but be seen in your bodily labors, in your good deeds (1 Cor. 15:10). And so may you never receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

Soon you will be baptized. We, your parents, will do this in obedience to the Lord Jesus who commanded us to make disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that [he] commanded" (Matt. 28:19–20). And we shall regularly remind you of the meaning of your baptism. You have been baptized into Christ and into his death (Rom. 6:3). You have been clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). And, having been baptized, you belong to Jesus, since you have died with Christ. And since he rose from the dead, you are to walk in the newness of his life (Rom. 6:4).

And now—Grace Felicity Wencel—we "commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" by faith (Acts 20:32; 26:18).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Word of God and Your Nation

"Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people."

This proverb comes from the Christian Scriptures. Specifically, it comes from the old covenant holy writings that were part of the canon of the old covenant community (Prov. 14:34). That it has relevance to every nation, however, and not just the theocratic nation of Israel, observe those two words "any people." 

In a nation that has come to embrace a notion of the separation of church and state that drives faith into the inner recesses of your private heart, to be confined there for you to think sweet thoughts about it, but never to come out into public view, we see that God's holy Word messes with our hair. It knocks us off balance. It rearranges the furniture. It instructs us—as a nation, as a people—in righteousness. 

And so, if you're following this simple lesson so far, if our nation exalts sin, and spurns righteousness, it is a reproach to us. There is no neutral sphere within which American can cast off the Word of God and the righteous requirements of the Maker of heaven and earth.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What God-Centeredness Looks and Sounds Like

The emanation or communication of the divine fullness, consisting in the knowledge of God, love to God, and joy in God, has relation indeed both to God and the creature: but it has relation to God as its fountain, as it is an emanation from God; and as the communication itself, or thing communicated, is something divine, something of God, something of his internal fullness; as the water in the stream is something of the fountain; and as the beams are of the sun. And again, they have relation to God as they have respect to him as their object: for the knowledge communicated is the knowledge of God; and so God is the object of the knowledge: and the love communicated, is the love of God; so God is the object of that love: and the happiness communicated, is joy in God; and so he is the object of the joy communicated. In the creature's knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing in, and praising God, the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged; his fullness is received and returned. Here is both an emanation and remanation. The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God, and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair (End for Which, in WJE 8:531).

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reformation Day, n.

In the vein of Ambrose Bierce's The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary:

Reformation Day, n. That one day of the year when Protestants pull out and dust off the seven or so Latin phrases they know (learned from R. C. Sproul), which had lain dormant since last October 31.

This devilish definition was thought up by a junior devil who has been taking cues from Bierce's entertaining forays into lexicography.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Edwards as Interpreter in an Enlightenment Context

The following quotation accurately describes my own experience and understanding both of Edwards and the current state of affairs in modern biblical studies. Having recently completed a master's degree in biblical exegesis, it is one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Edwards.
Edwards tried to interpret the Bible theologically. He handled it not as a collection of antiquarian artifacts, but as the living Word of One who calls himself "I Am." Thus he studied it both as scholars study sets of primary sources (to understand the lives of those for whom they were first put to writing) and—in a manner more important to his daily pastoral ministry—as priestly theologians study the oracles of God (to understand his will for those who still have ears to hear). This sets him apart from many other Western biblical scholars, whether Christian or non-Christian. For higher criticism has ruled the roost in modern biblical studies, shaping the ways that even pastors think of preaching Sunday sermons. 
—Douglas A. Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 96.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Blessing of YHWH in Jesus' Blood

The Songs of Ascents (120–134) are among my favorite portions of Scripture. And Psalm 128 is one of my favorites among these songs. These songs were likely sung while the Israelites were in Babylonian exile when they made their pilgrimage several times a year to Jerusalem for the great old covenant feasts.

Psalm 128 sings about what it means to be blessed. Psalm 128 promises blessing. It promises blessing to "the man who fears YHWH, the one who walks in his ways" (v. 1). Then that blessing is spelt out (v. 2): satisfaction in work ("you shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands") and peace everywhere ("it shall be well with you"). This sort of blessedness speaks directly to the curse—and is something of a reversal of it! Held out hundreds of years before the Christ came and bore the curse in his own body (Gal. 3:13).

The blessing flowing to the one who fears YHWH is further described in v. 3: a fruitful family, with fruitful wife and children ("your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table"). This blessing comes from Zion (v. 4), where God dwells, the city of the great King. And the psalmist prays and the people sing for this man who fears YHWH to have long life and see Jerusalem's prosperity and his grandchildren, and for peace to be upon all Israel (vv. 5–6).

This is the blessing of YHWH for those who fear his great and good name. And that fear to which these great promises come was purchased in the new covenant bought with Jesus' blood (Jer. 32:36–41; Lk. 22:20). So all praise to King Jesus, the true Israelite, the true Jew, the man who feared YHWH fully and faithfully!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Scripture Coming into Its Own

"A doctrine develops when the need arises. It was precisely because of the conflict over the locus of authority in the church that the doctrine of Scripture came into its own in Reformation confessions and Post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics"[1] (Vanhoozer, "Holy Scripture: Word of God; Word of Christ; Sword of the Spirit," Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, October 14, 2015).

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 152.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

You Don't Need to Be Protestant, But . . .

One does not have to be a Protestant, of course, to be a Christian. However, the Reformation Protestants have a vital and enduring contribution to make to the catholic church, and it concerns sola scriptura. A church that no longer acknowledges the supreme authority of God’s word written is in danger of straying from God's will, misidentifying Jesus Christ, even missing the gospel. 
—Kevin Vanhoozer, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, October 8, 2015).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Christianity: An Unfolding Drama

The Christian faith is, first and foremost, an unfolding drama. Geerhardus Vos observed, "The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest."[1] This story that runs from Genesis to Revelation, centering on Christ, not only richly informs our mind; it captivates the heart and the imagination, animating and motivating our action in the world (The Christian Faith, 19).

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 17.