Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fallout of a Failed Ecclesiology

"What is called 'American civil religion' is the product of a failure of ecclesiology."

—Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg: New Jersey, P&R, 1993), xii.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Secret Things Belong to the Lord

During our Sabbath dinner liturgy, the grandkids are asked a bunch of questions, and among the questions I ask are these—"Do you love God? Are you baptized? Is Jesus in your heart? Will you take the Lord's Supper tomorrow?" Now looking at the sixteen kids who are answering those questions, if someone were to press the question—"But when did Jesus come into their hearts?"—the answer is that it is absolutely none of our business.
—Douglas Wilson, Against the Church (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2013), 71.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sentimentality Abhorred and Defined

What is sentimentality? My wife and I dislike it intensely, think it's all too common where it should be less common, and wish we could banish that gushy goo from hearts and replace it with true religious affections. (To prevent misunderstanding, let it be said that we do not wish to despise feeling, no, not at all, only feeling distorted and abused. In other words, we want feeling clothed and in her right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.) And yet, till now, we've not exactly been able to explain precisely what sentimentality is, and precisely why it's so repulsive. The dictionary definition is too vague to satisfy. So we've only been able to say, "Look, there it is again. And it's cockeyed, isn't it?" Or something along similar lines.

So, then, how shall we define sentimentality? Recently I came across a good definition by Leonard Nathan as recorded in Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. And here it is: sentimentality is "a kind of disproportion between excessive feeling and its object."

Now that's a darn good start. I like it a lot. But it still needs some reworking to take into account why a disproportion exists, namely, by speaking to the worth of the object in view, and to take into account that worth in relation to the worth of other objects, not least the most worthy. Moreover, it seems to me, one also needs to ask whether the affection or feeling corresponds to the object not only in terms of proportion but also in terms of kind of feeling. Is the feeling even fitting for the object?

So reworking the helpful basic definition given by Nathan with more nuance and theological underpinnings will make the definition complete and Christian. But I leave for another time the task of filling in these details and fleshing out my suggested needed additions.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Man's Chronic (Dis)Ability to Manufacture Idols

"There is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we are incapable of turning into an idol."

—Douglas Wilson, Against the Church (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2013), 114.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The King and His Kingdom

In his stimulating book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, apparently following Karl Ludwig Schmidt (TDNT 1:589), refers his readers to some parallel expressions in some parallel passages in the Synoptics: Matt 19:27; Mark 10:29; and Luke 18:29. 

He sees the parallel expressions “for my name’s sake” (Matthew) and “for my sake and for the gospel” (Mark) and “for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Luke) as equivalent. Hoekema points out what he sees as a similar phenomenon in Acts, where he similarly takes “the kingdom of God” and the “name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) as equivalent expressions and “the kingdom of God” and “teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31) as likewise equivalent.

Now although I do not think these parallel expressions are exactly equivalent, as Hoekema proposes, yet we can say with confidence that they speak to gospel realities that are tightly tied together. And herein lies an important insight then that answers a not uncommon question: Why is it that the epistles speak so infrequently of the “kingdom of God” (or simply “kingdom”)[1] when it looms so large in the Gospels? 

Hoekema points us to what I think is a good partial answer in the dictionary article in volume 1 of TDNT. Schmidt avers there that the reason why the epistles appear to speak so infrequently of the kingdom of God in comparison with the Gospels is that the expression “kingdom of God” (or the like) found in the Gospels is stressed implicitly by reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in the epistles.[2] And so, as it turns out, the epistles refer implicitly quite a lot to the kingdom of God as they speak of King (the Lord) Jesus. 

If this is on track, and I think it is indubitable, what this means is that we ought often (always?) to think of the kingdom when we read of the “Lord Jesus” or the “Lord Christ” or similar phraseology. The kingdom does, then, after all, loom really large in the epistles, which is what we might expect since it is a great going concern right through the whole of Scripture. 

[1] In the ESV, fifty-three times for “kingdom of God” in the Gospels (fifty-three for the “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew) and 124 times for “kingdom” in the Gospels, over against only eight times in the epistles for “kingdom of God” (all in Paul) and eighteen times in the epistles for “kingdom.” (This data comes from Robert W. Yarbrough, “The Kingdom of God in the New Testament: Matthew and Revelation,” in The Kingdom of God, eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 99–100.)
[2] Schmidt, TDNT 1:589.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bible-Only Folk in Danger of Joining a Cult

"The kind of biblicism that learns nothing from the great councils is in danger of becoming cultic."

—D. A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 108.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Living the Paradox of Grace

How can one be sad and glad at the same time? Is that even possible? Isn't that a contradiction?

No. No, it's not. Grace gets you there.

If you've never experienced the "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" of 2 Cor. 6:10, going deeper in the Gospel of God will bring you to that strange place that only grace can take you.

It's a good place to be in this broken and battered world with so much pain (though brief and light) and yet with so much hope (everlasting in scope) promised to it by a gracious God through his Son who loved this world and gave himself for it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We Are Beggars

Luther two days before he died:
Nobody can understand Virgil in his Bucolics, unless he has been a shepherd for five years. Nobody can understand Virgil in his Georgics, unless he has been a plowman for five years. Nobody can understand Cicero in his Epistles unless he has lived for twenty-five years in a large commonwealth. Let no one think he has sufficiently grasped the Holy Scriptures, unless he has governed the churches for a hundred years with prophets like Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles. Don't venture on this divine Aeneid, but rather bend low in reverence before its footprints! We are beggars! That is true.
—Martin Marty, Martin Luther: A Life (New York: Penguin, 2004), 185.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Covenant of Grace as Theological Construct

There are some today who desire to purge the church of any notion of a covenant of grace (for a traditional description of this covenant, see, for example, WCF, Chapter 7). For, these biblicists say, no such covenant is mentioned explicitly in Scripture. And this is true. The words "covenant of grace" are not found in the Bible. That's correct. And even covenant theologians who affirm a covenant of grace agree about the lack of this language in Scripture.

And yet, if the concept is there in Scripture—that is, if conceptually, if as a theological construct, the notion or reality exists—I can't see why we ought to quibble much over the matter. And in the same vein, I also can't see why any would want to criticize those who prefer not to use the language of "covenant of grace" if the reality or concept is affirmed.

For my part, I have no problem with speaking of a covenant of grace. In effect, it is God's pledge in grace for an everlasting relationship with his people joined to Jesus that is manifested in all his gracious covenants. In other words, the covenant of grace holds together and sums up all God's gracious dealings with man via covenants. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Message of the Whole Bible

Many scholars, as many of you are no doubt familiar, have proposed a "center" to the whole Bible. There is nothing like consensus in this matter, and many believe that the attempt to find a unifying center is the errand of folly.

Well, here goes my tentative junior attempt at suggesting a unifying center for the whole Bible:

The Bible, both the Old and New Testaments together, narrates and declares the grace-filled good news of the new creation kingdom of God, promised and fulfilled in King Jesus, the Son of God, as crucified and risen, and in his redeemed people, by the Spirit of God—all to the glory of God the Father, who is all in all. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Minds Really Exercised with Delight in Heavenly Things

Let us not mistake ourselves. To be spiritually minded is, not to have the notion and knowledge of spiritual things in our minds; it is not to be constant, no, nor to abound, in the performance of duties: both which may be where there is no grace in the heart at all. It is to have our minds really exercised with delight about heavenly things, the things that are above, especially Christ himself as at the right hand of God.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 344–347.