Monday, September 28, 2015

Just Listen to the Syrian Monk and Get Over Yourself

"It seems rather a waste of time to spend, say, five years working out a position, only to find that it has already been done by a Syrian monk in the fifth century."

—Peter Berger, as recorded in Kevin Vanhoozer's lecture, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, September 16, 2015).

Prayer's Privilege and Power

Prayer is also a way of active participation in the Son's fellowship with the Father. Praying "Our Father" with Jesus and asking for God's kingdom to come is one of the chief means of centering our heart and minds on the truly real. Prayer is also linked to the efficacy of the word, especially in situations of spiritual warfare where the dramatic conflict for hearts and minds takes place. To put on Christ is to put on "the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11), and in his inventory of this armor Paul juxtaposes the "sword of the Spirit" ("the word of God") with praying "in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17–18). It was through prayer that Jesus had the strength to say, "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 135.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Other Drama

Preaching is a means of grace because it presents, and makes present, Christ and what is in Christ. In so doing, it reminds listeners who they are and prepares them for their role in the ongoing drama of the Christ. It accomplishes these ends not primarily by informing congregations about systems of theology but rather by forming disciples, and it forms disciples by transforming the interpretive frameworks by which they lead their lives. Gospel preaching takes subevangelical thought captive, exposing the emptiness of other narratives that seek to colonize our imaginations. Gospel preaching speaks forth the true story of the world: that all things "are from him and through him and to him (Rom. 11:36). To preach Christ is to exhort disciples not to live in the world as if some other story were true. For the disciple, there is no other drama (Gal. 1:6–7): there is only the call to follow Christ.
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 132.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why Study Systematic Theology?

Randy Alcorn on why churches should study systematic theology. I've been saying this sort of thing for years and years. I'm fully convinced that systematic theology would wonderfully equip and strengthen the church in a whole host of ways.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Is a Worldview?

Many attempts to explain what a worldview is fall short of doing the phenomenon justice. And part of the problem is that the word itself (which suggests how we view the world and hence primarily intellectual involvement) points us in the wrong direction. But if the concept doesn't include more than one's mental furniture, or mere mental outlook, it is woefully lacking. (Another problem is that there's also no better word on offer at the moment.)

So how ought we to define "worldview"? And specifically, how should we define a worldview that attempts to connect with the true, the good, and the beautiful, and attempts to comport with reality? I'm acknowledging that some worldviews don't attempt to approximate ultimate reality or logical coherence or epistemic loveliness. In other words, I'm pointing out that there are defective worldviews. But I want, and I want others to want, to pursue a worldview that really does make sense of all things and accounts for the entirety of life lived on the stage of our world, and not one we wished existed.

So here's my attempt: A worldview (a sound one, more or less) is a comprehensive understanding of reality in word and deed. It includes the culture of a group or people. And the elements that make it up are narrative, catechesis, liturgy, and lifestyle.

Theses four aspects of worldview I've identified here I learned from N. T. Wright and Doug Wilson. These elements cover the ground of word and deed necessary for achieving a biblical worldview that is theologically satisfying and faithful. And, as you can see, I refuse to reduce understanding worldview to one's way of looking at the world, though of course such is included in my definition.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pastors, Their Congregations, and Reading Culture

"Pastors have to help their congregations read culture so that we know what forces are trying to shape us. I believe that culture is in the business, 24/7, of spiritual formation: the only question is, What form does it want our spirits to assume?"

—Kevin Vanhoozer, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, September 16, 2015).

Four Fake Grammar Rules

Here are four fake grammar rules you needn't bother about. And this seems just about right, though I might wish to quibble a little about infinitives. And perhaps a little about pronouns. But not much.

I will add that students ought to learn diligently the general rules of grammar before breaking and flouting them. One needs to know the rules first before one can break them well.

But, let it be said, writing is an art and not a hard science. And so style comes into play, to one degree or another, even in formal writing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Communion with Christ at the Holy Supper

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand th'eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

—Horatius Bonar (1808–1889), "Here O My Lord I See Thee Face to Face," Trinity Hymnal, 378.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Lord of the Whole Wood

Obama is not a Muslim. Let's get serious. But nor is he a Christian. Do not be deceived. He's a secularist through and through. His religion is American civil religion. And he likes to use Christ for his political purposes. Just like many other politicians. But King Jesus is no politician's puppet. He's the Lord of the whole wood, I tell you. And if you're not sure of this, just ask Mr. Beaver. He'll tell it to you straight up, no political pandering, no civil prevarication, no expedient equivocation, no waffling or sidestepping the matter.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Bridges: John Owen Unrivalled

Bridges on Owen:
For luminous exposition, and powerful defense of Scriptural doctrine—for determined enforcement of practical obligations—for skilful anatomy of the self-deceitfulness of the heart—and for a detailed and wise treatment of the diversified exercises of the Christian's heart, [Owen] stands probably unrivalled.
—Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1967), 41.

The Prince of Divines

Spurgeon on Owen:
It is unnecessary to say that he is the prince of divines. To master his works is to be a profound theologian. Owen is said to be prolix, but it would be truer to say that he is condensed. His style is heavy because he gives notes of what he might have said, and pass on without fully developing the great thoughts of his capacious mind. He requires hard study, and none of us ought to grudge it.
—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commenting and Commentaries (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 103. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Theologian as Dragon-Slayer

"The theologian, far from having a faith based on wish fulfillment, is rather employed (at least part-time) in the role of dragon-slayer, as one who casts down false gods. Or, to put it into contemporary terms, the theologian is an ideology-critic."

—Kevin Vanhoozer, "The Nature and Purpose of Theology: Science or Sapientia?" (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, September 9, 2015).

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Death and Resurrection

Ferguson on the structure of John Owen's thought about the ministry of the Spirit of Christ to the believer:
The Spirit brings us into union with the crucified and resurrected Savior and therefore into communion with Him in His death and resurrection. Since this is, as it were, the ground on which the Spirit operates, it also becomes the pattern of the Christian life: death and resurrection, mortification and vivification, putting off the old and putting on the new. Gospel negatives and gospel positives thus become the leitmotif, the melody line, for all of our fellowship with the Son. This was the Apostolic pattern.
—Sinclair Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014), 120–121.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

What Is Theology?

Here's my present attempt at a definition that embraces the whole enterprise of theologizing. It aims at making clear that doing theology is an activity that invests the whole person as a living sacrifice of worship as one who is God addressed, God possessed, and God obsessed. It is not, in other words, a lifeless and arid academic exercise. You'll perhaps notice that it is heavily influenced by the likes of Anselm, Vanhoozer, Packer, Edwards, and, no doubt, many others.

Theology is faith seeking, speaking, and showing (i.e., doing/living) contemporary, contextual, communal, catholic, and canonical understanding of the things of the Spirit (i.e., the things of the triune God, the things of the gospel)—to the glory of God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How Theology Differs from the Other Sciences

"Although theology treats of the same things with metaphysics, physics and ethics, yet the mode of considering is far different. It treats of God not like metaphysics as a being or as he can be known from the light of nature, but as that Creator and Redeemer made known by revelation. It treats of creatures not as things of nature, but of God (i.e., as holding a relation and order to God as their Creator, preserver and Redeemer) and that too according to the revelation made by him. This mode of considering, the other sciences do not know or do not assume" (Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:17).

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Gospel of John and Resurrection Joy

I recently finished reading through yet again the Gospel according to John, for something like the thirtieth time since I came first to know the Lord. And what strikes me most this time is how the passion and resurrection narrative of John—if you enter into it and feel what the disciples must have first felt—obviously intends to produce gladness and freedom and relief and amazement.

The Gospel at its heart is full of joy and peace and liberty and wonder! So come on in. Take up and read. And enjoy the joy of the Lord! Freedom—at last! Peace—like no other! Happiness—guaranteed! Life indeed—forevermore! The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Lay Your Deadly Doing Down

"If you do not die first, you will have time to do it. If you die before you it is done, you don't need to do it" (Bloom, Beginning to Pray, 89).

Ending in Imbecility

"If Nietzsche had not ended in imbecility, Nietzsheism would end in imbecility. Thinking in isolation and with pride ends in being an idiot. Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain" (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 48).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

God's Judgment Now in View of God's Possessing All the Earth Later

How does “for you shall inherit all the nations!” function as a ground for God to arise and judge the earth in Ps. 82:8? The reasoning seems strange. At least if you really think hard about what it is really saying. And, make no mistake, the psalmist is providing a reason for God to act as a judge. 

Well, at first glance (and perhaps second, and third, and so on), it might appear that Asaph is calling for the judgement of God at the end of time when he ushers in the eschaton and the final state in a new heavens and new earth. But that really doesn’t work. 

Likely written in the exilic situation in the ancient near east, under foreign domination and oppression, the psalmist is certainly calling for God to judge his present adversaries, at the time the psalm was composed, way back then, thousands of years ago—way before what we call the final reckoning, the great day of judgment. 

So how, then, does the second part of verse 8 function? Well, it must mean something like this. Since God is going to possess all nations, let’s get going on that work now, Lord, and bring about some of the advance—in the here and now of Asaph’s day (well before the final judgement). Judging Israel’s enemies thousands of years ago would've been fitting since God would eventually inherit all the earth for all his people in due course. 

Now that’s just not how we think. (And if it throws off our eschatological system, oh well, so much for our system.) And for evidence that we don’t think this way, try praying for God to judge justly on behalf of the Church now, or your local church, surrounded by her adversaries, thinking of and praying for God to act now on some specific injustice, and doing so on the basis of God’s taking possession eventually of all the nations. We just don’t pray that way. Because we just don't think that way. But we sure should. Asaph did. And so should we. 

Your kingdom come now, O Lord, because we know your kingdom will come in fullness and cover the nations. Jesus bought the nations with his blood, and will surely possess and subdue them visibly. So, we pray, act now in our nation, against the gross injustices right in front of our eyeballs, in view of your reign coming to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Amen. 

What Is Doctrine?

What is "doctrine"?  And, specifically, what is Christian doctrine? What follows are some orienting definitions from two of the most influential theologians in my life. And you'll no doubt note some tensions here. And that's okay. Working this out is the task of theologizing for the sake of doctrinal understanding.

First, Packer (since he's the senior theologian): Doctrine is "theology as taught."

And, now, Vanhoozer: Doctrine is "lived understanding," involving "not only concepts but also the church's whole way of life: beliefs, values, and everyday practices."

—J. I. Packer, "Doctrine" (lecture, Regent College, Vancouver, BC, Spring, 2015), 41; Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 170.