Archive for the ‘Exegesis’ Category

“Until We Rest In Thee”: The Eschatological Nature of New Covenant Rest

This is cross-posted from my old blog, RearViewMirror (whose URL WordPress nicely wrecked). I originally wrote this as a paper for my MDiv at Toronto Baptist Seminary, so I won’t vouch for style or the total drawing of all logical points (!). I’m basically posting it because I wanted to send the link to a friend. The point of the paper was to argue for the ongoing validity of the Sabbath for the Christian church looking at Hebrews 3 & 4.

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The following paper seeks to address the question of rest found in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. The purpose for this evaluation is to understand rest as a present reality that anticipates eschatological fulfillment. The result of this evaluation will have ecclesiastical application for an understanding of Sabbath rest as an indicative and imperative for the church. This essay will first briefly outline the theme of this section in Hebrews as it relates to the topic. An explanation of rest as it fits the structure of the passage will follow accompanied by an application for the New Covenant community.

 

Hebrews 3:7-4:11
Pervading this passage, and the entirety of the epistle, is a theme of exhortation (3:8, 12; 4:1, 11; cf. 13:22). Positively believers are exhorted to enter rest by obedience (4:2, 11); negatively they are warned that lack of obedience will prohibit such entrance (3:18-19; 4:2). Wilderness-Israel’s disobedience is frequently pointed to as the prime example of failure to enter rest (3:7b-11; 15-19; 4:8).
Typologically the comparison between believers and wilderness-Israel is significant. The already/not yet condition of the church is characterized by Israel’s wandering subsequent to their release from Egypt and before entrance into Canaan; theirs was a “between the times” condition. Likewise, the church is comprised of “wanderers” who have been released from sin yet are on the verge of entering into final rest.[1] Richard Gaffin illustrates this well by referring to the church as “the new and final wilderness community.”[2]
Three examples are given to show that true rest had not been attained in the epoch before the advent of Christ. In the case of Moses, Israel did not enter into rest because of disobedience (3:16-19); their “bodies fell in the wilderness” and they did not physically enter the land (v. 17; cf. Num. 14:29). In the case of Joshua, Israel physically entered Canaan although they did not enter true rest. That Joshua had not given them true rest reveals it was yet to come (4:8). David, the final example chronologically speaking, confirms that Israel did not have rest, though his kingdom was established in the promised land (3:7b-11, 15; 4:3, 5 and 7). This does not negate the promise of God to give Israel rest. The land functioned as a type, not the ultimate reality; it foreshadowed the rest to come at both advents of Christ. [3]
Present Rest
That these three Old Testament figures did not provide true rest is significant. Upon reading this, a Jew might have asked, “If Moses, Joshua and David failed to give us rest, who can?” Of course, the answer is found in Christ whom Moses, David and Joshua typified.[4] They could not provide true rest, but the one whom they foreshadowed did.
Verses such as Matthew 11:28, where Jesus claims to provide rest to the weary and heavy-laden, can be cited as evidence of present rest. This is what Robert Murray M’Cheyne, in his sermon Entering Into Rest, called “the gospel rest of a believing soul.”[5] It is a state of being that is the result of the Christian ceasing from his labours to rest in Christ for salvation.
Subtly, Hebrews 3:7-4:11 is Christocentric, as indicated both by its location between Hebrews 3:1-6 and 4:14-5:11, as well as the indicative in 3:14. In 3:1-6, the writer focuses on Jesus as greater than Moses; in 4:14-5:11 Jesus is honoured as the Great High Priest. It is no accident that a discussion of rest is couched between these two great passages. The indicative in 3:14 states that believers currently share in Christ provided that they hold fast their original confidence that same confidence spoken of in 3:6. This is further indication that Christ is the final rest anticipated by Moses, Joshua and David.
As well, the opening of this section explains that believers can obtain true rest at present. In 3:7b-8a the writer quotes Psalm 95, written by David, who says, “today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts.” The adverb “today” (semeron) points to the current opportunity for rest for the readers of Hebrews, it is the “already” in the “already/not yet” paradigm. Again Gaffin is helpful,

It refers to the time, any time, in which “good news,” “the
word of hearing” is being proclaimed (4:2), in which “the promise of entering
his rest remains” (4:1). It is the time of summons to faith and obedience, when,
correlatively, unbelief and apostasy are present and very real threats (3:12,
13, 15; 4:6-7).[6] 

The point here is to show that rest is a current possibility and requires faith in Christ to be obtained.
The Christ-centred nature of this passage, coupled with the already indicative of the “between the times” tension, reveals that true rest is presently to be found in Christ. Does this mean that the rest believers now have in Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of rest?[7] The answer, found distinctly in this passage, is negative. To quote Hebrews 4:9, “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

 

Future Rest
As essential as it is that believers have current “gospel rest” in Christ, the here-and-now is not the only facet of rest. Thus far we have argued that rest has an “already” component that is found soteriologically in Christ. Correspondingly, there is a “not yet” component that is found eschatologically in the return of Christ — the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth (2 Pet. 3:13). Therefore, there is still an ultimate and final rest to be looked forward to.
This “eschatological Sabbath” is rooted in two future perspectives in Hebrews 3:7-4:11. The first is the phrase “my rest” (katapausin mou) that indicates that rest is potential and future (3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5).[8] The second is the unique word used for rest (sabbatismos) in 4:9 that indicates an ongoing form of celebration.
First, in Psalm 95:11, quoted in Hebrews 3:11; 4:3 and 5, God calls the land of Canaan “my rest.” John Murray struggles with this characterization, arguing that it can’t merely refer to the provision of rest by God. Rather, as Murray argues, it is called God’s rest because Canaan is patterned after God’s own resting at creation, “it partook of the character of God’s rest.”[9]
One of the arguments proffered by challengers of a New Covenant Sabbath-keeping is that the Sabbath is not a “creation ordinance.”[10] Meaning, that unlike marriage or labour, Sabbath resting was not instituted at creation.[11]They argue that the Sabbath institution first appeared when Moses delivered the Law at Sinai. Yet the author of Hebrews has drawn a connection between God’s rest at creation and the rest yet to be entered into by believers (Heb. 4:4, 6 and 9; cf. Gen. 2:2). The Genesis account of creation that finds its only quotation in the New Testament in this passage is both prescriptive and descriptive. It is the support for 4:6 that says, “it remains for some to enter it.” Gaffin argues, “as the writer sees it, the fulfillment of the church’s hope…represents nothing less than the fulfillment of the original purpose of God in creation.”[12] Commenting on the eschatological character of the Sabbath found in the Decalogue, Geerhardus Vos says,

Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless
existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from,
redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the
soteric.[13] 

The fact that “my rest” is intrinsically linked to creation speaks of its eschatological nature.[14] The intended aim of Adam’s test in Eden was to usher in the new heavens and new earth. Because he disobeyed, the adverse course of human history played out as it did. The new heavens and the new earth are now looked forward to by Christians, and will be ushered in by the Second Adam. Therefore, when thinking of “my rest” as creation rest, Christians are also to think in terms of the new creation that is entirely forthcoming.
As Richard Gaffin explains, “‘My rest,’ as rest, stands in pointed contrast to the believer’s present circumstances.”[15] Christians do not have complete rest from sin and will not until they enter the new heavens and new earth.
Secondly, The word for rest that has been used in this section is katapausin(3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5, 10 and 11). Yet in 4:9 the word used for rest is sabbatismosthat can be defined as “Sabbath keeping”;[16] it is the only New Testament occurrence of this word. The sudden use of sabbatismos has deliberate authorial intent.[17] It may be that a nuance was missing from katapausin thatsabbatismos better expressed.[18] That nuance is likely the difference between a state of being and a form of action.[19] Lane argues that “it appears to have been coined from the cognate verb sabbatizein, ‘to observe/to celebrate the Sabbath.’” As well, its usage in subsequent ancient literature contains the notion of active observance.[20]
The use of sabbatismos points not only to the coming new creation, but also to the current practice of weekly Sabbath observance. But in what sense?

 

Eschatological Sign
The relationship between the current character of “my rest,” the appeal to creation and the ongoing nature of Sabbath-keeping points to a connection between Sabbath observance and the anticipated Sabbath of the new heavens and new earth.[21] Gaffin has called it “a sign of hope.”[22] Robert Martin explains it as a pledge or promise of the final rest that Christians are currently awaiting.[23] Functioning eschatologically, it is anticipatory of the second coming of Christ. “The weekly Sabbath is the promise, token, and foretaste of the consummated rest; it is also the earnest.”[24]
Throughout the course of redemptive history, beginning at creation, the Sabbath functioned as a weekly sign. As a remembrance, it looked back to creation and redemption from Egypt. But it was also forward looking, anticipating the coming Messiah. The church, in similar existence to wilderness-Israel, still has a Sabbath to keep in anticipation of the rest that they await.
It is curious that the writer to the Hebrews does not mention the abrogation of the Sabbath if it had in fact been abrogated. Sabbath abrogation would deeply impact his argument that rest is eschatological. If Sabbath observance were no longer necessary under the New Covenant, it would be necessary for the author to provide a redemptive-historical reason for this. Rather, the Sabbath functioning as an eschatological sign fits nicely into the flow of the writer’s argument that links the Sabbath to creation and the new creation.
Conclusion
The great North African church father Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “O, Lord, thou has made us, and our spirits are restless until we rest in thee.” This is true regarding both the already and the not yet of Sabbath rest. As Christ is true rest, the tumult of a sinful soul will remain until the burden of sin is set before him. Yet, as Christians who are resting in Christ, there is still the destination of their sojourn to arrive at, like wilderness-Israel before Canaan. Until that great Day when Christ returns, final rest will not be found.
As a sign of both the rest currently possessed in Christ and the rest still looked forward to at his coming, the Christian has the weekly, one in seven Sabbath. However it may be celebrated, may it be done with Christ as the focus so that he might receive all the glory. Amen.

[1] Richard B. Gaffin Jr, “A Sabbath Rest Still Awaits the People of God,” in eds. Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble, Pressing Toward The Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church(Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986), 37-39. William Lane explains that the church, like Israel, experiences “the tensions of an interim existence between redemption and rest, between promise and fulfillment,” in William L. Lane, Hebrews 1-8, WBC 47a (Dallas: Word Books, 1991), 89.
[2] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Westminster and the Sabbath” in ed. Ligon Duncan,The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2004), 133.
[3] Philip Hughes argued, “[t]his land…was a visible and tangible token which, like a sacrament, pointed beyond itself to a far more wonderful reality…the eternal rest of God himself,” in Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1990), 143.
[4] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 104.
[5] Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermons on Hebrews ed. Michael D. McMullen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2004), 20.
[6] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38; cf., his “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 133.
[7] Various critics of the so-called “Christian Sabbath” argue persuasively for the “already” indicative, yet fail to do justice to the “not yet.” For instance, see Andrew T. Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest, and Eschatology in the New Testament,” in ed. D.A. Carson, From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 177-201. Also, Tom Wells and Fred C. Zaspel, New Covenant Theology: Description, Definition, Defense (Frederick, Maryland: New Covenant Media, 2002), 232-233.
[8] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38. See also his “Westminster and the Sabbath”, 133.
[9] John Murray, “The Pattern of the Lord’s Day,” in Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976), 223. Fred Zaspel agrees, “This is in every sense God’s rest (Ps. 95:11), his delighted rest in his finished work. The creation narrative climaxes in God’s contentment,” in Zaspel and Wells, New Covenant Theology, 212.
[10] For an argument in favour of the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” see John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1957), 30-35.
[11] Zaspel and Wells, New Covenant Theology, 214 n. 292.
[12] Gaffin, “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 136.
[13] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1966), 156-157.
[14] Lane observes, “[o]ver the course of time a distinctly eschatological concept of rest developed…An eschatological understanding of ‘my rest’ in Ps 95:11 is presupposed in v 1 and is fundamental to the exhortation to diligence to enter God’s rest in 4:1-11,” in Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 98.
[15] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 38.
[16] Robert P. Martin, “A Sabbath Remains: The Place of Hebrews 4:9 in the New Testament’s Witness to the Lord’s Day,” in Reformed Baptist Theological Review (July 2004): 1.2, 5-6.
[17] Lincoln, “Sabbath, Rest and Eschatology,” 213.
[18] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 101.
[19] Martin, “A Sabbath Remains,” 5-6.
[20] Lane, Hebrews 1-8, 101; see also Hughes, Commentary, 162 n. 67. See also Joseph A. Pipa, The Lord’s Day (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2001), 115.
[21] Gaffin, “Sabbath Rest,” 41.
[22] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “A Sign of Hope,” available from New Horizons 3,http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH03/03a.html. Internet; accessed 02/12/04.
[23] Martin, “A Sabbath Remains,” 8.
[24] Murray, “Pattern of the Lord’s Day,” 223. See also Gaffin, “Sign of Hope,” 3 (of printout) and his “Westminster and the Sabbath,” 137.

Final Justification, Protestantism, And Wright

I want to continue my series of posts on NT Wright and Reformational issues by focussing in on the matter of final justification. This seems to be one of the teachings many regard as a particularly dangerous part of Wright’s teaching. I already addressed this point in brief in my first post, but I can add a few more comments to strengthen my position.

I think the concerns of many Protestants regarding Wright’s view of final justification according to “the whole life lived” fall into three main categories: (1) his view is not Protestant, (2) his view is not Augustinian, and (3) his view is not Biblical. I will address these in turn.

Is Wright’s view Protestant?

Thankfully, I don’t need to do much work here. My friend Steven Wedgeworth has done it all for me. His survey clearly demonstrates the variety of expression amongst Protestant theologians about this matter, and that clear precedents for Wright’s position lie within that variety. More specifically, from the doctors that Wedgeworth surveys, the following say basically the same thing as Wright (I will append some brief quotes to make this point clear):

  • Martin Bucer
    • In the case of Bucer, Michael Bird provides the clearest testimony, though the post about Witsius below also contains a citation from Bucer.
  • John Diodati
    • “Whereas St. James takes the same word for the approving of man, in a benigne and fatherly judgment, as he is considered in the quality of God’s child, and living in the covenant of grace, as having the two essentiall parts of that covenant joyned together, faith to receive God’s grace and Christ’s benefit, and works to yield him the duties of service and acknowledgement;”
  • Benedict Pictet
    • “for in the first [justification] a sinner is acquitted from guilt, in the second a godly man is distinguished from the ungodly. In the first God imputes the righteousness of Christ ; in the second he pronounces judgment from the gift of holiness bestowed upon us; both these justifications the believer obtains, and therefore it is true that “by works he is justified, and not by faith only.”
  • Herman Witsius
    • “This justification is indeed very different from that other, of which we shall presently treat, wherein the person is absolved from sins, whereof he is really guilty, and which are forgiven him on Christ’s account. In this we are speaking of he is acquitted of sins, which he is not chargeable with, and is declared not to have committed.XXIV. The foundation of this justification can be nothing but inherent holiness and righteousness. For, as it is a declaration concerning a man, as he is in himself: by the regenerating and sanctifying grace of God, so it ought to have for its foundation, that which is found in man himself:He that doth righteousness is righteous, says John, 1 John iii. 7. and Peter says, Acts x.34, 35. “of a truth, I perceive, that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with God.””
  • Edward Polhill
    • “These things evince, that obedience is a condition necessary as to our continuance in a state of justification: nevertheless it is not necessary, that obedience should be perfect as to the evangelical precept; but that it should be such, that the truth of grace which the evangelical condition calls for, may not fail for want of it: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. xxii.14.) The first fundamental right to heaven they have by the faith of Christ only: but sincere obedience is necessary that that right may be continued to them: in this sense we may fairly construe that conclusion of St James, “Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. ii.24.)”
  • Thomas Goodwin
    • “So then, Paul’s judging according to works, and James his justification by works, are all one, and are alike consistent with Paul’s justification by faith only. For in the same epistle where he argues so strongly for justification by faith without works, as Rom. iii.iv., he in chap. ii. also declares, that ‘he will judge every man according to his works.’ He doth so to the good: ver. 7, ‘To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life.’”

In addition to Wedgeworth’s sources, one other deserves note:

  • Westminster Shorter Catechism 38
    • Rich Lusk rightly noted that WSC 38 teaches believers receive an acquittal at the final resurrection; the choice of proof-texts for this point may startle some, too, in that the Westminster divines selected a text about rewards for good works to prove believers would receive this acquittal (Matthew 25:23).

On the other hand, Wedgeworth rightly explains that John Calvin, Francis TurretinJohn PrestonJames Ussher, and Thomas Gataker, William Gouge, and John Downame shy away from speaking of two justifications with the second by works, though Calvin’s position in the Institutes is quite sophisticated and I think comes very close to the one evidenced in the list above. But to the list of reticent theologians we should add Martin Luther, and I would imagine the Lutheran tradition (though I know nothing about the particulars here).

Given Wedgeworth’s work here, I can’t see any reason to say Wright’s view fails the Protestantism test. At most one can say some Protestants disagreed with his view. But they did not excommunicate his predecessors.  As long as the fundamental Protestant concerns were upheld, there was manifestly room for difference on this matter.  And as I showed, Wright certainly sustains those fundamental Protestant positions.

Is Wright’s view Augustinian?

Anecdotally, on several occasions I have seen critics of Wright contend that his position on final justification is semi-Pelagian. Of the three issues I mentioned at the beginning, this one is the easiest to dispatch, I believe. For the charge that Wright’s view of the final judgment implies salvation by merit runs up against the problem of Augustine himself. If anyone was an Augustinian, and not a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian, when it came to merit, it was the bishop of Hippo. Yet everyone recognizes that he did not teach a Protestant view of justification, i.e., he believed iustificatio referred to the transformative process by which God made us more just, not the verdict in God’s court which declares us so. For Augustine, justification and sanctification basically referred to the same process. But for all that, Augustine’s view of grace rendered it impossible for human beings to stand before God on the basis of merit. My reference to the saint’s saying that “God crowns the works he does in us” hinted at this point. The fact that God is the ultimate source of our good works, as many Protestants have noted, eliminates merit from the good works that those same Protestants affirm that we do. But if the divine origin of our good works eliminates merit in sanctification, then it must also eliminate merit even in final justification.

To put this all a different way: this charge confuses two issues which must remain distinct. The question of the instruments of justification, initial and final, stands beside the question of grace’s relation to merit. These matters remain separable, as Augustine’s own position makes clear.

Is Wright’s view Biblical?

For Protestants, at least in theory, all theologoumena must pass the bar of scripture, or else be discarded. At this point, I don’t wish to defend Wright’s view as biblical (though I believe it is). But I do contend (a) that his position is at least prima facie defensible (it has been defended by otherwise respected evangelical scholars of late e.g., beyond Wright himself, also Simon Gathercole, Mark Seifrid, and Tom Schreiner), and (b) that in light of my responses to the previous two questions, the answer should not be threatening to Protestants if Wright turns out to be correct. It undermines neither their ultimate concerns nor the (non-existent) uniformity of their tradition.

This will probably be my final post, at least for some time, concentrated on NT Wright’s place in Protestantism. I welcome feedback and criticism. I hope, at least, that I’ve provided reason for some critics of Wright to reconsider their problems with his teaching, even if I have failed to convince them of my entire position.

Luther and Wright, Justification and Ecclesiology

Continuing the theme of my TCI post on NT Wright, I would like to address another question many raise regarding the bishop’s new perspective. That is: what does it imply about the application Luther made of Paul’s thought to his own day?

I want to make the case, briefly, that Wright’s view of Paul doesn’t change much vis-à-vis the Reformation issues.

Wright’s critics have charged him with relocating the doctrine of justification from soteriology to ecclesiology. There is one line in What Saint Paul Really Said that certainly gives this impression, but in later works he has clarified his point, and affirmed that what he really means to affirm is a both/and. Justification is about salvation, but also about church.

Many have not noticed, though, that Wright’s affirmation consists with the Reformers. They too affirmed that justification was both about soteriology and ecclesiology (not to mention politics!). As Brad Littlejohn puts it in his summary of Luther’s view of the two kingdoms:

It flows, in short, from the doctrine of justification, with Luther’s famous concept of simul justus et peccator, his conviction that the realm of appearances is very different from the realm of spiritual realities.  Christ reigns mysteriously and invisibly over the kingdom of conscience, and no human authority may dare to interpose itself as the mediator of this rule; it is by faith alone that we participate in this kingdom, so we must not be deceived into identifying it with external works or rituals.  Perhaps better than the terminology of the “two kingdoms” then, the zwei Reiche, is that of the “two governments,” zwei Regimente.  The spiritual government is that by which Christ rules inwardly in the conscience by his Word and Spirit, the realm of grace; the temporal government (weltliche Regimente) is that by which Christ governs all external human affairs by law, in which he works not directly and immediately, but through the larvae, “masks,” of earthly governors and institutions.  Only the elect experience the former; the latter they share in common with the unregenerate.

Luther’s doctrine of justification severed the absolute link between any human institution and divine rule.  This meant, of course, that no ecclesial authority could claim the power to ultimately determine who was saved or lost.  No bishop or Pope could set a divinely authoritative boundary around the community, and include or exclude at his whim. Rather, God alone determined the ultimate shape of his church, and he did this through his Word, received by faith.

As I noted in my previous post, Wright would agree with all of this. But, further, his explanation of Paul’s logic in, e.g., Galatians, requires Luther’s practical conclusion for the Roman Catholic Church of his own day.

Wright explains in What Saint Paul Really Said (p. 122):

When two people share Christian faith, says Paul, they can share table-fellowship, no matter what their ancestry. And all this is based four-square, of course, on the theology of the cross. ‘I am crucified with Christ,’ he writes, ‘nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me’ (2:19-20). The cross has obliterated the privileged distinction that Saul of Tarsus supposed himself to enjoy; the new life he has as Paul the apostle is a life defined, not by his old existence, but solely by the crucified and risen Messiah.

The bishop emphasizes that in Paul’s day a major point of the doctrine was to build a united Jew-Gentile church; but it is just as clear that the logic of Paul’s teaching opposes other possible divisions, beyond those of race. That is, if the unity of the church is based on the new life Christians receive through their initial faith, a life defined solely by the crucified and risen Messiah, then clearly it is impossible for a new human institution to come along and create new rules that will again divide that family.  God has created one badge of membership: faith.  To add to that badge, whether with the Jewish law or a new manmade one, is to offend against the same divine work.

I’m not the first person to notice that something like Wright’s perspective still causes problems for institutions such as the RCC in Luther’s day. Donald Garlington, in his book Studies in the New Perspective on Paul (pp. 14-15) speaks of the implications of his NPP, which is similar to Wright’s:

If I may build upon and extrapolate from Dunn’s remarks, the difference between my version of the NPP and Roman Catholicism revolves just around the relation of tradition to final judgment (justification) by works. If my perception is correct, then what is stake in the latter’s doctrine of judgment is not “good works” in the most generic terms, but a commitment to the Tridentine standards, including such articles of faith as papal infallibility, the mass, the sacraments, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and prayer to the saints. By contrast, the obedience of faith in Paul bypasses all forms of tradition, Jewish, Christian, or otherwise, and focuses fidelity solely and exclusively on Christ. The latter- day justification of the people of God hinges on union with Christ and the observance of all things that he has commanded the church (Matt 28:20), and nothing other than that. In short, what is required for a favorable verdict in the last day is allegiance to Jesus and his law (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). It is in this regard that the Reformers made a right application of Paul’s denial that justification is not by “works of the law.” That is to say, if justification is not by Jewish tradition, then it is not by church tradition either.

My way of putting the matter would be: insofar as the Roman Church conceived itself as having the power to determine who belonged in the community of God’s people, and who did not, based on its laws and canons in addition to the faith God requires, it was reproducing precisely the Judaizing heresy, though now without any possible claim to Mosaic sanction.

On How My Mind Has Changed

I used to spend a fair amount of energy defending libertarian positions on politics and economics on this blog. In the time that has passed since then, I have shifted my positions on a number of issues, but the conclusion is, I don’t regard myself as a libertarian in any sense anymore. In general, my political/economic views probably come most near to Philip Blond’s Red Toryism (or, insofar as it is another name for the same thing, Blue Labour). Since I have changed positions quite substantially, I feel I owe it to my readers to be explicit in my shift. (more…)

Bruce Winter On 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

I want to engage briefly with an argument regarding 1 Cor 7:17-24 Bruce Winter has put forward in Seek the Welfare of the City. In that text, Paul commends Christians to remain in the calling (Winter argues this should be translated “class”) they were in when they were converted. He then applies this to several specific cases: (1) removing circumcision; (2) becoming circumcised; (3) being released from slavery; and (4) becoming a slave.

Winter’s suggests that general reason Paul opposed changing classes in these cases was that the motive behind doing so was to increase social status. This would imply Paul did not approve of desiring increased social status.

To add a bit more detail to his case (see chapter 8 of the book, “Social Mobility”, for the full case) In the case of removing circumcision, being circumcised was often looked down on by Gentiles, and thus removing all traces of Jewish ancestry could indeed help one to be upwardly mobile. On the matter of becoming circumcised, Winter argues (more specifically in regard to Galatians 6:12, but says it applies here as well) that Gentile Christians could be tempted to do this in order to attain the status of religio licita, which would obviously be an improvement for someone who could not worship the emperor but had no legal exemption from doing so (the precarious position of many Gentile Christians). On being released from slavery, Winter emphasizes that this was a concession, and that Paul also that Christian slaves should not be anxious about their status. On becoming a slave, Winter notes that some forms of slavery available in the Roman empire could actually lead to improvements in status for some free people. He also notes that becoming a slave normally included an act of implicit idolatry, swearing by the genius of the paterfamilias. (more…)

Monergism, Kingdom Through Covenant, and Consistency

I have been a fan of Monergism.com since it first appeared on the internet, and have found it to be a tremendous resource for Reformed theology. I am extremely thankful for the work that John Hendryx has done for Christ’s kingdom through this website, and I am sure that many, many Reformed Christians are too.

That said, I am perplexed by an email that a friend sent to me this morning that he received from Monergism Books, where it was explained that their book distribution wing will not be selling the recent publication Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. The reason for this is that the book espouses “New Covenant Theology,” is in “serious theological error,” and is not Reformed.

Gentry and Wellum, both Calvinistic Baptists, teach at Southern Seminary. They are also Canadians from the Toronto area and teach at my alma mater, Toronto Baptist Seminary. I have had both as professors and can personally attest to the quality of their scholarship, their excellent teaching methods, their godliness–and indeed, their Reformed theology. But this is not the point of this blog post.

Rather, I would like to call John Hendryx and Monergism to consistency. Of course, they are free to distribute whatever literature they choose, and if they believe that Kingdom Through Covenant is not up to their standards of orthodoxy, so be it. But to boycott this book yet leave other like books and links on their site is an error that needs to be remedied. If NCT is indeed “significantly erroneous,” (the email never explains why) then it would behoove Hendryx and Monergism to remove any semblance of this error from their distribution.

They may want to start with Don Carson’s work (books, links). For those who know anything of the debate over NCT, Carson is a key exegetical course for this position. Especially his view of the law understood in Matthew that is expressed in a number of his books. After they remove Carson’s work from their distribution and website, Monergism needs to then turn to John Piper, who also holds to a view akin to NCT. His books and links are everywhere on Monergism’s sites. The list of such theologians tainted with NCT—who must be erroneous according to Monergism’s standards—is long and includes John MacArthur (a dispensationalist); Fred Zaspel; the New Studies in Biblical Studies series edited by Carson that includes Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster, whose ideas form a large part of the Gentry/Wellum argument; Tom Schreiner (books), who holds a similar view to Gentry/Wellum, especially his Pauline theology and NT theology and commentaries; Douglas Moo (books) who, along with Carson, is another key source for NCT; and ironically works by Stephen Wellum (links) and Peter Gentry (links) themselves.

It may be argued that while Monergism carries these authors, they do not carry books directly dealing with the subject of NCT—which, if you check the links above, you’ll see isn’t the case—this argument isn’t helpful. The folk at Monergism would surely believe that theology is interconnected, and that anyone who advocates NCT (or some form relating to it) will have their overall theology impacted by it. A NCT ethic colours their understanding of the kingdom—and Monergism has links to Wellum on the kingdom and even one by Gentry called “Kingdom Through Covenant“! Wouldn’t Schreiner’s commentary on Romans or Galatians have anything to say about the law? Thus, any article they link to or book they sell by someone like Carson will necessarily be tainted by some reading of NCT–thus, Monergism is by implication disseminating erroneous, “unbiblical” theology.

I write this from a Reformed Baptist perspective; meaning I hold to the ongoing validity of the moral law and the Sabbath. I also use traditional covenant theology, albeit from a Baptist perspective (expressed by the 1689 Confession), in my understanding of redemptive history; the one caveat is that I prefer John Murray’s “Adamic administration” instead of covenant of works. I also write as one who serves in a church with a pastor who is openly NCT, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. John is one of my best friends, and we’ll debate long into the night over the Sabbath, or covenant of grace, but I gladly sit under his preaching and teaching. I definitely do not consider him dangerous! I should also add that Peter Gentry’s course on the Old Testament at TBS actually served to confirm for me a number of points about covenant theology, in particular the covenant with Adam.

So, if Monergism is to be consistent, which they must be to be faithful to their aims of adhering to some narrow brand of Reformed theology, then they must deplete a significant part of their inventory. As we should all be aware, boycotts serve two purposes: They put those performing the boycott in a bad light; and they inevitably make the boycotted book or film more popular. While I do not wish the former on Monergism; I most definitely wish the latter on Kingdom Through Covenant.

***UPDATE*** You can read the email sent out by Monergism here.

A Meditation On Music

Apropos of nothing in particular, I want to consider the significance of music in the creation. Especially in the modern world of iPods, car radios, and high-tech stereos, music is ubiquitous. But I think even in previous days, it’s probably likely most or many people would at least whistle or hum a tune to pass the time. Music is a part of what it means to be human.

Daniel J. Levitin in his now famous This Is Your Brain On Music, expresses his belief in the idea that we are born with an innate capacity to learn any of the world’s musical languages (109). At the same time, he notes that “Just how this structure [in sound] leads us to experience emotional reactions is part of the mystery of music. After all, we don’t get all weepy eyed when we experience other kinds of structure in our lives, such as a balanced checkbook or the orderly arrangement of first-aid products in a drugstore (well, at least most of us don’t),” (109).

I don’t propose to have a certain answer to this question. Nor its related question: what is the purpose of music? Why do we live in a universe where music has this effect on us at all? But I may have some inkling of a suggestion. Firstly, Bono makes this comment in his meditation, Psalm Like it Hot: “Anyway, I stopped going to churches and got into a different kind of religion. Don’t laugh. That’s what being in a rock ‘n’ roll band is. Showbiz is shamanism, music is worship. Whether it’s worship of women or their designer, the world or its destroyer, whether it comes from that ancient place we call soul or simply the spinal cortex, whether the prayers are on fire with a dumb rage or dove-like desire, the smoke goes upwards, to God or something you replace God with — usually yourself.” Listening to music, and even moreso, being a part of a musical event with other people, often produces this numinous feeling. Consider the lyrics (and the reactions of the concertgoers) of this rendition of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”:

Bono is right to note that it can be directed at various different objects. But there is undeniably something about music that takes us out of the merely animal, either moving us in the direction of the angels, or that of the demons.

Secondly, John W. Kleinig has argued that 2 Chronicles 29:30b should be translated “So they sang praises until there was rejoicing, and bowed down and worshipped.” In other words, the Levitical musicians and the writers of scripture recognized that music had this incredible power that humanity has recognized since time immemorial. And they exploited this function of music to shift the minds of Israel towards God in his grace, and to direct them to worship. Now, there is nothing here that suggests the effects of music are the same thing as experiencing God, as some people, both ancient and modern, have suggested. But it leads me to wonder, at least, if one of the main reasons God has given us music is to prepare ourselves for his presence. In other words, and perhaps this is obvious, but is the primary purpose of music to raise our minds above the merely mundane, to open us to something outside of us? And perhaps it is because it has this purpose that it can have all kinds of other wonderful effects on us?

On Coming To Your Own Conclusions

I’m writing a paper on Molinism for a course I’m taking at Reformed Theological Seminary. For part of the paper, I’m researching how Molinism as a philosophical system interfaces with the Scriptural data on election. Typically, Molinists will view divine election as being primarily corporate as opposed to being individual. Daniel Wallace of Dallas Theological Seminary has an article critiquing the corporate view of election. I reference this not for the critique itself, but for the way Wallace introduces the debate. Wallace is interacting with a pastor friend of his who, no doubt, is less of a scholar and exegete than he is. Notice what Wallace says:

Preliminarily, I should address an antecedent issue. Although I will express my opinion, you of course have to come to your own conclusions. Having a good conscience about the text doesn’t require agreement with others; it requires being faithful to pursue truth at all costs to the best of your abilities. To be sure, you want to seek the counsel and input of various experts. But when the day is done, you have to stand before God and tell him how you see your views as in harmony with Holy Writ. In other words, I never want you to feel any kind of intimidation or pressure from me or anyone else about your handling of the text. I do of course want you to feel a great duty (as you always have) to the Lord in the handling of his word. At bottom, all of us have to give an account of ourselves to the Lord, and any human loyalties will have no standing before him.

Wise words.

Smith, Enns, Adam, and Paul

James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, and offers an excellent review of Peter Enns’ recent book The Evolution of Adam. Smith is also a senior fellow at The Colossian Forum, and the review appears on their website. There is so much good in what he writes that I am tempted to re-post the whole thing here. Instead I’ll leave you with its basic structure and a quote in the hopes that you’ll actually take the time to read the whole thing.

Before I do, I just want to make an unrelated observation. Smith references Robert Caro’s stunning biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, saying that Enns is right to say that the biblical writing is not a journalistic account of events, like said book by Caro. How cool would it be for an historian like Caro to have such cultural ubiquity attached to your work? Would he have ever have thought that a massive, multi-volume biography of an American President would become so cool? That’s the historian in me longing for something I’ll never have…but I digress.

Here’s the structure:

First, Smith deals with questions of authorship and the relationship between Genesis, Paul’s interpretation of it, and the divine Author. Second, he deals with the canonical role that Genesis plays in the church’s scripture—whose Genesis is it anyway? Third, Smith briefly tackles the age-old problem of the relationship between theology and history. He concludes by looking at what’s at stake in Enns’ approach to Scripture in terms of method, and more specifically human origins.

Here’s a quote that I found relevant to some of my own ways of thinking:

This sort of a-canonical approach also explains why Enns sees such a strange relationship between Genesis and the apostle Paul as a reader of Genesis.  “Paul’s reading of Genesis,” he comments, “is driven by factors external to Genesis.  Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting” (87, emphasis added).  Well, that might be true; and Enns is exactly right to offer a corrective to irresponsibile habits of Bible reading that are little more than baptized eisegesis, reading into the Scriptures what we want to find there.  But is the “original meaning” the determinative factor for the meaning of Genesis for us?  We receive a canon of Scripture that recontextualizes each book—situating every book in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is why the “location” from which we read the Bible needs to be the practices of Christian worship.  Worship is the primary “home” of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. That will certainly generate meanings of Old Testament books that could never have been intended by their human authors; but that doesn’t mean they were not intended as meanings to be unfolded “in front of the text” by the divine Author.

***UPDATE*** I see from Justin Taylor’s blog that Jack Collins also has a review of this. I haven’t read it yet, but thought I’d link it as Collins is typically a fair, balanced, and informative scholar; especially on the historicity of Adam (see his book on the subject). Here’s the review.

***ANOTHER UPDATE*** Bill Kinnon tipped me off in the comments section to a review of Smith’s review by J. Daniel Kirk. Smith interacts with Kirk in the comments section, and Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs also shares come critique of Kirk. Check it out here.

The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity

Jeremy F. Hultin’s The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment is definitely worthy of the adjective “interesting”, if nothing else. Rather than write a review proper, I want to point out a few noteworthy facts he brings to light, and engage a little bit with his interpretation of Ephesians and Colossians.

Some notes:

1. He notes that the Old Testament itself is basically silent on the ethics of obscene speech. This is not to say that it approved of it, but just that it makes no explicit comment about it. (113-4; 121)

2. At the same time, the OT on the whole is euphemistic. (114) If nothing else, this reflects that the Bible writers would, on the whole, think that obscene language was, well, obscene, and should be avoided.

3. But in addition, Hultin notes that the Talmud in several cases said that certain biblical words should be substituted with more polite terms. (115) In a parallel way, rabbinic literature in some cases suggested replacing statements that were inauspicious: so curses of Israel would be read instead as curses of the enemies of Israel. (116)

4. In keeping with this general sentiment, rabbinic literature often used euphemistic terms. (117)

5. There are, however, exceptions made. Some rabbis said that foul language could be employed towards idols (b. Megillah 25b; 117-118). Some rabbis also suggested that nasty expressions could be used against idolaters and persons of ill fame. (118) (more…)