Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Death of Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock passed away this past Sunday, August 15, 2010.  While Pinnock was certainly better known in his later days for his involvement with the Open Theism movement (see this post from the White Horse Inn) early on he was known for his tough defense of an orthodox doctrine of Scripture.  Russell Moore and Justin Taylor have more.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

First Sermon Preached

It's been a long time since I've gotten around to posting something on here so I realized I should do something.  I preached my first sermon on August 1 at Christ Community Church in Germantown, MD.  The audio file was just loaded to the website.  The text is below and the audio is available here.

We have a theologian in our circles name Michael Horton. Some of you may have heard him or heard of him as the chief host of the radio broadcast The White Horse Inn or as the editor of Modern Reformation magazine. A few years ago he wrote a book called Putting Amazing Back into Grace. At the beginning of the book he sort of gives a bit of his testimony and talks about how though he was raised in a good Christian home as he got into high school the Christianity that he was exposed became focused on good works and law-keeping for salvation:

Reared in a solid Christian home, with the nurture of daily devotions and the simple piety of believing parents, I was offered the warm, supportive, meaningful environment of evangelical Christianity. But during my teenage years, the same clich├ęs, slogans, and experiences that had provided a sense of being “in” and of belonging to a group began to appear shallow and trite . . . . The rules I had never questioned began to choke me. My Christian schools became prisons. In the seventh grade, I had a Bible instructor who took particular delight in [listing] the things for which we could be [condemned]. If, for instance, we were to die with an unconfessed sin, we could be eternally lost. The implications haunted me, and I could not understand why my schoolmates were relatively calm, especially since the level of actual law-keeping was so unimpressive among them, too. I was worried: What if I really messed up some Saturday night and Jesus came back before I could walk down the aisle again on Sunday? What if I couldn’t remember a particular sin in order to confess it? There were so many ways I could lose my soul! [Michael S. Horton, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel, Grand Rapids, Baker, 2002, 20.]

Do you see how much Mike Horton’s Christianity during this period became focused on law-keeping? Christianity was really about a list of things you were supposed to do and things you were supposed to avoid. It even stripped the gospel of grace. Grace wasn’t about being just before God because of what Christ has done for us but instead it was about you doing your work to confess sins. Fortunately he wasn’t stuck there and God was good to Dr. Horton and as Mike was reading through Paul’s letter to the church in Rome he really understood 4:5, 7-8, “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. . . . Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

Brothers and sisters, I think we all sometimes struggle with these same things, knowing and feeling that we are guilty and condemned sinners and wondering how it is that we could be made right with a holy and just God. This morning we want to see how it is that we come to be just before God and then how that affects the way that we live and view ourselves before him. Let’s pray.

But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin?  Certainly not!  For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:17-21)

As we examine this passage, we can see that Paul’s main point is that the law can only bring death and so righteousness must be found in Christ and then also that as we die to the law in Christ it changes the way that we live for God. We want to unpack this passage and then see how does it apply to where we are, using our marriages and relationships as a particular example.

Justification is theologically the way we describe how we are made right with God. It specifically asks how it is that God, as the perfect Judge, can declare to be just and righteous rather than condemn us as guilty sinners. It is an immensely important question. The Protestant Reformation was partly focused on turning from a Roman doctrine of justification by works to the biblical one of justification by faith in Christ Jesus. Martin Luther went so far as to say that “if the doctrine of justification is lost then the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.”

This question is even more important to individual questions as it deals with finding out how we poor and miserable sinners can be made right with God. How can a holy and just God accept an unrighteous person like me?

Some have tried to answer this question by saying that we need to do good works. We need to obey the law. But this isn’t Paul’s answer. Instead Paul says that through the law we have died to the law. What he means here is that the law only has the power to set forth a perfect and absolute standard and then, because none of us can meet that perfect standard, to declare us guilty of being sinners and to give us the sentence of death. Think of the rich young man who comes to Jesus and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” The young man says, “I have kept all of these from my youth.” Mark tells us that Jesus looked at this young man, loved him, and said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Then Mark tells us that the young man went away sad because he had great wealth (Mark 10:17-22). You see what Jesus was showing him is that this young man thought he obeyed the law because he never killed anyone, because he did not have sex outside of marriage, because he didn’t steal or lie or dishonor his parents. Yet Jesus shows him that while he thought he obeyed the whole law he didn’t even keep the first commandment because he loved his money more than God. This is what the law does. James says that even if we keep the whole law and yet stumble in a single point we are guilty of violating all of it (James 2:10). The law demands perfection.

We can see this at work in the laws that we make up in different parts of our lives. My wife can tell you that I’m a very demanding driver when it comes to other people. I can’t stand it when someone hits their brakes for no apparent reason or doesn’t bother to use their turn signal. One of my real pet peeves is when I’m going into the parking garage at Metro and someone with a group of cars behind them decides that they need to back into a space and takes several tries to do so. Some things like that are laws that I have for driving that even go beyond the state laws. As far as other people go I like to think that my laws should be enforced perfectly. When someone is driving ten miles under the speed limit I start to go, “Where’s a cop when you need one?” And once someone breaks one of my laws I dismiss them as an awful driver.

We make these kinds of laws in other ways too. Maybe we expect our spouse to have dinner ready and on the table at a certain time. Maybe we expect the children to be quiet for a half hour when we get home from work to let us transition into home life. Perhaps we expect our friends to return phone calls within two hours or something like that. When these laws get broken we keep a tally of peoples’ violations. If our own little personal laws are so rigid how can we expect anything different from the perfect law of God?

Because the law cannot save we need a righteousness that comes from God and is apart from the law. Paul says that life apart from the law which kills is found in our union with Christ. According to Scripture, there were four things that were nailed to the cross. The first is of course Jesus himself. The second was a sign that Pilate had his soldiers nail to the cross that read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” The third was the debt of our sin. Paul writes to the Colossians that “you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Col. 2:13-14) Here in Paul’s letter to the Galatians we see that the fourth thing that was nailed to the cross was you, if you are a follower of Christ.

What Paul refers to here is what we call theologically union with Christ. John Murray calls union with Christ the “central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. Over and over again the New Testament talks about believers as being in Christ. Martin Luther described it as Christ and the believer being so tightly cemented together so as they are one person who cannot be separated but remains attached forever. This union is so important for Christianity because once you are united to Christ everything that he has accomplished is credited to you. So the Bible speaks of our dying to sin in Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3), of our being buried in him (Rom. 6:4), and our being raised to new like in Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 6:4). When the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ by faith God applies the events of Christ’s life to our life history so that they are effective for our salvation.

So Paul writes our obituaries into this passage. If you are a follower of Christ you have died to the law as you were crucified with Christ. This is what Michael Horton discovered when he was reading Romans. God provides us with the righteousness that we need to be right with him. He gives it to us entirely apart from our effort and trying. This deals with the guilt of our sin. Christians do sin after they are saved but when you do give in to temptation you can put away those feelings of guilt because you know that since you are righteous in Christ you are justified before God and not condemned. He paid for your sin and gave you his righteousness.

Well how does knowing that we’re not justified by our own good works but by faith affect us. I think one way is that by giving us a way to deal with our guilt before God it allows us to deal with our guilt before others. When I’m focused on measuring my worth and standing by my own good deeds then I’m far less willing to see how my sins and failings affect others. When I forget to do things around the house I don’t want to deal with the sin of my forgetfulness and how it affects Andrea because it becomes a guilt that condemns me. Instead I want to do everything I can to try to avoid that. But if I’m really convinced of the gospel and that I’m right with God despite my sins by faith in Christ then I can honestly deal with Andrea and I can apologize when I mess up and ask for her forgiveness because I know I’m already forgiven for that sin in Christ. Do you see how that comfort bleeds over from having a right vertical relationship with God into our horizontal relationships with others?

Paul does not stop with our obituaries but he goes on to describe our new life in Christ. He says that we now live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. We now live for God. Before when we kept the law it wasn’t really because we wanted to please God but because we wanted something from him. Once we have the peace of conscience that comes from being justified in Christ we can obey God in the freedom of knowing that he sees the good things we do out of our faith in Christ and is pleased with us. One day we will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matt. 25:21)

I had a professor in seminary, Steve Brown, who some of you may have heard of as the founder and director of Key Life Ministries. He taught a course on the Christian life though it always seemed to me like all of seminary was really about that. One of the things that he said on the first day of class was that everyone in that room had one secret in their lives, something related to sin, that they never wanted anyone else to find out about. It’s something that they’re so ashamed of that they would rather die than have everyone else in the room know what it was. I’m sure that’s probably true for everyone here too. For a lot of men in our culture that secret is some sort of an addiction to porn. A lot of studies have shown that pornography truly hijacks the male mind and enslaves it with images and fantasies even among those who are in some ways disgusted by it or ashamed of what they’ve seen and thought. Maybe it’s something else for you. But Professor Brown went on to say that dealing with that sin would be a huge battle, privately or with the encouragement of a few close Christian friends, for a long time. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to completely overcome that sin and fight that temptation every time you encounter it. And God will be pleased if you do. But the wonder of a gospel that proclaims righteousness by faith in Christ is that Jesus, who loved you and gave himself for you, will not love you anymore when you overcome that sin than he does right now. And maybe you’ll spend the rest of your life struggling with that sin. You may have times when you’re able to overcome the temptation and times when you give in. God will be pleased when you do overcome it and he is a good Father in heaven who will be pleased in all the other good works you do that he created for you to walk in. But even if you never get any better at overcoming that sin than you are right now, Jesus still loves you and gave himself for you and your struggle with that temptation will not ever make him love you any less. That’s the gospel of being crucified and living in Christ that Paul preaches here.

Well, what does this look like on the ground? One of the really ancient pastors in the church, Tertullian, who lived in the fourth century, said that just like there were two thieves crucified with Christ there are also two thieves who try to rob us of our joy in the gospel. These two thieves are law-keeping and law-breaking. Law-keeping tells us that we still have to be acceptable to God through our own good works. There are tons of rules that have to be kept. It leads to either self-hatred because we can’t keep the rules or self-congratulations because we feel like we have. Law-keeping can look deeply religious but it lacks any real joy. In our marriages law-keeping turns the relationship into a blame game. When we try to have a good marriage through law-keeping we become deeply sensitive to any criticism and our natural response is to fight back. We have an inner lawyer who start marshalling facts and wrongs to give the counter-argument rather than deal honestly with our sin. Often when Andrea is upset because I forgot to take out the trash my immediate response is to start thinking of things she’s forgotten to do. That’s law keeping in marriage.

One the other hand law-breaking is not so much intentionally violating every one of the ten commandments as it is an approach that looks for what is right and wrong for each person. Law breakers are not convinced that God punishes sin. They like to talk and think about God’s love but because they don’t think of themselves as sinners, God’s love doesn’t cost him anything. Think about what this looks like in marriage. The law breaker reduces love to just something that’s around to benefit both spouses. Love is not sacrificing for your spouse. It is selfishly getting what you want out of the marriage. When I’m acting like a law breaker in marriage it means that I am not taking Andrea seriously as someone created in the image of God, fallen and sinful, but also redeemed by Jesus Christ. I don’t deal seriously with either her sin or with mine to confront her as a tool that God uses to help her grow or to confess and repent when she confronts me. I try to avoid talking about sensitive or serious things like sin because it’s not something that makes me happy in the short-term. That’s law breaking in marriage.

Do you see how the gospel protects us from both? To the law keeper Paul says, “You are crucified with Christ. You have died to the dominion of the law.” To the law breaker he says, “But the life that you now live is for God by faith in Jesus who loved you and gave himself for you.” The law keeper needs to hear that God forgives. The law breaker needs to hear that forgiveness has a price. In our marriages this leads to a real love that forgives and sacrifices as Christ lives in us. When Andrea does something to wrong me it means that rather than go and add it to the list of things that she owes me I remember that I’m a sinner too and that my offenses against God are infinitely worse than anything she could ever do to me. So I forgive those things because I have been forgiven of so much. At the same time when I have wronged her or when something is going on and even though you love your spouse you just have one of those moments where you really don’t like them very much you stay committed to that covenant relationship of husband and wife. You sacrifice the momentary feeling for the commitment of love because you know that Jesus loved you and died for you even while you were his enemy, sinfully rebelling against him. The gospel really changes the focus of our Christian life in every relationship and situation because it reminds us that instead of an angry Judge we have a gracious heavenly Father who is willing and ready to forgive our sins and so we can confidently live by faith in the Son of God.

Roger Nicole was a theologian who liked to give an illustration of this love of God that we find in the gospel. He said:

If your house was burning down but your whole family escaped and I came to you and said, ‘Let me show you how much I love you!’ and then I ran into the fiery house and died, you would say, ‘What an idiot!’ But if one of your children was still in the house, and I said, ‘Let me show you how much I love you!’ and ran into the house and saved your child but died myself, you would say, ‘Behold, how he loved us!’ Now if you can save yourself by works, Jesus’ death is not love, it is pure stupidity. If, however, you are lost and dying and unable to save yourself, his death means everything.
This is how much Jesus loves you even though you are a sinner. And God knows that we are weak and we sometimes forget that he showed his love for us in the cross. Because of that he gives us communion. As we eat the bread and drink the wine we remember that Christ’s body was broken and his blood was spilled out on the cross and that the only way that we are made right with God is to put our faith in Jesus and be united to him by the Holy Spirit. So before we eat this meal and remember how much Jesus loves us let’s pray.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Free course on Islam and more from GA

The Biblical Training website is offering Dr. Timothy Tennent's (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) course lectures on Islam for free.  This is a good way to understand what Muslims believe (including looking at some of the diversity of modern Islam) and prepare for conversations with Islamic friends.

Here are the rest of the updates on what is being done at the PCA General Assembly from the Aquila Report.

Thursday AM Report
Thursday PM Report
Friday Report

Thursday, July 1, 2010

News from the 38th PCA General Assembly

The Aquila Report is giving updates of what is happening at the 38th PCA General Assembly in Nashville.  Here are the links to the reports from the first two days:

Dr. Harry Reeder elected as Moderator
The PCA Overtures Committee at work
Wednesday actions of the General Assembly

Keep those God has called to lead and shepherd the churches in your prayers this week.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some thoughts on the age of the earth

The 2010 Ligonier National Conference just recently wrapped up and Ligonier Ministries has helpfully posted summaries of the different sessions (links provided below). Al Mohler gave a talk titled, “Why Does the Universe Look So Old?” In it he surveyed four major Christian views on the age of the earth: the 24-hour calendar day theory, the day-age theory, the framework theory, and the literary theory.


Mohler concludes that the literary theory ultimately rejects inerrancy and ought not to be accepted. He also argues that the framework theory does not properly take the sequential nature of Genesis 1:1-2:3 into account and also ought to be discarded. Mohler also discards the day-age view because he does not think it can account for the exegetical and theological issues related to the historicity of Adam and the Fall. This leads Mohler to take a 24-hour calendar day theory because of the exegetical and theological issues at stake in this debate.


This has been a heated topic in Christian circles for many years. I recently attended a conference on science and faith where during one panel several of the scientists and theologians involved confessed that a large part their time was usually spent answering questions about the age of the earth and those discussions almost always became confrontational. Views on creation have led to Old Testament Professors leaving both Westminster Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary in recent years.


A few years ago the PCA General Assembly commissioned a committee to study this issue and report back. This report was later adopted by the PCA as a guideline that Presbyteries may use if they wished for evaluating candidates for ordination. The committee looked at the following positions:
  1. Calendar-Day – Argues that “day” in Genesis 1:1-2:3 refers to six literal 24-hour calendar days. 
  2. Day-Age – “Day” refers to a period of indefinite time and the focus of the passage is on God’s creative activity but not a literal description of the time that creation took. 
  3. Framework – Notes that there is a correlation between the spheres of nature created on days 1-3 and the inhabitants in days 4-6 (for example, seas on day 2 and the fish on day 5) and so this is a literary tool that Moses used to teach Israel about the Creator and to give them the divine pattern for work and rest but “day” is figurative in the passage. 
  4. Analogical Days – Argues that the “days” are God’s work days and these are analogous but not identical to our calendar days so they refer to consecutive divine activity but not to a definite period of time. 
  5. Other interpretations – The biggest one included here is theistic evolution.

The study committee concluded that all of the four major views could be harmonized with Scripture without compromising the essentials of our faith (notably theistic evolution is excluded here). They held that ministers must believe the following truths in order to be orthodox:
  1. that Scripture is in the inerrant Word of God and is self-interpreting;
  2. that Genesis 1-3 are fully historical;
  3. that Adam and Eve were uniquely created as the first parents of the human race;
  4. that Adam was the covenant head of the human race;
  5. that the curse and resultant discord in the universe is a result of Adam’s first sin;
  6. that the incomprehensible God has clearly revealed himself in nature;
  7. and, that he revealed exactly what he intended.
I think that the above points are an excellent summary of an orthodox view of creation regardless of what position an individual takes on the age of the earth. I would highly recommend that everyone read the whole report because it is well written and covers these views pretty nicely.

Personally, while wanting to insist that we be careful not to major on the minors on debates within Christian circles, I take the calendar day position for epistemological reasons. Our fundamental premise is that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. So divine authority and corresponding revelation is our first presupposition in every area of human activity. I think the reason that this issue in particular becomes so controversial and difficult is because it seems to us that general revelation (the apparent age of the universe) and special revelation (that the universe was created in a week) seem to conflict with each other. I’ve had several good exchanges on this topic with a seminary friend of mine who takes a position somewhere between framework and analogical day. At one point he made the observation, “Natural and special revelation speak with one voice. YEC’s [young earth creationists] tend to suppress natural for special and OEC’s [old earth creationists] tend to suppress special for natural.”

This is a very helpful point even though he was intentionally making a generalization. The most important statement is that natural revelation and special revelation speak with one voice. Our God is not double-minded; saying one thing through the things that he has made and another in his inscripturated Word (see Psalm 19). Those who hold to a calendar-day view do tend to focus on God’s infallible and inerrant revelation in Scripture and so take the position that whenever there is an apparent (though not real) conflict between special and natural revelation that it means special revelation must carry the day. While this is certainly an understandable assumption these same arguments were used against Galileo when he dared to argue against a geocentric model for the universe. So we need to be careful in recognizing that while Scripture is infallible and inerrant our interpretations are not.

OEC’s do tend to elevate natural revelation above special revelation by taking the conclusions from scientific (and/or literary) observation and using them as hermeneutical tools for interpreting Genesis 1-3. Rightly this observes that, while Scripture has much to say that applies to scientific endeavors, the Bible is not a science textbook and Genesis 1-3 is not intended to be an exact scientific description of God’s creative activity. The sad consequence here has been that the edge between trying to harmonize what God reveals in nature and Scripture and falling into doubting or rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture can be very thin and we’ve seen a number of Old Testament scholars in Reformed circles who have crossed that line in recent years.

Ultimately I think what we need to do is take into account the presuppositions that scientists are forced to work with when we evaluate their conclusions. Science cannot speak to history but only to the present and probabilities for the future. When a scientist concludes that the universe appears to be millions or even billions of years old we have to recognize that they make that conclusion upon the assumption that the things have been relatively constant for that whole period. Yet this is an unfounded and unprovable assumption (if nothing else the flood alone is a disruption to the constant order of the universe or the points in the Old Testament where God caused the sun to hold still or go backwards). This is simply the oft-repeated objection that science cannot prove the past and ultimately we should doubt what science tries to tell us about history. Speaking to what happened in the past goes far beyond the bounds of the scientific endeavor.

Where I believe this leaves us is searching for a reliable account of how the world came to be. The only place we can find this is in Scripture as God is necessarily the only witness to creation. This means that our interpretation of the age of the earth needs to be an exegetical exercise. The burden of proof is upon OEC’s to show, not that Genesis 1-3 allows for a creation period of longer than a calendar week, but that it requires a creation period of longer than a calendar week. This is why our epistemological standpoint is so important on this issue. It is not that we doubt God’s revelation in nature but we have to recognize our own limitations in interpreting nature scientifically. I’m perfectly willing to grant that Genesis 1-3 may allow for the earth to be millions or billions of years old. However I don’t see anything in Genesis 1-3 that forces that conclusion and the only reason I can see to make it is on the basis of scientific observation about the age of the universe, which we have already shown to be unreliable.

For this reason I think it best to accept the natural reading of “day” in this passage. Now insisting upon this point does not make us, as one Old Testament scholar suggested in a moment of weakness, cultish in refusing to deal honestly with scientific inquiry. It is not that we hold to special revelation and then shut out eyes and plug our ears when faced with the appearance of age from natural revelation. Instead we ought to question the unbelieving presuppositions that are brought to the scientific endeavor and used to reach conclusions about the age of the universe apart from Scripture. This is an opening for the gospel, in testifying to the coherence of special revelation and natural revelation and in insisting that God’s revelation as a whole is only properly understood when we have a mindset and worldview that bows to his authority as the Creator and Lord.

Other seminars from the 2010 Ligonier Conference:
Ed Stetzer - "The Brave New World of New Media"
Burk Parsons - "Taking Captive New Media for the Church"
Al Mohler - "The Hyper-Socialized Generation"
John MacArthur - "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?"
Michael Horton - "Is the Doctrine of Inerrancy Defensible?"
John MacArthur - "Does the Doctrine of the Divine Decrees Eliminate Human Will?"
R.C. Sproul - "What is Evil and What is its Origin?"
R.C. Sproul Jr. - "Why Do Christians Still Sin?"
Derek Thomas - "How Do We Know Which Interpretation Is Right?"
Steven Lawson - "Is the Bible Just Another Book?"
Alistair Begg - "Is the Exclusivity of Christ Unjust?"
Q&A Session
Burk Parsons - "Is Calvinism Good for the Church?"
Derek Thomas - "If God is Good How Could He Command Holy War?"
R.C. Sproul - "Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?"


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The High Treason of Sin

Here's a great post from Shane Lems on how despicable our sin really is before God.  Check it out.  And be grateful that "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost."  Given that sin is so treacherous it's marvelous that we can confess with believers everywhere the first answer from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Some summer book news

With training the last few weeks it's been a while since I've been able to post anything here but I thought I'd send out a quick note with some recommended reading for summer vacations.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ligonier Specials

Ligonier is now offering a new weekly special called "$5 Fridays."  Here is a link to this week's specials.  There's some good stuff available.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Turretin on the Reformation

Here's a great quote from Francis Turretin about the entire point of the Reformation (HT: Shane Lems):

Our religion is that which is wholly occupied with knowing the one and triune God, the Creator, preserver and Redeemer, and rightly worshipping him according to his command. It gives the entire glory of our salvation to God alone and writes against man alone the true cause of his sin and destruction.”

It is our religion which recognizes no other rule of faith and practice besides the sacred Scriptures; no other Mediator and head of the church than Christ; no other propitiatory sacrifice than his death, no other purgatory than his blood; no other merit than his obedience; no other intercession than his prayers.

It is our religion which depresses man as much as possible by taking away from him all presumption of his own strength and merits; and rises him to the highest point by preaching that the grace and mercy of God is the only cause of salvation, both as to acquisition and as to application.

It is our religion which brings solid peace and consolation to the soul of the believer in life and in death by the true confidence which it orders him to place, not in the uncertainty and vanity of his own righteousness or human satisfactions, but in the sole mercy of God and most perfect righteousness of Christ, which, applied to the heart by faith, takes away doubt and distrust and ingenerates a vivid persuasion of salvation after this life.
Institutes of Elenctic Theology III:139

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Themelios now available

The new edition of the Themelios Journal (edited by D.A. Carson) is now available online.  The article by Carson is particularly good and, as always, there are lots of book reviews.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bruce Waltke's Resignation from RTS

There has been a lot of stuff on the internet, and even in USA Today, about Bruce Waltke's recent resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary, where he taught the Winter and Spring semesters in Orlando.  There has been a lot of speculation that the Seminary forced Waltke to retire.  I thought it would be worthwhile to share links to a few accurate stories about what happened.  RTS is stating that this coverage from the Aquila Report is an accurate representation of what happened.  Justin Taylor also shares a letter that Dr. Waltke posted on Facebook and an announcement from RTS Chancellor Ric Cannada about the separation.  From the accounts of those personally familiar with the situation it sounds like this was a peaceful agreement and not the harsh exchange reported by Inside Higher Ed or USA Today.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Some quick book news

Reformation Heritage Books is offering Daniel Hyde's Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims for just $7.50 for this week only.  I haven't read this one but it looks to be a good book that covers both what Reformed churches believe but also why they have the practices that they do.  Sean Michael Lucas' On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories is my favorite book in this category but Pastor Hyde has written some other excellent things and I'm sure this will be worthwhile.

Also, the Meet the Puritans blog has made a study guide available for John Owen's Communion with God.  This would be a great book to work through for anyone who finished Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion last year.  The guide is free as a .pdf here.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday - The Resurrection and Union with Christ

Paul often speaks of Christ's resurrection in terms of its benefits for believers.  Specifically, what happens to Christ, in his human nature, is applied to Christ's people as they are in Spirit-wrought union with him by faith.  Paul describes Christ's resurrection as his justification, sanctification, and adoption.  First justification:

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)
The word here for vindicated is the same word as justification.  So we have to ask what it means for Christ to have been justified by the Spirit.  Now we know that Jesus was not sinful and so he never needed salvation as we do.  Yet we also know that he bore our sins in his body in his death.  So in his death he suffered the penalty for our sins even though he did not have any sin of his own.  In his resurrection by the Spirit, the Father declares that he accepts Jesus as righteous. In other words it is the sign that the Father accepts the obedience of the Son on behalf of his people and declares him to be righteous.  So as Jesus was truly condemned in his death because he bore our sins he is also truly justified in his resurrection as he is our righteousness.

Also the Bible is clear that Christ’s resurrection has to do with his sanctification.

We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom. 6:9-10)
So in Christ’s death he came under the power of sin because death is the consequence of sin (although this never ever means that Jesus became a sinner).  In his resurrection Jesus is delivered from this power and dominion.  So this is a reference to the definitive aspect of sanctification where the power of sin is broken and removed.  So the power of sin in our mortal bodies is destroyed in Christ’s resurrection as we are raised with him to new life in the Spirit.

Finally, Christ’s resurrection points to his adoption.

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3-4)
Again, this is a declaration of what happened regarding Christ in history.  He was descended from David according to the flesh.  But according to his resurrection he was declared to be powerful Son of God.  As the Second Person of the Trinity he was Son of God from all eternity.  However in his human nature he was descended from David as we see in the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 4.  Here Paul refers to an economic reality about Christ.  As the eternal divine Second Person of the Trinity he was always Son of God even in his humiliation but now in his human nature and body he was declared to be Son of God in his glorification and resurrection.
Lane Tipton writes, "To be in Christ is to be in the one who has become for believers the crucified and resurrected embodiment of all saving benefits.  Therefore, there are no benefits of the gospel apart from union with Christ." (Lane G. Tipton, "Union with Christ and Justification," in Justified in Christ: God's Plan for Us in Justification, ed. by K. Scott Oliphint, Geanies House: Mentor, 2007, 23-49).  All of this is again to show that all the aspects of Christ's work (his atoning death, resurrection, ascension, and sending the Spirit at Pentecost) are inseparable and are completely effective for the salvation of his people.  The eternal Son of God takes to himself a human body and soul and suffers for our sins in our place and he rises from the dead in our place too.  If we are in Christ then in him we died to the penalty and power of sin and in him we are raised to righteousness and new life and are declared to be children of God.  Easter is a wonderful time of year to meditate on our justification, sanctification, and adoption in Christ and to praise God that even while we were dead in our trespasses in sin God made us alive in Christ for it is by grace that we have been saved (Eph. 2:4-6).  As Calvin wrote:
We see that our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ.  We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.  If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is “of him.”  If we seek any other gifts of the Spirit, they will be found in his anointing.  If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth. . . .  If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross; if satisfaction, in his sacrifice; if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection; if immortality, in the same; if inheritance of the Heavenly Kingdom, in his entrance into heaven; if protection, if security, if abundant supply of all blessings, in his Kingdom; if untroubled expectation of judgment, in the power given to him to judge.  In short, since rich store of every kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain and from no other. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.19)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement 6



All of this serves to remind us that Good Friday is not a time to meditate on what we ought to do but rather upon what Christ did to save us.  J. Gresham Machen once wrote:
What good does it do me to tell me that the type of religion presented in the Bible is a very fine type of religion and that the thing for me to do is to just start practicing that type of religion now? I will tell you, my friend. It does not one tiniest bit of good! What I need first of all is not exhortation but a gospel, nor directions for saving myself, but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news for me? That is the question I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you tell me the facts?
Christianity is not a religion about what we have to do but rather the proclamation of what has already been done.  The very word "gospel" means "good news."  The gospel is all about how sinners are made righteous before God and Good Friday is a time to remember that Christ's atonement means the salvation of sinners.

Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement 5



The atonement as sacrifice deals with the guilt of our sin, the atonement as propitiation deals with our unrighteousness, the atonement as reconciliation deals with God’s alienation from us, and the atonement as redemption deals with our bondage to sin.  Christ’s work as a whole means total salvation of the whole person from the penalty and power of sin.  Here we will focus on how the atonement redeems us from the curse of the law and from the power of sin.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:10-14)
Now it is important for us to clarify here that we are not redeemed from the law.  That would be to say that we are redeemed from not having any God’s before the one true God of the covenant or to say we were redeemed from the requirement to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor.  This would obviously be nonsense.  Instead the Bible does say that we are redeemed from the curse of the law. The curse of the law is its penal sanction for those who disobey it.  Because of our disobedience to God’s law we are under a curse and must be redeemed from that curse.  Christ has redeemed us by becoming a curse for us in hanging on the tree.  He paid the penal sanction that we owed.
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

In this passage we can see that we are redeemed from the guilt of sin.  Paul has finished his universal case against humanity in showing that we are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory.  So we are all under God’s wrath.  After this Paul proclaims that now we who believe in Jesus are justified and redeemed so that the guilt of our sins is paid for by the blood of Christ.  So there is no guilt for those who are in Christ and God is just in justifying us in him.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:11-14)
Here we see that redemption from the power of sin does not just mean its guilt but also its controlling influence.  Christ gave himself so that we might be redeemed from all lawlessness and might be purified and zealous for good works.  The grace of God in Christ’s atoning work is not a grace that takes place in a vacuum but is instead a grace that is tied to teaching us to renounce all ungodliness and worldly passions and to live in a manner that is please to God.  So redemption is not in anyway limited to penal sanctions or to guilt but is closely related to holiness and presenting us before God as actually redeemed from sin’s power. 

All of this emphasizes the point made above, salvation in Christ is the perfect salvation of our whole person.  It saves us from the penalty of sin (sacrifice).  It saves us from our own unrighteousness (propitiation).  It saves us from God's alienation from sinners (reconciliation).  It saves us from the curse, guilt, and power of sin (redemption).


Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement 4



The atonement as sacrifice presupposes the guilt of sin and shows how the atonement provides for the payment of the penalty that the legal guilt demands.  The atonement as propitiation presupposes that we are legally unrighteous in the sight of God and shows how the atonement provides a covering so that God sees us as legally righteous before him.  The atonement as reconciliation presupposes that we are legally alienated from God and shows how the atonement makes it possible for us to drawnear to God.  What we have in mind here is not our enmity towards God but rather God’s alienation from us.  So it is appropriate to say that we are reconciled to God and not that God is reconciled to us.  God is the wronged party in the relationship.  So the action of reconciliation is the removal of God’s ground of alienation from us and the result of reconciliation is that our relationship with God is again harmonious and peaceful.  We will look at two passages on this.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:8-11)
Paul does not have subjective human feelings, in the sense of our feeling alienated from God, in sight here but the divine attitude toward us because of the work of Christ.  So first we see that Paul’s focus is on what was accomplished once-for-all in history by the work of Christ.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  We were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.  Along with this idea of reconciliation we see that Paul also says that we were justified by his blood.  We know that justification is a forensic and legal declaration of our standing before God.  Therefore we can say that reconciliation has a similar forensic force in declaring that God’s grounds for alienation from us have been removed.  So now we rejoice that we do not suffer alienation from God any longer but instead enjoy his favor and blessings upon us as we are in right relationship with him.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)
Here we can make several observations.  (1) We see that as God was reconciling us and the world to himself in and through Christ that this reconciliation is not our work but is the monergistic (one worker) activity of God.  He alone accomplishes the reconciliation in Christ.  (2) This is a completed work of God.  There is no further work of reconciliation that needs to be done.  In Christ God has accomplished his work of reconciliation.  It is finished and applied to each believer at the very beginning of their Christian life.  (3) Again we see that this reconciliation is forensic.  It is done as our sins are not counted against us but against Christ and that in turn his righteous is counted to us.  So the reconciliation is a legal declaration that the grounds for God’s alienation from us have been removed and that in Christ we now stand righteous before a just and holy God.  (4) This message of reconciliation is now the Gospel message that is proclaimed.  Murray writes:
The accomplished work of reconciliation is the message committed to the messengers of the gospel (ver. 19).  It constitutes the content of the message.  But the message is that which is declared to be a fact.  Conversion, it ought to be remembered, is not the gospel.  It is the demand of the gospel message and the proper response to it.  Any transformation which occurs in us is the effect in us of that which is proclaimed to have been accomplished by God.  The change in our hearts and minds presupposes the reconciliation. (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 41).

Therefore when we make an evangelistic plea for people to be reconciled to God we are not asking them to do something to accomplish that reconciliation.  We ask to claim by faith was Christ has already done to reconcile them and trust that the Holy Spirit works through that faith to apply the salvation that Christ accomplished to them.  The only grounds for proclaiming that sinners can be saved by God's grace through faith in Christ is the fact that Christ has accomplished salvation and made it available to as many as believe him (John 1:12).


Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement 3



Christ's atonement as a sacrifice deals with the guilt of our sins and the atonement as a propitiation means that God’s wrath is now removed from us.  So the righteousness of Christ now covers over us so that God does not look at us in wrath but in pleasure.  John Murray writes:
Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure.  Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people. (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 30).
We can see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26)
Here Paul is trying to explain how God can justify sinners without becoming a liar through declaring what is unrighteous to be righteous.  So the question has to be how sinners are actually made to be righteous in the sight of God.  It cannot be by their own obedience to the law as no one perfectly obeys God’s law.  Instead all are sinners when judged by God law.  But the Gospel says that a righteousness that is from God apart from the law has now appeared.  So we are all justified by God’s grace through Christ who is our propitiation.  So God remains righteous because as we are redeemed in Christ we are found to be just in his sight, not by any lie or deceit on God’s part, but because we are covered by Christ’s righteousness.  By this we see that God is able to be consistent with his own character in justifying sinners.  Again, John Murray writes:
It is one thing to say that the wrathful God is made loving.  That would be entirely false.  It is another thing to say the wrathful God is loving.  That is profoundly true.  But it is also true that the wrath by which he is wrathful is propitiated through the cross.  This propitiation is the fruit of the love that provided it. . . .  God appeases his own holy wrath in the cross of Christ in order that the purpose of his love to lost men may be accomplished in accordance with and to the vindication of all the perfections that constitute his glory. (Murray, Redemption, 31-2).

This all helps to emphasize the gracious nature of God's work to redeem us in Christ.  In order to appease his own wrath the punishment had to be paid and this was done by Christ's sacrifice.  In order for us to be righteous we had to possess perfect compliance with all of God's demands in the law.  That is done by Christ's propitiation so that God looks upon us as righteous and Christ's and loves us as those who are obedient to him in the Son.


Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement 2

Introduction and Obedience


Christ’s atonement was a sacrifice on behalf of his people.  This is patterned after the Old Testament sacrificial system.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.  For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established.  For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.  Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.  For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”  And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.  Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world.  But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb. 9:11-28)
Here the author of the epistle shows us that Christ’s death is a sacrifice or an expiation .  It is a payment for our sins.  The whole of the Levitical system pointed to the need for expiation where our sins are not imputed to our account and instead are paid for by blood.  In this the blood of Christ is efficacious as it is the perfect and final payment for all of our sins.  The payment in his blood purifies us so that we are fit to serve God.  Forgiveness of sins is only won through Christ’s vicarious death.  Our sins involve guilt and that guilt is transferred to the sin-bearer.  This was shown in the Old Testament as hands were laid on the head of the animal to symbolize that the guilt of the sin was transferred away from the supplicant.  This is seen as Christ takes our nature and pays the penalty of it so that the guilt is removed and we are forgiven.  This one time sacrifice was perfect as he was made incarnate at God's appointed time to put away the sins of his people once-for-all by virture of his sacrificial death.


Good Friday - Some Thoughts on the Atonement

Though I don't recommend observance of ecclesiastical calendars in the public worship of God I do think that they give us useful and helpful times to meditate on aspects of God's word to redeem us.  On Good Friday we can take some time to consider Christ's atonement.  The next series of five posts will be examining the nature of that atonement.  The Apostle John helps to show the importance of this as he was on the only of the Twelve present at Jesus crucifixion (John 19:26).  So he was a witness to all of Jesus' sufferings on the cross.  Those are ably described by Dr. C. Truman Davis who examines the medical nature of crucifixion.  Yet after witnessing these horrors John still describes Christ's atonement as the pre-eminent manifestation of God's love for us as he sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:9).  In looking at the nature of Christ's atonement we'll look at it as obedience, sacrifice, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption.


The nature of Christ’s atonement is primarily grounded in his obedience.  We can say that the whole of Christ’s work as second and last Adam in making atonement is that he was perfectly obedient to the Father where the first Adam was not.  We see this often in Scripture but particularly in John’s Gospel:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:17-18)
Here we see that Christ’s work in providing atonement for his people was that he obeyed the charge given to him by the Father.  This is out of obedience and exercising his authority in the way that the Father directs.  This appears elsewhere as Jesus says that he came down from heaven not to do his own will but the will of the Father who sent him (John 6:38).  Isaiah’s prophecies of the Messiah’s atoning death treat him first of all as the servant of the Lord (Is. 52-53).  In announcing the fulfillment of this prophecy Paul says that Jesus, though being God, took the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7-8; Gal. 4:4).  In his epistle to the church in Rome Paul writes that it is through the obedience of Christ that the many are made righteous (Rom. 5:19).

Typically we make a distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ.  This is to say that there are two distinct aspects of Christ’s obedience.  Here we should make two clarifying points.  When we talk about Christ’s passive obedience we do not in anyway mean that Christ was involuntarily subjected to the violence of crucifixion.  That would go against the very idea of obedience in the things that he suffered. Second, we must avoid the mistake of saying that Christ’s righteous life was his active obedience and his sufferings and death were his passive obedience.  Active and passive obedience are not a distinction between periods of his life.

The true purpose of this distinction is to say that God’s law has both penal sanctions and positive demands.  So we see that holiness before God demands both perfect obedience to God’s law as we see that keeping the law means keeping the law at every point (James 2:10) and that God’s law demands punishment whenever there is a violation.  So Christ’s active obedience consists in that he perfectly obeyed the law of God and was without sin while his passive obedience consists in that he perfectly suffered all of the penalties for our violation of God’s law.  Thus Paul writes that Jesus became sin for us (passive obedience) that we might become the righteousness of God in him (active obedience) (1 Cor. 5:21).  This can be seen in the letter to the Hebrews.
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Heb. 5:7-10)
Here we can see several things about Christ’s obedience:

1. It was as the Second Person of the Trinity, as the eternal Son of God, became incarnate that he was perfectly obedient to the Father in the flesh. This is not limited to the fact that he became incarnate but throughout the entire time of his days on earth in the flesh he was perfectly obedient.

2. It was not only through his death that Jesus exercised his perfect obedience but throughout his time on earth and all the things that he suffered including hunger, thirst, beatings, mockings, scourgings, his crucifixion, and even emotional sufferings as he wept after the death of Lazarus.  Throughout all of this Christ remained perfectly obedient to the will of the Father.

3. It is through his death on the cross as the supreme act of obedience that Jesus becomes the only source of eternal salvation to all who obey him and therefore place their faith in him and repent of their sins.

4. It is this perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to his people so that it is as we are in him that we are saved. Christ’s passive obedience is imputed to us so that his sufferings and death on the cross are the satisfaction of our sins and guilt. Christ’s active obedience is imputed to us as God looks at us as righteous in Christ.  This shows us that there is nothing else we can do in relation to the law of God.  Christ's sacrifice, made 2,000 years ago, perfectly satisfied the penalty for our all our past, present, and future transgressions.  His perfect is credited to us so that in the eyes of the law we are declared to be perfectly righteous before the Judge of all.

5. “Obedience, therefore, is not something that may be conceived of artificially or abstractedly.  It is obedience that enlisted all the resources of his perfect humanity, obedience that resided in his person, and obedience of which he is ever the perfect embodiment.  It is obedience that finds its permanent efficacy and virtue in him.  And we become the beneficiaries of it, indeed the partakers of it, by union with him.  It is this that serves to advertise the significance of that which is the central truth of all soteriology, namely, union and communion with Christ.” (John Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman's, 1955, 24).


Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Special on Calvin Resources

For a limited time (the website doesn't say exactly how limited), Reformation Heritage Books is offering Henry Beveridge translated edition of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion and J. Mark Beach's new book, Piety's Wisdom: A Summary of Calvin's Institutes with Study Questions for just $25.  I think the Battles translation of the Institutes is better but you can definitely do just fine with Beveridge's edition and while I haven't read it the excerpt from Beach's book certainly looks helpful.  The offer is available here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesus' Triumphal Entry in Matthew and Zechariah

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry in Matthew and Zechariah
By Matthew Pickens

Matthew makes numerous citations of and illusions to Zechariah 9-14 throughout his passion narrative. This pattern starts on the first day of that narrative with Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Matthew records this event in 21:1-11. He begins by citing Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to go into the village, bring a donkey and her colt to him, and explain their actions to anyone who asks by saying, “The Lord needs them.” (Matt. 21:2-3) Matthew then tells us that this is to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet (Matt. 21:4). He cites:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
'Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Matt. 21:5)
Matthew is citing Zechariah 9:9 with a couple of changes. First, Zechariah opens this prophecy (Zech. 9:9-13) with an exhortation, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!” Matthew instead writes, “Say to the daughter of Zion.” What he does is amend his quotation by mixing Zechariah 9:9 with Isaiah 61:11b. The reason he uses Isaiah’s “say” instead of Zechariah’s “Rejoice” is to change the focus of the citation to an evangelistic appeal to unbelieving Israel, which is the original audience of his Gospel.

Second, Matthew omits “righteous and having salvation is he” from Zechariah’s prophecy. “Having salvation” is probably better translated in the NRSV as “victorious.” This explains Matthew’s omission of this line. While from the time of his baptism until his passion Jesus works many miracles in Matthew’s Gospel his true victory is achieved in his resurrection. Because that has not yet happened at this point in Matthew’s narrative he omits the line about victory. The same is true in the parallel text in John 12:15-16.

The whole passage and its connection to Zechariah 9 helps to stress several important truths about Jesus’ work. First, the primary import of Jesus entering the city while riding on a donkey is not to emphasize his lowliness but rather his kingship. Normally pilgrims traveling into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration would walk into the city. Jesus rides into the city as a king. Matthew explicitly tells us that Jesus does this in order to fulfill what the prophet wrote, “Your king is coming to you.”

Second, as Jesus enters the city riding on a donkey this tells us something about the nature of what he comes as a king to accomplish. He does not enter Jerusalem on a mighty war horse. This would show that he comes into the city intending to conquer or as a returning king who has conquered. Instead he comes on a donkey because the purpose of his kingship is to speak peace. Zechariah follows this verse by writing that Yahweh “will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off and he will speak peace to the nations.” (Zech. 9:10a-b) Jesus comes into Jerusalem as the King whose rule is from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:10c) but he does so in order to speak peace to all the nations.

Third, Matthew, by the line he omits, leaves us looking for how Jesus will also be the victorious king from Zechariah. The triumphal entry builds the anticipation of the ultimate victory that Jesus accomplishes in his death and resurrection. He comes as king to speak peace to the nations but he will only do this by first waging war against Satan, sin, and death and his method of waging war is by his perfectly righteous obedience to the Father in dying for the sins of his people. The songs of the pilgrims heighten this anticipation as they cite Messianic prophecies about the promised Davidic King, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9b citing Psalm 118) Jesus comes in the name of Yahweh, wielding the very power of Yahweh, and in his person Yahweh is present. Jesus comes having salvation and accomplishing it in the events that mark the end of his first advent with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Palm Sunday is a time where we draw our attention to Jesus as the coming and triumphant king who accomplishes peace, as, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:1)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Saved to the Uttermost

This post from Jay Adams had me thinking on the effects of definitive sanctification in the Christian life.

Saved to the Uttermost!
By Matthew Pickens

In his first letter to the church at Corinth the Apostle Paul gives us a very important list:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
Anyone else find themselves in this list of people? Anyone ever committed any sexual sins? Worshipped an idol like money, power, prestige? Unjustly gained something? Coveted what someone else has? Unfairly hurt someone’s reputation while they were there or not? Paul certainly thinks so, “And such were some of you!” (1 Cor. 6:11a) The sobering reality here is that Paul tells us that everyone on that list will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the wonder of the gospel is the past tense of our Christian life. Paul goes on to say, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11b) We need to understand the whole of what happens at the very beginning of our Christian lives. We are not only declared to be righteous (justification) at that moment but God actually makes holy (sanctification) as Paul says, “You were sanctified.” That is to say that anyone who is in Christ Jesus, who puts their faith in him alone for salvation according to God’s gracious promise, is not a sinner any longer.

In his letter to the church in Rome Paul describes this immediate sanctification as our dying to sin and being raised to righteousness (Rom. 6:1-4). When we were united to Christ in his death we died to the power of sin. It does not rule over us any longer. As we are united to Christ in his resurrection we are raised to newness of life, a new life that is dominated by the controlling power of the Holy Spirit. John Murray described this aspect of sanctification this way:
This means, therefore, that not only did Christ die, not only was he buried, not only did he rise from the dead, but also all who sustain the relation to him that baptism signifies likewise died, were buried, and rose again to a new life patterned after his resurrection life. No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.
This means that Christians can no more die again to sin than Christ can be crucified again. What happened to them when they were united to Christ was a one-time transforming event that moved them from the sphere of sin to the sphere of righteousness.

Now we do not mean by this that Christians are perfect. We know that we can’t even make it through a single day, and sometimes not even an hour, without sinning somehow. Paul goes on in the next chapter to describe that though his desires are for holiness he still finds that he does the things he does not want to and sins (Rom. 7:15, 18). What Scripture teaches us is that this sin that remains in us is not controlling like it was before we were saved in Christ. Francis Turretin noted, “when he [Paul] says, ‘sin dwells in him,’ . . . it is one thing to dwell, another to reign.” That reigning power of sin is broken in us when we were definitively sanctified in union with the crucified and risen Christ and now what happened at the moment we were saved is progressively realized through our whole Christian life as God continues to work out our salvation until it is perfected in glorification.

So did you belong on that list from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? Rejoice that the gospel means you aren’t there any longer! You may still commit sins but God promises that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those you are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) Sin once reigned in you but now you are washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In all things Jesus saves you to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25)!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Abortion and Healthcare Reform

I try not to post many things here on political issues but this one does need to be noted.  I'm sure everyone is aware that both chambers of Congress passed bills on healthcare reform and the President signed it into law on Tuesday.  As you may be aware, there are provisions in the bill that would require qualified plans to cover abortion on a separate policy, which has the ultimate effect of leaving room for your tax dollars to subsidize abortion.  President Obama also signed an executive order stating that federal funds will not pay for abortions, however those orders do not have the power of law and if raised in court the order will be overturned.  Al Mohler has an excellent post on this whole sad subject.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Some miscellaneia

Here are an assortment of things for this week.  First, Crossway has posted their Summer/Fall book catalogue for 2010.  There are some good looking books on here by Piper and some edited by Carson worth getting excited about.  There's also a book coming out on B.B. Warfield's theology that looks pretty valuable.

Second, L. Roy Taylor has put a brief paper up in outline format on the strengths and weaknesses of our system of church polity in the PCA.  I think that he makes a lot of valuable points here and the encouragement at the end is one we should give a hearty "Amen" to.

Third, here's a good post from Ron DiGiacomo, a ruling elder in the OPC, on the place of deduction and induction in presuppositional apologetics.  This is pretty valuable to read because the false accusation that is often heard from classical apologists is that presuppositional apologetics rejects the use of logic in favor of simply asserting presuppositions or first premises.  This is certainly not true as anyone who has read more than the first few pages of Van Til, Frame, Bahnsen, Oliphint, or Edgar could see.  However it is good to see how a transcendental argument for God's existence (transcendental is a far better term for Van Til apologetic method than presuppositional) should be built using deductive and inductive reasoning without a Christian framework.  The last part of that sentence is important because when we set the Lord Jesus apart as holy in our minds before giving an answer to those who ask a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15) then we find that even the method of our apologetic will start from a Christian foundation.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Day Late

Here's a post from Russell Moore (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) about what evangelicals can learn from Patrick (who can be associated with more than reasons to drink).  He recommends a biography on the Irish evanglist too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Eternality of God

Lately I've been working through James Henley Thornwell's collected writings.  Thornwell was an early-mid 19th century Southern Presbyterian who might have been the single most influential theologian in organizing the Southern Presbyterian Church after the Northern church separated from them.  He died shortly before the Civil War.  Here's a wonderful quote from him about how meditating on God's eternal life leads us to worship:

We deny to God beginning of life or end of days; we deny to Him succession of thought or change of state; we deny to Him the possibility of age or decay; He is neither young nor old. Beyond these negations we cannot go, but these negations impress us with the conviction of transcendent excellence. They assert an absolute immortality which surpasses all power of imagination or of thought. Time with its remorseless tooth destroys everything around us; kingdoms rise and fall; generation succeeds generation to the regions of the dead; trees wither and face and perish; the mountain falling cometh to naught; Nature herself waxes old and is ready to vanish away, but the Eternal God remains fixed in His being, the same yesterday, to-day and forever. His years fail not. He is always the great “I Am.” Eternity is a mystery, but it is a mystery which shrouds and covers unspeakable glory. How delightful to think in the midst of universal change and desolation, that there is one Being who liveth and abideth forever – one Being who, when the heavens shall be rolled up as a vesture, the sun blotted out, and the moon and stars bereft of their brightness, can lift His awful hand and swear by Himself, “Behold, I live forever!” Before the earth was, or the stars of the morning sang together, or the sons of God shouted for joy, Jehovah was. Were all the creatures annihilated by a single blow, and the void of nothing to take the place which is now filled by a teeming and joyous universe, Jehovah would still be. Above and beyond time and all its phenomena, He is untouched by its changes and disasters. Eternity is His dwelling-place, and “I Am” is His name.” (James Henley Thornwell, The Collected Writings, Bedford: Applewood, 1:193-4)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More denominational news

Here is an update on the special synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church dealing with the issues at Erskine College and Seminary.  There will be more following from the Aquila Report on this.  Keep them in your prayers.

Second, a new Lutheran denomination is being formed in the United States for congregations that are splitting from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the national assembly vote in August to allow those in committed same-sex relationships to serve as pastors.  We should be praying for our Lutheran brethren who are separating from the denominational affiliations they know out of faithfulness to their Lord Jesus and also mourn and pray for those caught in the error of calling sin "not-sin" that they would repent.  More from the Aquila Report.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some miscellaneous items

You can get some more free audio books from Christian Audio.  Right now you can get John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die and Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship.  Go here to see the details.  Also they are offering a sale on all Piper and Bonhoeffer books for just $4.98 each.

Here's an interesting blog post at Reformation 21 on the most commonly broken vow.

It's usually worthwhile to click on the clearance tabs for various Christian bookstores every now and then.  Right now WTS Books clearance includes Roland Murphy's Tree of Life: An Exploration of Biblical Wisdom Literature and the edition of the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God with essays by Mark Dever and Sinclair Ferguson for 50% off their usual prices.  Both books are excellent.

Finally, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church is having a special General Synod to address the issues at Erskine College and Seminary.  These special Synods are very rare and show that they have a lot of concerns with what is going on there.  You can read more about the Synod and the issues that they're addressing in this note from the Aquila Report.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Today is the 29th anniversary of the death of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher.  Justin Taylor has some thoughts and links.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commentary Sale

WTS Books is offering a sale on the Pillar New Testament commentaries.  If you buy two or more you get 10% off each volume (and they're already discounted well below the cover price).  This is a good series with some really solid volumes.  I would particularly recommend Leon Morris on Matthew and Romans, D.A. Carson on John, David Peterson on Acts, and Douglas Moo on Colossians & Philemon and James.  Carson's volume in particular may be the best commentary I've found on John's Gospel.  You can see the details of the sale by clicking on the Hebrews volume.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Should we observe Lent?

I wrote this last Wednesday and hoped to get it up then but unfortunately I was having problems with this and couldn't get it on here so it's a little dated now. Hope it still helps a bit. I actually went to an Ash Wednesday Mass with a friend from work. I did not participate in the Imposition of Ashes or the Eucharist of course but it was rather interesting to see and a good chance to try to get an understanding about what our Catholic friends believe to try to start conversations about the biblical doctrines of salvation. Anyway, hope that this is still somewhat helpful even though it's dated.

Should We Observe Lent?
by Matthew Pickens

In modern American Protestant and Evangelical churches we are not accustomed to following ecclesiastical calendars. However since on February 17, 2010, we see many of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers with ash on their foreheads or have conversations about what they are giving up for the next forty days I thought it would be appropriate to take some time to consider the season of Lent.

According to Roman doctrine Lent is a 40-day period that begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at midnight Easter morning. Sundays are not counted in this period because they are meant to be times to celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Lent is especially meant to be a time of penance and discipline. The Roman Church believes that ashes commonly refer to mourning in the Old Testament and so at the beginning of Lent ashes are mixed with oil and applied to the forehead as a reminder of sinfulness and need of Christ. Lent is a 40-day period because it is meant to recall the forty days that Jesus spent in the Wilderness fasting and being tempted by the devil. So during this period it is common practice to abstain from some pleasure as a way of fasting as Jesus did.

The problem with this observance of Lent is that it becomes a way of worshipping God that is not commanded in Scripture and so is a violation of the Second Commandment. The intent of the Commandment is that God may only be worshipped as he has explicitly authorized in his Word. Our Confession says:

the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture. (WCF 21.1)

Scripture does not authorize the use of ashes this way in worship. While Christ fasted for forty days in the Wilderness this is not a command for us to do so; though there are some other places in Scripture where we could turn regarding fasting in general. Though there is some precedent for an annual schedule of feasts and festivals in the Old Testament there is not warrant for jumping to the specific times and seasons of Roman or Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical calendars. So I would argue that it is inappropriate to use these calendars for the public worship of God's people though there may still be some value in using it to remind ourselves of aspects of Christ's work at certain times during the year in our personal devotions (much the same way we might use a devotional book or a book of prayers like the Valley of Vision).

In this sense, what Lent does do is remind us of what Jesus accomplished for us. Matthew's account of Jesus' temptation (Matt. 4:1-11) focuses on Jesus' faithfulness contrasted with Israel's unfaithfulness. Each of the Old Testament passages that Jesus quotes to answer Satan's temptations are taken from the book of Deuteronomy (Matt. 4:4 and Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:7 and Deut. 6:16; Matt. 4:10 and Deut. 6:13). Specifically they are Moses reminding the people of how they did not trust the Lord and instead put his covenant faithfulness on trial in the Wilderness with the need for water and food. The purpose is to remind them that God has faithfully provided according to his covenant in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Jesus is faithful here where Israel fails. He believes God's promises to provide for him according to the covenant that proclaims he will reign forever on David's throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16).

Jesus' temptation in the Wilderness is recorded immediately after his baptism in all three Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is baptized to show that he acts as our covenant head and representative. When he is faithful and believes God's promises it is not only for his own sake but is also for all of us who are in union and fellowship with him. Matthew emphasizes this by immediately telling us that Jesus went into Galilee to announce the fulfillment of Old Testament promises of salvation and to command repentance and belief in the gospel (Matt. 4:12-17 and Isa. 9:1-6).

So while we cannot in good conscience participate in the ceremonies and circumstances of the Roman observance of Ash Wednesday and Lent we can still make use of it as an annual reminder that God has been, is, and will be faithful to all his covenant promises and he will do so because of the perfect obedience of Christ imputed to us. As Paul said, all promises of God find their yes in him (2 Cor. 1:20). We remember that Jesus endured temptation for us and we are righteous before God in him. We look forward to the promise of resurrection and eternal life with our Lord Jesus in heaven because God is faithful and Lent can be a helpful time of year to draw our attention to these promises. It is then also a chance to discuss what Jesus' temptation and obedience really means with our Roman Catholic friends.