Tuesday, October 29, 2013

His death or his resurrection?

J. I.Packer writes on the death and resurrection of Christ:
It is sometimes asked whether Christ's death or his resurrection is what directly brings about the sinner's salvation. The answer is both, and to minimize either's importance in relation to the other is to begin to falsify that answer. In other words, Christ died for our sake as our representative and substitutionary Sin-Bearer, and it is one facet of our faith in him to see and think of ourselves as having died with him, in the sense of having voluntarily ended the life we were living in our unbelief. But that is not all. Christ was raised from death for our sake as our forerunner and life-giver, and it is a further facet of our faith in him to see and think of ourselves as having been raised with him in union with him, so that now we participate in his resurrection life in terms of desire, direction, and divine energy. When Paul declared that in his ministry he toils, "struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col. 1:29), it is this supernaturalizing service that he refers to" (Packer, J. I. Weakness Is the Way. N.p.: Inter-Varsity, 2013. Print. 38-9)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review - Fallen: A Theology of Sin

In Fallen: A Theology of Sin, Crossway and the editors Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson deliver another valuable and useful book to add to the Theology In Community series that has also given the church books on the deity of Christ, suffering, God's glory, and the kingdom of God. This is another treasure trove of practical information that exudes solid doctrinal teaching on the overlooked and under-studied topic of sin. I reviewed The Deity of Christ and found it immensely helpful and highly recommended; this volume follows suit.

The books first chapter is written by world renowned scholar D. A. Carson. This theological heavyweight considers the intrinsic and contemporary significance of sin and in all too typical fashion his work is both helpful and enjoyable. I am particularly fond of authors whose writing reminds me of their preaching; in the sentences and paragraphs I could almost hear Dr. Carson's talks on the same topic. Carson represents sin as it is understood in the Bible and reflects on our society's spiritual poverty as a result of being bereft of this knowledge.

Chapters 2 and 3 are written by Paul R. House. This is my first acquaintance with his writing but it will assuredly not be my last. In chapter 2, House discusses the treatment of sin in the Old Testament Law while noting how incomplete such an endeavour will be in the small space allotted. Nevertheless, House offers a summary that is beneficial and enriching. House looks at the definitions of sin the Law offers and traces the themes surrounding sin in the texts under consideration. In chapter 3, House moves on to discuss the treatment of sin in the prophets. This chapter looks at contributions towards the Old Testament's teaching on sin from each book of the Former Prophets as well as highlighting the books of the Latter Prophets and their demonstration of the universal scope of sin. I appreciated his contribution to the discussion and will not hesitate to read more of his work if the opportunity arises.

Robert W. Yarborough is passed the baton and endeavours to investigate sin in the New Testament without interacting with any of the writings of Paul. He considers the indirect evidence of sin from these books by investigating invitations to repent as well as instances of conversion. He adds to his observations a concise summary of 2 word groups associated with sin; the hamartia word group and the adikia word group. This chapter was artfully written and its presentation helps with an understanding of sin that has breadth and depth.

Concerning chapter 5, I'll get right to the point: Douglas J. Moo's chapter entitled Sin in Paul is alone worth the price of the book. I do not consider myself overly intelligent, but I do consider myself fairly well-read. However, this chapter provided me with some "wow" moments; I encountered ideas and explanations that I had never come across before. The style is winsome and the content is top tier. Moo deals with the vocabulary of sin, the nature of sin, the larger environment of sin, and the consequences of sin among other topics the apostle to the Gentiles grappled with in his writings. To belabour the point, in my copy there is an almost unhelpful amount of marginalia, underlining, circling and highlighting; I might have been better off noting what was not extremely helpful. If for this chapter alone, buy the book!

Christopher Morgan, in the sixth chapter, looks at sin with the metanarrative of the Bible in mind. He considers sin in light of creation, the fall, redemption and the consummation. This section offers the reader a wide-ranging assessment of sin in Scripture. This chapter contains several lists and charts that are excellent summaries and provide me, as a teacher, with valuable tools.

A very delightful and informative presentation of sin in historical theology is Gerald Bray's contribution to this collection. Chapter 7 offers an intriguing perusal of sin through the ages of church history. Bray writes in a manner that is easy to read and the information he conveys captivated my attention.
Chapter 8 contains a thorough exposition of what a theology of sin for today should look like. His explanation and investigation into sin in its pre-fall context was fascinating and memorable. Of note, this chapter contained some memorable illustrations that I intend on using in some sermons in the near future.

Sydney H. T. Page investigates the relationship between Satan and sin and evil. He looks at Satan's roles in regards to sin; tempter, deceiver, accuser, afflicter. But he also reminds the reader of the defeat of Satan, sin, and evil through the work of Christ on Calvary.

The next chapter, the tenth, is practical and pastoral and perceptive in regards to its topic; temptation. The author, Davis B. Calhoun, produces a wide range of encouraging and informative quotes from church history. After the Moo chapter, this was the most edifying chapter as it adroitly answered numerous question about temptation: What is temptation?; What does the bible say about temptation?; How could Jesus be tempted?; What are the source or causes of temptation?; How do the world, the flesh, and the devil tempt us?; When does temptation become sin?; How can we overcome temptation?; What happens when we Confess our sins?; and what are the results of temptation? As is obvious, Calhoun covers a lot of ground and he does so in an engaging way.

Finally, the smooth and soothing prose of this chapter, courtesy of Bryan Chapell, is reminiscent of his excellent verbal communication skills. Entitled aptly Repentance That Sings, this final section offers are harmonious finish to the book. Though delivering a comfortable read, this chapter was, for me, very convicting. Though I enjoyed the skilful writing, I could feel the God's thumb of conviction gently pressing on my heart as the chapter progressed. The editors prove their worth by choosing this chapter to end on; it was full of practical application and powerful motivation to take our own sin seriously and, by the grace and mercy of God, deal with it.

I highly recommend this book as valuable resource on the doctrine of sin. Its able authors deliver another valuable contribution to the Theology in Community series. Let these words of D. A. Carson convey the importance of understanding sin and the value of a book such as Fallen: "It is impossible to gain a deep grasp of what the cross achieves without plunging into a deep grasp of what sin is" (22).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The love of God in Delighting in the Trinity

In Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves discusses how God's triune-ness and God's love go hand in hand. God has been loving within the trinity since eternity. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. God is love, and always has been love and loving.

With this in mind, Reeves brings up the idea of humanity's fall; part of that picture is the idea of Adam and Eve directing the love they had for God to something other than God: ourselves and anything but God. To this catastrophic event, God responded in love. Reeves writes,
Astonishingly, it was this very rejection of God that drew forth the extreme depths of his love. In his response to sin we see deeper than ever into the very being of God. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that We loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:8-10). 
The God who is love definitively displays that love to the World by sending us his eternally beloved Son to atone for our sin. (68)
And so, it is in the cross-God's remedy for sin-that we see God's love poured out most profoundly and prolifically. Reeves continues:
Without the cross, we could never have imagined the depth and seriousness of What it means to say that God is love. “This is how we know What love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 Jn 3:16). On the cross we see the great holiness of God’s love, that the light of his pure love will destroy the darkness of sin and evil. On the cross we see the intensity and strength of his love, that it is not an insipid thing at all, but majestically strong as it faces death, battles evil and gives life. For Christ was not bound against his will and dragged to a crucifixion he did not choose. Nobody could take his life from him, he said. “I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father” (Jn 10:18). Jesus’ self-giving love is entirely unconstrained and free. It comes, not from any necessity, but entirely out of who he is, the glory of his Father. Through the cross we see a God who delights to give himself.
Thus, the triune God who has been love since before creation, demonstrates that He is love most gloriously in the cross of Christ. I highly recommend this book by Michael reeves!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lloyd-Jones on our union with Christ

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the well-known expository preacher of Westminster Chapel, addresses the topic of union with Christ in a sermon entitled In Christ Jesus. He engages this doctrine as he expounds Ephesians 2:4-7 which reads, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

Of this doctrine, Lloyd-Jones declares:
Here we are undoubtedly face-to-face with one of the greatest and most marvelous of all the Christian doctrines, one of the most glorious beyond any question at all. It is the whole teaching of the Scripture with regard to our union with Christ. It is a teaching that you find in many places. I would refer you to the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, which is in many ways the most extended statement of the doctrine to be found anywhere. But it is to be found in exactly the same way in the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. It is likewise found in 1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter that is read so often at funeral services; but it is seen equally clearly in 2 Corinthians, chapter 5. Similarly it is the teaching found in those beautiful words at the end of the second chapter of the Epistle to the Galatians: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). This is the most wonderful and the most amazing thing of all, and to me it is always a matter of great surprise that this blessed doctrine should receive so little attention! For some reason or other, Christian people seem to be afraid of it… [Yet] according to this teaching in Ephesians 2 and elsewhere, you are not Christians at all unless you are joined to Christ and “in Him”…
This preacher excitement and joy is evident in the words of his address. Lloyd-Jones recognizes, as many Christians before and after him have realized, that union with Christ is a doctrine that forms the basis for our relationship with Christ and therefore the entire Christian faith.

Lloyd-Jones sees two ways in which we can understand our union with Christ. The first he calls "federal sense, or, in other words, a covenant sense." This sense considers the representative nature that Christ demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection. Lloyd-Jones proclaims:
Adam was constituted and regarded by God as the head and the representative of the human race. He was the federal head, the federal representative, the covenant head. God made covenant with Adam, made an agreement with him, made certain statements to him as to what He would do, and so on. Now that is the first sense in which this doctrine of union is taught. And what is said, therefore, about the Lord Jesus Christ is that He is our Federal Head, He is our Representative. Adam, our representative, rebelled against God: he sinned, he was punished, and certain consequences followed. But because Adam was our representative and our head, what happened to Adam also therefore happened to all his posterity and to us.
The second aspect of our union with Christ that Lloyd-Jones points out is what he calls a "mystical" or "vital" union. He preaches:
This is something that was taught by our Lord Himself in the famous words in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel according to John, where He says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:5). The union between the branches and the vine is not mechanical: it is vital and organic. They are bound together: the same sap, the same life is in the stock as in the branches.
Thus, Lloyd-Jones sees in our union with Christ a two-fold understanding of how this union works. His exhilaration is heard again as summarizes this section of the sermon exalting that,
All these blessings that we enjoy become ours because we are joined to Christ in this double manner: in the forensic, federal, covenant manner, but also in this vital and living manner. We can therefore claim that what has happened to Christ has happened to us. This is the marvel and mystery of our salvation, and it is the most glorious thing we can ever contemplate!
I have engaged our union with Christ this past week after having touched upon it during a sermon I gave last week. It is clearly something I need to study more, and Lloyd-Jones has me excited to do just that.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Ineffability of God's Beauty

The book Eyes Wide Open, among other things, is a treatise on beauty. It concerns itself with many aspects of beauty including beauty's origins and essence. For author Steve DeWitt, the essence and origin of all things beautiful and beauty itself is God.

In discussing the beauty of creation-the vastness of the universe or the intricate design of a water crystal-DeWitt makes a clear assertion: "Creation is beautiful precisely because its Creator is beautiful" (15). That is, things are beautiful as they relate to God because "God defines beauty by His very essence. He is the source and standard of all beauty" (15).

However, God's beauty causes us some problems. And one of those problems is that beauty in general, and specifically God's beauty, is difficult to understand. God's beauty, like many things about Him, is ineffable. Ineffable is an appropriate term; it means beyond comprehension or inexpressible. The author continues, "A popular phrase captures the ineffability of God's beauty: It blows our minds. We cannot see God's beauty (God is spirit); we can not evaluate it (God transcends humanity's ability to critique); and we cannot comprehend it (God is infinite, we are not)" (16).

But despite beauty's mind stretching effect, we are still drawn to it, compelled to discover and apprehend it. This is seen nowhere more profoundly than in our searching and longing (whether we recognize it or not) for God:
We seek out these expressions of beauty because what we can see and comprehend draws us to wonders too awesome not too enjoy. Their ineffability is entwined with their desirability. What I cannot see is mysteriously interesting to me and compels me to look all the more. The same is true of God's beauty and attributes.He is more than we can know and beyond our capacity to absorb. Our finitude limits our comprehension, but what we can see and understand draws us to wonder-which is the prelude to worship.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

To Wonder and Worship: God's Condescension in Covenantal Apologetics

The writing ministry of Scott Oliphint has been a great influence on the way I think about God and understand who He is. One of the most enriching aspects of Oliphint's teaching pertains to God's condescension in His dealings with humanity and all of creation. Oliphint teaches, through his books and lectures, on this subject better than anyone that I have come across. His book, God With Us, is a phenomenal treatment of this subject and I consider it a "must read." In his most recently published offering, Covenantal Apologetics, Oliphint returns to this topic and the following paragraph is an clear explanation of God's condescension:
The Bible, from beginning to end, is replete with instances of God's covenantal condescension. The Bible itself is a product of that condescension. Covenantal condescension is a necessary aspect of his binding himself to his creation. Once he (freely) chose to create, he would need to "stoop down" in order to relate himself to his creation. This "stoop" in no way modified or diminished his aseity. Rather, it gave us, his human creatures, a revelational way to understand his majestic character. It revealed that character to us to see his condescension for what it really was--his merciful determination that we have fellowship with him. Apart from that condescension, as the Confession says, "we could have no fruition of him as our blessedness and reward." (62)
God is glorious in his stooping down. God is gracious and merciful beyond measure as he condescends to relate to us creatures. The pinnacle of this condescension is, of course, the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of God the Son who humbled himself in coming to save us. There is no greater love than this. The condescension of God should fill us with wonder and worship!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Hebrew Heart

In Wellum and Gentry's Kingdom Through Covenant the author's deal with the comand in the book of Deuteronomy which they consider the very centre of the book: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength." In discussing the focal point of Deuteronomy, a discussion of the meaning of heart ensues:

In Hebrew, the word "heart" refers to the core of who you are, the centre of each person. It refers, in particular, to the place where we feel, where we think, and where we make decisions and plans, i.e., emotions, mind, and will. This can be easily seen from the following illustrative passages: 
A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is crushed. (Prov. 15:13, ESV) 
A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22, ESV) 
When these proverbs refer to a "glad heart" or a "joyful heart" they are clearly referring to one's emotions and feelings in terms of a healthy psyche. 
But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. (Deut. 29:4, ESV) 
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed. (Isa. 6:10, ESV) 
In both Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 6:10, one understands with the heart; surely then what is being referred to is what we normally call the mind. This is the place where we reason and think and understand. 
The heart of a man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps. (Prov. 16:9, ESV) 
May he grant you his heart's desires
and fulfill all your plans! (Ps. 20:4, ESV) 
Proverbs 16:9 and Psalm 20:4 show that the "heart" makes plans and has desires; it is the place where we make decisions. (366-7)

They then highlight a key difference between how we often think about the "heart" in contrast to how the Hebrews thought about it:
We should note, then, that the biblical language differs markedly from our own in the Western world. For us, the heart is associated with emotions, feelings, love, and Valentine's Day. Conversely, for the Bible, the heart is where we reason and think and make decisions and plans. We can frequently speak f people who cannot bridge the eighteen-inch gap between the head and the heart. The ancient Hebrews knew no such gap. The heart is the centre of one's being and the place where the emotions, mind, and will operate in harmony and union. (367-8)