Summer School Starts May 20

The first session of the DBTS Summer School begins May 20 and lasts for two weeks (till May 30). Two classes will be offered: 1 Thessalonians (Greek exegesis), taught by Dr. Bruce Compton, and Evangelism and Church Growth, taught by Dr. David Doran. The second session runs from June 3–13 and the class is Kingdom of God, taught by Dr. Sam Dawson. The final session, Old Testament Theology, taught by Dr. Mark Snoeberger, runs from June 17–27. Classes meet Tuesday–Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. The schedule with complete info can be found here. If you are interested in registering for any of these classes, you can call the seminary at 313-381-0111, or email to info@dbts.edu.

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How Has the Church Responded to Theological Controversy?

Know the Creeds & CouncilsA few weeks ago, I mentioned a new little book written by Justin Holcomb, titled Know the Heretics (Zondervan, April 2014). At the same time that book was published, a companion volume titled Know the Creeds and Councils was also released. While the volume I mentioned in the earlier post focused on famous false teachers in the history of the church, this second volume discusses a number of the most important creeds and church councils.

Creeds and church councils might sound like fairly boring topics, but for those who care about the Scriptures that should not be the case. The early councils were the places where key doctrinal issues were hammered out by the church, and creeds are simply summaries of Christian doctrine that a group of believers have agreed upon. Both subjects are actually pretty important and at times can be quite interesting.

Like the book on heretics, this volume is fairly short and very readable. If you are wondering about how the early church tried to refute false teachers who taught that Jesus was a mere creature, chapter two on the Council of Nicaea (325) provides the answer. If you are interested in seeing how the Catholic Church responded to the rise of Protestantism, chapter eight on the Council of Trent (1545–63) discusses this. And if you are curious about some of the key changes that took place within Roman Catholicism in the twentieth century, chapter twelve discusses the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Other chapters include discussions of the three great councils that took place in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), an overview of the doctrinal statement of the Church of England, and an introduction to the key doctrinal standard of conservative Presbyterians—the Westminster Confession.

Both this book and the book on heretics appear to be written with the potential for group study in mind. Each chapter concludes with a short list of discussion questions and a brief list of suggested titles for further study. Overall, both of these volumes are handy little introductions to key people, events, and doctrinal developments in the history of the Christian church.

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Divorcing the Person from the Work of Christ?

Last week I read a curious piece that purported to identify the exact point at which Pilgrim was saved in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: was it at the wicket gate, at the foot of the cross, or perhaps even at some other point? I confess a measure of confusion on the matter. Like many before me, I’ve had the uneasy sense that the salvation event in Bunyan’s little tome is more a process than a point.

As uneasy as I have been with Bunyan’s allegory on this matter, I am more uneasy still with the explanation offered by Jim Orrick in his blog post. In Orrick’s understanding, Pilgrim is justified when he goes through the narrow wicket gate (i.e., he believes Christ and loses his forensic guilt), and then is relieved of his psychological guilt when he arrives at the foot of the cross and grasps the theological significance of what occurred there. Had Orrick stopped here, I might have been amenable to his theory.

Instead, Orrick goes on to support his theory with the emphatic statement that “the Bible proclaims that a person gets saved when he receives Christ, and the Bible does not say that a person gets saved through believing that Jesus died for him. Christ himself is the proper object of saving faith, not some part of his work.” He adds, “A person is saved not when he believes in right doctrine…but when he believes in the right person, namely Christ. So the object of saving faith is not a doctrine but a person.”

I find this troubling on multiple levels. Firstly, the Scriptures demand more than a mere reception of Christ. They demand that we affirm (1) certain theological facts about Christ’s person—he is Lord (Rom 10:13); he is God’s Son (1 John 5:1, 5); etc.—and (2) certain theological facts about his work—he died (1 Thess 4:14); he rose again (Rom 10:13); he will judge/reward (Heb 11:6); etc. Granted, we don’t have to know every theological nuance about atonement in order to be saved, but there are some basic facts that are non-negotiable: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3–4).

But secondly (and more importantly), I am troubled about the theological implications of divorcing faith in Christ’s person from faith in Christ’s work. If indeed an individual can “receive Christ” for true salvation without affirming even the most rudimentary details about what Christ did, then soteriology is effectively stripped of all but an existential Christ encounter: all else becomes optional. This door has been taken many times in the history of the church, and never to a good end. Let us hope that Orrick’s post is not opening up this door yet again.

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The Battle with Death

File:Otley Cemetery.jpgThe Bible states that we have an enemy that plagues everyone—death. Though we may avoid this enemy for a time, we cannot escape it. Death is certain. No one can avoid death.

And Death is cruel. At its heart, death is separation. Death separates our bodies from our souls. It separates us from this earth and all that is on the earth that we love.

For much of our life we can make ourselves forget this enemy. We busy ourselves with the various aspects of life, never considering that life will end. Perhaps your life will be long, but perhaps yours will be short, like many others before you. However, there are times in our lives when we can no longer forget our enemy, death. We come face to face with it, in all its gruesome reality.

It is as though death stands before us, taunting us: “What is the value of your life? What is your purpose? What have you gained? What do you treasure? No matter what it is, I will take it in the end. You think you are fine now, but one day I will have the victory.”

And so often death does have the victory. Often people do lose all they have lived for at death.

Why is death so cruel? In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul explains what makes death so destructive.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”

The Bible is clear that death is a result of sin. Death is not a natural part of the world, but is an intruder that has entered because of sin. Paul pictures this intruder as a hideous creature with a venomous sting. It is a dangerous enemy.

The heart of sin in the Bible is not allowing God to be God in our life but trying to replace Him. Perhaps we try to replace God with other things—other gods, famous people, family, wealth, work, etc. Often we simply make ourselves to be god—we decide how we should live our lives. In so doing, we go against what we were created for and find cheap substitutes that will never satisfy and will only end up hurting ourselves and others.

Sin ultimately hurts us most by separating us from God. Our greatest good and greatest joy comes in knowing and serving God—doing what we were made to do. But our sin has separated us from God. By our sin we have brought God’s righteous wrath against us.

Sin is magnified by God’s law. We may think that we can determine what is good and what is not, but God is the only one who has that right and the ability. God is the only true lawgiver.

God’s law is written on our hearts. Yet we do things we know are wrong. We do things that we know will be harmful to ourselves and others. And we fail to do things we know would be good, things that would be helpful to others. Thus, we willingly violate God’s law. This transgression magnifies our sin, giving even greater poison to death’s sting.

We rightfully feel as though there should be judgment against sin. We believe in our hearts that wrongs in this world should be dealt with. The problem is, when we are honest with ourselves we are forced to recognize that we deserve judgment for the wrongs we have done.

And the judgment for the wrongs we have done is death. We experience spiritual death in this life because we are separated from that which is truly life—the life found in Christ. One day, we will face physical death, the separation of our bodies from our spirits.

If we have built our life on anything other than God, we will be separated from what we built our life on. Our fame will fade, our possessions will decay, our careers will have ended, and our loved ones will be lost.

We will ultimately face eternal death—eternal separation from God. Instead of seeing God’s face, we will have His back turned to us and will experience all the horrible consequences that entails.

There is no greater enemy than sin and death, and yet we are powerless before them. We possess nothing with which we can fight against death. But are we left to cower before this gruesome enemy? Is there some way by which we can defeat death? Paul goes on to offer the glorious answer in verse 57:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Unlike every other person who ever lived, Jesus perfectly obeyed God. He always loved God and loved others. Because Jesus never sinned He did not deserve to die. His death was not for His sins, but for ours. He paid the penalty so that we would not have to.

“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.’” (Gal 3:13)

Jesus defeated death—demonstrating that He is God and that He made an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Jesus did not remain dead, but after three days he rose from the grave with a glorified body, declaring to all the world that He is who He said He is—the Son of God. And He did what He said He would do—pay for our sins.

“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 1:4)

“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)

How do we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection? Paul hints at it in verse 57. We give thanks to God, for He is the one who has done all the work. Paul does not say that we thank God while congratulating ourselves on what we have done. We can do nothing for our salvation, because God has done it all. When we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we are given a new heart that now wants to serve God.

We can do nothing—it is only grace. Of course there is a cost with any gift, but Jesus paid the cost, so there is no cost to us.

Through Christ our sin is removed so that we can have the true joy found in a relationship with Christ. We can have the satisfaction that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.

With our sin removed, death no longer has any power. Through faith we are united with Christ, and his resurrection guarantees ours. No other religion or worldview has this claim. Only Christ has conquered death, and only Christ can offer the victory over death. For those in Christ, death is no longer loss—it is gain. For the Christian, death is not death.

So death is an enemy for the Christian, but it is a defeated enemy. Though it may appear as a hideous creature, ready to strike its prey with a venomous sting, Christ’s victory over death swoops in and swallows death up. (“Death is swallowed up in victory!”)

So now, when we come face to face with death, it is we who can stand taunting death: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?

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Life’s Like a Conveyor-Belt of Chocolates: 5 Reasons to Read What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

(A Guest Post by David Doran, Jr.)

null.jpg_5361Every mother, pastor, roofer, and sanitation engineer in the Western world has felt the wrath of life’s relentless assault of tasks-to-be-done. You’re probably calling them tasks-to-survive by now. Western culture is drunk on going faster and faster and doing more and more. It’s no surprise, then, to see the huge market of books, conferences, and media teaching workaholics to drink responsibly from the fire hose.

Many of these works are helpful in managing the flow—or tidal wave!—of life. I, much like author Matt Perman, had not made use of systems or strategies or lists in getting through college. When ministry and seminary hit the gas peddle, however, I had to adjust and fast. Still, after writing lists and next actions, etc., etc., I found myself stuck in the iconic “I Love Lucy” scene at the chocolate factory. Ethel and Lucy begin their post at the conveyor belt managing just fine; however, before long, the onslaught of chocolates simply becomes unstoppable. (You really need to take 2 minutes and watch for yourself. Don’t worry; this quick dose of joy will help your productivity. Perman agrees, see, e.g., p. 248, where Perman argues that Facebook can increase your productivity.)

Many productivity resources become a designated driver for the workaholic. And What’s Best Next (WBN) answers the call for those feeling like Lucy & Ethel. Perman (former Director of Strategy at Desiring God) presents a savvy biblical approach to getting things done. WBN prepares readers to (1) launch right by making God supreme and by viewing productivity through a Gospel lens (Parts 1 & 2); (2) navigate right by following the steps summarized in the acronym D.A.R.E.: Define, Architect, Reduce and Execute (Parts 3–6); and, finally, (3) land right by living for the Great Commission and uplifting the downtrodden (Part 7).

I could say so much more about the usefulness of his book. However, here I’ll simply list 5 reasons why you should read WBN next.

  1. WBN prioritizes eternity. The only way to be truly productive in a lasting way is to do what God thinks is productive.
  2. WBN inspires. If students truly take a teacher’s passion more than anything else, WBN readers will come away with at least Perman’s heartbeat for God-exalting living through ambitious, creative service.
  3. WBN enhances the Greats. Perman isn’t starting from scratch. In fact, I found WBN’s ability to borrow, adapt and enhance the brilliance of others incredibly helpful. Perman draws Edwards, Wilberforce, Covey, Drucker, and Allen in together in a Gospel-shaped symphony for your benefit.
  4. WBN anticipates the struggle. Perman anticipates the challenges of becoming more productive. He provides helpful advice and pathways for better scheduling, delegation, time management, and more.
  5. WBN frees you from the rat race. Perman consistently reiterates that our goal is to please, not appease, God. The only way to be truly productive is to realize we don’t actually have to be productive. The good news of someone else doing all the work for you is rarely heard in the halls of “do-more-faster-bigger-and-better-to-be-accepted.” WBN flies in the face of earning status and preaches a radical “more, faster, bigger, and better” flowing out from our accepted status. IOW, this is, to say it again, Gospel-driven productivity at its finest!
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Do You Know Any Heretics?

Benedict ArnoldWithin American history the names of Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, and the Rosenbergs live on in infamy. These are people who rather notoriously tried to undermine the well-being of our nation for some kind of personal profit. We look back on such individuals with a mixture of interest and disdain. How could they do such things? How could they betray our country? Yet, the Christian church has had its share of notorious traitors or heretics as well.

What a man like Benedict Arnold is to American history, men like Arius and Pelagius are to church history. One might think that such heretics should be avoided at all costs, and in a sense, they should be. At least, their teachings should be soundly rejected by all those who profess Christ. But it is difficult to reject a teaching you have never encountered. And if one does not know where some professing “Christians” have gone astray in the past, one might begin wandering down a similar path in the present.

Know the HereticsI recently came across a fascinating little book by Justin Holcomb, titled Know the Heretics (Zondervan, April 2014). In fewer than 180 pages, the author provides a concise and helpful introduction to some of the more notorious heretics in the history of the church. Divided into twelve short chapters, Holcomb introduces his readers to groups like the Judaizers and the Gnostics and to individuals like Sabellius and Socinus (the only post-Reformation character included). Each chapter is divided into four sections: Historical Background, Heretical Teaching, Orthodox Response, and Contemporary Relevance. That last section—Contemporary Relevance—is especially interesting. In many of the chapters, Holcomb points out that the error in question is still alive and well today. For example, he speculates that many otherwise orthodox Christians would probably describe the incarnation of Christ in terms that bear a strong resemblance to Apollinarianism (pp. 105–6). And he notes that the teachings of Socinus are still echoing within the walls of most Unitarian churches today (p. 152). Unfortunately, even the most egregious theological errors rarely disappear forever.

Holcomb’s book doesn’t plow any new ground, and it’s not intended to. But it does provide a good introduction to some of the more important false teachers in the history of the church. And studying such characters provides both a warning and a helpful perspective on the state of the church today. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living” (Chesterton, “On St. George Revivified”).

Posted in Book Review, Church History, Historical Theology | 1 Comment

Is Allah a God of Love?

http://jordantong.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/love.jpgIt is common today to hear people talk about a God of love, often connected with the idea that all religions teach about a God of love. In a recent panel Q&A, I was asked “Can we call Allah a God of love?” My brief answer was no, since he is not portrayed that way in the Qur’an. For example, in the book God of Justice: A Study in the Ethical Doctrine of the Qur’an, Daud Rahbar, the late Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religions at Boston University, argues that the primary motivation for ethics given by the Qur’an is fear of God’s stern justice.

Though it is common to see fear as the essential motive for ethical behavior in Islam, it is uncommon to see that fear directed towards stern justice. “It is a fact well-recognized in scientific scholarship that Fear of God is the dominant sentiment in Qur’anic morality. But that the roots of this sentiment are in God’s stern justice and not in the preponderant malignance of the arbitrary will of a capricious sovereign is a fact scarcely recognized” (5). Thus, Rahbar sets out to demonstrate that the conception of God in the Qur’an is not of a capricious God but of a God who enacts certain justice.

Though I am unconvinced that Rahbar conclusively destroys the idea of a capricious God in Islam, I did find his discussion on the absence of love in the Qur’an and the prominence of love in the Bible fascinating.

Nowhere [in the Qur’an] do we find the idea that God loves mankind. God’s love is conditional (172).

In Christianity Love becomes the essential motive principle of virtuous conduct. Why? The answer is simple. In Christianity God is, before anything else, the Father. His Love transencds His Justice. In Qur’anic thought Fear of God becomes the essential motive-principle of virtuous conduct. Why?… The answer to why fear-motive prevails in the Qur’an is that Qur’an’s God is, before anything else, a strict judge. His justice is unrelaxing. He will forgive none but those who believe in Him and obey commandments….

The relationship of love…is a reciprocal one. The Qur’an never enjoins love for God. This is because God Himself loves only the strictly pious. To love God one must presuppose that God is reciprocating the sentiment. And to presuppose that is to presume that one is perfectly pious. Such presumption the Qur’an never allows. Even the most virtuous men as prophets are constantly reminded that they are sinful creatures who must ask forgiveness of smallest sins whether they are aware of them or not. Side by side with such a conception of God’s unrelaxing justice love for God would certainly be out of place (179-80).

In the Bible [the] central notion is God’s Fatherhood and his love for mankind. And so it is love between man and God on which all Christian morality rests… In the Qur’an the corresponding central notion is God’s strict justice. And so on fear of God’s strict justice of the judgement day depends the fulfilling of the law and the whole moral value of Qur’anic duty (223–4).

I agree that love is a central notion in the Bible, but I disagree that the Christian God’s love transcends His justice. Rather, His love leads Him to remain just while providing a way for unjust sinners to become just in His sight. God makes believers perfectly just. That’s why the Christian God performed the greatest act of love possible, and Christians in turn love God.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

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Evangelical Social Engagement: A Reprise

Last week in this blog post, I suggested that if the current surge of evangelical social attentiveness shares identity with surges that preceded it (as Joel Carpenter has affirmed), then we should look to history to accurately predict the course and end of the current surge of evangelical social action. I am no prophet (I’m a cessationist, after all), but there is a discernible pattern in play. So what is the historical pattern that emerges and what steps can we take to avoid it? Here goes:

  • First, in order to maintain “unity” and otherwise keep contribution levels high, the evangelical para-church social networks will feel an increasing need to make concessions. Some of these concessions will be confessional in nature, others socio-political, and others ethical. Last week we discovered through the World Vision fiasco that the evangelical majority was not yet ready for the homosexual concession (though a sizable evangelical minority certainly leaped up to applaud), but this line in the sand will eventually erode.
  • Next, there will be increasing tolerance of Arminianism and ultimately of Pelagianism. This is because, at its heart, organized evangelical social action, even when perpetuated by Calvinists (whether Henry, Mouw, or Piper), is evangelical—it either starts as or eventually becomes a pan-ecclesiastical, gospel-promoting effort. The social action at first paves the way for the gospel message, then morphs into an efficacious means of the gospel, and eventually replaces the gospel entirely as an end unto itself. Slippery slope? Perhaps, but I prefer to call this a cyclical pattern that we’ve seen time and again. Evangelicalisms of very age tend to revert to type.
  • As the ethical and confessional compromises mount, the conservatives will begin to peel away, one by one, from these compromised social networks until enough of them accumulate for another evangelical social surge in about thirty years or so. The machinery of the existing social initiatives, however, will remain in the hands of those who have long since lost sight of the gospel.

So what’s the corrective that might be implemented to keep this cycle from repeating and to prove me a false prophet? One suggestion is that we create smaller, more local, and more self-consciously confessional organizations for ecclesiastical social action, then police these ideals aggressively. Historically, such measures tend to give such initiatives a little bit longer shelf-life, but they do not stop the progression entirely.

I would suggest a solution that is far more radical, namely this: Churches need to excise evangelical social action from their institutional mission. Note well that I did not recommend that Christians stop being neighborly or to stop participating in and/or contributing toward social/civic enterprises. But such participation should be (1) the actions of individual believers living out their faith in the civil sphere and (2) actions that are non-evangelical in intent (i.e., not practiced as a means to gospel success, but as a result of God’s sanctifying work in our lives).

In a sentence (well, two of them), we need to resurrect what Presbyterians have long called the doctrine of the spirituality of the church and what Baptists have traditionally meant by the separation of church and state. But in order to do this, we first need to shake free from the relentless grip of evangelical Neo-Kuyperianism, which, based on the perceived presence of the future, requires that evangelism and social action be regarded as two sides of the church’s greater mandate of advancing Christ’s (singular) kingdom.

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Chapter Note: Joel Carpenter, “What’s New About the New Evangelical Social Engagement?”

9780199329540I just finished browsing through an engaging new title, The New Evangelical Social Engagement. No, it’s not an obscure book by a rock-ribbed fundamentalist who remains skeptical about the conservative resurgence in evangelical life (though it might cast a few of these skeptics in a more favorable light). It’s a carefully edited OUP title with contributions from an impressive list of heavyweights in sociology and church history. Its burden is to explain the edgy new countenance of evangelical social activism that has emerged in the last decade or so—a ‘new’ new evangelicalism.

The chapter of greatest interest to me was Joel Carpenter’s summary chapter, “What’s New About the New Evangelical Social Engagement?” in which he argues compellingly that the social concern of the ‘new’ new evangelicalism is actually a new iteration of the ‘old’ new evangelicalism—another in a series of “periodic eruptions” of the same evangelical mountain (276). The first formal wave,[1] centered on Carl Henry’s Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, began in the 1940s. A second and stronger wave came through in the 1970s, but this wave wasn’t quite so unified: it sported on the one hand a “sterner” moral majority centered around Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others of their ilk, and on the other hand a more “moderate” moral minority (to use David Schwartz’s clever appellative), centered about the organization “Evangelicals for Social Action,” led for nearly four decades by Ron Sider.

Today’s surge in evangelical social concern most closely resembles the last of these wavelets, Carpenter argues, but is ultimately cut from the same cloth—there is “not one trend or emphasis among them” that did not appear earlier (275). There are differences between the various new evangelicalisms, to be sure, but socially, not so much: the waves are largely homogenous. This consensus persists, Carpenter explains, because of a steady notion that “evangelism and social action are…two parts of a larger mandate, which is giving witness to God’s kingdom” (271). Take away this unifying mandate and the last century of evangelicalism, in all of its manifold expressions, dies a spectacular death. And so the answer to Carpenter’s title question, “What’s New About the New Evangelical Social Engagement?” is effectively this: not much, at least insofar as these new evangelical iterations are viewed as social and cultural constructs. And such constructs are, Carpenter suggests, what stands at the center of evangelicalism: “The heart of evangelicalism, in the end, is not theological,” he says, but the idea that “true religion [can be] made real to ordinary people” (277).

If this suggestion is correct (and I warm to the idea), then we may need to revisit the popular notion that “the” new evangelicalism is to be isolated in the non-separatist, anti-fundamentalist theological movement that flourished between 1942 and 1976, then convulsed and died during the inerrancy battles of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Further, we will do well to look backward to discover the likely course and end of the current new evangelical wave—and the next one too.

A very tantalizing read and well worth a closer look.


[1]I would argue that there was an earlier wave centered in post-WWI Europe, but it was less well-organized and involved “evangelicals” whose evangelical status would be questioned by many evangelicals today. Still, I think it’s safe to say that Henry’s new evangelical ‘wave’ was not without its own precedents.

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Israel’s Hermeneutical Problem

imagesIn 2 Cor 3:13 Paul says that “Moses put a veil over his face to prevent Israel from seeing the end of what was passing away.” What exactly was it that Israel couldn’t see? The answer: Israel had a hermeneutical problem. She couldn’t see the purpose of the Mosaic covenant. Here I’ll try to prove this reading in two steps.

First, “what was passing away” is simply another way of talking about the old (or Mosaic) covenant. (1) In vv. 7–11, Paul says that the “ministry that brought death” (v. 7) was less glorious than “the ministry of the spirit” (v. 8) for two reasons. It condemned and was “transitory”; whereas “the ministry of the spirit” justifies and “remains” (see vv. 9, 11). The participle translated “what was transitory” in v. 11 is the same participle used in v. 13 and translated “what was passing away,” which, along with their agreement in gender (i.e., both neuter), suggests both refer to the same thing, namely, “the ministry that brought death” in v. 7. Or, to put it all this another way, I suspect that had Paul reversed the comparisons of vv. 9 and 11, v. 13 would have read like this, “We are not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of that which condemns.” In short, “what was passing away” in v. 13 was “the ministry that brought death” in v. 7. (2) This “ministry that brought death” is said in v. 7 to have been “engraved in letters on stone,” which is nearly identical to the description of the (implied) covenant in v. 6, which is there contrasted with the “new covenant.” Thus, the covenant “of the letter,” which “kills,” in v. 6 and “the ministry that brought death” and is “engraved in letters on stone” in v. 7 is the Mosaic or old covenant. This reading is confirmed by the parallelism of vv. 13 and 14, where “what is passing away” in v. 13 is parallel with “the old covenant” in v. 14.

Second, “the end” of the old covenant refers to the goal or point of the old covenant. (1) The veil in v. 13 is said to prevent Israel from seeing the “end” of the old covenant and, in vv. 14–15, this veil is said to remain whenever the old covenant is read, implying that the veil is equivalent to a hermeneutical barrier. (This barrier, Paul makes clear in v. 14, is, fundamentally, moral.) Thus, Israel, due to sin, is prevented from understanding the old covenant and, specifically, from understanding its goal or point. (2) In light of what Paul says in vv. 9 and 11, the goal or point of the old covenant that Israel was unable to see was the old covenant’s temporary, condemning function. Israel, in other words, was prevented from seeing the old covenant’s glory, which is precisely what the veil (implied) in v. 7 hid and what is revealed, according to vv. 16–18, when the veil is removed.

Thus, to say it again, Paul says here in 2 Cor 3:7–18 that Israel had a hermeneutical problem, owing to sin: she wasn’t able to see the purpose of her covenant. All this, therefore, is closely related to what Paul says in Rom 9:30–10:21 and Gal 3:1–4:7 and, moreover, is one of the key differences between the way Paul read Scripture before and after his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. (See here for a similar reflection.)

Posted in Biblical Theology, Exposition | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church: Recap and Reading List

Love into LightThis past Wednesday, Peter Hubbard, author of Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church, delivered the annual William R. Rice lectures at DBTS. In his three lectures, Hubbard talked about how to understand and how to show biblical love to those who experience same-sex attraction (SSA).

In his first lecture, Hubbard explained the text of Psalm 36 and sought to provide a biblical framework for understanding SSA. He pointed out that every person’s biggest problem is not his or her sexual identity but rather his or her identity as a sinner. As fallen human beings, we are all sinners in need of Christ, and we all struggle with sin. Different people tend to struggle with different temptations. But we can all identify with the desire to do things that God has forbidden.

In his second lecture, Hubbard examined Romans 1. He noted that Paul speaks about a wide variety of sins in that chapter. Even so-called common or “respectable” sins like greed, gossiping, and disobedience to parents are things that Paul says make people worthy of divine judgment (Rom 1:32). God’s wrath has given all sinners over to sin, and yet God in his grace saves all sinners who come to Christ in repentance and faith.

In his final lecture, Hubbard talked about the church as a place that should be full of both grace and truth. He pointed out that grace without truth is a false grace while truth without grace tends toward self-righteousness. The church should be a place where homosexuals are loved as fellow-image bearers and are pointed to Christ as the only answer to all sin.

At the beginning of his book, Hubbard recounts the first time he counseled a man struggling with SSA. After meeting with this man on numerous occasions, Hubbard says, “The more I listened, the more I learned, the more I realized—we are not different. We are the same. Our specific battles and sins may vary, but our hearts are the same. And our daily need for the grace of Jesus is the same” (Love into Light, 11).

Both mp3s of the lectures and a pdf of the lecture notes are posted here. And if you are interested in reading more about this topic, here is a list of recommended resources that was provided by the speaker.

Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics

Rosaria Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert

Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay?

Mark Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian

Denny Burk, What is the Meaning of Sex?

Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense

Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth

Melinda Selmys, Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism

James DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature

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Slouching Towards Salem

The worldwide web is a staging area for mobs. It offers us sound definitions of and warnings about mobs (Wikipedia calls them “individuals in a group to acting together without planned direction…in schools, demonstrations, riots, and general strikes, sporting events, religious gatherings, everyday decision-making, judgment and opinion-forming”), then supplies its users with the greatest forum for mob activity that the world has ever known. In the spirit of true democracy it has granted a voice to everyman, but in doing so, has also accelerated the inevitable collapse of democracy into anarchy. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Thankfully, the “republic” part of the democratic republic that we call America makes it a place where due process and jurisprudence, while perhaps weakening, remain strong, mitigating the effects of mob justice. A person is still presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, and the wheels of justice turn at an appropriately slow pace. These principles are biblical ones. Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15 insist that punishment be meted out only in the face of duly examined and clear public evidence from bona fide witnesses. Nothing else will do. Jesus and Paul further inform us that this idea was not set aside when Christ fulfilled the Law, respectively insisting that due process be exercised in local churches (Matt 18:16) and especially in the case of accusations leveled at the highly vulnerable class of church leaders (1 Tim 5:19). Society affirms such principles not to protect tyrants and elites, but to protect the innocent and to preserve social order.

Sadly, not all in society honor these mores, and when this happens, the greatest casualty is always the deterioration of leadership. The mob routinely lays siege against civil leaders, lawmakers, structures, guilds, and even against whole classes of people against whom the tide of popular opinion has turned. And the mob is never content to oversee the fall of such figures; instead they trample and brutalize with savage glee until their victims are exterminated. Such barbarism lurks in all of us; scarcely anyone is exempted. At one time or another we’ve almost all delighted, openly or secretly, in the spectacular collapse of a political figure, celebrity, organization, or even an ethnic/religious group that we dislike. This is a great evil, and the ubiquity of this evil bodes very ill for society at large.

But an even greater evil occurs when the mob is composed of Christians railing against their own. It grieves me that whole websites exist today surviving chiefly by the wholesale gathering of anonymous accounts and hearsay directed toward the destruction of unpopular and otherwise disenfranchised Christian leaders and groups (all cloaked in a veneer of piety, of course). Such sites are ever popular, but they are not right.

This is NOT to say that “Christian” tyrants and elites who think they stand above the law are to be protected by suppressing credible, public evidence from bona fide witnesses in matters of criminal and other violence. Nor is it to say that we have any right to silence victims and witnesses of such violence. When these injustices occur, we should duly examine the evidence and, having established guilt, mete out swift justice—not crowing our delight, but weeping at the injury done to Christ. But of all the people in the world, we as Christians should also be dismayed and horrified by the prospect of the OTHER injustice–the injustice of a mob poured out upon the innocent, and especially upon innocent leaders. And if we fail to contain this injustice—an injustice upon which the Scriptures are far from silent—we should not be surprised when the mob turns against us in our weakness, as it has so often in the history of the Church.

Posted in Christian Living, Current Issues, Practical Theology | Comments Off