Pipe & Pencil (2): the felt weakness of Jesus

Christ has put on our feelings as well as our flesh. -John Calvin

In his discussion of the incarnation, Macleod turns his attention to our Lord’s human emotions. Perhaps most poignant are his reflections on Christ’s experience through his time of suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross.

To think that all-powerful God submits to human fear & weakness! Macleod is worth quoting at length:

But the narrative [concerning Gethsemane] does not owe its force to the adjectives alone. The whole account resonates the acutest torment and anguish. This appears, for example, in the fact that he took Peter, James, and John with him, not merely for companionship but so that they might watch and pray with him. It was of paramount importance for himself, for the universe and for mankind that he should not fail in his task, and the temptations that beset him on the eve of his agony represented a real threat to the completion of his obedience. Hell would do — was doing — all in its power to divert him from the Father’s will. Hence the supreme urgency of watching and praying; and hence the need for the prayers of others. Could there be a more impressive witness to the felt weakness of Jesus than his turning to those frail human beings and saying to them, “I need your prayers!”?

In the event they failed him. He had to watch and pray alone. Had the redemption of the world depended on the diligence of the disciples (or even on their staying awake) it would never have been accomplished . . . But the impressive thing is that he turned to them at all. How deep must have been his need and his fear!

…It is clear from all the accounts that Jesus’ experience of turmoil and anguish was both real and profound. His sorrow was as great as a man could bear, his fear convulsive, his astonishment well-nigh paralyzing. He came within a hairsbreadth of break-down. He faced the will of God as raw holiness, the mysterium tremendum in its most acute form: and it terrified him…

When Moses saw the glory of God on Mt. Sinai so terrifying was the sight that he trembled with fear (Heb 12:21). But that was God in covenant: God in grace. What Christ saw in Gethsemane was God with sword raised (Zech 13:7; Mat 26:31). The sight was unbearable. In a few short hours, he, the Last Adam, would stand before that God answering for the sin of the world: indeed, identified with the sin of the world (2Cor 5:21). He became, as Luther said, ‘the greatest sinner that ever was’ (cf. Gal 3:13). Consequently, to quote Luther again, ‘No one ever feared death so much as this man.’ He feared it because for him it was no sleep (1Thess 4;13), but the wages of sin: death with the sting; death unmodified and unmitigated; death as involving all that sin deserved. He, alone, would face it without a [covering], providing by his dying the only covering for the world, but doing so as a holocaust, totally exposed to God’s abhorrence of sin.. And he would face death without God…deprived of the one solace and the one resource which had always been there.

The wonder of the love of Christ for his people is not that for their sake he faced death without fear, but that for their sake he faced it, terrified. Terrified by what he knew, and terrified by what he did not know, he took damnation lovingly. 

-Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, 173-175.
(emphasis added)

Grab your pipe & your pencil

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For some time now I’ve felt the need to read through a good book on Christology–first, to push back the horizons of my ignorance; second, and more importantly, to feed my soul. In his introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, C. S. Lewis wrote:

I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

This has certainly been true for me as I work my way through The Person of Christ by Donald Macleod. I honestly don’t know how many people would share my experience in this book–sometimes you “happen” to come along the right book at just the right time. Regardless, Macleod’s has been that book for me which is one of the reasons I’ll periodically pass on some of the more challenging and/or meaningful portions here.

One more thing. For those who might like to find their heart singing over some challenging theology but don’t know how or where to start, maybe look here or here.

Here, then, is an excerpt from the chapter “Christ, The Son of God” on the relevance of Jesus’ transfiguration (pipe & pencil not included):

…[the transfiguration] has an on-going ministry. For Jesus, the trauma is past: he has entered into his rest. For us, it is not past. We are still struggling and suffering. To that situation the transfiguration still speaks, because it discloses not only the glory eternally possessed by the Lord, and not only the glory for which, as incarnate Mediator, he was destined, but also the glory of his people . . . The transfiguration showed not only what he would become but what we would become. The New Testament makes this connection explicitly. We are to be where he is (Jn 17:24). Our bodies are to be conformed exactly to his (Phil 3:21). We, in him, are to become sharers in the divine nature (2Pet 1:4). For Jesus on the Mount, this vision of what lay beyond the cross, not only for himself but for his people, would have been an immeasurable encouragement.

A. M. Ramsey relates this to the twin concepts, opsis and theiosis. Opsis is the spiritual vision which beholds the glory of the Lord. Theiosis is the transfiguring process which results: we are changed into the same image (2Cor 3:18), transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), and one day we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is (1Jn 3:2). This goes back to the core of God’s own redemptive determination: to conform all his people to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29). Yet, as the sequel to the transfiguration shows, neither opsis nor theiosis goes on in ideal circumstances. We have to go down from the Mount to the demon-possessed valley. It is there that we must practice opsis; and only there that we can experience theiosis.

-Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, 107.
[emphasis added]

Resolved: Jesus was merciful because he was angry

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Discuss among yourselves [emphasis added]:

The holy resentment of Jesus has been made the subject of a famous chapter in Ecco Homo. The contention of this chapter is that he who loves men must needs hate with a burning hatred all that does wrong to human beings, and that, in point of fact, Jesus never wavered in his consistent resentment of the special wrong-doing which he was called upon to witness. The chapter announces as its thesis, indeed, the paradox that true mercy is no less the product of anger than of pity: that what differentiates the divine virtue of mercy from “the vice of insensibility” which is called “tolerance,” is just the under-lying presence of indignation. Thus–so the reasoning runs–“the man who cannot be angry cannot be merciful,” and it was therefore precisely the anger of Christ which proved that the unbounded compassion he manifested to sinners “was really mercy and not mere tolerance.” The analysis is doubtless incomplete; but the suggestion, so far as it goes, is fruitful. Jesus’ anger is not merely the seamy side of his pity; it is the righteous reaction of his moral sense in the presence of evil. But Jesus burned with anger against the wrongs he met with in his journey through human life as truly as he melted with pity at the sight of the world’s misery: and it was out of these two emotions that his actual mercy proceeded.

-B. B. Warfield, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” The Person and Work of Christ

Why Christians aren’t ‘nice’

Near the end of a 2012 discussion of his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray touched on the difference between raising kids to be nice versus raising kids to be good. You can take a look and reflect for yourself (watch 39:06-40:12) but I wanted to draw attention to this statement in particular:

Being nice is a way of moment to moment not creating trouble. It is not a way of inculcating standards and behavior that will get you through tough times.

Now this was in the context of child-rearing but  Murray’s point is one that I have groped for when discussing the pseudo-Christian response to today’s sexual revolution. To wit, nice is the new love.

What the social engineers demand is that Christians be nice–that we acquiesce; go along to get along. Protests notwithstanding, the last thing they want from us is love unless they get to define it. In the new moral order love isn’t so much “patient” as it is “permissive.”

Yes, “love is kind” (1Cor 13:4). But keep reading. “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth” (1Cor 13:6). And that’s why love isn’t always “nice”–because it rejoices in the truth. Love asserts that some things are right and some things are wrong. Love insists there is a fixed moral order that has been transgressed. Love says what we would rather not hear and rejects what we would rather accept.

And so the Christian who truly loves becomes a troublemaker. And troublemakers will never be considered nice.

(S)elected reflections on Romans 9

…for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”

For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.”  So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. {Rom 9:11-12, 15-16; NAS}

Some brief thoughts after spending 4-5 weeks teaching Romans 9.

  1. This passage should be taught in a spirit of grace & humility.
  2. Unconditional election seems to be the most straightforward interpretation but also the hardest one to come to grips with.
  3. After acknowledging how utterly sinful and rebellious we are (Rom 1-3) it’s curious that so many of us consider free will to be an advantage for salvation.
  4. God is too often conceived of as cold & indifferent in this passage. Having been on both sides of the lectern, that has as much to do with shallow teaching as anything else.
  5. The implications in this passage will always be acutely felt by Christian parents.
  6. Paul gives us this passage to affirm God’s faithfulness & mercy but our initial impressions seem to run the other way.
  7. A true grasp of unconditional election is not without sorrow.

Nonidentical twins: legalism & antinomianism

Some counter-intuitive insight:

The root of [Eve’s] antinomianism (opposition to and breach of the law) was actually the legalism that was darkening her understanding, dulling her senses, and destroying her affection for her heavenly Father.

…what the Serpent accomplished in Eve’s mind, affections, and will was a divorce between God’s revealed will and his gracious, generous character. Trust in him was transformed into suspicion of him by looking at the “naked law” rather than hearing “law from the gracious lips of the heavenly Father.”

…legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.

…legalism and antinomianism seem to be simple opposites–all that is needed, it seems, is right doctrine. But the more basic issue is: How do I think about God, and what instincts and dispositions and affections toward him does this evoke in me?

It cannot be too strongly emphasized, therefore, that everyone is a legalist at heart. Indeed, if anything, that is the more evident in antinomians.

-Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ

Irreverent musings: pop apologies

And so, to get rid of this rumor [that he was the cause of the great fire of Rome], Nero set up as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. …an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of hatred of the human race.

-Tacitus, Annals (from Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed)

It’s one thing to have liberal secularists blame Republicans, conservatives, and Christians (but I repeat myself) for the mass murder in Orlando. It’s something else to have Christians blaming Christians for it.

To cite just two examples, Sammy Rhodes (RUF campus minister) and Jen Hatmaker (author/blogger) have both posted mea culpas* for our contribution to the barbarity that claimed the lives of 49 people in a gay night club.

I have no intention of divining the sincerity of these apologies or the impetus behind them, but I do want to draw attention to some troubling aspects.

First, it’s striking to note that these comments were offered in response to charges leveled by prominent gay & lesbian individuals. Hatmaker was “listening to my gay friends and leaders” while Rhodes came across a tweet from “author and lesbian Támara Lunardo.” I’m under no illusion that the Christian community has an impeccable record on any social issue, but isn’t it possible that our critics are just using us as convenient scapegoats?

For example, here is the tweet that drove Rhodes to his keyboard:

When Lunardo was told that Christians had, in fact, been speaking out she responded:

Maybe I’m just a hardened cynic but it sounds to me like Lunardo (et al) would be shaming Christians no matter how we responded.

Second, the language in some of these apologies can actually dull the Christian witness in an important way. We know what militant secularists mean when they accuse us of promoting inequality, supporting injustice, denying civil liberties, etc. These charges are leveled against us any time we affirm a biblical sexual ethic or seek to live out our faith in the public square. Parroting their lingo in an apology sounds like tacit agreement. We can love others without adopting their terms. Language matters.

Third, a personal apology should regularly employ the singular personal pronoun (I, me, mine). I may be in a very small minority here but when your personal apology goes on to talk about “we” and “us” it sounds like posturing.

Tacitus’ account of the events in 64 AD isn’t a perfect analogy but it makes for an interesting thought experiment. Had social media been available during the Roman empire, a large segment of the population would have been happy to blame Christians for the fire. Assuming that Christians were no more perfect then than now, would Peter have taken to the blogosphere to apologize for the anti-pagan bigotry that rendered Rome combustible?

 


*On the whole, Hatmaker’s post wasn’t exactly an apology.

 

 

Chrysostom on Romans 8:31

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What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? {Rom 8:31, NAS}

Yet those that be against us, so far are they from thwarting us at all, that even without their will they become to us the causes of crowns, and procurers of countless blessings, in that God’s wisdom turneth their plots unto our salvation and glory. See how really no one is against us! -John Chrysostom (c. 349-407)

Headaches & heartaches

Rod Dreher has a post over at The American Conservative that you really need to read for yourself. It consists of two separate examples of the blatant propaganda being served up in the effort to redefine the nature of transgenderism.

First up is a Tylenol add that ironically (or is it paradoxically?) turns out to be a headache-inducing homage to today’s undefined family. Were it not for the inclusion of some intolerant newspeak in the script (note especially the socio-linguistic pronouncement by one of our leading lights at the 30 sec mark), you’d find The Beatles were singing this message fifty years ago.

But the second example provided by Dreher (via a reader) is heartbreaking. It’s a testimonial from the parent of an autistic girl who identified as a lesbian who then identified as a male who is now transitioning to a “boy.” The contrast between Tylenol’s agitprop and the mom’s story is jarring. One can’t help but feel sympathy for a mom who feels she missed her opportunity to protect her daughter from harm; for an autistic teen who couldn’t appreciate the decision she was making and now will suffer consequences she can’t understand; and for a host of other vulnerable young people who will be treated as guinea pigs for the cause of “human dignity.”

The juxtaposition of a Tylenol ad with a mother’s testimonial is a somber reminder that our society needs a church who will be prophetic and priestly. It’s not enough to be a lonely voice crying out in an expanding wilderness. We also need to be ministers who sympathetically serve the ones left to languish in the wilderness.

Irreverent musings: The Facebook-driven faith

Brace yourself. If this report is true then Facebook curators aren’t honest brokers when it comes to managing the company’s “trending” news section. It would seem that said curators ignore some trends while manufacturing others. But the doctoring of the news trends wasn’t an attempt to drive more traffic thereby generating more revenue. No, the trends were tampered with in order to–brace yourselves–suppress conservative news.

Those of you hearing this for the first time (what? you didn’t see this story on Fb??) may need a moment to get over the sudden onset of  the vapours. For the rest of you I hope that you file this story under “unexpected, not surprised” since Facebook isn’t the only member of the media industrial complex to use their platform to serve an agenda. I guess part of what makes the story “newsworthy” is that not an insignificant portion of the population (millennials?) is purported to get their news from Fb. I suppose they had to find another reliable source when John “Just-the-Facts” Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show.

On a more serious note, I draw attention to the story for two closely related reasons. First, Fb (et al) has been something of an unofficial bellwether of societal mood and thought. Second, if the fix is in at Fb we have to seriously question whether or not features like “trending news” show trends or steer trends.

The plausibility of the report should at least give us pause. If Fb has tinkered with the trends what might that say about the incessant effort to keep Christianity “relevant”?

It’s not easy to buck the trend or to run against a headwind which is why on a host of issues–sexual ethics, racial reconciliation, biblical authority, etc–too many prominent Christians have assumed the role of ecclesiastical pioneer so as to lead the rest of us plodders into a new frontier. In the hope of saving Christianity from itself these brave souls run against doctrinal headwinds as they ride the cultural gusts. As one Dr. Zeitgeist has said:

Culture is like the wind. You can’t stop it. You shouldn’t spit in it. But, if like a good sailor you will adjust your sails, you can harness the winds of culture to take your audience where they need to go.

But what if the new winds blowing aren’t all-natural?

What if portions of that perfect storm have been generated by an industrial blower?

The ubiquity of social media has made it an essential tool in ministry today and a helpful, albeit imperfect, measure of issues that require a Christian response. We can and should use it responsibly.

But a word of caution is in order. If keeping up with trends is one of the conditions for maintaining your Christian witness, you’ll  look back one day and be shocked to discover that you were the tool all along.