‘For us’ first, last, and always(?)

For several weeks now I’ve been unable to continue my reading in Rutledge’s The Crucifixion and when I picked it up today I came across these lines:

Even as he is the Judge, he is first and last “for us.” He was for us before he was against us, and for us even as he was against us — pro nobis first, last, and always. (515)

At the risk of having my house pounded with a box of Grade-A’s from Arminian Farms, an unequivocal statement like that seems to require far more than our free will or else universalism.

What am I missing?

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What makes for ‘good’ corporate worship?

There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God…

This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three or four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God–not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God–his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Ps 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.

-D. A. Carson, Worship by the Book, 31.

Reformation 500: Calvin on sanctification

Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it may be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday, the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself.

-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.6.5

Reformation 500: Zwingli’s turn to ‘sola scriptura’

When I was younger, I gave myself overmuch to human teaching, like others of my day, and when about seven or eight years ago I undertook to devote myself entirely to the Scriptures I was always prevented by philosophy and theology. But eventually I came to the point where led by the Word and Spirit of God I saw the need to set aside all these things and to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own Word. Then I began to ask God for light and the Scriptures became far clearer to me.

–Bromiley, Zwingli and Bullinger, 90-91 (as cited in George, Theology of the Reformers).

Reformation 500: Luther’s ‘discovery’

In his Theology of the Reformers, Timothy George recounts, through Luther’s own words, the seminal discovery that changed church history and the world as we know it:

Near the end of his life, Luther remembered how as a monk the phrase “justice of God” in Rom 1:17 had struck terror in his soul. All of his attempts to satisfy God–his prayers, fastings, vigils, good works–left him with a wholly disquieted conscience. His mood swung from despair over his own failures to a simmering rage at God: “I did not love, indeed I hated, that God who punished sinners; and with a monstrous, silent, if not blasphemous, murmuring I fumed against God.” Still, he “knocked persistently upon Paul,” meditating day and night in his study in the tower, until

I began to understand that the “justice of God” meant that justice by which the just man lives through God’s gift, namely by faith. This is what it means: the justice of God is revealed by the gospel, a passive justice with which the merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written: “He who through faith is just shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.

Newton: Christian life easier said than done

The Christian calling, like many others, is easy and clear in theory, but not without much care and difficulty to be reduced to practice. Things appear quite otherwise, when felt experimentally, to what they do, when only read in a book. . . . So, to renounce self, to live upon Jesus, to walk with God, to overcome the world, to hope against hope, to trust the Lord when we cannot trace him, and to know that our duty and privilege consist in these things, may be readily acknowledged or quickly learned; but, upon repeated trial, we find that saying and doing are two things. We think at setting out that we sit down and count the cost; but alas! our views are so superficial at first, that we have occasion to correct our estimate daily. For every day shows us some new thing in the heart, or some new turn in the management of the war against us which we are not aware of; and upon these accounts, discouragements may arise so high as to bring us (I speak for myself) to the very point of throwing down our arms, and making either a tame surrender or a shameful flight. Thus it would be with us at last if the Lord of hosts were not on our side. . . But if He is the Captain of our salvation, if his eye is upon us, his arm stretched out around us, and his ear open to our cry, and if He has engaged to teach our hands to war and our fingers to fight, and to cover our heads in the day of battle, then we need not fear, though a host rise up against us; but lifting up our banner in his name, let us go forth conquering and to conquer (Rom 16:20).

–John Newton, “To William Cowper,” Letter I. 30 July 1767. Letters of John Newton.

When slavery is freedom

Either we must live our lives in the clutches of soul-destroying Powers or we are delivered into the “obedience of faith.”

No one is capable of being captain of his own soul, master of her own fate. Each of us is worked upon by unconscious impulses of which we are not even aware and over which we have little control. Paul, unlike the typical American, does not think in terms of autonomous human beings. Paul proudly identifies himself as a “slave of Christ” (Gal 1:10). If the apocalyptic scenario is a picture of true reality, then no one is “free” in the domain of this world as it is. Either we must live our lives in the clutches of soul-destroying Powers or we are delivered into the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). Paradoxically, the new life in Christ can be called both slavery (the service of God) and freedom. This seeming contradiction of slavery and true freedom, which lies at the heart of the gospel, is beautifully invoked in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in words addressed to Christ, “whose service is perfect freedom”. . .

Being a “slave of righteousness” and a “slave of obedience” will sound intolerable to most modern ears. It takes hard mental work to enter Paul’s thought-world and understand that these phrases do not describe a bondage to a harsh puritanical code imposed upon us by a tyrannical outside force. He means the opposite. The gospel of Christ means precisely deliverance from tyrannical outside forces into a realm of light and life where “the obedience of faith” is the only natural and joyful way to be.

–Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 368-369.

Our appetite for sex

The relational good and physical pleasure we derive from sex aren’t mutually exclusive benefits but two sides of the same coin.

Russell Moore is always worth a read and his latest article, Will a Happy Marriage Prevent an Affair?, is no exception. However, I think he overstates a point in his conclusion when he writes:

That’s why the Scripture calls us to beware our own vulnerability. That’s why the Scripture tells husbands and wives to maintain sexual union with one another. It’s not because sex is an appetite that must be filled but because sex can connect us to one another, reminding us who it is that we are called to love and to serve.

If by this statement Moore merely intends to prioritize selflessness over personal pleasure but not deny the biblical imperative to (righteously) satisfy our sexual appetite, all is well. But we ought to prioritize wisely as we consider the whole counsel of God. The relational good and physical pleasure we derive from sex aren’t mutually exclusive benefits but two sides of the same coin. As Christians we affirm God’s intention to create us as sexual beings complete with sexual appetites although sin has disrupted the design and function of our sexuality on multiple levels. Even outside of Song of Solomon the Scriptures speak to our appetite for sex and the need to sate it. Consider just two passages where we are commanded to maintain our sexual union for the sake of our appetite:

Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? (Prov 5:18-20)

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1Cor 7:5)

In one sense it’s precisely because we hunger for sex that sex creates so strong a connection–it is the one pleasure we desire that only one person may fulfill. And let’s not forget that the appetite for sexual pleasure is a type of that hunger for even greater pleasures that only One can (and will!) fulfill in a marriage still to come.

Newton: the Lord only afflicts for our good

We could do much worse than start the week off with some wisdom from John Newton.

…be not discouraged; the Lord only afflicts for our good. It is necessary that our sharpest trials should sometimes spring from our dearest comforts, else we should be in danger of forgetting ourselves, and setting up our rest here. In such a world, and with such hearts as we have, we shall often need something to prevent our cleaving to the dust, to quicken us to prayer, and to make us feel that our dependence for one hour’s peace is upon the Lord alone.

–John Newton, “To the Rev. William Rose,” Letter II. 21 December 1776. Letters of John Newton.

The new Jerk Store?

WARNING: The following is an egregious display of dispassionate thinking that some may find highly offensive. Assumptions made within the post do not reflect the position of any church, denomination, or Christian entity. --The Administrator

One storm gives way to another and so, having survived Irma, I turn my thoughts back to the web storm that was the Nashville Statement (NS). If you’re wondering whether or not you should continue reading here’s a simple test:

The Nashville Statement is:
(a) an evangelical statement on human sexuality
(b) a press release on Troy Gentry’s death.

If you answered ‘b’ you probably won’t care to read any further.

For the remnant who answered ‘a’ (and are willing to persevere to the end) you should read the NS if you haven’t already. The responses have been all over the map so trying to group people in pro and con camps is futile. But amidst the cacophony is a variegated faction who agree with the NS but refuse to endorse it because they believe the document is incomplete and/or cold. I find their position curious and unpersuasive.

On the whole, I like what Samuel James has to say in his article over at First Things, especially when he says:

I suspect that what has turned off many people to the Nashville Statement is its clarity.

I think James is right on this point even though it’s impossible to prove the relative sincerity of a given critic, so while some may withhold their endorsement with integrity I have a few suspicions of my own.

{pause to adjust soapbox}

I suspect many people are letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. Perusing my Documents of the Christian Church (2nd edition) I search in vain to find a creedal statement that is both exhaustive in scope and sensitive in tone. The Nicene Creed? Good on the Trinity but weak on the hypostatic union. The Westminster Confession? Exhaustive but as warm as January in Maine. The Baptist Faith & Message? Pick your poison. Then there’s The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and the Manhattan Declaration but you get the point. Christians have never claimed nor expected perfection from their doctrinal statements–what’s changed?

I suspect that many critics conflate sexual orientation with personal identity and, as a result, no longer consider same-sex desires inherently sinful. As long as this remains true I don’t think any orthodox statement will pass the sensitivity test. Everything will be interpreted as a personal attack.

I suspect that some of those who balk at the NS would be encouraged by taking a quick look at the initial signatories. J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, Russell Moore, Sam Allberry, and Rosario Butterfield aren’t exactly short-sighted, insensitive clods. That has to count for something, right?

I get that some Christians have genuine concerns when a select group addresses a complicated issue with far-reaching consequences, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we distribute our dogma in Costanza’s Jerk Store. But orthodoxy will  always have sharp edges and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can smooth them out with a little more craftsmanship.