Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Deadbeat Dads and Latch-Key Kids (Or, Why We Need the Church)

"No one can have God for his Father," Cyprian insisted, "who does not have the Church as his mother." To our own Gnostic sensibilities, this statement is offensive and extreme. Sure, American evangelicals are all about healthy, two-parent families, but this only applies to the cultural type, not the cultic antitype. In other words, we're conservatives in the culture wars, but when it comes to the worship wars, we're ecclesiatical versions of Jeanine Gerofalo.

But while "tsk-tsk"ing those poor, inner-city (read: black) types for supposedly spawning scores latch-key kids, have we unwittingly made God out to be the greatest deadbeat Dad of all time?

The harsh reality, folks, is that Jesus is not here. Well, let me rephrase that: Jesus is no longer locally present with us, he has ascended to his Father's right hand in glory. This means that we don't get to refer to him as "the One we have seen with our eyes, whom we have touched with our hands" (I John 1:1).

Not that we no longer hear him or truly commune with him, we certainly do. But we do so in a mediated, not immediate, way through the ministry of his church. When your minister faithfully expounds God's Word, that is Jesus talking. When he declares the forgiveness of your sins, that is Jesus forgiving you. When he administers the bread and cup, that is Jesus feeding you his own body and blood. The keys of the kingdom have been entrusted to the officers of Christ's church for the holy purpose of opening, shutting, binding, and loosing (Matt. 16:19).

If Cyprian was right when he said that extra ecclesiam nulla salus est (outside the church there is no salvation), then despite our attempts at a Gnostic shortcut, we simply cannot have the Head without the Body.

After all, is it not a tad ironic for physical decapitation to be condemned by a group of spiritual Jack the Rippers?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

American Trinitarianism: Me, Myself, and I

In The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison argues that the "Radical Reformers" (i.e., the Anabaptists) went well beyond the position of the magisterial reformers regarding Scripture. The view of the latter – "Tradition 1" – was that the Bible is the only source of infallible revelation, that it is to be interpreted in and by the church, and that this must be done in a way consistent with the regula fidei (the oral tradition preached by the apostles before its enscripturization).

The Anabaptist view, which has been dubbed "Tradition 0" and is virtually identical to the contemporary evangelical notion of Solo Scriptura, insists not only that the Bible is the sole source of infallible authority, but that it is the only source of authority altogether.

If this view is correct, some pretty insurmountable problems arise. First, if the Bible alone is authoritative, then how do we define "the Bible"? Nowhere within the sixty-six books of Scripture is there a table of contents saying, "Now the inspired books are...." Solo Scriptura, therefore, may be able to assert that the Bible alone has authority, but it requires an extra-biblical declaration by a non-authoritative body (the church) to determine which books comprise "the Bible."

Another problem with the idea that Scripture is the sole source of authority (inspired or otherwise) is that without the general consensus of the early church, codified in the ecumenical creeds, there is no way to determine what the core of Christianity really is. Without the regula fidei functioning as our hermeneutical context and guardian of our exegesis, it is impossible to know what does or does not contitute heresy. If all we have is a Sacred Magisterium of One (me), then Mormonism's falsehood is only a matter of opinion, and the insistence that Jesus is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father is no more or less true than his being the brother of Lucifer who died on a pole.

(As an aside, if you think I'm embellishing for the sake of rhetorical effect, click here.)

Maybe Cyprian was right, and God doesn't raise latch-key kids. If you want God for your Father, you must also have the church as your mother, for extra ecclesiam nulla salus est.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Scripture and the Church: The Dual-Source Theory of Infallible Authority

I debated whether or not I wanted to devote an entire post to what Mathison, echoing Oberman, calls "Tradition 2," and in the interest of fairness I decided to go ahead and do it. Plus, there is something attractive about this position if you think about it long enough.

Mathison argues that in the first few centuries of church history one finds no hint of a two-source theory of inspired revelation. With Augustine and Basil, however, the idea that church tradition is co-equal with Scripture is first broached, and though it is debatable whether these men actually held to a dual-source theory, they would eventually be claimed by Rome as the initial proponents of what became official church dogma at Trent - the ex cathedra declarations of the Roman Catholic Church are, along with Scripture, infallible and authoritative.

If only....

I wish it were this easy. If Jesus had left behind an inspired and infallible individual, office, or institution that could just tell us exactly and perfectly what the Bible says concerning every possible issue, then we could all stop fighting, we could all attain visible unity, and we could all hold hands and sing "It's a Small World After All."

Maybe it's just me, but if the way most Catholics and evangelicals frame the debate were actually correct, and our only two options were Tradition 2 or hyper-individualism, I'd bypass Wheaton for Rome in a heartbeat.

The weaknesses of this position are easy enough to list, but what are its strengths?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Word, the Church, and the Regula Fidei

"For the first three centuries," Keith Mathison argues in his The Shape of Sola Scriptura, "we find a general consensus regarding authority." This consensus was that the Scriptures of the Old Testament, together with those of the New once they were compiled, were understood to be the sole source of inspired revelation.

"The Scripture," he continues,
"... was to be interpreted by the Church and in the Church within the context of the regula fidei.... The Church was the interpreter and guardian of the Word of God, and the regula fidei was a summary of the apostolic preaching and the hermeneutical context of the Word of God. But only Scripture was the Word of God."
As an example of the regula fidei ("rule of faith") Mathison lists the Apostles' Creed. Thus, while such a creed is not inspired or infallible, it does hold a derivative, secondary authority which allows it to function as a hermeneutical boundary-marker. So when an individual or a church interprets the Bible in such a way that contradicts the apostolic tradition (regula fidei), that interpretation should be viewed with suspicion.

This view has been dubbed "Tradition 1."

What are some strengths or potential pitfalls of this position?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Scripture and Tradition

I've been reading Keith Mathison's The Shape of Sola Scriptura (published, ironically, by Canon Press in Moscow). Although some of these these issues have been briefly touched on already, I want to revisit the discussion, especially in the light of the recent debate over at De Regno Christi concerning the relation of Scripture to tradition.

Building upon Heiko Oberman's paradigm, Mathison breaks down the issue of the Bible's relationship to tradition into three views that have been held throughout church history. The view of the early church was that the sole source of inspired revelation is the Bible, which must be interpreted in and by the church according to the apostolic witness, or regula fidei. This view has been creatively dubbed "Tradition 1," and was held virtually without exception throughout the first fourteen centuries of church history.

At Trent, Rome officially codified as dogma the view that the oral tradition of the church is on par with Scripture as a source of inspired revelation. This view is called (you guessed it) "Tradition 2."

The "Radical Reformers," or Anabaptists, took the view that all extra-biblical sources were not only lacking in authority, but were positively unhelpful and even dangerous, for they inevitably impede the voice of the Spirit as he instructs the individual during his own private Bible reading. This position Mathison, echoing Oberman, calls "Tradition 0."

The problem, as Mathison sees it, is that the radical view of the Anabaptists has all but highjacked Protestantism and has falsely claimed the mantle of Sola Scriptura. Rather than being seen as fighting two distinct battles, the Reformers are incorrectly thought to have advocated the staunch individualism that has come to characterize the evangelicalism of our own day.

I hope to look at these issues in more detail in the next few posts, so stay tuned, and comment away....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part VII

This is the last segment of Egypt's Unworthiness, enjoy....

“Eschatology Precedes Soteriology”

Princeton theologian Geerhardus Vos famously stated that “eschatology precedes soteriology.” What he meant by this was that man’s desire for eternal life was resident within him even before his need to be saved from his sin. The implications of this insight are legion, but what is especially germane to our discussion is how this relates to the idea, so common in the context of modern evangelism, that before a person can be expected to repent and trust in Christ he must be convinced of his dissatisfaction with life as he presently knows it.

Many of us have encountered what I refer to as the “Jesus Is Better Than Drugs” method of evangelism. Aside from the fact that, if what is being compared here is the feeling one derives from Jesus on the one hand and drugs on the other, this statement is probably false, this approach also fails the test of eschatology. If Vos is correct, then the need that we often feel to invalidate all earthly pleasure in order to make Jesus appear the most pleasing option is wrongheaded to begin with.

All people—even the ones with nice houses and expensive cars—are equally plagued with a longing to escape the fleeting and temporal confines of this age. This is not due to their worldly happiness being a farce, which allows us to concede the point rather than secretly wishing we could slash their tires in order to prepare them to hear about “the happiness that only Jesus can give.” Rather, the angst that all people inwardly experience is due to their being created for eternity and hardwired for frustration with anything less. In fact, the apostle Paul even extends this sense of longing past the human heart into the very universe itself.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Rom. 8:20-22).
Our two malcontents, therefore, were not alone in their shared sense of burden. Even with the pleasures of the world’s most powerful kingdom at their beck and call, Joseph and Moses had a faith that penetrated the here and now and glimpsed the One who has entered the age to come as a “forerunner” for all who take up crosses and follow (Heb. 6:20). What the cosmos knows, and what the saints of Hebrews 11 understood, is precisely what many believers in our own day forget: It is the height of vanity to identify our lasting treasure with the stuff of earth. Our heavenly pedigree is set aside when we, like “that profane man Esau” (Heb. 12:16), forfeit our noble birthright because we are charmed by the trifles of time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part VI

Egypt’s True Alternative

Returning to Joseph’s and Moses’ refusal to identify their true treasure with the wealth of Egypt, we must ask ourselves what the alternative was. At first glance, of course, it looks like these men forfeited Egypt for Canaan, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” But Egypt’s boast of being the greatest kingdom in the ancient world would have been pretty empty if “milk and honey” were not among its bounty of delicacies. Moses would not have abandoned his royal status in Egypt in order to traverse a harsh wilderness to a land that promised nothing beyond what was already at his disposal, would he?

No, Moses was more than a national reformer and patriot, and his hope lay not a piece of real estate, no matter how lush and well-watered. Like the patriarchs before him, Moses “looked to the reward,” to “a homeland,” a “heavenly country” whose surpassing splendor made the pomp and pleasure of the kingdoms of this fleeting age appear as mere trifles in comparison (Heb. 11:26, 14, 16). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that those whose hope is in this life only “are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor. 15:19). Moses was a lot of things, but pitiful was not one of them.

This is the point of Hebrews 11—a point often missed by much of what passes as “evangelism” in the contemporary church. For example, we often hear that if we give our hearts to Jesus we will experience love, joy, peace, and immediate fulfillment. The harsh reality, however, is that the Bible makes no such promise. In fact, evangelist and author Ray Comfort has often quipped that Christianity promises four things: trial, tribulation, persecution, and everlasting life. Moses did not give up earthly misery for earthly joy, he gave up earthly joy for earthly misery. Why would he do this? Because his faith provided him with “an assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). In other words, the only reason anyone would trade present comfort for present pain is because both of these are just that—present and passing, and will soon give way to a joy that is eternal, and that transcends the successes or failures of this age.

While it is true that the earthly lot of many believers does not necessarily improve the moment they look to Jesus, this is not the point. In verses 33-38 of Hebrews 11 we read:

[These saints] through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Notice how the writer moves seamlessly from his description of those whose faith resulted in their conquering kingdoms and stopping the mouths of lions to those whose faith resulted in their being imprisoned or sawn in two. The point of presenting so stark a contrast with such seeming indifference is stated smack dab in the middle of this section—neither the triumphs associated with the victorious saints of verses 33-35, nor the defeats of those described in verses 36-39, are “worthy” of drawing their subjects’ attention away from the enduring blessing that comes from “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:28).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part V

The Pointlessness of Piety

The Preacher’s sphere of reference—life “under the sun”—does not even offer meaning in spirituality, religion, or the search for God. Paul told the Romans that the study of nature (all things under the sun) is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient deity, but his conclusion is far from comforting. There is an almost palpable lack of joy in the closing words of Ecclesiastes:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:13-14).
Though the Enlightenment promised us a god we could discover through unaided reason, the deity we found was anything but a comfort to those wrestling with the vanity of their own existence. This deus nudus – or “naked god” – as he has been called, seems more like an it than a who, a piece of celestial machinery that allows 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Malcolm in the Middle, and countless other atrocities. Though the god we uncover by the efforts of our own rational deduction may inspire awe or fear, he certainly doesn’t make a very good case for why we should love or trust him. This God, the apostle explained to the Romans, does not save anyone, for the Book of Nature reveals a naked God of law, of justice, and of seeming indifference to human pain (1:18ff).

The existence of an x, a First Cause, or an Unmoved Mover who is more like “the Force” than like a Father may cause men and women to begrudgingly assent to his existence with their heads, but they will never trust him with their hearts. This generic deity does not invite trust in the truth but suppression of it, for the observation of brute facts and the “invisible hand” of Providence indicates that he cares no more for the good guys than for the bad or the ugly. Kreeft points out that “innocent little bunny rabbits and human babies do not fare well against predatory coyotes or leukemia…. The good die young, and the better you are, the more likely it is that you will be martyred.” It is for this reason that Solomon offered this advice:

Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? (Ecc. 7:16-17).
Nature’s God appears as an absentee landlord, an insignificant Other who may be there, but who is certainly not here. A god who, like “the Truth” in The X-Files, is “out there” is far from being “a present help in time of trouble” (Psa. 46:1). And even if he is out there, he appears to be too indifferent to listen, too holy to help, too transcendent to touch, and too vengeful to invoke. This also is vanity.

The “time-ishness” of time, therefore, serves to rob even the most noble of earth’s pursuits of any ultimate value, for the bigger the barns we build to store our bounty, or the more abundant our moral bank account appears, the more damning will be the “Thou fool!” that we will hear from God’s lips on that final Day (Luke 12:16-21; Matt. 7:21-23).

Thanks Anyway, But I'll Take My Best Life Later

I plan to return to the topic of Egypt's Unworthiness shortly, but before I do I must point out that if anyone missed Sunday night's episode of 60 Minutes, you missed a rather chilling experience indeed.

If Joel Osteen is a gospel preacher, then I am not one. If the gospel message is that God can be manipulated in order to secure for myself the things I want, then I reject the gospel. And conversely, if the message of the Reformation is in fact the biblical message, then Joel Osteen is a false prophet whose promise of "Peace! Peace!" when there is no peace is a farce at best, and damnable heresy at worst.

When a non-believing interviewer rebukes you for excluding the message of the cross from your gospel message and for saying nothing that can't be heard on Oprah or Dr. Phil, you know you're doing something seriously wrong.

And what confuses me to no end is when people in confessional Reformed churches express, even subtly, a sense of envy toward broad evangelicalism. Perhaps those who grew up in Reformation churches have seen the ugly side of Calvinistic elitism, but for this former megachurch evangelical, I take offense when the truths I actually had to pay a price to embrace are hocked, like Esau's birthright, for a bowl of my best life now.

Thanks very much, but I'll stick with a cross, an empty tomb, and some good old wine for these trusty old wineskins.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part IV

The Pointlessness of Philanthropy

If serving oneself is vain and fruitless, what about serving others? Surely it is in philanthropy—love toward our fellow man—that ultimate meaning and purpose are to be found. But Solomon tried this as well, turning from self-gratification through the pursuit of wisdom, pleasure, and power to the benefiting of others.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
But this, too, was to no avail. The reason is simple enough: if the pursuit of pleasure yielded vanity and void, what good is there in sharing these findings with others? A man may sincerely desire to bless his blind neighbor by offering to lead him by the hand, but if he himself is also blind, his efforts will yield no fruit (Luke 6:39). Kreeft writes, “How can the gift of vanity be any more than vain? … Once I find the summum bonum, it must be shared, yes, but I cannot share it before I find it.” Multiply zero by any other number, no matter how high, and the result will still be the same.

Another reason why altruism is pointless in the world of Ecclesiastes is that it is not only the one who seeks the good of others who is ignorant of the meaning of life, but so are those whom he seeks to help. “What good is it to hand down the mite of wisdom that I have attained if posterity is as foolish as I am?”

Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19).
The good works we perform for our fellow man, therefore, are not only filthy rags in God’s sight because of his surpassing holiness (Isa. 64:6; Tit. 3:5), but considered on their own merits, they are not even helpful or worthwhile in any ultimately meaningful sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part III

The Vanity of Time

As odd as it may sound, it is precisely man’s identity as a malcontent that makes him unique among God’s creatures. As Roman Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft has pointed out, fish do not complain that their natural environment is too wet, nor do birds inwardly resent the breeziness of the air. But we humans share a collective sense of frustration with the intolerable ticking of the clock. As the wizard Gandalf mutters when setting out on a pressing errand in the film The Two Towers, “For three-hundred lives of men have I walked this earth, and now, I have no time.”

Perhaps you have been haunted by the inexplicable feeling that your very environment, the only environment you have ever known (namely time), is foreign. Could time, the very stuff of life and building block of society that greets us every morning with the buzzing of the alarm clock, and then pushes us through each day, actually be an enemy? As bizarre as it sounds, I suggest that it is, and as the Preacher argues in the book of Ecclesiastes, this enemy adversely affects all of our toil under the sun. In a word, time renders all of man’s earthly pursuits utterly pointless. Let us consider, then, time’s effect on three of man’s greatest quests for meaning in life: pleasure, philanthropy, and piety.

The Pointlessness of Pleasure

In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 we read:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
The vicious cycle described here engenders the frustrated cry, “What profit does the worker have in his toil?” (v. 9). Being born and then dying, sowing and then reaping all argue for the vanity and futility of existence under the sun. It would seem to follow then—and millions would concur—that the only reasonable response is rank hedonism: “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (Ecc. 8:15, cf. Luke. 12:19). But is this answer valid?

At first glance it would seem so, for pleasure is one of those goals whose attainment is close at hand, exciting, and easy to obtain (it is almost the exact opposite of wisdom in this respect). In fact, Peter Kreeft has remarked that “wisdom is a mountaintop; pleasure is a plain. Wisdom is mysterious; pleasure is plain. Wisdom is a walking stick; pleasure is a plane.” In other words, of all man’s pursuits it is pleasure that offers the most immediate gratification.

How, then, could Solomon decry pleasure and insist that it contributes to man’s “vexation of spirit”? He had it all: He had wine, houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, fruit trees, pools, male and female slaves, singers, 700 wives, 300 concubines, herds, flocks, silver, and gold (Ecc. 2:1-11). And yet Solomon learned what all serious hedonists eventually learn: “Behold, all is vanity, and chasing after wind. Nothing was gained under the sun” (v. 11). As is nearly always the case, pleasure becomes need, fun becomes addiction, excitement becomes boring (a word, Kreeft argues, to which no ancient culture had any equivalent). Few today realize this, for the poor still hope that riches and pleasure will bring meaning. But the rich know better, for they alone have tried and failed. All the immediate gratification under the sun will be stolen away over the course of time.


Stay tuned....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part II

The Temporal and the Eternal

Thankfully, we need not burden ourselves with divining or decoding the reason for Joseph's and Moses' desire to abandon Pharaoh's land, for the text of Hebrews 11 spells out very clearly their reasons for refusing to give Egypt their allegiance, despite all it had done for them. What is only hinted at in Joseph’s mention of “the exodus of the Israelites” is made explicit in Moses’ own refusal to own Egypt as his true homeland: The “pleasures” of Pharaoh’s land were “fleeting,” and its “wealth” and “treasure,” though impressive to be sure, could not hold a candle to the “reproach of Christ” and the “affliction” suffered by the people of God. Because Moses “endured as seeing him who is invisible,” all the enticements of earth’s most powerful kingdom could not sufficiently capture his heart or affections, or distract him from “looking to the reward,” the “city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (vv. 25-27, 10).

The real issue, then, was not whether Egypt was a place of comfort or oppression, or whether its pleasures were necessarily sinful (some undoubtedly were, while others most likely were not). The issue, according to the text, concerned not Egypt’s goodness or badness, but its worthiness of these saints’ devotion. Speaking of all the saints of Hebrews 11, verse 38 sums up the problem with a beautiful succinctness: “Of [these saints] the world was not worthy.”

The “unworthiness” of Egypt in particular, and of this present age in general, is defined throughout the New Testament in terms of their fleeting, passing, and temporal nature. Paul argues that the sufferings that characterize life in this world “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us,” and that the “slight momentary afflictions” we face here and now only serve to prepare us for “an eternal weight of glory beyond all compar-ison” (Rom. 8:18; II Cor. 4:17). His own life and ministry bear this out. Upon his final departure from Ephesus to Jerusalem, where he would face immediate imprisonment and eventual martyrdom, Paul confidently assured his flock, “But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear unto myself” (Acts 20:24, KJV). It was utter folly for Paul—as for Joseph and Moses—to choose earthly comfort, which is fading, over eternal blessedness, which never ends. For two of these saints, however, this choice did not only mean the loss of present pleasure but the gaining of present persecution.

But given the fact that eternal concerns always trump temporal ones, the choice was obvious.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Egypt's Unworthiness, Part I

I plan to steer clear of FV-related issues for the time being, and since I've been somewhat uninspired of late, I'll offer (in bite-sized pieces) a rough draft of something I've been working on. As always, comments, and crticism are welcome.


Anyone who has seen Fox’s hit TV show 24 understands the concept of racing against the clock. The program revolves around the central character of Jack Bauer, an edgy and daring member of CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) who is constantly seeking to avert some new catastrophe or threat to our national security. What makes 24 unique—and gives it its title—is the fact that each full season takes place over the course of a single day in Jack’s life, with each of its 24 episodes occurring in one hour of “real time.” When a bomb is set to go off in 15 minutes, therefore, it will actually go off in 15 minutes (that is, of course, unless Agent Bauer can disarm it in time). Needless to say, each one-hour episode of 24 effectively shaves two hours off of the viewer’s life due to the stressfulness of the situations portrayed and the panic that ensues every Monday night from 9-10pm. In a word, time is a constant enemy, for there is never enough of it.

A Tale of Two Malcontents

But Jack Bauer isn’t the only one who would scoff at the title of The Rolling Stones’ song “Time Is On My Side.” In Hebrews 11 we encounter two others whose estimation of all things temporal was less than glowing. In verse 22 we read: "By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones."

This cryptic passage is referring to the account in Genesis 50:24-25 in which Joseph, the son of Jacob, said to his brothers: “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

At first glance it does not seem at all strange that Joseph wanted to escape Egypt, even if that escape were postmortem. After all, wasn’t Egypt a horrible place which Scripture everywhere describes as a “land of slavery” and a “house of bondage” (Exod. 20:2)?

Not for Joseph it wasn’t. We must remember that Egypt did not become a place of hardship and oppression for Israel until after he died, when “a pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph” (Exod. 1:8). During Joseph’s own tenure there, Egypt was a place of bounty and salvation amid the famine that plagued the surrounding region, and Joseph’s status was that of being second only to Pharaoh himself in power, stature, and the respect of the masses. Whatever it was that caused Joseph to long for another land, it was certainly not Egypt’s difficulty or discomfort.

Another saint with similar misgivings about Egypt was Moses, whose experience of Egypt, like Joseph’s, was a far cry from that which characterized the Israelite slaves. He was an adopted son in the royal family of Pharaoh himself, and according to Stephen’s testimony in Acts 7:21-22, “Pharaoh’s daughter adopted [Moses] and brought him up as her own son. And [he] was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.” Yet Moses’ pedigree notwithstanding, Scripture says of him:
… when he was grown up, [he] refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God…. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt… he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king… (Heb. 11:24-27).
What was it, then, that brought both Joseph and Moses to come to despise the land that symbolized such protection, pleasure, and power?


More to come....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Federal Vision Report and the Pacific Northwest Presbytery

The following letter was submitted to the Pacific Northwest Presbytery yesterday:

Dear members of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery,

As you know, the PCA’s 35th General Assembly adopted the Ad Interim Study Committee’s Report on the theology of the Federal Vision, the third recommendation of which reads:

“That the General Assembly recommend the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.”
In compliance with the report’s recommendation, TE Peter Leithart posted a public letter to the Stated Clerk of this presbytery, saying:

“… following the GA’s vote on the Federal Vision study committee yesterday… I am happy to discuss [my views] further with the Presbytery, and will also cheerfully submit to any decision the Presbytery might make concerning my fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder. I have tried to be clear and precise, but no doubt I've failed at various points, and I am happy to provide clarification.”
In the light of the report’s recommendation that those whose views may be deemed questionable inform their respective presbyteries (which TE Leithart has done), and in the light of the report’s further recommendation to those presbyteries to exercise care and discernment in seeking to preserve the purity and peace of the church, TE Peter Leithart and TE Jason Stellman jointly request that a committee consisting of three ministers and two elders be appointed to examine this matter further.


Jason Stellman

Peter Leithart

After some discussion, debate, and two substitute motions being voted down, this motion passed. The study committee consists of Rob Rayburn, James Bordwine, and me (three ruling elders will also serve). We are due to report back in January. Prayers for all involved will be appreciated.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Spirit, Flesh, and Christian Schizophrenia

The locus classicus of the flesh/Spirit battle is found in Galatians 5:17ff. Before anything is positively said about this passage, we must beware of interpreting this text in the light of our individual experience. Our existential concurrence with the "struggle" we perceive in this verse notwithstanding, it is exegesis, not experience, that must guide our hermeneutics. Gordon Fee writes:
"The flesh-Spirit contrast in Paul never appears in a context in which the issue has to do with 'how to live the Christian life'; rather, it appears in this case in an argument with those who have entered into the new eschatological life of the Spirit, but who are being seduced to return to the old aeon, to live on the basis of Torah observance, which for Paul is finally but another form of life 'according to the flesh' (cf. Gal. 3:3; 5:17-18; Phil. 3:3-6)."
In this semi-eschatological context in which Torah has expired and is no longer operative, Paul argues, the "law of the Spirit of life" is sufficient for holy living. "Flesh" versus "Spirit," therefore, do not refer to an internal/external or spirit/matter dualism, but an eschatological dualism between this age and that which is to come. Michael Horton writes:

"It becomes clear that this two-age model is concerned not with two worlds or realms, but with two ages, one inferior to the other not for any necessary or ontological reasons but for situational and ethical ones.... To be 'in the Spirit' is not to be ontologically spiritual as opposed to physical, but to be 'in Christ' rather than 'in Adam,' to belong 'to the age to come' rather than to 'this present evil age,' to be 'children of the resurrection' of whom Jesus Christ is the 'firstfruits.' The age of the Spirit is not contrasted with that of the flesh, says Ridderbos, 'first and foremost as an individual experience… but as the new way of existence which became present time with the coming of Christ.... This being in the Spirit is not a mystical, but an eschatological, redemptive-historical, category.'"
The crux of Paul’s flesh/Spirit contrast, therefore, is not that there exists within the individual believer an unceasing battle between his good and bad natures (rendering him somewhat of a spiritual schizophrenic), but that the believer, who is pneumatikos (spiritual), is called to live according to his spiritual identity and heavenly citizenship. This is new covenant sanctification, and is given the apostolic designation of "walk[ing] by the Spirit, and [not gratifying] the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16)