Monday, September 26, 2011

 From Carl Trueman, Is the Reformation Nearly Over?
The Reformation was about more than a doctrinal insight into justification; it was also about abolishing the fetishisation of certain great figures as if they possessed some special magic and about instituting an ideal of educated, personal, local ministry. Maybe the Reformation is nearly over; and maybe it is not Benedictine Catholicism but actually the new reformation, with its multi-sites and its virtual pastors, that is finishing it off. That is quite a sobering and ironic thought.
Great post.  Read the whole thing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why the Doctrine of the Incarnation Matters 

I'm currently teaching Christology at New Geneva, and at the same time teaching a confirmation class at the church.  I am always reminded to be thankful for the work that the early church fathers did in very carefully defining the doctrines of the faith in so many areas.  I am also once again impressed with the importance of doctrines that many in our modern age view as trivial.

One of the doctrines denounced by the early church was the doctrine of Monophysitism, and its more subtle counterpart Monothelitism.  Monophysitism teaches that Christ had one nature instead of two and Monothelitism advanced the idea of a single will of Christ, rather than two.  The orthodox position on these questions was that Christ has two natures, human and divine, without admixture or confusion, and likewise that He had two wills.  This seems pretty abstract.  But the church was wise to contend for the truth in this matter, and Christians today would be wise to do so as well.

Why does it matter?  It is important because of what Christ did for us.  He was righteous on our behalf.  He succeeded where Adam had failed, succeeded in being the faithful servant of God.  He redeemed not only us as individuals, but He redeemed human nature itself.  He showed that human nature was not the problem.  God created man good- very good, in fact, and God does not make mistakes.  It is the subjugation of the good human nature to the corrupting effects of sin which is the problem.  Jesus, in being the perfect human being, restored humanity itself.

But to do that, Jesus had to be a real human being, including the possession of a real human will.  Where do we see His obedience if the only will He possesses is a divine will?  The divine will is unified, and the divine will is what must be obeyed.  We see this obedience in the garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus' crucifixion when He prayed to the Father that the bitter cup of what He would endure the next day be taken from Him.  Nevertheless, He says, "Not My will but Thine be done."  This demonstrates clearly a separation between His human will and the Divine will which He, as fully God, also possessed.  We see there in the garden the struggle Jesus endured to conform His human will to His divine will.  He succeeded; He obeyed; and in doing so, He redeemed mankind.

Therefore His work is complete.  He doesn't just clear the guilt of Adam's sin away and put us back in the position Adam was in, where his favor with God would be determined by his obedience.  Jesus truly fulfilled God's righteous requirements for humanity.  If I am in Christ, united to Him by faith, then I have passed God's test for humanity- or rather, Jesus has passed it for me.  I can add nothing to this.  I can do nothing to earn this. Embracing and enjoying this truth to the fullest depends on having the correct doctrine of who Jesus is and what He did.

One amazing implication of this truth is that God will never abandon humanity, will never give up on humanity.  In the incarnation, God is forever united to humanity, and therefore will forever be committed to humanity.  I find great comfort in this truth.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Running after New Preachers 

From John Newton, quoted by Joel Beeke in The Family at Church:

What I have observed of many, who run about unseasonably after new preachers, has reminded me of Proverbs 27:8, "As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is the man that wandereth from his place."  Such unsettled hearers seldom thrive:  they usually grow wise in their own conceits, have their heads filled with notions, acquire a dry, critical, and censorious spirit; and are more intent upon disputing who is the best preacher, than upon obtaining benefit to themselves from what they hear.  If you could find a man, indeed, who had a power in himself of dispensing a blessing to your soul, you might follow him from place to place; but as the blessing is in the Lord's hands, you will be more likely to receive it by waiting where His providence has placed you, and where He has met with you before.

Historical Faith 

I have often struggled with the whole idea of historical faith, which is the idea that someone can assent to the propositions of Scripture and yet not have true faith. Gordon Clark rejects the whole idea, saying that faith is very simply assent to the propositions of the Scripture. Yet he is in the minority. John Calvin certainly spends a great deal of time talking about those who have an “intellectual assent”, an agreement that the events related in the Scriptures actually occurred, and even have a general agreement as to the meaning of those events, and yet have no faith in God. It seems very strange to me that a man could truly agree with what the Bible says and yet have no real faith. An example that Joel Beeke used once was the example of seeing a man’s house burning down, running to the window and finding him asleep in his bed. You shout to him that his house is burning down, and he says, “I know”, and rolls back over to sleep. This kind of behavior does not correspond to anything that I can understand about human behavior.

But I think that perhaps a partial explanation of this disconnect can be found in the different times we are living in compared to the times of the Puritans or of John Calvin. In their cultures, would it not be true that practically every child was raised hearing the stories of the Bible as historical truth? And therefore they would concur with those events as being historically true and even assent to some agreed-on interpretation of those events, but hold these views only because they really had never been given anything else to believe. In many times and in many cultures, the Biblical account of the creation of the universe, for example, was the only account there was. And it would be practically unthinkable, culturally or intellectually, to challenge the historicity of the Biblical accounts. Therefore a man could grow up in this culture, giving assent to these various propositions, and yet having no faith, no trust in God, no “firm persuasion of the truth of God” (John Calvin’s definition of faith). In fact, this means that there are quite a number of other propositions in the Bible that this man would not assent to- the proposition that he is a hopeless sinner, utterly dependent on the sacrifice of Christ for his salvation, but that such salvation is freely offered to him, and that in that salvation every blessing of God is readily available to him, if he will but trust God and wait on Him patiently. These are all propositions of Scripture that such a man could not possibly assent to, even if he were perhaps to pay them lip service.

Now compare that to the current day, when every aspect of Biblical truth is under constant assault from all corners of our culture. Here, for a man to believe that the earth was created by God about six thousand years ago, and that Jesus was the Son of God, born of a virgin, crucified, dead and buried, and rose again from the dead, requires already a strong commitment to the truth of God’s word. Maintaining such beliefs in the face of a culture that is largely hostile to such beliefs requires an active effort. Holding such beliefs even now does not of course indicate true faith. But it indicates a lot more that someone holds such beliefs today than if he held them in the day of John Calvin, when there was really no competition.

True faith requires a choice, requires that one decide that God’s word is faithful and reliable, that God speaks truth in all that He says. It means much more than simply believing what one was taught from childhood or agreeing with the opinions of one’s culture, even if those opinions happen to be correct. In this way I can understand what the Puritans and Calvin and others are concerned about in their warnings against “historical faith”- they are warning against a false security that merely because one has the correct opinions of certain historical or academic facts, that therefore one has true faith. And yet Clark is correct as well, that faith is truly intellectual assent (for what other kind of assent can there be?) to the propositions of Scripture. Those propositions will teach a man that God is true and trustworthy, that He is and that He is the rewarder of those that diligently seek Him. Those propositions are the propositions that Christ is the redeemer of men, and that by faith and trust in Him I am given every spiritual blessing by God’s promise.

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