Archive for the ‘Contemporary Theology’ Category

This past Sunday I referenced the remarkable story of Dick and Rick Hoyt and applied it to the process of sanctification, that is the process by which God makes his people holy.  To be fair, I didn’t think of the comparison myself but took it from Bryan Chapel’s excellent commentary on Ephesians from the Reformed Expository Commentary series.  Below is a video of Dick and Ricky Hoyt.  Their story begins a 1 min 22 sec.  Following the video I have excerpted Chapel’s words:

Some years ago I enjoyed watching ‘iron man’ competitions on TV.  Watching those who swim, bike and run multiple- marathon distances in the grueling triathlon makes me dream of what I might be able to do if I had more time, opportunity, and a different body.  More inspiring to me than the usual stories of the big-name competitors, however, was the 1999 account of the father and son team of Dick and Ricky Hoyt.  The two have run together in more than eight hundred races.

More remarkable than the fellowship this father and son enjoy is the fact that the now adult son, Ricky, was born with cerebral palsy.  To race, he must be pulled, pushed, or carried by his father.  There is a part of us that might jump to the conclusion that Ricky does not race at all…that his father does all the work.  But tens of thousands of viewers saw the son’s role in this competition when wind, cold, and an equipment failure made progress hard on Ricky, even though his father was the one pedaling the modified tandem bike.  Dick knelt down to his son, contorted and trembling in the cold, as the two were still facing many more miles of race on the defective bike.  Said the father to the child belted to the bicycle seat, “Do you want to keep going, Son?”

The father would be the one enabling and providing the means to overcome, but the son still had to have the heart to finish well.  To the son were given the privilege and responsibility to desire to continue to make progress.  Though the example is not perfect, it explains much of what the Bible teaches about our spiritual battles.  We have a Father who has already given the power to enable us to resist all the challenges of our Adversary.  We can prevail through the means and strength our Father provides, but we must still have the heart to do so.

In light of this need for a heart that beats for him, our God bids us feed on his Word and seek the Spirit that opens our minds to the knowledge of the Savior and renews our will with a compelling love for him.  By God’s word and Spirit we are filled with the knowledge and love of him that give us the desire to run with him (and to him) more than anything else in this world.  The grace he pours into our hearts enables us “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that (we) may be filled to the measure of  all the fullness of God” (Eph 3.18-19).

Brian Chapel, Ephesians Kindle Edition (P&R Publishing: Phillipsburg 2009) Loc 6464 of 7700

There are more than a few texts in the Bible that destabilize our theological frameworks.  One such text comes from Jonah 3.10 which reads “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”  The problem of God “relenting,” or “repenting” or changing his mind is that it seems as if God’s will is dependent upon human interaction.  If this is true, there as some human actions which could in a way, force God’s hand.  Because this is an idea that most Christians and philosophers have always resisted, the reader needs a way to interact with verses such as Jonah 3.10.  Most of the interactions with verses such as this, particularly from the Reformed world have been a disappointment.  However, the excerpt from Jacques Ellul’s splendid commentary from Jonah posted below is a wonderful engaging of God’s repentance.  It might seem like a slow start and you may have to read it several times to fully appreciate, but I can promise you it is well worth your time.  There is precious gold to be found in the passage below.

When Nineveh repents, God repents too:  “God repented of the evil which he had said he would do to them; and he did not do it” (3:10).  This is a surprising term to be used of God, and yet it is a common one in Scripture.  God decides something, and then events change.  Thus God changes his mind.  He repents.  It is useless to avoid the difficulty this causes by saying it is only a manner of speaking.  Philosophers say that God cannot change.  True enough!  But the God revealed in Scripture is not the God of the philosophers.  Nor can one attribute this to primitive characteristics in the people of Israel.  Historians call this a gross anthropomorphism and one must not take it too seriously.  To be sure it is an anthropomorphism.  But God is not the God of historians.  To be noted first in relation to this repenting is that God repents of the evil he was going to do but never repents of the good.  This general rule is formulated by St. Paul (Romans 2) and it is confirmed by a survey of texts.  Only once to my knowledge do we read that God repented of the good that he had done, and this is explained more by literary than theological considerations.  In effect this repenting takes place only when there is risk of some evil, some human suffering.

Again it is no doubt important to emphasize that the same Hebrew words are not used for repentance of Nineveh and God’s repenting.  In a general way Scripture has different terms for man’s repentance and the Lord’s repenting.  As concerns man, shubh implies a change, a modification in attitude and direction (a conversion) in his very being, as we have seen.  As concerns God, the word macham is the usual term, and this does not imply a change of direction but inner suffering which must be consoled.  It is suffering not because of self but because of the relation between self and others.  This can happen in the relation between God and man, whether because man does not respond to God’s appeal or because of God’s justice necessarily demands man’s condemnation.  The just and perfectly holy God condemns, and can do no other, but where man repents, when man changes, God suffers for having condemned him.  One cannot say absolutely that he suppresses condemnation.  For in effect God does not change.  What is done is done.  What God has decided he has decided, the more so as it is decided for all eternity.  When it is said that God repents, it means that he suffers, not that he changes what his justice has deemed necessary.

Now God’s justice has deemed condemnation necessary because of past sin.  Repentance alone does not efface the past.  Once committed, a guilty act remains so even after repentance.  Condemnation cannot be automatically lifted.  There is no immanent mechanism.  Repentance, as an act of man, does not suppress the sins man has committed.  The two are not in balance.  What is between them is the fact that God repents, that he suffers and finds consolation.

But we must be more precise as to the meaning of this suffering.  It is not just sentiment.  It is not regret for having condemned.  It is not a kindly thought which causes God to lift the condemnation, which would imply a change of attitude.  Most of the passages speak of God repenting say that he repents of evil he had resolved to do.  He suffers the evil, and not just because of the evil, but the evil itself.  We might say with truth that God suffers the evil he has resolved to do.  He takes upon himself the evil which was the wages of man’s sin.  He suffers the very suffering which in his justice he should have laid on man.  God causes the judgment to fall on himself; this is the meaning of his repenting.  We shall see that it is in Jesus Christ that this is done plainly and for us.  Jesus Christ is precisely the one upon whom falls all the judgment and all the suffering decided for each of us, the judgment and the suffering of the world.  In reality  God’s repenting in the face of man’s repentance is Jesus Christ.  Each time there is any question of this repenting in Scripture we thus have a new prophecy of Jesus Christ who puts into effect both the justice of God and also the love of God without doing despite to either the one or the other.

It is only from this perspective of human judgment that there seems to be a change in God’s attitude.  When the Lord proclaims condemnation and then does not fulfill it, we tend to say, if we are believers, that he has changed his will, and if we are not believers, that there is no God.  But that is a purely temporal way of looking at it because we are not able to see Jesus in agony to the end of the world.  God’s purpose has not changed.  From the very beginning his aim was to save the world from his own wrath.

Ellul, Jacques, The Judgment of Jonah (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids 1971) pgs 98-100

1. It reminds us of the unity of God’s action in the past and in the present, in revelation and in salvation, in Christ and in us. The believer and the church should not be surprised if what happened to Christ happens to them. The theologia crucis is for these theologians an insistence on the paradigmatic nature of the cross: it is not solely a soteriological event which remains locked in the past, but is a paradigm of the way in which God always works. For this reason, atonement theologies which regard the cross as purely a past action, the benefits of which one simply enjoys in the present, are inadequate if they fail to make the connection between God’s action in Christ and God’s action in the ongoing life of the church or the Christian.

2. It stands as a critique of theology which becomes exclusively academic. This is not just because of the tendency of academia to forget this theme, but more because it insists on the involvement of the theologian with God himself. For salvation and the knowledge of God to take place, there must be a conformity of the knower to what is known. In other words, the God who reveals himself in the cross of Christ can be known only from the cross of the Christian and the church. The forms of these ‘crucifixions’ are different, yet all three insist on the necessity of the personal experience of being humbled, becoming powerless, whether socially, soteriologically or epistemologically, and on the fact that only from that perspective can God rightly be known. This means that Christian existence today must be shaped by the form of God’s self-revelation, the crucified Christ. Quite simply, it becomes difficult for a church to use power in manipulative ways if its theology is founded upon the cross, and it seeks to remain true to the God revealed in it. Instead, the church’s use of power must be marked by the way God in Christ has used his power: in its giving power to those who lack it, and in the use of power to advance the interests of those disadvantaged by power relations.

3. In the face of postmodern critiques of the notion of power, the theologia crucis is a protest against forms of relationship between people, or between people and God, which are based primarily on manipulative power rather than love. It is not an ideology, but because of its insistence on the unity of God’s action in the past and the present, it makes demands on actual relationships within communities, the way leadership operates, and the way those on the margins are heard. Because the theologia crucis depicts the God who does not abandon power, but who uses it for the healing and salvation of his creation, exercising his own power in the foolish, powerless vulnerability of the cross, it can therefore offer an alternative model of power for the Christian community. The truth revealed in theologia crucis is not oppressive, but liberating, because it is inseparably connected to self-giving Love as its mode of expression. It tells of the God who places himself at the service of his people, and invites his people to follow suit.

from “Theology of the Cross: Subversive Theology for a Postmodern World?” by Graham Tomlin

(HT:SteveWood)


Lev11 & Psalm 14

Posted: April 11, 2010 by doulos tou Theou in Biblical Studies, Christianity, Contemporary Theology, Discipleship

by D.A. Carson

Leviticus 11-12; Psalms 13-14; Proverbs 26; 1 Thessalonians 5

IN THIS MEDITATION I want to bring two passages together: “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45); “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).

What does holy mean? When the angels cry “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty” (Isa. 6:3; cf. Rev. 4:8), do they mean “Moral, moral, moral is the LORD Almighty”? Or “Separate, separate, separate is the LORD Almighty”? Just to ask such questions demonstrates how inadequate such common definitions of holy really are.

At its core, holy is almost an adjective corresponding to the noun God. God is God; God is holy. He is unique; there is no other. Then, derivatively, that which belongs exclusively to him is designated holy. These may be things as easily as people: certain censers are holy; certain priestly garments are holy; certain accouterments are holy, not because they are moral, and certainly not because they are themselves divine, but because in this derivative sense they are restricted in their use to God and his purposes, and thus are separate from other use. When people are holy, they are holy for the same reason: they belong to God, serve him and function with respect to his purposes. (Occasionally in the Old Testament there is a further extension of the term to refer to the realm of the sacred, such that even pagan priests can in this sense be called holy. But this further extension does not concern us here.)

If people conduct themselves in a certain way because they belong to God, we may say that their conduct is moral. When Peter quotes these words, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16), the entailment, in his context, is a turning away from “evil desires” (1:14) and living life “in reverent fear” (1:17). But it is no accident that these words in Leviticus 11 are found not in a context of moral commands and prohibitions but of ceremonial restrictions dealing with clean and unclean foods. For belonging to God, living on his terms, reserving ourselves for him, delighting in him, obeying him, honoring him — these are more fundamental than the specifics of obedience that we label moral or ceremonial.

Indeed, this stance is so basic in God’s universe that only the fool says, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). This is the precise opposite of holiness, the most conspicuous and fundamental demonstration, “They are corrupt, their deeds are vile” (14:1).

20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. (1 Cor. 1:20-25)


Where are wisdom and power found?  Surprisingly for those accustomed to seeking power in shows of strength and wisdom in learned halls, it’s found in the preaching of the cross.  And we’re not talking about any kind of power or wisdom, but the power and wisdom of God. (more…)

Creator/Sustainer

Posted: April 8, 2010 by doulos tou Theou in Christian Theology, Christianity, Contemporary Theology

If the fourth Gospel being with the logos, the Word, it begins equally with God. God was always with his self-expression(logos), and this self-expression was God. God was the creator of all things, even if the evangelist’s main point is that the act of creation was by means of the Word. The life which was the light of men(1.4) also finds it source in the logos, and thus in God. At this point (1.4) there is no question of the incarnation (which, in my view, finds it first definite mention in 1.9), but only as the source and mediation of all life. The life was also light opposed , but not overcome, by darkness. Thus in a few terse sentences, God and his logos together stand above the universe as Creator/Sustainer, and yet opposed to all it that is contrary to light. The origin of the darkness is not mentioned.

It is not surprising , therefore, to find in the fourth Gospel examples of God’s sovereign control over men and events, without the compromise of God’s Character.

D.A. Carson Divine sovereignty & Human responsibility

Eph 1:15-23 by John Piper a piece from his Easter sermon.

watch, listen,  or read it all  here

Five ways to measure the greatness of God’s power now toward those who believe. Five glimpses of what became of Jesus after he died.

1. God raised Jesus and broke the power of death.

First, verse 20: The power of God toward us now is like the great might “that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” God raised Jesus from the dead. Never to die again. The point here is that the power of death is broken for all who are in Christ Jesus. The enemy, death, is defeated. For Paul, the death of Christ was the death of death. O yes, believers die. But the sting is removed. The poisonous event has become a pathway to paradise.

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The power of God toward us now is this power. It raised us spiritually from the dead (Ephesians 2:5) and gave us life and faith. This power opened our blind eyes, and conquered our rebellious wills, and created a new heart that loves God and people. And this power will guard us from the dominion of our indwelling sin and bring us to the end in persevering faith. This is resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

2. God seated Jesus at his right hand—and us with him.

Second, the last part of verse 20: God “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” That power that installed Jesus at God’s right hand has put us there also. Look at Ephesians 2:6: “[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” This is resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ. The power that took Jesus from death and put him eternally in God’s presence put you there too, and keeps you there.

3. God set Jesus over all demonic powers.

Third, verse 21: God set Jesus “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” We know from Ephesians 6:12 that these “rulers and authorities” include all the devils and demons of the universe. The power toward you now is a devil-defeating power.

Paul said in Colossians 2:15 that at the cross God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Christ.” So when Jesus rose from the dead, he was exalted over all the hosts of hell. They are a defeated foe. They are not yet out of the world. And battles are yet to be fought. But the power from God for us now in these battles is a resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

4. God gave Jesus as head over all things to the church.

Fourth, verse 22: God “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” Notice two things. The risen Jesus Christ is “head over all things.” Head! Implying authority and conscious active rule—over all history, all human beings, all demonic powers, disease, disability, all nature—weather, hurricanes, lightning bolts, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, global warming—all businesses and industry, healthcare, sports, March Madness, inventions, media, Internet, iPad mania, military might, governments, presidents, kings, chiefs, religions, universities, solar systems, stars, galaxies, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and ten thousand things no man has ever yet discovered. Jesus is now head over them all. Conscious, active, authoritative Ruler.

And the second great thing in verse 22 is that he is given as head over all to the church: “[God] gave him as head over all things to the church.” Which means: With all that power and all that authority and all that wisdom, he serves us as our Head and our Leader and Savior and our King and our Friend. In other words, this power is, as verse 19 says, “toward us.” It is resurrection power now—to live and die for the glory of Christ.

5. Where God rules, we will rule.

Finally, verse 23: We believers—we happy believers!—are “his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” I’m not sure I can express this. But I’ll try. God’s power toward us intends to fill the universe with the authority of his crucified and risen Son. And, though it takes your breath away, he intends to make us, the church, those who believe, the means of that fullness, the embodiment of that fullness. That is, where he rules we will rule. He created human kind in the beginning to inhabit a beautiful creation and to subdue it, and enjoy it, and reflect his glory in it.

That is what he intends to do through the new humanity called the church. He will fill creation with all his fullness of his glory. And you will be that fullness—“his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is the power of God at work toward you now.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org