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Archive for January, 2008

This week I’ve been listening to sermons from the web on Luke 14.  I’m preaching on it on Sunday.  It’s Jesus at a banquet.  He heals on the Sabbath, He teaches about not taking the seats of honour, He calls people to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner and He speaks of the kingdom as a great feast.  Wonderful stuff.

But do you know, in all the sermons I’ve listened to from the web, what’s been the number one application of Luke 14??  Quiet times!  From both UK and US pastors, the predominant take-home message was ‘make sure you get alone with God every day.’  I’m not going to name names but I listened to some big hitters.  And they preached on the feast.  The feast where Jesus tells us to throw feasts and then speaks of the kingdom as a feast.  And what’s their conclusion: ‘We need to get on our own more!’  ??!  Usually the logic was: Don’t take the places of honour => Therefore Get humble => Therefore get on your knees => Therefore commit to quiet times. 

Now there were two notable exceptions:  John Piper was good.  And so was the Australian (obviously!) Mike Frost.  (Those two aren’t usually positively lumped together but there you are).  But the rest took Luke 14 and boiled it down into some very individualistic applications.

Now I’m all in favour of ensuring that our doing flows from a lively relationship with Christ.  But why does that equate to ‘getting alone with God’??  I mean how do we get from the feast to the prayer closet??  Are conservative evangelicals that afraid of getting our hands dirty in mission, in rubbing shoulders with the poor, crippled, blind and lame?  Are we that individualistic and moralistic?

Anyway…  I do think a healthy relationship with Christ means talking and listening to Him daily.  But why is the quiet time the touch-stone of evangelical spirituality?  Why is it the default application for every sermon?  (I say this against myself)  Why do we reach for the privatized exhortations so readily?

And how many times have I heard Robert Murray McCheyne’s daunting challenge:

What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.

I mean it’s right to be challenged by that.  But is it true?  And is it right to aim for this as the very model and highpoint of Christian maturity?  What about: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

I dunno.  Bit of a rant really.  What do you think?

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I’ve just written an essay on repentance and evangelism.  It was very hurriedly written, but basically my point is: Unbelievers can’t repent, believers must – all the time

One of the implications is that evangelism is calling sinners to come to Christ just as they are.  Two men preaching in the 19th century grasped this very well indeed.

Here is Spurgeon calling sinners to repentance:

Do not attempt to touch yourself up and make yourself something other than you really are, but come as you are to Him who justifies the ungodly. …The Gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are; it meets you in your worst estate. Come in your disorder. I mean, come to your heavenly Father in all your sin and sinfulness. Come to Jesus just as you are: filthy, naked, neither fit to live nor fit to die. Come, you that are the very sweepings of creation; come, though you hardly dare to hope for anything but death. Come, though despair is brooding over you, pressing upon your bosom like a horrible nightmare. Come and ask the Lord to justify another ungodly one. (From “Justification of the Ungodly” by C.H. Spurgeon.  A sermon on Romans 4:5)

And this is from a wonderful piece called Evangelical Repentance by John Colquhoun (1748-1827) 

Do you postpone the act of trusting in the Lord Jesus for all His salvation, till you first sit down and mourn awhile for your sins, or till your heart be so humbled that you may be welcome to Him, and so have from your own resources a warrant for trusting in Him? Do you object against coming to Christ because you are not certain that your conviction of sin and your repentance are of the right sort? Do you apply yourself to the exercise of repentance in order to be qualified for believing in Christ, or do you apply your conscience to the commands and curses of the broken law, in order so to repent as to be entitled to trust in Him? Know, I entreat you, that this preposterous and self-righteous course will but sink you the deeper in unbelief, impenitence, and enmity to God the longer you try in this manner to seek for evangelical repentance in your heart or life, the farther you will be from finding it… Do not try to wash yourself clean in order to come to the open fountain of redeeming blood; but come to it as you are, and, by the immediate exercise of direct confidence in the Lord Jesus, wash away all your sins (Ezek 36:25).

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I flew a kite here for the notion of confession following our taking of communion.  It wasn’t enthusiastically embraced!

I was reminded on Sunday of how brilliant Thomas Cranmer’s ‘Prayer of humble access’ is.  In the Anglican church, this is what we pray before receiving communion.  Isn’t it great?

We do not presume to come to this your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table. But you are the same Lord, whose nature is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Now if the supper was explained to people ‘On the night He was betrayed, Jesus took bread…’.  And people said this prayer, haven’t we been sufficiently prepared?  Then, following my appropriation of Christ’s grace, then I formally confess my sins – and let’s take some time about it, let’s mourn our sin and hate it.  But don’t we confess best when humbled by grace?

(Even if you object to this, thought I’d share the prayer – good huh?)

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How about that for a title?

Just two half-formed thoughts really that flow from recent musings on the trinity…

First, Bobby has some interesting posts here and here that touch on (among other things) Barthian methodology and avoiding universalism.  Now one way of describing universalism is the conflation of church and world – that is church and world become, in the end, identical.  Can trinitarian theology help?

Well Christ is Priest of God.  And we’ve been seeing that Christ and His Father are one – not identically but with important self-distinctions upheld in their mutual relations.   Christ as Priest has His distinct existence which is neither identical with the Father nor identical with humanity.  He is God for man and Man for God and this mediatorial existence is absolutely essential to His Person.  But in this mediation He does not collapse into either party.  He remains, in eternity, distinct.

Now the church, corporately, is a royal priesthood.  And, again, the absolutely essential nature of the church is mediatorial.  We do not exist for ourselves but find our very being in reaching out into the world.  But, church does not for this reason collapse into world.  Church remains, in eternity, distinct.   

Now it’s interesting that Barth’s trinity is explictly not ‘three divine I‘s’.  He states emphatically that his trinity is a ‘single subject thrice repeated’.  Here (IMHO) there is not adequate room for self-distinction in the Godhead.  I wonder whether the fruit of that, down the line, is inadequate distinctions being drawn between church and world?  Just a thought.

Secondly, more briefly.  If, as I’ve argued, the equal Persons are differently gifted and perform different roles, doesn’t this re-shape what we mean by gender-equality?  Equality, if it’s grounded in God’s equality, includes and upholds real differences in gifting and function.  I mean let’s do the exegetical work on the relevant passages, but beware playing the ‘equality’ card in a way that would commit you to modalism when speaking of God!

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Ok, so the last post put forward church life as an analogy of trinitarian life.  More specifically:

‘Differently gifted members of one priesthood’ is analagous to ‘Differently gifted Persons in one Godhead.’

Once this is seen, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and just let Jesus be Jesus. 

What do I mean by that?  Well let me ask a few questions.  When you read the Gospels, do you ever wonder:

  • Why doesn’t Jesus just say ‘I am God’?  Why all this ‘I am sent…’ stuff?
  • Why does Jesus keep saying things like: ‘I can do nothing by myself’? (e.g John 5:19,30)
  • How come Jesus sleeps?
  • How come Jesus doesn’t know when He’s returning?

Do we get worried when we see that Jesus is ‘differently gifted‘ to the One He calls Father??

Well we needn’t be.  It is a revelation of His divine nature (and not a concealment) that we see in Jesus such dependence on the Father.  When He says ‘I am sent’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Son of the Father.  When He says ‘I can do nothing’ it reveals His divine nature as the eternal Servant of the LORD.  When He sleeps it reveals His divine nature as One dependent upon the ever-wakeful Father.  When He says He doesn’t know when He’s returning He reveals His divine nature as One sent from God.  He waits on the Father’s command and does not initiate His first or second coming.

He really can’t do anything by Himself.  He really does sleep (He really does die even!)  He really doesn’t know when He’s returning.  But for all that He is no less divine.   For He belongs to the other Members and in union with their ‘giftings’ He is a full participant in the communion that is God.

We don’t need to assign these differences in Jesus to some ‘human nature’ locked off from a special sphere of uncorrupted deity.  Jesus’ deity is not insulated from these differences, it includes them.  It is the human Jesus who says ‘If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.’  It is the human Jesus who says ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’  In His differences, even in His complete humanity, He is the living God.  So let’s let Him be who He is in the Gospels.  Let’s not fit Him into some pre-conceived notions of divinity.  Let’s let Jesus be Jesus.

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In previous posts I have discussed the priesthood of all believers and how this doctrine interacts with the doctrine of the trinity.  In my last post on this I examined the connection from Trinity => church.  In this post we’ll go in the other direction: church => trinity (a much more perilous route!!).  My question is:

          Can ‘different giftings united in one priesthood’ be thought of as an analogy for the trinity?

If it can, then it would be ok to see different Persons of the Godhead differently gifted.  This different gifting would imply no difference in divinity (just as differences in charismatic gifting implies no difference in priestliness).  Instead we could affirm the differences we see in the economy as real and not apparent and yet in no way infer any ontological subordination.

To set this up, let me quote from Athanasius’ Deposition of Arius

And if the Son is the “Word” and “Wisdom” of God, how was there “a time when He was not?” It is the same as if they should say that God was once without Word and without Wisdom.

Here we have, of course, a thought-experiment.  But it is interesting to note exactly what thoughts are being had by Athanasius.  The argument is basically this: 

1. The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.

2. It is inconceivable to have the Father without wisdom.

3. The Father must have always had the Son. 

Now it doesn’t take much thought to imagine the Arian come-back to this.  Surely you could just say that the Father has always had wisdom in Himself, i.e. considered apart from the Son.  This was a move which Athanasius was unwilling to make.  The logic of Athanasius’ position (without which his argument fails) is that the Father must have the Son to have wisdom – He does not have it in Himself. 

All this accords with verses like 1 Cor 2:10-11, where the wisdom of God is seen as an irreducibly inter-Personal knowledge.  The Father is wise in the wisdom of the Son, known in the Spirit.  Athanasius reveals in this argument that he did not conceive of the Persons as having divine attributes (like wisdom) complete in themselves.  The attributes are not, on this conception, identical CV’s repeated for each Person.  Rather, each Person shares in the common divine life because they so belong to one another and inter-penetrate one another that Each has a complete share in the giftings of the Others.  Yet those gifting (attributes) are properly unique to the Persons in their distinctive existences as Begettor, Begotten and Proceeding.  The Son is the Wisdom of the Father.  The Father is not wise in Himself but only in the Son and by the Spirit. 

As we discussed the priesthood of all believers we were led to just these kinds of conclusions.  I am priestly not by myself but only in and with you and your gifts.  And because of you and your gifts – you and they belong to me (Rom 12:5).  Is it not the same with God?  The Son so belongs to the Father that He who is Wisdom eternally makes wise the Father in the Spirit, etc, etc.

Isn’t it very suggestive that 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that Father and Son are Head and Body (v3) just before we read a whole chapter on the church also being like a body??  And isn’t it interesting that the following chapter (13) discusses how the many are one – love!?

Can we not say by analogy with 1 Cor 12:15: “If the Father should say ‘Because I am not Wisdom, I do not belong to the Godhead,’ He would not for that reason cease to be part of the Godhead… ”  You see where I’m going with this.  Just as the priesthood of all believers is the corporate priestliness of differently gifted believers so the equal divinity of the Three is the corporate divinity of differently gifted Persons.  Yet these Persons so belong to each other that they are never without the gifts of the Other.

Now some think that Athanasius’ famous affirmation opposes such a position:

‘The Son is everything the Father is except Father…’  

But I’m saying, if Athanasius is being true to his Deposition of Arius he must mean this in terms of ontological equality.  That is the sense in which we must uphold these words.  But it’s very clear, viewed from another perspective, that the Son is many things the Father is not – Begotten, Mediator, Prophet, Priest, Prince, Sent One, etc, etc.  So whatever the above affirmation means it does not mean that the Son’s CV is the same as the Father’s.  Instead, just as my gifts are different to yours, so the particular attributes of the Persons are different.  And just as your gifts belong to me in the unity of the church so the Person’s attributes belong to one another in the unity of the Godhead.

We’ll see why this is important shortly.

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From Genesis 1, the way of the LORD has always been forming, then filling.

The filled-out reality is there by anticipation even in the forming. The intention for filling is included in the forming. But still the order is ‘form, then fill.’:

  • In Gen 1:2 – a formless and empty creation is then formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) as the Word of God is revealed (Gen 1:3ff).
  • (This is similar to both the tabernacle and the temple where first it is formed, then filled by the Glory of the LORD).
  • Adam is formed (from dust) and then filled (by the breath of the LORD God).
  • Humanity as male and female is first formed in Adam and then filled out in Eve’s creation and their consummation.
  • The first Adam is filled by the Last.
  • The people of Israel as the seed of Abraham are filled by Christ, the Seed of Abraham.
  • The law is the form of the covenant and is filled by the gospel events.

In all this we remember that the intention for filling is already anticipated in the forming. The very forming reveals a long-intended desire to fill. The forming sets everything on a trajectory towards something beyond itself.

Is it too much to suggest on this basis alone the supralapsarian tendencies of the Living God? I’ll do it anyway!

Eden is not the point. Adam is not the point. Adamic humanity is not the point. Israel and its worship is not the point. All these things are forms, intended to be filled-out by realities to which the forms themselves point but which they do not themselves contain. The intention is always to move through Eden and beyond to the New Jerusalem; through Adam and beyond to the Heavenly Man; through Israel (and its worship) and beyond to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Tellingly, this movement goes through death and out the other side to resurrection.  Thus…

  • The day is not always bright (as it will be in the new creation). Instead it goes from darkness into light.
  • The tree is not first, first comes the seed (John 12:24; 1 Cor 15:37)
  • There are not blessings and curses for Israel as alternative present tense realities but rather the blessings come after the curse. (see Deut 4:23-31; Deut 28-29 culminating in 30:1ff).
  • The cross comes first and then resurrection.
  • The LORD makes the old covenant and then the covenant renewed. (though the new covenant reality is grasped by faith long before both old and new covenants purchased).
  • The LORD makes the old earth and then the earth renewed.
  • First comes my body of flesh and then my spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:44)

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The Christian therefore knows two incontrovertible facts:

1. All things are forward-looking. The best is yet to come (let’s never yearn for Adam, for Eden, for Israel, for old covenant).

2. The path to better things is through suffering: the road to resurrection blessing always goes through the cross.

Psalm 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Psalm 126:6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

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