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Archive for February, 2008

Worthy is the Lamb

I’m preaching on Revelation 5 on Sunday.  Really looking forward to it.  I’ve taken the opportunity to read Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon on Christ as the Lion and the Lamb: “The Excellency of Christ.”  In it his thesis is that the Lion-ness and Lamb-ness of Jesus represent…

“…an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ.”

I enjoyed much of the sermon.

I was also dis-heartened by much of it.

Why? 

Well Edwards does not crudely assign all Lamb-ness to Christ’s human nature and all Lion-ness to His divine nature. But that’s often the flavour of things.  And so he says things like this:

In the person of Christ do meet together infinite glory and lowest humility. Infinite glory, and the virtue of humility, meet in no other person but Christ. They meet in no created person, for no created person has infinite glory, and they meet in no other divine person but Christ. For though the divine nature be infinitely abhorrent to pride, yet humility is not properly predicable of God the Father, and the Holy Ghost, that exists only in the divine nature, because it is a proper excellency only of a created nature. For it consists radically in a sense of a comparative lowness and littleness before God, or the great distance between God and the subject of this virtue. But it would be a contradiction to suppose any such thing in God.

Do you see how straight away Edwards has a pre-formed conception of what humanity and divinity are like – a conception that sits ill with the Glorious-Humble God-Man!  The essence of glory and humility are decided in advance of considering the Lamb at the centre of the throne.  (Ironic given that this is a sermon on Revelation 5!).  If Edwards was determined to have Christ define glory and humility, the direction of the argument would be very different.

Now if Edwards’ logic is followed (humility is only proper to creatures) then what we have is a divine nature for which humility is impossible.  How then can Edwards see Christ as humble?  Well it must be only according to his human nature.  To ask whether the Person of Christ is humble would receive the answer – according to His human nature yes, but according to His divine nature, no.  This opens up two problems.

  1. Christ’s humanity and divinity are conceived in completely contradictory ways. (Nestorianism)
  2. Christ is not really humble.  2 Corinthians 8:9 ought to read: “You know the grace of our LORD Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, He opened up another bank account with no money in it at all… so that we through His (only apparent) poverty might become rich.” 

Edwards’ next point is this …

In the person of Christ do meet together infinite majesty and transcendent meekness. These again are two qualifications that meet together in no other person but Christ. Meekness, properly so called, is a virtue proper only to the creature. We scarcely ever find meekness mentioned as a divine attribute in Scripture, at least not in the New Testament.

Now it’s very telling Edwards should want the New Testament to speak of the divine attribute of meekness.  Surely the decisive argument against his position – the argument against which he must guard – is that, pre-incarnation, the LORD is spoken of as meek.  And the truth is, He is spoken of as meek – 2 Sam 22:36; Ps 18:35; Ps 45:4. What’s strange is that Edwards goes on to quote Psalm 45 to prove Christ’s majesty (v4), failing conspicuously to spot His meekness proclaimed in the very same verse! Now here is an OT description of the God Messiah – and He is majestic and meek. It is not His humanity per se that makes Christ meek. In His pre-incarnate Person He is already meek.  In this way we see that the incarnation is a revelation not a concealment.

Let’s look at one last quote:

In Christ do meet together self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God, which is another conjunction peculiar to the person of Christ. As he is a divine person, he is self-sufficient, standing in need of nothing. All creatures are dependent on him, but he is dependent on none, but is absolutely independent. His proceeding from the Father, in his eternal generation or filiation, argues no proper dependence on the will of the Father. For that proceeding was natural and necessary, and not arbitrary. But yet Christ entirely trusted in God…

Now where does Edwards get the idea that the Son (at any point) relied on Himself? (From Calvin yes, but where in Scripture!) There is perhaps no statement about His own identity that Christ makes more frequently than that He depends on His Father. Are we to believe that this is a new state of affairs (again the incarnation concealing rather than revealing)? Do we imagine that the One eternally in the bosom of the Father was eternally self-sufficient?

Edwards echoes the distinction Athanasius made between begotten and made – that His begotten-ness was a matter of nature, it was not a matter of will (which would imply ‘making’). But saying the eternal generation was natural and necessary does not get Edwards off the hook regarding the Son’s dependence. He is still, as the creeds say ‘God from God’? Is that not genuine and on-going dependence? Does He not receive His life and being from the Father? And does not the Father depend on the Son to be Father? Etc etc.

All this is a playing out of a non-trinitarian concept of aseity that’s defining Edwards’ concept of ‘divine nature.’ Here are some problems:

  1. Jesus is not defining the divine nature. Rather a divine nature different to what is revealed in Jesus is pre-supposed.
  2. Jesus is not defining human nature. Rather a human nature that excludes the glory of the exalted Priest/King/Prophet is assumed.
  3. This divine nature is defined not in relational terms but in terms of aseity (i.e. self-sufficiency)
  4. Jesus therefore fits poorly into the pre-fab mould of divinity – the bits left over are ascribed to ‘His humanity’.
  5. What we see in the Man Jesus is not properly thought of as divine!
  6. There are extra ‘bits’ to Jesus when considered from above and below. From below, we look at the Man Jesus, yet this is not all of Jesus. There’s an extra bit of divinity that is not like the human Jesus we see. From above, God is one with Jesus except for an extra bit of humanity that is not like the God He’s revealing.

Now it’s ironic that all of this is based on thoughts from Revelation 5. Because here we read

“You are worthy… for you were slain.” (Rev 5:9,12)

It’s the death of Christ that causes His worship. It’s His very Lambness that we will praise into all eternity. Revelation 5 tells us to accord all divine honours to Jesus not in spite of but because of His death as a human sacrifice. The deity of Christ does not exist apart from His Lambness but is most brightly manifested in it.

Therefore there are no extra bits to Jesus.  His divinity is precisely in His being as the Lamb (and the act this implies).  His humanity is not locked off from His being as God.  There is not 6 feet of insulation between Jesus of Nazareth and divine life.  Jesus is divine.  Even as He is Jesus in all His Lamb-ness.

And He is, in all His Lamb-ness the revelation of the Father.  Our notions of God should not lie behind glass in pristine majesty.  They are laid bare at the rugged cross. 

So, yes, Christ’s excellency does indeed consist in an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.  But these excellencies are true to the very depths of His Person, true to the depths of eternity, true to the very depths of God.

Worthy is the Lamb

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I’ve been very blessed by stumbling across the sermons of Victor Shepherd on the web.

Here’s a thought of his prompted by Revelation 5:5:

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.”

Here’s what Shepherd says:

I think that what a pastor must have above everything else is a conviction concerning Christ’s victory; a conviction so deep in him that it goes all the way down to his DNA, and he exhales it upon his people both explicitly and implicitly even as it seeps out of every pore. A pastor has to be convinced unshakeably of Christ’s victory if he’s profoundly to support and sustain his people.

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My sermon on Romans 3:21-26 is here.  Audio is here.

I preached on ‘Why the Cross?’ on Sunday.  Thanks to all who gave help to this sermon.

In the end I guess I did a version of an old style law-gospel talk.  Basically it ran – sin is very serious, thank Christ for atonement.

Now I’m aware that such a shape to preaching has both a long pedigree and a number of dangers.  The dangers of this kind of preaching seem to me to be:

  • Sin tends to be defined merely as transgression and almost never considered christologically
  • It can sound like there’s something called ‘Justice’ which forces God to punish sin
  • It can sound quite impersonal (even if you accept Christ it can be more ‘Whoopee I have a pardon’ rather than ‘Hallelujah I have the Son!’) 
  • All in all, it can be, ironically, less than christocentric

But bearing in mind these pit-falls, there is much to commend such an approach.  And I had a go!

Check it out here if you like.

Do you think my fears of law-gospel preaching are unfounded/insurmountable/irrelevant? 

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Heh heh

Two funnies that have made me chuckle this week:

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Hilariously tragically true:

Blogging 

http://xkcd.com/386/   H/T: Missy

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Now read all about St Simon the Fool.  Beautifully silly

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Door to Door?

A friend of mine recently posed this statement for discussion

“Five sessions of 5 pairs spending two hours door-knocking is better spent having 5 pairs having neighbours round five times in a season” Discuss.

Some responses:

  • Good thought!  See especially here where Rory Shiner discusses Gospel intentionality as a good ‘third way’ between cold-contact and friendship evangelism.  He (like my friend) has been very impressed by the Crowded House churches.
  • The personal investment involved in such hospitality is often far greater than the fear factor involved in door-to-door.  In this sense door-knocking, though appearing to be the more impressive, can often be more of a cop-out.
  • A deep sharing of life is surely a far superior context for sharing the faith!

But having said that

  • The context for sharing my faith is, fundamentally, not my friendships down here (though clearly that is ideal).  More fundamentally though, the context for sharing the faith is resurrection, pentecost and second coming. Christ is risen – this is my authority to speak of Christ.  The Spirit has been poured out – this is the power to do so.  He is coming – this is the urgency.  I realise my friend would not wish to disagree with this but it’s still good to remember what is at root my authorisation for my speaking.
  • There are millions in this country alone who don’t have Christian friends (at least Christian friends who are willing to share their faith).  Friendship evangelism will not reach them.  (Rory’s proposal linked above speaks to this – gospel intentionality seeks to reach a wider network of people than those we already know).
  • If it’s a question of ‘effectiveness’ – stranger evangelism ‘works’. I will post figures from Bridge Builders when I have them confirmed.  But I know also from personal experience that people are converted through these efforts – this is precisely what we expect given the point above regarding resurrection, pentecost and second coming. 
  • Think of the beginnings of the Salvation Army or David Wilkerson (Cross and Switchblade) – there was no bridge upon which they built their ministry apart from the declaration of the word.  Now they committed themselves to those who responded and very meaningful relationships blossomed (along with ministries that often lost their confidence with the power of the word proclaimed plainly!).  But the footing on which those relationships were placed was the proclamation of the gospel to strangers.  (But again perhaps this is closer to the ‘gospel intentionality’ model than to ‘stranger evangelism’)
  • Jesus did both – He did blow into town and speak to strangers.  And He also went to dinner parties and built into very significant relationships.
  • We are to sow on all the soils (Mark 4).

In all I think I agree with the statement in terms of priorities.  I’d want to make sure that those we invite are not simply our friends (Luke 14:12-14) and that we target those who are not only beyond the walls of the church but beyond our friendship groups and comfort zones.  Door to door is never to be an end in itself but the basis on which a relationship will ensue.  It should never be “Gospel apart from relationship.”  But if it were ever a choice between “Gospel => relationship” or “Relationship => Gospel” then there should certainly be no theologically decisive preference for the latter!

 Therefore I would certainly not want to abandon door-to-door but seek for all evangelism to involve relationship building. In short, let’s sow on all the soils.

What say you?

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Apologetics? Nein!

Some nice moments from Barth against apologetics

“Knowledge of revelation… begins with certitude. Either God has spoken or He has not spoken. If He has spoken, He has done so in such a manner that it is impossible not to heed Him. Among others, the question of His existence and nature are then decided and can be answered only a posteriori. Doubt and despair, human unbelief, and even a sea of uncertainties on our part, will not be able to change the certitude of His presence. Revelation is this divine presence.” (God in Action, p8)

“And we are certainly not ministers of the Word if we feel ourselves called to be benevolent protectors, or big-hearted friends or representatives of whom the Word of God has need.” (God in Action, p67)

“What God speaks is never known or true anywhere in abstraction from God Himself. It is known and true for no other reason than that He Himself says it, that He in person is in and accompanies what is said by Him.” (I/1, 155)

The great danger of apologetics is “the domesticating of revelation… the process of making the Gospel respectable. When the Gospel is offered to man, and he stretches out his hand to receive it and takes it into his hand, an acute danger arises which is greater than the danger that he may not understand it and angrily reject it. The danger is that he may accept it and peacefully and at once make himself its lord and possessor, thus rendering it inoccuous, making that which chooses him something which he himself has chosen, which therefore comes to stand as such alongside all the other things that he can also choose, and therefore control.” (II/1, p141)

“For we know nothing of our created state from our created state, but only through the Word of God, from which we can derive no independent, generally true items of knowledge, different from the Word of God and therefore leading up to it.” (I/1, p148)

When people say ‘God’ “far too often what is meant by it is… the unsubstantial, unprofitable and fundamentally very tedious magnitude known as transcendence, not as a genuine counterpart, nor a true other, nor a real outside and beyond, but as an illusory reflection of human freedom, as its projection into the vacuum of utter abstraction.” (III/4, 479)

 “If grace is alongside nature, however high above it may be put, it is obviously no longer the grace of God, but the grace which man ascribes to himself. If God’s revelation is alongside a knowledge of God proper to man as such, even though it may never be advanced except as a prolegomenon, it is obviously no longer the revelation of God, but a new expression (borrowed or even stolen) for the revelation which encounters man in his own reflection.” (II/1, p139)

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Faith is not a thing

A while back Matt Jenson wrote a brilliant short essay entitled: Faith is nothing at all.  Do read it if you haven’t already, it won’t take long.

We must constantly remind ourselves that faith is not a thing.  It is not a possession by which we make claim to salvation.  Faith is the absence of a thing – it is the confession of a complete lack.  To even ask ‘Am I having faith?’ is already an unbelieving question for faith is looking away to Christ.

If you make faith into a thing you run into problems.  Either you have to make it an imputed substance which God grants arbitrarily (in order to uphold sovereign grace).  Or you make it a legitimate factor contributing to our salvation. Sounds quite like many Calvinist-Arminian debates right? In many (certainly not all, but in many) of these debates you can see both sides making this mistake: they begin by considering faith to be a thing.  And from this premise, one side is in danger of making salvation a matter of divine caprice unrelated to Christ.  The other side begins from the same premise and makes salvation a matter of self-effort (and again Christ’s position is diminished).  But both have begun down the wrong track.  They’ve thought of faith as a thing and then they’ve got into trouble figuring out how a gracious salvation can be ‘by’ this thing.  We must remember though: Faith is not a thing.  

Alan Torrance is fond of pointing out that reformers like John Knox spoke very little about ‘salvation by faith alone.’ Instead he spoke of salvation ‘by the blood of Christ alone.’  Why?  Because he didn’t want anyone thinking that faith was the ‘thing’ that saved.  ‘Faith alone’ makes sense only in the context of ‘Christ alone.’  ‘Faith alone’ is the subjective correlate of the objective salvation in Christ alone – it cannot be considered apart from it.  To do so is to risk seeing faith as a thing.

Similarly Mike Reeves points out that Martin Luther’s favourite phrase for declaring our gracious salvation was not salvation ‘by faith alone’ but salvation ‘by God’s Word’ alone.  Again, faith is not the ‘thing’ that saves and ‘faith alone’ is not possession of the single savingly significant substance.  (I suspect Luther would have trouble saying this phrase – especially after his fifth Wittenberg ale!).

Faith is, in Anders Nygren’s memorable phrase, ‘being conquered by the gospel.’  Note how passive this image is.  Faith is a description of what has happened to the person who’s been overwhelmed by Christ in His word.  It is not a thing.

Anyway, check out Matt Jenson’s article.

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