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Archive for August, 2010

Here’s the text and audio for the five sola sermons.  Then a final thought:

Christ Alone
Audio

Grace Alone
Audio

Faith Alone
Audio

Scripture Alone
Audio

God’s Glory Alone
Audio

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We refocus on these fundamentals not simply as an exercise in doctrinal purity.  The point is to rediscover the true God.  Because God is the God of the Gospel.  To drift from the gospel is to drift from God Himself.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.  (Gal 1:6)

When a person ditches the gracious gospel in favour of a different gospel, they ditch God.  Because God is the God of the Gospel.  Conversely when a person trusts the gracious gospel they aren’t just converted to a different way of approaching God, they are converted to a different God.

Therefore the experience of hearing the pure gospel should not just be, “Ohh, so that’s how the God-I-always-believed-in saves people, now I’ll adjust my methods of attaining salvation.”

No.  When we hear the gospel, the overwhelming response should be:  “Ohh, so that’s what God is like.  I had Him all wrong.”

In the gospel we don’t just give people a different way to God.  We give them a different God.  The God of the Gospel.  And that’s liberation.  It’s not the surprise of seeing the-God-we-always-believed-in relating to us via some lovely principles – grace alone and faith alone.  It’s the earth-shattering shock of looking to the throne and, utterly unexpectedly, seeing that there sits the gracious, trustworthy Gospel-God.

For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their Shepherd; He will lead them to springs of Living Water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  (Rev 7:17)

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God’s Glory Alone sermon

We’re like a little kid coming to God saying “Oooh, salvation, let me have a go!”  And like a Good Father, God says, “No, no, put salvation down.  Glen, I’ve told you a thousand times, PUT SALVATION DOWN.  It’s too big for you.  You’ll break it and it’ll break you.”  And we say “Aww but I wanna do it, let me, let me, let me.  All the other gods let their people save themselves!!”  And our Father says “Yes, but that just shows they’re not really gods are they?  Now put salvation down!”

His Grace guarantees His Glory…

…Because His Glory is to give.

Audio here

Text below…

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Two weeks ago Eastbourne hosted a major airshow called Airbourne.  The F-16 fly-pasts rattle your fillings loose and make your bowels shudder. People either love that kind of stuff or hate it.  I think it’s beyond awesome.

I was down at the seafront watching the show with a friend and the Red Arrows came on – the Royal Air Force’s display team.  They were extremely impressive and we were oo-ing and ah-ing until they did their trademark love heart formation.  Over the tannoy they dedicated it to some member of their publicity team.

“Cute” I thought.

“Idiot!” said my friend.

Huh?

“Idiot!!  Oh you idiot, you idiot, you total moron!”

“What’s the matter?”

“The dedication!!  I was supposed to ask them whether they’d dedicate the love-heart to my parents!  It’s their 40th wedding anniversary.  I was supposed to ask them and I forgot.”

“Oh” I said, my keen pastoral insight shining through.

To be honest there was nothing to say.  His father spent his life in the RAF.  It was their ruby wedding anniversary.  They were also at the seafront listening to the same commentary.  His mother had asked my friend that morning to make the request as a surprise for his dad.

He remembered many things about his parent’s anniversary that day.  But this one task slipped his mind.  A simple mistake to make.  But there was no taking it back.  The moment had completely passed – an irrevocable error.

And boy did I feel for him.

Because life is made up of irrevocable errors.  The deadline passes, the door closes, the opportunity vanishes.  The words have left your mouth, the email has been sent, the damage has been done.  And there’s no getting it back.

Of course the temptation is then to wallow in regret.  We go over the mistake again and again, turning back the clock in our minds as though we could somehow reverse the mistake through remorse.

But there is no getting the toothpaste back into the tube.  Because God has designed the world in just this way.

He drives Adam and Eve out of paradise and determines that humanity must journey on to the city, not back to the garden.

He calls Abraham out of Ur and never back.

It’s one-way traffic through the Red Sea – they are coming out of Egypt, never to return.

It turns out that the curses and blessings of the covenant are discrete phases the people must pass through – first the judgement, then blessings on the other side.

They don’t avert judgement by cleaning up their act but bow their head to the coming exile.

Christ doesn’t avoid but passes through death to resurrection, calling His people to likewise take up their crosses.

Death then resurrection and no resurrection without death.

The very passage of time marks the relentless forward motion of the God of hope – the Redeemer God who is always moving on.

Through every stage of life – in every moment even – the Lord shuts the door behind us and beckons us forwards.

Of course we don’t like moving on.  We’d rather go back over our mistakes and redeem them ourselves.  We’d prefer to recapitulate our fallen humanity rather than allowing Christ to do it.  Our regret is a kind of mental salvation by works. But it’s futile and faithless.

Instead we ought to be resurrection people.  Those who know that redemption lies ahead, on the other side of these one-way gateways.  We look to the Lord who will restore to us the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).  But restoration is not in our hands and it’s not in the past.  It’s in the Lord’s hands and we receive it in the future.

Therefore we are prisoners of hope.  We must live by a forward looking faith in the redeeming Lord, leaving restoration in His hands and moving forward through countless points of no return.

Life is full of the irrevocable.  The Lord wants it that way.  So often the irrevocable makes us wallow in regret.  Yet the very opposite should be the case.  The door has been locked behind us and we should stop banging on it.  Instead we are beckoned forwards towards resurrection, knowing that life may consist in the irrevocable but that nothing is irredeemable.  And for those in Christ, all things will be.

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Scripture Alone sermon

In our Gospel Alone series we’ve had:

Christ Alone

Grace Alone

Faith Alone

But how do you get in on this gracious salvation in Christ?

Well faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).  Jesus-people must be bible-people.

And we must see the Scriptures as:

confronting

clear and consistent

and

all about Christ

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Sermon audio here.

Text below…

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Happy Friday

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Words in Proverbs – all age sermon

Sticks and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me?  Poppycock!

Here for your brutal critique I offer an all age sermon on the theme of words in Proverbs:

Audio here.

Powerpoint slides here.

But what power can change the heart???

The cross is heaven’s gentle answer to our harsh words

When it goes to our heart, our words will be healthy

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First published two years ago (here)

CH Spurgeon:

…to win a soul, it is necessary, not only to instruct our hearer, and make him know the truth, but to impress him so that he may feel it. A purely didactic ministry, which should always appeal to the understanding, and should leave the emotions untouched, would certainly be a limping ministry…

I hate to hear the terrors of the Lord proclaimed by men whose hard visages, harsh tones, and unfeeling spirit betray a sort of doctrinal desiccation: all the milk of human kindness is dried out of them. Having no feeling himself, such a preacher creates none, and the people sit and listen while he keeps to dry, lifeless statements, until they come to value him for being “sound”, and they themselves come to be sound, too; and I need not add, sound asleep also, or what life they have is spent in sniffing out heresy, and making earnest men offenders for a word. Into this spirit may we never be baptized!

Now I don’t think I need to argue that such critique applies to the circles in which I move and which to some degree I represent.  In fact to defend against such critique could easily end up proving the accusation!  I take it on the chin and it hurts.

But why are we like this?

A thousand reasons – but let me point to something I’ve been thinking about lately.  This is by no means even a major cause of such ‘desiccated’ ‘soundness’ but I think it’s emblematic of some of our larger problems.

I’ll phrase it as a question:  Why do we have preaching groups?

By preaching groups I mean circles of preachers (whether professional or novice) who get together to critique one another’s talks.  As of three weeks ago I’m in one.  In fact I lead one, and I’ve found it a great pleasure thus far, but we should never be afraid of questioning why we do what we do.  So why do we have preaching groups?

On one level, we have these groups because fanning into flame God’s gifts is something best done within the body.  We do it because preaching, while being the word of God, is also a human act, and human acts can be practised and improved upon.  We do it because we care about preaching and want to test it against Scripture and its proper Focus in Christ. We do it because standing in the pulpit, 6 feet above contradiction, is a dangerous place for someone to be (especially a young male / recent convert – those who tend to populate the preaching groups I’m thinking about).

Well then, why have I never joined a preaching group until being asked to lead one recently?

One answer: pride.  Submitting myself voluntarily to the “pat, pat, stab” critique on a weekly basis was never my idea of fun.  I told myself “I’m not sure I fit the mould of what is expected of a sermon and I’m not sure I want to submit to that mould.”  But perhaps that translates better as “I know best what a good sermon is and aint nobody gonna tell me how to do it.”  There’s definitely a good dollup of that going on.

But then, there are people I’d take critique from.  It’s never easy I know, but there are some who I would welcome rifling through my sermons to shake ’em up good and proper.  But there’s something I’ve never quite trusted about the preaching groups that have been available to me in the past.

Top of the list of things I mistrust has to be this: Preaching for the sake of critique is extremely dangerous ground.  (Note well the italicized phrase, I don’t want to be misheard here).

I still remember the first time I learned that preaching groups existed in which people wrote talks not for the sake of public worship or their youth group but for the sake of critique within the group.  I can remember blinking in total disbelief and asking the person to clarify what he’d said at least 12 times.

The idea of a sermon written for the benefit of 9 other hot-prots with clip-boards and a 21 point check-list makes my head spin.  The thought that these groups, run according to this dynamic, would nurture a generation of such preachers gives me cold sweats.  Really it does.

Hear me on this.  Critique for the sake of preaching is a good and godly thing.  Preaching for the sake of critique is treacherous.

I’ve written elsewhere on preaching itself as the word of God, but if this is the case then there is a spirituality and an authority to preaching that means the forms of critique to which we submit it should be carefully considered.

Imagine, for instance, that the standard of public intercessory praying at your church was pretty poor. Imagine that you decided to do something about it.  You invite all those who pray publicly at your church to a few sessions that you’re running.  Now imagine that these sessions consisted of asking each member to get up and pray out loud using prayers they’d written in advance.  We’d listen in, pen in hand, marking the prayers according to a pre-determined criteria.  Good idea?

But you say – preaching is not the same.  Well, perhaps not exactly.  But perhaps it’s a lot closer to praying than you think.

I’m rambling really.  Let me just list ten dangers for preaching groups off the top of my head.  These are dangers mind – they are not inevitable:

  1. Preaching itself is not considered according to its proper nature – a divine encounter
  2. With this spiritual nature minimized, the preaching itself takes on a more cerebral tone (see Spurgoen quote)
  3. The preacher is sorely tempted to preach for critique rather than for the Lord and for the congregation
  4. The listeners are trained in standing over rather than sitting under the word
  5. Preachers are taught to pretend that they’re communicating to real people (and actually that can be how a lot of live preaching sounds too – could there be a link?)
  6. Check-lists for critique become old wineskins that will only accommodate old wine
  7. Therefore we learn to preach according to the check-list
  8. The audience for the sermon becomes extremely narrow
  9. Not only is it possible to be unaffected by the word (as we concentrate on its delivery), we can even be trained in such an innoculation.  A skill that transfers beyond the preaching group.
  10. Praise for sermons becomes professionalized and tempered “Thanks, that was helpful.”

Can you think of more?

Well what can be done?

Here are some pointers I’ve given to our group that I’m hoping to emphasize and re-emphasize as we go.

  1. Make sure you preach what you’ve prepared to real people.  It could be to your sunday school, your spouse, your best friend, I don’t care – but preach it to someone who doesn’t have a clip-board.  And prepare it with that audience in mind.  This is non-negotiable.  We are not preaching for the sake of critique.
  2. Let the preacher themselves tell you their criteria.  If they say for instance: ‘I’m just wanting to highlight a single verse or a single word from this passage’, then assess things according to that.  Now you can discuss what makes a good criterion at another point – but don’t judge people according to check-lists that won’t necessarily fit.
  3. First thing I ask after the sermon is delivered is addressed to the preacher: What spoke to you most from the word in preparation.
  4. Next thing I ask is to the listeners: what struck you most from the word that’s just been proclaimed.
  5. At that point we discuss how the word has impacted us – we spend time being hearers and receivers of the word
  6. Only then do we discuss ways that the preacher has blessed us in the particular manner that they brought it home.
  7. Critique comes in the form of assessing the preacher against their own criteria.
  8. In the spirit of Spurgeon, both its didactic and its emotional aspects are up for discussion.
  9. We give praise to God for His word and for His preacher.
  10. We give praise to the preacher and thank them for how they’ve blessed us

In an ideal world we’d do all this by watching a video of the talk given in its true setting, but that’s often unrealistic.

Now some of you will say – that’s what all preaching groups are like, why are you so fearful of them.  I don’t know.  Am I being too cautious about preaching groups?

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Taken from this paper on Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3…

The meaning is Christ
Rescuing the Scriptures from the Judaizers

‘Christ is the Lord, not the servant, the Lord of the Sabbath, of law, of all things.  The Scriptures must be understood in favour of Christ, not against Him.  For that reason they must either refer to Him or must not be held to be true Scripture.’ (LW34.112)

When Luther says ‘must’ in this quotation he is deadly serious.  The written Word is a servant of the Eternal Word.  We cannot know God except “clothed in His Word and promises , so that from the name ‘God’ we cannot exclude Christ, whom God promised to Adam and the other patriarchs.” (Commentary on Psalm 51, 1532).

Luther constantly returns to Genesis 3:15 as the promise by which Adam and Eve laid hold of life, and the fountainhead of all gospel promise:

“This, therefore is the text that made Adam and Eve alive and brought them back from death into the life which they had lost through sin.”  (LW1.196-7)

“Never will the conscience trust in God unless it can be sure of God’s mercy and promises in Christ. Now all the promises of God lead back to the first promise concerning Christ: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The faith of the fathers in the Old Testament era, and our faith in the New Testament are one and the same faith in Christ Jesus, although times and conditions may differ… The faith of the fathers was directed at the Christ who was to come, while ours rests in the Christ who has come. Time does not change the object of true faith, or the Holy Spirit. There has always been and always will be one mind,  one impression, one faith concerning Christ among true believers whether they live in times past, now, or in times to come. We too believe in the Christ to come as the fathers did in the Old Testament, for we look for Christ to come again on the last day to judge the quick and the dead. (Galatians commentary, 3:6)

Luther came to Genesis not primarily seeking for grammatical and historical understanding, but seeking for Christ.  As he claimed above, ‘the Scriptures must be understood in favour of Christ.’  For Luther, distinguishing the Church from Old Testament Israel has never been a question of adding a new, retrospectively awarded meaning to Moses.   The method modelled by Jesus and His Apostles has been to declare the inherent Messianic proclamation of all Biblical revelation.  Luther is completely in line with this as he repeatedly champions Genesis 3:15, not simply here, but throughout his work.  Yet this confidence in the protevangelium has sounded ‘incautious’ and ‘unreal’ to more modern ears.

F. Farrar in his History of Interpretation says this:

“When Luther reads the doctrines of the Trinity, and the Incarnation, and Justification by Faith, and Reformation dogmatics and polemics, into passages written more than a thousand years before the Christian era… he is adopting an unreal method which had been rejected a millennium earlier by the clearer insight and more unbiased wisdom of the School of Antioch.  As a consequence of this method, in his commentary on Genesis he adds nothing to Lyra except a misplaced dogmatic treatment of patriarchal history.” (p334)

Farrar misunderstands both Luther’s exegesis and his exegetical convictions.  Luther is not claiming to read back into the text a Christological reinterpretation.  His claim is that the gospel of Christ was preached, understood, trusted and passed on by the faithful throughout the Old Testament era.  His convictions in making such a claim are that non-Christological interpretations are really non-interpretations.  The written Word must preach the Eternal Word or it is no word worth hearing.  It is worth noting though that this prior commitment also allows Luther to make the greatest sense of the literal, historical and grammatical content of the passage.

In this respect Calvin is often seen as a more ‘cautious’ foil to Luther’s christocentric bias.

So R. Grant in A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible writes:

‘Not all the reformers carried the principles of Reformation exegesis to the conclusion which Luther reached.  John Calvin, for example, vigorously maintains an ‘objective’ type of interpretation.  For him, scripture itself is the authority for Christian belief, rather than any Christocentric interpretation of scripture.’ (p106, emphasis mine)

That seems a very fair assessment.  And one worth ruminating upon.

Gerald Bray in Biblical Interpretation: past and present has written similarly:

“As an exegete Calvin is noted for his scrupulous honesty; he resisted the temptation to read Christological meanings into even such ‘obvious’ passages as Genesis 3:15.” (p203, emphasis mine)

Calvin’s principles of Old Testament interpretation as laid out in the Institutes (e.g. I.13; II.9-11) are admirable.  Yet they are not followed through with consistency in his expositions.  For instance, neither the Trinitarian (1:1,26; 3:22) nor Christological points (3:15) are picked up in Calvin’s Genesis commentary.

Lutherans in the 17th century felt so strongly about Calvin’s Old Testament exegesis that anathemas were pronounced, most notably by Aegidius Hunnius, in his Calvinus Judaizans (Wittenberg, 1693).  While this was a definite over-reaction it certainly points to differing trajectories and a tendency in Calvin to underplay that on which Luther had so passionately insisted.

In our own age, evangelical scholarship is crying out for defenders of a Christian Old Testament.  In John Sailhamer’s excellent article The Messiah and the Hebrew Bible, he quotes Walter Kaiser as saying:

“if [the Gospel] is not in the Old Testament text, who cares how ingenious later writers are in their ability to reload the OT text with truths that it never claimed or revealed in the first place? The issue is more than hermeneutics… [the issue is that of] the authority and content of revelation itself!”

Gordon McConville comments in the same article

“the validity of a Christian understanding of the Old Testament must depend in the last analysis on [the] cogency of the argument that the Old Testament is messianic.”

We ought to re-learn from Luther the Christian meaning of Moses and the Prophets.  Not that, now Moses can be read through Christian spectacles.  Rather, that the only spectacles through which Scripture can be read are Christian.  The issue with our modern Jewish friends is not about whether the New Testament is a valid addition and re-interpretation of the Old.  The issue is the Old Testament itself.  We must maintain that the Hebrew Scriptures in and of themselves are Christian Scripture written from faith in Christ and directed to evoke faith in Christ  (cf. 2 Tim 3:15-17; Acts 10:36,43).  Luther would be an excellent tutor for our modern age in reclaiming the Hebrew Scriptures for Jesus.

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All head no heart??

I’ve just heard yet another institution described in all too familiar terms:

“Don’t get me wrong, their theology is straight down the line. They’re faithful, biblical, solid, orthodox, sound as a pound. You couldn’t fault them on their teaching… It’s just… Well, they’re not very loving. In fact they’re pretty closed. Cold even. Harsh actually. Come to think of it they’re some of the most hard hearted people I’ve ever met.”

This is horrendously common. What do we reckon is a good response?

My immediate reaction is: Where *are* these total-gospel Christians with diamond-hard hearts? What kind of gospel must this be? How could ‘solid, orthodox, faithful’ theology produce loveless believers? Do we really think they’ve got their theology right, they just *happen* to be bearing no gospel fruit?

And what remedy would we propose for such cool-headed, cold-hearted Christians? Do we assume that they already know the gospel and therefore need to be inspired to love via other means? What means?

No. Next time you hear someone say “He/She/They are solid theologically, they’re just not loving”, say “Pish, Tosh, Codswallop, Bunkum and Balderdash!”

They *cannot* be solid theologically. Maybe once they were. Maybe their reputation still resounds around the world. But their gospel is revealed far more clearly in their lives than in some abstract credal conformity.

Don’t dare concede to such people that ‘they’re cold but still sound.’ No, you’ve smelt the stench, now hunt down the source. It’ll go all the way to the core of their allegedly orthodox theology.

It’ll take a root and branch reformation to sort out this lot. But don’t settle for anything less.

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Taken from this paper on Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3…

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The meaning is in the Scriptures, not conferred on them
Rescuing Scripture from the Magisterium

In Luther’s commentary on Genesis he stands against the tradition at key points.  First, we will note this issue of 6-day creation:

Therefore it is necessary to understand these days as actual days, contrary to the opinion of the holy fathers.  Whenever we see that the opinions of the fathers are not in agreement with Scripture, we respectfully bear with them and acknowledge them as our forefathers; but we do not, on their account, give up the authority of Scripture… Human beings can err, but the Word of God is the very wisdom of God and the absolutely infallible truth.

He highlights disagreement with the Vulgate on 3:1 but far more strongly on 3:15:

‘How amazing, how damnable that through the agency of foolish exegetes Satan has managed to apply this passage, which in fullest measure abounds in the comfort of the Son of God, to the Virgin Mary!  For in all the Latin Bibles the pronoun appears in the feminine gender: “And she will crush.”  Even Lyra, who was not unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, is carried away by this error as by a swollen and raging torrent.’

Luther is unhappy in general with the interpretation of 3:15 in history:

‘[this text] should be very well known to everybody… [yet it] was not expounded by anyone carefully and accurately so far as I know… I am speaking of the ancient ones, who are held in esteem because of their saintly life and their teaching.  Among these there is no one who adequately expounded this passage.’

Perhaps then Luther had not read Irenaeus on this. (cf Adv. Her. V.16.3.)  But of course, the Scriptures themselves provided him with great support for such a stand: Genesis 22:18; Habakkuk 3:13; Romans 16:20; Galatians 3:16; 4:4.

Ever since his revolution on Romans 1:17, Luther determined to prefer the plain testimony of the Word to the authority of the fathers.  In opposition to Eck at Leipzig in 1519, Luther proclaimed: ‘a layman who has Scripture is more than Pope or council without it.’

The logic for this is clear – the Church does not beget Scripture, but Scripture begets the Church.  From this the doctrine of sola Scriptura formed one of the true distinctives of Reformation theology.  Scripture alone interprets Scripture.  Clearly Luther listened to the tradition (as the above quotes testify) yet in order to treat Scripture according to its true nature it must have the supremacy.

While this is one of Luther’s greatest triumphs, it also opened the door to unresolved doubt over the canon of Scripture.  As Farrar notes, Luther’s views on the canonicity of various books is uneven to say the least.  He claims that while John’s gospel, Romans and 1st Peter are ‘the right kernel and marrow of all books’, Jude is unnecessary, second-hand, and non-apostolic and James is a ‘right strawy epistle’ which flatly contradicts Paul.  Luther saw Job as a ‘drama in the glorification of resignation’ and that while all the prophets built on the one foundation (Christ), some built only with hay, and stubble!

On Genesis 3:15, Luther allows himself to feel the force of an objection to its Gospel content.  Luther admits that if the challenge were true then ‘Christ would be nothing, and nothing could be proved about Christ by means of this passage.’  For Luther, the integrity of the Scriptures is guaranteed by their proclamation of Christ:

‘There is no doubt that all the Scripture points to Christ alone’ (WA, 10:73);

‘All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ’ (WA, 46:414);

‘That which does not teach Christ is not apostolic, even if a Peter or a Paul taught it.’ (quoted in Farrar, p335)

‘In the words of Scripture you will find the swaddling clothes in which Christ lies. Simple and little are the swaddling clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them’ (LW, 35:236).

If Christ were not proclaimed in Genesis we can infer that Luther would have considered the book at least sub-Christian and therefore sub-canonical.

‘This is the true touchstone by which all books are to be judged, when one sees whether they urge Christ or not.’

Thus, in considering this issue of the canon and sola Scriptura, Luther brings sola fides and, most significantly, solus Christus into the centre where it belongs.  The meaning of the Scriptures is in them if by that we mean that their meaning is not externally conferred by pope or council.  But in a deeper sense, the meaning of the Scriptures is outside them since the meaning is Christ – to Whom the Scriptures alone bear witness.

The Church cannot stand above the Bible (as happens either with the Roman magisterium or with modern historical-critical scholars).  However it is not as though the power of authentication lies in any inherent qualities within the Scriptures.  Rather, because they ‘urge Christ’ they are authoritative.  He is the One who stands above the Scriptures and guarantees their authoritative character.

The Bible must be considered as witness to Christ (John 5:39) and only then does it have the self-authenticating power which it claims for itself as God’s Word.

More on this next time…

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Dev Menon – 2 Timothy 2

Wonderful sermon by Dev.

At the end he quotes from Spurgeon’s sermon “Eternal Faithfulness Unaffected by Human Unbelief.

I tell you again that He cannot reject you—that would be to alter His whole Character and “un-Christ” Himself! To spurn a coming sinner would un-Jesus Him and make Him to be somebody else, and not Himself any longer. “He cannot deny Himself.” Go and try Him! Go and try Him. I wish some trembling soul would, at this moment, go and cast Himself upon Christ and then report to us the result. Come, poor quivering Seekers, sing in your heart, unbelieving as you are…

If you were to perish at His feet, you would be the first that ever did so out of all those who have ever come to Him! And that first man has never been seen yet! Go and try my Lord and see for yourselves.

Well now, you Christian people, I want you to come, also. If you believe your Lord, He will be faithful to you. Suppose it is a time of trouble with you? He will be faithful to you—go and cast your burden upon Him.  Suppose at this time you are much exercised with spiritual distress? Go to the Lord as you did at first, as poor, guilty, rebellious sinners—and cast yourself upon Him and you will find Him faithful. “He cannot deny Himself.” If my Lord were not kind to me tonight when I go to Him with my burdens, I should think that I had knocked at the wrong door because the Lord has been so good and so faithful to me up to now that it would take my breath away if I found Him changed! Oh, how good, how exceedingly good is my Lord!

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Here are some excerpts from a paper I wrote about Luther’s exegesis of Genesis 3.  In these next three posts I’ll tease out three key convictions underlying all Luther’s exegesis:

The Meaning is Literal – Rescuing the Bible from the Allegorists

The Meaning is in the Scriptures – Rescuing the Bible from the Magisterium

The Meaning is Christ – Rescuing the Bible from the Judaizers

For the footnotes, go to the original paper.

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The Meaning is Literal
Rescuing the Bible from the Allegorists

In the history of exegesis, the early chapters of Genesis have often been claimed as definitive warrant for an allegorical approach to Scripture.    As far back as Philo (d. c50), it was to early Genesis that they appealed:

“We must turn to allegory, the method dear to men with their eyes opened.  Indeed the sacred oracles most evidently afford us the clues for the use of this method.  For they say that in the garden (of Eden) there are trees in no way resembling those with which we are familiar, but trees of Life, Immortality, of Knowledge, of Apprehension, of Understanding, of the conception of good and evil.”

Allegorical interpretation in the Christian tradition is largely identified with the Alexandrians.  As with so many modern interpreters, exegetes like Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) would point to features of Genesis 1-3 – the existence of light and days before the creation of the sun, the impossibility of four rivers co-existing in one garden, God ‘walking about’ – and claim that such writing demands a non-literal understanding.  The parallels with today are striking.

Clement of Alexandria (fl. c.200) took courage from these opening chapters in asserting that the Bible was written in signs and symbols. The task of the exegete was therefore to decode these signs – not to understand the letters on the page.

Clement unravelled the signs in a five-fold interpretation.  There is:

an historical sense;
a doctrinal sense;
a prophetic sense (including OT typology);
a philosophical sense and
a mystical sense.

Origen maintained a three-fold reading corresponding to a tripartite anthropology.  So there is

body (a literal sense),
soul (a moral sense) and
spirit (an allegorical/mystical sense)

The eventual heir of this school, the quadriga, gave the Church a four-fold sense.

The letter, teaches what it says, e.g. Jerusalem is the city of the Jews;
Allegory, teaches doctrine, e.g. Jerusalem means the Church;
Tropology, teaches morals, e.g. Jerusalem is the human soul;
Anagogy, teaches the Christian hope, e.g. Jerusalem is the heavenly city.

At best, these approaches give a polite ‘nod’ to the literal sense of the words, but at base is the conviction that this represents only the carnal meaning.  2 Corinthians 3:6 is a key verse for the Alexandrians. The spiritual meaning is found beyond the historical.

It fell therefore to the school of Antioch, remembered for its determination to take the flesh of Christ seriously, to take the ‘flesh’ of Scripture equally seriously.  One representative, Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428), wrote Concerning Allegory and History Against Origen and argued that the spiritual meaning (theoria) is not the allegorical but simply the application of the literal.  Again, the interpretation of Genesis was at the centre – modern interpreters take note:

Theodore’s argument was that Origen denies ‘the whole biblical history of its reality.  Adam was not really Adam, paradise was not really paradise, the serpent was not a real serpent.  In that case, Theodore asks, since there are no real events, since Adam was not really disobedient, how did death enter the world, and what meaning does our salvation have?’ (Robert Grant, A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible, p70)

These are questions that need to be asked again today and with urgency.

In the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) took up the fight for the literal interpretation of Scripture against an allegorism that persisted through Augustine’s (354-430) legacy.  Once more, Genesis provided the battle-ground:

‘The things which are said of Paradise [i.e. Eden] in scripture are set forth by means of an historical narrative… [This historical narrative] must be taken as a foundation and upon it spiritual expositions are to be built.’ (Grant, p100)

Coming from this tradition of literal interpretation, Luther is able to call allegories ‘silly’ ‘twaddle’, and ‘absurd’ ‘pratings’. He insists that “it is the historical sense alone which supplies the true and sound doctrine.”

Hence his insistence on literal 24 hour days, a literal garden with literal rivers, a literal serpent (though dominated by a supernatural being) and thus a literal fall from which we are promised a literal Deliverer.  Such a carnal understanding proves not to be a denial of spiritual meaning unless we were to conclude that the Seed Himself was too carnal to provide spiritual hope.  Yet Luther’s commitment to the Incarnate Christ as the ground and goal of all God’s dealings with man means he could never drive such a Platonic wedge between flesh and spirit or between the literal and the mystical.  Luther continually keeps these two realms together as in the following quotation:

“For we have the Holy Spirit as our Guide.  Through Moses He does not give us foolish allegories; but He teaches us about most important events, which involve God, sinful man, and Satan, the originator of sin.” (LW1.185)

Because the Seed Who will come from the body of the woman is the hope of the ages, then we are caught up into the divine purposes of the LORD.  Thus the spiritual purpose of Moses was to ‘relate history’, and the spiritual task of the exegete is to simply ‘adhere to the historical account.’  In this history is the spiritual hope of all peoples.

Before we move on to other facets of Luther’s interpretation we must take heed for our own day.  The current vogue in dismissing Genesis chapters 1-3 (not to mention 4-11) as unhistorical can only open the door once more to Origenistic extravagence.

While those committed to an historical-grammatical hermeneutic have (by definition) ruled out an allegorical interpretation, they nonetheless pass over the literal sense in favour of a meaning grounded elsewhere.  It is essentially the error of Origen all over again even if the techniques have changed.

We would do well to get back to Luther’s hermeneutic and his rebuke:

If then we do not understand the nature of the days or have no insight into why God wanted to make use of these intervals of time, let us confess our lack of understanding rather than distort the words, contrary to their context, into a foreign meaning… If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.  (LW 1.5)

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Contributions from Comments (more gratefully received)

From Otepoti: (extra points for anyone who can explain!)

How many Reformed Church members does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one, but it has to be the tea drinker.

From Heather:

From Si:



From John:

“A play so modern, and so brilliant it makes absolutely no sense to anybody!”

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Unlike the scuttling basements of many a blog page, the comments section of Christ the Truth is its most redeeming feature.  For those who only get the RSS feed you are missing out.

I thought I’d give you excerpts from some of Paul Blackham’s comments which would otherwise languish in the blog’s underbelly.

Jesus – centre of all reality
…what if Jesus actually IS God? What if the prayer/holiness/sovereignty stuff is actually all about our relationship with LORD Jesus? What if Jesus is not the agent but the content, the substance and all these other things are ‘agents’ for Him? What if Jesus is the centre and substance of every creature’s relation to the Living God? What if the LORD God of the Scriptures is Jesus?…

Jesus – centre of our Doctrine of God
…what would happen if all the attribute/substance stuff was only described in a Trinitarian context? What if Jesus was allowed to be the centre and soul of the doctrine of God? Ok, I know that is just fantasy and it will never happen…. but wouldn’t it be amazing if Jesus was really taken that seriously!!!…

Jesus – centre of the Scriptures
…If the Bible reveals the Living God then it just has to be deeply connected to Jesus. The more I go on and realise just how completely Jesus surrounds us in creation then it makes more and more sense that He is present in the Scripture in a much deeper way than is often described. Too often the doctrines of Scripture spend all the time working at issues of inerrancy, when that might come a lot easier if the Bible is seen as the ever-living presence/clothing of Jesus…

Changing the world through love
…the ancient Christians changed the world when their gospel living, their sheer ‘unreasonable’ love for Jesus was so intense and so ‘impractical’ that it could not be ignored. By trusting the Spirit and obeying Jesus even when it seems impossible or foolish… By trusting the Spirit to really change the world to the pattern of Jesus… we aim for something much more than a re-adjustment of the furniture on the sinking ship… we join Jesus in aiming for a really new world where sorrow, injustice and death are illegal and impossible…

On Apologetics
…if we are trying to render the ‘concept of god’ as reasonable or if we are trying to ‘demonstrate’ that the Bible is the Word of God or if we are deploying philosophical arguments that never end up with ‘ergo, Jesus is the glory of God, the eternal Son of the Father’… then we are obviously trusting in the flesh. Of course we want to believe that if only we work hard enough or organise well enough or develop the best campaign or get the new ‘technique’ then we don’t really need to fast and pray, we don’t need to follow Jesus in sheer dependence on the Spirit on the way to crucifixion. Yet, the truth is that when the apostle Peter spoke of giving an apologia, he did so in a letter that consistently argues that the glory comes after suffering, that we will be thought strange for the way we live, that we should be living such good lives that people ask us about Jesus…

On engaging atheists
…The great temptation is to want to be ‘reasonable’ – i.e. to find a non-’religious’ foundation that will show us to be wise and the atheist to be foolish. The only foundation is Jesus. He is why we believe in God…

God’s glory – not the glory of Allah
…It is not arbitrary to say that God’s glory is His grace – because the apostle John makes it so very clear that God’s eternal glory is manifested at the Cross. The specific words of Jesus concerning His own glory have to be our starting point here. My most common conversation partners in theology these days are various Islamic theologians [especially those amazing guys from the 8th/9th centuries] – and their understanding of the transcendant glory of Allah is really serious. If you really want an exaltation of divine glory that is utterly, utterly opposed to human autonomy/glory then those are the guys you really want to be reading. However, is that what the Living God Himself said about glory when He walked among us? Where did He say that His glory was to be seen? Is the glory of Allah substantially different than the glory of the Trinity?…

On Christ Alone
Matthew 11:25-3o – Everything is in the hands of Jesus – whether revelation or redemption. We can know nothing of any god other than what Jesus chooses to tell us. How do we know that there is a Father other than what Jesus tells us? How can we prove the deity of the Father other than through Jesus? How can we find rest for our souls other than through Jesus?

Recently we were challenged to ‘get serious with god’ over the summer… but Jesus wasn’t mentioned. I imagined a follower of Odin heading home to get on his viking helmet and wielding his battle-axe with more passion and commitment or a follower of Baal putting aside his tiredness and heading out for some serious immorality after work.

If we are not dealing with Jesus then does it matter whether we get serious with Odin or Ra or Vishnu or Artemis or Allah or the Prime Mover.

Christ alone… in all the Scriptures… or else why bother at all?

On the Enlightenment
I think the Enlightenment brought a re-structuring of European thought generally – from specifics to universals. Think of the contrast between John Owen and John Wesley. Both are such amazing Christians, but they live on different sides of the Enlightenment fence. Wesley is a ‘global’ or universal man, thinking of a truth for all humanity. Think of the way that Wesley relates to the empiricist philosophers of his day, whereas Owen is related to a much older philosophical world. Wesley is ‘modern’ in a way that could never be said of Owen. Owen was still thinking in that more ancient mode where the universal vision was very much at the edge of his thinking… or perhaps it is more to do with the ‘universal’ being at the edge of ‘feeling’ rather than ‘thinking’. Wesley traveled around the world, around his global parish – but the Puritans didn’t really feel that need.

Is it possible for us to have the global heart of Wesley while rejecting the Enlightenment ‘objectivity’ that feels so shocked that we are condemned sinners? Of course, the very last thing we want is to dig up a scholastic zombie as if the missing ingredient is more Aristotle!

Jesus Himself, of course, is the glorious solution – a great love for everybody He meets but without that ‘objectifying’ train of Enlightenment thinking. He faces the chaos and suffering without any of the self-pity or bitterness… yet joy and hope pour out of Him. Glory! What a mess we make of our thinking and feeling… and we only realise what a mess we make as we look at His glory and maturity!

Sex
This is important. I’ve been reading some of the books and sermons on sex/virginity from the early centuries after the apostles. The contrast with especially modern evangelical thought is shocking. Today, in the church community almost as much as outside, sex is something to be simply ‘celebrated’ and enjoyed – and there are plenty of Christian sex manuals etc etc. Sex problems are seen as resolved through better techniques or losing repression or ‘communication’. The idea that a closer relationship with Jesus might be helpful is not a common solution. Of course, when the most intense experience of intimacy in the culture is ‘mind-blowing sex’… then of course sex is seen as an end in itself. To celebrate sex is seen as a big enough goal in itself and why shouldn’t the Bible be forced to have such a limited horizon? The deep damage that this kind of attitude has for single and LGBT Christians is frightening. How can we really hold sexual practice up as the most intense relationship/intimacy, constantly trying to pair everybody up, and also pretend to be so shocked when single and LGBT Christians believe the hype?

…The best sex help we can offer is to remind us/seduce us back to the Divine Romance. That is the full and complete and ultimate human experience of intimacy… and from that ecstasy we do begin to see both the joys and sorrows of our fallen human sexuality… not in hopeless frustration or obsession, but as a grace given to some of us in order to lead us to our true Spouse.

On Song of Songs as a love triangle
I think that there are two men after the bride – the wealthy and powerful king with his many lovers and the humble, rural Shepherd who has eyes only for His love. The bride is caught up into the king’s seduction/power… but her heart is always really for her true Love. Will she be one of many in the glittering palace… or will she be the ‘one, true love’ out on the mountains, in the shepherd’s home?…

On biblical masculinity
…think of the different kinds of men within the Bible. Would artistic, multi-media Ezekiel spend his free-time with Jehu?

Who is the proper man – Esau or Jacob, Cain or Abel, Joseph with his fancy clothes and fear of ‘sex’ or Judah with fairly ‘relaxed’ view of what’s on offer sexually speaking? Would bi-polar, zealous Elijah fit well with the very reliable/stable Daniel?

David himself is such a complex character. On the one hand he is a sorry figure, hunched over his roof-top porn… setting a destructive example to his sons… yet on the other hand he is capable of such profound and deeply masculine expression in the psalms; tremendous integrity and courage before Saul and Goliath.. but cowardice and stupidity before the Philistine king; passion for the LORD Jesus when enacting the ascension in transporting the ark, but the seedy and humiliating “hot-water bottle” of the latter years.

On Calvin and Barth
…Calvin begins with the utterly transcendent God before the world began… whereas Barth wants to always begin with the actual point of contact, the one mediator, Jesus Christ. I find that both theologians lead me to worship.. reading them both is like walking into a grand cathedral. Calvin carries me away to eternity, to divine counsels and the being of god in a more classical sense. Barth confronts me with the Word of God, Jesus Christ, here and now.

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In this post I’ve been thinking about how we tend to pray before evangelistic efforts.

Often the prayers we say will sound something like:

‘Lord, open hearts in advance of your gospel. Prepare people now so that later we will come across those upon whom your Spirit has worked.’

If this is how we think then we’re basically conceiving of the gospel as a necessary instrument to salvation but it’s not really at the heart of the action.  The action happens in some prior (wordless) event.  The gospel word merely comes as confirmation of a previous display of divine power – it’s not the power itself.

On this view, the gospel is like a barcode gun.

We zap a hundred people and – glory! – we discover that five had been slipped the right barcode in advance.

The gospel here is confirmatory of a change that has happened elsewhere.  As I’ve said, it reveals a prior power.  It’s not the power itself.

But there’s another way to see the gospel.

The gospel is like a magnum!

The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  Proclaiming the good news is unleashing divine power.  We fire off a hundred rounds of the gospel and a hundred people have felt the power of God – whether for their salvation or their greater condemnation.

The gospel does not merely confirm a prior mark placed on a person. The gospel makes the mark!

So as you go out into the world with the gospel, let this affect your confidence, your reverence and your prayerfulness: It’s not a barcode gun you carry – it’s a magnum.

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Come Awake

Love this video for the first 3 minutes 20.

But how do you feel about the last 30 seconds?

For me the repeated phrase “could be” spoils it.

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Faith Alone sermon

Can you imagine a beggar outside Buckingham Palace, begging for change.  And she’s not a rough diamond.  She’s not a salt of the earth character deep down.  She’s unpleasant, she’s selfish, she’s backstabbing, she’s grubby, she’s been in and out of prison all her life and she’s only got herself to blame.

The Queen comes out of the palace and starts talking to the woman.  And she doesn’t just spare some change for the poor unfortunate, she holds out her hand and helps the woman up.  She gets dirty lifting the beggar to her feet.  And she leads the beggar into the palace, past the security, past the bewildered staff.  And they sit down to eat dinner together in the royal banquetting hall.

At the end of the dinner, the Queen makes an announcement.  She officially adopts the woman into her royal family and shares all her wealth with her.  She will share everything – even the throne – with this awkward, angry beggar.

And we say – That’s ridiculous!  Nothing like that would ever happen.

The truth is that something far greater than this HAS happened.  And it’s happened to us.

Faith Alone sermon audio.

Full text below….

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Why is it that faith saves?  What’s so special about faith that it brings such benefits?

Because here’s how the whole deal is usually set up:

First we insist that God does not save us by our works.  No sir, we believe in ‘justification by faith alone.’  Therefore it’s not that God is armed with a clipboard and some binoculars waiting for an external moral act in order to flick the ‘justification’ switch.  How ridiculous.  No, no.  Instead we imagine God (with clipboard and brain scanner) eagerly seeking for a certain mental act within us.  And then He’ll zap righteousness into our account.

Yeah.  That’s much more reformed…

But honestly, for many, that is the doctrine of justification by faith alone in a nut-shell.

Yet for the thoughtful who’ve been reared on such teaching it raises big questions.  Like, why faith?  Is it just that ‘faith’ keeps us humble and God simply wants to remind everyone who’s Boss?  In which case why give us Christ’s righteousness at all?  Why not just leave us in a sort of righteousness limbo forever – that’d keep us humble right?  And what’s the link between this act of mental assent and that imputation of saving stuff??  It all seems so arbitrary.

And it would be completely arbitrary so long as we keep Christ out of the discussion.  But once Jesus is central – and by that I mean the Person of Jesus (not just the Provider of a Perfect Righteousness) then things start to fall into place.

Because faith is receiving Jesus Himself (John 1:10-12).  He gives Himself to the world in life and death, He pledges Himself to us (marriage style) in the gospel.  When we hear the gospel rightly we are swept off our feet by such a proposal and find ourselves saying “Yes.”   That is faith.  And by faith we are united to Christ.  In that union we have our salvation because salvation is all in Jesus.

So there’s nothing at all arbitrary about the connection between faith and salvation.  Because there’s nothing arbitrary about the link between a marriage vow and marriage union. Once we are united to Christ by faith, then of course we instantly have His name, His wealth, His family connections.  Of course then instantly we have the righteousness of Christ imputed.  But it’s not an impersonal imputation in response to an impersonal faith!

Justification by faith does not mean “being zapped because of mental assent.”  But we’ll never get that unless we put union with Christ at the centre.

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