Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Theology Not Yet Applied’ Category

Jesus had to be one with us.

diary of a country priest image

We human people are so fallen, and we’ve been so fallen for so long, that we actually think that we are the measure of what it means to be human. It’s striking. We say things like “to err is human.” And we unwittingly then begin to define humanity in terms of that fallenness, in terms of its brokenness, in terms of its incompleteness. But if you define humanity like that, what do you do with Jesus? What do you do with Jesus who takes upon himself our humanity, yet, as the Bible tells us, is without sin, who does not err?

What we see in Jesus is true humanity. What we see in his incarnation, his earthly life and ministry, is what humanity was meant to be, what Adam was created to be but ruined in his sin and his fall. So, as Romans 5 teaches, the first man Adam sins, and through his sin death enters the world. But here comes a second Adam, a true Adam, Christ, who is truly man. What Christ does in his humanity is nothing short of remarkable. In his humanity, he offers to God everything that we owe God. In his humanity, in his perfect obedience to God’s commands, he offers to God the obedience that we refuse to give him (and could not give him) because of our fallen, sinful nature.

It’s absolutely essential that what we see in Christ is perfect righteousness, because he’s supplying that righteousness on our behalf. All the righteousness we will ever need is in the Son of God who took upon himself our flesh, our likeness, our human nature. Not only does he positively supply the righteousness, but on the cross, our Savior dies and pays the penalty that humanity owed. He dies in our place. We owe God not only righteousness, but now because we didn’t supply that righteousness, we also owe God our lives, our death, our blood. Christ takes our place, and he supplies to God the sacrifice on our behalf that satisfies God’s demands for righteousness and his righteous determination to punish sin.

And so in order to be for us a perfect High Priest, in order to be for us a perfect offering, Jesus had to be one with us. He had to take upon himself our nature and in that nature demonstrate what humanity is, what is was meant to be — righteous before God, obedient to God, worshiping God in all things, loving him fully. And he also demonstrates what humanity owes when he pays the penalty on Calvary’s cross for our sin. And so to be that High Priest, a perfect High Priest, who also now sympathizes with us, knows our suffering, knows our failures, knows our troubles, and knows them intimately because he experienced them in our flesh, he can look to humanity with sympathy and represent humanity to God with perfection.

And so it was necessary that he be made like us in every way, but without sin.

Thabiti Anyabwile, from question 22 of the New City Catechism Devotional.

Photo of Claude Laydu from Diary of a Country Priest (1951), a symbol of ultimate humanity.

Agamben on Paul and the Law, monastic rule

This is the most succinct I have found Agamben on Paul and the Law. (He wrote a whole book on it, The Time That Remains, but besides that he brings it up often). The second paragraph is what matters here, the rest are given for context, the italics are original but boldface is my emphasis.

highest poverty image

The considerations developed up to now must have rendered obvious the sense in which it is almost impossible to pose the problem of the juridical or nonjuridical nature of the monastic rules without falling into anachronism. Even granting that something like our term juridical has always existed (which is no less dubious), it is certain, in any case, that it means one thing in Roman law, another in the early centuries of Christianity, another still starting from the Carolingian age, and another, finally, in the modern age, when the State begins to assume the monopoly over law. Furthermore, the debates that we have analyzed over the “legal” or “advisory” character of the rules, which seem to approach the terms of our problem, become intelligible only if one does not forget that they are superimposed over the theological problem of the relation between the two diathēkai, the Mosaic law and the New Testament.

In this sense, the problem ceases to be anachronistic only if it is restored to its proper theological context, which is that of the relationship between evangelium and lex (that is, first of all, the Hebraic law). The theory of this relationship was elaborated in the Pauline letters and culminates in the declaration that Christ as messiah is telos nomou, end and fulfillment of the law (Rom. 10:4). Even if in the same letter this radical messianic thesis —and the opposition that it implies between pistis and nomos—is complicated to the point of giving rise to a series of aporias (as in 3:31: “Do we then render the law inoperative by this faith? By no means! On the contrary , we uphold the law”), it is nonetheless certain that the Christian life is no longer “under the law” and cannot in any case be conceived in juridical terms. The Christian, like Paul, is “dead to the law” (nomōi apethanon; Gal. 2:19), and lives in the freedom of the spirit. Even when the Gospel is counterposed to the Mosaic law as a “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27), or later as a nova lex to the vetus, it remains the case that neither its form nor its content are homogeneous to those of the nomos. “The difference between the law and the Gospel,” one reads in Isidore’s Liber differentiarum (chap. 31), “is this: in the law there is the letter, in the Gospel grace . . . the first was given for transgression, the second for justification; the law shows sin to the one who does not know it, grace helps him to avoid it . . . in the law the commandments are observed, in the fullness of the Gospel the promises are consummated.”

It is in this theological context that one must situate the monastic rules. Basil and Pachomius, to whom we owe, so to speak, the archetypes of the rules, are perfectly conscious of the irreducibility of the Christian form of life to the law. Basil, in his treatise on baptism, explicitly confirms the Pauline principle according to which the Christian dies to the law (apothanein tōi nomōi), and as we have seen, Pachomius’s Praecepta atque iudicia opens with the statement that love is the fulfillment of the law (plenitudo legis caritas). The rule, whose model is the Gospel, cannot therefore have the form of law, and it is probable that the very choice of the term regula implied an opposition to the sphere of the legal commandment. It is in this sense that a passage from Tertullian seems to oppose the term rule to the “form of the [Mosaic] law”: “Once the form of the old law was dissolved [veteris legis forma soluta], this is the first rule which the apostles, on the authority of the Holy Spirit, sent out to those who were already beginning to be gathered to their side out of the nations” (Tertullian 3, 12). The nova lex cannot have the form of law, but as regula, it approaches the very form of life, which it guides and orients (regula dicta quod recte ducit, recalls an etymology from Isidore, Etymologiarum 6.16).

The problem of the juridical nature of the monastic rules here finds both its specific context and its proper limits. Certainly the Church will progressively construct a system of norms that will culminate in the twelfth century in the system of canon law that Gratian compiles in his Decretum. But if Christian life doubtless can readily encounter the sphere of law, it is just as certain that the Christian forma vivendi itself—which is what the rule has in view—cannot be exhausted in the observance of a precept, which is to say that it cannot have a legal nature.

 

Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life, 45-47.

A few reservations about “The Lost World of Adam and Eve”

lost world adam and eve

Today I finished John Walton’s book The Lost World of Adam and Eve (IVP, 2015). Earlier in the year I read his similarly-titled book The Lost World of Genesis One. Laying around my dorm room somewhere are The Lost World of Scripture and The Lost World of The Israelite Conquest. I haven’t bought it yet, but earlier this year he released with Tremper Longman a book under the title The Lost World of The Flood. 

You know, if it works, don’t fix it.

The basic method of these books (and I’m obviously only knowledgeable about the books I have read so far) is to reinterpret the Old Testament text according to its ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context. At the crux of all these particular reinterpretations we find a distinction Walton uses over and over again. Some things are created materially, others functionally. The image of God could be interpreted materially, but we should interpret it functionally. The serpent in the garden could be seen as materially forced to eat dirt, or to functionally eat dirt. The creation of gender could be interpreted as a biological, material reality, or in terms of the function that each plays in the original created relationship. Etc. etc. etc.

The mistake we moderns make is that we read Genesis 1-3 (and, I presume, the Israelite Conquest, and all (?) of Scripture, and the Flood) in material terms when the original authorial intent was to describe functions. Therefore, when we read that God “created the Sun, Moon and Stars to govern over the day and the night” on day four of creation, that means not that God formed their material, physical structures. Instead there was a point in time when God issued the authority to the Sun to govern over the day, and designated this as the purpose of the Sun. Ergo, the verse could be better rendered as God “created-to-govern the Sun, Moon and Stars over the day and the night.” What was created was not the Sun, but that it has the function of governing. Walton uses the same distinction in the exegesis of almost every verse in Genesis 1-3.

Walton supports this distinction in at least two ways. The first is by word studies across the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. I have no problem with this, and some of the word studies were fascinating. The other way is by finding similar motifs or thought-patterns in the literature of ANE societies. Suppose you could find that in Egyptian, Akkadian, Hittite, Neo-Assyrian, etc. religious texts, every single one has a serpent without legs. In some of these texts the serpent is standing up, but is made to crawl on its belly — despite not having legs in the first place. You could then deduce something along the lines of “in the ANE context, for a snake to crawl on its belly is for it to be reduced in its functional posture from striking to passivity” or something like that. Walton does nearly this in Chapter 14.

To be honest, I love this approach. This makes it so much easier for me to dismiss the text of Genesis!, says the side of my personality that reflexively bows to current criticisms out of fear of embarrassment. (Charles Taylor-y side note: when we frame our life stories as one going from ignorance to learnedness, as I realize I have done for most of my life, we condition ourselves to have this reflex). Everything in me wants to be able to stare science in the face and say “oh hey there science how are you doing.” So, I hope that my reservations about Walton’s method can be resolved.

The extra benefit of Walton’s approach is that he can see the theological significance in Genesis 1-3 just like those who interpret it as poetry, while still having a literal view that does not reduce the text’s historicity to mere myth or glyph. By unseeing the material dimension of the text, he can avoid conflict with modern science; by seeing the functional dimension of the text as real, actual history, he can side-step the problems that arise because Adam needs to be a historical figure. It really is the best of both worlds.

While I have found it extremely difficult to explain to people outside of college the difference between material and functional ontology (mostly high school students and some people at church), that is not my real complaint. At some point we can find good metaphors, and Walton introduced one in this book that was not present in Genesis One that I think would be helpful (family moving into a house and then setting up furniture). No, that would be a useless critique. My actual objection is somewhere in his use of ANE texts when interpreting the Old Testament.

For example, in his concluding summary of the book Walton writes that

A number of these elements in Genesis find similarities with ancient Near Eastern literature, while others are entirely unique in the ancient world. Proper interpretation will recognize both. We should note, however, that the Israelites often show marked dissimilarity from the surrounding cultures even when they share concepts with the ancient world. So, for example, even though the ancient Near Eastern literature considers the creation of humanity to involve a large group of humans, the underlying reasons are far different from what would exist in the biblical text if en masse creation of humanity were to be seen from Genesis 1. In the ancient Near East creation narratives, many humans are created at once because many gods were intending to use many humans to supply their needs. The purposes of the gods would not be well served if only a few humans were created. In contrast, if Genesis 1 allows en masse creation of humans (as I have argued), it is not for the same reason. The God of the Bible has no needs, and the function of humans is presented in very different terms. Likewise, the roles and functions of human beings as presented in the Bible cannot be confirmed through science because science is incapable of discussing final causes. (199-200).

The problem that I have with this hermeneutic is this: how can we separate Biblical intent from ANE cultural motif? More concretely, and in the question more relevant to the Genesis One book, how do we know that the authors of Genesis are subverting only the polytheism and use-of-chaos-to-create? Why couldn’t the authors of Genesis be radicals who subverted both of those things AND the entire functional ontology of their time? Why does their subversion of cultural paradigms and motifs and etiologies have to stop precisely when it gets inconvenient for our 21st century modern beliefs? If we were to play “which one of these things is not like the other” with all of the ANE societies, I would hazard that Israel is most dissimilar to the rest. So then, how do we know that this dissimilarity stops only at the level of motif and does not extend also to ontology?

I am sure that I am not the only person to ask this question. I am 100%, 1000% sure that I am not such an original mind to be the first person to ask this. Which means that I have more reading to do. Walton has a scholarly edition of the Genesis One book, and has a few stand-alone books about ancient culture and his methodology. So I’m sure that he has addressed this problem somewhere. For now, the only answer I can imagine is that because the functional/material ontology is something that changed over time, it would then be out of chronology to read materiality back into the text; whereas the inversion or parody or subversion of motifs is something that has happened from the beginning and has continued. So, you have to argue for a subverted motif by ANE context, but you can know an ontological paradigm just by dating the document to a certain century.

That solution seems implicit in Walton’s method. Another potential critique — but I did not think this through much — is that his use of ANE texts seems like some form of affirming the consequent. I wrote in the margin of the book at one point, Can comparative ANE studies PROVE Walton’s interpretation, positively, or can they only disprove, negatively, someone else’s interpretation? There would not be a distinction here if there were only two possible readings of scripture: to disagree with one is to agree with the other. But as we all know, there are a zillion readings of Genesis 1-3 no matter your initial methodological constraints. If/When Walton’s method becomes popular among scholars, no doubt somebody will use the same method to draw entirely separate conclusions about ANE texts. In a world where Old Testament professors at christian colleges are doomed to… never mind. I think my point is clear. Once another scholar proposes any fact about the ANE context, there is no longer anything in Walton’s methodology that would make his reading of Genesis de facto more accurate than theirs. So, the use of ANE comparative studies cannot on its own prove an interpretation, even if it gives strong grounds to dismiss someone’s interpretation as anachronistic.

Maybe I did give that some thought. But this whole post, indeed this whole blog, is not scholarly and mostly gives me something to do that nobody reads anyways. (Except that recently a post of mine from almost two years ago — about a bad study conducted on Chiropractic patients (?) — has been getting a ton of hits.) My most viewed post is about a Starbucks frappe, and my second most viewed post is… also about a Starbucks frappe. John Walton, if you are reading this, know that you are the only one. And please don’t hate me. Or blast me on Biologos for being an unfair critic.

If you are just reading this post and have not read the books, I would strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. Read them with a healthy blend of charity and critique. Some parts are excellent, some dubious, and others unhelpful. But the whole experience is mind-bending in a way that this blog post can’t convey. At minimum, he is good opposition reading. At maximum, he could rework your entire understanding of the Bible. More likely than either of these, and situated right between them: he will free you from the shackles of your middle school biblical exegesis.

Seven Theses on Inerrancy

IMG_6265

A question that my theological studies have always pointed to is Biblical Inerrancy. Does the Bible have errors? And as a conservative, Reformed, evangelical Protestant who studies Apologetics and wants to teach the Bible for a living, I desperately want the answer to be no.

But as a doubter and skeptic the answer keeps coming back as yes, or maybe, or “it depends on what you mean by error” or “what, exactly, is this Bible you speak of” or “do texts have inherent meaning such that they even could be wrong” and so on. Biblical Inerrancy is a question I wrestle with almost daily, turning ideas over and over in my head until I land on something that works. Then next week I ditch that idea in favor of another one. I have many questions.

In about two months The Gospel Coalition ― Chicago is hosting a conference near me called Leading With The Word. Per the website,

Ministry leaders are invited to gather to affirm and celebrate our commitment to the complete trustworthiness and absolute authority of Scripture. Leading with the Word will include teaching from TGC council members from the Chicago area.

The conference will encourage and equip ministry leaders to take the highest view of the Bible and its application in the church, in preaching, teaching and in their own spiritual lives. The goal is that attendees will walk away with a fresh commitment to press on in gospel-centered ministry, confident in the power of the Word of God.

There are five or six speakers over two days and I’m sure there will be a bookstore.

(I also notice that D.A. Carson has a tantalizingly open-ended topic, “How Can We Be Sure of Our Interpretation?”)

I’m going with a few friends from school in my program. Something that I want to do, before I hear their perspectives on inerrancy, is write out some of my questions in the form of theses. These are not final — by giving them in thesis format, I’m trying to signal that they are not substantiated and I don’t stand by them with confidence. Ordered from least controversial to most.

IMG_6251.JPG

Seven Theses on Inerrancy

I. Inerrancy is a necessary but not fully helpful principle in understanding the Bible because the next question that always arises is, “What would it mean for a poem to be errant?” or “What would it mean for a prophetic writing to be errant?” or “What would it mean for apocalyptic literature to be errant?” etc. In other words, we must delineate inerrancy across literary genres.

II. While genre is important for understanding texts in their original authorial intent, all scripture is one genre in its application to Christians. In the inspiration, preservation and canonization of scripture, the Holy Spirit has signaled to us that all scripture rises together into a common genre called Christian Scripture which is always useful to believers.

III. The concept of Biblical Inerrancy was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to new challenges to the scriptures. Those challenges, however, were based on the new mindsets of scientific precision and textual accuracy which Biblical authors did not have or even imagine when writing the text of scripture. To read ancient texts with modern questions will always lead to failures of interpretation.

IV. For a text to have fixed meaning the text itself must be fixed. Therefore texts generated in oral cultures do not have fixed meaning until finding form in writing.

V. Contradictions are not always errors. A later writer can contradict an earlier writer because the earlier writer’s position no longer applies. Two writers can disagree in-cannon because their disagreement, preserved in the text, is itself intended to teach us something today. Whole doctrinal ideas can contradict each other in a theological sense because their resolution will not be found until the eschaton. If contradictory statements come from different genres, they may not be true errors.

VI. A text is not inerrant in its “autographs” if the text originated in an oral culture (and therefore has no true auto-graphs). It is the codification of that text into a final form, and more importantly into a broader literary cannon, that locates its inerrancy.

VII. The Bible does not teach that the Bible is inerrant; nevertheless, inerrancy is true. It is a doctrinal construct that is naturally implied by an understanding of God’s revelation through words, even if nobody in-cannon tells us so. Again, I repeat, inerrancy is true. It is true. It is, it is, it is, it is; please, don’t misread me. But, like the Trinity, or the two natures of Jesus, or the eternal generation of the Son, etc., it is not explicitly stated in scripture (though strongly implied, even necessitated, by it).

IMG_6248

(Hope you like the photos. They are from Cinque Terre in Italy.)

My plan is to go to the conference, hear it out — really, just soak it all in — and buy 3 or 4 books that will help me keep figuring it out. Then I want to see if any of the above theses can be knocked out.

I think I’m playing devil’s advocate with myself at this point.

Fulfillment in Christ

From Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the storyline of the Bible. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. 114-115.

The New Testament never leads us to expect that there will be any fulfillment of Old Testament promises other than their fulfillment in Christ. We are not encouraged, for example, to look for their fulfillment in the State of Israel and to expect a new temple to be built there. That is to expect a renewal of the model that has now been dismantled. The permanent reality is found in Christ. Graeme Goldsworthy has put it like this:

‘For the New Testament the interpretation of the Old Testament is not “literal” but “Christological”. That is to say that the coming of Christ transforms all the kingdom terms of the Old Testament into gospel reality.’ [1].

Another writer draws an analogy with a father a century ago, who promises his young on that he will give him a horse on his twenty-first birthday. Cars are subsequently invented, and so, when the birthday finally comes, the boy is given a car instead of a horse. The promise has still been fulfilled, but not literally. The father could not have promised his son a car because neither could have understood the concept.

In a similar way, God made his promise to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point:

To look for direct fulfillments of, say, Ezekiel in the twentieth-century Middle East, is to bypass and short-circuit the reality and the finality of what we already have in Christ as the fulfillment of those great assurances. It is like taking delivery of the motor car but still expecting to receive a horse. [2].

All the promises of the kingdom of God are fulfilled in Christ; he is God’s people, God’s place, and God’s rule.

 

[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter: Patermoster, 1981), p. 91.

[2] Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (London: Marshall Pickering, 1992), p. 77.

“The Sacrament of Living” by A.W. Tozer

[An excerpt from A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 121-131. Read the whole book here]

aw tozer photo

One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two area — the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by the necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life.

Our trouble springs from the fact that we who follow Christ inhabit at once two worlds — the spiritual and the natural. As children of Adam we live our lives on earth subject to the limitations of the flesh and the weakness and ills to which human nature is heir. Merely to live among men requires of us years of hard toil and much care and attention to the things of this world. In sharp contrast to this is our life in the Spirit. There we enjoy another and higher kind of life — we are children of God; we posses heavenly status and enjoy intimate fellowship with Christ.

This tens to divide our total life into two departments. We come unconsciously to recognize two sets of actions. The first are performed with a feeling of satisfaction and a firm assurance that they are pleasing to God. These are the sacred acts and they are usually thought to be prayer, Bible reading, hymn singing, church attendance and such other acts as spring directly from faith. They may be known by the fact that they have no direct relation to this world, and would have no meaning whatever except as faith shows us another world, “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Over against these sacred acts are the secular ones. They include all the ordinary activities of life which we share with the sons and daughters of Adam: eating, sleeping, working, looking after the needs of the body and performing our dull and prosaic duties here on earth. These we often do reluctantly and with many misgivings, often apologizing to God for what we consider a waste of time and strength. The upshot of this is that we are uneasy most of the time. We go about our common tasks with a feeling of deep frustration, telling ourselves pensively that there’s a better day coming when we shall slough off this earthly shell and be bothered no more with the affairs of this world.

This is the old sacred-secular antithesis. Most Christians are caught in its trap. They cannot get a satisfactory adjustment between the claims of the two world. They try to walk the tight rope between two kingdoms and they find no peace in either. Their strength is reduced, their outlook confused and their joy taken from them.

I believe this state of affairs to be wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, true enough, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament. Without doubt, a more perfect understanding of Christian truth will deliver us from it.

The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is our perfect example, and He knew no divided life. In the Presence of His Father He lived on earth without strain from babyhood to His death on the cross. God accepted the offering of His total life, and made no distinction between act and act. “I do always the things that please him,” was His brief summary of His own life as it related to the Father (Jn. 8:29). As He moved among men He was poised and restful. What pressure and suffering He endured grew out of His position as the world’s sin bearer; they were never the result of moral uncertainty or spiritual maladjustment.

Paul’s exhortation to “do all to the glory of God” is more than pious idealism. It is an integral part of the sacred revelation and is to be accepted as the very Word of Truth. It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God. Lest we should be too timid to include everything, Paul mentions specifically eating and drinking. This humble privilege we share with the beasts that perish. If these lowly animal acts can be so performed as to honor God, then it becomes difficult to conceive of one that cannot . . .

Perversion, misuse and abuse of our human powers should give us cause enough to be ashamed. Bodily acts done in sin and contrary to nature can never honor God. Wherever the human will introduces moral evil we have no longer our innocent and harmless powers as God made them; we have instead an abused and twisted thing which can never bring glory to its Creator.

Let us, however, assume that perversion and abuse are not present. Let us think of a Christian believer in whose life, the twin wonders have been wrought. He is now living according to the will of God as he understands it from the written Word. Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s Supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament.

If a sacrament is an external expression of an inward grace, then we need not hesitate to accept the above thesis. By on act of consecration of our total selves to God we can make every subsequent act express that consecration. We need no more to be ashamed of our body — the fleshly servant that carries us through life — than Jesus was of the humble beast upon which He rode into Jerusalem. “The Lord hath need of him” may well apply to our mortal bodies. If Christ dwells in us, we may bear about the Lord of glory as the little beast did of old and give occasion to the multitude to cry, “Hosanna in the highest.”

That we see this truth is not enough. If we would escape from the toils of the sacred-secular dilemma, the truth must “run in our blood” and condition the complexion of our thoughts. We must practice living to the glory of God, actually and determinedly. By meditation upon this truth, by talking it over with God often in our prayers, by recalling it to our minds frequently as we move about among men, a sense of its wondrous meaning will take hold of us. The old painful duality will go down before a restful unity of life. The knowledge that we are all God’s, that He has received all and rejected nothing, will unify our inner lives and make everything sacred to us.

This is not quite all. Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology. For instance, ti may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that his daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The old antithesis will crop up in the back of his head sometimes to disturb his peace of mind. Nor will that old serpent, the devil, take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk, or in the field to find the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time. And unless great care is taken, this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart.

We can meet this successfully only be the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living. Let us practice the fine art of making every work a priestly ministration. Let us believe that God is in all our simple deeds and learn to find Him there . . .

In order that I may be understood and not misunderstood I would throw into relief the practical implications of the teaching for which I have been arguing, i.e. the sacramental quality of everyday life. Over against its positive meanings, I should like to point out a few things it does not mean.

It does not mean, for instance, that everything we do is of equal importance with everything else we do or may do. One act of a good man’s life may differ widely from another in importance. Paul’s sewing of tents was not equal to his writing of an Epistle to the Romans, but both were accepted of God and both were true acts of worship. Certainly it is more important to lead a soul to Christ than to plant a garden, but the planting of the garden can be as holy an act as the winning of a soul.

Again, it does not mean that every man is as useful as every other man. Gifts differ in the body of Christ. A Billy Bray is not to be compared with a Luther or a Wesley for sheer usefulness to the church and to the world; but the service of the less gifted brother is as pure as that of the more gifted, and God accepts both with equal pleasure.

The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be sacramental and the whole world a sanctuary. His entire life will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never-so-simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.”

[Prayer]: Lord, I would trust Thee completely; I would be altogether Thine; I would exalt Thee above all. I desire that I may feel no sense of possessing anything outside of Thee. I want constantly to be aware of Thy overshadowing presence and to hear Thy speaking voice. I long to live in restful sincerity of heart. I want to live so fully in the Spirit that all my thoughts may be as sweet incense ascending to Thee and every act of my life may be an act of worship. Therefore I pray in the words of Thy great servant of old, “I beseech Thee so for to cleanse the intent of mine heart with the unspeakable gift of Thy grace, that I may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee.” And all this I confidently believe Thou wilt grant me through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy Son. Amen. 

The Old Testament in 1000 words

The Old Testament is the Christian Bible from Genesis to Malachi. It begins with a magisterial description of God creating the universe, the world, and everything in it. Stars, the sky, fish, “things that creepeth upon on ground,” birds, and humans, too. The first pair of humans, Adam and Eve, live in bliss among a perfectly-functioning world. But quickly the picture deteriorates. Adam and Eve, famously, eat the forbidden fruit, signaling disobedience against God and the fracture of the perfect-functioning world. Suddenly people die, they feel shame, and they avoid God. Deeply dissatisfied with this, God promises that he will destroy the evil unleashed in Eden, though, in an unclear statement, he says that that evil will harm God first. 

Adam and Eve have children, who eventually get bad enough that they all must die, spare the few that will then repopulate the Earth. This is Noah’s Ark. Those ones that are spared destruction, as planned, repopulate the Earth and then fade into history.

One of their descendants, Abraham, is told by God to leave his hometown and travel West. Abraham obeys, despite not having much to gain from following this God’s instructions. And so God sees his trust, his faith, and blesses him, saying that Abraham will have many, many descendants. Which does, in fact, happen. This was a promise, and God cannot break his promises.

Unfortunately, a couple generations later, there is a bitter famine in the Palestinian land and the descendants of Abraham have to move south to Egypt. They remain there for several hundred years, by which time they are basically slaves. They have a slave revolt led by Moses, filled with all kinds of miracles and plagues that only God could have orchestrated. In fact, God was with the descendants of Abraham the whole time, and he leads them out from Egypt, and back into the Palestinian land that once belonged to Abraham.

Along the way God gives them Laws. These are contained in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Together the first five books of the Old Testament are called the Torah, and they are chock full of history and laws. When Moses dies, God promises to send someone even greater than Moses to the people. But this doesn’t happen, at least, not yet. A class of religious leaders are established, who serve as Priests, sacrificing the animals of the people as acts of submission to God. They have no temple, though, and carry around a portable tent instead.

The people arrive in Palestine, things settle for a while, but then the people start to stray from God and adopt some of the gods of the surrounding countries. This results in destruction and chaos, until someone (called a “judge,” though not in the usual sense of that word) convinces them to return to God. So it continues: the first generation follows God from the heart, the second from routine, and the third not at all, and repeat.

In time the people start to ask for a king. (God strongly dissuaded from them doing this). They get one, named Saul, though he starts to go off the rails in a few years. Then a prophet named Samuel selects a new king, named David, who is much better — though, in at least one notable extramarital-affair-and-murder-plot, David is seen to be imperfect. David wants to build a temple, but God, slightly out of the blue, turns the tables and promises that God will build “a temple” (a house, a lineage, i.e. descendants) for David. This is a repeat of the earlier promise to Abraham. God symbolically defers the building of the temple to David’s son, Solomon.

Solomon is okay, but he also worships the regional gods and goddesses. Then, unable to retain power of the whole Palestinian territory when Solomon dies, the kingdom fractures in two. Now the north, called Israel, is ruled by one set of lousy king, and the south, called Judah, is ruled by a different set of lousy kings. Awful, really, just awful rulers.

Then, calamity. The northern kingdom starts worshiping more gods than God alone, so God withdraws from them. They are promptly destroyed. The Assyrians swoop down and destroy most of them, carrying some others off into exile.

Then, 136 years later, calamity. The southern kingdom does the same as the north had done, and God withdraws from them, allowing the Babylonians to cart them off into exile/slavery. (A few prophets had predicted all of this, but nobody listened).

In exile, the people retain their previous culture and religion, refusing to integrate. This almost gets them killed, especially Daniel and friends. However, God miraculously saves them from death. After a regime change, the Persians control the whole area, and Esther and friends convince the Persians to allow them to return to home, which they do…

…only to find the old homeland in shambles, the temple destroyed, the city without walls. A major rebuilding efforts begins that restores the Temple and the city walls, though not to their original glory. Ezra and Nehemiah are the leaders of these important projects.

Then, things settle down.

All throughout this time, mysterious, shadowy figures called Prophets have been writing long books of commentary on the history of Israel and the future of Israel, along with interpretations of current events. These make up a large portion of the Old Testament. Along with some books of poetry, these prophets cry out in confusion: God promised to destroy the evil from Eden, to make Abraham’s descendants great, numerous, and powerful. He promised to send someone after Moses, he promised to give David “a house,” and so on. But all they saw was destruction and failure. Is God a liar? Clearly not! So, then, God will fulfill his promises. The prophets predicted that God would send someone else, a selected one (Hebrew word: Messiah), who would fulfill God’s promises.

This is how the Old Testament ends. Everything is calm, but the people are confused, concerned, and expectant of more to come.

New project: @abrahamofur

Abraham — an otherwise fine person — makes for really boring sunday school lesson material, especially for junior high students. A lecture would have been BO-RING!, and I wanted to be Exciting! The thought process was, simply, that junior high students only connect with two things, Instagram and Fortnite. Fortnite would perfectly for the battle scene in chapter 14, and maybe the destruction of Sodom and Gammorah in chapter 19, but nothing else. So I opted to create an Insta account and walk through it with them. Here it is:

https://www.instagram.com/abrahamofur/

Abraham of Ur

~~ I’m all about believing God, having it credited to me as righteousness, and #becomingthefatherofmany ~~ 🤙🏽

 

After touring Abraham’s life, we talked through some of Romans 4. This is part of Paul’s interpretation of Abraham. (He does more in Galatians). The promises were given to Abraham and his descendants. But we are not ethnically Jewish (i.e. descendants of Abraham) and many ethnic Jews reject the Messiah, and by extension, the one who sent him, God. How did that happen? Did God break his promise to Abraham?

No. Instead, the division between Jew and Gentile is itself divided.

(Agamben talks about this around page 50 of his commentary on Romans, The Time That Remains. I am reading that book for a class right now and strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to go much deeper into Paul.)

Here is the set-up that Agamben gives:

pauline theology agamben.png

The important thing here is that Abraham, being a man of faith, was given the promises not because of his works, but his faith. In fact, as Paul will point out in Galatians, the official works of the law were not written for another 400 years! In the Romans passage, Paul is concerned not with the law as such, but with circumcision. Abraham “trusted God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” in chapter 15, whereas the sign of circumcision was not given until chapter 17. In this case, as in Galatians, faith precedes works.

Paul says, “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.” This is the verse that the diagram. Notably, Paul does not eliminate the main distinction between Jews and Gentiles, as some extreme covenant theologians may say, but also does not base salvation in any way on that distinction, as some extreme dispensationalists may say. 

At this point we stopped going further, because some of these students have never heard of Paul before that morning, and many are 11 or 12 years old. So we circled back and kept reexploring these ideas.

One of them asked me if Abraham had really made that Instagram account.

Chesterton on the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy

“This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There was never anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.

The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any war-horse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to the left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the early power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.

To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.”

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 152-153.

The root of the problem

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. . .The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Hebrews 9:9, 13-14

If your doctrine of sin runs deep, your doctrine of God’s grace must run deeper. Someone holding a very superficial view of sin will normally only seek the Savior in a superficial way, to the extent that He solves their sin problem.

Sin is not a behavior, but an orientation. We are “totally depraved” not in the sense that we always do the most sinful possible things… but that everything we do is done in a sinful way. We are tempted to look at ourselves as morally neutral with sin as an addition to our person; the Biblical perspective holds the contrary, that sin is our person, and the filter through which we make all decisions.

Jesus battled this perspective throughout his earthly ministry. Mark 7:14-23 is a good example: “nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them. . .what comes out of a person is what defiles them.” Or also Matthew 23:25-26 “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. . .First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”. In Matthew 5, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a famous moment where he explains murder in this way: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subject to judgment.” He then repeats with adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” He concerns himself not just with actions, but with the heart. To Jesus, motives matter.

Paul’s logic in Galatians 5 is the same. The word picture of “fruit of the Spirit” means that if the Spirit indwells you, these different attributes will become evident in time. The same is true of the flesh, with its parallel list in vs. 19-21. Because the logic is not “do these good things, and you will get the Spirit” but rather “those with the Spirit will evidence these good things,” Paul is able to freely say in the same passage that “against such things there is no law.” The OT law only exists to give a portrait of what the sinful orientation creates, not actually a list of things themselves to avoid, as such. (I could go on about similar logic in Romans 14, Acts 10 and Galatians 3).

Now addressing the Hebrews passage at the beginning of this post. The ceremonial laws could not purify at a deep level because they were designed only to address the surface level. They do not change a person’s sin orientation, but instead only put a covering over it so that the person can continue to function within the religious life of the Jewish community. Because it did not change the person on the inside, their sin orientation, their true self, the ceremonial laws beckoned for something better, a more full solution to the problem than rituals or even humans could provide.

That answer is Jesus Christ. His death, symbolized here by his blood, is able to cleanse the deepest recesses of a person and change them from the inside. The death/blood of a heifer could not reach the true root of the human condition. Through Him who brought us from “acts that lead to DEATH” to “serving the LIVING God” (vs. 14), we have received forgiveness, the cleansing of our sin.