Monday, July 28, 2008

The Law and the Gospel...and Calvin

An article I'm looking at discussing Calvin's understanding of the three-fold division of the law. It's more the discussion of the use of the law than the recognition of different "types" of the law. I'd love to find some helpful material on the latter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Irresistible Grace

Am preaching on Irresistible Grace, or Effectual Calling in a month or so. It's part of a series going through the 5 points of Calvinism, TULIP style. Have started thinking (and a little reading of Dabney) and have had many thoughts on how I might explore the topic.

Some possibilities:

  • in contrast to a more general work of grace that merely enables us to respond to salvation;
  • exploring the question of whether we can be saved without any evidence of change in our lives;
  • addressing the question of "why bother evangelising if God elects".

Not sure which I want to choose. And especially how best to structure the sermon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Revelation and the genres of Scripture

Looking at dialogue with Muslims has raised questions for me about how different genres are authoritative for Christians. Here's a choice quote from B. B. Warfield:

we have no Scriptural warrant to go on in contrasting one mode of revelation with another. Dreams may seem to us little fitted to serve as vehicles of Divine communications. But there is no suggestion in Scripture that revelations through dreams stand on a lower plane than any others [...] It may seem natural to suppose that reveations rise in rank in proportion to the fulness of the engagement of the mental activity of the recipient in their reception. But we should bear in mind that the intellectual or spiritual quality of a revelation is not derived from the recipient but from its Divine Giver. The fundamental fact in all revelation is that it is from God.1

And he brings out how God uses the entire person to reveal himself:

And when it is not merely the mouths of men with which God thus serves Himself in the delivery of His messages, but their minds and hearts as well—the play of their religious feelings, or the processes of their logical reasoning, or the tenacity of their memories, as, say, in a psalm or in an epistle, or a history—the supernatural element in the communication may easily seem to retire stil farther into the background. [... But i]n the view of the Scriptures, the completely supernatural character of revelation is in no way lessened by the circumstance that it has been given through the instrumentality of men.2

He directly addresses other genres than prophecy (like poetry, psalms, epistles) as modes of revelation that are called "concursive operation". Of these he says:

The Spirit is not to be conceived as standing outside of the human powers employed for the effect in view, ready to supplement any inadequacies they may show and to supply any defects they may manifest, but as working confluently in with and by them, elevating them, directing them, controlling them, energizing them, so that, as His instruments, they rise above themselves and under His inspiration do His work and reach His aim.3

Finally, he sees all these revelations culminating in Christ, for

the revelation accumulated in Him stands outside all the divers portions and divers manners in which otherwise revelation has been gien and sums up in itself all that has been or can be made known of God and of His redemption. [...] Nevertheless, though all revelation is thus summed up in Him, we should not fail to note very carefully that it would also be all sealed up in Him—so little is revelation conveyed by fact alone, without the word—had it not been thus taken by the Spirit of truth and declared unto men. The entirety of the New Testament is but the explanatory word accompanying and giving its effect to the fact of Christ.4

1 B. B. Warfield The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1970), 84.

2 Warfield, 86.

3 Warfield, 95.

4 Warfield, 96.

Humble dialogue

Yesterday I was reading an interesting article by John Azumah1 which argues for the centrality of Jesus' uniqueness in interfaith dialogue. He argues, from his experience in Africa, that only by maintaining Jesus' uniqueness do we accord right respect to our dialogue partners. But, significantly, he still thinks this will lead to humility in evangelism, because the manner of our dialogue will reflect God's attitude.

Finally, in talking about following Jesus as unique Lord and Saviour in a broken world, Christians should bear in mind how the Lord Jesus himself chose to be remembered. ‘And he took bread, [...] It is significant that, of all which he accomplished during his time on earth, Jesus chose the brokenness of his body, his crucifixion and death for his own memorial, rather than his miracles or exaltation. The lust for power and dominance is one of the principal causes of the brokenness of our world.2

This particularly struck me because earlier I had read an article reviewing Cardinal Ratzinger's theology of dialogue prior to his becoming Pope Benedict XIV.3 Caldecott also is confident that a claim that a belief is true need not lead to an arrogant attitude in dialogue. In his article, it is provided by a confidence that truth is external to those in dialogue and is being sought by them. He considers, with Fr Kereszty, that for Christians this stems from the incarnation:

God’s mode of self-revelation takes this into account, since God (who is the ultimate truth) approaches us through an Incarnation that only fully reveals its riches “through the whole of history and through all redeemed humankind”. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.4

Adding Azumah's observation, it is not just that God bends down in the incarnation but that he humbles himself to the point of dying for us.

And I wonder if that implies that one of the best ways of entering into dialogue with other faiths is to introduce them to this truth that stands outside ourselves. That is, to read the Scriptures with them. They, in turn, will point us to wherever they believe they encounter objective truth. But for a Christian to read Scripture with someone should be an immense act of humility, for we are encouraging them to hear the message of Christ, not as we would argue and present it, but as it is proclaimed by the Scriptures themselves. And we will look, not to our own persuasive power, but to the Spirit to make this external truth effective for that individual.

And further, if they reject this truth, we do not need to feel personal offense. For they have not rejected us and our arguments. They have been interacting with the Father who speaks in the world by the Gospel which testifies to his Son. And it is the Spirit who will make that word effective. Even for us.

1 John Azumah, ‘Following Jesus as Unique Lord and Saviour in a Broken Pluralistic World’ Evangelical Review of Theology 31/4 (2007): 294–305.

2 Azumah, 'Following Jesus', 305.

3 Stratford Caldecott, ‘Benedict XVI and Inter-Religious Dialogue’ Transformation 23/4 (2006): 199–204.

3 Caldecott, ‘Benedict XVI’ 202.

Surprising turn around

Have been reading Hosea in my morning readings lately. Though I think I'd seen it before, I'd forgotten what a turn around happens between Hosea 13, the phrase "O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?" is God searching for the worst possible to pour out on his people, for "Compassion is hidden from my eyes." These sentences, in themselves, are not a message of hope.

In their context in Hosea they're not entirely despair, as they stand within the larger dilemma God is facing which is introduced in chapter 11: "How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?" Yet, within that debate God says he will hand the Israelites over to Assyria to receive terrible judgement. The hint of hope is simply that God won't bring the nation to an entire end. He will judge and the people will suffer, but there will be a future post-judgement for Israel as a nation. For the individual living through judgement this would be little comfort. In Hosea's prophecy, it matters a great deal whether you stand before or after judgement.

And so when Paul picks up Hosea in 1 Corinthians 15 there's this massive turn around. Paul says that at the resurrection, judgement will have been and gone for the Christian, for they will be "clothed with the impreishable" and the sting of death will be gone. In Hosea's history, they will stand after judgement. How is this possible? Because the power of the sting of death (that is, the law that condemns sin) has been dealt with in Jesus, through whom God "gives us the victory". Within Hosea's scheme, Paul is implying that judgement has been and gone. The terrors of death that God would pour out have already been poured out—on the cross.

At once we breath a sigh of relief. But if we've understood Hosea, we also look back at the cross with newfound awe. On the cross, Jesus bore the worst judgement possible, for that is what our sins deserved. What a humbling thought.