Thursday, February 17, 2011

Revising "On the Christian Sabbath": Suggestions?

Article XV of the New Hampshire Baptist Confession reads:
Of the Christian Sabbath: We believe that the first day of the week is the Lord's Day, or Christian Sabbath (78); and is to be kept sacred to religious purposes (79), by abstaining from all secular labor and sinful recreations (80); by the devout observance of all the means of grace, both private (81) and public (82); and by preparation for that rest that remaineth for the people of God (83).
I believe that needs revision on a few levels, and I'm curious to hear if y'all have suggestions for revising both the text and the Scripture proofs.

Let's start with a new title: "Of the Lord's Day"

Bonus points if you want to check all the footnoted Scripture proofs:
78. Acts 20:7; Gen. 2:3; Col. 2:16-17; Mark 2:27; John 20:19; 1 Cor. 16:1- 2

79. Exod. 20:8; Rev. 1:10; Psa. 118:24

80. Isa. 58:13-14; 56:2-8

81. Psa. 119:15

82. Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 11:26; 13:44; Lev. 19:30; Exod. 46:3; Luke 4:16; Acts 17:2, 3; Psa. 26:8; 87:3

83. Heb. 4:3-11

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Genesis 1-2: Before We Made It a Science Textbook

Justin Taylor has directed us to an article that might be helpful in shaping our perspective on the Creation debates. In a day when some suggest that any divergence from the "Genesis 1-2 = 7 days" interpretation is a fundamental compromise that rejects the clear, plain reading of the text, it might be instructive to consider what people who were committed to the complete reliability and authority of Scripture believed—before we felt compelled to read the text as an explicit refutation of Darwinism. Taylor points us to an article that raises the provocative issue of what orthodox believers prior to the rise of Darwinism and modernism understood to be clear, or perhaps not so clear.

To be sure, some interpretations of Genesis 1-2 are incompatible with ex nihilo creation, Divine sovereignty, the reliability and authority of Scripture, and Adamic headship—not to mention other biblical texts. Some of these interpretations have direct implications for our understanding of the gospel, and not in a good way. But these are some interpretations. Which particular interpretation is correct is a question that, as Taylor notes, "must be settled by careful exegesis" (not by church history).

Sometimes, the Bible doesn't say everything we wish it said, even if our wishes are motivated by our desires to defend it. What's more, the Bible is not our tool to refute the views we don't like, even if they're really harmful views. The Bible is God's tool. It's sufficiently clear to accomplish what he intends. But let's be cautious towards the assumption that what seems clear to us is the final authority on what must be clear to everyone. A better awareness of church history may be instructive toward that end.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Messiah in the OT: Read Between the Lines, AND Read the Lines

I remember when I agreed with this argument—that when we read the OT, we find "virtually nothing about Christ, the Cross, or the Gospel." And I'm still not one who lightly dismisses this position with a deft wave of Luke 24:27.

Still, now, I find it completely foreign to my reading of the Bible to suggest, as Snoeberger does, that "Christ and the Gospel do not emerge as major OT themes. In fact, they're not themes at all." Remember, "Christ" is simply the Greek form of the Hebrew term, "Messiah," or anointed one. At this point in my life, it is impossible for me to read the OT without seeing a constantly recurring theme—both explicit and implicit—of a coming King who would restore all things to their proper place under the dominion of God. To say that the Messiah is not a theme of the OT at all is simply breathtaking. I wonder if the members of the intertestamental Jewish messianic communities might not have disagreed.

The Christ/Messiah theme is not the only theme in the OT, and more skilled theologians and writers surely offer better summaries than mine. But in any case, I doubt you'll find a more skilled writer and theologian than Snoeberger among those who dogmatically disagree. It is often useful to hear the best arguments from the other side.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

"A Glorious and Abundant Emanation of His Infinite Fulness of Good": Why God Does What He Does

Sunday I had an opportunity to teach a class on what God has revealed to us in Scripture about his purposes and intentions—why he does what he does. Perhaps the most provocative question to answer what what God reveals about his ultimate ends. In the prep process I found a couple summaries that were helpful, though we spent too much time in the text to consider the quotes. First, Jonathan Edwards in his book, The End for Which God Created the World:
Thus it appears reasonable to suppose, that it was God’s last end, that there might be a glorious and abundant emanation of his infinite fulness of good ad extra, or without himself; and that the disposition to communicate himself, or diffuse his own fulness, was what moved him to create the world.
John Piper published a helpful exposition of Edwards, which includes Edwards' full text.

The last thing I did Saturday night was to read a portion of Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students. And in God's kind providence, this was the very last paragraph I read:
Man cannot be the centre of the theological universe, he is altogether too insignificant a being to occupy such a position, and the scheme of redemption must exist for some other end than that of merely making man happy, or even of making him holy. The salvation of man must surely be first of all for the glory of God; and you have discovered the right form of Christian doctrine when you have found the system that has God in the centre, ruling and controlling according to the good pleasure of his will.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Excellent Sale on CCEF Booklets—At Least Take a Peek

The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) publishes a wealth of helpful resources. Some of their best are a collection of useful little booklets on specific issues like grief, adultery, guilt, addictions, eating disorders, divorce, and pornography. Frankly, I think their regular price is a bit high, but Westminster Seminary bookstore is running a terrific deal right now that includes a free display.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

A Theologian's Reflections on the Past and Anticipation of the Future

Carl Henry intrigues me. There's more than one reason, but it's not least because he embodies a curious collision of conflicting (to me, at least) theological, ecclesiological, and missiological commitments. Here's my summary of his place in history: Henry was the early intellectual force behind the movement that began to coalesce in the 1940s, which criticized fundamentalist separatism from broader culture engagement and the ecumenical attempts to evangelize and transform it. Henry and his collaborators believed that intellectual credibility and social engagement would gain a hearing for the gospel and recover orthodoxy as the dominant force in mainline Protestant denominations. That in itself is worth a conversation, but I'll save that for another time.

Portions of Henry's memoirs were fascinating, as he reflected on the hopes and dreams, successes and failures, ambitions and strategies of a workaholic's life—his word, not mine. (Chances are, if you have any kind of theological library, many if not most of it is the product of the resurgence of evangelical scholarship that Henry helped to trigger.) But perhaps most interesting were a couple passages that offer a glimpse into Henry's perspective on the ecumenical-evangelical-fundamentalist tensions.
Eastern [Baptist Theological Seminary]'s course was not decided in the long run by a handful of special-problem faculty. Its "middle ground" avoidance of extremes enabled those left of center to oppose the right and to espouse critical views. Lack of theologically literate trustees, gradual acceptance of the pluralistic denominational context it originally challenged, professing conservatives whose critical views emerged only after they were hired or received tenure and the translation of personal friendships into board support, all played a role.
and . . .
Key '73 [a 1973 U.S. evangelistic campaign] achieved certain commendable goals; it was hindered, however, by the refusal of independent fundamentalist churches to cooperate in a witness to Jesus Christ that involved also ecumenically affiliated churches [including, though Henry doesn't tell us, 43 Roman Catholic dioceses]. A further deterrent came through ecumenically aligned spokesmen who under bureaucratic pressures sought to make social justice rather than personal evangelism the forefront thrust.
As I read Henry's final chapter that reflects on the prospects for evangelicalism late in the 20th century, I sensed a note of disappointment–deep awareness of missed opportunities and aspirations that fell short, with unavoidable implications in the future. I found myself wondering if Henry ever perceived that the seeds of disappointment were sown in the soil of partnership for the gospel with people who never really embraced the gospel.

Nevertheless, I was encouraged by his closing paragraphs, which include this absolute gem:
"Heaven will be an unending feast for the soul that basks in his presence."

Who Are Abraham's Offspring?

These aren't the only relevant texts, but the relationships between them seem obvious. I'm not sure we can say much at all about the identity of Abraham's offspring until we understand clearly how Paul understood Genesis 15 and 17.

Genesis 15:4-6, 18-21
And behold, the word of the LORD came to [Abram]: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites."
Genesis 17:7-8
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.
Romans 4:13-18
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be."