"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I have a problem with authority: an essential problem in Protestantism

[A blog to ask a question to the reader:]

Sola Scriptura means: Scripture alone. It is one of the five solas of the reformation. It means that Scripture is the final authority on matters of truth. Yet, in regards to Scripture, there are two levels:

Revelation: What God says
Doctrine/Interpretation: What we say revelation means.

So "Sola Scriptura" says nothing about who has the right doctrine/interpretation. Here's a test case:

Does baptism save?

What does Scripture say?: "baptism now saves you" 1 Peter 3:21.

Thus, when speaking about this passage, we have no disagreement over what Scripture says, Scripture says "baptism now saves you," even mentioning the water in particular. We do have a disagreement over what Scripture means.

But here is the question: Who decides what it means? Catholics appeal to the See of Peter as authoritative interpreter, Orthodox appeal to the Seven Ecumenical Councils as the collective interpretation of the Church, Protestants have:

1. The clear testimony and reading of Scripture? [the clear reading is "baptism saves"...]

2. The internal testimony of the Spirit? Whose internal testimony? Mine? My Protestant Lutheran brother who quotes the Augsburg Confession that says "Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation" [link]? Or my Protestant Reformed brother that quotes the Westminster Confession that says "salvation [is] not so inseparably annexed unto [baptism], as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it" [link]? [both the Lutheran and Reformed brother claims Sola Scriptura]

3. Human Reason? That same "reason" that Luther called a, ahem, prostitute? Again, whose reason? Mine? Yours? If they contradict, who decides? If reason, why do we need revelation which is "foolishness" to those reasonable Greeks?

My answer: I have none, that's why I am throwing it out there. I do not believe water baptism saves [I side with the Reformed brother in question 2, as I believe most people reading my blog do] just as I believe justification is by faith alone though the "plain words" of James say differently. But how do I as a Protestant escape taking the Pope's hat off the Bishop of Rome, and putting it on my head? How do I avoid making my self and my personal interpretation the only council I listen to? Or do I have no such assurance?

[This post is not meant to imply Catholics and Orthodox have no problems here as Orthodox have no means of addressing new theological questions after the Seven Councils and the fact that the doctrine of Papal Supremecy did not develop until the 5th Century and many would say their answers have contradicted each other. I'm merely concerned with the Protestant problem here.]

Friday, August 24, 2007

This Too Shall Be Made Right

On the theme of present evil and God's sovereignty, I submit for you a song Derek Webb wrote titled: This Too Shall Be Made Right. There is a free live mp3 version available for download here. (If you like it, buy one or all of his albums here.) Derek Webb wrote it in response to others making the case that war in and of itself is a good thing based on:

(To everything there is a season)

A time to kill, And a time to heal;

A time to break down, And a time to build up;

A time to weep, And a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, And a time to dance;

Derek Webb juxaposes the present reality of Ecclesiates 3 with the future hope that killing, weeping and mourning are not good things and will some day be made right aluding to Rom 8:19-24 and Rev 21:4. No matter if we support a particular war as necessary, it is also terrible, heartbreaking and a thing to mourn and hate. Here are the lyrics with the Scripture below:

This Too Shall Be Made Right:

people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells
whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive
but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
there's a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
and this too shall be made right

Romans 8:19-24
19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?

Rev 21:4
4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why John Piper sometimes annoys me

The other night, my wife and I started to read John Piper’s Pierced by the Word. The first devotional's title was “How strange and wonderful is the love of Christ.” Piper’s demonstration of Christ’s love? The story of the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Good so far! Definitely one of the greats! But how does Jesus show His love?

1. By letting Lazarus die.

2. Pointing that fact to God’s Glory.

3. Motivated by a love for Mary and Martha.

Huh? Ok, all those things happened (though #3 doesn’t seem to fit as it is the thesis, not a reason). The rest of the “devotional” is analogous to saying “because I said so” and “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” NOWHERE WAS A REASON GIVEN!!! How is announcing God’s power letting Lazarus die saying anything about “the strange and wonderful love of Christ”?!

Piper never gets to after Lazarus dies, how Christ:

1. Gave the hope of the resurrection (John 11:23)

2. Pointed to Himself as the source of that hope (John 11:25-26)

3. He wept (John 11:35)

Ultimately, Christ displayed not His mere power, but His power over death which pointed to God’s Glory. Christ did not flaunt His power for the heck of it. Frankly, if someone just lost a loved one, I would not give him/her Piper’s devotional. Piper’s devotional (which ignores the ending of resurrection!) says: “God killed your loved one because He is power drunk and wants you to know it.”

The whole of John 11 displays the strange and wonderful love of God, but in a way that says says “Death tells us this world is not as it will be, but Christ has power over death.” Christ gives us hope and comes along side of our experiences with us. This demonstrates the Glory of God, not the mere announcing of it. I think some Calvinists I’ve heard (Al Mohler, John Piper) wish to communicate that God does not conform to our ideas of what is “good.” While this is true, death is not good, I'M SURE OF THIS (for the Bible tells me so:) because it is a curse (Gen 3:19). Death announces the sin and rebellion of humanity, not the Glory of God (in and of itself). Death announces that creation is "not as it should be" or is ultimately purposed to be.

What is the point of brow-beating people with the "Glory of God"? God's sovereignty promises “All things work together for good” (Rom 8:28) for believers, NOT all things that happen ARE good. It is an eschatological hope. Going to the dentist is good because he drills out cavities for the end of healthy teeth, not to merely torture you with his power. While letting go of our conceptions of “good” as the standard to judge God, we should not point to God’s power without pointing to His love (not that we can see or understand it at a certain moment).
I believe this, not because I am not a good enough Calvinist, but because if we only point to God's power and call this His love, God is made out to be a despot and a Machiavellian, not Love as God defines it:
"God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:8-10)

(UPDATE: yeah, I think Piper believes all of the above, I guess I would just like to see him connect it more often. Perhaps my criticism is more on presentation than theology. Soli Deo Gloria!)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

N.T. Wright’s gospel of “being put to rights”

I just listened to N.T. Wright's talk on Romans at Calvin College. After listening to it, my verdict is…mixed. Wright picks up on two important themes:

1. Our poor eschatology of heaven as floating spirits (which is a gnostic, dualistic or Manichean idea coming from the concept that matter is somehow evil and a detour in creation).
2. Our lack of concern for greater new creation rather than just personal eternal life.

Then one gets to where N.T. Wright talks about justification as a “putting of the world to rights.” Wright has a system looking towards the restoration of the world in new creation. Thus, Judgment is restoring the rights of creation.

Ironically, N.T. Wright talks about how our understanding of Paul is too focused through Enlightenment concepts. Yet, Wright uses "rights" in a similar way as Enlightenment thinkers, in a modern idea of rights. “Right” becomes a positive claim, or an inherent birthright. This was conceived in some of William of Ockham’s ideas, birthed by the lawyer Grotius (the person who invented the idea of governmental atonement) and reached a whiny, violent adolescence in the French Revolution, the culmination of the Enlightenment.

A true pre-Enlightenment thinker, Thomas Aquinas, defined “right” (or "ius" in Latin) as DUTY. This idea was developed in explaining Romans 2:14-15:

for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith

Thomas Aquinas explained this “law written on their hearts” as “lex naturalis” (natural law). Specific precepts of natural law are “ius naturalis” (natural right[s]), in other words the law has specific duties.

We have ALREADY been put to rights or duties: we have been given the law. Our problem is not being “put to rights“ or properly speaking “being put to the law’s duties” but that we do not do our right/duty, we do not keep the law (Rom 3:10-11). The “right” thing to do (a better understanding and use of the term) is for God to do His duty as Judge to the law and now destroy us, as the law demands. The declaration that we are to “be put to rights!” should make us shutter! If the Judgment means everyone will be put to rights, then everyone is damned. The declaration that we have unmerited favor, or vicariously merited favor, is the good news.

To put it in classical terms (the right definition of right) is:
Christ has done our duty/right on our behalf. Christ was put to death for our trespass of rights.

To put it in modern terms (I rather use birthright than right):
Our birthright is death. Christ’s birthrite is life. Christ takes our birthright, and we take His birthright.

More important than justification by faith is justification by grace. We have no birthrights to restoration, only duties we cannot perform, but have been performed for us and a reward confered on us by shear grace.

But don’t be put off Wright altogether [Here is a balanced evaluation in Christianity Today]. He is great on the resurrection and generally on the new creation. Piper is putting out a book specifically targeting N.T. Wright, which I can only hope properly separates the good from the bad [as Piper does not have a reputation for gentleness in rebuke, ask any Free Grace adherent or Arminian]. Wright is a friend to orthodox Christianity, not an enemy. Wright tends to be about 90% correct in his teaching, a great leader against liberalization on homosexuality in the U.S. Episcopal church and a defender of the doctrines of the resurrection and the Bible as the Word of God. That's actually a big deal for someone in the Church of England.

Some good N.T. Wright:

[a tip of the hat to Solus Christus for first posting the Christianity Today article]

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pop Quiz!

Peter Kreeft starts out a short lecture with a pop quiz. Here are five of the questions:

1. Name the living person with the greatest influence on your life.

2. What is the church's gospel?

3. What is God like?

4. What is the meaning of life?

5. What is truth?

You can listen to the talk on mp3 for the answer. Here's a hint: This post is a defense of my post: The Golden Key. And, there should only be one answer for all the questions above. We have the answer, now we seek the questions.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

All Good and All Powerful

I was thinking about this the other day when I was talking with a friend about how God’s purpose in everything is to reveal his own glory. My friend joked and said “Yeah like with the Holocaust”. I joked about that taking some nuance. It made me think of Rabbi Kushner though. I always thought he had written his famous book in response to the Holocaust. Obviously a stereo type on my part because he is Jewish. Actually he wrote it in response to his son’s death. His reasoning I believe goes something like this; ‘God can not be all good and all powerful and let something like this happen. So he must not be all powerful.’ But the sacred writing of his own religion testifies to God being all powerful. I have never read his book, but I have read Job. My wife bought the Rabbi’s book when she was young. Thank God she never read it at such a young and impressionable age. Pain is not meaningless as John Piper discusses so well so often. Read his latest response to Rabbi Kushner here. Why would I find comfort in believing pain is just a bunch of meaningless stuff that happens? Or that God has no purpose or plan because he can do nothing about it. Not much of a God to worship. Sounds like any old friend down the street would be better.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

August 6, Day of the Transfiguration

August 6 is the commemoration of the Day of Transfiguration, a day Peter told the Church to remember in 2 Pet 1:17-19, and Luke records here. Calvin said of the Transfiguration: “the disciples could taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.” As it was a precursor to the resurrection, we remember it because we too, with the whole of orthodox Christianity (i.e. those that adhere to the Apostles' Creed at least), look forward to the resurrection of the body. Perhaps then we will be given greater ability to perceive and experience God's Glory: our resurrection bodies, able to fully taste what we now cannot comprehend. Christianity Today has a slideshow showcasing different artists attempting to convey the event. My favorite art in commemoration, however, is Sufjan Stevens' beautiful acoustic song "the Transfiguration," (sample here) especially the end:

When he took the three disciples
to the mountainside to pray,
his countenance was modified, his clothing was aflame.
Two men appeared: Moses and Elijah came;
they were at his side.
The prophecy, the legislation spoke of whenever he would die.

Then there came a word
of what he should accomplish on the day.
Then Peter spoke, to make of them a tabernacle place.
A cloud appeared in glory as an accolade.
They fell on the ground.
A voice arrived, the voice of God,
the face of God, covered in a cloud.

What he said to them,

the voice of God: the most beloved son.
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come.
The prophecy was put to death,
was put to death, and so will the Son.
And keep your word, disguise the vision 'till the time has come.

Lost in the cloud, a voice. Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Turn your ear.
Lost in the cloud, a voice. Lamb of God! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign. Son of man! Son of God!