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

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Give me three minutes and I will tell you... not much.

Augustine tells of a vision of seeing a little boy at a beach scooping up the ocean thimbleful by thimbleful and emptying it out on the sand. Then he sees an angel who tells him that this boy will have emptied out the entire ocean long before Augustine has exhausted what can be said about God.

So what’s the difference between two Baptists and two Episcopalians when they meet in the liquor store? The Episcopalians will say hi to each other. Jared told me that one but I think I just butchered it. Anyway I had a similar experience the other day. Only I think the Baptist said hi. I was driving home from work and I was totally bored with what I had on my MP3 player and with talk radio, so I reluctantly found myself turning on my local Christian music station. I felt a little dirty but my wife has softened me up a bit and I have been known to tune in now from time to time. Still, I was thinking “Has it come to this? I am reaching for the cheap beer here?” Well then the announcer introduced a new song. The guy seemed to be even more apologetic for being on the radio as I was for listening. It is called “3 Minute Song”. It's not perfect but it seemed somewhat Augustinian. Can you imagine asking Augustine to talk about God in a little three minute song that will flow nice to a commercial break? The guy who was losing me on the subject of “Time” in Confessions then said “look at how much time I have spent talking about time!” Yeah I don’t think he could do it either... Anyway it was good song, happened a couple of weeks ago, have not tuned into the Christian station since.

Check out out here if you want

I tried to write a song, and keep it three minutes long
Get in, get out, nobody gets hurt
And I tried a thousand times to fit God between the lines
But I'm finding out that doesn't really work
I just don't have the words to say
Because words only get in my way
I must apologize, I have the hardest time
Finding something to define a God that I can't define
And even if I could, it would take way too long
If all I've got's a 3 minute song
I've got a hundred metaphors, and if I had a hundred more
I could never ever seem to sum this up
Besides, how can some melody communicate eternity?It's like trying to fit the ocean in a cup
I'll never find the words to say
Cause words only get in the way
I would like to dumb this down to 3 chords or maybe 4
But I've tried and I can't and I won't cause there will always be more


Monday, June 23, 2008

Christ and Scripture

The Evangelical Theological Society began with one doctrine to affirm: the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Since the Modernist-Fundamentalist debates of the early 20th Century, it is nearly indisputable that the defining characteristic and center focus of Evangelicalism in America is Bibliology. The evidence is hard to miss. Look at the first doctrine of most churches. Look at the signs and symbols of many Evangelical seminaries (like here and here) and institutions and can even dominate the images and signs of churches. I even saw on the back of a Christian catalog this phrase: “The Bible alone is the Word of God”

And what else would we expect? Isn’t the Bible the Word of God and the basis of our knowledge of God? I would like to suggest such a formulation, and especially that phrase I quoted from the back of the catalog, is insufficient and under-developed. The Christian faith certainly centers around the Word of God, but the Word of God is not primarily defined as a book...I would also like to contend, that this American Bible-central focus is not healthy and not, at heart, Reformed.

One may get the impression that Reformed theology deserves some credit for this Bible focus. Take a look at the major Reformed Confessions, and you will see the first Article is usually one on Scripture. This is wholly appropriate. For the foundation of our particulars of our theology of God is based on written Scripture.

Scripture itself, however, does not testify to itself as the pinicle and end of faith. For Muslims, the Koran is the perfect Word of God and the means of salvation. We are not Muslims, and the Bible is not merely the Christian Koran. Jesus Christ tells the Pharisees that this was their great sin. John 5:39 puts it beautifully: “You search the Scriptures, for you think in them you have everlasting life. And they are the ones witnessing concerning Me.”

At minimum, we should see the Scriptures do not claim themselves as the center of our faith, but are our sure and faithful guide to our true center: God, especially revealed in the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ.

I say nothing new here, in fact I say things very old. Perhaps so old we have forgotten them. And perhaps we would readily agree that the Scriptures point to Christ. Would we go further and admit that we have sometimes neglected to assign to Christ a title given to Him by those Scriptures: Word of God?

But of course, Christ is the Word of God in John 1, and so the Word of God incarnate. The Scriptures on the other hand are the Word of God written, a totally different discussion. They need not be thought of in the same thought, let alone the same class, day, month or even year.

This seemingly valid distinction has unfortunately become a division. If we trace the language of “Word of God” in the Early Church, we find not a division, but a union so tightly knit together that it confuses the modern reader. Take for instance Clement of Alexandria. When quoting Scripture, Clement often used phraseology like: “The Logos has proclaimed this loudly through Moses…” Clement uses Logos, not as an inanimate noun, but as a Personality that proclaims. The Word of God incarnate was so closely associated with the Word of God written, the two occupied the same thought and breath so intricately that to speak of Scripture proclaiming something was to see the words as imputed to Christ Himself. The starting point of faith was in the Personality rather than the written word. The inspiration of Scripture was based on the divine nature of the Logos as God rather than any internal structure. Our Bibliology requires a foundation in our Christiology, as part of the work of Christ:

Our reading of the Scriptures lack this close association. Read Hebrews 4:12. Does this immediately first make you think of Christ or Scripture? I have yet to find an early church father that took this as pointing to Scripture, all see Christ. From the entirety of the canon, this interpretation follows the Biblical usage, as this phraseology is actually used of Christ first in Luke 2. Is the Bible a piercing sword? Yes. Is Christ a piercing sword? Yes. Because the Word of God is a piercing sword.

But again, I claim no new teaching in this regard. Pelikan summed up the mind of the early church on this matter thusly:

'Word of God' was, of course, one of the most important technical terms for Jesus Christ in his relation to the Father; and when 'the gospel' or 'Scripture' was equated with the 'word of God,' the presence of Christ in this means of grace was seen as in some way analogous to his presence in the flesh...Christ was the preaching of God." (Christian Tradition Vol 1 - pg 161)

But also importantly for us, this is not merely the teaching of the early Church. Dutch Reformed theologican Herman Bavinck writes:

He [Christ] is the Logos in an utterly unique sense, revealer and revelation alike. In him, all revelations of God, all words of God, in nature and history, in creation and re-creation, under the Old and New Testaments, have their ground, their unity and center. He is the sun; the particular words of God are its rays. The word of God in nature, in Israel, in the New Testament, in Scripture may not for a moment be detached or thought about apart from Him. God’s revelation exists only because He is the Logos. He is the principium cognoscendi [the principle of knowing], in the general sense of all knowledge, in the special sense, as logos ensarkos [the word infleshed], of all knowledge of God, of religion and theology, Matt 11:27. (Reformed Dogmatics - Vol 1, pg 402)

So I stand by my original blog post: Christ is the center of our faith. Even as the Scriptures are our text to understand our faith, even as our Christian epistemology may wonder if our Scriptures are the only true basis for our knowing - ultimately Christ is the basis of our knowing.

The important question we have to ask is: have we allowed the "Word of God" merely to mean God's commands or instructions in a book? Or does "Word of God" mean a Person who pierces us to our soul and look for this Person in our Scriptures. Muslims believe in the Word of God as revealed writings, but we are Christians and we believe in the Word of God made flesh. This does not lessen our view of Scripture, instead the Scriptures gain more power when we realize that in reading them, we are not ruled by a book, but by the Lord Christ that book reveals, and Whose words they are.

Friday, June 20, 2008

At the Center: The Foundation of Christian Theology

It seems different traditions will have a different central focus. Roman Catholicism starts with Ecclesiology and build a theology from there. Restorationist Stone-Campbellites seem to do the same. Open theism builds a theology from a certain concept of the will. Dispensationalism emphasizes eschatology and much of American evangelicalism seems built on Bibliology or a certain concept of a gospel offer.

Even within the Reformed camp there seems to be a debate on the “center” of the faith. There is a large TULIP-happy, soteriologically-centered crowd that sees everything centered around the Reformed concept of Soteriology and predestination. Another crowd seems to have, what I would term, a Theo-centric view. This sees God as transcendent and grand and builds everything off of such a view, with much talk about how not to view things as man-centric.

Both of these approaches are correct in their teaching, yet also slightly askew as the question of emphasis, center, and the foundation of your theology affects how you look at other aspects of theology, even if the basics are the same. The Soteriology-centered crowd seems to have little concern for the detail of worship, other than mentioning our depravity often and never giving an invitation. The Theo-centric crowd can sometimes talk of God in such grand ways as to make God impersonal, and while God may be too humanized in other parts of evangelicalism, a full swing to the other extreme is problematic as well.

I’ve been stuck as I study theology how true is the statement of Karl Barth: “show me your Christology, and I will show you the rest of your theology.” Concurrently, while reading Alister McGrath’s Iustitia Dei, I was struck by his description of Calvin’s approach to theology. While Luther centered everything around justification and Beza had more of the Theo-centric approach (like above), Calvin centered all talk of ecclesiology, Soteriology, and Theology Proper around the person of Christ. It was more than a throw away line about how important Jesus is, or an add on line to please the folks who prefer to talk to God through Jesus “thank you Jesus, help me Jesus, Come Lord Jesus, etc.” No, every aspect of Salvation related to the question, “how does Christ teach us about salvation?” Christ becomes type, teacher and image in any discussion. Ecclesiology is a question about: how do we understand the church as the Bride of Christ, or the Body of Christ? Theology proper is about how do we learn about God through Christ. Soteriology is about how Christ saves us. Some do not realize the title of the last book of the Bible is a great method to Theology. It is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” In Greek, we learned that the use of the genitive in the title means it can also be translated: “Jesus Christ reveals.” I like three word theological guides (see “God saves sinners.”) While "God saves sinners" can be a good summary of theology, "Jesus Christ reveals" can be a beginning to a hermeneutic or methodology within our theological study. This emphasis has particularly hit me over the past year. Before that, I had a well developed Soteriology, a poor Theology Proper, a non-existent Ecclesiology and a skeletal Bibliology. All of which was due to an underdeveloped Christology; and all of which I have seen invigorated by robust, and centric Christology. At the least, it is a good question to ask when looking at a new area of theology: What does Jesus Christ reveal about this…

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Help my Unbelief

Isaac Watts might have known a thing or two about writing hymns. Another hymn of healing doubt. I was introduced to this hymn while enjoying Indelible Grace's Fifth Album: This song adapted to a modern folky treatment by Andrew Osenga. Man, Andy knows how to pick those gems to redo!:

1. How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains
But there's a voice of sov'reign grace,
Sounds from the sacred word:
"O, ye despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord."

2. My soul obeys th' almighty call,
And runs to this relief
I would believe thy promise, Lord;
O help my unbelief!
To the dear fountain of thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul,
From crimes of deepest dye.

3. Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King,
My reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.
A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On thy kind arms I fall;
Be thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.

Summer Reading List

I posted this on my other page, but since it is dead theologian related, thought I would restate it here - this is my summer reading list [I am open for suggestions for my reading on Reformed Spirituality!]:

Thomas Cranmer by Diamond MacCulloch

Started this book already on the first Protestant Archbishop of Cantebury. Cranmer and Edward VI brought real reform to the Church of England resulting in the 39 Articles and a Reformed Church before the aftermath moved the church closer to a via media (middle way) position during the reign of Elizabeth I. I’m interested to see the development of this man that eventually gave his life on the stake for his devotion to the gospel in England.

Marriage in the Early Church ed by David Hunter

For a group from PCPC that will be going through it this Summer. This book is a collection of texts from Early Church Leaders on the subject of marriage

Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen

Under more of a conviction that sin has had major impact on our minds, I need to look more at Van Til’s approach to apologetics. I am a child of Thomas Aquinas and so why people do not merely agree with good reason puzzles me - and in fact why I often do not agree with good reason proves that reason may not be enough. Hence Van Til.

A Reformed Spirituality?

I am looking into teaching another course on the concept of a “reformed spirituality.” This is an oxymoron to some, but I hope to do enough reading and experimenting to have material to present a Biblical approach to spirituality in Spring of 09. Towards that end on my reading list is:

A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life

Christian Spirituality by Alister McGrath

The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal

The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards

The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson

Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. By Leland Ryken

Puritan Reformed Spirituality by Joel Beeke

Luther’s Spirituality

Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster

The Mystical Presence by Nevin

I also have this itch to go through Calvin’s Institutes from start to finish. I may need a group to help me though…

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sad Day for the Anglican Church

Two ordained priests in the Church of England have married each other in the England against their Bishop's direction. It will be an interesting time to see if Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) will enforce discipline in the Church of England. Williams is a great writer and I have enjoyed some of his

books. However, he seems to be a weak leader with no resolve on this issue. It may be time for him to go and for someone else to come in to help save unity and promote Biblical morality in the largest Protestant communion in the world. If Williams does nothing, the African churches are out for sure.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


The last bastion of pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith.—John Piper, Taste and See, p. 328.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Extra! Extra! New Revelation!

How Does God reveal himself to us? Jay Bennett covered this question in our course on Church History. Some said certain Scriptures were God’s revelation, but not others (Marcionites, Ebonites). Others said the Scriptures were revelation plus prophetic illumination that was ongoing (Montanists). Orthodox Christianity settled on the Scriptures as the sufficient authority. Though the Church dealt with these errors early in its history, Montanism seems to have never fully gone away.

We see this in the clamor over Todd Bentley, a revivalist Pentecostal preacher in Florida, claiming direct revelation over things like the authorship of Hebrews. If you want the perspective of a non-Pentecostal who witnessed the events in Florida, read here: [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]

I would like to suggest that Pentecostal preachers like Bentley have given up any claim to the label Protestant. One of the great truths asserted in the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. This meant the final authority and only special revelation we have access to are the Scriptures. And if we take Galatians 1:8 and Revelation 22:18 seriously, people claiming new revelation different from the Scriptures should not just be embarrassed at their eccentricities, but fearful of judgment. To add to what is considered God’s revelation is beyond the bounds.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lewis on Old Books

As I have been too busy to post anything of substance lately, I will offer a little encouragement from C.S. Lewis to read older books, rather than the latest post here or latest book on the new releases. Lewis wrote this as an introduction to Athanasius' wonderful little book: "On the Incarnation." So if Lewis inspires you, pick up a copy on amazon.com, or read it online here.

Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself. Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.
And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o'clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why—the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point...

But it will be noticed that these [books that modern readers read] are all books of devotion rather than of doctrine. Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that "nothing happens" when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.