Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tamar: "There is no cult prostitute here."

Tamar is among the most enigmatic characters in Scripture. A prostitute who is commended for her righteous actions. Even as we attempt to understand the purpose of Genesis 38 and why it appears "jammed" into the story of Joseph, one thing that should not be overlooked: the scandal.

Don't forget the scandal.

This is one of those chapters in which parents of the West are tempted to say at the end of chapter 37, "OK, kids; off to bed. We'll read chapter 39 tomorrow night." Genesis 38 functions as shock factor. The entire chapter. Sordid. Divine execution. A defiant sex act. Betrayal. Seduction. Prostitution. Hypocrisy.

The sleaze factor in Genesis 38 does not provide the real scandal. The real scandal is how Moses wants us to see grace at work in the midst of the vile. In Genesis 38, there is an avalanche of grace flowing out of the debauchery. Brilliant faith. Justification. Redemption.

Oh yes. In the midst of Judah's self-inflicted cesspool grace cascades. The one great storyline of redemption through the Seed isn't simply unorthodox. It's unwanted. It undermines, no, it smashes a self-righteousness we've convinced ourselves is righteous.

It is true that Moses is not writing about the morality of seducing someone who Is not your husband. It's also true that Moses is highlighting the divine preservation of the Genesis 3:15 promised "Seed of the woman" in the storyline, especially the storyline as it unfolds through Judah in the book of Genesis. The birth of Perez belongs to the OT stories of "miracle" births of sons in the pedigree of the coming Messiah. It is unexpected. It occurs in the midst of extenuating and extraordinary circumstances. The story of Genesis 38 most certainly is about "the seed, the heir, the firstborn." In this story, Moses is interested in making sure his readers are not in the dark regarding the origins of the still-yet-to-be-realized royal bloodline traced through Judah and his son, Perez.

But it's not simply about the seed. 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that these OT stories were meant to be examples for us. However, the "examples" for us are not morality plays, but part of the great unfolding story of redemption in the Old Testament. The "examples", as Hebrews 11 demonstrates, are aimed at eliciting saving faith in the community, faith that wraps its hopes around the promise of a Messiah.

Tamar is certainly best understood against the backdrop of Genesis 3:15. All of the Old Testament progresses the Genesis 3:15 storyline to its culmination in the Person and work of Jesus. There are grace and faith elements in this story that Moses draws attention to for the sake of his audience.

There are a couple of hermeneutical considerations underlying the story of Tamar and Judah that spotlight grace and salvific faith. One is an idea Paul picks up on in Romans 11. The role of Gentiles in redemptive history is meant to provoke Israel to repentance and faith. This is fundamental to understanding the story of Jonah. It's certainly at the heart of the story of Namaan. The book of Ruth also has "Gentile provocation" as an undercurrent. Throughout redemptive history, God has used Gentiles who embrace the true God of Israel as their own as provocative motivation for Israel to repent and confess their fidelity to the one true God. When we find a Gentile or "pagan" confessing allegiance to Israel's God or expressing the kind of faith expressed by Abraham (see Genesis 15:6), we can be sure that the story has been included in sacred revelation to not only show that "salvation has come to the Gentiles" (i.e. foreshadowing the great inclusion of Gentiles as True Israel in the New Covenant), but also "to make Israel jealous." (Romans 11:11)

The other consideration is what I call "the Pharisee factor." Israel in the Old Testament. Pharisees in the New. Both Israel and the Pharisees suffered from acute self-righteousness. Much of recorded revelation is aimed at ridding Israel (and us) of its natural inclination to promote self. We most clearly see such heart attitude on display when scandal is present in the text. A comment recorded by Luke could function as a thesis statement which underlies Israel's self-righteousness. When a woman of ill repute washes his feet with her tears and anoints them with fragrance, the Pharisee who invited Christ to the dinner expresses centuries of Israel's self-righteousness toward the scandalous: "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” (Luke 7:39). Israel's preoccupation with self-importance as the "apple of God's eye" led them to look down on the scandalous. This is a running theme in Jonah, can be found in Job, and litters the indictments of the prophets, especially Amos and Hosea. The inclusion of Gentiles in the redemption storyline is aimed at knocking Israel's inflated ego down a few pegs.

These relate to the story of Tamar in the following five ways.

Tamar is a Gentile. This can easily be missed. It's not mentioned in the text, but the entire backdrop of this story occurs among the Canaanites, or more specifically, the Adullamites. It's also easy to overlook Tamar because initially, she is introduced into the story as simply a supporting character.

Tamar is a woman. This can also easily be missed, especially in a day in which women in the West enjoy the kind of life that would be quite foreign to the women of the ancient near east. Early in this story, Tamar "is given" to Judah's son to be his wife. As the story reaches its climax and resolution, we find Tamar in the proverbial driver's seat. For a woman to take this kind of initiative in that culture was quite risky, especially when facing the charges Tamar was facing (the death penalty). A woman who takes initiative in a public way belongs in the same societal "class" as prostitutes.

Tamar seduced Judah. Her actions are described in the text, by her own kind (or by her own mouth, we are not told), as that of a prostitute. The activity by which she secures the royal line of Judah is deception which seems even more spectacular than that of Jacob stealing Esau's birthright. Even Judah's initial judgment of capital punishment is that which is reserved for those who engage in sexual promiscuity (Leviticus 21:9).

Tamar is commended. Judah's declaration of "not guilty" isn't simply an acknowledgment that Tamar is a better person. Judah's statement carries implications beyond its initial event. "She is more righteous than I" recalls Genesis 15:6: it was counted to her for righteousness. Judah's statement also doubles as his own indictment. If Tamar is not guilty, then it is Judah who is guilty of a lifetime of covenant faithlessness, manifested in the way he has put Abraham's posterity in jeopardy. Her commendation is later picked up by the women of Bethlehem in the book of Ruth, pronouncing blessing on Naomi (and Ruth) after the same kind of generational blessings enjoyed by Tamar (Ruth 4:12).

Tamar acted in faith. As the scope of the narrative widens out after the initial deception and legal pronouncement of innocence by Judah, and we begin to see the place of Genesis 38 in the wider plotline being traced by Moses, Tamar plays the role of the one being aligned with the "Seed of the Woman" in the unfolding plan of redemption (see Genesis 3:15). She is more righteous than Judah. She, not he, has been acting in faith. Childless, she exercises her faith and ends up in the Royal line of David that eventually produces the Messiah.

Gentile + woman + prostitute + commendation + faith = scandal.

An Old Testament "Pharisee" would have blanched at such a thought. Commended as *more* "righteous"? Shameful. A Gentile who not only prostitutes herself in seducing one of Israel's Big 12, but is "let off the hook"? Preposterous. Commendation in place of the expected condemnation? Offensive. Perez as a blessed child of The Promise? Disgraceful. The coming Savior of Israel rides on the actions of a Gentile prostitute? Absolutely scandalous. What a despicable affront to any who might begin to believe in Israel's "exceptionalism" as exhaustively exclusive. “This Moses, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is being commended as righteous—she’s a sinner!”

But that's precisely the point: a sinner declared righteous. Three times the result of the search for Tamar is described as they "didn't find her". Twice in the middle of this story the statement is made, "there is no cult prostitute here." At the end of the story, Tamar is commended as being "righteous".

"There is no cult prostitute here." That statement screams across the pages of this sordid tale too good to not be true. "There is no cult prostitute here." They couldn't find her; they didn't find her; they'll never find her. Ever.

When Tamar plays her card as the keeper who bears the finery of her "king", the true prostitute is exposed as the one pointing the finger. The indictment is devastating. Judah is no better than his sons. God executes judgment (Genesis 38:7,10) . Judah orders judgment in the same fashion. (Genesis 38:24b).

But there is no cult prostitute here. The story has moved from barren widow (Tamar) to one declared righteous (Tamar) to a blessed child of promise (Perez). Rather than being an object to be tossed on worthless heap, Tamar is a recipient of divine favor exposing the Hebrew charlatan for who he is. Carrying a child who perpetuates the Promise, the sinner is declared righteous.

A sinner who is declared righteous. How scandalous is that?

One other scandalous feature of this chapter should be considered:

Tamar saves Judah. If it's not scandalous enough for a "seduction" to be commended as "righteous", try "Gentile becomes catalyst for Hebrew's redemption" on for size. In this regard, the figure of Tamar in Judah's story is of the same cloth as Rahab and Ruth. Like them, her faith expressed in speech and action is used to bring about the redemption of Israelites, in this case, Judah. Exposed by Tamar's righteous deed, from this point on, a chastised and repentant Judah begins to live out his destiny as one through whom Israel's future king and redeemer would come.

Grace doesn't always show up cloaked in the pretty. We would do well to avoid the morality play that acknowledges grace in this story, but does so along the lines of God making lemonade out of lemons (i.e. Because I'm the great God I am, I'm going to grace the story with Perez in spite of all the filthy sinners here). It's true that God does providentially work grace in the midst of the mess, but he does so in a way that is not arbitrary, but shocking.

One legitimate question arises from Moses portrayal of grace against the backdrop of scandal: how far are we willing to go for the sake of the gospel? Tamar could have been killed for what she pulled off. A woman? Seduction? She put it all on the line on the road to Timnah because something bigger than herself was at stake. Like others listed in Hebrews 11, Tamar is an example to us of faith that doesn't walk by sight.

But we also must ask ourselves: how far are we willing to go to see ourselves as the recipients of cascading grace in the midst of our mess? We embrace the scandal of Genesis 38 as part of the unfolding of the grand story of Jesus because Matthew does so in Matthew 1. Tamar (along with Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary) is specifically mentioned in the pedigree of Jesus because in Matthew 1, Christ's own scandal is unfolding in the story of his birth. The disgrace of (supposed) illegitimacy dogged Jesus all the way to the cross. Thus, in Christ's life and death, scandal becomes part of our identity in Christ.

In Christ, "there is no cult prostitute here". We know we're guilty. Prostitutes all are we. But Christ died bearing our guilt. And we're declared righteous.


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Monday, September 01, 2014

Vos: The Chief Actor came upon the Scene and occupied central place

"When the time came to completion..." - Galatians 4:4 (HCSB)

How often have we heard a sermon on Galatians 4:4, and listened to the preacher wax eloquent on how the timing of Christ's birth was simply perfect? The Greek language was universal, the Roman infrastructure was pervasive, communication via pen had become common, somebody had finally invented crucifixion as a means of execution, etc. Sometimes it sounds a bit like Christianized astrology: "When the stars and planets were finally aligned, God sent His Son." Things were simply peachy-keen for the Father to send the Son to fix the mess.

In his "Pauline Eshcatology", Vos puts this utilitarian notion to rest:

“...the 'fullness of time' has nothing to do in the first place with the idea of 'ripeness of the times'; it designates the arrival of the present dispensation of time at its predetermined goal of fulfillment through the appearance of the Messiah (Gal. 4:4; see also Eph. 1:10.

“This straight horizontal way of looking at the eschatological progress was not with Paul a purely-formal thing. There belongs to it a grandiose sweep and impressive inclusiveness with regard to the whole of history. When filled with the content of the latter it acquires the character of the most intense dramatic realism." (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p. 26)

Vos is pointing out that "eschatological progress", or the progress of revelation and redemption toward its end goal in Christ and his resolution of all things in the New Heavens and New Earth, is "filled" up with the content of history. The events of history that have been recorded in the Bible, especially those in the Old Testament, are even better than real. Those events, even those that would seem mundane, are supernatural. They really happened, but they happened by design to bring about God's salvation of His people in Christ. 

Long before Vanhoozer and Horton, Vos posits that this progress of redemption through the stages of history is a divine "drama", the one grand story of Jesus unfolding in the events and words of Scripture:

"It is drama, and, besides that, drama hastening on with accelerated movement to the point of denouement and consummation. Hence it engages the Apostle’s most practical religious interest no less than that it moulds his theoretical view concerning the structure of the Christian faith.

“…to Paul the chief actor in this drama had come upon the scene; the Messiah had been made present, and could not but be looked upon as henceforth the dominating figure in all further developments. And Christ was to Paul so close, so all-comprehensive and all-pervasive, that nothing could remain peripheral wherein He occupied the central place…" (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, pp. 27-28)

It wasn't that 4 B.C. or 6 B.C. or whenever it is that Christ actually left the heavens and took on the lot of humanity that things were just so perfect Christ finally could get done what he needed to do. Such an idea reduces Jesus to simply another actor on the stage with the Father reacting to the hand he and the Son had been dealt. In fact, Galatians 4:4's language mitigates against this. "Completion" connotes the sense of something being brought to an end or a climax. 

"Fullness" is the word used by the ESV. All of the events and revealed words of the Old Testament had been filled up and brought to their end goal: Jesus. "Fullness" like "completion", carries the sense of being filled up to having nothing more left to reveal regarding redemption. Paul sees salvation history like a cup, being filled to overflowing of all the historical events or acts and God's self-revelation in Scripture that were orchestrated by God to bring about the Person and work of Jesus.

When all of those Messianically-charged historical events, people, shadows, rituals, poetry, prophecy, and revelation reached their "fullness", Christ came as the Final Act of fulfillment on center stage.

Christ occupies the "central place" of this grand drama of redemption. The Incarnation is everything. In the Incarnation, Christ takes center stage of all of history, "filling up" the meaning of all of reality. Vos is right to suggest that this "filling up" includes the "eschatological progress" of Old Testament revelation and redemption.

So what? If Christ fills up the meaning of all of history, whatever happens today, good or bad, has meaning. It finds its meaning in who Christ is, what Christ has done for His people, and who I am in him. It also means that whatever happens today is within the scope of Jesus working to bring history to its ultimate conclusion. It may not look pretty today. It may be filled with sorrow and a temporary sense of senselessness. But it will not always be. The One who took on flesh in the fullness of time is the consummate Alpha and Omega. Time and its history find their meaning in Jesus. That's real hope... in the Fullness of Time.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Vos: Infinite Care in the Revelation of Our Salvation

The amazing thing about the following statement is that Vos actually said it. The prefatory note says this about the occasion of Vos's Inaugural Address at Princeton: "The Rev. Geerhardus Vos was elected Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary at the spring meeting of the Board of Directors, 1893, and assumed the duties of the chair provisionally from September, 1893. His formal induction into the chair took place on Tuesday, May 8, 1894, at 12 o'clock, in the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton."

1894. As James Dennison has pointed out, even at Princeton "the morass of liberal and radical biblical theology was evident not only to the more astute among them, but to the "man in the pew." By the last decade of the nineteenth century, so-called biblical theology of the critical stripe had eviscerated the theology from the Bible."

So when Vos takes aim at dispensing with "objective knowledge", he faces those who were quite adept in the "dispensive" arts:  

"...true religion cannot dispense with a solid basis of objective knowledge of the truth. There is no better means of silencing the supercilious cant that right believing is of small importance in the matter of religion, than by showing what infinite care our Father in heaven has taken to reveal unto us, in the utmost perfection, the knowledge of what He is and does for our salvation." Geerhardus Vos, "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline"; Vos's Inaugural Address as Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered May 8, 1894

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peters: "The local assembly and the individual believer belong organically together."

One of the implications of the continuity of church ministry down through the centuries is a very real connection to the original ministry of the apostles. But one of the characteristics that has been lost in recent times is the centrality of the local church and the corporate nature of gospel ministry.

In "A Biblical Theology of Missions", George Peters makes the case from 2 Corinthians 8 and Philippians 2, and even as the priesthood of the believer as a fundamental truth of Scripture is to be maintained, there is no *authoritative" autonomy of the individual believer in the ministry of the gospel. Or, drawing upon an analogy from the legendary history of the Lone Star State, the Bible knows of no lone ranger cowboys in the work of the gospel.

So Peters:

"We must be careful...not to..put the congregation as an organization between Christ and the individual believer in such a manner that it destroys the precious doctrine of the personal relationship and individual priesthood of the believer. The Christ-church-individual relationship is not a salvation relationship, as indicated before; it is an authority relationship and refers to service rather than salvation. But neither must the individual priesthood of the believer be elevated above the church as the mystic body of Christ or local congregation of believers. One danger is as perilous as the other.

"We have reached here another one of the New Testament’s seeming paradoxes where only the spiritual mind can deliver us from contradictions and frustrations. The local assembly and the individual believer belong organically together, and they must function harmoniously if the full biblical truth is to be manifested. While there is governmental autonomy of the local church, there is no such governmental autonomy of the individual believer. Neither is there governmental autonomy of the individual missionary when it relates to his service.

"The missionary is always a sent one and remains under authority of the church or church-delegated agency. He is always only a representative of authority, never an authority in himself. The authority of Christ seems to be delegated and transferred to the local congregation of believers. No one lives unto himself nor is anyone a law or authority unto himself.

"Thus, while the call of Christ comes directly to the individual and there is a sending forth by Christ Himself, a spiritual church will also sense the call either directly or indirectly. And, a humble and spiritually minded individual will gladly submit to the authoritive commissioning by the local assembly as the representative body of Christ and sustain a responsible relationship to the sending authority." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, pp. 222-223

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Vos: The cross and resurrection "would speak even if left to speak for themselves"

In his Inaugural Address at Princeton, Vos makes the case that Biblical Theology is an exegetical enterprise. It is inherently tied to the text of Scripture and arises from the text itself. He argues that Biblical Theology follows the progress of revelation, chronologically and organically, from Genesis to Revelation. 

Along the way, Vos makes one of those earth-shattering, astounding, observations regarding God's supernatural, salvific acts of redemption in history: the Exodus, the cross, and Christ's resurrection are self-revelatory; better yet, self-interpreting.

"The first feature characteristic of supernatural revelation is its *historical progress*. God has not communicated to us the knowledge of the truth as it appears in the calm light of eternity to His own timeless vision. He has not given it in the form of abstract propositions logically correlated and systematized. The simple fact that it is the task of Systematic Theology to reproduce revealed truth in such form, shows that it does not possess this form from the beginning.

"The self-revelation of God is a work covering ages, proceeding in a sequence of revealing words and acts, appearing in a long perspective of time....Revelation is not an isolated act of God, existing without connection with all the other divine acts of supernatural character. It constitutes a part of that great process of the new creation through which the present universe as an organic whole shall be redeemed from the consequences of sin and restored to its ideal state, which it had originally in the intention of God.
"Now, this new creation, in the objective, universal sense, is not something completed by a single act all at once, but is a history with its own law of organic development..the disclosure of truth in general follows the course of the history of redemption.
"We now must add that in not a few cases revelation is identified with history. Besides making use of words, God has also employed acts to reveal great principles of truth. It is not so much the prophetic visions or miracles in the narrower sense that we think of in this connection. We refer more specially to those great, supernatural, history-making acts of which we have examples in the redemption of the covenant-people from Egypt, or in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
"In these cases the history itself forms a part of revelation. There is a self-disclosure of God in such acts. They would speak even if left to speak for themselves. Forming part of history, these revealing acts necessarily assume historical relations among themselves, and succeed one another according to a well-defined principle of historical sequence.
"Furthermore, we observe that this system of revelation-acts is not interpolated into the larger system of biblical history after a fanciful and mechanical fashion. The relation between the two systems is vital and organic. These miraculous interferences of God to which we ascribe a revealing character, furnish the great joints and ligaments by which the whole framework of sacred history is held together, and its entire structure determined.
"God's saving deeds mark the critical epochs of history, and as such, have continued to shape its course for centuries after their occurrence."

Having made the argument that God's great acts of redemption are themselves revelation and belong to the work of the Bible expositor, Vos then summarizes his definition of Biblical Theology, a discipline, he argues that belongs to the realm of exegesis:

"Biblical Theology...is that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God in its historic continuity...Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity." - Geerhardus Vos, "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline"; Vos's Inaugural Address as Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered May 8, 1894 (http://www.biblicaltheology.org/ibt.pdf).

The great salvation acts of God in history, especially those of the Christ Event (Christ's incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension/exaltation), are interconnected with everything else in his supernatural revelation we call the Bible. No text in the Bible is isolated or arbitrary. No text exists for its own sake, but for the ongoing progression of the one story of the Bible, that of the Person and work of Jesus.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Peters: "The church and the individual missionary become bound"

Continuing to make my way through Peters' "A Biblical Theology of Mission", I'm struck by the (exegetical) strength of his argument for what he says is "the centrality of the church" in missions. Most poignant are his comments regarding the laying on of hands.

Laying on of hands in the Old Testament had a variety of applications. But almost all of the applications involved any one of three things: transference (usually of guilt - see the Day of Atonement goat - or authority - see Moses and Joshua), blessing, and sacrifice (including setting aside). When we get to the New Testament, all three of these concepts are bound up together in the laying on of hands.

This biblical theology of the laying on of hands sits behind George Peters' comments regarding the laying on of hands and the missionary:

"The biblical rite of laying on of hands is a symbol of deep spiritual and soteriological significance. In relation to ordination, it is an event of serious consequence to the church as well as to the recipient. In this relationship the ordinance points at least in two directions. On the one hand, it speaks of the priority and authority of the church as the mediating sending agency of God. It presents the church as the responsible missionary body assuming her position and place in missions under the authority of Christ.

On the other hand, the rite speaks of authentication, identification, and the creation of a representative by delegation. By this rite the church is publicly authenticating the call of God; she is constituting a rightful and responsible representative, and she is declaring her identification with the representative in his call and ministry. In the person of the ordained individual, the church by substitution goes forth into the ministry.

By the laying on of hands, the church and the individual missionary become bound in a bond of common purpose and mutual responsibility. It is thus not only a privilege and service; it is also the exercise of an authority and the acceptance of a tremendous responsibility. The identification of the church with the sent-forth representative is inclusive doctrinally, spiritually, physically and materially. It is the constituting of a rightful representative who will be able and who is responsible to function as a representative of the church."

The church, therefore, by the laying on of hands, declares herself ready to stand by and make such representation possible. This should include the prayers and the finances required for such a representative ministry."

Peters recognized the implications of what he was saying:

"It is my solid conviction that the proper exercise of this biblical principle by the churches would do more to boost the morale of our missionaries and the flow of missionary candidates than many other factors combined. Should our young people realize that not only does “my church go with me, but my church goes in my person, stands with me, prays with me, sacrifices with me, and underwrites my support,” the challenge would become inescapable. Here is the church’s real opportunity, responsibility and challenge to herself and to the young people. Laying on of hands is not a favor we extend, but a divine authority we exercise and a responsibility we assume. A church should think soberly before it performs the act." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, pp. 221-222

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vos: "The life above possesses for the believer the highest kind of actuality."

“Man belongs to two spheres. And Scripture not only teaches that these two spheres are distinct, it also teaches what estimate of relative importance ought to be placed upon them. Heaven is the primordial, earth the second­ary creation.

In heaven are the supreme realities; what surrounds us here below is a copy and shadow of the celestial things. Because the relation between the two spheres is positive, and not negative, not mutually repul­sive, heavenly-mindedness can never give rise to neglect of the duties pertaining to the present life. It is the ordinance and will of God, that not apart from, but on the basis of, and in contact with, the earthly sphere man shall work out his heavenly destiny.

Still the lower may never supplant the higher in our affections. In the heart of man time calls for eternity, earth for heaven. He must, if normal, seek the things above, as the flower’s face is attracted by the sun, and the water-courses are drawn to the ocean.

Heavenly-mindedness, so far from blunting or killing the natural desires, produces in the believer a finer organization, with more delicate sensibilities, larger capacities, a stronger pulse of life. It does not spell impoverishment, but enrichment of nature.

The spirit of the entire epistle (of Hebrews) shows this. The use of the words ‘city’ and ‘country’ is evidence of it. These are terms that stand for the accu­mulation, the efflorescence, the intensive enjoyment of values.

Nor should we overlook the social note in the representation. A perfect communion in a perfect society is promised. In the city of the living God believ­ers are joined to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and mingle with the spirits of just men made perfect.

And all this faith recognizes. It does not first need the storms and stress that invade to quicken its desire for such things. Being the sum and substance of all the positive gifts of God to us in their highest form, heaven is of itself able to evoke in our hearts positive love, such absorbing love as can render us at times forgetful of the earthly strife. In such moments the tran­scendent beauty of the other shore and the irresistible current of our deepest life lift us above every regard of wind or wave. We know that through weather fair or foul our ship is bound straight for its eternal port.

Next to the positiveness of its object the high degree of actuality in the working of this grace should be considered. Through the faith of heavenly-mindedness the things above reveal themselves to the believer, are present with him, and communicate themselves to him.

Though as yet a pilgrim, the Christian is never wholly separated from the land of promise. His tents are pitched in close view of the city of God. Heaven is present to the believer’s experience in no less real a sense than Canaan with its fair hills and valleys lay close to the vision of Abraham. He walks in the light of the heav­enly world and is made acquainted with the kindred spirits inhabiting it.

And since the word ‘actual’ in its literal sense means ‘that which works’, the life above possesses for the believer the highest kind of actuality. He is given to taste the powers of the world to come, as Abraham breathed the air of Canaan, and was refreshed by the dews descending on its fields. The roots of the Christian’s life are fed from those rich and perennial springs that lie deep in the recesses of converse (engagement; crb) with God, where prayers ascend and divine graces descend, so that after each season of tryst he issues, a new man, from the secrecy of his tent.” – Geerhardus VosGrace and Glory, pp. 112, 113.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The problem of "cheap law"

I once had a Christian leader tell me that the biggest issue in our churches today is a failure to preach obedience. Our churches, he told me, are full of people who are not living as if they are Christians. So they need for us to dogmatically and emphatically preach ethics and morality. And that was his response to my suggestion that our churches and pulpits need more gospel.

So the millenia-old debate continues. Here are some extended quotes from an excellent post on law vs. gospel by Tullian Tchividjian over at the Gospel Coalition's blog:

"Lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it."

"We’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us."

Quoting Jono Linebaugh: "'God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.'"

"Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not 'how much I’ve improved over the years', I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24).'"

"Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. 'Love the Lord with all your heart' becomes 'try to love God more than sports.' 'Be perfect' gets cheapened into 'do your best.'"

"It’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not 'cheap grace' but 'cheap law'—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus."

The power of life transformation is not in the law. The only real help we can provide anyone who is beaten down and beset by sin is in the gospel. The only real help we can provide ourselves and our sheep day in and day out is in Christ and His Good News. We can't. He did. He does. He will. That's our hope. That's true help for moral ineptitude in the church.

Read the whole thing here: Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jesus is An Army of One

The LORD’s single-handed incarnational judgment and salvation

Exodus 14:
“The LORD will fight for you.”

“I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh”
“The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh”
“I will receive glory through Pharaoh”

The Angel of God moved and went behind Israel, coming between the Egyptian and Israelite forces
The LORD drove the sea back
The LORD looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud
The LORD threw them into confusion
The LORD caused their chariot wheels to swerve
The LORD made them drive with difficulty.

“Yahweh is fighting for Israel against Egypt!”

The LORD threw the Egyptians into the sea
The LORD saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians
The LORD used great power against the Egyptians

Jude 5:
Jesus first saved a people out of Egypt.

Jesus is An Army of One.
Jesus not only fought the Egyptians single-handedly on the night of the Passover and delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (as The Angel of God, the second person of the Godhead Pre-Incarnate), he finished and completed the deliverance of His people in the cross and resurrection. Against the serpent. Against the forces of evil. Against sin. Against death. Jesus was and is An Army of One.

It's true. The God of angel armies is always by my side (thank you Chris Tomlin). It's also very true that Emmanuel *is* an Angel Army always by my side. We are an Exodus people, delivered from Egypt and headed to Canaan via the single-handed work of our Savior, Deliverer, Warrior. This is the gospel of Exodus 14.

Jesus was, has been, still is, and ever will be an Army of One.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Bible is a missionary book

Cross-cultural church planting necessitates getting the Word right. This means church-planting missionaries must have the kind of Word skills necessary for populating hard-to-get-to places with kingdom people. Missiology must be married to theology so that the worker being ekballoed (Greek word for propelled, Matthew 9:38) into Christ’s harvest is fully equipped to do the work of church planting.

This marriage of mission and theology is based on the pattern established in the Scriptures. The Bible itself is a missionary book. “The Bible is not a book about theology as such, but rather, a record of theology in mission—God in action in behalf of the salvation of mankind.”[1] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 9). Thus, the community brought to life by the Spirit through the missionary Scriptures has “mission” in its DNA. Ambassadors who represent their King are brought together in community in order to reproduce themselves through proclamation. Because the Bible and its people are inherently tied to the mission of God in the world, “the church is in a missionary situation everywhere.”[2] (Lesslie Newbigin, The Theology of the Christian Mission, p. xi)

The Scriptures themselves were inspired “in mission”. George Peters, in A Biblical Theology of Missions, points out that the Bible and the theology embedded in it flow out of missionary endeavor:

“The missionary theology of the New Testament (outside of the gospels) is not difficult to establish. We need only remind ourselves of the fact that the book of Acts is the authentic missionary record of the apostles and the early church and that all epistles were written to churches established through missionary endeavors. Were Christianity not a missionary religion and had the apostles not been missionaries, we would have no book of Acts and no epistles. With the exception of Matthew, even the gospels were written to missionary churches. The New Testament is a missionary book in address, content, spirit and design. This is a simple fact but it also is a fact of reality and profound significance. The New Testament is theology in motion more than it is theology in reason and concept. It is ‘missionary theology.’

“To establish the theology of missions in the New Testament one simply accepts the New Testament for what it is. No reader can remain untouched by its missionary thrust and design. There is perhaps little theology of missions as such in the New Testament because it is in its totality a missionary theology, the theology of a group of missionaries and a theology in missionary movement. Thus it does not present a theology of missions; it is a missionary theology.”[3] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 131)

Because the Bible is missionary, exposition of the Word is at the heart of church planting. Exposition gets at “what the Word is saying” as the foundation for properly understanding the text and its gospel message. Expository teaching and preaching is “in mission” because its context is the proclamation of the Word by the gathered community “in mission”. The apostle Paul believed exposition and its resulting theology (“knowledge of the truth”) was indispensable to church planting in mission (Colossians 1:10, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:25). Without a proper understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish, church planting is impossible.

(from Exposition in Mission, Ekballo magazine, September 2013, p. 20-22)

[1] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 9
[2] Newbigin, L. (1961). The Theology of the Christian Mission. (G. Anderson, Ed.) Nashville, TN: Abingdon. p. xi
[3] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 131

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Gentry and Wellum: Unlike previous covenants, Christ's relationship with his people has changed

Over at the Gospel Coalition blog, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have responded to reviews from Doug Moo, Darrell Bock, and Michael Horton regarding their book, Kingdom Through Covenant. This response provides Gentry and Wellum opportunity to once again highlight the heart of the disagreements over the New Covenant: the uniqueness of the New Covenant in its own right, especially in Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and types.

Gentry and Wellum:

"...in the progress of the covenants, Christ is the fulfillment of all the previous covenant mediators. He comes as the last Adam, the true son of Abraham, the true Israel, and David's greater Son. However, unlike the previous covenants, the relationship with his people has been transformed.

"...in the new covenant, those in union with Christ and thus participants in the new covenant are people of faith, born of the Spirit. There is no evidence that one is a member of the new covenant apart from repenting of sin and believing the gospel. Thus when it comes to the covenant communities, namely Israel and the church, under their respective covenants, the nature of the communities is not the same. No doubt this is an argument that includes typological structures, but it is grounded in a larger argument about how the covenants interrelate to each other, unfold, and find their telos in Christ.
" Gentry and Wellum, 'Kingdom through Covenant' Authors Respond to Bock, Moo, Horton

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Unfolding Revelation as Christ's Mission

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He is in its DNA. He himself said so. In Luke 24, Christ chides and comforts disciples struggling in the aftermath of his death and resurrection with the declaration that all of the Old Testament is about him. It's as if, in the progressive unfolding of God's self-revelation, Christ arises from and walks out of the Old Testament pages onto the Grand Stage of history on a mission to redeem for himself His people.

Christ is so intertwined with the Old Testament story, George Peters says, "Jesus Christ constantly related Himself, His message and His mission to the Old Testament. He did not contradict or destroy but modified, enriched, expanded, and in many ways transformed and glorified the Old Testament." (Peters, A Biblical Theology of Mission, p. 83)

The Christocentricity of the inspired text cannot be separated from Christ's salvific mission to fill the earth with his image bearers. When God the Second Person pierced and invaded the silence of the garden with "Adam, where are you?", his mission to reconcile all things to himself had begun. This mission is articulated in the great first promise, what is known as the protevangelium, in Genesis 3:15. And from this promise emerges the grand storyline of redemption that courses through the veins of the Old Testament.

Again, George Peters is helpful:

"The universality of the protevangelium is basic to Old Testament revelation. It is the soteriological leitmotif (dominant, unifying, all-inclusive thrust and intent) and hermeneutical principle governing Old Testament interpretation. It cannot be revoked or modified, for it rests on the unconditional 'I will' of the eternal God in whom there is no variableness. It becomes the guiding star throughout history and prophecy of the Old Testament until it finds its fulfillment in Christ, the seed of the woman.

"The leitmotif gives coherence to the Bible, integrates it into a progressive structure, gives it direction and purpose as a whole, and clarifies the meaning of each individual section and part. Only as the leitmotif is grasped clearly and applied consistently does the Old Testament yield its rich and true fruitage to the reader." (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 86)

Trace the Genesis 3:15 leitmotif through the unfolding revelation of the Old Testament and you will trace Christ's mission to win a kingdom for himself, a kingdom from all people groups in every corner of the globe. God's activity in the Old Testament is missional activity. The divine orchestration of the drama from Abraham to David to Daniel culminates in the heaven-to-earth mission of Emmanuel, come to save His people from their sins. 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The incarnation-cross-resurrection event: Enthroned Grace enters human life

Our salvation is a Person. The incarnation of Christ assured the realization of our salvation in real time and space. All of life's meaning, indeed the church's hope and transformation, is dependent on Christ taking on flesh to win salvation for us in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. But it is not simply an objective reality "to be wondered at". Christ invades our space and transforms us, uniting us to himself and gathering us to his church. This is the lifeblood of the gospel we preach.

Thus, George Peters:

"The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is crucial to the interpretation of history. It is focal in biblical revelation. Here the Old and New Testaments merge and divide. This event is central to the divine history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte). Here promise exchanges for fulfillment—shadow gives way to reality—sin is judged—forgiveness is offered. Here wrath is propitiated, grace is enthroned, death is defeated, and life and immortality come to light.

"...The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is the cosmic divide that separates darkness from light, the temporal from the eternal, the carnal from the spiritual, death from immortality, perdition from life, condemnation from presence, and hell from heaven. The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is the fountain and foundation of the salvation of God, the only hope for mankind.

"It is the pinnacle of Christ’s self-giving love for mankind. It is a spectacle to the world, a stumbling block to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, a rock of offense to the disobedient, and a mystery to the angels. It is the manifestation of the holiness and righteousness of God in relation to sin, and the language of the love of God in relation to the guilt and lostness of the sinner.

"In the incarnation-cross-resurrection event, holiness, righteousness and love blend in beautiful harmony for the glory of God and the welfare of man, bringing about salvation and making propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, restoration and glorification divine realities and assuring their eventual realization.

"...The salvation of God is rooted in eternity and actualized in time. Eternity with its spiritual glory, fullness and blessings is invading time and humanity. Salvation for man is here now. God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit enters human life. He is entering me. Salvation is not merely an objective reality to be wondered at, a theological dictum to be debated about, a philosophical theory to be speculated about—not even merely a marvelous subject to be preached about.

"It is a divine reality entering the human being to transform his fundamental disposition, cleanse him from sin and unrighteousness, redeem him from bondage and corruption, impart to him the nature of God, recreate in him the image of Christ, make him a child of God, a member of the household of God, and qualify him through the gift of the Holy Spirit to live a life of true discipleship in the midst of a world almost destitute of the consciousness of God and eternity.

"Salvation is not a detached gift of God in some gracious and miraculous way bestowed upon man. Salvation is Christ, and to experience salvation is to experience Christ. Salvation is person-centered. It is Christ-identification. It is not the experience of something, but rather, the experience of Someone. The Bible does not teach that Christ has salvation and dispenses it like a benevolent master giving gifts to his servants who obey him. Christ is our salvation and gives Himself to us as our salvation.

"Salvation is not a bundle of costly gifts which the Lord distributes freely and from which we select whatever we like or find. It is rather the experience of a Person in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. Thus in Christ I am becoming the recipient of the fullness of God. He is our life; He is our strength; He is our peace; He is our joy; He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Jesus Christ Himself is the content of our salvation.

"...Christianity is not primarily a philosophy of religion, a way of life, or a set of beliefs and practices. It is a Person, and the experience of salvation is the experience of the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—not a gift from Him, or a part of Him. He can neither be divided in Himself nor separated from His salvation." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 62-65

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Kingdom where the Light is Always On

(Reposted from October 25, 2005) It's always interesting to read the news reports, blog posts, Facebook updates, and tweets regarding the American church and her "position" on Halloween. Do we, or don't we? 

An overlooked alternative to what I think tends to be isolationist abstention (self-righteous in some instances) is participation in trick or treating itself. Halloween is mandatory at our house. The last thing our block needs is a shuttered house that, contrary to what can be a puffy-chested "we make sure we're not home that night" self-righteousness that somehow thinks it is making a statement against Satan, sends the message that our house is the last place to turn to for help in time of need. Halloween night, our house is wide-open with smiles AND candy galore. Our kids are dressed to make a candy haul (of course, in time, they'll regret the pix of them wearing Cincinnati Bengals regalia) because this is the one night of the year my neighbor's societally-induced walls are down and I want them to know I'm up the street if they need me.

Yeah... I've heard all of the "pagan" reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually particpating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the "Witch's League of Public Awareness" the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious, IMHO. I can just as easily make the case from history that my daughter is participating in a historically Christian event rooted in Roman Catholic customs tied to "All Souls Day": "It started with two early European customs called "mumming" and "souling," which merged into the lighthearted practice we know today. "Mummers" were mischievous revelers who dressed in outlandish costumes and demanded payment to restrain themselves. During the same time of year, families baked sweet cakes, or "soul cakes," and gave them to family members and neighbors in exchange for prayers for relatives who had died."

The “mumming” on “All Souls Day” was a church event. Apparently, the church believed that one can do Halloween without participating in the pagan event. Halloween is as much historically a church event as pagan... it depends on what you as a person decide you want to tie it to. The "Christian" roots of Halloween are not in attempts to Christianize a pagan festival, but are squarely rooted in vigil observances tied to the Catholic "All Hallows Day" that took place the night before. Hallow's Eve is a Christian designation for that church event which was held the day before All Soul's Day, so the name itself is Christian in origin. Our Halloweening has more "root" in the religious (which does include going door to door asking for food in return for a prayer for the dead the next day... it was called "Souling") than it does in paganism, albeit praying for the dead - a church event - could itself be tied to the pagan... but... I digress. Evangelicals today who attempt to "reclaim" Halloween are doing precisely what the Catholic church has been doing for hundreds of years in All Hallows Day.

Halloween is not "Satan's holiday", as some evangelicals are fond of calling it. "Satan's holiday" is every day and has been since Adam abdicated his dominion. It is especially so when Satan can get Christians in a tither about one night a year, and make nary a peep about 364 nights of cheating on taxes, cheating on wives, screaming at kids, gossipping, unneighborly spitefulness... all as much "from darkness" (or more) as putting on a Tweety Bird costume and asking neighbors for Butterfingers.

And what of the alternative? One of the most important events of Christian history took place on Halloween: the recovery of the gospel. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted ("nailed" is pure Hollywood) his 95 gripes about indulgences on the bulletin board at the Wittenberg church, knowing parishioners would be there later that night for their All Hallows vigil and related activities. Certainly, Reformation Day (October 31) festivities are a wonderful alternative that provide the opportunity to showcase Christ and the proclamation of His story. I've often wondered why Reformation Day isn't celebrated more, given that Christ is at the heart of an event that turned the world upside down. But for too many, at the expense of being salt and light, Reformation Day "dress up" and "fellowship" has been an "isolationist" alternative to Halloween. As if the kingdom is somehow advanced and culture transformed by our Christianized "baptism" of the Halloween event.

We're missing the bigger picture, I think. I've come to believe that our participation in Halloween is not about reclaiming. It's about reconciliation. We live in a fractured society. Broken homes mean broken neighborhoods. Urban sprawl not only means driving a half hour to church or work, but it also means I no longer spend much time over the back fence. Homes go up for sale, are occupied, then sold again, and I can't even remember the neighbor's first name. It's not that I have no desire to be the good neighbor. Our culture wants it that way... likes it that way. Space is a prized commodity.

Whether we "fundymentalists" like it or not, Halloween is the one night a year when the walls come down and the space is open for all comers. Americans drop the barriers on Halloween night. It is the one night a year I am welcome on my neighbor's porch no questions asked. I insist on taking my daughter and son round the block and over the back fence. While it's true one can be a good neighbor at all times of the year, it's not true that being a good neighbor is welcome at all times of the year. Halloween is the one night a year, without forcing myself into an unwelcome intrusion of space, I can shake a hand, exchange pleasantries, and if possible... even for that brief moment, let the neighbor know at least one guy on the block cares about who they are and is glad to be their neighbor. It is the one night that I know they will be at my door wide open exchanging similar pleasantries. Halloween is our culture's built-in block party and as a lesser light of The Light on a hill, I insist on being part of it.

I hear some of my fellow Christians gush in that "spiritual sort of way" about the one place they won't be on Halloween night: home. And if they are home, the light will most certainly be "off". What kind of message does it send to the rest of the neighborhood? How is that counter-culture? Our fractured society needs "homes" where the porch light is always blazing. Of all the houses on the block, mine should be the one that the neighbors know is a welcome center. If we had a sniper shooting on our block, I want my house to be "grief central". We have a domestic disturbance home on the block. Come Halloween, Luke and Noelle in their get-ups will be my ticket into a shuttered home.

One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blake White: "We cannot approach the Old Testament as if the New Testament had not been written"

"I take 2 Corinthians 1:20 literally: 'For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.' (NIV) I am advocating a 'Christotelic' hermeneutic.

Peter Enns notes, 'To read the OT 'Christotelicly' is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow the end (telos) to which the OT story is heading; in other words, to read the OT in light of the exclamation point of the history of revelation, the death and resurrection of Christ.'

The New Testament provides God-breathed commentary on what the Old Testament means. We must interpret the Old Testament as Christian disciples. For Christian interpreters, we cannot approach the Old Testament as if the New Testament had not been written." -- Blake White, The Abrahamic Promises in Galatians, p. 12

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Christocentric Mission: "'what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.'"

What is it we take to the world? Of course, it is the gospel. Who Christ is, what Christ has done for his people, what Christ has done in and through his people, AND what He offers those who do not know him is the essence of the gospel message. But those *facts* are much more than data points in a conversation or sermon. Those facts arise from a Person. We take to the world a Person by means of those facts. Charles Spurgeon summed up the Person and His Mission best 154 years ago standing in front of a crowd at a YMCA:

“What is the faith? Strange to say, the faith of Christians is a person. Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person.

"If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’

"Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus. The Apostle preached doctrine; but the doctrine was Christ: he preached practice; but the practice was all in Christ. There is no summary of the faith of a Christian that can compass all he believes, except that word Christ; and that is the alpha and omega of our creed, that is the first and the last rule of our practice - Christ, even Christ crucified.

"To spread the faith, then, is to spread the knowledge of Christ crucified. It is, in fact, to bring men, through the agency of God's Spirit, to feel their need of Christ, to seek Christ, to believe in Christ, to love Christ, and then to live for Christ.

"We cannot propagate the faith, unless it be in the heart. Our faith does not grow in men's heads; it is here it grows, in the inmost soul. A faith which merely concerns the brain, and deals with dull, cold logic, may be the faith of the many, but it is not the faith of God's elect. That faith is a living thing - nay, it is life; it is Christ, and 'Christ is the way, the truth, and the life'.

"The faith is never spread unless Christ is begotten in our hearts, the hope of glory; unless he reigns there supreme, Lord paramount of all.” -- Charles Spurgeon, De Propaganda Fide, Lecture at the YMCA, January 1859

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Christ as "content" and "interpretation": "The Old Testament reveals Christ while He unveils it."

"Where did Christ find His missionary idea? How was His mind molded into a missionary mind? Was it intuitive or scriptural? Did He learn it from the Old Testament? Was it special illumination?

"It is a fact that Christ claimed to have come to fulfill the Old Testament. It was His Bible, His guide, and His stay. He used it richly; He preached it freely; He honored it humbly; He believed it firmly. The Old Testament was for Him the very Word of God written. While He was its heart and content and all Scripture pointed to Him, He was also its true Interpreter. Indeed, the Old Testament reveals Christ while He unveils it. He is both its content and interpretation.

"But it is also true that He found not only His major theological concepts here but also the scope of God’s redemptive plan. The latter was universalistic and included the totality of mankind, not merely a nation. This is the thesis we need to establish, for it seems strange to make such a claim for the Old Testament. However, even the Old Testament does not fully disclose the secret of Christ’s missionary mind and purpose.

"It is evident to every reader of the gospel records that Christ lived in a unique God-consciousness and self-consciousness. He knew Himself to be the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father. He walked and labored in the full consciousness of having been sent into the world, of having entered the earthly realm from a higher realm. He had come here on a very specific mission, a mission essential to the consummation of the eternal purpose of God." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 53

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Peters: Christ did not come to be the perfect pattern for life

"Did Christ come into the world to give mankind a perfect pattern of life? Did He live to declare to man the way of God? Did Christ come to manifest the Father by living and to unveil Him by teaching? To all these questions we must give an affirmative answer. Yes, Christ is our pattern; He is the way; He is the supreme, perfect and final image and manifestation of the Father.

"However, in all of these ministries He would only quantitatively distinguish Himself from the prophets of old. They, too, upheld ideals in the way of God and unveiled God in His person and purpose before man. As significant and marvelous as the contributions of Christ are in these areas, He is not absolutely unique in this field. This, therefore, neither fully explains nor justifies the great fact of incarnation. Neither does the New Testament make this central to His coming.

"John the Baptist focuses the thrust of the New Testament when he points to Christ and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” This is in keeping with the declared purpose of our Lord when He says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Explicitly, he tells us that the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (Jn 1:29; 10:11; Mk 10:45).

"Here is the real purpose of the coming of Christ. Here is the heart of the incarnation. Christ Jesus came to deal effectively with sin, to become the atonement for sin, the liquidator of man’s guilt, as well as the Conqueror and Annihilator of sin. That He did so is objectively evident in His resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father. Subjectively it is convincing in the experience of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the power of sin of believers in Him who learn to appropriate His merits and power." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (pp. 45–46)

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Bracketology of Matthew

The stage has been set. The brackets have been expended. Bracketology is winding down. The brackets have served their purposes. There will be a final conclusion. The American college basketball season will draw to a close.

But there is a different kind of bracketology employed by biblical writers. And this kind of bracketology points us to mission in the New Covenant. The bracketology of Matthew. This bracketology expresses the mission of Jesus. An explanation is in order (and jumping back to English 101 for most of us).

We use brackets all the time. We use brackets in our sentences to set off a thought or phrase. Some moms use two gates in their home to bracket off a particular room to confine a toddler to one play-safe room. Some of us need the bowling rails as brackets to confine our bowling balls to the lane, rather than the gutters. Brackets are used to contain something of value to a singular unit, space, thought, etc.

Literature has its brackets. We call them chapters and paragraphs, using indentation, capitalization, and spacing to confine thoughts and ideas and action to singular "units". This kind of organizing helps make text easier to understand. The literature of the Bible has its own "bracketology", albeit of a different kind.

Our English Bibles are organized into sections called chapters and verses. The Bible wasn't always organized this way. The writers of the Bible had their own way of organizing the text so that it was meaningful to the original audiences who heard the Bible read in the clan meetings, the synagogue, the tabernacle, or temple. Usually this involved repeating words or phrases or thoughts.

The book of Genesis is a popular example. The book of Genesis is marked off in sections by use of the word "generations". This word is repeated throughout the book of Genesis as Moses gave literary and theological structure to his writing. If one includes Genesis 1:1 (the word "beginning" carries the same thought), there are 12 of these words throughout Genesis (1:1, 2:4 (records), 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, and 37:2. The use of "generations" (Hebrew: toledot) are the brackets used by the author Moses to organize the book.

These kinds of literary devices are all over the Scripture. They are not hidden. We miss them simply because we are not ancient Hebrew worshipers used to following the organization of the Scriptures this way. (Linguists and theologians calls these literary markers "inclusios".) Repetition in our Bibles is a big deal. Repetition, parallelism, and literary markers (brackets or inclusios) were used to organize the Bible in a meaningful way for the ancient cultures. A good habit for any Bible student is to make note of the repetitions and parallels as the Bible is read. It's a quick way of discerning what was important to the biblical author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit.

This parallelism begins and ends Christ's commissioning of the disciples found in Matthew. Do you see it?

Jesus Christ's "Missionary Discourse" is bracketed off from preceding and succeeding sections in the book of Matthew. The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we're calling "brackets") to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church in the New Covenant, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.

In order to understand what the apostle Matthew was highlighting for the early church, a very brief bracketology lesson is in order. These repetitive brackets which begin and end Bible passages are part and parcel to Hebrew parallelism. This parallelism is not only a feature of Hebrew poetry, but all manner of ancient Hebrew writing, prose included (if you're interested in knowing more about Hebrew parallelism, go here and here and here and here, or if you're really bent on finding out more, go here; keep in mind, this kind of parallelism is not exclusive to Hebrew poetry). When one finds a repeated sentence, thought, or sometimes imagery at the top and bottom of a Scripture passage, not only is one probably dealing with parallelism, but also the brackets (inclusios).

Not only do these markers help organize passages of Scripture, they carry meaning. Embedded in these markers are the theology, eschatology, and worldview of the inspired writers of the Scriptures. These "brackets" point to the intention of the author, highlighting "what it is" he wants the original audience to hear and understand. Identifying the parallelism (in similarity or contrast) at the top and bottom of a passage goes a long way in identifying the what the biblical writer wanted his original audience to know, understand, believe, and/or do. It also goes a long way in helping us rightly interpret the Scriptures by keeping thoughts, ideas, events, and instructions in their proper context.

One such place is in the great missionary passage found in the book of Matthew, beginning in chapter 9 verse 35 and ending in chapter 11 verse 1. This so-called missionary passage in Matthew 9:35-11:1 picks up on a theme of proclaiming gospel and kingdom begun by Matthew in 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galillee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness among the people."(HCSB)

Matthew presents Jesus as the expected but unexpected Messiah-King who has come to save his people from their sins and inaugurate His (upside-down) kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Christ comes on mission, but his mission is not what Israel expected of its Messiah. Christ comes "teaching" and "preaching" the "good news of the kingdom." This mission is not to overthrow Rome, but to gather a people to Himself among whom He will dwell as their king. This Messiah-King comes "healing", reversing the curse and ushering in a New Creation.

In chapter 9, we see Matthew's summary statement of Christ's mission repeated as an introduction to a new section of Matthew. Verse 35: "Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." (HCSB) First century Christians hearing Matthew's epistle in their gathering would have perked up their ears on hearing this. They've heard this already from Matthew, in 4:23. The repetition here means Matthew is emphasizing a point. And then the theme is repeated again in Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." (HCSB)
What does Matthew want his audience to understand, believe, and do by way of these repetitions or "brackets"?

The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we’re calling “brackets”) to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.

We have previously noted that there are similarities between Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1:

Matthew 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."

Matthew 9:35: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness."

Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns."

Each summary statement notes Christ's preaching and teaching (of the kingdom of God), his healing of the sick (minus a mention in 11:1), and his movement from town to town with His gospel message and ministry. The apostle Matthew uses these summary statements to highlight for the early church to whom he is writing the nature of Christ's ministry as the Unexpected Messiah proclaiming an Upside-Down Kingdom.

It is fair to ask: why are Matthew's "brackets" important? Even more to the point: why bother with the discussion at all? The answer lies in the reason Matthew has placed these literary markers where he has in the overall setting of the book of Matthew. His structure of the text is a major clue for understanding what he intended for the early church to know, believe, and do.

We've already noted that Matthew 9:35 and 11:1 provide the beginning and ending points for what has been called Matthew's "Missionary Discourse". This mission text thus looks like this:

"Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." (Matthew 9:35)

Narrative and discourse (Matthew 9:36-10:42)

"When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." (Matthew 11:1)

What follows the summary statement in Matthew 9:35 is Christ's commission and sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:5, a commission that mimics Christ's mission. Christ's sending (apesteilen) of the disciples is anticipated in the "summoning" of the twelve apostles (apostolon). These Christ sends (apostello) as sheep among wolves just as Christ has done previously and will continue to do throughout the book of Matthew.

All of the elements of those Matthean summary statements (4:23, 9:35, 11:1) are here in the commission of chapter 10. The disciples are to "announce" (preach and teach) the kingdom (vs. 7). They are given authority to heal and cast out demons (vs. 1,8). The disciples are to carry out this activity in the "towns" of the Jewish people in Israel (vs. 5-6). Eventually, they will be bearing witness of Christ to the nations, an indication that their mission will someday include Samaritans and Gentiles (vs. 18). For some of these disciples, the mission will cost them their lives (vs. 16,21). These elements of activity, place, and message inherent to the apostles' mission (healing, proclamation, "towns", kingdom) are themes found in Matthew's summary statements of Christ's mission in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. And the common language being used in these passages means Christ's commission and sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 is parallel to Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1, with Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1 being used as brackets for the entire commissioning section in the great mission chapter (Matthew 10).

Christ's mission becomes the mission of the apostles. The disciples become the answer to the prayer of Matthew 9:38: Pray that the Lord of the harvest ekballo (propel, thrust) workers into His harvest. The Lord of the harvest does precisely that with the apostles in chapter 10, but they will accomplish much more than is first expected. They begin on mission to Israel, but it does not end there. Theirs is a mission that will spread Christ's glory to all nations over the expanse of the globe.

What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world?

Christ sends his disciples on mission, proclaiming the kingdom of gospel of Christ's kingdom.

Matthew's "Missionary Discourse" is bracketed by two summary statements. The structure of this section of his book begins and ends with Christ's proclamation mission of the kingdom. And in between we find Christ commissioning his disciples with the same message. The discourse includes Christ's commission of his disciples, which looks much like Christ's own mission:

“Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions...“Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. 6 Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons." (Matthew 10:5-7)

“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” (Matthew 11:1)

The commission given by Christ matches the summary statements from Matthew regarding Christ's ministry. Christ proclaims. The disciples are to announce. Christ goes to "towns". The disciples go to the towns of the lost sheep of Israel. Christ proclaims the kingdom. The disciples announce "the kingdom of God is near". The brackets of Christ's mission (Matthew 9:35, Matthew 11:1) are pointing to the commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-7). Christ's mission becomes the mission of the disciples to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom in the Person and work of the Messiah-King Jesus.

But so what? What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? What does Matthew's bracketology have to do with our mission?

Here are some takeaways from the Matthew 9:35-11:1 passage:

The brackets in this section of Matthew (9:35 and 11:11) are Matthew's way of making sure that the church to whom he was sending his account of Christ's first advent (his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation) would continue to notice that Christ came into this world on mission. Emmanuel's mission is other-worldly. The "descension" from heaven is the divine activity of Father sending the Son into the world to take on human flesh in order to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God is With Us, comes from heaven bringing heaven with him: the kingdom he is inaugurating is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew's Messiah-King is establishing His kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises through mission.

"Saving his people from their sins" involves missionary activity. Early in the book of Matthew, "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching"… and "preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23). In Matthew 9, the mission is again noted by Matthew: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages…"teaching" and "preaching" the good news of the kingdom." (Matthew 9:35). The movement that began from heaven to earth in the Incarnation of Emmanuel continues toward His people, a harvest (Matthew 9:38). Initially, we find the Messiah in Matthew gathering his people from among Israel (Matthew 4:23; his preaching and teaching is in "the synagogues"). But that mission eventually will include the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15). The mission that began in heaven will encompass the whole earth (Matthew 28:18) and engulf all nations (Matthew 28:19).

Christ's mission has a message. The Son of David's mission to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) is in and of itself Good News. The King's people are being "called to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). This "Light that has Dawned" (Matthew 4:16) continues to preach and teach the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17), fulfilling the Old Testament promises which anticipated his coming (Matthew 1:23, 2:15, 2:23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:56, 27:9). The old order, along with its leaders and oppressive religion, is out. A new day has come, ushered in by a Messiah-King who is establishing His rule and reign among a people with whom he dwells. Absent from the Son of Man is the blaze of glory anticipated in Daniel. Instead, God has condescended himself to man by putting on human flesh and becoming a servant who gives his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Where this message is proclaimed through "preaching" and "teaching", the Messiah-King is establishing a church against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18). The proclamation of who this Messiah-King is, what he has done for His people, and what he calls his people to do is to be taken to every corner of the globe. This is the message of the mission until Emmanuel's kingdom is realized in its fullest measure (Matthew 28:18-20).

Christ's disciples have the same mission as his. This is the thrust of the parallels. It is the heart of Matthew's missionary bracketology. Christ's own mission (Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1) is found in his commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-7). As the disciples mimic their teacher (Matthew 10:24-25), Christ's mission becomes the disciples' mission. Christ sends the disciples on mission with the same activities in the same kinds of places with the same message as He has been doing and proclaiming since the beginning of the book of Matthew (4:23). Thus, Christ's message is the disciples' message. Christ is going to the synagogues in the towns and villages. The disciples too. The Messiah-King is proclaiming the good news of an other-worldly kingdom being established through the salvation of His people from their sins. The disciples too. Whatever Jesus has been doing in preaching and teaching and healing and confronting the demonic activity, the disciples are sent by Jesus to do the same thing. They are to immerse themselves in His mission to Israel (and ultimately, to the ends of the earth). Like teacher, like student. The disciples become participants in the Messiah-King's mission to establish His kingdom among His people.

But this isn't simply mission duplication. It is true that 12 can accomplish more than 1. But that's not what the disciples are to understand, nor is it what the early church is to be seeing in Matthew's words. This is mission transfer. Christ soon will die, rise, and be exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords at the right hand of the Father. The disciples will remain on earth to finish the mission. What the early church must see and what we must see in the commissioning of the disciples is that the disciples are on mission on behalf of the King. The disciples are on mission accomplishing "more" than the King. We get this from the mission summary in Matthew 28. Christ's mission included Gentiles, but his focus throughout much of the book of Matthew is to the Jewish people. In fact, in Matthew 10, when he commissions the 12, he specifically excludes the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). But having inaugurated heaven's kingdom through His sacrificial death, he has no such familial limitations in his command to the disciples in Matthew 28. The mission is to spread over the whole earth to all people groups. Through the disciples, Christ's mission becomes the mission of the church: gathering His people from among all people groups over the entire globe.

There's one other way the brackets and the parallelism in this section highlight Christ's mission as the disciples' mission: eventually this mission will cost the Son of David his life (Matthew 26:28). The disciples too (Matthew 10:21,22). Christ does not send the disciples on a mission that He himself isn't willing to undertake. The disciples, in answer to the mission prayer (Matthew 9:38), are being "ekballoed" (propelled) into Christ's harvest of a kingdom people. But the One who sends is the One who Himself will be "ekballoed" from the harvest (Matthew 21:39,41). The Lord of the Harvest will die for the Harvest. Emmanuel's mission, which began in heaven when the Father sent the Son, culminates in his death to procure for his people salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the inauguration of a New Covenant and kingdom. The Son of Man dies on mission. Christ's death is so integral to his mission from heaven, the early church can do nothing but conclude that without His death, there is no mission.

While the disciples cannot die for the forgiveness of sins, the mission they are given in Matthew 10:5 is embedded with suffering, hardship, and death for the sake of Christ. Mission has been embodied by Christ. And that Pattern is where the disciples and the early church were to find their mission identity. As Christ unpacks for his disciples what it means for the Lord of the harvest to ekballo workers into a harvest of His people, it becomes very clear that the very act of "ekballo" involves suffering and death. "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves...people will hand you over...and flog you...brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name." The disciples and all who follow after them can expect their mission and message and suffering to be like Christ's because they are united to the Lord of the Harvest who was first on mission to gather to himself a people through the proclamation of the gospel.

This is Matthew's missional bracketology. It's not the kind of a bracketology that generates office pools and pizza parties. But it is one that is fueling a generation of Reformed millenials to abandon the white picket fence and two-car garage to run to the fields where a harvest of Christ's people awaits. Christ's mission is the New Covenant mission for the church. New Covenant mission is the church engaging itself in Christ's mission to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. No longer simply to the "towns" of Israel, the New Covenant community proclaims the world over to Jews and Gentiles alike, "Christ's kingdom is here, inaugurated by the blood of the covenant in His death." (Matthew 10:5-7, Matthew 26:28). Christ rules and reigns on his throne and His people are charged with the mission of the proclamation of the gospel to all people groups everywhere.

3 billion people around the world have never heard the good news of Jesus. These 3 billion will be born, live their lives, and die before anyone tells them about Jesus. They are unreached. They have no access to the gospel. And they are unengaged: no church or Christian organization is going to them with the good news of Jesus. Each one of the 3 billion who have never heard of Jesus have a story. Christ's mission is our mission to take the gospel to many of the 3 billion unreached. We are a people of the brackets. Matthew would have us find ourselves standing next to the disciples, hearing Christ say, I'm sending you, the church, as sheep among wolves, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and his kingdom to the ends of the earth. Emmanuel's mission continues to be our mission.

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