Journal

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Friday in Monroe, LA and the Authorship of Hebrews

I traveled to Monroe, LA with another fellow student of the Bucer Institute. This time I will not be able to stay on Sunday, since I need to get back to preach at Providence Church. On Saturday, Jim Jordan will be delivering four talks on Numbers through Judges. This evening we had a round table  with Jim and eight or nine others. The discussion focused on the authorship of Hebrews, the nature of two kingdom theology, Peter Enns and inerrancy, and Gary North’s exercise routine (that was a bonus). After some very fine whiskey and great beer, a new day is coming. I will offer some notes from tomorrow’s lectures.

Update…

We made our first long trip with our baby. She was surprisingly pleasant throughout the five-hour drive. We arrived safely in Talahassee, Fl. where the weather is currently 44 degrees. TIme to take out the “winter” clothes!

Books, Books and More Books…

Add eleven more books to my library and the thought of moving one day becomes frightening. I am at a stage where buying a book that I already have is not uncommon. Three of my newest purchases are The Schilder Trilogy on the Sufferings of Christ.

Price: $0.75…in a seminary town, shopping is a pleasure.    

From College to Reformed Theological Seminary: My Journey, Part 3

As college came to a close, I felt more convinced of God’s call to pursue a Master’s Degree at a Reformed Seminary. I had narrowed my search to about five seminaries. Due to the strong influence of R.C. Sproul in my own thinking, I had strongly considered Knox Theological Seminary where he was teaching at the time. Also, our congregation at Holy Trinity was financially supporting the ministry of O. Palmer Robertson. He came to visit us a few times at our PCA church in Tampa, and due to his influential writings on Covenant Theology and his present status as Old Testament professor at Knox, the Sproul/Robertson team attracted me to Knox Seminary. However, due to a stroke, Sproul was no longer able to hold his teaching position at Knox and soon after Robertson decided to leave and work as Director and Principal of African Bible College, Uganda, and Professor of Theology at African Bible College, Malawi. In God’s providence I was being led to Reformed Seminary.

For some reason in those early years RTS never even crossed my mind. The overwhelming influence of WTS (Philadelphia) and Knox (Fort Laurderdale) in the environments I frequented hindered me from taking a closer look at the Orlando campus.  But in November of 2002 we made a trip to RTS to hear a debate between James White and John Sanders on open theism. What was significant about that trip was not the debate itself, but my time with an RTS student who was gracious to host us one evening.  I remember very vividly that pivotal moment when he handed me a VHS presentation on Infant Baptism by RTS Professor Richard Pratt. That video was instrumental in forming my own view on baptism and on the structure and nature of the kingdom of God.

What was most striking about Reformed Theological Seminary was the combination of strong scholarship and a strong conviction that theology could not remain theology if it were not practiced. Later I would learn that orthodoxy “right belief” and orthopraxis “right action” is indispensable in the framing of a Biblical worldview.

From College to Reformed Theological Seminary: My Journey, part 2

After being exposed to Reformed theology, attending a dispensational college became an exhausting experience. Defending Reformed theology became almost a mission in life; a crusade for truth. In every theological conversation I was involved in, inevitably Reformed theology was smeared. As one of the few voices defending the Reformed faith (there were also some from the Bible Presbyterian background, who also defended eloquently Calvinism) I quickly became known as an ardent supporter of Calvin, instead of the Bible. “But Calvin was an exegete of the Bible,” I argued. My arguments were useless. In those days, my Calvinism was mixed with autonomous forms of classical argumentation. It was largely soteriological, rather than comprehensive and covenantal. It was inconsistent, but I refused to take it to its logical conclusion. Those early days were filled with a zealous and incredible fervor for all things Reformed. It is true that I probably gave some dispensationalists ample reason to detest the Tulipers even more.

As the end of my college years approached, my theology was becoming a bit more refined and consistent. The eloquent and Biblical teaching at Holy Trinity Presbyterian (PCA) had helped my wife and I to see Reformed theology beyond the mere pugilistic nature that it once had. We began to see Reformed theology as a rich resource for faithful living in all areas of life. We were married a week after my graduation from college, and after much consideration we decided that taking a year off before attending seminary was a wise decision. By God’s grace, we were mentored by wonderful saints and elders at Holy Trinity. That year was crucial for our decision to attend a seminary. My elders were all trained at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Naturally, they desired that I attend WTS. In 2003, a few of us made a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to visit both Westminster and Biblical in Hatfield, PA. The opportunity to sit under Dick Gaffin and hear Phil Ryken on the Lord’s Day was unforgettable. Yet my heart and various circumstances were not leading us to Philadelphia. Whereas all my other brothers were confident of God’s call to WTS, I was still uncertain of my direction.

From College to Reformed Theological Seminary: My Journey, part 1

So much has transpired in the last few months that I have barely reflected on graduating from Reformed Seminary. In these next brief posts, I would like to share some of my experiences that led me to RTS and to my journey at RTS over the last four years. I hope to edit these posts as I am remember more details.

My first year at Clearwater Christian College (CCC) was filled with a tremendous hunger for apologetics. The first time I read St. Peter’s call to defend the faith by giving an answer (I Peter 3:15) I was suddenly energized to defend the Christian faith against cults and false doctrines within the church. In my earlier years I had been influenced by the radio ministry of Hank Hanegraaff and the philosophical writings of evangelical author Norman Geisler. I devoured every literature produced by evidential apologists with the sure hope that unbelievers would be equally impressed with their arguments as I was impressed by them.

My interest for apologetics grew even more in the few times I met Norman Geisler in a local evangelical church where he would come regularly to speak on different topics. My desire was to pursue a Master’s degree in apologetics in the seminary headed by Dr. Geisler in North Carolina. Geisler’s commitment to classical apologetics and his staunch anti-calvinistic rhetoric made him my favorite resource.

In my sophomore year we had gained a new faculty member. He was the newly appointed Greek professor.  far from being a tedious and laborious semester slaving through parsing and participles, our class was exposed to covenantal thoughts that were foreign to the dispensational land we were living at the time. Suffice to say, two years later our esteemed professor was told not to return.

It was that semester of college that I began to embrace the Reformed faith. Laying on my shelf was Michael Horton’s book: Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. It was given to me by a staunch Calvinist, who graciously introduced me to others as his “dispensational friend.” In those days, I spent every winter break in Pennsylvania with an elderly saint. Out of sheer curiosity, I took the book to the unbearable temperature of the north east. That winter, we were unable to leave the house for three days due to snow storms. With little else to do, I began perusing through Horton’s book only to discover after a few days that my worldview was collapsing. Since that introduction to the Reformed faith, God has brought me deep into the richness of our Reformed forefathers.

He is Risen Indeed!

The Lenten Season has been a refreshing time. Far from an indolent period, it has been very productive in many respects. A few updates are in order. First, I have concluded my academic requirements for RTS leaving me with a Bible and a Catechism exam before graduation in May. Second, due to some considerations I decided to postpone my licensure exam until August. Third, my lovely wife and sister are both expecting and my mother has arrived from Brazil. It has been almost three years since I have seen her. I will be traveling to see her and my sister as often as possible.

I will not make any lofty plans for this blog in the months ahead. Much of my concentration in the next few months will be in preparing to be a father and studying for my licensure exam in August. Hence, if you combine both areas of preparation it may be possible that the following posts may be largely about the theology of children.

I will be spending most of this week preparing for my sermon on the 30th at New Life Presbyterian (PCA). My text will be Psalm 42 and 43. They were originally one psalm, so I decided to treat them as such. I shall post a few notes along the week. The Lord is risen indeed!

Personal Update…

There are many things going on which has prevented me from blogging consistently. In the end of January, I came under care of the Central Florida Presbytery. It is my first step towards ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America.

My primary intention is to be licensed in April when the presbytery meets again. License examination includes a few written exams and oral exams on the topics of Theology, the Westminster Confession, and the Book of Church Order (BCO).

At the same time, I continue to serve at New Life Presbyterian where I have been for almost three years. My time at New Life has been a marvelous introduction to pastoral work.

Though I am finished with all my classes in seminary, I am concluding a virtual class called Judges to Poets taught by Dr. John Currid. My intention is to have completed all my seminary requirements by the end of this month.

Father and Mother-in-Law vote for Ron Paul

On a personal note, I just received a call from my father in-law. He was enthusiastic about the fact that he and his wife have already voted in Florida. After analyzing the candidates and after hearing his passionate son-in-law, it was evident, only one person cares about liberty and the Constitution. You guessed it!