Reformed Theology

Simon Chan on Justification by Faith

Chan writes:

But the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith has a more objective & communal character. It is not only about the individual’s acceptance before a righteous God but is also concerned with the larger, corporate issue of Gentile participation in the covenant community. Justification by faith means that with the coming of Christ, the righteousness of God is made available for both Jews & Gentiles on the same basis–by faith–which is an objective, divine provision.1

I have stressed this eclectic biblical use of justification for at least three years now. One needs only listen to James Jordan and Peter Leithart’s lectures in the early 90’s to come to that obvious conclusion. Before the Bishop of Durham had received any excommunicatos, our Reformed brothers were echoing the beauty of God’s justification.

Footnotes

  1. Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, 109 [ back]

Simon Chan on Justification by Faith…

Chan writes:

But the Pauline doctrine of justification by faith has a more objective & communal character. It is not only about the individual’s acceptance before a righteous God but is also concerned with the larger, corporate issue of Gentile participation in the covenant community. Justification by faith means that with the coming of Christ, the righteousness of God is made available for both Jews & Gentiles on the same basis–by faith–which is an objective, divine provision. (Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology, 109)

I have stressed this eclectic biblical use of justification for at least three years now. One needs only listen to James Jordan and Peter Leithart’s lectures in the early 90’s to come to that obvious conclusion. Before the Bishop of Durham had received any excommunicatos, our Reformed brothers were echoing the beauty of God’s justification.

On the Evangelical Misconception of the Love of God

The evangelical world is plagued by love-o-mania. If you want to be a bit fancier you could say, Agapo-mania. The majority of people who believe in God today believe that He is a loving being. It is an undeniable fact that if you ask anyone on the street if God is loving, statistics show that the average American believes that God is love. Of course, at the point you ask them what that love entails or means, their answers will vary from some form of erotic notion of love to some naturalistic view of love, like environmentalists who love saving the whales and the wild life. Certainly, our problem today is different from the problem Christians had 200 years ago. Back then, our brothers and sisters were not bombarded with sensual/romance paperback novels or the brackish Bradd Pitt/Angelina Jolie story. What we have done is take the absurd and make it the norm. When a divorce takes place, we say: That relationship was doomed from the start, instead of reasoning from a Biblical perspective, which means that God’s covenantal commitment to marriage has been violated and God is angry. In other words, we focus on the relational dilemma, instead of the Creator’s fury.

The church has taken a flawed, perverted, sinful human relation and made a sinful application to God himself. So that, God’s love is like the Richard Gere who falls in love with Julia Roberts the prostitute in Pretty Woman;1 it is like Romeo and Juliet who out of love for one another killed themselves. The problem is that these people who believe that there is a loving God believe it–not because of Biblical revelation–but because of a distorted perception of what love is.

So, we are forced to undo the non-sense evangelicals utter in the name of Christian religion. The reason self-help books are so popular, the reason Joel Osteen is so popular, the reason romance paperbacks are so popular, the reason TBN is so popular, is because the human heart is prone to wonder away from Biblical revelation and resort to all sorts of circumstances to relate to God’s love. Why can I say with certainty that in the home of the majority of modern evangelicals I am not going to find a copy of Christian Charity by Jonathan Edwards; or why am I certain that if I asked an evangelical what Biblical book reflects the love of God, his first ten top answers would not include Hosea? I am certain of these answers not because I have a better grasp of the Hebrew or Greek understanding of “love” but because I am aware of the culture around me and I am aware of the neglect of true Biblical preaching from our pulpits today.

Dr. D.A. Carson summarizes it best when he writes:

The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The Love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.2

Footnotes

  1. Certainly some may argue that this is a legitimate parallel since the church is also seen as whore; nevertheless, we may be reminded that there was nothing attractive in the church that led God to love her. Rather the opposite is contrary according to Deuteronomy 7:7 [ back]
  2. D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway Books, 2000, pg. 11 [ back]

The Need for Continuing Reformation

One of the slogans of the Reformation has been that the Reformed Church is “always reforming.”1 This can be a dangerous enterprise, yet, if we pursue it carefully we can be constantly aware of our limitations as scholars, students, and laymen. The Reformation has certainly undergone negative reformation, at least, in my humble opinion. One clear example of this has been the overwhelming abandonment of the historic understanding of the role of the sacraments in the restoration of the church. If we are to live by the Spirit, then we are to eat of that spiritual food lest we die.

The sanctification of the church entails some maturing in our theology. This is not to say that we abandon our historic confession, as some so readily have, rather, that we seek to understand the truth of the Bible in light of our encounter with the text. By encounter, I refer to the Church’s interaction and exegetical pursuits that lead the Church to manifest a new understanding of certain passages and contexts. One clear example of this has been the development of Ancient Suzerain Treaty forms/structures that have in many ways affected the hermeneutical approach to books like Deuteronomy in the Reformed community.2 This, in turn, has revolutionized our understanding of the relationship God had with Israel in the Older Covenant.

The reaction of some “conservationists” in the Reformed camp is a noble attempt to preserve our heritage. We, as Reformed students, owe our theological minds and hearts to the immense preoccupation that our Reformed forefathers had for the Scriptures. As a result, they transformed Europe and consequently the world. None of us can say that we have exhausted the many profitable tomes written during that time (many of which have not ever been translated into English 400 years later) and my suggestion is that before we begin to pursue variations or nuances of our tradition today, it would seem very profitable to become as aware as possible to what our tradition has already taught. Many, including myself, have at times assumed that our tradition taught one thing, when in reality it has almost unanimously taught another. Perhaps my thesis is simply summarized in ad fontes, back to the sources. For instance, those who are carefully listening to current discussions on the Federal Vision would do well to read Calvin’s Institutes, Book II, Chapters 10 and 11 where he discussed the differences and similarities between the two testaments. That can serve as a starting point to understand debates concerning law and gospel and the place of both in Redemptive History.

In my particular case, I continue to survey and analyze the different positions. Though my presuppositions lead me to favor certain approaches to the text, I remain at best skeptical and careful. Further, it is wise to acknowledge that the Reformed tradition has been diverse in many ways3 and living within differences can be a needful antidote to the abusive and divisive nature of our glorious tradition. In the words of Professor John Murray:

It would not be, however, in the interests of theological conservation or theological progress for us to think that the covenant theology is in all respects definitive and that there is no further need for correction, modification, and expansion. Theology must always be undergoing reformation. The human understanding is imperfect. However architectonic may be the systematic constructions of any one generation or group of generations, there always remains the need for correction and reconstruction so that the structure may be brought into closer approximation to the Scripture and the reproduction be a more faithful transcript or reflection of the heavenly exemplar.4

  1. Semper Reformanda [ back]
  2. See “Suzerain Treaties & The Covenant Documents the Bible” [ back]
  3. One can be aware of the eschatological, covenantal, and sacramental differences [ back]
  4. John Murray on The Covenant of Grace [ back]

Library Lounging

A beautiful day here in Orlando. While my wife attended a Bible Study, I spent a considerable amount of time in the local library. What a treasure! I bought 8 books for $7. I read another 40 pages of Murray’s Principles of Conduct, which is a masterpiece. I do not agree with his reassessment of the death penalty for certain crimes in the New Covenant era, but nevertheless he makes some valid points overall.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part VII

csl26_thumbayounglewis1.jpeg

As a Young Man taken by his brother Warren

I would like to continue dealing in shorter articles with Book III. It is here where Lewis discusses the Cardinal and Theological Virtues. These virtues have the power to transform cultures. Lewis speaks in a few words of what a Christian society ought to look like:

Those who do not work, do not eat; everyone is to work with their own hands; they are to produce something good; obedience to magistrates; from children to parents; lending money at interest is forbidden; charity is an essential part of Christian morality; we fear insecurity, which is why we do not give.[1]

Social morality is a natural outworking of genuine faith. History is filled with covenant breakers, and they have never and will never seek the restoration of a purely Christian society, until they embrace a new Lord and turn their backs on Caesar. In the words of C.S. Lewis:

A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian.[2]

To become fully Christian is to see this world as God’s World. All goes back to the issue of sovereignty. Whose sovereignty? God’s or autonomous man? This Christian paradise where God’s law prevails and where Christian man lives as unto the Lord in all things,is not a utopia. Nevertheless, it is an outflow of pure (Mere) Christianity.

It is interesting how dogmatic Reformed Christians are about the transformation that must occur in the individual after conversion. However, they are less than sure about the transformation that must occur when all these individuals begin to interact with society at large. This, once again, is that insipid Christianity that tastes more like Gnosticism than historic catholicity. Andrew Sandlin expressed this well some years ago when he said that if individual sanctification should change the environment you abide, then corporate sanctification will change the environment of the world.

 


[1] Mere Christianity, pg. 81.[2] Ibid. 83.

An Analysis of Luther’s Understanding of the Fruit of the Spirit and Its Implications for our Sanctification Part I

Professor Sinclair Ferguson has said that “All the energy of the Trinity for our salvation has been focused on transforming us into Christ-likeness.”[1] Christ-likeness is our greatest goal in this present existence. Far from the existentialist who desires to live for the now, Christian religion is best understood when past, present, and future are joined in their pursuit of the one aim, being like our Lord. In the Scriptures we find a host of passages that seek to give guidance to the Christian in his pursuit of Christ-likeness (see Matthew 5-7, I Corinthians 13, etc.). Nevertheless, no one passage so clearly defines for us what Christ-likeness looks like than Paul’s description in Galatians 5:22-23.

Paul has already dealt with the barbaric nature of fleshly pursuit and he now finds it significant to contrast the life of “flesh” with the life of the “Spirit.” It is in this section where the German Reformer Martin Luther is very helpful in deciphering and enabling the reader to grasp such profound descriptions.[2] This portion of Scripture is commonly known as the “Fruit of the Spirit.” Here “fruit” is singular because it represents a unit, not a variety of manifestations at different times. Paul here advocates that when the Spirit grants new life to the unbeliever, he (the new believer) receives the fruit of the Spirit. These nine fruits serve as a profound demonstration that God has in mercy granted the sinner a new life in which the fruit are its proof. Luther in contrasting the fruit of the Spirit with the “fruit” of the flesh says that the fruit of the Spirit are “excellent fruits…for they that have them give glory to God and with the same do allure and provoke others to embrace the doctrine and faith of Christ.”[3]


[1] Professor Sinclair Ferguson’s lectures on Sanctification; also see his book The Christian Life.

[2] For further reference also see Video Series entitled: Developing Christian Character by R.C. Sproul.

[3] Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, Modern English Edition. Published by Fleming H. Revell; A division of Baker Book House Co. Grand Rapids, MI, 1988), p.378.

Philosophical Language in the Reformation

Who depended on whom? Some have said that the Reformers simply traded the Aristotle of Aquinas for Plato. But who did the Reformers rely for their Reformation? Did they attempt to borrow from Greeks to establish their world view? The clearest answer to this is that the Reformers depended on the Greeks when they were necessary. For instance, in refuting the deadly arguments against the deity of Christ in the early church, some of the later Reformers made no quarrels about using early church apologist like Justin Martyr and others. Some in the church have despised so much of Scholasticism that they have forgotten that the majority of the terms they use to express their frustrations with scholasticism, come from that period itself. Further, let us not forget that the great Trinitarian lexicon comes from that same time. As Professor John Frame has mentioned: “It isn’t wrong to use extrabiblical language to formulate theology” (Docrine of God, p.3).

At this point we ought to differentiate between Pre-Reformation theologians, and Post-Reformation theologians. The scholastic tendencies were seen in the post-Reformation Reformers. One must remember that they were developing detailed treatement of certain areas yet not so well developed in the church (Covenant Theology comes to mind). My immediate response is that the Reformers emphasized a brilliantly holistic view of the Christian faith. Our religion (faith) is physical (opposing Plato) and spiritual (opposing pagan Hedonists). One may rightly assert that modern day Reformed churches have not embraced this totus approach. They have placed a largely spiritual emphasis on almost all matters of life. To escape or to abide in the heavenlies is their most desired quest. However, what makes the Reformed tradition entirely different in its hermeneutic is that it sees life and theology as one. The abstract is not really abstract and the mundane transcends life, and yay, the two shall meet.

A Defense of Sabbath Observance


Bishop J.C. Ryle: The Sabbath is a Day to Keep
There is a subject in the present day which demands the serious attention of all professing Christians in the United Kingdom. That subject is the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day.

It is a subject which is forced upon our notice. The minds of many are agitated by questions arising out of it. “Is the observance of a Sabbath binding on Christians? Have we any right to tell a man that to do his business or seek his pleasure on a Sunday is a sin? Is it desirable to open places of public amusement on the Lord’s Day?” All these are questions that are continually asked. They are questions to which we ought to be able to give a decided answer. Read the rest…

On The Sabbath Day

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their wordly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.
CHAPTER XXI – Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day