Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day 2007

Happy Reformation Day!

490 years ago a monk named Luther sparked the protestant reformation by putting 95 points for public discussion up on the cathedral door in Wittenberg.

Luther and those who followed after him re-discovered that scripture is the sufficient and final authority in the Church, that God makes the ungodly righteous, that salvation is not earned, that God is free and sovereign, that all of life is Christ's, that the cross is able to fully save us and that the Church always needs reforming.

Here are all my posts with a 'reformation' tag. They're helpful mainly in the sense that they contain links to some good things said by other people about reformation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Action for the Unborn

Psalm 68:5
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation.

I've been thinking recently a lot about the abortion issue. I think there's a need for evangelicals to do two major things;

a. Speak out on this issue (hardly ever mentioned in the churches I've been a part of. Don't think I've ever mentioned it from the pulpit or in personal ministry either).

b. Provide positive care for women in difficult situations who are tempted to abort, or being pressured to, or likely to. We can't just say the negative, we should help provide alternatives.

I really admire what John Piper's church do. As well as preaching passionately, they actively encourage and facilitate adoption so as to help give women a real alternative to abortion.

I think we need evangelical adoption agencies (I'm sure there are some already out there? We should support them too). However, there are a number of problems with the state of play legally with regard to adoption, especially over the issue of homosexuality, making it difficult for evangelicals to be involved and remain within the bounds of both the law of the land and the law of Christ. This gives rise to another action point;

c. Work to change current UK adoption legislation and procedure.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Many years from now... Abortion and the long term perspective.

Charles Moore writes in the Telegraph on the occasion of 40 years since the abortion act was passed.

"I found myself wondering how abortion will be viewed by museum curators, teachers, historians and moralists 200 years from now."

"We reserve particular scorn for those who sought to justify slavery on moral grounds. We look at the moral blindness of the past, and tut-tut, rather complacently."

"It is not hard to imagine how a future Museum of London exhibition about abortion could go. It could buy up a 20th-century hospital building as its space, and take visitors round, showing them how, in one ward, staff were trying to save the lives of premature babies while, in the next, they were killing them."

He then warns about the danger of senationalising the past, and stresses the need to help mothers with unwanted children rather than jump to preachy condemnation. After that he continues

"But the reason I throw this argument into the future is that, with the passage of time, abortion, especially late abortion, is slowly coming to be seen as a "solution" dating from an era that is passing. It will therefore be discredited."

"If you want to do people wrong, you must first undermine the idea that they are people... One of the good moral trends of our time has been to reject this way of looking at things. Instead, we insist, in the great debate about what it means to be human, that weakness is not a disqualification, but, by a famous Christian paradox, a strength. Abortion runs against this trend, and so civilisation will eventually reject it, as once it rejected slavery."

I for one hope that future generations will look back at this period of our history in disbelief at the unwanted, defenceless, aborted unborn. And I hope that a significant part of the reason is that Christians have left the ghetto and reclaimed the public square for the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking bring his just, loving, serving, compassionate leadership to our society. (Here for more)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Limited Atonement in Hebrews 2:13-15

Limited atonement (which really should be renamed 'powerful atonement' or something like that) is often accused of being 'a doctrine without a text'. Whilst this is in many ways a non-argument (who seriously wants to limit 'what the bible teaches' to 'what can be proved from proof texts'?) and Romans 8:32 is a proof-text of sorts, there are also a number of texts that suggest that Jesus' cross-work was undertaken with the specific purpose of saving the elect.

I think Hebrews 2:13-15 is probably one of those sort of texts. It strongly implies the doctrine of limited atonement.

13 And again, "I will put my trust in him." And again, "Behold, I and the children God has given me." 14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

vs 13 envisages those who belong to Christ as family members as 'the children' given to him by God. Then vs 14 says that it was because of the humanity of specifically these children that the Son also adopted a human nature (flesh and blood) in order to die a death that rescued them from slavery.

In other words we have atonement explicitly linked with election. Christ's cross-work flowed out of the Father's giving to the Son. It was very definitely 'for us and for our salvation' that the Son was made incarnate and went to his Satan-whupping death.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Imposing faith

Of course the state can't impose faith on anyone, nor should it try to. But there's a difference between.

1. Making unbelief/heterodoxy/other faiths and worldviews a crime.


2. Making some public expressions of unbelief/heterodoxy/other faiths and worldviews a crime.

For example, if part of your worldview is a belief that people from Leicester are not really people at all and should be made into the slave-drones of the rest of us 'real humans', UK law (rightly) forbids you from practicising your belief in this country. It does not (at the moment, give it time) forbid you from holding that opinion, just from some public acts based on it.

Replace the 'people from Leicester...' bit with one of the below and you start to see how this distinction can be very important for anyone wanting government to be shaped by the bible.

Euthanasia should be legalised.

Abortion is every woman's right.

Homosexual couples should be able to adopt like any other couples.

There's nothing wrong with visiting a prostitute.

The minute anything is criminalised, someone is forbidden from living out all the implications of their worldview/faith on the basis of someone else's worldview/faith. The question for the Christian is whether they'd rather the law-shaping worldview come from the bible or not. Surely, to ask the question is to answer it.

Principled Pluralism

Yesterday in Public theology we had a christian brother come in from here to share with us his view on how Christians should relate to the public square. The model he goes for is called 'Principled Pluralism.' This position states that under every circumstance, the ideal is that states are 'confessionally silent'. This does not mean 'we don't do God' in the sense that christian politicians must leave their christianity at home when they head to westminster, but rather that the state must never officially enshrine one epistemology (faith, worldview, etc.) in its constitution as the basis for legal authority (why it has put in the statute book what it has). Christians can and should let their faith inform their political opinions and actions, but the state must never favour Christianity in its constitution.

PP advocates believe that this is the way that God wants the state to be, because it must represent and govern all of its people, and does not have the right to impose faith on anyone.

The problems with such a view are manifold;

1.Of course the state can't impose faith on anyone, and shouldn't try. But, this is not the same as the state overtly basing it's laws on a particular worldview or faith. The minute the state legislates anything, it is imposing values derived from a worldview.

2. There is no such thing as confessional silence. Unless you are going to have a completely blank constitution that is (see below). Once you have a constitution you have taken a side, even if that side is 'we think every/no religion is right' or 'we think the government should always do what the majority says' or 'we think the government should rule for the common good'.

3. A blank constitution is a bad idea, since it means having a government exercising power based on no authority at all. Naked power without a basis for authority is a very bad thing.

4. A constitution based on something other than Jesus being Lord is an idolatrous constitution - it says something/one is Lord other than Jesus Christ.

5. Saying that 'Jesus is Lord' can never be in the constitution amounts to 'we don't do God' in our constitutions. Since Jesus really is Lord of all things and everyone, this surely includes constitutions.

Paradoxically, PP adovocates affirm that God requires the state to rule justly as his servant. So, we are left with the following statements about what God wants of the state.

a. God requires the state to govern as his servant, ruling justly, punishing evil and commending good, within the jurisdiction given to it by God.

b. God requires the state to never ever own up in public or state in its constitution that a. is true.

You can look here for where I stole most of the thoughts above from.

Renewed Creation: Preterism and 2 Peter 3

'Preterism' is the view that many of the prophecies we find in the new testament are about the events of AD70 when God judged faithless, Messiah-crucifying, Roman-colluding, Church-persecuting Judaism, in effect 'divorcing' Old Israel to make ready for marrying New Israel. It therefore reads many of the 'Jesus is coming real soon' texts as being about his coming in judgment in AD70, without denying that he will come again to judge the living and the dead at the close of history.

So, what might a preterist reading of 2 Peter 3 look like?

1. The day of the Lord is the AD70 judgment on Jerusalem (3:10).

It will after all, come on the scoffers of Peter's generation (3:2-7), who're probably identified with the false prophets of chapter 2.

2.The burning of the heavenly bodies/ the destruction of the heavens and earth that now exist (3:7, 10) refers to the judgment fires on Jerusalem.

God often abolishes and re-makes the world/shakes the heavenly bodies and so on. See Haggai 2:6-7 and 20-23, and Isaiah 13. All these texts clearly refer to the political and covenantal re-alignment of the world. In AD70 the old covenant Jerusalem/temple-centred world was abolished. This is a part of very common bible symbolism in which the heavenly bodies (stars etc.) are used to represent powers and authorities, both on earth and in the heavenly realms.

3. The new creation refers to our post-AD70 world.

Old Israel-centric world gone, Christ and New Israel-centric world begun. We are living in the age of Christ's rule, through his new covenant people, the reign of righteousness which is progressively spreading throughout history as people come to bow the knee to the world's new King.

This seems perhaps the hardest bit to swallow, but, remember

a. The new creation began with Christ's resurrection. (Surely, everyone believes this).

b. The new creation has also begun in Christians who are raised with Christ in some sense now. (Surely everyone believes this).

c. The legal/covenantal precedes the cosmic. i.e. the new heavens and the new earth have legally begun, the big covenantal shift has occured, the world is a new world because it has new government - Christ, and in him, his people. The cosmic effects of this new government won't be physically experienced (i.e. no more crying/pain/death/curse/sinners) until Jesus returns to earth and consummates the new creation. But a consummation is a consummation of something which has already legally been established.

d. So, to speak of the new creation as having already arrived is not intrinsically an over-realised eschatology.

e. And, after all, unless the new creation in some sense is 'here' now in our world which still has sinful people and death, don't we have a massive problem with Isaiah 65 which says that it is.

Do I still have questions about such a reading? Yes. Do I think that AD70 looms very large in the New Testament, such that such a reading demands attention and careful thought? Yes. See Galatians 4:24-31 and Hebrews 8:13.

More can be found on preterism here, here and here.

Monday, October 08, 2007

2 Peter 3 and the renewed creation

I've been (not very systematically) compiling arguments, thoughts, and biblical texts in support of the view that this creation (renewed and transformed) will continue into eternity.

One of the texts considered to be a little bit problematic for this sort of view is 2 Peter 3:10-13 (bold bits my emphasis).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Thus it could be argued that language of dissolution, melting, passing away, burning up, suggests a reading of 'new' in v13 that means 'totally (or 'almost entirely') new'. But, there's more to be said on 2 Peter;

1. Just before these verses Peter has already spoken of a previous destruction of the world:

5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

It doesn't take a very imaginative reading of Genesis 6-9 to argue that the destruction (it 'perished' v6) of the world in Noah's day did not involve a complete annihilation of the whole cosmos. v7 explicitly parallels this event with the judgment stored up for the present 'heavens and earth' as described in 10-13. This alone suggests the judgment of the day of the Lord is one of transforming and purifying rather than annihilation.

2. In 3:7 Peter indicates that the day of the Lord means the 'destruction of the ungodly' and yet it has been well documented that this destruction (understood in the context of the whole bible) does not mean annihilation. The same can be said by analogy of the destruction-type language used of the creation.

3. And all of that's without going into a discussion of what the actual words for 'dissolution' or 'passing away' refer to, or how they are used elsewhere in the bible (which others have done). Even without those studies the context at the very least implies that we can (and of course we should) try to reconcile 2 Peter 3 with the continuation envisaged in passages like Romans 8:19-21.

All of the discussion above hinges on an understanding of 'the day of the Lord' in 2 Peter being about the end of history judgment rather than AD70 judgment. The New Testament talks of both these judgment days, so at the very least the possibility of an 'AD70 reading' needs to be considered. The next post will attempt (tentatively) to do that.

David Field on Matthew 24

Some interesting thoughts on Matthew 24 can be found here and here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

(Yet more) Renewed Creation Texts

Perhaps next week I'll discuss some of the more difficult texts for the 'continuationist' position - that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever.

For now, this post continues my efforts (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support such a position. The texts in this post are from the epistles.

By the way, some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a 'continuationist' reading (by, for e.g., implying that Christ's reconciling work is cosmic in proportion). But in some others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Rom. 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

1Cor. 7:31b For the present form of this world is passing away.

2Cor. 5:19
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

Eph. 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Col. 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

2Pet. 3:6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.

Heb. 2:5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.

Heb. 1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

1John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Rev. 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and she shall reign forever and ever.”

Rev. 5:10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

Thursday, October 04, 2007

(More) Renewed Creation Texts

This post continues my efforts (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support the case that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever. Here are some texts that come from the gospels.

By the way, some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a 'continuationist' reading (by, for e.g., implying that judgment day will be the removal of wickedness/the wicked from the earth, not the removal of the earth, or of the righteous from the earth). But in some others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Matt. 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matt. 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matt. 13:38-42 The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matt. 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 4:42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Renewed Creation Texts

I'm starting (in a rather ad-hoc fashion) to compile texts which may support the case that God will renew and not replace this creation when he comes to settle the scores and set up home with his people forever. First, here's some verses from the psalms.

Some of the texts merely allow (with varying degrees of strength) for a continuationist reading (by, for e.g., implying that judgment day will be the removal of wickedness/the wicked from the earth, not the removal of the earth, or of the righteous from the earth).

In others, it seems to me that the conclusion is inescapable.

Psa 34:16
The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Psa 96:10-13
Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity."
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psa 104:5
He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.

Psa 104:35
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!

Psa 119:90
Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.

Monday, October 01, 2007

World Without End

'Totally new or renewed creation?' is the question (see previous post). My money is on the eternal home of God's people being a renewed version of this creation.

Some have suggested that just as humanity has to die before resurrection can occur, so too there has to be a 'death' of creation before it is reborn. And (so the argument goes) just as a Christian's death (now through union with Christ in his death, physically in the death of the present body, then finally at judgment day) involves considerable destruction, we should expect a similar level of annihilation of the old in the production of the new heavens and earth. Man is so corrupted by the fall that a totally new man is needed - we should expect the same with the rest of creation.

There are several things that come to my mind in response to this.

1. When God made the world and declared it good, he meant it. But then of course the fall and the curse came. Humanity and the creation were both changed and marred by the events of Genesis 3 and following. This much is true.

2. However, there is (to my mind) a considerable asymmetry in the effects of the fall on humanity on the one hand and creation on the other. Humanity fell and became willfully ignorant of God and idolatrous, morally depraved, legally guilty and therefore deserving of death as a just and logical sentence. The creation was put under bondage to decay - a kind of 'death' perhaps corresponding to (and definitely related to) the death humanity faces. Yet Creation itself did not become sinful or evil in and of itself.

3. The good creation was subjected to frustration as a part of the judgment of humanity. Consequently it will be liberated when humanity is redeemed (Romans 8:19-21).

4. Even in the example of resurrected and restored humanity there is still considerable continuity between pre- and post-resurrection. It is still 'you' who will be raised (1 Corinthians 15 uses the analogy of a seed and its plant).

5. If all of this were not the case, then Satan would have succeeded in his war against God's good creation. God has to resort to annihilation and replacement for his plans for a created order (of some sort) to succeed. The good creation of Genesis 1-2 is resigned to the dustbin of eternity because of Satan's schemes. If the creation is renewed however, Satan ultimately fails.

No doubt there's more to be said. But, in conclusion, while there may be some sort of radical transformation of the present creation (depending on how you take 2 Peter 3:10 for example), there will be considerable and substantial continuity between it and the new creation.