Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New Blog

New job, new place (or rather, return the old place), therefore new blog. From now on I'll be posting my thoughts/ the recycled thoughts of others here.

If you're one of my readers (yes, both of you) then thanks for tuning in over the last few years.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A House For My Name

I have just finished reading Peter Leithart's OT survey 'A House for My Name'. Besides being suitably pacy, readable, and popular-but-scholarly, the book is a fine example of Christological biblical theology.Infact, together with the Goldsworthy trilogy and Through New Eyes, AHFMN is now in my all-time top three introductions to biblical theology.

Although in some sense it's unfair to compare these three great books (they are written to serve differing purposes, for differing audiences, and AHFMN is only an OT survey), doing so does highlight some of the relative strengths of AHFMN.

In comparison to Goldsworthy's 'Gospel and Kingdom', AHFMN is less concerned with finding precise repetition of a particular pattern. So whereas Goldsworthy's 'people-place-blessing' can at times feel a little forced, or limited by its generality, AHFMN sits lightly enough to its unifying theme (the building of the house of the Lord) as to allow for a greater level of detail. Leithart's journey through the bible allows for more taking in of the scenery, without losing an overall sense of the journey's direction.

In comparison to Jordan's 'Through New Eyes,' AHFMN employs a more restrained interpretive maximalism. The result is greater accessibility and (for those used to breathing the more minimalist air of contemporary UK conservative evangelicalism) believability. Where some will be put off by several of Jordan's wilder assertions, Leithart's challenge to employ more maximal readings of scripture almost slips under the radar, since even at his most (for some) eyebrow-raising his conclusions are difficult to write off as speculative. Part of this is because Leithart argues his case more frequently (Jordan deliberately doesn't, and wouldn't have the space to either).

Those who read should read all three, but perhaps Goldsworthy first, then Leithart, then Jordan.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Art for Christ's sake

I'm all too guilty of being able to spot problems without really having the solution. Or of only having an answer/ solution in the broadest, most general way.

So, despite having thought about the big picture of 'Christ and Culture' at various points throughout the last year, I must confess to being still largely clueless about how 'transforming culture' works out in practice. Yes, Jesus is Lord of all areas of life, including painting, sculpting and window-cleaning. But what does it actually mean to sculpt, paint, clean windows, in a 'Jesus is Lord' way? What is involved in a truly Christian approach to the arts, or to science, or to greengrocery?

With this in mind, Ally Gordon's blog looks interesting. Ally works for UCCF with arts students in the UK. He wants Christian artistry to go beyond simply copying its non-christian counterpart, and "to make culture, pioneer it and define it." I don't really know whether we agree on the relationship between Christ and culture (though I suspect quite strongly that we agree on a lot). But I do know I've been really enjoying his posts so far and am looking forward to what more I can learn.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The end of the beginning

Earlier on today I sat my final Oak Hill exam and thereby completed (pending results!) three years of formal theological education. Obviously that will mean some changes are ahead over the course of the next few months, one of which will be that this blog will be coming to an end (since I won't be at college anymore). For the moment I'll keep posting here, but I'll move somewhere new at some point over the summer, watch here for details.

My final exam was on 'Puritan Perspectives on Ministry.' Despite the small amount of time available to cram it in, I really really enjoyed my revision, and constantly found myself making mental notes, storing away various nuggets and valuable insights for future reference. One of them (William Perkins) closes his book on preaching with some words which seem to me a pretty good summary to have in my mind as the next few months unfold [in fact, they're pretty similar to some words the Principal gave to us leavers this evening].

"Preach one Christ by Christ for the praise of Christ"

Friday, May 23, 2008

Church-centred Change

The church is the place where God is working in new creation power. The church is the outpost of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the future, a society of resident aliens gradually filling the earth with the citizens, values, laws, and life of heaven.

Which means that all our plans for transforming human society must be church-centred. Reform the church, change the world. Not the other way round. The church models what it means to be the city of God to the city of man, pointing to a better way of life, a better King.

Which is why one of the primary ways we should respond to the HFE bill disaster this week (and it is a disaster, how else can we describe the willful abandonment of God's structure for the family and the destruction of precious human life?) is to build, in the church, a strong counter-culture where children are accepted, honoured, disciplined and loved in the Lord, an alternative society where godly fathers serve through loving headship. We have to reform ourselves according to the word, pursue deeper levels of faithfulness, study and pray harder, evangelise, serve, weep, disciple the next generation. We change the world by growing, being, reforming the Church.

So, we must continue the campaigning and the lobbying. Christians should be committed to speaking the mind of God on public issues where we can, doing what good we can, serving, loving, arguing. Those of us unable to do so in person should pray and support financially those who can. But long-term deep change will come, by the grace of God, in the gospel, through the Church.

[DF has some thoughts on the link between the state of the church and the state of the nation HERE]

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nehemiah 9 Chapel Preach

I preached in Oak Hill chapel (for presumably the last time) on Nehemiah 9:22-31 last friday. This is a brief outline of what I said.

Two points to aid our life of repentance

1. Grace is the context for extraordinary sin.

Israel’s chief sin across history, from the perspective of this prayer at least, was to take take take grace from God and yet return that with disobedience and rejection of his laws.

E.g. see use of ‘gave’ in 22, 24, 27, 29 & 30.

The contrast is seen most clearly there in the transition from 25 to 26. They gorged themselves on grace. Yet threw the law behind their backs. Hence v25. great goodness of YHWH, and v26. great blasphemies of Israel.

God’s grace highlights the heinousness and unwarranted nature of the sin.
To sin against a gracious God is a terrible thing.
To gulp down his grace and cast away his covenant instructions is a terrible crime.

If for them, how much more for us living AD not BC?

Interesting that it’s this sin of license that they chose to focus on. As they looked at Israel’s history this was the way they chose to epitomise the nation’s sins that had gotten them into the mess they were now in. This was the nature of their covenant-breaking.

That should lead us to consider whether it might not be the same amongst us, God's covenant people today. E.g. Liberalism. E.g. various forms of Evangelical antinomianism.

We would do well to consider whether we need to repent of the same sins as Israel. We must not think we can take grace with one hand and cast aside our Father’s commands with the other. It’s a non-starter. It’s a road that leads straight to judgment.

2. Sin is the context for extraordinary grace.

E.g. God’s patience: ‘Testified/ warned’in 26, 29, 30. Also 'many mercies/ times' in 27, 31, 28, 30.

Three cycles, (26-27, 28, 29-30/31). Sin – handed over – cry out – saved. First two cycles follow the pattern, but third only has no cry, and no salvation. Because this prayer is the cry (32-37). This prayer is expecting salvation. They were expecting God to complete the cycle, to act as he’s acted before.

As they looked back on their history Israel saw the need to repent, for taking grace for granted.
But they also saw the basis for that repentance. v31.

You could say that where sin abounded grace superabounded.

If for them, how much more for us living AD not BC? What extraordinary grace to send His Son to be all that Israel failed to be, to restore, resurrect Israel even and give to his people, Jew and Gentile, the gift of the Spirit.

Repentance is based on grace. We repent because we know God to be a gracious and merciful God. We repent in the expectation of forgiveness and salvation and blessing.

Friday, May 16, 2008


This is great news (and in no way representative of how word-studies should be done).

The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament tells me that the Hebrew verb for 'grow old' (zaqen) is probably derived from the Hebrew word for beard (zaqan). Which presumably means that in one sense to grow old is 'to be/become bearded.' Even when applied to females.

It gets better though.

The LXX (greek trans. of OT) translates the Hebrew word for an old man (derived from zaqen) as presbuteros. Which we all know is the word commonly translated 'elder' in our english translations of the NT (cf. Titus 1:6-9).

Which means, surely, that to be an elder of the Church you must be bearded.


1. This solves the 'women elders' issue once and for all?
2. There's just enough time for men leaving college this year to grow a beard before their ordination/ commissioning.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Covenant/Election and 'just getting wet' in Baptism

David Field has been imagining a world where the new covenant is co-terminous with eternal decretal election and seeing what happens, here, here and here. It's not pretty.

Particularly worth some thought is what happens when you try to move from the (alleged) unbreakability of the new covenant to antipaedobaptism:

You'd have to think that you could identify the big-E Elect by their faith. But that would exclude the possibility of false faith or temporary faith. And since you can't know for sure that someone's faith isn't false faith or temporary faith then you'd never baptise anyone at all.

If the response is, "we're not claiming to baptize the Elect, only those who look like the Elect because they have faith" then you've just separated out baptism from the New Covenant and said that baptism is for "those who look like the Elect to us".

Which is fine, because that's what paedobaptists / covenantalists are claiming: that we operate at the level of the "look like Elect to us" and that's how God intends it to be.

Mind you, if baptism is then the initiation rite for the New Covenant then you've just said that there are people who rightly receive the New Covenant sign but who are not big-E Elect. But if they rightly receive the New Covenant initiation rite then they break the New Covenant then the New Covenant is breakable.

So if you want to argue that everyone in the New Covenant is a big-B believer (decretally Elect) and yet that we rightly give the New Covenant initiation rite to those little-b believers (non-Elect, those with false faith / temporary faith etc) then you must deny that the New covenant initiation rite actually initiates people into the New Covenant. That is, that the baptism of the non-Elect isn't baptism, it's just "getting them wet". And the NT evidence for that is what precisely? Non-existent, that's what.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Calvin and Covenant/Election

Some quotes from Calvin on covenant and election issues.

"So it was in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and England after the Lord established his covenant there. When those countries were oppressed by the tyranny of the Antichrist, the Lord used two means to keep his covenant inviolable. First, he maintained baptism there, a witness to this covenant; consecrated by his own mouth, it retains its force despite the impiety of men. Secondly, by his own providence he caused other vestiges to remain, that the church might not utterly die.”
[Calvin, Institutes, IV.II.11 (2:1051-1052)]

“But there is also another reason in our case, when God receives us into his favour; for we were covenant-breakers under the Papacy; there was not one of us who had not departed from the pledge of his baptism."
[Calvin, Commentaries, (13:115)]

“For when they claimed for themselves the name “church,” they wanted belief in the gospel to depend upon their decision. Today, in like manner, the papists with this false pretext would willingly substitute themselves for God. Paul, although he admits that, by virtue of the covenant, the offspring of Abraham are holy, still contends that many among them are outside of it. And that is not only because they degenerate from legitimate children to bastards but also because God’s special election towers and rules over all, alone ratifying his adoption.”
[Calvin, Institutes, III.XXI.7 (2:931)]

So, for Calvin,

a. Baptism does something - it witnesses to the covenant and brings with it the obligation to abide by the terms of the covenant.
b. By virtue of the covenant someone can be 'holy' in a way but really be an outsider from the perspective of special election.
c. There is such a thing as covenant-breaking in the new covenant.
d. God's special electing grace is sovereign over adoption and apostasy.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Law and Gospel

Stumbled across this helpful, sensible, simple introduction to the law-gospel issue:

Law and Gospel by John Frame

A particularly good paragraph says

So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

I also particularly liked his statement that 'law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace.' [emphasis mine]

It's amazing where you find the law-gospel antithesis crop up, even among those who should really know better . Frame is writing in disagreement with some US Reformed theologians who think unless you buy their sharp distinction between the law and the gospel you've lost the gospel.

I blogged on the law a while ago here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More on Covenant/Election in Hebrews

Q: Does Hebrews distinguish types of covenant membership?

I think it does:
  • You can be a son or an illegitimate child (12:8).
  • You can fall away from the living God (3:12)
  • You can be the sort of land that drinks in the rain but produces thorns and thistles (6:8)
  • You can drift from what you've heard (2:2)
  • You can be Esau and sell your birthright (12:16).
  • It’s possible to leave Egypt but fail to enter the land (Chapters 3-4).
  • You can be enlightened, taste the heavenly gift, share in the Spirit, taste the goodness of the word and the powers of the age to come, and yet fall away irrevocably (6:4-6)
  • You can shrink back and be destroyed (10:39)
  • You can have come to Zion but refuse to listen to the one who speaks from heaven (12:25).
  • You can show contempt for the blood of the covenant that sanctified you (10:28-29).
  • And yet, it's only if we endure that we are his house/ partakers of Christ (3:6, 14).

Q: But isn't some of this 'you're in the covenant' language hypothetical?

Well, take a particular example - one of the warning passages in Hebrews.

Heb. 10:28-29: Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

I must admit to finding this passage still fairly difficult, (especially since I'm convinced of limited atonement, which closes down the options for interpreting this verse). But, the trouble with ‘sanctified’ being hypothetical is that wouldn’t that mean everything else is hypothetical too? So the passage would be saying something like this:

"The bad news for apostates is that they profane [but they don’t really profane] the blood of the covenant [which covenant they were never a part of] by which they were sanctified [though they were never actually sanctified by it]. Man, someone who has done [i.e. not really done] any of that will face a far worse punishment than the Israelite under the old covenant who disobeyed the law [which they actually were obliged to obey as part of the old covenant, because the old covenant did have members who were not decretally elect to eternal salvation, unlike the new covenant]."

In short, the new covenant brings worse punishments for non-members who disobey its terms than the old did for those who really were members and disobeyed. Which doesn't make sense to me.

It could be, of course, that the passage does not mean 'sanctification' in the exact same way that some other parts of the bible and some confessions of faith and various (important) theological discussions mean it. In that sense they were never sanctified, sure. But maybe that’s not the only thing signified by 'sanctified,' nor is it the only kind of sanctification the covenant has on offer.

Which means we're back to distinguishing (though not separating) covenant and election, and discussing types of covenant membership.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Covenant and Election in Hebrews

Hebrews is also of help to us in thinking about the whole covenant-election thing.

Q: Is the new covenant unbreakable? [i.e. are the only people in the covenant those who cannot fall from it]

If yes, then you’d expect the logic in Hebrews to be: The new covenant is unbreakable, so you can’t break it, so you’re fine. In others words, to argue from the covenant to security, but not from the covenant to the danger of falling.

So, how come the logic is: Jesus brings in a new covenant, so don’t be a covenant-breaker, because that’s far worse than being a covenant-breaker under the old [Hebrews 2:1-4, Hebrews 12:18-29]. That is, Hebrews is written to people in the new covenant warning them not to become covenant-breakers.

Ok, so maybe therefore you could put it like this:

The new covenant is unbreakable, so make sure you don’t break it, because if you break it you prove that you’ve never been in it (because, after all, the new covenant is unbreakable). After all, doesn't Hebrews say something like this in 3:6, 14.

Which is fine, but only if we are able to distinguish types of being ‘in’ the covenant. Otherwise I don’t think it works. They’re spoken to on the basis of being in the covenant, not on the basis of maybe being in the covenant. They have come to Mount Zion where they can hear the voice of the Son of God speaking to them.

And if we’re able to distinguish types of being ‘in the covenant’ then it is possible to be a covenant-breaker.

[More to come later...]

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Church in Hebrews 8: Conclusion

The Conclusion to my essay on the doctrine of the Church in Hebrews.


The epistle to the Hebrews contains a Christological and eschatological ecclesiology.

1. A Christological Ecclesiology

The Church is by virtue of Christ’s ministry. It is because he fulfils and perfects the shadows of old covenant life that the Church can be considered as the new Israel, in possession of Jeremiah’s new covenant and inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham. The patterns of Church life envisaged in Hebrews flow from this Christology as a response of faith, hope and love. Because Christ is the high priest who has entered the heavenly places, the Church draws near to God and holds fast to the hope of a heavenly city she already possesses in some sense. Life gathered to Christ the priest of the true tent is ‘tabernacle life’ – involving holistic worship and priestly offerings. Therefore, among other things, what Hebrews demonstrates is that Ecclesiology should be rooted in Christology.[1]

2. An Eschatological Ecclesiology.

Because the work of Christ is heavenly-focused, the Church is an eschatological entity.[2] It is the ‘now’ of a ‘not yet’ future, though a future secured in Christ. In this sense the traditional ‘tenses of salvation’ apply to the Church.[3] As with the kingdom, we may say that the Church is inaugurated, progressive and to be consummated.[4] It is this eschatological tension that drives the exhortation within the book for endurance. There is a future hope to be lost if it is not held fast to in the now. This shapes Church life as focused on endurance and mutual exhortation. The Church lives in the ‘today’ of Psalm 95. We may add that, since the Church itself is a part of the inaugurated eschatological vision of 12:22-24, if the Christian life is to be eschatological it must also be a corporate life. There can be no living in hope without ‘Church’. This eschatological perspective also ascribes considerable honour and importance to the Church. As the exposition of Psalm 8 in 2:5-10 suggests, because she is the climax of Israel’s history, the Church is likewise the climax of God’s dealings with and plans for humanity within his creation.[5]

[1] I am grateful to Rev. Tim Davies for first highlighting the necessary link between Christology and Ecclesiology. Tim Davies, personal communication.

[2] Giles speaks of “the common Jewish apocalyptic idea that what lies in the future already lies above.” Giles, Church, 156.

[3] That is, past, present and future.

[4] The notion of the kingdom as progressive and inaugurated can be found in Gary North, Millenialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Tex.: ICE, 1990), 222.

[5] Psalm 8 is about God’s intentions for humanity as a whole. This is then applied to Christ, who is the one crowned with honour and glory, and to whom the world to come is subjected. His work however is to bring many sons (the Church) to the same glory. This is perhaps the most ‘whole world’ focussed moment in the epistle, and yet it is surrounded by passages discussed in this essay as showing the link between the Church and Israel. Similarly, Psalm 8 itself is about Yahweh, Israel’s Lord (Psalm 8:1, 9) and is said to be a song of David.

Church in Hebrews 7

More on Church life in the epistle to the Hebrews:

Throughout the course of the letter the author explores what such corporate perseverance in faith involves, to which we turn in the next two headings.

2. Identification with the persecuted.

The author emphasises the need to live in Christian fellowship even if that requires identifying with persecuted Christians. In 10:32-34 the Hebrew’s “hard struggle” in the past had involved public reproach and identification with those likewise suffering, including those imprisoned. It is precisely this kind of response the author is wishing to exhort them to recommence. Perhaps it was the fear of continuing persecution that caused some of the Hebrews to neglect congregational life (10:25). A similar picture is painted in 13:3 where it is abundantly clear that those imprisoned are fellow members of the church. Moreover, 13:12-14 links these ideas with the sufferings of Christ. Part of following his faithful example is living life as suffering outsiders – the very essence of endurance in hope that the author has been exhorting (13:14).[1]

3. Access and Worship

One of the models the author employs for describing persevering faith in congregational life is the tabernacle. This brings a particular emphasis on the twin ideas of ‘access’ and ‘worship’.

An emphasis on access accords with the dominant Christological theme of the letter - Christ’s priesthood,[2] and the correspondingly significant role the tabernacle plays in the letter’s Christology. We see therefore that the emphasis on Christ’s ministry leads to a particular understanding of the nature of the Church, which in turn leads to specific forms of Church life. It is no surprise in this context that ‘approach’ occurs at several major junctions in the letter - most notably in 4:14-16 and 10:19-25.[3] In the latter the 1st person plural present subjunctive of προσερχομαι heads up an extended exhortation. As with the Christological priestly material, this notion of approach is drawn from and yet also contrasted with the tabernacle life of Israel (10:2) and the Sinai experience (12:18-24). Here we again see how central ‘Church’ is to the basic response to Christ the author is seeking. Corporately drawing near to God as his people is a holding fast onto the hope inaugurated in Christ’s priestly work: the ‘hope’ of 6:19-20 is somehow (at least in part) realised and ‘lived out’ in 10:19-25. We should also note that while it could be argued the drawing near of 10:22 certainly involves more than congregational meetings it cannot be ascertained that it is less. Rather, the proximity of προσερχομαι and e˙kklhsi÷a in 12:22-23 suggests otherwise, since here ‘church’ is explicitly bound together with ‘approach’. The eschatological/ heavenly reality to which the Hebrews have arrived ought to find expression in communal approach to God in the here and now.[4]

This, of course, does not mean that the epistle limits Church life to formal meetings as often experienced in the modern west.[5] Rather, 10:19-25 weaves drawing near to God with the basic responses of faith, hope and love. What is more, we have seen that Church life for the author involves daily exhortation. In relation to this, the second aspect of ‘tabernacle life’ reflected in the life of the Church as the eschatological Israel is ‘worship’. In the author’s mind this is the obvious response to the eschatological reality of 12:18-24. This reality, which he describes in 12:28 as ‘receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken’, should provoke gratitude and, like Israel before her, the offering by the Church of “acceptable worship” to the God who is a “consuming fire” (12:28-29). This worship is described in 13 as encompassing many different areas of life. Not only are these instructions expressed in the plural, but many of the activities envisaged are inherently corporate, for example - “brotherly love”, “hospitality”, identification with imprisoned members of the body, “all” honouring marriage, respect and obedience towards leaders, and the sharing of goods.[6] That the tabernacle worship of Israel is still in the background is clear not just from the wider context, but also in 13:15-16’s offerings and sacrifices. Corporate praise of God and communal life are the priestly work of God’s people.[7]

[1] These verses could be further support for a preterist/AD70 reading, since ‘outside the camp’ refers to the camp of Israel. The Hebrews must not align themselves with soon-to-be judged apostate Israel/Jerusalem, but rather Christ, who suffered and died as an outsider to the nation. Guthrie argues that a return to Judaism was a danger for the Hebrews, which would be strengthened by a preterist reading. Guthrie, Hebrews, 20.

[2] The theme appears first in 1:3, is implied in 1:5, then returned to again in 2:17, 3:1-6. It comes into particular focus in the exhortation of 4:14-16 from where it dominates until chapter 11 (a brief excursion from 5:11to roughly 6:18 being the exception). The theme resurfaces in 12:24 and then again in 13:8-16.

[3] Guthrie highlights these passages in the structure of the book. Guthrie, Hebrews, 39-40, 173, 340.

[4] “[T]his passage speaks of end-time existence as present possibility for the believer.” Giles, Church, 156.

[5] It is not less than such formal meetings however. Giles, Church, 158.

[6] Attridge understands chapter 13 to be about ‘worship’ and notes the connection between worship and congregational life. Attridge, Hebrews, 384-385.

[7] Likewise, 13:10 is unmistakably drawing on the image of the old covenant priesthood, and may be a reference to communion. See Leviticus 6:26.

Church in Hebrews 6

The second half of my essay focussed on what Hebrews has to teach regarding Church life and practice.

As already seen above, Hebrews is an interplay between expository and hortatory material. In this section we will focus more particularly on the exhortatory, though this is dependent upon the expository material. In a similar way, this second half of the essay is built upon the first half. The nature of the church as eschatological Israel is the paradigm within which the letter’s picture of Church life is found and from which it flows.

1. Perseverance as a corporate responsibility

The main exhortation of the letter is a call to persevere in fidelity to the word received from the Son, though this is expressed in a variety of ways.[1] This perseverance is envisaged as a corporate responsibility. Not only are most of the commands and exhortations given in the plural (for example, 10:19-25),[2] but in several passages the members of the Christian family are entrusted with responsibility for one another’s endurance (13:7, 17; 3:13-14; 10:24-25; 12:15-16). Firstly, in maintaining a proper response to the word members of the Church should imitate and submit to leaders (13:7, 17). Whatever we may postulate about the form this leadership took, we can assert that Hebrews envisages some kind of recognised leadership within the Church as an aid to the perseverance of the whole community in the faith.[3] Secondly however, the responsibilities of leaders to keep watch (13:17) are not to be set over against the more dominant theme of the responsibility of all in this regard. Rather, living as God’s people involves daily mutual exhortation.[4] The author would know nothing of the Christian life as a solo project. It seems therefore that ‘doing/being the Church’ is the response the author is seeking.[5] We may state this more generally that ‘Church’ is in some sense the appropriate gospel response.

[1] See e.g. 2:1-3; 3:6, 12-15; 4:11, 14-16; 6:11-12; 10:19-25, 35-39; 12:1-3, 12-16, 25, 28.

[2] See for e.g. 2:1-3; 4:11, 14-16; 10:19-25; 12:1.

[3] Some argue from the simplistic language used to describe leaders that the Church was institutionally simple at the time the epistle was written. E.g. Ellingworth, Hebrews, 68. Giles, Church, 158-159. This is almost an argument from silence (i.e. the lack of the words for presbyters and deacons found in e.g. the pastoral epistles) and lacks any real conclusive power.

[4] 3:13

[5] Terminology derived from James Halstead, personal communication.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Church in Hebrews 5

In conclusion to the (1st) half of my essay devoted to the nature of the Church in Hebrews I wrote:

We may summarise what we have discovered about the ecclesiology of the letter to the Hebrews as follows. In Christ a word is spoken and a salvation achieved, which word and salvation stand as a teleological climax to the word and salvation offered in the Old covenant to Israel. Through right response to his word, the Church stands in a similar teleological and climactic relation to old covenant Israel. What Israel was promised, what faithful Israelites looked for, is the possession of the Church by virtue of Christ’s completion in his death-resurrection-ascension of what Israelite religion foreshadowed. That the Church is the eschatological Israel is arguably the key concept in the writer’s theology of the nature of the Church.

Church in Hebrews 4

[NB. If you have it/ want it, then these posts are better read using Firefox as your browser]

More of my efforts to show that according to Hebrews the Church is in a relation of eschatological fulfilment to Israel of the Old Testament.

3. Two e˙kklhsi÷a passages

Both uses of the word e˙kklhsi÷a in Hebrews are references to the ‘end times’ hope of Israel and should be read in accord with the promise-inheritance dynamic of the passages cited above.[1]

With 2:12, the surrounding text contains a number of descriptions of the people of God, together emphasising the familial connection between Christ and Church, but doing so in ‘Israel language.’ The “brothers” in the e˙kklhsi÷a of Psalm 22 (quoted in 2:12) are the Israelites gathered around the vindicated suffering King, whilst the “children” in 2:12 are from Isaiah 8 where Isaiah and his family function as a ‘true Israel’ within Israel - displaying the kind of patient faith that should have characterised the entire nation. Like Isaiah, Christ is “ a rallying point” for faith, and those who gather around him are ‘Israel’ in the truest sense.[2] In this context the reference to those who receive help from the Son’s priesthood as “the offspring of Abraham” in 2:16 seems entirely natural. Moreover, in 2:11 both Christ (the sanctifier) and Church (those he sanctifies) are of one origin, that is, have a sonship[3] based on God’s exaltation of them.[4] Hence, in 2:10 the Church is the “many sons” (like Israel was the son of God, Exodus 4:22) who are brought to glory by the perfected Son. The ‘church’ of 2:12 is thus qualified by a number of further descriptions which emphasise the arrival of eternal salvation (sanctification-glory-perfection-inheritance) through Christ for the ‘Israel’ gathered around him.

In 12:18-24 the Hebrews are contrasted with Israel at Sinai. Rather than being gathered at the foot of Sinai, they have come to Zion, the eschatological Jerusalem.[5] This, together with the reference to perfection (12:23), indicates that the hope of Abraham and other old covenant saints for a heavenly city/country is in view.[6] The ruling body[7] of this heavenly Jerusalem is the church of the firstborn enrolled in heaven (12:22), who have access to God himself through Jesus the better mediator (12:23-24). This is summarised in 12:28 as them receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.[8] The Church is thus contrasted with Israel, but the contrast is by way of fulfilment – what makes the Church ‘different’ is that what Israel hoped for the Church in some sense possesses. Whilst this obviously awaits consummation, because the foundational, unique and guaranteeing priestly work has been done, the Church may truly be said to have ‘arrived’ at where Israel wanted to ‘be’ as embodied in her Zion theology. The new world, the promised rest, the heavenly city, the glorified ‘perfection’ that faithful Israelites hoped for, is all, through Christ’s mediatorial work, the possession of the Church. As Giles concludes, the Church is “Israel of the last days.”[9]

[1] In both passages ideas of inheritance are found in close proximity. See 2:16 and 12:17, 28.

[2] Quotation from Lane, Hebrews, 60. Attridge, Hebrews, 90-91.

[3] Asymmetrical but related nonetheless.

[4] Attridge argues that πντες includes “both parties in v 11”, though νς is ambiguous. Atttridge thinks νς is intentionally ambiguous, much like the identity of the son of man in 2:8-9, to be revealed later. Given the verbal link with 10 (where God is the source of τ πντα) and the familial language frequent in the rest of the writer’s exposition of this solidarity, it seems likely that the referent is God. Lane, Hebrews, 58. 51. Attridge, Hebrews, p88-89.

[5] See Psalm 2 or Psalm 46 for an example of Jerusalem idealised. Attridge states that in eschatological tradition Zion “became paired with Sinai as the ultimate point of God’s manifestation”, which traditions Paul and other early Christian authors adapted. Attridge, Hebrews, 374.

[6] Cf. 11:8-10, 13-16.

[7] This ‘political’ meaning for e˙kklhsi÷a can be found, for example, in Jonathan Stephen, “Introduction,” in Tales of Two Cities – Christianity and Politics (ed. Stephen Clark; Leicester: IVP, 2005), 9.

[8] This is probably itself a contrast with the old covenant system, which is about to be removed (8:13, 12:27, also 8:2-5, 9:11). This ‘preterist’ reading of the epistle assumes a pre-AD70 dating. John Owen is one of the more famous figures from Church history to propose such a reading. Rather than engaging in the lengthy process of trying to justify a preterist reading for Hebrews, we simply note here that reading the epistle as written in the context of the imminent covenant-transitional events of AD70 would strengthen the overall argument being made in this essay about the relation of the Church to Israel. The overall ‘new Israel theology’ on display here does not depend on preterism however. See David Field, “Interpretive approaches to the apocalypse” (Unpublished Lecture Handout. Oak Hill College, 2007). Also John Owen, Hebrews – The Epistle to the Hebrews, the Messiah, the Jewish Church (vol. XVII of The Works of John Owen; 1854-55; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 96-101.

[9] Giles, Church, 159.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Church in Hebrews 3

[NB. If you have it/ want it, then these posts are better read using Firefox as your browser]

More of my efforts to show that according to Hebrews the Church is in a relation of eschatological fulfilment to Israel of the Old Testament.

2. Christ, the Church, and Israel

So far we have seen at the very least that the Church is deeply analogous to Old Testament Israel, and that this is so by virtue of the Church’s connection to Christ. However, more can be said here, since the importance of Christ in the Church’s identity has further implications for the Church’s relation to Israel. Christ’s work is described throughout Hebrews as fulfilling promises, types, shadows, offices and rituals that were given to Israel in the Old Testament.[1] This basic relation of Christ to Israelite history is also true for the Church. The community that benefits from Christ’s fulfilling of Israel’s shadows is therefore a part of this fulfilment of Israel and her history. In the Church Israel’s salvation history, her covenant, her promises, reach their teleological climax.[2] The Church is in this sense the ‘true’ or ‘new’ Israel, and that by virtue of Christ.[3]

This can be established at several places in the text, but we will start with Hebrews 8 since in this section (8:1-10:18) we find some of Hebrews’ more sustained reflection on Christ’s relation to the old covenant order.[4] In 8:1 the discussion of Christ as High priest in the order of Melchizedek comes to a head with the commencement of a comparison between “the true tent’ in which Christ serves and that which is described as a shadow of it, namely the earthly tabernacle built by Moses (8:5).[5] As high priest in this true tent Christ mediates a better covenant (8:2-6). This covenant (and the deficiencies of the old one) were spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (quoted in 8:8-12). Christ’s unique priesthood, fulfilling the shadows of the old covenant, guarantees for the Church the new covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy.[6] In 9:15 this is described in terms of inheritance, which indicates these ideas are an expansion of what has been already asserted in more compact form in 2:16 where Christ as high priest helps Abraham’s offspring. The same themes can also be found in 6:13-20 where the promise to Abraham is expounded. Taken together, these passages show that what the Church receives from Christ’s high priestly ministry is what was promised to Abraham, and what was promised for a renewed Israel in Jeremiah 31. Hebrews 11:39-40 makes this even more explicit, where it is claimed that the saints of the Old Testament “did not receive what was promised” but only attained perfection[7] along with the Church. The same pattern is displayed in negative form in the discussion of God’s rest (3:7-4:14).[8] What faithful Israelites looked forward to, what faithless Israelites forfeited, is the possession of the Church.

[1] See discussion below for a fuller explanation. But see also discussion of typology and the Old Testament in Giles, Church, 154-155.

[2] That is, their intended ‘goal.’ This concept is clear in 11: 39-40 with regard to the promises and covenants given to faithful Israelites. See also Giles, Church, 153-159.

[3] “New’ alone would imply the Church was a new version, a second, a renewed Israel. That does not account for the fulfilment/climax motif found throughout Hebrews.

[4] Guthrie sees 8:3-10:18 as forming the second major half (5:1-10 with 7:1-28 forming the first half) of material in Hebrews on Christ’s “[r]elation to the Earthly Sacrificial System” – material which runs from 4:14 to 10:25 in total. 8:3-10:18 he designates as dealing with the superiority of Christ’s offering. Guthrie, Hebrews, 39-40.

[5] Guthrie sees 8:1-2 as a moment of transition and summary. Guthrie, Hebrews, 278-279.

[6] See also 7: 22. The significance of the priesthood as the guarantee of the whole covenant whether old or new) comes from Charles Anderson, Lectures on Hebrews, October-December 2007.

[7] That is, “cleansing of conscience, sanctification, and ultimate glorification” only “made possible by Christ’s sacrifice”[7] Attridge, Hebrews, 352.

[8] Note especially the description of this as a promise in 4:1.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Browser issues...

It seems that internet explorer doesn't like some of the formatting on my last couple of posts. For anyone who either already has it or is interested, Mozilla Firefox works a lot better. Apologies for the mess for those who don't.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Church in Hebrews 2

This section aims to show that according to Hebrews the Church is in a relation of eschatological fulfilment to Israel of the Old Testament.[1]

1. The Hebrews are like and unlike Israel

That there is a close connection between the recipients of the letter and “historic Israel”[2] is apparent from the very start of the letter. 1:1 describes the recipients of previous revelation as “our fathers” and the remainder of the introductory paragraph continues to draw a parallel between this revelation and the revelation given to the recipients of the letter through the Son (1:1-4). In one sense this sets the tone for the rest of the letter; the recipients are like Israel in the sense that they have received a gospel proclamation (4:2), and response to this word can either bring salvation or terrible judgment (2:1-4, 10:28-29, 12:25). Hence the Hebrews[3] are compared to the recipients of the Exodus deliverance in 2:14-15, to Israel in the wilderness in chapters 3-4, and the promises and warnings given to Israel in Psalm 95 and Jeremiah 31 are applied directly to them.[4] In fact, a similarity to Israel is implicit throughout, as evidenced by the frequent quotation from the Old Testament.[5]

However, the warning and judgment passages noted above are more than simply a ‘since them, then also us’ argument.[6] The Hebrews are like Israel but also unlike them.[7] This ‘unlikeness’ is based on the finality and climactic nature of the word spoken to them through the Son.[8] Accordingly, the salvation and judgment offered in the Son is both comparable to, and yet at the same time greater than, that experienced by Israel (1:2-4, 2:1-3, 10:28-29, 11:39-40).[9] Secondly, it can be clearly demonstrated that this connection to Israel is conceived as being in and through the recipients’ connection to Christ, whose relation to the old covenant itself receives a great deal of attention throughout the letter.[10]

[1] See e.g. Giles, Church, 159.

[2] Giles uses this expression. Giles, Church, 159.

[3] At various points we will use the term ‘the Hebrews’ to designate the recipients of the letter.

[4] Giles, Church, 153-154.

[5] Giles, Church, 152-153 highlights this.

[6] This does not mean they are less than such an argument, nor that they aren’t framed so as to read as such. Rather, we are asserting that there is more to be said than might appear at face value.

[7] This is a facet of the broader theme of the continuity and discontinuity between the covenants. See e.g. Ellingworth, Hebrews, 68-69.

[8] E.g. 1:1-2. Guthrie describes this as revelatory climax. Guthrie, Hebrews, 45.

[9] This understanding of Hebrews has been influenced by Charles Anderson, Lectures on Hebrews, October-December 2007.

[10] This is almost so all-pervasive as to not require confirmation by naming specific texts (we could cite the whole epistle in this regard). However, passages that specifically speak of Christ and the old covenant include 7:22-8:7; 9:15-26; 10:1-18.

Church in Hebrews 1

A while ago I did an essay on the doctrine of the Church in Hebrews. Over the next few posts I’ll be putting up edited selections from that essay, for anyone who’s interested.

My essay was essentially divided along the lines of two (ultimately inseparable) themes:

  1. Hebrews and the Nature of the Church
  2. Hebrews and Church Life

My main point on 1. Can be summarised like this:

Hebrews teaches that the Church stands in a teleological and climactic relation to old covenant Israel. What Israel was promised, what faithful Israelites looked for, is the possession of the Church by virtue of Christ’s completion in his death-resurrection-ascension of what Israelite religion foreshadowed. That the Church is the eschatological Israel[1] is arguably the key concept in the writer’s theology of the nature of the Church.

[1] I use this phrase to denote a similar idea to Giles’ “Israel of the last days”. Giles, Church, 159.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Computer Rage

When Jonathan Edwards was about nineteen years old he wrote a bunch of resolutions, thus setting an explicit agenda for his thought and conduct. They're pretty hardcore.

Here's number 15.

15. Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.

As someone who commits 'computer rage' (well, with PCs anyway, who could get angry at something so beautiful as a Mac?) and gets angry with other inanimate objects, I find that extremely challenging. He is, of course, completely right - such displays of anger are childish (toys out of pram anyone?) and ungodly.

So I'm resolved to try at number 15 now too.

And I'm also resolved to find time in the first five years of ministry to read much more Edwards (I think I'll need to limit myself to making a list of four or five 'friends' to commit to reading over the first few years, otherwise the list could just go on and on and on).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Prayers for Mission Saddleworth

The mission week is now well and truly over. In the end it was a strange sort of a week. The odd thing about mission weeks and the like is that you find yourself immersed in a place for 7 days, beginning to feel its concerns, fear its dangers and temptations, despise its idols, see its tremendous potential, only to then pack up and return home.

As a result, intercessions and thanksgivings form the most obvious, easy, immediate way to stay connected to (God's) long-term mission in Saddleworth.

I give thanks for the fact that the gospel has established a foothold in the area. In the midst of some middle-class gospel-apathetic do-goodery God has established his Church. I pray that his people there will buck the trend (numerical decline) and go from strength to strength. May there always be faithful people in Saddleworth.

I also give thanks for those Church members who turned up, invited friends, and provided prayerful support for the mission. I pray that all three churches we visited will grasp a much clearer vision for serving Christ in the Church and in the village.

I also give thanks for being shown considerable hospitality, warmth of fellowship, and being allowed to share in the material goods (mainly homes and food) of many Church members across the seven days. I pray that such hospitality would become the bedrock of 'life-on-life' discipleship, creating a culture of mutual pastoral care, accountability and spiritual zeal.

I give thanks for the Christian influence in the schools. For the regular assemblies taken by the vicar, for the Christian teachers, for the Christian headmistress of one school in particular. I pray this influence would continue and grow, and bear fruit in conversion. I pray that over time this influence would blossom into fully-grown Christ-centred biblical-worldview education.

I give thanks for the chance to witness a little on the ground, (at times) mundane, non-urban gospel ministry. I give thanks for the chance to see the pitfalls, dangers, potential distractions, and the internal and external pressures which face many ministers in their charges. I pray for all the leaders of the family of God in Saddleworth, that they'd plough a straight line.

I pray against the devil and his schemes, against disunity and apathy, against the idols of 'the good-life' and of 'churchiness', against the idea that the only way is down, against false hopes and false paths to growth, and for Saddleworth's future in God's plan to glorify himself in the Son.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The story so far...

Since arriving on Sunday evening we've

- Done 1 open air service (brass band included), 4 assemblies (2 different schools), 1 PCC meeting, 1 visit to the old folk's home and 1 coffee morning.

- Been served meat and potato pie twice (thrice for Marian).

- Spoken about heaven, hell, mission (what is it?), forgiveness, the cross, resurrection, palm sunday, death ('what about x, who was a lovely person, but didn't believe, I can't believe they'll be in hell?' seems to be a common question).

So, if you get the chance, pray for bottle, grace, patience, wisdom, energy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saddleworth Mission 2008

Ever heard of Saddleworth in West Yorkshire? No? Me neither. At least not until I agreed to help my college tutor organise a mission with two parish churches there for this easter week.

As a result, I'll be there from tomorrow onwards, helping brothers and sisters in Christ take the good news of easter to their neighbours. The first event is an open air service complete with brass band (Brassed Off anyone?) at which I'm giving a brief Palm Sunday talk. The last events are services on Easter sunday. In between there's coffee mornings, school assemblies, and other events filled with eastery goodness.

If you get a chance, please pray for us (there's a team of 7 of us going from Oak Hill). If I get a chance I might blog on location about how it's going.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Church attendance in England

Statistics aren't everything. But they also aren't nothing.

This post prompted me to go and dig out the figures on church attendance from the last English Church Census. I found them here. They make for a sobering read in some ways.

6.3% of the population of England attend church regularly.

Of which 40% attend evangelical churches of some description.

Which means evangelicals make up about 2.5% of the population.

Which is 1,264,800 people. (And falling).

We could analyse this 2,5% even further, by looking at the way it breaks down into broad, mainstream and charismatic evangelicals. But that would be perhaps a little too controversial. As it stands the 2.5% figure is enough to be thinking about.

[Off the main point slightly: The only thing is, when your church is 500 people strong you don't really feel like 2.5% of the population. I'm not against bigger churches, I don't buy the 'smaller is better' mentality of some (though I think there are issues about church life and discipleship tied to considerations of size). But I do think that one of the negative side effects of being in a bigger church is that you don't feel the cold bite of the wind. When you're singing the praises of God with a few hundred other people every sunday you can feel like the gospel is doing better (numerically speaking) than it is. Does that contribute to our bouts of evangelistic apathy and naivety, to our spiritual weakness, to our prayerlessness?]

I do believe that Britain has a Christian future. But we've got to realise that it won't happen at this rate, until (by the grace of God) we make some changes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wilson at Blenheim

Has the British Church become domesticated, like 'one of those little yippy dogs trained not to pee on the carpet?'

That and related topics are dealt with in these lectures on

The Gospel and your Church
The Gospel and your Family
The Gospel and your Government

by American Pastor Doug Wilson available here for free download. I for one am looking forward to listening to them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The LORD your God is the only Lord...

The Vatican has added another seven to the 'old school' seven deadly sins. They are:

Environmental pollution
Genetic manipulation
Accumulating excessive wealth
Inflicting poverty
Drug trafficking and consumption
Morally debatable experiments
Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

The reason? It seems like the old sins just aren't driving people to the confession box enough. [After all, who really gets upset these days by a bit of lust, greed, or sloth?]

Apart from questioning the presumption to decide which sins are death-inducing, cynics might also worry that the Apostolic Penitentiary (who, according to the BBC are "in charge of fixing the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners") is motivated by self-interest in trying to stem the tide of ever-diminishing visits to confession.

Meanwhile Libby Purves has some thoughtful things to say about the way our tax and benefit system treats the poor as if they are incapable of looking after their own money. She says "the message [repeatedly given in successive government budgets] is that if you are poor, you must be kept in the status of client and petitioner..." handing wads of your hard earned money over to the government in order to "immediately beg nanny government to give them back." She sums up:

"If you are poor, the Government's message is simple: “You are not in charge of your life and prosperity. We are. Trust us. Keep on voting for us or you're stuffed.”"

All this in the same week that someone suggests that school-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country. What I found very telling was how Lord Goldsmith understood the education system: "The citizenship ceremonies, which are just one of the many things I have suggested, are a way of marking that passage of being a student of citizenship to a citizen in practice." It might surprise many of us Christians to discover that the education system is not, after all, about being taught 1+1 and your p's and q's in a value-neutral environment (as if one actually exists), but about being given "a sense of shared belonging, a sense that you are part of a community with a common venture, to integrate better newcomers to our society and be clearer about what the rights and responsibilities are."

Meanwhile, back in reality, there is still only one God whose righteous law defines what is sin and determines the punishment, only one Lord to whom we owe absolute allegiance, and only one Saviour in whom we trust for forgiveness, prosperity, and identity.