Thursday, October 6, 2016

Matthew Henry On Priests

Something Matthew Henry said is pertinent to my book The Covenant of Redemption, on the chapter on priests. I take this from his commentary on Judges 12:

It is very strange that in the history of all these judges, some of whose actions are very particularly related, there is not so much as once mention made of the high priest, or any other priest or Levite, appearing either for counsel or action in any public affair, from Phinehas (Jdg. 20:28 ) to Eli, which may well be computed 250 years; only the names of the high priests at that time are preserved, 1 Chr. 6:4-7 ; and Ezra. 7:3-5 . How can this strange obscurity of that priesthood for so long a time, now in the beginning of its days, agree with that mighty splendour with which it was introduced and the figure which the institution of it makes in the law of Moses? Surely it intimates that the institution was chiefly intended to be typical, and that the great benefits that seemed to be promised by it were to be chiefly looked for in its antitype, the everlasting priesthood of our Lord Jesus, in comparison of the superior glory of which that priesthood had no glory, 2 Co. 3:10.

Unlimited Atonement: When Owenst Makes the First Move

I have a desire to try out a new approach when debating on the topic of limited/unlimited atonement, and the plan goes something like this: first establish some basic fundamentals, then ask the person on what basis can Christ’s death be restricted in every sense only to the elect. Rather than hit the ball back and forth for a while talking about the universal vs particular passages in Scripture as is often the case in this debate, I propose to cut straight to the chase and make the advocate for strict limited atonement build their point from the beginning. I don’t want to say “the burden of proof is on the Owenist” because I think the point is even more fundamental than that. I think the Owenist cannot defend their view when you come right down to it because they’ve assumed what they can’t prove.

Question 1: Is there, humanly speaking, any difference between an elect and a non-elect person?
Obviously given the grace of God there’s a difference between the eternal destiny of an elect person and a non-elect person, but I’m not talking about that. What I’m asking is, is there anything in one human versus another that makes them different? Remove God from the equation for a moment if that helps—is there’s any difference in genius, or species, or nature, or flesh, between the redeemed and the unredeemed? Do the elect have a special chromosome? Do they have medichlorians in their blood? Or is God selecting them from among the rest? Based on John 15:19, Deut 7:6, 1 Cor 4:7, Rom 9:21 it's better to conclude God has a common clay of humanity and from this shapes some to vessels of honor, and allows some to fit themselves for dishonorable uses.

Question 2: Which humanity did Jesus put on?
We all agree that God put on Humanity in the incarnation. But was it an elect humanity or just humanity in general that He put on? For if the answer to question 1 is that there is only the human race and all are born from Adam, then it can’t be true that Jesus puts on anything other than humanity. Or stated positively, it must be that Jesus puts on plain, ordinary, humanity, because there’s no other kind available to put on.

Punch-line: Given that Jesus put on a humanity common to all of us, what is the mechanism that makes His substation inaccessible to all?
Here’s the point of this blog post. I want the advocate for strict limited atonement to tell me how the mechanism of forgiveness is not good for the non-elect given that they share a common humanity with Jesus. As far as I can remember every time this discussion comes up the SLA advocate says something to the effect of “But God didn’t elect everyone to eternal life.” Right. He didn’t. We agree that the intent of the atonement was to save the elect, and that He had them in mind to spend eternity with. But on what grounds is the access to His offering denied to them? How was Jesus, true man, counted as a sinner in such a way that only some men can take His righteousness for themselves while at the same time excluding the rest? The most obvious thing to say is that the elect are a different class of humanity, but we’ve already taken that away with the first question. Given that, how is it possible?
That’s the question I’m betting they can’t answer, because it’s assumed. It’s assumed that the non-elect are in the same class as the fallen angels and that even if they believe (hypothetically speaking) they’d be lost because there’s no atonement made on their behalf. But why is this given that Jesus made the propitiation God-ward on behalf of men? Point to the verse in Scripture that establishes this point. Barring that, point to the syllogism that reveals the mechanism.

Potential Answer: They don’t have faith
But that stubborn disbelief was present in you when you were a non-believer before He got ahold of you. So it cannot be that unbelief is a permanent and inherent disqualifier. Perhaps it’s meant that persistent unbelief renders men lost. But this proceeds from within the person, not as a component within, or mechanism of, Christ’s trade with us. All this is saying is that without God putting our hearts right we will stupidly resist Him forever, it’s not saying that salvation is fundamentally inaccessible.

Potential Answer: They weren’t elected
Right. We covered that. And the question remains how was Jesus, true man, counted as a sinner in such a way that only some men can take His righteousness for themselves while at the same time excluding the rest? It’s not the intent of salvation that directly drives strict limited atonement, it’s the means of salvation. 

Potential Answer: I'm a hyper-Calvinist, in your face!Time to Nope-Out out of here.

Is there any other potential answer? If there is I can’t see it, so leave it in the .

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Covenant of Revelation Defended

So I’ve just released my book, The Covenant of Revelation, and it appears to have a rather simplistic take on the Bible—so much so that I feel a little embarrassed about it, actually. In this short blog post I wanted to write a defense for it to show you the logical structure that underpins the book.

Foundational Premise: God does all things for His glory.
To assert this is nothing more than to assert that God has volitions and a plan for creation. In other words, He’s a rational actor. I take this premise as both foundational and self-evident, and as such I feel no need to justify it.
I will say in passing however that the strength of this premise is seen when you try to invert it. So if the statement “God does everything for His glory” is false, then “God doesn’t do everything for His glory” is true. But what specifically doesn’t He do for His glory? Does He do some things to establish and spread glory, and some things to sabotage and undermine it? Or say the things He doesn’t do for His glory are neutral, that is, sometimes He’s about the business of His glory, and sometimes He’s busy doing other things. What are those other things? Increasing our love for Him? That brings Him glory. So not only is the negative of this statement absurd, I can’t even conceive of what it means. Which may speak to a limited intelligence on my part, admittedly, or it may speak to the validity of the premise.

Corollary : God created the universe to glorify Himself.
No surprises right? The creation of the universe is a subset of the category “all things done.” We might also restate this corollary as: God glorifies Himself by revealing Himself to the universe He’s created without much fuss either.
I like putting it that way because makes it easier to see the consequence that God is about the business of unveiling His nature, attributes, desires, abilities, thoughts, and heart to the world—which was the reason He created in the first place. It also allows for the follow on statement: the Bible was breathed out by God for His glory. Which can be reshaped to: The Bible was given to glorify God by revealing Him.
Now if this is true, (and I think it is) then there are certain logical conclusions that must inevitably follow.
Conclusion 1: The Bible is designed to reveal Christ.
Conclusion 2: The Bible is about Christ
Corollary to Conclusion 2: the things in the Bible are about Christ.
Which means: “the covenants in the Bible are about Christ” or “the covenants in the Bible were given to reveal Christ to the world.” So far so good? Nothing spectacular about any of these statements right? Wrong. Conclusion 2 is absolutely devastating to ordinary evangelical theology. It’s checkmate in 7 for the mainstream opinion. Or if you’re not into chess it’s the Arizona Rangers big iron going Bang! For if the covenants are about Christ then the new covenant has to be about Christ too, and the stool which Baptist theology rests on gets the legs kicked off at that point.
The book is the proof of this.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Elephants, Serpants, and Becoming Presbyterian

In the book Prelandra, the final confrontation between Satan (the Unman) and Ransom begins with a moral struggle for the protagonist. Ransom realizes that no matter what he says, the Unman is more clever than he, and has a better answer for why the lady should fall into sin. He has no chance to win and is about to despair when God instructs him to simply punch its lights out. Lewis writes--
The voluble self was almost thrown out of its argumentative stride - became for some seconds as the voice of a mere whimpering child begging to be let off, to be allowed to go home. Then it rallied. It explained precisely where the absurdity of a physical battle with the Un-man lay. It would be quite irrelevant to the spiritual issue. If the Lady were to be kept in obedience only by the forcible removal of the Tempter, what was the use of that? What would it prove? And if the temptation were not a proving or testing, why was it allowed to happen at all? Did Maleldil suggest that our own world might have been saved if the elephant had accidentally trodden on the serpent a moment before Eve was about to yield? Was it as easy and as un-moral as that? The thing was patently absurd!
The thing has recently come into my mind because of a sermon series begun by preacher man Van Dorn where he seeks to show Christ at the center of each Psalm. Seeing his notes on Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 1 brought to my mind the story at the beginning of my book where the Baptist church bombed out so unsatisfactorily. And it makes me think about my own situation. If I had sat under this preaching week in and week out, would I ever have developed an itch which only the presbyterians could scratch? No. The answer is no.
Had I encountered this sort of solid teaching from a Baptist sooner, had I run into Doug earlier, I would never have been swept off the road. His approach takes him close enough to the boarder of Presbyterianism that it would have cut me off completely. So I see myself in Lewis' question: would Eve have been spared from the fall if the elephant had accidentally trampled him before she'd given in? If something had intervened would she have been kept from falling?
Yeah. She would have. But God in His providence arranged otherwise.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Interview with the author of "Covenant of Revelation"

Welcome to the studio today Phil, it's nice to have you back.
Thanks, it's always nice to be here.

Okay so you're releasing a new book soon, tell us what's it about.
The Covenant of Revelation is a walk through the covenants in the Bible and what they teach us about Christ.

Sounds simple enough--although hold on, did you say a book on covenants? Covenant theology books are a dime a dozen. Not to be rude here but everyone and their sickly uncle's dog has written on it. What are you bringing to the table that a million other people haven't?
Well a few things.... I suppose the first of which is that the objective truths of God must come before the subjective man-centric application of them, and that you need to have both together to make sense of the covenants. I start with the idea that God has decreed to reveal Himself to creation, or to bring Himself glory if you like that phrase better, and that everything that's happened since He did that is a direct consequence of that. An outgrowth of it.
The second unique thing about this book would be that the covenants are about Christ, designed to reveal Him to us. I try to discuss what they actually reveal about Him as much as possible.
The third may be the approach. I tried to make the presentation as organic as possible, so that a reader could track with the story of the Bible. I also tried to show the necessity of each historical moment.
Fourth is how I break out the book of Hebrews, that was pretty neat.
And the last thing that may be unique to this book is my heavy focus on how the new covenant is really about Christ's priesthood. 

Are you offering anything categorically original here?
Oh I doubt it. In fact I was listening to one of my pastors preach a couple of weeks ago and he took a very similar approach to the Scriptures in terms of how he first found Christ in the text and then found us on the topic of covenants in Ezra. I remember sitting in the chair thinking how he was hot on the heels of this book on his own. In terms of following the logical trail of his ideas he's perhaps six months behind me, if that. If he pursues it, that is.

What was the genesis of this book?
I was studying the Bible trying to put together what the definition of a covenant was because I felt my understanding of it was inadequate. It didn't fit right. Calling a covenant a moment that defines a relationship like so many do felt like calling a violin concerto a bunch of dudes rubbing horse hair together. It felt wrong you know? As I began to piece it together I got to talking with one of my pastors about it, which led to a rebuke, which led to me bouncing my ideas off a friend. He then said I needed to write it down and make a short work out of it. So I did.

I'm looking at the table of contents here and I don't see you address the Covenant of Works. Why not?
Well... I don't have much use for it in this book honestly. I mean if by covenant of works you mean God enters into a relationship with men at their creation then that's fine. If you define covenants in that way. If however you mean there's a covenant which allows men to save themselves, I don't think that's going to fly. I don't have a problem with the concept of a covenant at creation, but to call that a covenant of works is such a misfit of a term that I can't stand it. And the notion of a republication at Sinai--don't get me started.

Do you agree with a covenant at creation?
Sure. It's sort of a special case covenant, but that's fine. As long as you're not saying it's possible for Adam to earn his way into God's favor or equating the command to not eat the fruit as a covenant. Both of those are terrible ideas. But if you just want to say that Adam was the head of his family and was appointed regent over creation by his relationship to God, then yeah, I mean I think that's biblical don't you? I just didn't think it warranted a mention because I wanted to keep the narrative tight. Besides, all this talk of implicit covenants in the Bible isn't going to interest people. You should ask about something they want to know about.

Okay fair enough, we'll do a different question. Favorite chapter?
The covenant with Abraham. It went through a lot of drafts but I think I was able to maneuver it into a good place. It's at the point now where I have to stand every time I proof read it because seeing Christ in the covenant with Abraham makes me want to jump for joy.

Least favorite?
The priestly element of Sinai. It taxed my abilities as a writer to describe the void, or the absence of a revelation. I mean, it's not often said but the absence of a direct revelation is really quite conspicuous. I didn't think I did a great job with it and I'd just as soon just leave it out. But I can't you know? Because it needs to be there to present a proper understanding of the New Covenant. 

So your central premise, or the animating idea for the book, what is it?Christ must come first. We find Him first in the text before finding ourselves. This applies double to the new covenant.

Any other examples you didn't put in the book?
Well take marriage for example. We are to understand it first as being about Christ and the church. We're then to understand it as the means for children entering in the world and restraining lusts. Or take election. What does Romans 8 say the reason is God elected us? So that His Son could be first born among many brothers. 

Do you think this book will be well received?
Probably not. It won't sell well, and I kinda doubt the ideas penetrate into people's understanding. I mean I couldn't get people to proof read beyond the chapter on Noah, so, you know. Honestly given how many people buy this genre of book and how little known I am, I'd be surprised if more than three people make it all the way to the end. I hope that didn't come off as too pessimistic because I'm just trying to be real here. If no one else reads it my kids will and one day thank me for it. Because I'll make 'em.

Does that bother you that people might not even finish the book if they buy it at all?
As long as they read the chapter on the difference between Baptist and Presbyterians at the end of the book, no. But if someone were to read the book and be strengthened in their love for Christ, that would be amazing to hear about.

What's your next project?
I promised my daughter I'd write her a story for her birthday. It's going to be a growing up tale for her and about her. It's a world of magic and monsters. After that I'm going to finish updating Animadversions, and after that, I may just get back to my moderate calvinism book. Who knows.

Alright thanks for your time brother, that's all we have time for today. Where can we buy the book if we're interested?
Amazon of course. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Unsafe Worship

So my old church surprised me by having the secular comedian Michael Junior showcase his talents during their morning services. I shared this fact with my wife and she just shrugged, not being particularly surprised. I shared it with my dad and he seemed to find the thing unremarkable. In fairness, nobody seemed very surprised at Andy Stanley's church opening their service with boy band songs either, so maybe it's just me. Nonetheless, I found the idea of having a secular comedian perform during service an absolutely ghastly idea. It seemed to me a judgment from God; the people craved entertainment rather than the faithful exposition of the Bible, so to punish them He would give them their wish.

Making The Case Against A Comedian In Service

If a worship service was something God designed to bring Himself glory (rather than express our feelings) would that change the way we hold service?
I don't mean this in the superficial sense, since any good Christian will agree that we must do all things to the glory of God. I mean, practically speaking, doesn't that constrain what we can and can't do during a church service? 

Yet it doesn't. And why not? Because we may pay lip service to the idea but deep down we don't believe it. We think worship is really "our public display of affections toward God." Or, "that which is done toward God in sincerity and passion." And there are a lot of problems with that. 

The first problem is that we must worship by filling ourselves with passion and sincerity, which means all things which bring passion must be pursued, and all things which don't stir the soul must be jettisoned. In music this means the lights go down, the songs get loud, and the voices go silent. In prayer this means confessions of sins are forgotten, long prayers become short prayers, or better yet, no prayers. The preaching moves from exegetical, to topical, to long form stories, then finally to uplifting homilies on personal improvement. 

The second consequence of working out of a man centric definition of worship is that there's now no firm, rational, or substantial basis with which to have a discussion on this issue, as it makes personal preference law. Criticizing a worship style or liturgy or decision is tantamount to asserting the way someone feels about Christ is wrong. It not only makes no sense, it's fighting words worthy of ex-communication. Thus people are prevented at the outset from having a discussion, being boxed out of it by the definition. All that remains is to assign a label like judgemental or hater, because that's all that can be done.

The third consequence of defining worship in terms of the feelings it produces is that God is made irrelevant. In creating an open space where anything goes during church under the guise of glorifying God, God ultimately stops mattering. Plays, skits, movies, television shows, comedy routines, boy bands--all of that makes sense if I feel it makes sense. If my talent is to do rhythmic gymnastics to the glory of God and people enjoy watching me, why shouldn't I do that during service? Because broadly speaking, whatever moves someone to God is good, whatever makes them less passionate about Him is bad. 

Now I don't mean to say there's no place for style or preference. Some churches might want to clap their hands and sing their songs in a gospel style. Others might want a guitar and a drums to be contemporary, others might want a cello and be contemplative. I don't care about that topic, I'm not interested in discussing it, and that's not what this blog post is about in any case. The point I'm trying to establish is that there's a boundary between acceptable and non-acceptable acts during church services. Unacceptable acts can go too far and cause God to say, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." It is not the case that all things which moves our thoughts heavenward is good, and it's possible to conduct worship in a way that people think they are alive and pleasing to God while He says to them, "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God."

Please, just for a moment consider what it would mean for us if church service wasn't our expression of love. If pursuing what makes us passionate and emotional wasn't worship.
God help us, what if that was actually the opposite of worship, and was something forbidden by God because He hates it? Doesn't the the second command forbid this very thing?
Now before you protest that idols represented demons and were never used to help people focus on God, consider that Israel made two bulls and bowed to them for hundreds of years in precisely this way. It was no less idolatry because it focused their thoughts on Him, and neither did their sincere desire to bring strange fire before Him endear them to Him. He stamped out the entire nation because of their offensive worship of Him.

Given then that both our ego-centric worship and their idolatry proceed from the same principles, isn't it possible that they amount to the same thing? Sure we don't fall down before metal or wooden figurines, but isn't it possible that in setting ourselves up as the most important figure in worship we've been disobedient to the second commandment? I hope you would agree it's at least possible to do this.

The Danger of it

Having established the existence of the second commandment, and the fact that we can break it, let's move to the next question--how would we know when we've broken it?

Here's my answer: I don't think we do, and that seeing the line is impossible. Consider Lot. He was a godly man and no fool, having risen to the status of a judge in the city. So why didn't he leave Sodom earlier? He stayed to minister and evangelize right up until it was burned to the ground, and lost everything. Why? Why stay when such a life leads you to a place where your daughters trick you into having your children? I think it's because being near to idolatry blinds you. Moving by inches and small steps into apostasy or heteropraxy happens so gradually, so gently, that it's almost impossible to see. Sin is a shutting of the eyes, a confusing of the mind, and a darkness that obscures what should be obvious. As the saying goes, the eye that looks outward sees the world, the eye that looks inward sees only blackness.

It reminds me of an anecdote in one of Philip Yancy's books. His friend was about to embrace the gay lifestyle and Philip warned him, begged him to turn back before it was too late. The response was a heartbreaking, carefree disregard for the necessity of holiness. "Oh don't worry, there's no sin I can commit that I can't be forgiven for. That's whats so amazing about grace isn't it, that it's always there for me? You don't deny I'll be forgiven do you? No? Then don't worry about me, I'll sin for awhile and just ask for forgiveness later."
Philip pointed out there was no guarantee he would want grace later. By being in, around, and among sin he would be fundamentally changed to shy away from God. Because that's how life is. It changes you.
You may think jumping into cool ocean water sounds nice now, but that's because you're in the triple digit heat. Go to the 50 degree overcast beach of the north coast and you'll stop wanting to get into the water. You may think when you're a kid that being an adult is going to be awesome because you could eat candy all the time, but when you get to be an adult you're different than you were, and it doesn't sound at all appealing.

How did the liberal churches fall into the pathetic state of unholiness they're in now? By small degrees. By being unable to see the big pictureThey moved into sin gradually, so imperceptibly, that the people who made a fuss about the next compromise seemed to be contentious troublemakers rather than faithful believers and were ignored. Each compromised deadened them a little more, lulled them to sleep a little more soundly than before. It habituated them to spiritual compromise little by little. The current sweeps you along without you even realizing it.
It's the same way with holiness too.
We're continually being made into the image of God by beholding His glory, but it's in such small increments that you have to read your diary from 10 years ago to notice it.

I may be wrong about that of course. There might be an obvious bright yellow line, a simple principle that if followed will let everyone see clearly no matter where they are or how committed to the subjective worship model they are. But I don't know what it is yet, and I don't think it even exists. I suspect therefore that the road to hell is not marked with signposts or sudden turns, but with one smooth gradual paved slope, and that by in large a people attending a church that's sliding downward will shrug and keep moving, no matter if it's a boy band or a comedian for service. "Doesn't look so bad from where I sit. What's the big deal?"

But what if it is? What if the sin that dwells in each of us causes blindness and the only safe thing to do is ask ourselves "what does the Scripture say?" rather than "what do I like?" What if serving God must be done in the way He's commanded and not with clowns, comedians, or secular boy bands?