Friday, September 28, 2012

Head to Heart

Without investing too much time in this issue, D.A. Carson makes a good argument in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God that God's love is not impassible. That type of theology sprang up in reaction to those portraying God as a sentimental, sappy chap, but impassibility came with the sacrifice of emptying the word love of any real meaning. Under this system, God's love becomes definition without relation.

Unfortunately for the church, there seem to be some Christians who believe their responsibility is to model an impassible love. To become like God is to fill the mind with the things of God and emulate his character (as corrupt a view as one may have). And there are definitely those at the opposite end, who treat the things of God flippantly and thrive only on experiential emotion. It is possible to err on the side of all heart and no head (emotional experience without sound doctrine), but maturing does not mean erring on the other side (dry intellectualism with cold stoicism).

Carson ends his book with pastoral implication to studying the love of God. Christians can imbibe more and more theology and have rock solid doctrine, but if it comes without real love, then all that knowledge is as a noisy gong or clanging symbol. Though every Christian is a Professor (and confessor), no one is to live strictly in the ivory tower of academic Christianity. We are to walk Main Street with our brothers and sisters in Christ, in relationship, mirroring the radiantly warm love of God to one another while seeking the higher things of God together.

Carson explains supremely better, so this shall end with his wise shepherding:
The love of God is not merely to be analyzed, understood, and adopted into holistic categories of integrated theological thought. It is to be received, to be absorbed, to be felt. Meditate long and frequently on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14–21. The relevant section finds the apostle praying for the believers in these terms: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Paul connects such Christian experience of the love of God with Christian maturity, with being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:19), as he puts it. It is far from clear that anyone can be a mature Christian who does not walk in this path.
Carson, D. A. (2000). The difficult doctrine of the love of God (68–69). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Hate the sin, but ...

How, then, should the love of God and the wrath of God be understood to relate to each other? One evangelical cliché has it that God hates the sin but loves the sinner. There is a small element of truth in these words: God has nothing but hate for the sin, but it would be wrong to conclude that God has nothing but hate for the sinner. A difference must be maintained between God’s view of sin and his view of the sinner. Nevertheless the cliché (God hates the sin but loves the sinner) is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner, his wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36).
Our problem, in part, is that in human experience wrath and love normally abide in mutually exclusive compartments. Love drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. We come closest to bringing them together, perhaps, in our responses to a wayward act by one of our children, but normally we do not think that a wrathful person is loving.
But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage. However emotional it may be, it is an entirely reasonable and willed response to offenses against his holiness. But his love, as we saw in the last chapter, wells up amidst his perfections and is not generated by the loveliness of the loved. Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended him; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is that kind of God.

Carson, D. A. (2000). The difficult doctrine of the love of God (68–69). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Love: A Difficult Doctrine

D.A. Carson is a genius. Every Christian should read his booked called The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. So should every non-Christian [then email me to discuss]. It's available for free from The Gospel Coalition.

Here is a short compilation of snippets on trying to explain or understand God's love within our culture:

We live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved. I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God—to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity. The result, of course, is that the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me; he’s like that, isn’t he? Besides, why shouldn’t he love me? I’m kind of cute, or at least as nice as the next person. I’m okay, you’re okay, and God loves you and me. Some elements of the larger and still developing patterns of postmodernism play into the problem with which we are dealing. Because of remarkable shifts in the West’s epistemology, more and more people believe that the only heresy left is the view that there is such a thing as heresy. They hold that all religions are fundamentally the same and that, therefore, it is not only rude but profoundly ignorant and old-fashioned to try to win someone to your beliefs since implicitly that is announcing that theirs are inferior. In short, the most energetic cultural tide, postmodernism, powerfully reinforces the most sentimental, syncretistic, and often pluralistic views of the love of God, with no other authority base than the postmodern epistemology itself. But that makes the articulation of a biblical doctrine of God and of a biblical doctrine of the love of God an extraordinarily difficult challenge.

Carson, D. A. (2000). The difficult doctrine of the love of God (11-14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Deuteronomy 29:29 Revealed

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." [Deuteronomy 29:29]

Case closed.

This is the verse pastors use when they can't adequately explain a doctrine. The Trinity? Deuteronomy 29:29. Evil? Deuteronomy 29:29. God's Sovereignty...and man's free will? Deuteronomy 29:29.

Ultimately, we don't know all the dimensions and full transcendence of God, and we all have corrupted perspectives of our Lord to varying degrees. D.A. Carson explains how we all function with holes in our theology:
"[The Bible] is rather more like a jigsaw puzzle whose Maker has guaranteed that all the pieces he has provided belong to the same puzzle, even though for various good reasons he has not given us all of them. “The secret things belong to the Lord,” Moses tells us, “but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). That means that we will always have gaps as we construct the puzzle; it means that clumsy players will try to force some pieces into slots where they do not belong and may be tempted to leave some pieces out because they cannot see where they fit in."
Carson, D. A. (1992). A Call to Spiritual Reformation (206). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

This is all true, and God is truly an infinite, awesome God. Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgment and how inscrutable his ways! [Rom 11:33]

Yet, practically everyone seems to use this verse in a negative sense. We cannot know everything, but we need not throw our hands up in theological despair. God has revealed himself through a variety of mediums. We can know him, and what Moses is fundamentally communicating in Deuteronomy is that God has revealed himself to us. There are facets of God's character and signposts of his plan that guide us. God has made his goodness to pass before us and has proclaimed to us his name, the LORD [Ex 33:19]. The following is not an exhaustive list, for if all of God's works were to be written, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (though we try).

First, God has revealed himself through his creation:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [Rom 1:19-20]
Second, continuing with Paul's theme in Romans, we see that God has revealed himself through conscience:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. [Rom 2:14-16]
Third, God has revealed himself through his Scriptures. Through his prophets and apostles, God has taught his people his Law, his will, his covenants and his redemptive narrative:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. [2 Tim 3:16]
Fourth, finally, and most importantly, God has revealed himself through his Son. Here is a thing revealed, a glorious treasure, worthy of white-glove treatment. For now, though, bask in the beam of radiant revelation:
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. [Heb 1:2]
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. [John 14:8-11]
God can be known. We can know him not by our crafty devices or surpassing wisdom, but because God graciously gave us his Word. Deuteronomy shows us that God revealed to us eternal truth that we might follow him. It is not too hard for us, neither is it far off. "But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" [Deut 30:14, Acts 17:27]. It is a hard thing to know God; it takes sanctified effort. But it is not too hard, and God has given to us many, many pieces of the proverbial jigsaw puzzle. As we stand back and gaze at the panorama, we see Christ and him crucified, we see the image of the invisible God, and it leads to a life of doxology.

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. [Deut 4:29] Seek, and you will find.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Psalm 110: A Very Brief Primer

Given the amount of confusion that typically surrounds Psalm 110, it's good to understand what David is saying and why it was so scandalous for Jesus and his disciples to quote it in the New Testament.

Whose Son Is the Christ?
            Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
            “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
            “Sit at my right hand,
                        until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
            If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.
[Matthew 22:41-46 ESV]

In the culture of first century Palestine, there was no question that a son of David would be the Messiah. Where the Pharisees and even the disciples were mistaken, however, was what it meant to be the Messiah. Even though they had all of the Scriptures and theology to indicate that the Messiah would be God himself, the Jews of that day were focused on a military and political king who would (re-)establish Israel’s sovereignty.

Psalm 110 does not mention that the Messiah is David’s son. But Jesus uses that Psalm to confound the Pharisees within their framework. The Pharisees would also recognize Psalm 110 as a Messianic Psalm. So if not from Psalm 110, how did they come to understand that the Messiah was David’s Son?

[Ps. 2:1–12; Ps. 89:1–52; Isa. 9:1–7; Jer. 23:5–6; Ezek. 34:23–24; 2 Sam. 7:12–14; Isa. 11:1, 10]

As a 3rd party observer, what is David saying in Psalm 110:1?

Yahweh said to my [David’s] Adonai [the Messiah], “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”

Up to that point in time, it was never viewed that a son was greater than his father. You can even hear it in the biblical narrative (“Are you greater than our father so and so, who did such and such?”… John 4:12, John 8:53). They asked the question rhetorically, because they thought the answer was an obvious, “No.”

What does this all mean when you put it together? The Jews and Pharisees should have fully understood whom the Messiah was when they pieced together their Scriptures and worked to reconcile passages that did not inherently make sense. They were secure in the thought:

The Messiah is David’s son, therefore he is under, or inferior to David.

But they refused to acknowledge or see:

The Messiah is David’s Lord, therefore he is over or greater than David in some way.

Who can fulfill this apparent paradox? The only way David’s Son can be greater than David—and actually be David’s Lord—is if he is God himself. A full understanding of who the person of Jesus is reconciles and fulfills all Messianic Scripture in the Law and the Prophets.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

David and Absalom: 2 Samuel 15 & Psalm 3

The ways God uses M'Cheyne in my life every year continue to amaze me. From the use of a Sunday M'Cheyne passage in that day's worship service to a preparatory reading of Psalm 2 before Men's Bible Study the morning of the meeting, there have been countless providential circumstances through the years.

In my dense, hard-hearted blindness, I have never before noticed that the M'Cheyne plan lines up 2 Samuel 15 and Psalm 3 on this day.

In 2 Samuel 15, we read of Absalom's conspiracy--the consequence of a series of terrible decisions by David [read more]. So David and his men flee Jerusalem and ascend the Mount of Olives in tears, barefoot, with their heads covered--the sign of mourning.

What does David do in his day of distress? He writes a song. Psalm 3 is heartbreakingly titled "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son."

But before I print Psalm 3 for reading here, consider great David's greater Son, who went to the Mount of Olives after singing a hymn with his disciples. Rather than cry out in response to oppression and persecution, he anticipates his foes rising against him and prays, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" [Matt 26:39]. Praise God he endured the cup for our sake, but also that the Father saw fit to answer his Son, wake him again and sustain him for eternity! Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!

[Save Me, O My God]
[3:1] O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
[2] many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah
[3] But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
[4] I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
[5] I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
[6] I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.
[7] Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
[8] Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Examine Yourselves

So says Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:5. And if you are in the faith, does your life bear the fruit of the Spirit and the marks of the cross? How do you relate to others in church? Does your life reflect the unity Paul writes about in Ephesians 4?

I have been struck by the discord in the American church--even within the small, warm church I attend. I know I contribute to it. May I be forgiven for my sin, and may we all evaluate our hearts and love toward one another.

Many excellent blog posts have been written regarding these things, and they are well worth the read. Does any of this sound like a struggle in your life?

What Do Pharisees Do?

What Is Real?

The Scoffer

How to Rescue Your Church in Three Weeks

You and Your Pastor

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Paul, the Weak Apostle

Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ's, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ's, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.  Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. [2 Corinthians 10:7-12]
How does a leader gain his authority? Why should any Christian accept the word, the action and direction of a man of God? Must he earn it?

The Corinthian church was struggling with Paul's ministry as an apostle through the attack of so-called "super-apostles." These men presumed a position higher than the Lord's apostles and attacked the work of Paul by many fronts. [2 Cor 11-12] They accused him of not being genuine since he didn't charge for his "uneloquent" preaching. They claimed he wasn't really an apostle because he couldn't produce his letters of recommendation the way they could [2 Cor 3:1]. These men were boasting about appearance instead of what was in the heart [2 Cor 5:12].

Paul responded by saying that if he so desired, he would actually have plenty of pedigree in which to boast. But he did not stand on that, and actually said that it would be madness--pure folly--to place confidence in those things [2 Cor 11:16-29, 2 Cor 12:1-11].

Whom, then, should we follow? Those whom the Lord has called. If you place your trust in a man because of his accomplishments, you will ultimately be disappointed. More importantly, you are following a different gospel--one opposed to Jesus Christ. No man is sufficient in himself, and that's as true for spiritual work and office as much as it's true for salvation.

Paul gives severe warning for the kind of leader who stands on his on commendation (and after writing his letter will be having words with them [2 Cor 10:2, 2 Cor 13:2-3]):
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. [2 Cor 11:13-15]
A leader's basis and very sufficiency must be in Christ. Just as we are saved in Christ alone, so any Christian leads in Christ alone. For God did not call the strong and the powerful, but the weak and dependent. This is true for salvation (Mark 2:17, Matt 5); this is true for service. The Corinthian church should have known this, but they forgot the message Paul gave them in his previous letter:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” [1 Cor 1:27-31]
A leader does not command authority on his own basis, nor on the basis of his works, nor on the basis of man's commendation. No, his only confidence and sufficiency is in Christ alone, by the call of God alone:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:4-6]
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. [2 Corinthians 10:18]
What type of leader do you desire? Whom will you follow? Saul, or David? Hananiah, or Jeremiah? Caesar, or Christ?