Archive for April 2010

Hallowed be Thy name

April 30th, 2010 — 8:59am

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from Me” (Jer 32:40).

Often when I pray as our Lord taught us to pray for my household and congregation, I cannot get past the first petition, Hallowed by Thy name. Everything else flows from this. For one who hallows God’s name, God is never in the margins. The reality of His existence, the riches of His self-revelation, the bounty of His love, and the wholesome demands of His law constantly impinge upon the consciousness of such a person. This is not a dreadful thing (in the sense of dreading harm), for the fear of God, which is much the same as hallowing His name, is the fear of a child beloved of the Father. There is deep awareness of His authority, a yearning to please Him, and a sense of awe at His presence, but all of this attracts rather than repels, precisely because God’s name to us is Father. The one who fears God’s name trembles before Him because He is great and good – because He deserves that His creatures should tremble before Him, and the heart does so willingly – not because He is fearsome and terrible to His little ones. The chick beneath the wings of the hen knows the power of its mother, and her terrible wrath against those who would harm her offspring; and it trembles with gladness, not with dread.

But how, oh how, in this distracting world, shall God’s people be brought to fear Him? What will birth and nourish this fear in their hearts, so they need not constantly be hedged in by admonishments from without, but may from within bring forth fruits of true faith? The answer, of course, is that God Himself must do it; the first petition itself bears witness to this. So fulfill Your promises of the New Covenant to us, O Lord. Put Your fear in our hearts, that we may not turn from You. Fill Your ordinances with the power of Your Spirit, and by them inscribe Your glory on the tablet of our hearts.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

God and creatures

April 28th, 2010 — 9:36am

“[God] wills creatures, not for something they are or that is in them, but for his own sake. He remains his own goal. He never focuses on his creatures as such, but through them he focuses on himself. Proceeding from himself, he returns to himself. It is one single propensity that drives him to himself as the ultimate end and to his creatures as the means to that end. His love for himself incorporates into itself the love he has for his creatures and through them returns to himself. Therefore, his willing, also in relation to creatures, is never a striving for some as yet unpossessed good and hence no sign of imperfection and infelicity. On the contrary: his willing is always – also in and through his creatures – absolute self-enjoyment, perfect blessedness, divine rest.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 2.233)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

On weekly communion

April 27th, 2010 — 10:53am

Not long ago I was conversing with a fellow minister about weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper. He made a comment that set my mental wheels spinning: there is, he said, a particular piety that flows out of (or accompanies) weekly celebration of the Supper, and it sits rather awkwardly with certain versions of piety in our Puritan-Presbyterian heritage.

Hmmm. . . . So much to think about here. I would have to say, from my own experience as a pastor, that implementing weekly communion in our congregation has transformed our worship and, in more subtle and gradual ways, our piety. I believe the reason for this lies in the nature of the Supper, and what it forces us to confront about the character of our God.

For one thing – and it is no small thing – the Supper hammers away at the spirit-matter dualism that continues to shackle so much Christian piety. God could have given us only His Word, and if we were honest, I think a lot of us in Reformed churches would have been satisfied with that. We love preaching, we love words, we love grand ideas, we love the Logos. And we should. But God didn’t stop there. He also gave us sacraments. The God who determined to walk among us as the Logos-made-flesh also determined to pour water over our bodies and to feed us bread and wine. And He is quite insistent that this shall continue until He returns, in the body, to resurrect our bodies and usher us into the new heavens and the new earth. If we take this seriously – if it isn’t just a footnote to our hearing sermons but a profound and necessary unfolding, to all of our senses, of what we hear in sermons – then we are forced to a confront a God who is “with us” in the fullness of our lives, not just in the cerebral sanctum of our minds. He isn’t some Idea far off in the ether, accessible only through gnosis. He is the Maker, Lord, and Redeemer of all things in heaven and on earth, of our souls and our bodies. He is transcendent, speaking to us from above and beyond; but He is also immanent, speaking to us – quite literally – at hand, as the God who fills all things. “The Word is near you.”

But there is something else, and this brings us closer to the question of weekly communion. One of the main arguments I have heard against weekly communion is the idea that people will start “taking it for granted.” After awhile, it will become ordinary to them, and they won’t take it with sufficient seriousness.

Curiously enough, I have never heard the same argument marshaled against weekly preaching of the Word, and so I wonder: what kind of “sufficient seriousness” do we think God expects of us at the Supper? It must be a seriousness unique to the Supper, because it isn’t imperiled by weekly practice of any other element in worship.

I must be careful in what I am about to say. Sweeping generalizations are unfair, and I want to be clear that I am not accusing anyone in particular. That said, I believe there is a seriousness about the Supper in some Reformed circles that miserably distorts our Lord’s intentions for the Supper. The Supper is, indubitably, “serious” in that it sets before us the death of our Lord Christ. One can, I should think, never take that with too much seriousness. But our problem in some circles is not that we are taking the death of Christ too seriously; it is, rather, that we are taking ourselves far, far too seriously at the Supper. On the basis of a really confused idea of “self-examination,” we miss the whole point of the Supper – which is that God in Christ is for us. The Supper is not a judgment seat; it is not a place of thunder and lightning (except insofar as it shows how thunder and lightning were visited on our Surety); it is the table of our Father, where He brings forth the Bread of Life and the good wine of the gospel, and joyfully feeds His children.

May I say it respectfully: I simply can’t see why children need six months of preparation before they approach their father’s table; and if we, being evil, can figure that out, how much more our Father who is in heaven? The Table of the Lord is a friendly place, a joyful place, yea, even for sinners (no one else, incidentally, is invited); and weekly communion implicitly bears witness to this by not permitting weeks and months of anguished “preparation.” Rightly conceived, weekly communion reflects a certain view of God and of our approach to Him: it takes “seriously” the work of the Spirit by which Christ is really present at the Supper, whose work it is to cry out in our hearts, “Abba, Father.” And yes, this does bring forth a certain version of piety. It’s called the Spirit of adoption, rather than the spirit of bondage to fear. God give us more of it.

Comment » | Grace and Life

Why I am not a Baptist

April 26th, 2010 — 3:06pm

I began seminary as a Calvinistic Baptist who had begun flirting with so-called “New Covenant Theology.” Within a few months, however, I had become a confirmed Presbyterian. The change was due largely to the dawning of a central insight; and it occurred to me recently that once that early penny dropped, the shape and direction of my subsequent work in covenant theology were largely determined.

The insight was quite simple: I objected, as a Calvinistic Baptist, to the idea that infants should be baptized, because we cannot know whether an infant actually believes in Christ, and faith in Christ is a sine qua non of salvation. But then one day the light went on: this problem doesn’t go away when one baptizes an adult; precisely the same problem arises in connection with everyone who is baptized. Someone comes professing to have been converted, and professes faith in Christ – how do we know this person is “the real thing” (elect and really converted)? The short answer is, we don’t. Or to put it more accurately (using a more biblical definition of “the real thing”): we know all we need to know in order to baptize the person and regard him or her thenceforth as a Christian, a member of God’s covenant people, a child in His family. The warrant for baptizing a person is never some kind of infallible knowledge that he or she is elect, or even truly converted. If a person professes faith, in he or she comes to the number of God’s people – and according to scripture, all his or her seed come in as well. Period. No further inquiry is possible or necessary.

Now, what I didn’t realize at the time is that there exists an odd creature in the Reformed world called a “Bapterian.” Bapterians have a Presbyterian sign on their place of worship; they accept adults who profess faith in Christ as members of the covenant without qualification, and baptize their children; but they place the children of professing believers in a probationary category until they manifest fruits of a genuine conversion – and to this extent they are . . . well, Baptists.

What ends up happening in a Bapterian system is that children, rather than being taught to fulfill their covenantal responsibilities to the Lord like any other Christian (believing, obeying, serving, worshipping, professing), are taught that until they meet particular conditions they really have no right to regard themselves as Christians, as children of God, as objects of divine grace. I would argue there is something Arminian-sounding here, but I digress.

Once I understood that the biblical practice of baptism (and of ecclesiology in general) doesn’t require a hotline to God’s hidden decrees, or any revelation of His secret workings in the hearts of men, it was inevitable that I should reject not only the Baptist system but also the Bapterian. This side of the eschaton, we regard the church as God sets her before us, and leave the hidden things to Him. Where is His church? Look for the professing believers and their seed, baptized into His Triune name. These – all of them – are the saints, the Christians, God’s covenant people, His family. There are no qualifications. There are no probationary categories. You’re either in or you’re out. Some may be removed from the house by discipline (or God’s final judgment), but no one is left standing on the porch.

Comment » | Life in Front of the Curtain


April 24th, 2010 — 2:32pm

I would enjoy an evening with lots of pipe smoke and Scotch to discuss a Christian response to this development in the arts:

“First in painting and later in theater and poetry, Expressionismus would be used after 1911 to describe the German avant garde much as Futurismo described the Italian. It would be used retroactively to describe Strindberg’s drama. For painters, it represented the replacement of Seurat by Van Gogh as a model; and the assertion of a new goal: to paint not the observed moment in the life of nature, but nature’s inner life, and the inner life of the artist as well.” (William Everdell, The First Moderns, p. 305)

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Vanhoozer on Wright

April 24th, 2010 — 12:16pm

Here is an important recent contribution to the ongoing discussions of N. T. Wright’s theological project.

Comment » | Moses and Christ

Divine self-centeredness

April 24th, 2010 — 10:31am

Here’s a mind-bender for you:

“[God] always aims at himself because he cannot rest in anything other than himself. Inasmuch as he himself is the absolutely good and perfect one, he may not love anything else except with a view to himself. He may not and cannot be content with less than absolute perfection. When he loves others, he loves himself in them; his own virtues, works, and gifts. For the same reason he also is blessed in himself as the sum of all goodness, of all perfection.” (Bavinck, p. 2.211)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

The supreme artist

April 24th, 2010 — 10:21am

“God is the supreme artist. Just as a human artist realizes his idea in a work of art, so God creates all things in accordance with the ideas he has formed. The world is God’s work of art. He is the architect and builder of the entire universe. God does not work without thinking, but is guided in all his works by wisdom, by his ideas.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 2.206)

Comment » | Trinitarian Reflections

On the Psalter (an interlude)

April 23rd, 2010 — 5:27pm

Sometimes it’s the blindingly obvious stuff you miss when reading scripture. Today I had a few minutes to explore more fully Geerhardus Vos’ article, “Eschatology of the Psalter” (Princeton Theological Review, January 1920). I felt myself, all at once, “strangely warmed” by a truth that would be old news to a high school Bible student: the entire hope of the Old Testament, in all its variegated richness, clusters around the arrival of Messiah. Now, maybe we need immediately to qualify this and point out that there are really two arrivals of Messiah, one in grace and the other in glory, one for salvation and the other for judgment, one as an infant and the other as the King, one as Savior and the other as Judge. Fine, but let us not too hastily overlook the fact that the Old Testament sees absolutely grand stuff on the horizon of its future, and that it expects (in a rather undifferentiated way) that Messiah will usher in all of it when He comes.

Under the tutelage of the apostles, we rightly understand that the fullness of the new heavens and new earth anticipated by the prophets will arrive only when Messiah returns. But I think perhaps we owe to Dispensationalism, rather than the apostles, the idea that the glories of the prophesied kingdom will appear only after we rise to meet Him in the air. If it sounds as if I’m contradicting myself, I’m not. One can maintain that the promise of Christ’s appearing (the second time) is His people’s glorious hope, while still maintaining that His ruling of the nations – as the psalms and prophets said He would – is to occur, and is already occurring, in the present messianic age. The point here is simple (and it’s something, incidentally, on which “amils” and “postmils” ought to be able to agree): Jesus is someday going to deliver a kingdom up to His Father, and it’s going to be a kingdom recognizable by the standards supplied in the Old Testament. God really has raised Christ from the dead “and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Eph 1:20–21); and that phrase “in this age” is seriously important.

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

Must read

April 23rd, 2010 — 4:56pm

Okay, I know this will raise some hackles, but I’m going to put it out there anyway:

If you want to understand your Bible, read Geerhardus Vos. If you want to understand your New Testament, read Herman Ridderbos. If you want to understand the theology of your Bible, read Herman Bavinck. If you want to understand the philosophy of your Bible, read Cornelius Van Til.

Comment » | Of Books and Beer

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