Archive for April 2010

Theology of laughter

April 22nd, 2010 — 3:02pm

I first began thinking seriously about the theology of humor (pun: ha, ha) upon hearing this interview with Barrett Fisher on the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Having been exposed to a lot of fairly humorless Christianity, I was intrigued by the topic. A few thoughts that have rumbled through my brain since:

1. At its core, humor exposes our human limitations and shortcomings. It makes us laugh at ourselves; it refuses to let us take ourselves too seriously. A caricature, for example, blows up some odd physical feature until it becomes comical: “Look at that preposterous chin,” says Tigger, looking in the mirror; and we laugh, not only because his chin really is preposterous but also because there is something preposterous in all chins.

2. Humor, then, is a playful way of embracing finitude, of accepting the fact that we are not the measure of all things – that we are small and more than a little silly – and that this is okay.

3. However (and this is quite important), humor’s very nature makes it prone to cruelty. Artfully employed, it is always communal in nature: it makes us laugh at ourselves (at all of us) in the quirks and predicaments of another. We chuckle at Laurel and Hardy falling downstairs with a piano, because we have all had experiences more or less of that kind. We howl at Bill Cosby’s dentist chair routine, because we, too, have tried to enunciate through Novocain, and drooled into a “miniature toilet bowl.” The guy with “IBS” in Ladykillers has it act up at the most inopportune times, and we giggle hysterically because we’re right there with him. But let this communal sympathy once fall to the side – let us start laughing at some unfortunate soul rather than at ourselves – and ere long we are simply tormentors. Captors who laugh at the weaknesses and struggles of their victims have left humor for sheer sadism.

4. Now this is not to say that irony (which is generally at someone’s expense) has no place in humor. We laugh when Ehud’s sword disappears into fat Eglon’s belly, because the pompous tyrant who thinks so highly of himself and gorges himself at others’ expense has, quite literally, swallowed the sword. Righteousness has prevailed, we laugh, and rightly so.

5. If humor is, in a sense, viewing ourselves at the common human level, putting ourselves in our place with all of its finitude, ignominy, predicaments, and puzzles – if humor is acknowledging that we are not so godlike as we might be tempted to think – then it follows that humor which imputes our human weaknesses to the true and living God is simple blasphemy. It is one thing to laugh at the foibles of the false gods of Olympus (and we should); it is quite another thing to think of the true God in irreverent terms and find it amusing. Such is not humor, but hubris. One thinks here of films such as Bruce Almighty.

6. What about sexual humor? I happen to believe there is a great deal of room for sexuality in Christian humor. After all, sexuality is part of our createdness, and one of the more comical parts, in my view. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in The Four Loves (I’m paraphrasing), if you can’t laugh at sex, then you’re taking it way too seriously. But, of course, just as humor must always be bounded by sympathy and reverence, it is must also be bounded by chastity and good taste. The disgusting attempts at shock value that characterize so much contemporary “comedy” are, to put it bluntly, not funny. For one thing, they are entirely too transparent, too explicit. To chuckle about what might be happening behind closed doors is wholesome in its place; to drag it all out onstage is a profanation, to say nothing of juvenile taste.

We might go on and talk about the political power of humor, and various other things. Another time, perhaps.

Comment » | Belly Laughs

Divine goodness

April 20th, 2010 — 3:32pm

“When God’s goodness conveys not only benefits but God himself, it appears as love.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 2.180)

Comment » | Grace and Life

Entropic imagination

April 20th, 2010 — 8:42am

In view of Bruce Waltke’s recent video on Biologos (which, due to ensuing furor, has been removed), I am brushing up on my sympathetic imagination when I listen to evolutionists. So here is Sean Carroll (the physicist, not the biologist), who “happened” to stop by the offices of the New York Times last month:

“It’s likely that we can’t do time travel. But we don’t know for sure. The arrow of time comes from the increase of entropy, meaning that the universe started out organized and gets messier as time goes on. Every way in which the past is different from the future can ultimately be traced to entropy. The fact that I remember the past and not the future can be traced to the fact that the past has lower entropy. I think I can make choices that affect the future, but that I can’t make choices that affect the past is also because of entropy. I can choose to have Italian food tonight, but I cannot choose to have not had it last night. But if I travel into the past, all that gets mixed up. My own personal future becomes part of the universe’s past. We’re not going to make logical sense of that. So the smart money would bet that it’s just not possible.”

I’m no physicist, but here’s what I’m getting from Mr. Carroll. The universe is falling apart. It’s unraveling. It’s getting more chaotic and disordered all the time. That’s why the “past” (which I can fondly remember, notwithstanding the increasing disorder of my brain functions) is different from the “future” (which I can’t “remember,” because it has too much entropy for my brain to engage at its current level of entropy? . . .). I may be able to make choices that will impose some kind of order on the increasing chaos of the “future” (which is a bit hard to understand if I am to be part of that increasing chaos), but there’s no hope of making choices that impose order on the greater order of the “past” (not because the “past” has already happened, mind you, but simply because of the laws of physics). Then a final dismissive wave of the hand toward time-travel: we can’t, after all, “make logical sense of that.” Sink me, Mr. Carroll, I can’t make logical sense of any of this. Do you think I have abnormally high levels of entropy?

Mercifully, he doesn’t leave me in my insecurities:

“You’re allowed to feel small. As the 1970s rockers sang, ‘All we are is dust in the wind.’ But there’s another way to think about that. Instead of being humbled by how tiny we are, we should be impressed that we can understand it. The rules of nature are ultimately our rules and when we try to understand them, we learn something about ourselves.”

As I write, Eyjafjallajokull is still belching ash into the skies of Iceland. A portend of the “future” according to Mr. Carroll. Indeed, a metaphor for our very existence. But we, unlike the other dust particles of the cosmos, have created “our rules” to explain this to ourselves; and so, in the brilliance of stuff like entropy theory, we enjoy self-discovery. We are not humbled by our tinyness; we are not intimidated by the sheer randomness of our drifting in the wind. We stand tall with “our rules”; sometimes we even understand them.

But I’m kind of scared, Mr. Carroll. While we sit around doing our thought experiments, Eyjafjallajokull keeps vomiting. Nothing including “our rules” can stop her or predict what she will do next. You told me our choices can affect the future, but there seems to be something deep and inexorable at work here. Please tell me there will at least come a point where entropy will destroy self-awareness, where chaos will obliterate the need for explanations and even consciousness itself. I would really like this to happen before I am buried under a pile of ash.

Thus far sympathetic imagination. I’m going to stop now.

Comment » | Science, Theology, and Priestcraft

Adversus haereses

April 15th, 2010 — 9:41am

It has been said that gnosticism is the perennial heresy. Certainly it shows up in many forms. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our own “Reformed” version. For many Reformed folk, at least here in North America, salvation seems to begin and end with finding a gracious God (solving Luther’s problem). Dare suggest that salvation might be more than this (though surely not less), and they will warn you against blurring the law/gospel distinction.

The “gnostic” ring in this is that it confines salvation to mental discovery of, and affectionate engagement with, a particular thing to be known: God in Christ is gracious. This discovery and engagement are awesome; I wish to take nothing away from that. But if divine grace is merely something to be known and delighted in, as an internal matter, then the whole of salvation lies in such secret (internal) knowledge – and this, unless I am very much mistaken, is the central tenet of gnosticism.

Reading in the letter of James, I have been freshly impressed with how anti-gnostic the biblical gospel really is. Our salvation is not merited by what we do, but it blessedly includes our outer life (our works) as much as our inner life (our beliefs). Notice how James parses this out in the first chapter of his epistle. He sets before us “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him” (v. 12). This is an object of faith; it is something promised; it is something to be known and believed. But there is a fair stretch of highway between here and there, and James tells us something else to sustain us in the daily battles of the present world: we may resist the deceptive allurements of sin (vv. 15–16) by reminding ourselves that the really good gifts are “from above,” from the Father of lights whose goodness and kindness toward us never change (v. 17). This ever-good, ever-giving God has – note the language – “brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creation” (v. 18). This is really important: part of what we are to know and believe, part of the objective truth upon which our faith stands, is that our Father has “brought us forth.” He isn’t simply gracious; He hasn’t simply given us His Son; He has also brought us forth into a new life, a new creation – we are to “know this” (v. 19).

But this “gospel gnosis,” unlike that of gnosticism, is, if I may so express it, just the beginning. It opens up to us a whole new world, in which we are expected to live. If we genuinely know and believe we are a kind of firstfruits of a whole new creation (flowing from the unchanging grace and goodness of the Father of lights), we don’t just sit around and think about it. We live it! We do something with it. We “receive with meekness the implanted word” (v. 21), in order to go out and do the word (v. 22). We visit orphans and widows (v. 27), for example, all the while keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.

Blurring law (do of the word) and gospel (receive the word)? Well, I don’t see James making a very hard and fast distinction here. For him, the busy life that flows from the implanted word is an enormously important part of what it means to be saved (notice I did not say, the basis upon which God decides to be gracious to us and save us). If we moved the busy life into a different position – if we placed it as the basis for divine grace – we would be blurring faith and works in a way neither Paul nor James would countenance. But there is surely some sense in which we must say, if we are to be faithful to either Paul or James, that the “law” here is “gospel”: the new life is part of what we know and believe by faith, and it is no small part of what it means to be saved. And this is as anti-gnostic as can be. Thanks be to God.

Comment » | Incarnation and Embodiment

Tax Day

April 15th, 2010 — 8:06am

I try to be charitably disposed toward our friends at the New York Times, really I do, but the depth of fatuity to which some of their op-ed stuff sinks simply invites derision.

Here’s a gem from Gail Collins celebrating Tax Day; the flourish with which she ends should inspire us all:

“Paying a lot of taxes should be a badge of honor. It proves you made it into the league of big money-makers, not to mention the fact that you’re supporting the upkeep of the Grand Canyon. If the I.R.S. had been doing its marketing properly, little kids would dream of growing up to become really big taxpayers.”

Well, dingblast it, why didn’t we think of this before? Can’t you see the TV ad? An avuncular Uncle Sam, armed with a big stick, chases rich kids around a playground; as the music swells, he grabs away their lunch money (they have more at home), bestowing it on a group of poor kids happily swarming around him; overdub a cheery female voice, “Come on, all you kids, to Uncle Sam’s fun park. Rich kids receive this shiny platinum badge [insert closeup of shiny platinum badge]. Poor kids get free lunch. See local IRS office for details. And watch out for that stick!” Yes. That’s a winner.

Adults coveting the badge of honor might ponder a blurb by the late Richard John Neuhaus in the December 2006 edition of First Things:

“There are little exchanges that stick in memory. It was a conversation many years ago with Eugene Carson Blake. He was then the oldline Protestant establishment’s main man in just about everything, beginning with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the National Council of Churches. Blake was complaining one day about the lack of compassion among conservatives who whined about high taxes. ‘I love to pay taxes,’ he said. ‘Taxes are the way we help government to help people. I wish I could pay twice as much in income tax as I do.’ Being very much his junior, I hesitantly suggested that the Treasury Department would gladly accept his check for the extra money he wanted to give the government. ‘That,’ he dismissively responded, ‘would be quixotic. In a just society, I would be required to pay higher taxes.’ I suggested that one might view it not as quixotic but as a way in which he could set a good example. The conversation then turned to other matters.”

Happy Tax Day, everyone!

Comment » | Of Cabbages and Kings

Of theological maturity

April 14th, 2010 — 8:31pm

You can tell a lot about a person’s theological maturity by how he or she responds to unfamiliar ideas. Calm, gracious, appreciative, analytical listening is the mark of theological depth; what is desired is full understanding, a due weighing of complexities and implications, before a careful response is given (Prov 18:13). The immature are not so, but are known by their hasty alarm, by a hermeneutic of suspicion that insists on shibboleths and spooks at buzzwords, by a dismissive rush to dogmatic judgment. I’m thinking of myself in early seminary years, and blushingly crave to think I have grown up a bit since then.

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Faith and wisdom

April 14th, 2010 — 10:12am

For a long time, I have wondered about the connection between James 1:4 and 1:5, and between James 1:5 and 1:6. The exhortation to remain steadfast under the testing of faith (1:3) and to let steadfastness produce mature Christian character (1:4) makes sense. But why the sudden mention of wisdom in verse 5? What is the connection to the preceding verse? And why then the warning that, unless wisdom is asked in faith (1:6), the wisdom so generously promised in verse 5 won’t be forthcoming? Doesn’t this take away with the left hand what the right hand has just given?

James’ line of reasoning is profound, once we understand that wisdom is simply the way of life that flows from faith. Wisdom is the life of faith; it is steadfastly living out of things unseen but nevertheless real. We are told to live steadfastly in the reality that everything we hope for in the life to come is already ours, in principle, by faith. We already enjoy a life of “no condemnation”; the love of God is already shed abroad in our hearts; we already enjoy a common identity and a forgiving love in Christ that can eradicate barriers among men; we already have the ability not to sin; and we are experiencing the gradual renovation, not only of our individual lives, but also of the institutions and structures of human life, through the power of the gospel. We know and can enjoy all of this by faith – we have all the resources for a life of true wisdom in the world – but the difficulty comes, of course, in that the visible evidence is generally to the contrary!

So we cry out to God for wisdom, for the ability to see the world and respond to the world from the standpoint of faith; and God promises to give this to us abundantly, without reproach. But it is not a matter of sitting around waiting for a divine “zap” of wisdom: we are to stir up our faith in the very asking! We are to stir our hearts to believe that God is for us, that He has given us all we need for life and godliness in this world, and will yet give it to us – and behold! as we stir up our faith in this way, by that very means God works in us wisdom. To the extent our faith rises, to that extent we are already on our way to greater wisdom. To ask in unbelief is already to be killing the root system of wisdom; and James by the Spirit wisely points us to that fact. Believe in the grace of God to you, lift up your heart to that blessed reality, and you will never find God to be anything less than all He has promised; He will enable you to see things as they really are, and to live steadfastly – wisely, sanely – in the confidence of His goodness.

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

On the Psalter (part 2)

April 13th, 2010 — 1:28pm

A few posts ago I suggested (following Geerhardus Vos and Stephen Dempster) that the Psalter, while certainly useful in individual devotional piety, has also an important “second face”; it has not only an individual/devotional aspect but also a historical/eschatological one. I’d like to begin unpacking that now, starting with some observations about the first two Psalms, which Dempster calls “the doorway into the Psalter.”

Psalm 1 begins with the memorable words, “Blessed is the man.” Psalm 2 ends with the promise, “Blessed are all.” Already a kind of inclusio becomes visible, tying the two Psalms together, as well as a progression from what is basically individual blessedness to something more universal in scope. Here, too, we confront a contextual question: what would this word “blessed” have communicated to Old Testament readers in their historical and theological context?

Fundamentally, “blessedness” is the opposite of “cursedness” in the Old Testament. Adam was cursed; Abraham was blessed. This polarity of human conditions frames the entire canon of the Old Testament: the direction of canonical history is toward salvation from Adam’s cursed estate. It is not over-reading the text of Psalms 1 and 2 to say that, for their original readers, the promise “blessed is/are” was richly freighted with Abrahamic connotations.

This illuminates a number of things in Psalm 1 in particular. The living tree language in verse 3 harks back to Eden, the garden of God, and the rivers pouring out of Eden into the world. There is a way back into the garden-sanctuary of God: it is found by meditating/delighting in the Torah of God (v. 2). It is important to note here that Torah was much more than precepts, statutes, and judgments; it was the entire teaching or instruction delivered by Moses, including the patriarchal narratives, the history of Israel in Egypt and beyond, the account of the organizing of Israel into a “congregation of the righteous,” and the promises concerning the land of Canaan. The saint of old who lived out of this rich revelation through Moses, who believed the promises to Abraham and looked with Abraham (now through the full lens of Mosaic revelation) to Messiah to come, would flourish among God’s people as a dweller in the new Eden. The book of Proverbs speaks of such living in terms of the “fear of the Lord” – the beginning of wisdom and the antithesis of the scoffing of the wicked. Here in Psalm 1 it is described as not walking in the counsel of the wicked, nor standing in the way of sinners, nor sitting in the seat of scoffers (v. 1).

Psalm 1, then, is all about inheriting the land, which is the same thing as inheriting the new Eden. It is all about living by faith and thus entering into the blessedness of Abraham, over against the accursedness of Adam. Psalm 2, however, opens up a massive further dimension to all of this. I will explore that in the next post.

Comment » | Exegetical Fragments

An insufferably long ramble

April 10th, 2010 — 8:49am

I want to apologize for the length of this post; I’ve been working on it for a while. I also wish to state that what follows is provisional, ruminative, and heuristic (not necessarily in that order).

As a pastor, I spend a lot of time wondering what to do about apathy. There are predictable forms of apathy – the person who, obeying a leftover instinct from childhood, shows up in the pew and snoozes through sermons; the pop tart whose chief end is to glorify iTunes and enjoy YouTube forever. But what’s a little weird for me is encountering apathy among deeply committed saints. The apathy shows up, not in the way they think about personal piety (which is of utmost concern to them), but in the way they think about the world around them. They think of themselves as belonging to a maligned minority on the fringes of society, and they don’t expect anything else – ever. They are eager to work out personal holiness, and want to see more people saved from hell; but any idea that the deserts of the world might blossom like the crocus, or its salt marshes be made fresh, or nations stream to Zion, or the lion lie down with the lamb, is for them wholly outside the bounds of present reality. They don’t bother about such things, because they simply don’t expect them to occur. Large tracts of daily living in the world are for them basically theaters of endurance, while they wait to be ushered into glory where the real fun begins.

It was brought home to me recently that a big part of the reason for this “apathetic” view of the world is that we think this is what the New Testament teaches. Notice that the lovely metaphors above are all drawn from the Old Testament; the New Testament by contrast teaches us to think of ourselves as strangers, pilgrims, and sufferers in the midst of ever-hostile world powers. If the grand prophecies of the Old Testament are to be fulfilled, it will certainly not be until the great conflagration in which this old world is destroyed, and an entirely new and different one ushered in, wherein dwells righteousness.

A prima facie difficulty with this reading of the New Testament is that the apostles manifestly believed God’s people in their time (and beyond) were experiencing the fulfillment of the things prophesied in Israel’s scriptures. The worldwide reign of the messianic king anticipated in those scriptures had now arrived in Jesus Christ; and while it is possible that the apostles regarded the interim between Christ’s ascension and His coming again as a kind of extended “parenthesis” in the fulfillment of Old Covenant prophecy, the case would have to be thoroughly argued. This is not to deny that they regarded the consummation of Christ’s kingdom as awaiting the end of all things; it is simply to affirm that, for them, the whole of Old Covenant prophecy informed their understanding of what had come upon them in the present reign of Christ.

With this in mind, let us scan the New Testament corpus and see if we discover there a pervasive “persecution complex,” a meek and mild minority content with its lot on the fringes, a loss of the world-vision so prominent in Old Covenant prophecy, a bunch of strangers just passin’ through.

To put it mildly, we do not. Ignore for a moment (if possible) the cosmic sweep of Jesus’ great commission to His disciples (Mt 28:18–20). Suppose He did not tell us to disciple all the nations, teaching them to observe His commandments. Suppose further that this commission has nothing whatever to do with the worldwide mandate delivered to Adam. Very well, then, what follows?

The book of Acts, we should note for starters, has a very curious construction. It begins with our Lord telling the apostles they would be witnesses of Him in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8); and lo! the book begins in Jerusalem and ends . . . in Rome. No, seriously, here is Paul, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” to all who would listen – in the very seat of Caesar’s power (Acts 28:30–31). Kind of subversive, don’t you think? It sounds as if the church had a vision to infiltrate major urban centers of civilization and proclaim the real King of the world. “Ah,” you say, “but Paul is in chains. This is a suffering, persecuted Paul! All he is doing is living his individual life and talking to people about Jesus, nothing more.” Fair enough, that is what he is doing. I’ll even grant you he lost his head for it in the end. But funny thing: centuries later, mighty Rome lies in ruins, and out of its ashes arises not another pagan world power but something we call “Christendom.” Turns out Jesus was the real King of the world after all, and one suspects Paul grasped the implications of this even in his time.

The epistles, surely, will yield something less grandiose. They will urge us to live our small lives faithfully, to assist in gathering of God’s elect few from the nations, and suffer the domination of the wicked until He returns.

It cannot be denied that there are elements of truth here. The apostles wrote to real Christians in their letters, and these Christians lived in the dark shadow of very real Jewish and pagan powers. There is no simpleminded triumphalism in the epistles; but there is a note of mighty anticipation of things this side of glory, and it simply will not be suppressed.

Take Romans, for example. Paul opens and closes this epistle by announcing that his mission is nothing less than to bring about “the obedience of faith among all the nations” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). While he never deflects hope away from the final day in which all creation shall be delivered from its bondage to corruption (Rom 8:21), he is bold to expect that before that day “the fullness of the Gentiles” will come in and “all Israel” be saved (Rom 11:25–26); and he looks for God shortly to crush Satan under the feet of the Roman church (Rom 16:20). And given his appeal to Old Covenant prophecies such as Isaiah 11 (Rom 15:12), in which we find lions lying down with lambs, and the earth full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea, we should be careful not to diminish too much the scope of his expectations.

Similarly in 1 Corinthians we find Paul’s magnificent articulation of kingdom theology, wherein Christ delivers the kingdom to the Father on the final day, having put down every rule and every authority and power (1 Cor 15:24), having reigned “until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor 15:25). In 2 Corinthians, likewise, we find Paul saying essentially that through the ministry of the New Covenant, the new creation anticipated in Israel’s scriptures has arrived – a new creation on par with the original one (2 Cor 3–4). It would be irresponsible not to note his insistence that this new creation life comes through death (2 Cor 4:7–18); but when he says “life works in you” (2 Cor 4:12), we surely cannot escape the conclusion that Paul expected real life, the life of the resurrected Christ, to flourish in, among, and through God’s people in the earth – and that the shape of this life will be what Israel’s New Covenant prophecies led us to expect.

Lest I be tedious (okay, I have already been tedious), what shall I say of the vision of redemptive history that pervades Galatians; of the uniting of all things in heaven and earth in Christ, which is so foundational in Ephesians and Colossians; of the significant reference to the imperial guard in Philippians; of the assurance in Hebrews that we have received the “better country” for which our fathers looked, and the intimation that if they subdued kingdoms by faith so should we? . . .

“Now wait a minute!” I can hear the outcry, “This is just plain sloppy! In the first place, you’re ignoring gobs of evidence against your argument – all the talk in these letters about suffering, all the exhortations to wait patiently for the coming of the Lord, all those statements about evil men waxing worse and worse. In the second place, whatever good hopes the apostles may have had for worldwide expansion of the gospel, they certainly weren’t expecting lions to lie down with lambs, or whole kingdoms to be converted to Christ, or deserts to bloom for real. You’re saying X while ignoring non-X, and saying X is Y when it isn’t.”

I demur. I’m sorry, but I do. First, a clarification about my whole argument: I am arguing that the apostles as much as the prophets expected the reign of Messiah to have transforming effects, not only in individual lives, but also in the nations, cultures, civilizations, institutions, and structures of the earth. Put another way, they expected visible effects of the gospel in whole people groups and societies. I really haven’t said much about how the apostles (or the prophets) expected this to occur; and I am emphatically not arguing that they expected it to come easily. In fact, unless I am missing something, I think Paul described it in terms of “wrestling.” Hard, bruising business. But the blood of the martyrs was – voila! – the downfall of Rome. So suffer patiently, keep your eye fixed firmly on the Day of the Lord, and keep doing subversive stuff like lifting up the poor to sit with you in the great seats of the assembly. This kind of thing could transform nations. It has.

Second, I’ll freely admit I don’t know exactly what Isaiah meant by lions lying down with lambs. But if the prophets set a timeframe called X-Y, and indicated certain things would occur in that timeframe; and then the apostles come along and tell us X-Y has arrived (in the period between Jesus’ ascension and return), I’m asking why we believe the apostles regarded everything meant by “lions lying down with lambs” as awaiting the return of Jesus? Yes, they expected the church to suffer; suffering tends to happen in war. But must we also say they never expected any swords to be beaten into plowshares, ever, anywhere?

It’s important to understand that the apostles wrote to believers where they were actually living.  Rome, the mighty fourth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, had not yet fallen in their days. The edifice of Old Covenant Judaism was still standing. But the apostles laid the foundation of the new gospel order in confidence that others would build thereupon; and while they didn’t see the future in specific detail (anymore than we do), their expectations for the future were framed by God’s promises to Israel and her Messiah. Certainly their ultimate hope was full restoration of all things at the return of Christ; but it was precisely this hope that enabled them and their readers (and enables us) to be energetic participants in the restorations of the gospel now.

One last exploratory thought: Is God’s attitude toward the world, according to the apostles, “Let’s junk it and start over”? I’m saying their Old Testament exegesis (not least their doctrine of creation) wouldn’t have permitted this. For them, rather, God’s attitude toward the world is, “Behold, I make all things new.” They expected it to be a long, hard road; but they expected it to occur surely and visibly under the present reign of Christ, and to be consummated at His return. God does not destroy sinners in saving them; neither will He destroy the world in saving it.

Comment » | Eschatological Prospects

Novelty and paralysis

April 7th, 2010 — 3:44pm

Something faithful Christians have grappled with in every generation is how to remain loyal to the faith once delivered to the saints, while also being humble enough to acknowledge we don’t yet have everything figured out (indeed, there are mysteries even in things we do “understand”). God save us from theological novelty (the itch of “creative” thinkers) on the one hand; God save us from theological paralysis (the stasis of tradition-worshippers) on the other. Some help may be found here, I think:

“The life and faith that the church possesses is much richer than what comes to expression in its creedal statements. The church’s confession is far from formulating the entire content of the Christian faith. To begin with, a confession generally comes into being in response to specific historical events and arranges its positive and antithetical content accordingly. Furthermore, a confession does not make clear the inner coherence that exists among the various dogmas nor does it ever fully articulate the truth which God has revealed in his Word. The task of the dogmatician differs therefore from that of the student of the church’s creedal statements. The latter satisfies himself with the status of the dogmatic content of the creeds, but the former has to examine how the dogma arose genetically from Scripture and how, in accordance with that same Scripture, it ought to be expanded and enriched.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 1.31)

Comment » | Randomness

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