Category Archive: Theology – Soteriology

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September 5, 2002

R&R

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As Wayne has mentioned, the latest Reformation and Revival Journal is out. It’s entitled “Justification: Modern Reflections.” Among the articles are

Sounding the Alarm: N. T. Wright and Evangelical Theology

Travis Tamerius

N. T. Wright and Reformed Theology: Friends or Foes?

Rich Lusk

A Study of Justification by Faith

Don Garlington

Justification by Faith Alone

Norman Shepherd

Lutheranized Calvinism: Gospel or Law, or Gospel and Law

P. Andrew Sandlin

I’ll certainly be reading this issue with great interest. It also contains the second part of Travis Tamerius’s interview with N. T. Wright. I’ve only skimmed the interview, but here’s one of my favourite quotations. Wright is talking about how Paul’s statement that the Thessalonians had received his message, not as the word of man, but as the word of God:

It’s quite clear what Paul is talking about [in 1 Thessalonians], that he comes into town announcing that Jesus is Lord, as a royal herald. He is saying that the crucified Jesus is the Lord of the world. And this is not, “Here is a way of salvation. You might like to apply it to yourself.” It’s not, “Here is a new way of being religious and you might enjoy it.” This is really an imperial summons: “On your knees!” Nobody ever went into a Roman town and said, “Caesar is lord and you might like to have this experience of acknowledging him as lord if that suits you.” They said, “Caesar is Lord, get on your knees and we want the tax right now.”

Posted by John Barach @ 11:31 pm | Discuss (0)
March 29, 2002

In a Grave They Laid You

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In a grave they laid you, O my Life and my Christ;
and the armies of the angels were sore amazed
as they sang the praise of your submissive love.

Right it is indeed, life-bestowing Lord, to magnify You;
for upon the Cross were Your most-pure hands outspread,
and the strength of our dread foe have You destroyed.

John Tavener, Lamentations and Praises.

Posted by John Barach @ 9:02 am | Discuss (0)
March 27, 2002

Promise

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This evening, after teaching a couple of catechism classes, I read C. Trimp’s “The Promise of the Covenant,” in Unity in Diversity: Studies Presented to Prof. Dr. Jelle Faber On the Occasion of His Retirement. Trimp starts his short essay this way:

There is something unusual about the word “promise.” In our daily conversations “promise” usually means the pledge to do something in the future. But for the reformers of the 16th century the word had a different meaning. For them, the expression “God promises” did not primarily point to a future act. Rather, they understood it to mean God speaking in the present: God proclaims the good tiding, the gospel of the acquittal in Jesus Christ. God’s proclaiming is a speaking with a promise…. At the moment of this address the salvation of Christ comes to us, yes, God Himself comes to us with salvation. Hence our custom of speaking about “salvation in the form of promise”…. By this we do not mean that we obtain salvation in the future only. What we do mean is that the salvation of God reaches our heart and life by means of God speaking to us.

Trimp then spends some time on Luther’s view of the promise before moving to the Heidelberg Catechism. In Q&A 22 of the Catechism, we say that a Christian must believe “all that God promises us in the gospel,” which is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed. Trimp writes:

It is evident that these articles speak about the deeds God performed in the past and performs in the present. Nevertheless, the articles summarize the “promises of the gospel.” For each of the twelve articles discusses the love of God towards His people. In this case “promise” comprises the meaning of the history of redemption in light of the salutary significance for the congregation and its members. The fact that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary may rightly be called the fulfilment of many promises (cf. also answer 19). Yet this fact is in turn a “promise” for the congregation, and question 36 deals with this promise.

So too the Catechism’s discussion of baptism speaks about God’s promises in connection with what God has done, is doing, and will do.

Trimp makes an important point: when we speak about the covenant promise, we aren’t speaking strictly of something God will do in the future. God pledges that past events too are for us. He gives us all Christ’s riches in the form of promises which He wants preached to His people: not “this will be yours someday if…” but “this is what God has done in Christ for you.” It’s too bad that his discussion is so brief!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:21 am | Discuss (0)
March 8, 2002

Acceptance

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I’ve been reading through N. T. Wright’s Reflecting the Glory, a collection of “Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World,” as the subtitle says. The meditation I read today contained this beautiful passage, as part of Wright’s discussion of 2 Cor. 5:6-10 (“… we make it our aim to please Him”):

Many young people in the modern Western world find it, or at least believe it to be, very difficult to please their parents. Whatever we do just doesn’t quite reach the high standard expected. Many continue through their whole adult life, even after their parents have died, still trying somehow to please them or at least appease them. Such people find the idea of pleasing God almost laughable. It seems quite impossible that God, being all-knowing and all-wise, could actually be pleased with them. You’d have to be an absolutely superb person on all fronts (they think) to please God. The chances are that God would look down on their best efforts and say, “Well, it’s only nine out of ten, I’m afraid; that’s not good enough.”Clearly Paul does not look at the matter like that at all. For Paul, God is pleased when he sees his image being reproduced in his human creatures by the Spirit. The slightest steps they take toward him, the slightest movements of faith and hope, and particularly of love, give God enormous delight. However difficult we may find this to believe, not least because of our own upbringing, it is a truth that Paul repeats quite often. Who we are in Christ, what we do in the Spirit, is pleasing to God; God delights in us, and, like a parent, he is thrilled when we, his children, take even the first small baby-steps towards the full Christian adulthood he has in store for us….

For Paul, if we are genuinely living in and by the Spirit of Jesus, then day by day, often without our even realizing it, we will have done many things that will give God pleasure — the smallest act of forgiveness, a great act of justice of mercy, a wonderful act of creativity enriching God’s world. As a result of all these many things God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” When he says that, of course, we will rightly say, “Our competence, our sufficiency, comes from God.” We never escape the wonderful circle of grace, gratitude and glory. None the less, it really will be us whom God thanks, us whom he praises.

Although in these days of feeble relativism it is important to stress that God is indeed the judge who cares passionately about good and evil, and that he is a just God who will not allow sin for ever to flourish unchecked, we must remember that the warning of final judgment should not make Christians gloomy or anxious. We are not supposed to drag ourselves through our lives thinking, “Have I made it? Will I be all right?” We have assurance in the gospel that because Jesus died for us and rose again, we are completely forgiven and accepted in him. This assurance is matched by the delight we can and should take in the work of the Spirit. Through the Spirit we are enabled to do many things by God’s grace so that, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we will find we have pleased him in countless ways that for now we can only guess at (pp. 45-46).

Posted by John Barach @ 10:56 am | Discuss (0)
February 28, 2002

Gaffin on NPP

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This evening, I read Richard Gaffin’s “A Reformed Critique of the New Perspective.” In many ways, it’s a frustrating article. First, there are no footnotes, which means that it’s hard for a reader to look up the quotations of Dunn and Wright and read them in context. At times, Gaffin’s criticisms seem to miss the mark completely. For instance, he writes:

Wright relentlessly insists that Paul “did not (as it were) abandon Judaism for something else” throughout his writing. But, while Paul certainly did not abandon the religion of the Old Testament, just for the sake of fidelity to it and to the God of Abraham, he most certainly did abandon the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day, relentlessly opposed first by Jesus and then by himself.

But in What Saint Paul Really Said, Wright argues that Paul was neither breaking away completely from the Jewish tradition (including the Old Testament) nor was he accepting it uncritically; rather, he was functioning within that tradition in a prophetic way as he criticized what Gaffin would call “the dominant streams in the Judaism of his day.” So how does Wright disagree with Gaffin on this point?

For another thing, Gaffin often lumps Dunn and Wright together, as Mark Horne¬†points out, though Wright himself criticizes Dunn at several points. When Gaffin discusses original sin, for instance, he seems to condemn Wright because Wright hasn’t addressed the subject (or if he has, Gaffin is unaware of it) and because Dunn has — badly. So, too, with his discussion of double predestination.

Gaffin also says that “there is little sympathy for, in fact downright antipathy toward, any notion of imputation.” He doesn’t provide any evidence of that antipathy, mind you. He just mentions it in passing. While Wright doesn’t speak of “the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner,” he does speak a lot about corporate Christology, about Christ as the representative of His people who draws God’s wrath against them onto Himself and in whom His people are declared righteous. That approach doesn’t seem so different from that of John Calvin, who wrote:

Therefore, that joining together of Head and members, that indwelling of Christ in our hearts — in short, that mystical union are accorded by us the highest degree of importance, so that Christ, having been made ours, makes us sharers with him in the gifts with which he has been endowed. We do not, therefore, contemplate him outside ourselves from afar in order that his righteousness may be imputed to us but because we put on Christ and are engrafted into his body — in short, because he deigns to make us one with him. For this reason, we glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him (Institutes 3.11.10).

I’d expect better scholarship from someone like Richard Gaffin. Wright is certainly not above criticism. Don Garlington, for instance, argues that Wright doesn’t take union with Christ into account sufficiently. Nevertheless, there’s a lot that we can learn from Wright. Rich Lusk points the way in his helpful essay, “A Short Note on N. T. Wright and His Reformed Critics.” Here’s Rich’s conclusion:

I am confident that in the long run, Wright’s work on the NT will come be treasured by the Reformed tradition as the “next step” in our growing understanding of God’s revelation in Christ. Accepting Wright need not mean rejecting the Reformation.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:44 pm | Discuss (1)

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