Category Archive: Theology
As many people have pointed out, in Christian ethics, the indicative precedes the imperative. First God says, “I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” and then he gives the Ten Words (“You shall have no other gods before me…”). First Paul tells us what Christ has done and who we are in Christ, and then he summons us to act accordingly. First comes the good news of what God has done for us and then comes the summons to respond in faith and love and new obedience.
But when we look at the very beginning of Scripture, what we discover is that the imperative came first. God creates the heavens and the earth, and then the first word God speaks is a command: “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). Now, that’s not the first word in the Bible — first comes the narration, the story of God creating the heavens and the earth, and the description of the earth at the time of creation — but it is the first word recorded that God spoke with regard to that creation. He creates the world. It’s dark, unstructured, and unpopulated, and the Spirit is hovering over the deep. The narrative reminds us that there’s always an indicative implicit in and before the imperative, so that the imperative assumes and develops a personal relationship between commander and commanded, so that the imperative is never mere imperative but rather is a vocation. Nevertheless, in terms of God’s speech in history, the imperative comes first, and surely that’s significant.
With regard to man, something similar is the case. In Genesis 2, which develops and expands the account of Day Six in Genesis 1, we learn that when Yahweh God placed Adam in the Garden, he spoke to him: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Here, the first thing Yahweh God says is indicative (“Of every tree of the garden you may eat”), but it’s an indicative indicating permission (as opposed to a mere statement) and is tied to the next clause in the sentence, which is an imperative disguised as an indicative: “you will not eat” is indicative in form but imperative in force, meaning “don’t eat.” So the permission given in the first clause also shares something of that imperatival character. Again, there is a lot of implicit indicative here, including the personal relationship of Adam to Yahweh God who is his creator and the commander. But the first thing Yahweh God says to Adam has the force of a permission and a command with regard to the trees, something imperatival in force.
Returning to Genesis 1, we find that God’s work with creation takes the form of a series of imperatives, moving through the days of creation up to the sixth day, when man is created, male and female. While the events in Genesis 2 take place first, before the creation of the woman, in Genesis 1 the first word of God to the pair, to man as the image of God, male and female, again takes the form of an imperative. God’s first word to Man (male and female) is not a description of creation, not a presentation of all of God’s goodness, not a report about how God made man in his image, not a promise of what God would do for Adam and Woman. Instead, it’s a command. Sure, it’s a blessing, but it’s a blessing in the imperative: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Only after that does he go on, in the indicative, to say that he has given man the green plants and the trees for food (1:29). The first thing Adam and Woman heard from God was an imperative, and surely that’s significant.
In fact, we can go back before the creation of man to the first word God spoke, and again it is an imperative: “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3). That’s not the first word in the Bible — first comes the narration, the story of God creating the heavens and the earth, and the description of the earth at the time of creation — but it is the first word recorded that God spoke with regard to that creation. He creates the world. It’s dark, unstructured, and unpopulated, and the Spirit is hovering over the deep. But then comes the imperative and things begin to change (“And there was light”). Again, the imperative comes first, and surely that’s significant.
What does an imperative do? Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s observations are helpful here:
The imperative not only commands the listener; it at the same time lights up an alley of time into the future. A trail into time is beaten by the logic of any order given. A high tension current places the moments following the order under the expectation: will this command be followed up and fulfilled? The term “fulfillment” used in this connection is significant. By the imperative, time is formed into a cup, still empty but formed for the special purpose of being filled with the content demanded by the order. The action following the order is not a blind accident of the moment. By having been ordered, it has become organized into one “time span” which stretches from the moment in which the order was given to the moment in which the report is echoed back: “order fulfilled.” Orders connect two separated human beings into one time span, of which the imperative forms the expectation, the report the fulfillment (The Origin of Speech, 46-47).
When God speaks to man for the first time and uses the imperative instead of the indicative, he is creating what Rosenstock-Huessy calls a “time cup.” There is now a dramatic tension in the story: Will Adam and Woman obey God? Will they be fruitful and multiply? Will they have dominion over the animals? What will they do in response to God and to his commanding word? His order now orders their lives, revealing to them their calling, their responsibility, their relation to God and to the world– revealing how they are to use and order time.
The imperative creates the story that follows: by creating the expectation and setting the standards for judgment, it makes the story that follows what it is. Without the imperative, it would just be a story of God creating man and then man doing, well, whatever he felt like. There would be no tension, no expectation, no hope, no sense of satisfaction at a job completed, no disappointment in failure and rebellion, and no corresponding joy at redemption and restoration — by which I mean: restoration to the original task and calling, the calling of maturation, fruitfulness, multiplication, and dominion.
But there was an imperative, an expectation, an impetus forward, creating the story. It’s a story in which, in an important sense, the indicative does precede the imperative: God takes the initiative (as he does even in the Creation narrative) and man responds; God acts on our behalf so that we then can and do respond to him in trust and obedience. In all imperatives, there’s at least an implicit indicative that underlies it, as I’ve said above. But what makes it a story is that it’s a time cup, an imperative-created expectation awaiting fulfillment. We still look forward to man’s fulfilling of the mandate given in Genesis 1 (and so does God), with the joyful certainty because of Christ (here’s the all-important indicative!) that it will be fulfilled. In fact, even the imperative that was God’s first word in his creation (“Let there be light”) has not yet been fulfilled to the fullest extent, and all of history — and all of our lives — are meant to be aspects of that fulfillment until the earth is full of God’s glorious light.
History — the history of the world, and our history — is a time cup, formed by God’s imperatives.
It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, white-washing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in His grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives Him glory too. To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give Him glory, too. God is so great that all things give Him glory if you mean that they should — Gerard Manley Hopkins, cited in Kathleen Norris, The Quotidian Mysteries, 70-71.
In fact, without taking much away from what Hopkins is saying here, one should go even further: “if being in His grace you do it as your pleasure.” It is not only duty that glorifies God; it is also delight. Prayer glorifies God, vacuuming the carpet glorifies God, and so does my son laughing as I tickle him. So does my daughter as she jumps up and down for joy when she finds that I’ve brought her a new book from the library and so does she, if being in God’s grace and not neglecting something she ought to be doing at that time, she sits down to become completely absorbed in that book. God is so great that He is glorified even by our play, because, after all, he even created Leviathan to play before him (Psalm 104).
That Psalm 8, followed by Hebrews 2, speaks of a transition from being “lower than the angels” to being exalted over them sounds the death knell for the “chain of being” view held by so many throughout history. In this view, God is at the top of the chain, with angels — as spiritual beings or pure intelligences — below him, human beings — who are a blend, both spiritual and material — lower still, the beasts beneath them, and so on. Though there might be the possibility that man might rise in glory, the angels too would be continually rising above them, so that the order of the chain never changes. But if man, created “lower than the angels,” is then exalted over them, the chain is no longer static, with each creature in the place “rationally” assigned to it. Furthermore, if man can be exalted over the angels, the idea that matter is inherently lower than spirit must also give way, since Jesus is fully human, with a human body, and yet is exalted over the angels” — “The Glory of the Son of Man: An Exposition of Psalm 8,” The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift in Honor of James B. Jordan, 17n49.
I got a kick out of novelist and poet John Updike’s review of Paul Tillich’s Morality and Beyond:
The last two chapters, which discuss ethical systems in the context of history, are especially brilliant. Yet the net effect is one of ambiguity, even futility–as if the theologian were trying to revivify the Christian corpse with transfusions of Greek humanism, German metaphysics, and psychoanalytical theory. Terms like “grace” and “Will of God” walk through these pages as bloodless ghosts, transparent against the milky background of “beyond” and “being” that Tillich, God forbid, would confuse with the Christian faith (Assorted Prose, 283).
As James Jordan points out (in the passage I quoted here), the communion of saints is not that I am connected to you and you are connected to me, but that you are in Christ and I am in Christ and we are united in Him. He is the connecting link between Christians. Jordan’s application had to do with the possibility of speaking to the saints and asking them to pray for us. But what he says also bears rich fruit for our comfort when we lose loved ones.
When a loved one dies, so much is left unsaid. We want to tell Grandpa how much we love him. We wish he could know what we’re doing. Sometimes, we wish we could ask his forgiveness for wrongs we’ve committed. But there is no indication in Scripture that our loved ones in heaven are now watching everything that we do, let alone that they can hear what we might say to them.
But then our communion with Grandpa was never first and foremost our family relationship or the fact that we could see him face to face or that the words from our mouths could reach his ear. Our communion with Grandpa was first of all in Christ: He was in Christ, and so were we. And that hasn’t changed. Jesus is still the connecting link, and Jesus does see what we do and hear what we say. Which means that if you have anything you want to say to Grandpa, you can tell Jesus about it and ask him to pass the message along.
Can Grandpa hear you? Scripture doesn’t say. But Jesus can, and he can and will pass on any message that he thinks it best to pass on. Which is a great thing to tell grieving grandchildren who wish they could say one more thing to Grandpa.
In his lectures on Colossians, Jim Jordan takes a short rabbit trail to talk about our communion with the saints, including the saints in heaven:
Hebrews 12 says that when we come to church — and at other times, because heaven is really always open to us — we have communion with the angels and with the saints in heaven. So … you can talk to them, can’t you? If they’re all around us, we can ask them to put in a good word for us, can’t we?
But if you’re in Christ, you’re as close to the throne as you can get. Dying and going to heaven doesn’t put you any closer to God than you already are. You may feel the closeness more, but you’re not any closer.
On Wednesday night, we share prayer requests. So if we’re all in heaven, why can’t I ask Saint Athanasius to pray for me? Why can’t I ask Mary to pray for me? We’re all in the same room, aren’t we? Lots of branches of the church have made this case. When Orthodox and Roman Catholics “pray” to the saints, this is what they have in mind.
The Protestant response is this: When we’re in worship, we’re in heaven with the saints and angels — and with all the other Christians in the world. But can I stand here and ask Robbie Peele in Atlanta, right here and now: “Robbie, please pray for me”? No! He can’t hear me. It’s true that we’re together, but it doesn’t follow that the saints can hear us. Theologically, we’re all together. But we have no reason to think that Athanasius can hear us.
Theologically speaking, the mistake is this: The reason we’re all together is not that we’re all in the same room and so we can now approach Christ. Rather, we’ve all approached Christ and now, as a result, we’re in the same room. Jesus Christ is the connecting point for the church. The connecting point for all of us in the room is not this way: I’m connected to you and you’re connected to me. The connecting point is through Christ and back. We’re connected to Athanasius through Christ and back. If you want to communicate with him, you have to go through the central trunk line, through Jesus Christ. For all I know, the departed spirits do run errands for Christ (as Samuel is assigned to come back and speak to Saul). But we can’t talk to them directly. Everything is through Christ. It is through Christ that we have access to angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. You can’t talk to them.
At long last, it’s finally here: P. Andrew Sandlin & John Barach, eds., Obedient Faith: A Festschrift for Norman Shepherd (Mount Hermon, California: Kerygma Press, 2012).
Preface — P. Andrew Sandlin
Tributes — John H. Armstrong, John M. Frame, Charles A. McIlhenny, Michael D. Pasarilla, Steve M. Schlissel, Jeffery J. Ventrella, Roger Wagner
1. Growing in Covenant Consciousness — Norman Shepherd
2. The Whole Counsel of God: The Abandonment of John Murray’s Legacy at Westminster Theological Seminary — Ian Alastair Hewitson
3. Original Righteousness — Ralph F. Boersema
4. The Glory of the Man: Women, Psalms, and Worship — James B. Jordan
5. Faith’s Obedience and Israel’s Triumphant King: Romans 1-5 Against Its Old Testament Backdrop — Don Garlington
6. Mother Paul and the Children of Promise (Gal. 4:19-31) — Peter J. Leithart
7. Sola Fide: True and False — P. Andrew Sandlin
8. The Reformed Doctrine of Justification by Works: Historical Survey and Emerging Consensus — Rich Lusk
It’s currently available from Lulu, but it will soon be available on Amazon as well as from Biblical Horizons (from whom you can purchase this book, together with new books from Ralph Boersema and Peter Leithart, as a package deal: Watch for it!).
Norman Shepherd was ordained as a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in June 1963. John Murray preached the sermon, and Cornelius Van Til gave the charge to the new minister. In his autobiographical essay “Growing in Covenant Consciousness,” Norman Shepherd quotes from that charge:
You will not think of yourself as an individual theologian bringing to men the thoughts of your heart. You will not even think of yourself first of all as carrying on some tradition, notably the Reformed tradition, as you teach and preach. The world does not need your wisdom, and the world does not need Reformed theology except in so far as your theology and the Reformed tradition in which you labor expound the wisdom of Christ. You must not be a slave to tradition. You must not merely carry on what you yourself have learned from teachers. You must by all means cultivate originality. You must be yourself as you teach biblical and systematic theology. Only if you cultivate your independence of judgment will you make a genuine contribution to theology. But such originality cannot be attained otherwise than by ever going back of all the theology you have learned to the Christ who ever speaks to you in his Word.
The charge concluded with these words:
You need not snatch into the void for something new to say. You build upon the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets. You stand in the Reformed tradition as it stands on Christ. Labor with diligence! Need I tell you this? But labor also with composure of mind. Make no false pretense but have confidence in the promises of Christ.
As it is true that ecclesia reformata reformanda est so also is it true that theologia reformata reformanda est. When any generation is content to rely upon its theological heritage and refuses to explore for itself the riches of divine revelation, then declension is already underway and heterodoxy will be the lot of the succeeding generation. The powers of darkness are never idle and in combating error each generation must fight its own battle in exposing and correcting the same. It is light that dispels darkness and in this sphere light consists in the enrichment which each generation contributes to the stores of theological knowledge.
Much of the pleading for adaptation of the gospel to the needs of this generation is suspect. For it is too often a plea for something other than the gospel. Far more important is the reminder that each generation must be adapted to the gospel. It is true, however, that the presentation of the gospel must be pointed to the needs of each generation. So it is with theology. A theology that does not build upon the past ignores our debt to history and naively overlooks the fact that the present is conditioned by history. A theology that relies upon the past evades the demands of the present.
The progressive correction and enrichment which theology undergoes is not the exclusive task of great theologians. It often falls to the lot of students with mediocre talent to discover the oversights and correct the errors of the masters. In the orthodox tradition we may never forget that there is yet much land to be possessed, and this is both the encouragement and the challenge to students of the wonderful works of God and particularly of his inscripturated Word to understand that all should address themselves to a deeper understanding of these unsearchable treasures of revelation to the end that God’s glory may be made more fully manifest and his praises declared to all the earth. — John Murray, “Systematic Theology,” Collected Writings of John Murray, 4:8-9.
It’s finally available: Peter J. Leithart & John Barach, eds., The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift in Honor of James B. Jordan (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011).
Foreword — R. R. Reno
Introduction — Peter J. Leithart
PART ONE: BIBLICAL STUDIES
1. The Glory of the Son of Man: An Exposition of Psalm 8 — John Barach
2. Judah’s Life from the Dead: The Gospel of Romans 11 — Tim Gallant
3. The Knotted Thread of Time: The Missing Daughter in Leviticus 18 — Peter J. Leithart
4. Holy War Fulfilled and Transformed: A Look at Some Important New Testament Texts — Rich Lusk
5. The Royal Priesthood in Exodus 19:6 — Ralph Allan Smith
6. Father Storm: A Theology of Sons in the Book of Job — Toby J. Sumpter
PART TWO: LITURGICAL THEOLOGY
7. On Earth as It Is in Heaven: The Pastoral Typology of James B. Jordan — Bill DeJong
8. Why Don’t We Sing the Songs Jesus Sang? The Birth, Death, and Resurrection of English Psalm Singing — Duane Garner
9. Psalm 46 — William Jordan
PART 3: THEOLOGY
10. A Pedagogical Paradigm for Understanding Reformed Eschatology with Special Emphasis on Basic Characteristics of Christ’s Person — C. Kee Hwang
11. Light and Shadow: Confessing the Doctrine of Election in the Sixteenth Century — Jeffrey J. Meyers
PART FOUR: CULTURE
12. James Jordan, Rosenstock-Huessy, and Beyond — Richard Bledsoe
13. Theology of Beauty in Evdokimov — Bogumil Jarmulak
14. Empire, Sports, and War — Douglas Wilson
Afterword — John M. Frame
The Writings of James B. Jordan, 1975–2011 — John Barach
The book is currently available for order directly from Wipf & Stock for $40.00 (but there are discounts if you order more than 100). In a couple of weeks, it should appear on their webpage, and in six to eight weeks should appear on Amazon.
In his The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass argues that the Bible is not just “not a work of philosophy”; rather, it is actually
antiphilosophical, and deliberately so. Religion and piety are one thing, philosophy and inquiry another. The latter seek wisdom looking to nature and relying on unaided human reason; the former offer wisdom based on divine revelation and relying on prophecy (3).
Kass sees a relationship between this distinction and the distinction between the sense of sight and the sense of hearing. Philosophy, according to Plato and Aristotle, starts with wonder and wonder is provoked by sight:
It is especially those natural wonders manifest to sight — for example, the changing phases of the moon or the wandering motions of the sun and planets through the zodiac — that prompt the search for wisdom: “for of all the senses, sight most of all makes us know something and reveals many distinctions” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, 982a22-29] (3).
But the Bible, unlike philosophy, begins with hearing, not sight:
For the Bible, in contrast, the beginning of wisdom comes not from wonder but from awe and reverence, and the goal is not understanding for its own sake but rather a righteous and holy life. True, the Psalmist sings that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims His handiwork.” But “the beginning of wisdom is the fear [awe; reverence] of the Lord, and good understanding comes to all who practice it.” The path to wisdom and happiness lies not through wondrous sights seen by the eye but through awesome command heard by the ear…. Not the attractive, beautiful, ceaselessly circling, and seemingly imperishable heavenly bodies, but the awe-inspiring, sublime, ceaselessly demanding, and imperishable divine covenant and commandments provide the core of biblical wisdom. The wisdom of Jerusalem is not the wisdom of Athens (3-4).
There is, of course, much more that could be said about philosophy and revelation as two competing paths to wisdom.
One might wonder if Aristotle’s view of philosophy is really determinative for all philosophy. Aristotle says here that philosophy starts with seeing (though he himself, famously, stated that women have fewer teeth than men [HA 2.3.501b19-21], which suggests that his theory didn’t proceed from seeing at all). But leave Aristotle aside. What about other philosophers? What about Descartes? Surely not all philosophizing starts with sight and with wonder.
One might also ask if these two paths must compete, if one must necessarily choose. After all, the “wisdom” that Aristotle is speaking of has to do with figuring out what we would call “astronomy,” not with the sort of wisdom we think of in connection with day-to-day living here on earth.
Scripture is not antiphilosophical in this sense: it does not oppose learning about the natural world by examining it — that is, by looking at it with our eyes. God sees what He has made and evaluates it in Genesis 1, and from then on, sight in the Bible has to do with judgment. God expects Adam and all his descendants to see the world (which is why He gave us eyes) and to make judgments about it, to learn how it works, and to learn wisdom from it. Adam, for instance, might have learned what fruits are especially delicious by observing how the birds or animals flocked to those particular trees.
It seems to me, too, that Kass is partially right when he argues, along these lines, that we cannot learn how we ought to behave by watching the animals. Few animals are monogamous, but God designed man and woman to marry (Gen. 2). But on the other hand, the Proverbs, which surely are all about learning wisdom, instruct the sluggard to go to the ant to learn how to work (Prov. 6:6). Here the sluggard is to observe — to see — and thereby to learn wisdom about how he is to live.
Nevertheless, this passage in Kass did intrigue me because it seems to me that there is a difference between seeing and hearing, between sight (where the seer is in control) and hearing (where the hearer cedes authority and control to the one making the sound, the speaker). When it comes to wisdom, we are not to do “what is right in our own eyes” (i.e., make our own independent judgments about things, let alone judgments based simply on sight) but rather we are to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Hearing is primary because we are not autonomous; only when we submit to the Word are we enabled to see and judge correctly. Hearing-wisdom comes first; seeing-wisdom follows.
In his introduction to a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams, albeit after his unexpected death, C. S. Lewis writes about the pessimistic side of Williams:
He also said that when young people came to us with their troubles and discontents, the worst thing we could do was to tell them that they were not so unhappy as they thought. Our reply ought rather to begin, “But of course….” For young people usually are unhappy, and the plain truth is often the greatest relief we can give them. The world is painful in any case: but it is quite unbearable if everyone gives us the idea that we are meant to be liking it. Half the trouble is over when that monstrous demand is withdrawn. What is unforgivable if judged as a hotel may be very tolerable as a reformatory” (Essays Presented to Charles Williams, xii-xiii).
I should add that Lewis goes on to say
But that was only one side of him. This scepticism and pessimism were the expression of his feelings. High above them, overarching them like a sky, were the things he believed, and they were wholly optimistic. They did not negate the feelings; they mocked them (xiii).
But I am interested in particular in the first quotation and I invite your discussion. On the one hand, it seems to me wrong to think that we are not meant to enjoy life. I even try to teach my children to like foods that they currently don’t, precisely because I want to increase their enjoyment of their mother’s (and others’) cooking and so enrich their lives. We don’t want our children moping around, nor do we want to mope around ourselves, and so we try to learn to enjoy the chores and tasks we have to do.
But on the other hand, I also see what Lewis (and behind him Williams) means. Consider marriage. If we give the impression that marriage is simply something to enjoy, then we are not preparing people well for marriage. Marriage is often a joy and a pleasure and a delight, but it is also often work. If you focus on your happiness, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you understand that in every marriage there is going to be a certain amount of drudgery, of chores you’d rather not do, of times when you’re called upon to serve when you’d rather not, of times of unhappiness — and recognizing that might go a long way toward helping couples deal with those times. In this connection, I refer you to Lewis’s own excellent essay “The Sermon and the Lunch,” which should be required reading for couples and for their pastors.
But on the third hand … do we really want to say that this world is a reformatory and tolerable as such? That makes it sound as if one day, we’ll be released, when in fact isn’t it the case that our calling is not to wait around and hope to escape to heaven (when the work on us is done) but rather to heavenize the world, to imprint the pattern of heaven on the world, to pray and work so that God’s name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven? And if that’s the goal, then “reformatory” isn’t really the right view of the world, is it?
Now … discuss amongst yourselves.