Category Archive: Theology

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May 29, 2013

Prayer, Work, and Play

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

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).

Posted by John Barach @ 12:52 pm | Discuss (0)
May 9, 2013

Ascension vs. Chain of Being

Category: Theology,Theology - Anthropology,Theology - Christology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:54 pm | Discuss (0)
April 15, 2013

Updike on Tillich

Category: Ethics,Theology :: Link :: Print

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).

Posted by John Barach @ 11:54 am | Discuss (0)
November 12, 2012

Messages to Grandpa

Category: Theology,Theology - Christology,Theology - Ecclesiology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:42 pm | Discuss (0)

Talking to the Saints

Category: Theology,Theology - Christology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:22 pm | Discuss (2)
July 30, 2012

Obedient Faith

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

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!).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:21 pm | Discuss (4)
June 6, 2012

Cultivate Originality

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:23 pm | Discuss (0)
January 26, 2012

Theologia Reformata Reformanda Est

Category: Theology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:57 pm | Discuss (0)
August 30, 2011

The Glory of Kings

Category: Bible,Theology,Theology - Liturgical :: Link :: Print

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


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


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


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


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.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:51 pm | Discuss (0)
December 14, 2010

Eye and Ear: Philosophy and Revelation

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Ethics,Theology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:08 pm | Discuss (1)
November 23, 2010

“But Of Course!”

Category: Family,Marriage,Theology :: Link :: Print

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.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:03 pm | Discuss (2)
November 17, 2010

The High Doctrine of Mr. Cranky

Category: Theology,Theology - Pastoral :: Link :: Print

Here’s how Charles Spurgeon describes the “religious grumbler” who listens carefully to sermons and loves to find things to complain about:

One tribe of these Ishmaelites is made up of high-flying ignoramuses who are very mighty about the doctrine of a sermon — here they are as decisive as sledgehammers and as certain as death. He who knows nothing is confident in everything; hence they are bullheaded beyond measure. Every clock, and even the sundial, must be set according to their watches. The slightest difference from their opinion proves a man to be rotten at heart.

Venture to argue with them, and their little pots boil over in quick style; ask them for reason, and you might as well go to a sand pit for sugar. They have bottled up the sea of truth, and carry it in their waistcoat pockets; they have measured heaven’s line of grace and have tied a knot in a string at the exact length of electing love; and as for the things which angels long to know, they have seen them all as boys see sights in a peep-show at our fair. Having sold their modesty and become wiser than their teachers, they ride a very high horse and jump over all five-barred gates of Bible texts which teach doctrines contrary to their notions.

When this mischief happens to good men, it is a great pity for such sweet pots of ointment to be spoiled by flies, yet one learns to bear with them just as I do with old Violet, for he is a rare horse, though he does set his ears back and throw out his legs at times. But there is a bragging lot about, who are all sting and no honey, all whip and no hay, all grunt and no bacon. These do nothing but rail from morning to night at all who cannot see through their spectacles.

If they would but mix up a handful of good living with all their bushels of bounce, it would be more bear able; but no, they don’t care for such legality. Men so sound as they are can’t be expected to be good at anything else; they are the heavenly watchdogs to guard the house of the Lord from those thieves and robbers who don’t preach sound doctrine, and if they do worry the sheep, or steal a rabbit or two by the sly, who would have the heart to blame them? The Lord’s dear people, as they call themselves, have enough to do to keep their doctrine sound; and if their manners are cracked, who can wonder! No man can see to everything at once.

These are the moles that want catching in many of our pastures, not for their own sakes, for there is not a sweet mouthful in them, but for the sake of the meadows which they spoil. I would not find half a fault with their doctrine if it were not for their spirit, but vinegar is sweet next to it, and crabs are figs in comparison. It must be very high doctrine that is too high for me, but I must have high experience and high practice with it, or it turns my stomach. — Charles Spurgeon, John Ploughman’s Talk, 21-22.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:54 pm | Discuss (2)

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