Sunday, January 30, 2011

Epiphany 4: A Devotional Commentary

Jonah 1:1-17 Now the word of Yahweh came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid its fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh. But Yahweh sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty storm on the sea, so that the ship was likely to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and every man cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone down into the innermost parts of the ship, and he was laying down, and was fast asleep. So the shipmaster came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God! Maybe your God will notice us, so that we won’t perish.” They all said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know who is responsible for this evil that is on us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they asked him, “Tell us, please, for whose cause this evil is on us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? Of what people are you?” He said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land.” Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “What is this that you have done?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of Yahweh, because he had told them. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may be calm to us?” For the sea grew more and more stormy. He said to them, “Take me up, and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will be calm for you; for I know that because of me this great storm is on you.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to get them back to the land; but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. Therefore they cried to Yahweh, and said, “We beg you, Yahweh, we beg you, don’t let us die for this man’s life, and don’t lay on us innocent blood; for you, Yahweh, have done as it pleased you.” So they took up Jonah, and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased its raging. Then the men feared Yahweh exceedingly; and they offered a sacrifice to Yahweh, and made vows. Yahweh prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not give false testimony,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other commandments there are, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love doesn’t harm a neighbor. Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.

Matthew 8:23-27 When he got into a boat, his disciples followed him. Behold, a violent storm came up on the sea, so much that the boat was covered with the waves, but he was asleep. They came to him, and woke him up, saying, “Save us, Lord! We are dying!” He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the wind and the sea, and there was a great calm. The men marveled, saying, “What kind of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of losing your job? Are you afraid people won't like you? Do you fear for your family? Are you afraid of dying? We have such little faith. We are afraid of so many things even though Jesus who even the wind and sea obey is here with us. Jesus does not always stop the wind and the sea but He gives us peace in the midst of the wind and the sea. He may not keep the wind and the sea from killing us but He gives us life.

Jesus suffered the drowning that we deserve. Jesus was cast into the sea of our sin in His baptism and cleansed the waters by taking our sin upon Himself. He drowned in your sins at His crucifixion and spent three days in the belly of the earth so that you will be a partaker in His resurrection. Do not be afraid. Jesus--the One who controls the wind and the sea died for you and will keep you to the end.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Epiphany 3: A Devotional Commentary

2 Kings 5:1-15 Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him Yahweh had given victory to Syria: he was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. The Syrians had gone out in bands, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maiden; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would heal him of his leprosy.” Someone went in, and told his lord, saying, “The maiden who is from the land of Israel said this.” The king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of clothing. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “Now when this letter has come to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy.” It happened, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends to me to heal a man of his leprosy? But please consider and see how he seeks a quarrel against me.” It was so, when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariots, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall come again to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry, and went away, and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leper.’ Aren’t Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them, and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. His servants came near, and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had asked you do some great thing, wouldn’t you have done it? How much rather then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?’” Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. He returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him; and he said, “See now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. Now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”

Romans 12:16-21 Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Matthew 8:1-13 When he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him. Behold, a leper came to him and worshiped him, saying, “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Jesus said to him, “See that you tell nobody, but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him, and saying, “Lord, my servant lies in the house paralyzed, grievously tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I’m not worthy for you to come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am also a man under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and tell another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and tell my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to those who followed, “Most certainly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel. I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way. Let it be done for you as you have believed.” His servant was healed in that hour.

The Word of God is powerful and able accomplish what He purposes even if we do not believe that Word. Naaman had some idea in his head as to how healings ought to take place. Come wave your hand over me and say the magic words--don't tell me to go jump in the lake. The leper and the centurion had faith in the power and authority in the Word of God. But in all three instances the healing still took place. If God's Word says something it is true regardless of whether or not we believe it. When Jesus says "This is My body" it is still His body even if you don't believe it. You control the truth of God's Word by your own feelings or inclinations.

Just like Naaman we look at baptism and think that it cannot possibly be what God says it is. Dripping some water on someone and saying some words can't possibly do anything. But God's Word is powerful and it will do what He promises it will do.

The Wisdom of God always confounds the wise. The leper and the centurion had faith. They were both outcasts. The leper was an outcast because of his disease. The centurion was an outcast because he was a Gentile. Both believed in the authority of Jesus while the children of the Kingdom did not. The children of the kingdom saw no need for Jesus. They had the kingdom already, why do they need Jesus? Why do we need Jesus given to us every Sunday? Aren't we already a part of the kingdom? Aren't there more important things we should be doing?

We all have spiritual leprosy. We are all spiritually paralyzed. But Jesus comes to us in the midst of our death and disease and heals us by the power of His Word both in the preaching of the Gospel and in the Sacraments.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The New Testament in His Blood by Burnell F Eckardt Jr.

I recently finished reading The New Testament in His Blood: A Study of the Holy Liturgy of the Christian Church, by Burnell F Eckardt Jr. The book is divided into three major sections. The first section is entitled "The Biblical Basis for Liturgical Worship." Dr. Eckardt shows how all of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ and how the liturgy proclaims that all of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Eckardt shows the Biblical roots of the liturgy. To sing the liturgy is to sing the Scriptures. In the Scriptures, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread and so the sacrament of the altar should always be the high point of the liturgy. The second section is entitled "The Case for the Holy Liturgy." Dr. Eckardt convincingly argues that historic liturgy is not something Christians can agree to disagree about. Christians are not free to discard it. To discard it in the name of Christian liberty is a misuse of liberty. The third section is entitled "The Parts of the Liturgy of the Mass." Dr. Eckardt explains each part of the liturgy--its meaning, its historical development, and why it is placed where it is in the liturgy.

This is really an amazing book. It is only 118 pages but Eckardt manages to squeeze an incredible amount of information into this small book. And yet, the book is very readable. It's a very easy read. I don't see how this book could be improved upon and I don't see how any Christian could read it and still think that there are better alternatives to the historic liturgy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Robert Reymond, Charles Leiter, Romans 7, and the Phantom Antinomian

I recently got involved in a discussion on Facebook in regards to Romans 7. The person I was arguing with is of a Calvinistic Baptist persuasion and is convinced that in Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of himself in his pre-Christian state. Paul served God with his mind but with his flesh served sin. But when Paul became a Christian he gained victory over sin. The person I was arguing with referenced an article by Charles Leiter. Leiter does a rather poor job of defending his position. He never responds to the real objections. Leiter recommends another article by Robert Reymond. Reymond does a  better job defending his position that Leiter does. I read this same article in Robert Reymond's A New Systematic Theology several years ago.

Robert Reymond is a "conservative" Presbyterian and this article in his systematic theology seems to have popularized the idea that Romans 7 is about Paul prior to converting to Christianity among Reformed folks. Historically the vast majority of "conservative" Reformed and Presbyterian folks adopted the Augustinian interpretation where Paul is speaking about his current state. But now many believe that this is impossible. There are several other problems in Reymond's systematic theology that I won't go into hear--not the least of which is his abandonment of Nicene Trinitiarian Orthodoxy.

For the present, I will only examine his interpretation of Romans 7. Prior to the twentieth century the Augustinian position that Paul is speaking of his current state reigned in the church across denominational lines both in the east and the west. There was the occasional commentator such as Origen who believed that Paul was speaking of himself in the preconversion days of yore, but there has been a general consensus that Paul was speaking of his current situation. But in the magical infallible land of academia, where all now turn, Paul must be speaking of either his own unconverted state or perhaps not even about himself.

Reymond believes that Romans 7:14-25 is autobiographical but that Paul is making use of the historical present to make his telling of the past event more vivid. Reymond is right that the use of the present tense does not automatically mean that the action is present. Throughout the Gospels we find the use of the historical present to make the passages more vivid--to draw the reader (or more likely hearer) in to the event as a contemporary. However, in the context of Romans 7 that doesn't seem to be the case. Paul begins in the past tense to describe his pre-conversion state and then shifts into the present tense to describe his current state. That seems to be the most natural way of reading the passages as can be attested by the fact that that is the way almost everyone in the Christian church has understood it both in the east and the west throughout history.

Reymond says that Paul cannot be describing his current state because in vs. 14 Paul describes himself as being "carnal" which according to 8:6 is to be in a state of spiritual death. But this is actually circular reasoning. The Augustinian position is that the believer receives a new nature but that he still has the old nature. The new nature never sins and the old nature always sins and they are constantly battling against one another--which is the state the Paul is describing in Romans 7 and elsewhere. Reymond wants us to believe that since the "spiritual" is present, the "carnal" is no longer present. Reymond has 10 main points but most of his points are basically just a restatement of his belief that if the new is present, then the old cannot be in the same person. Reymond assumes what he is trying to prove.

If Reymond believed that Christians no longer sin after conversion then his argument might make a little more sense. But Reymond does acknowledge that Christians still sin. The Scriptures are clear that the new man does not sin at all. It's not about trying hard or being really sincere (which aren't any time you sin anyhow) but about absolute sinlessness. Reymond warns against the dangers of antinomianism but legalism is far more widespread that antinomianism is and there have been plenty of Christian bodies throughout history that have taught the Augustinian interpretation without even getting close to antinomianism. Of course Paul was accused of antinomianism, so if a person is not accused of being an antinomian he probably isn't preaching the Gospel.

I (and others) would argue that Romans 7:14-25 could not be speaking of an unconverted person because Paul says that he delights in the law of the Lord. Reymond argues that as a self-rigtheous Pharisee Paul did delight in God's law in his mind. But in Romans 7:22, Paul does not say that he outwardly conformed to the law or delights in a superficial way. Rather, Paul delights in God's law in his inner being. In verse 25, Paul uses the word "mind" (nous) to speak of the same thing. He says that he serves the law of God with his mind. In Romans 8, Paul says that the person whose mind is not in the Spirit is hostile to God and does not submit to God's law. Elsewhere, Paul says that whatever is not done in faith is sin.

Paul is restating basically the same thing as is found in Psalm 119, where the Psalmist speaks of how he delights in God's law but recognizes his own sinfulness. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, Paul says that our outer being is wasting away but the new being is being renewed day by day.

There is a great paradox here. How can both saint and sinner exist in the same person? How can a person be utterly sinful and yet righteous? But this is not something unique to Paul. In 1 John, John says that if we say we do not sin we are calling God a liar and God's truth is not in us. In the same epistle, John says that if we sin we are of the Devil and do not belong to God. Some say that John is not speaking absolutely but only of habitual sin, but all sin is habitual, otherwise we would stop doing it and if we say that we don't commit habitual sin we are calling God a liar which is a sin.

Our new man never sins. Our old man always sins. The life of the believer is one of constant struggle between his old and new natures. This struggle does not exist in the unbeliever.

It is not surprising that Reymond is uncomfortable with this paradox. Paradoxes are always uncomfortable and throughout his systematic theology Reymond is unwilling to accept them. Reymond is a Calvinist and both Calvinism and Arminianism are attempts to resolve Scriptural paradoxes. They are intellectually satisfying systems but Biblically unfaithful. Calvinism is all about God's glory and bends and twists any passages or teachings of the Scriptures that Calvinism believes detracts from God's glory. Arminianism is all about free choice and bends and twists any passages that make it sound like free choice is being threatened.

But the Christian faith is not mathematical. God ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We can know what God has revealed to us about Himself but the secret things belong to Him and it is sinful to pretend we have God figured out. We only end up making an idol in our own image when we try to resolve the paradox.

The Christian faith confesses that God is one being and three persons. Nobody can explain that. It's a paradox. The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, but there are not three Gods but one God. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, etc. Modalism is intellectually satsifying and so is Tritheism but Trinitarianism is not (of course finding a real Tritheist is almost as hard as finding a real antinomian).When the core of our confession is a pardox, how can we expect to be able to be able to resolve other issues that have not been explicitly revealed to us? God suffered, bled, and hung naked and dead on a cross for us. Nothing makes sense about that. All we can do is rejoice that it is true. There is no way we can make God dying for sinners make sense. God destroying sinners makes sense.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Handbook of Consolations for the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death by Johann Gerhard

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of Handbook of Consolations for the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death by Johann Gerhard.

A few years ago my wife gave birth to still-born twins and we were visited by four pastors. Two of the pastors were Lutheran and two were not.

One of the non-Lutheran pastors had already met with us earlier on in the pregnancy when my wife was having complications and read a Scriptural passage that made it sound as if he thought the twins were having problems because we were making an idol of them. After the twins died he read a Scriptural passage that didn't seem to apply to the situation and never bothered to try to apply it to our situation. 

When the other non-Lutheran pastor heard we were having complications with the pregnancy he called my wife up and told her to get her tubes tied. When the twins died he came to the hospital and told my wife to be careful about what she did or how she acted because there were unbelieving nurses there (since it was a Roman Catholic hospital he assumed they must all be unbelievers). He did not read the Scriptures to us at all.

The two Lutheran pastors who visited us acted much differently. They had different personalities. But they both read the Scriptures to us and applied the Gospel to us in our own unique situation and they did it in a very personal way. One of the pastors especially showed a great deal of honor to our sons' bodies. For these pastors, the Scriptures were not a collection of stories about a sovereign God in the sky but an icon of Christ. The Gospel was applied to my wife and me personally.

That is what you will find in the Handbook of Consolations--a very personal application of the Gospel to the different fears that people have while they are dying. It's not a collection of nice things to say, a book that takes the promises of Jesus seriously and applies them to the individual's concerns. There are forty-six sections and they cover just about every fear that someone might have when he is dying.

I do take issue with a few passages in the book. There are a number of times where the author seems to be applying the Law when the Gospel is called for and there are few times where it seems like the author is directing the person inwards to see if they have "true" faith rather than directing the person to Christ. There is a section (pp.63-64) where Gerhard makes the claim that the believer is spared the pains of death. Gerhard does not provide much support for this position and could fill the believer with absolute horror who starts feeling excruciating pain as he is dying. In a section on page 70, Gerhard is trying to comfort those who are worried about the physical concerns of family members that are being left behind but Gerhard claims that "He will not allow those who believe in Him to die from hunger." He doesn't provide any Biblical support for this claim and I wonder what terror it could provide to the believer who starves to death. There are a couple of passages where it sounds as if Gerhard simply believes that our physical bodies are useless and something we need to be delivered from but in other passages he does speak of the bodily resurrection.

All in all, this is an excellent book and would be extraordinarily helpful for pastors and others who minister to the dying.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Merry Christmas From Leo the Great

I love this sermon. It was for the day of Christmas but it is still Christmas after all. Merry 12th day of Christmas!

Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin. Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth Job 19:4 . Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered. A royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result , she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honour that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.
Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who in the beginning was with God, through whom all things were made and without whom was nothing made John 1:1-3, with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate. Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.
Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin's purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead. For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel's song when the Lord was born is this, Glory to God in the Highest, and their message, peace on earth to men of good will Luke 2:14 . For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?
Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit , Who for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us, has had pity on us: and when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ Ephesians 2:4-5, that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge your dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which you are a member. Recollect that you were rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism you were made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from you by base acts, and subject yourself once more to the devil's thraldom: because your purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge you in truth Who ransomed you in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Divine Liturgy in English by Capella Romana

I received The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom in English by Capella Romana as a Christmas present. It has two CDs and is the first recording of the entire liturgy of St. Chrysostom in English. The recording is excellent. Portions of it are difficult to hear if you are listening to it while driving but that is only because they preserved the dynamics which are often lost in overly compressed modern music. The liner notes contain the text as well as lots of other interesting information. Anyone familiar with the historic liturgy in the Western tradition will notice similarities but also interesting differences. As a Lutheran, I'm not a big fan of the prayers to the saints but they don't detract substantially from the liturgy as a whole. The chanting of Capella Romana does not match the beauty of Fr. Apostolos Hill but is still well done and will no doubt remain the best recording of the complete liturgy of St. Chrysostom available until somebody can get Fr. Apostolos Hill to do it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career by James Kittelson

Fortress Press sent me a review copy of Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career by James Kittelson. I am very impressed with this book. There are lots of biographies of Luther out there. I've read a few that focus on some particular theological aspect of Luther's writings. This book provides an easy to read history of Luther's life based on the some of the best research without forcing the reader to wade through all the scholarly opinions. I am by no means an expert on Martin Luther but from the works of Luther that I have read, Kittelson seems to be an honest interpreter. He doesn't seem to have any ax to grind or particular agenda. With someone as important and prolific as Luther, it's always easy to use quotes here and there to create the person in your own image. But Kittelson doesn't do that. He just tells the story of Luther's life accurately and honestly. For most of the quotations, Kittelson provides his own translations which are not filtered as they are in some other English translations. Luther's language can be more than a little jarring at times but it also shows how strongly Luther felt about the issues being debated. Luther would not fit in well at the modern ecumenical conferences. The book's goal seems to be to provide a portrait of Luther that Luther would recognize as being himself and I think it lives up to that standard. In around 300 pages the book gives an excellent of Luther's entire life and theology. My only gripe is with the sections dealing with private confession. If all you read was this book you might be led to think that Luther was completely opposed to private confession. Luther was opposed to the way it was conducted in the Roman church but continued the practice of private confession in an evangelical way.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Unholy Glawspel According to John Frame: Let Us Be Inattentive

The more I read from John Frame, the more I am convinced that John Frame doesn't understand the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel.

Frame writes:
The distinction between law and a distinction between two messages, one that supposedly consists exclusively of commands, threats, and therefore terrors, the other that consists exclusively of promises and comforts. Although I believe that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by works, I do not believe that there are two entirely different messages of God in Scripture, one exclusively of command (“law”) and the other exclusively of promise (“gospel”).
What Frame says here could be taken in a way that accurately represents the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel but from what follows it appears that Frame thinks that Lutherans believe that the Law and the Gospel are completely unrelated. Rather than saying that there are two messages it might be more precise to say that there is a singular message but two distinct doctrines. If analogy could be drawn in regards to Christology, Frame is basically accusing the Lutherans of having a Nestorian view of Law and Gospel while I would argue that Frame has a Eutychian view of Law and Gospel. (There is a good deal of irony in this for reasons that would take us too far from the subject at hand.)

Frame goes on to say:

In Scripture itself, commands and promises are typically found together. With God’s promises come commands to repent of sin and believe the promise. The commands, typically, are not merely announcements of judgment, but God’s gracious opportunities to repent of sin and believe in him. As the Psalmist says, “be gracious to me through your law,” Psm. 119:29.
The fact that "Repent" and "Believe" are found together does not mean that they are the same thing. "Repent" is Law while "Believe" is Gospel. Since Lutherans believe that both Law and Gospel should be preached, the Scriptural examples provided by Frame do not contradict the Lutheran position. Nor does the quotation of Psalm 119:29. The Psalmist is asking God to be gracious to him by giving him God's "law." Lutherans do not deny the third use of the law. But what the Psalmist is asking for more literally is God's "Torah" which would be instruction in a more general sense.

Frame quotes the Formula of Concord which says:

But when the Law and the Gospel are compared together, as well as Moses himself, the teacher of the Law, and Christ the teacher of the Gospel, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance, convicting of sins, but that it is properly nothing else than a certain most joyful message and preaching full of consolation, not convicting or terrifying, inasmuch as it comforts the conscience against the terrors of the Law, and bids it look at the merit of Christ alone...

Frame says:

I say this is strange, because the Formula gives no biblical support at all for this distinction, and what it says here about the "gospel" flatly contradicts what it conceded earlier in section 5. What it describes as “correct” in section five contradicts what it calls “proper” in section 6. What section 6 does is to suggest something “improper” about what it admits to be the biblical description of the content of gospel, as in Mark 1:15 and Acts 14:15. Mark 1:15 is correct, but not proper.
I think what the Formula means by "proper" is narrow. The Formula doesn't refer to the use of the term "Gospel" in the wider sense as being improper as Frame seems to think the confessions are suggesting but as what belongs specifically to the Gospel. If John Frame had his leg amputated he would still be John Frame. The narrow definition of what it means to be John Frame would still be present while the elements of the broader definition might not be.

The Scriptural examples that John Frame provides are from the Formula of Concord and give examples of what the Formula of Concord believes are examples of the Gospel in the wider sense. But I'm not even entirely convinced that these are examples of the Gospel in it wider sense. In Mark 1:15 the Gospel to be proclaimed is the kingdom/reign of God. Jesus is telling people to repent and believe this Gospel which would suggest that repentance and the Gospel are two things. Jesus is calling them to repent of their sins (law) and to believe the Gospel (Gospel) and is distinguishing between the two. Jesus does not say, "Repent, that's the Gospel." In Acts 14:15 Barnabas and Paul say that they are preaching the Gospel so that men would turn from their idolatry. They do not say that the Gospel is that they turn from their idolatry.

Frame says:

God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration of his commandments. When the kingdom appears in power, it is time for people to repent. They must obey (hupakouo) the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8, compare apeitheo in 1 Pet. 4:17). The gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15, Gal. 2:14, Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom 2:16).

To "obey" the Gospel in the context of 2 Thessalonians and 1 Peter means to believe the Gospel. Those who did not obey the Gospel did not believe the Gospel. It is very odd indeed that John Frame would refer to Galatians 2:14. If "God's kingdom authority is a reiteration of his commandments" as John Frame says it is, why would Paul be rebuking Peter for not eating with uncircumcised Gentiles? Paul is arguing against people who are actually quite a bit like John Frame. They want to return to the law after being converted to the Gospel.

Frame says:

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ's sake.
The command to repentance is not Good News in itself. The need for repentance shows that we are guilty of great sin. The command to repent does not in any way by itself give anyone forgiveness.

Frame says:

Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the Decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the Decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier.

Most of the time imperatives are law but the command to believe is different. If I say to a starving man, "Eat this sandwich" it can hardly be considered Law. It is what the theologians would call a Gospel Imperative. In some sense the Gospel could be regarded as Law when it is rejected but in and of itself it is not Law. If I'm starving and somebody offers me some food and I eat it, nobody would think that by eating the food I'm a law abiding citizen. Faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8).

Frame says:

Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

The decalogue promises a conditional blessing but nobody but Jesus fulfills the condition. It's only Gospel if you are Jesus. For the rest of us, we receive the blessing because of Jesus' obedience. Moses and the prophets contain both Law and Gospel and therefore are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell. Frame seems to be operating under a false presumption that Lutherans believe that the Old Testament is Law and the New Testament is Gospel.

The law often brings terror, to be sure. Israel was frightened by the Sinai display of God’s wrath against sin (Ex. 20:18-21). But it also brings delight to the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22).

As I mentioned earlier, the word Torah has reference to instruction in the Old Testament that includes both Law and Gospel. In Romans 7:22 Paul says that the New Man delights in God's law but the Old Man hates it. This is no moral improvement program. The Old Man does nothing but sin and the New Man never sins. The New Man certainly does delight in God's Law but that doesn't make the Law the Gospel.

Frame says:

In discussions of law and gospel, one commonly hears that it is important, not only to preach both law and gospel, but also to preach the law first and the gospel second. We are told that people must be frightened by the law before they can be driven to seek salvation in Christ.

I would argue that it would it depend upon the situation. I could think of several ways in which somebody could very appropriately preach the Gospel first and the law second. If someone were to come to a pastor already crushed by his sin, I think it would be very appropriate to just go straight to the Gospel. During a sermon, the pastor could certainly begin with a proclamation of the Gospel and then show how we have violated God's law and then return to the Gospel. In modern preaching, the problem is that the Gospel will sometimes get mentioned quickly at the beginning and then the pastor will bring the law to you as something that is very doable since after all you are a Christian.

Frame says:

Some have cited Luke 18:18—30 as an example of the contrary order: Jesus expounds the commandments, and only afterward tells the rich ruler to follow him. But in this passage Jesus does not use the law alone to terrorize the man or to plunge him into despair. The man does go sadly away only after Jesus has called him to discipleship, which, though itself a command, is the gospel of this passage.

Telling the man to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor most certainly is not Gospel. Jesus recognized that the man had not been driven to despair by the Law. Jesus knew that this man had not kept the Law but the man thought he had. The man did not understand the Law. So Jesus pointed the man to something very tangible--his wealth. Jesus showed the man that he loved money more than God. There's nothing Gospel about that.

The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism.

Legalism seems to be far more prevalent than antinomianism is. If you left people alone to construct their own religious system on their own it would almost always be legalistic. It is far more likely for pastors to slip into legalism than into antinomianism. Even in churches that ordain women and homosexual clergy, legalism seems to reign. They just reject some of the Biblical laws and replace them with others. If you turn on any Christian radio station you are bound to hear legalism. It's almost refreshing to read a real antinomian like Robert Capon just because we are bombarded with legalism everywhere we go.

Frame says:

The Formula’s distinction between law and gospel has unfortunate consequences for the Christian life. The document does warrant preaching of the law to the regenerate, but only as threat and terror, to drive them to Christ Epitome, VI, 4. There is nothing here about the law as the delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22).

This simply is not true. Article six of the Epitome of the Formula of Concord says:

2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night [that they should meditate upon God's Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance, Ps. 1:2 ], Ps. 119. For even our first parents before the Fall did not live without Law, who had the Law of God written also into their hearts, because they were created in the image of God, Gen. 1:26f.; 2:16ff; 3:3.

3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the preaching of the Law is to be urged with diligence, not only upon the unbelieving and impenitent, but also upon true believers, who are truly converted, regenerate, and justified by faith.

4] 3. For although they are regenerate and renewed in the spirit of their mind, yet in the present life this regeneration and renewal is not complete, but only begun, and believers are, by the spirit of their mind, in a constant struggle against the flesh, that is, against the corrupt nature and disposition which cleaves to us unto death. On account of this old Adam, which still inheres in the understanding, the will, and all the powers of man, it is needful that the Law of the Lord always shine before them, in order that they may not from human devotion institute wanton and self-elected cults [that they may frame nothing in a matter of religion from the desire of private devotion, and may not choose divine services not instituted by God's Word]; likewise, that the old Adam also may not employ his own will, but may be subdued against his will, not only by the admonition and threatening of the Law, but also by punishments and blows, so that he may follow and surrender himself captive to the Spirit, 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 6:12, Gal. 6:14; Ps. 119:1ff ; Heb. 13:21 (Heb. 12:1).

5] 4. Now, as regards the distinction between the works of the Law and the fruits of the Spirit, we believe, teach, and confess that the works which are done according to the Law are and are called works of the Law as long as they are only extorted from man by urging the punishment and threatening of God's wrath.

6] 5. Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7:25; 8:7; Rom. 8:2; Gal. 6:2.

7] 6. Thus the Law is and remains both to the penitent and impenitent, both to regenerate and unregenerate men, one [and the same] Law, namely, the immutable will of God; and the difference, so far as concerns obedience, is alone in man, inasmuch as one who is not yet regenerate does for the Law out of constraint and unwillingly what it requires of him (as also the regenerate do according to the flesh); but the believer, so far as he is regenerate, does without constraint and with a willing spirit that which no threatenings [however severe] of the Law could ever extort from him.

Negative Theses.
False Contrary Doctrine.

8] Accordingly, we reject as a dogma and error injurious to, and conflicting with, Christian discipline and true godliness the teaching that the Law in the above-mentioned way and degree is not to be urged upon Christians and true believers, but only upon unbelievers, non-Christians, and the impenitent.

Frame says:

And what, then, does motivate good works, if not the commands, threats, and promises of reward in Scripture? The Formula doesn’t say. What it suggests is that the Spirit simply brings about obedience from within us. I believe the Spirit does exactly that. But the Formula seems to assume that the Spirit works that way without any decision on our part to act according to the commands of God. That I think is wrong. “Quietism” is the view that Christians should be entirely passive, waiting for the Spirit of God to act in them. This view of the Christian life is unbiblical. The Christian life is a battle, a race. It requires decision and effort. I am not saying that the Formula is quietist (Lutheranism rejected quietism after some controversy in its ranks), but as we read the position of the Formula, it does seem that quietism lies around the corner from it.

From talking to people who have said things like John Frame over the years, I think I have a good idea of what their concerns are. They are used to hearing a sermon where maybe there's a little bit of law at the beginning showing that we are all sinners and a brief statement about how Jesus died for God's elect and so you better start acting like you are one of God's elect or else. In a confessional Lutheran sermon Frame would hear something different. The law would be applied in such a way that everybody stands guilty and you stand guilty personally. The law would be spoken of very specifically according to the real sins of the congregation. And then we would be told how Jesus died for all these damnable sins that we have committed personally. There could also be exhortations to good works. But Frame probably wants the pastor to continue and say, "Hey, you better stop doing all those bad things now, or else..." Instead the Pastor trusts in the power of the Gospel. The congregation already knows what God would have them do from the previous part of the sermon. If the pastor said they are guilty of stealing because they download music illegally they don't need the pastor to circle around again at the end and tell them they better stop doing that. The Law does not make people act more lawfully according to St. Paul. Only the Gospel can do that. It's counter intuitive but so is God dying on the cross for your sins. Sheep do sheepy things naturally because the Shepherd is working in them. In Matthew 25, the people standing on judgment day weren't even aware that they were doing good works.

Frame says:

Part of the motivation for this view of the Christian life, I believe, is the thought that one’s life should be based on something objective, rather than something subjective. On this view, our life is built on what Christ has done for us, objectively in history, not on anything arising from our own subjectivity or inwardness. So in this view, gospel is a recitation of what God has done for us, not a command to provoke our subjective response.

This understanding focuses on justification: God regards us as objectively righteous for Christ’s sake, apart from anything in us. But it tends to neglect regeneration and sanctification: that God does work real subjective changes in the justified.

Scripturally regeneration is not tied to a feeling but the objective act of being baptized. Through baptism we are also sanctified. Sanctification is something that can be spoken of as on-going but it is Christ's work in us, so it is better to direct the person to Christ than to his own sanctification and have him constantly wondering if he's improving enough. If he's looking to his sanctification for assurance and he's honest he'll be convinced that he's damned. If he fools himself he'll become a good Pharisee who looks down on those around him.

But in Scripture, though justification is based on the work of Christ external to us, it is embraced by faith, which is subjective. And faith, in turn, is the result of the Spirit’s subjective work of regeneration (John 3:3). So nobody is objectively justified who has not been subjectively changed by God’s grace.

In John 3:5 Jesus explains what He means by being born again in verse 3. According to Jesus, to be "born again" means to be born of the water and the spirit which is a reference to the objective reception of baptism. According to Romans 4 all have been objectively justified on the cross. The Holy Spirit works faith in us and we lay hold of that justification. We experience that justification subjectively.

Frame ends with some statements about the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms:

It is true that we should not try to force unregenerate people to become Christians through civil power. The church does not have the power of the sword. Nevertheless, there are not two sets of divine norms for civil society, only one. And those norms are in the Bible. Morality is most emphatically a matter of religion. The unregenerate have some knowledge of God’s law through natural revelation (Rom. 1:32), but believers see that law more clearly through the spectacles of Scripture. The biblical view of civil government does not require us to force unbelievers to behave as Christians in every way, but it does call upon us to restrain their (and our!) sin in certain areas. We should be active in society to promote those godly standards.

America is not a theocracy and I don't recall Paul spending his time trying to change civil laws. Christians should support laws that promote natural law but you just can't enforce a law against coveting.

From Frame's article, it's clear that he doesn't understand the Lutheran position at all and is promoting the Glawspel that can be found everywhere. Frame's position softens the law so that it is doable and if taken to its logical conclusion Christ is completely unnecessary. A Lutheran whose name I can't remember once said that you should preach the law as if there is no Gospel and preach the Gospel as if there is no law. I think he is right. That seems to be what Jesus and Paul did. Jesus was asked a question about divorce and adultery and he showed everyone there that they were all guilty of adultery. The way to a man's heart may be his stomach but his stomach is not his heart.

The Circumcision and Name of Jesus: A Devotional Commentary

Numbers 6:22-27 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘This is how you shall bless the children of Israel.’ You shall tell them, ‘Yahweh bless you, and keep you. Yahweh make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you. Yahweh lift up his face toward you, and give you peace.’ So they shall put my name on the children of Israel; and I will bless them.”

Galatians 3:23-29 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, confined for the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise.

Luke 2:21 When eight days were fulfilled for the circumcision of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Eight days after He was born, Jesus was circumcised for you. In His circumcision, Jesus shed His blood for you. And on this name Jesus was given His name. The name Jesus means Savior.

By nature we are all sinners and find our identification in the name of the first Adam and have earned the wages of sin--death. We sin because we are sinners. In baptism we put on Christ. We wear the righteousness of Jesus. We receive His name. We are no longer slaves to sin and we receive all the promises given to Abraham because we are slaves of Christ. Baptism shows that He owns us. Because Jesus owns us we receive God's blessings. His face shines upon us and gives us peace. Jesus gives us the same blood to drink that He shed at His circumcision to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.