Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why Kloha Isn't the Problem: Inspiration, Inerrancy, Preservation, and other stuff.

Recently, there has been quite a bit of discussion in the interweb about an unpublished paper written by Jeffrey Kloha. The paper is about the release of NA28 and how it relates to the current popular understanding of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Some have worried that this paper will result in a battle for the Bible similar to what the LCMS experienced in the 1970's. I believe what happened in the 1970's was really the result of what happened in the 1880's and that the major doctrinal shift was never really addressed.

In the 16th and 17th Centuries, Lutheran and Calvinist theologians claimed that God preserved His Word in the church and that the text they had in their hands was the same take given to the Apostles. Rome was arguing that the Greek and Hebrew texts were corrupt and that the Vulgate preserved the authentic text. The Reformers were well aware of textual variants but still held to the belief that God's providential care preserved the Greek and Hebrew texts. The autographs served as a sort of touchstone for the authority of the extant manuscripts. Click here for further information regarding the historic Protestant position.

Within the wider body of Protestantism, the shift away from this position began in the 1880's. In the 1880's, Westcott and Hort published their Greek New Testament based on theories that continue to this day. There have been further developments since that time but the idea that the church was the corrupter rather than the preserver of the text remains a foundational principle. A reading which differs from the reading adopted and transmitted by the church is considered to be more likely to represent the original text. This is really an Anabaptist understanding of church history being applied to the Scriptures.

B.B. Warfield was educated in the methodology of Westcott and Hort and found himself in a battle with liberalism. When liberals began to point out "contradictions" in the Biblical text, Warfield would claim that these "contradictions" did not exist in the original autographs. Since nobody had the original autographs it was impossible to prove him wrong. Warfield also popularized the use of the term "inerrancy" which was originally an astronomical term used to refer to fixed stars. On the surface, Warfield seems to have done an excellent job in defending Protestant orthodoxy against liberal criticism. However, this radical move by Warfield resulted in a the placement of authority in something nobody has. Within Presbyterianism, Warfield shifted authority away from infallible apographa (texts we actually have) to inerrant autographa (texts that nobody has). Belief in God's providential care of the text was replaced with faith in the academy to reconstruct the autographs.

William Arndt popularized Warfield's position among Lutherans in the 1920's. It doesn't take too much imagination to see how placing all authority in a text that nobody has could ultimately lead to something like the Jesus Seminar where people vote on what Jesus said. The readings in Nestle-Aland are sometimes decided by a three to two vote. If the church is not the preserver but the corruptor of the text, how do we know that they didn't significantly corrupt the text prior to the earliest manuscripts that we have in our possession?
Westcott and Hort were very optimistic in being able to reconstruct the original autographs but modern textual criticism does not share that optimism. The editors behind NA28 are openly stating that they are not trying to reconstruct what the Apostles wrote but rather the source text that explains the many variant readings. Anyone who has kept up on this field of study knows that this has been going on for quite some time but NA28 is the first time this has been openly stated. NA27 adopted at least one reading (Acts 16:12) that was a textual emendation with no manuscript support. At what point will all the conjectures stop? Why should they ever stop if the church is the corrupter of the text?

If the assumptions that stand behind Nestle Aland text are applied to the Old Testament, I don't see how anyone can have any confidence in the Old Testament text at all. It's true that we have record of a very controlled method of copying the text but this process was not in place until a very long time after the texts were originally written. We also have evidence of a variety of different textual traditions that pop up in the New Testament. Most of the time, Jesus and the Apostles don't quote from the textual tradition behind the Hebrew Masoretic text but the tradition stands behind the LXX. Sometimes they do quote from the tradition that stands behind the MT and sometimes they quote from an unknown textual tradition. Jesus and the Apostles seem completely unconcerned with trying to reconstruct the original autographs. Instead, they quote the commonly used text in their day as God's inspired Word. When Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed he wasn't referring to the original autographs. When Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the Torah will pass away, he wasn't referring to the original autographs. He was referring to a Torah people really have.

I'm not arguing for a return to the Textus Receptus or even the use of every reading that has the fancy M next to it in Nestle-Aland. Instead, it seems that the church should take its task of preserving the text seriously and use those readings that have lived and breathed in the church, especially the lectionary readings in the Eastern Church. The 1904 Antoniades edition of the Greek New Testament is a good starting point although it has its own peculiar flaws. The Church should honor father and mother and make use of those readings that were preserved for us by the saints who have gone before us rather than acting like disobedient children who think we know more than our parents. Why should we presume to think that we know better about how to choose the correct reading than those who made the textual decisions in the first place? We can find localized examples of intentional corruptions of the text but the vast majority of the time people simply copied what was put in front of them or read to them making small, unintentional mistakes along the way. The idea of a massive, geographically widespread corruption of the text by the church smells like something you might see on the History Channel. Right now, we're waiting every few years to see what text the academy will give us and waiting in anticipation to see what readings our favorite commentator will adopt. The academy and the commentators are giving up hope. It's time to return to a belief that God preserved His Word and knows what He's doing.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Theology is For Constipation: Antinomian Homesick Blues

In both Calvinist and Lutheran circles, as the church goes through its liturgical menstrual cycle, various charges of antinomianism flow forth. In some circles this flow continues for 12  years. I would like to suggest some ways that we can better communicate with one another and stop the hemorrhaging. I'm going to limit my comments to confessionally Lutheran and Calvinist groups. I'm not going to deal with liberals or any of the various Baptist groups. All advice is unsolicited. I am not a pastor and hold no authority over anyone reading this.

Lutheranism experienced two major antinomian controversies in the 16th Century. Do you recall the most famous antinomian of all? Johannes Agricola (I prefer to call him Farmer John) taught that the Law should be used in the courts but has no place in the church and that repentance only comes about through the hearing of the Gospel. Luther and Melanchthon attacked. Farmer John recanted. Farmer John then sued Luther but ran away before trial. After Luther's death, Melanchthon and the Philippists began to teach their own brand of antinomianism. They taught that the Gospel alone works repentance, said that the Gospel itself is a moral law, denied the third use of the law as a guide for the life of the Christian, and turned Jesus into a new Moses.

Antinomianism is bad but it's hard to pull off. Typically, whenever our sinful human nature makes up its own religion it's legalism about 99% of the time. You can turn on your local Christian radio station and I can almost guarantee you that you will find plenty of legalism but antinomianism is nowhere to be found. However, the devil is always convincing us that the big problem is antinomianism. The Apostle Paul was accused of antinomianism. If nobody ever accuses you of being an antinomian you're probably a legalist. Keep in mind that legalism does not hold to a higher view of the Law but a lower view of the Law. The Pharisees were legalists. They devised various ways to make the Law doable and kept people from feeling the full force of the Law. The Law always kills. The Legalist wants to distract you from the fact that you are not keeping the Law and give you 7 easy steps that you can follow to keep the Law.

In confessional Calvinist circles anyone who holds to something that remotely resembles the Lutheran distinction between Law and Gospel gets accused of being an antinomian by those who don't. Part of the problem in confessional Calvinist circles is that we are dealing with consensus documents that were written to embrace a whole host of views on different topics but usually get interpreted more narrowly by different people within Calvinism. The Lutheran Law/Gospel position is one of many possible positions within confessional Calvinism. John Frame is opposed to the Lutheran Law/Gospel distinction. He doesn't say that in and of itself it is antinomian but worries that those who hold to it aren't sensitive enough to the dangers of antinomianism. Strangely enough though, John Frame will tell you that the Law is the Gospel and that the Gospel is Law which is one of the characteristics of Melanchthon's antinomianism. Among some of the R2K folks (if you don't know what this means you don't need to worry abou it) I have noticed a certain antinomianism when it comes to civil law but it would seem better to reacquaint such people with historic two kingdoms theology rather than just throw out the overused and abused title of antinomian. Words lose their meaning if we just throw them around especially when the word gets thrown around in reference to characteristics that aren't actually antinomian.

The situation is even stranger in Lutheran circles. I find pastors both accusing and being accused that I have a great deal of respect for. In Lutheran circles the attacks seem less direct. People generally are not called out by name. I think those making the accusations may be hoping to teach without making an example of someone but instead it just leads to confusion. Some people think they are being attacked when they might not be. Some seem to look with suspicion at anyone who reads Forde or Capon. And I think often the charge of "antinomianism" is mislabeled. If an error is mislabeled it's easy for people to dismiss it even if there could be some legitimate issues that need to be worked out. It doesn't really do much good to just keep telling someone who holds to Keynesian economics that he is a communist. I love Gottesdienst and I think they have a good point that should be made but I think it's mislabeled. I love Jordan Cooper's blog and I think he identifies some real issues but you can't just throw everything under the title of "antinomianism."

Words mean things and if you are accusing people of something you need to call a thing what it is. To call it "soft antinomianism" or to say that it shows "antinomian tendencies" gives you the ability to throw almost anything under the title of "antinomianism." When I was a Calvinist I found it irritating to see the various lists that would circulate around the internet that would tell you what it means to be a "hyper-Calvinist." Many of the things that would get listed were positions that the Calvinist confessions allowed for.

There's quite a bit of debate in Lutheran circles about whether or not you should include exhortations to good works after you've given people the Gospel. One party says you should, the other party says that you shouldn't burden someone with the Law after giving them the Gospel and since the person has already been told that they have broken God's Law earlier they don't need to be told not to do it again. But the strange thing is that if you listen to the sermons of both parties they are often very similar. You can find a number of very favorable sermon reviews that Todd Wilken has done of Will Weedon sermons and then you can Google and find a number of places where they are arguing about this topic on the internet. I think the pro-exhortation after Gospel people have the Pauline letters on their side but I don't hear them practicing it very often. It would seem much better to me for them to simply write sermons that have this exhortation at the end and then present them to the anti-exhortation folks for review and then have some conversation about the way they structured the sermon. When people hear anyone arguing for a "Law-Gospel-Law" structure, hundreds of bad sermons instantly pop into their heads. I've heard some really bad sermons where the pastor basically said, "You broke God's Law and you are worthy of God's punishment. The Good News is that Jesus paid for your sin." Then the pastor proceeded to gum everyone to death by trying to preach the third use of the law because that's what he really wanted to do all along.

So, first of all, call the thing what it is. Secondly, lead by example. Thirdly, never, never, never describe the problem as a lack of balance. The problem is not a lack of balance. You cannot preach the Law or the Gospel in a way that is too radical. Neither needs to be toned down. I recently listened to a Reformed Forum podcast interview with Dr. Mark Jones who wrote a book called Antinomianism. Both in the interview and from what I've read in the book, Jones says the problem is balance. Strangely enough, his solution seems to be the mixture of Law and Gospel found among the Philippists that was itself a form of antinomianism. Glawspel is not the answer. Dr. Jones views Luther as inconsistent and says he made some statements that were to extreme. However, if you read the writings of the Apostle Paul, Paul made extreme statements and said some very paradoxical things. The problem is that people have found ways to resolve the paradoxes and squeeze Paul into their theologies. Paul says that Jesus became sin for us. Theologians find ways to interpret Paul so that he didn't really mean that but Luther milks it for all it's worth. Pastors should preach as Paul did. The Law should be preached as if there is no Gospel and the Gospel should be preached as if there is no Law. And Luther even had exhortations at the end of many of his sermons. I think Luther and the Epistles of Paul provide excellent examples of what preaching should be like. If there is an absence of an exhortation the problem is the absence of the exhortation not some lack of moderation.

I have spent most of the time in this post complaining about the accusers and gave links to specific examples of the accusers but you can read the responses of those who believe they are being accused on those blog posts. There are egos on both sides. There are insecurities involved. I hate to see some of the pastors that I have the most respect for eating one another and acting childish. I really each side can learn from the other but unless people change the way they communicate it's not going to happen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Conditional Immortality

A friend of mine asked me to review a section of a book called So Why Didn't They Tell Me That In Church by Steven Michael Owens. The section he asked me to comment on is a defense of conditional immortality. The author makes a number of claims about how various words should be translated but from his writing it's pretty obvious that he has no training in the Biblical languages. At one point, he cites Liddell and Scott's lexicon but refers to it as a concordance and the actual quotation is not from Liddell and Scott but from Cruden's Concordance. You're not going to find people who actually knows the Biblical languages using Cruden's Concordance as an authority for how a word should be translated. If someone is going to make a statement about how a word should be translated they should at least take the time to study the language. I will not make any claims about how a particular Russian word should be translated into English since I have no knowledge of Russian. I could continue pointing out the particular problems with this particular book but all I would prove is that Steven Michael Owens doesn't do a very good job defending conditional immortality. Instead I'm going to look at the major arguments for conditional immortality as I found them in a variety of sources. I read the arguments from people on both sides of the debate and often found that they were talking past one another.

There's a tendency among those defending conditional immortality to use the Old Testament as the lens through which to understand the New Testament rather than the other way around. They will bring up passages like Isaiah 66:24 and point out the fact that although it says that "their worm shall not die," the passages is speaking of "the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled" and state that these people are not suffering conscious torment. However, I would point out that both the rewards of the righteous and the punishments of the wicked as they are portrayed in the Old Testament are but shadows of the reality revealed in the New Testament. Canaan is a picture of heaven but not heaven in its fullness. In Isaiah 65:20, the reward of righteous in the new creation is depicted in such a way that involves extended life but not eternal life. Even the extended life that it prophecies is actually shorter than the lives of some of the Old Testament patriarchs.

Matthew 25:46 speaks of eternal life for the righteous and eternal punishment for the wicked. It would seem that if we are going to read the "eternal life" through the lens of the Old Testament then we would have to conclude that it really just means very long life. Those promoting conditional immortality understand the punishment to be eternal in the sense that the person is eternally unconscious and I when I listened to some of the podcasts from the Rethinking Hell website it often seemed like they were searching through lexicons to find the meaning they wanted. Thayer's was outdated when it was published but I heard them quoting from it in support of their views. However, when you look at a standard lexicon such as BDAG  and start working your way through the literature cited that uses this word it's pretty clear that some kind of torture is usually involved not just some judicial verdict with eternal consequences. 4 Maccabees 8:9 speaks of punishing someone through tortures and I think that the fear in 1 John 4:18 is the result of the fear of conscious torture rather than the fear of some judicial verdict. The same word is used in the LXX in Ezekiel 14 and 18 and seems to have the idea of conscious torment associated with it. The verb form of this Greek noun is found in other passages of Scripture and always seems to have the idea of conscious torture.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 is also commonly brought up in the debates and we find those who appeal to conditional immortality appealing to the Old Testament once again. I don't think it's entirely clear whether the eternal destruction is placing the person away from the presence of the Lord or if in fact the unbeliever is experiencing God's destruction in his presence but I do think it's pretty clear that the destruction is ongoing. The destruction is not annihilation. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul hands someone over to Satan to be destroyed in hopes that the person will come to repentance and be saved. The person pretty clearly was not annihilated.

One of the biggest problems in the debate is the use of the word "immortality." "Immortality" literally means to never die. In philosophy, immortality expresses the idea of continual conscious existence. However, in the Scriptures "immortality" is found only in Christ (1 Timothy 6:16, 1 Corinthians 15:53-54). Immortality is not mere conscious existence in Scripture but union with Christ. Also, death in Scripture does not necessarily mean a loss of consciousness. When Adam ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he died. Paul says that in the unregenerate state we were dead in our trespasses and sins. From a scientific perspective we were alive and we maintained conscious existence but we were alienated from God. The Scriptures give the promise that the believer who dies will live but also says that he will never die. Medieval scholastics seem to have imbibed to heavily from Greek philosophy and developed all kinds of ideas about the inherent immortality of the soul but that does not seem to be the case among the early church fathers even though some adopted philosophical language while others did not.

In the following sections I provide quotes and summaries of the teachings of the various church fathers. You can click on the links to read these writings in their totality.

You can find different uses of the word "immortality" among the early church fathers. Some will follow the more Biblical way of speaking and say that only the believer possesses immortality and yet still speak of the unbelievers in eternal conscious suffering. Others will say that both the believer and unbeliever are immortal. Still others, alternate between the two ways of speaking. In seeking to understand what is meant by eternal punishment, I think it is important to consult the early church fathers. The Apostles taught others and I think it's foolish to not take the writings of the early church fathers into account when we interpret these verses. Some simply repeat the language of Scripture, but among those who give further explanation there's a very strong consensus that the unrighteous will suffer eternally and consciously. The only clear exception I could find was Arnobius writings in 305 who spoke of the annihilation of the wicked.

Arnobius was an outspoken critic of Christianity who then converted to Christianity. The local bishop demanded proof that Arnobius and so Arnobius wrote an apologetic work against the pagans. Throughout his work he seems to intend to be orthodox in what he says but lacks a grasp of true Christian doctrine. In this work you can also find him arguing as if the pagan gods are real gods but subordinate to the Biblical God. It's somewhat ironic that those embracing conditional mortality will claim that belief in eternal conscious torment is result of Greek philosophy when Arnobius says that God did not create souls but they were the work of an inermediate being. It seems like Arnobius was pretty heavily influenced by gnosticism.

On the other hand there are host of writings and church fathers that teach eternal conscious torment. The Epistle of Barnabas written between 70-130 speaks of "the way of eternal death with punishment." Justin Martyr writing around 160 says that "Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up." Justin Martyr tends to only speak of the righteous as immortal but speaks of the unending torment of the wicked. Tatian writes in 160 and speaks of both the righteous and the wicked as immortal. Athenagoras writing in 175 says that those who fall will endure a life in fire and not be annihilated like animals. Theophilus writing in 180 speaks of people daily burning in fire forever. Clement of Alexandria writing in 195 says that all souls are immortal and says that there is no end to their misery. Tertullian writing in 197 speaks of the "secret fire" of God's judgment and says that it "repairs while it burns" and this is how it is eternal. Tertullian is the first instance I've seen of someone trying to provide some explanation of who the fire burns without annihilating and Tertullian's basic explanation is stated by later writers. Mark Minucius Felix writing in 200 makes very similar statements and speaks of the fire being nourished by the eating away of the bodies and also restoring as it burns. Hippolytus writing in 205 speaks of an unquenchable fire and a fiery worm that "continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain." Origen writing in 225 speaks of the resurrected bodies of the damned as being unable to be dissolved. Origen is known for his speculations that the damned would eventually be reconciled but he never stated this dogmatically. Commodianus writing in 240 speaks of people being tormented in Gehenna for all time. Cyprian does not engage in some of the speculations of others but simply speaks of the eternal punishments of Gehenna when he writes in 250. Lactantius writes some time between 304-313 and specifically says that the souls of the unrighteous are not annihilated but receive everlasting punishment.

This post is not exhaustive in dealing with the issue. Instead it addresses some core issues that don't seem to be addressed in the current debate. The idea of eternal suffering in hell even for your worst enemies isn't a pleasant one. It's hard to imagine being happy while you know that loved ones are suffering eternally. Of course, it's hard to imagine being happy knowing that loved ones were annihilated as well. It's disturbing to contemplate the idea of being born in a completely different location and never hearing the Gospel and then being sent to hell. The Scriptures are clear that we all deserve hell and on a certain level we can confess that to be true but I doubt there's anyone who fully grasps the concept this side of heaven. Scripture is pretty brief on the topic of hell and we don't find anything like "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in Scripture." Scripture does not answer all the questions we might have about hell and it's for our own good. There are many secret things of God that are best left unknown to us. Instead, we must not look to the hidden things of God but to God as He has revealed Himself in Christ-crucified where God has revealed Himself in incomprehensible love towards us.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In In With With Under Under Is Is BA Select Start

In conversations with the Calvinists the Lutheran will often say, "You don't take Jesus' Words for what they plainly say." The Calvinist will then reply, "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. You don't teach that this is his body either. You say it's in, with, and under." I used to hold to this misunderstanding of the Lutheran view myself. It is common to hear Lutherans to use the phrase, "in, with, and under" and the phrase is often misunderstood to mean what it is not intended to mean. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to use the phrase but it must be explained. Our confessions never use the phrase "in, with, and under." However, they do use each of these three words in the confessions. When taken in context they do not deny the fact that "We hold that bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ." (Smallcald Articles, Part III, Article VI). The bread is the body and the wine is the blood. Our confessions are very clear on this issue.

Unfortunately, there's a bit of a Catch-22 here. I prefer simply to say that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ and wish we could just simply leave it at that. Since others have adopted positions that say more and/or less than Scripture says, it becomes necessary to explain what you are saying when you say that the bread is the body and the wine is the blood.

"In" indicates that the body and blood of Christ are in the bread and wine of the sacrament. Christ did not say that this is bread is no longer bread. Christ, holding the bread, said, "This is my body." "With" indicates that we receive body, blood, bread, and wine. When Paul speaks of the consecrated elements he goes back and forth between speaking of the bread and speaking of the body of Christ. "Under" indicates that the body and blood are there but they are there in a hidden way. We cannot detect them through scientific tests or visibly see them. I think may understand "under" to mean that if you look underneath the bread you're going to find Jesus there. However, that's not what the language intends to communicate in its original context.

"In, with, and under" is often understood to be teaching consubstantiation, local co-existence, or impanation. However, our confessions deny all of these things. The eating of Christ's body is not a physical eating but mystical and sacramental. This does not mean that it's some mere figurative eating. But we recognize that Christ's body is not locally and physically present. Christ's body and blood are supernaturally, mysteriously, and incomprehensibly present. There is a real sacramental union. The bread and the body and the wine and the blood exist together. We confess this to be the case because this is what the Scriptures say and refuse to go beyond this. Unlike consubstantiation and transubstantiation we hold to no theory about the coexistence of two substances.

As Luther says:
Therefore, it is entirely correct to say, if one points to the bread, “This is Christ’s body,” and whoever sees the bread sees Christ’s body, as John says that he saw the Holy Spirit when he saw the dove, as we have heard. Thus also it is correct to say, “He who takes hold of this bread, takes hold of Christ’s body; and he who eats this bread, eats Christ’s body; he who crushes this bread with teeth or tongue, crushes with teeth or tongue the body of Christ.” And yet it remains absolutely true that no one sees or grasps or eats or chews Christ’s body in the way he visibly sees and chews any other flesh. What one does to the bread is rightly and properly attributed to the body of Christ by virtue of the sacramental union.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Take the Catechetical Challenge

Luther's Small Catechism has been referred to as the "layman's Bible." For those familiar with confessional statements in general but unfamiliar with Luther's Small Catechism, this statement can sound rather blasphemous. However, when you read it you realize how full of Scripture it really is. It covers all the major doctrines in a very concise way. Orthodox Catechisms, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the various Baptist catechisms, all make references to Scripture or have footnotes citing Scriptural passages, but they don't quote Scripture directly in the way that Luther's Small Catechism does. To memorize Luther's Small Catechism is to memorize Scripture itself. Just compare these various catechisms in the way they deal with the Lord's Supper or baptism. Luther is able to plainly state a summary of what Scripture says and then provide a Bible verse or passage that says the exact same thing. None of these other catechisms are able to do that. Some would argue that Luther is taking these verses out of context and that the totality of Scripture testifies against what he says. However, they cannot come up with a single Bible verse to support their position. If the totality of Scripture teaches something you should be able to find a passage that teaches it otherwise the appeal to the totality is really just an excuse to perpetuate a man-made tradition. Many of these churches that came out of the Reformation teach the perspicuity (or clarity) of Scripture. However, if it's difficult to take many of these churches seriously when they interpret "Baptism now saves you" to mean that baptism doesn't save you or interpret "This is my body" to mean that this is not Christ's body. Luther teaches us in his catechism to cling tightly to the Words of Christ and to ignore the words of the devil who is always asking, "Did God really say...?" Christ died and rose again for you. It is only in His Word that you can have confidence in a theological marketplace with so many competing inferences that are supposed to give us what Jesus and the Apostles "really" meant but apparently said so poorly. Faith clings to the Word of Christ and ignores all the rationalizations of man.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tractatus Logico-Theologicus by John Warwick Montgomery

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of Tractatus Logico-Theologicus by John Warwick Montgomery. He's one of my favorite guests on Issues Etc. but this is the first book I've read by him. The book is an evidentialist apologetic for the Christian faith and organized around seven major propositions. These propositions are defended by subsidiary propositions which in turn are defended by subsidiary propositions and so on with numbers and decimal points to guide you along the way. The format was a little difficult to get used to but very effective. Some of the propositions seemed better defended than others but I thought the overall argument for Christianity was laid out very well. There's an occasional untranslated French or Latin sentence but the reader who does not know these languages can skip over these and still understand the point he's making. I thought his arguments against post-modernism and for the resurrection were the best sections of the book. The section dealing with the canon didn't seem very convincing to me. Dr. Montgomery seems to adopt the modern Protestant flat view of the canon and his statements about what books should be included and which shouldn't had very little evidence to back them up. Dr. Montgomery claims that the early church accepted Hebrews even though they knew it wasn't written by Paul because they believed it was written by one of Paul's disciples. But the writings of the early church fathers show that the debate over its canonicity centered upon whether or not it was written by Paul. Those who believed Hebrews was written by Paul accepted its canonicity while those who did not denied its canonicity. The typical modern Protestant position is to say that Hebrews was not written by Paul but is part of the canon but this was not the position of the early church. I didn't think the section on inerrancy was very convincing either. Many of the quotes he provided seemed to really be defending infallibility rather than inerrancy. The problem with the shift of authority from the infallible apographa to the inerrant autographa is that nobody has the autographa. However, this book is well worth the read and I've really never read anything like it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Demonic Teachings of "Bible-Believing" Teachers

There are "liberals" who deny the authority of Scripture entirely. However, there are others who claim to uphold the authority of the Scriptures while denying its actual teachings. The Scriptures say that baptism saves you and is for the forgiveness of sins and these people who claim to uphold the authority of the Scriptures will tell you that baptism does not save you and is your act of obedience. If "a" can be interpreted to mean "not a" then the Scriptures have no real authority. At least the liberal is honest about his denial of the authority of the Scriptures. To claim that "a" means "not a" can only be the result of demonic influence. The Holy Spirit would never lead someone to believe that "a" means "not a." There is no point in trying to stand in unity with those who merely claim to uphold the authority of the Scriptures while denying its actual teachings. There can be no assurance or comfort when the words of Christ and the Apostles are interpreted to mean the opposite of what they say. If "this is my body" means "this bread is not my body" then "Christ died for our sins" could mean "Christ did not die for our sins." Without the ability to cling to the Words of Christ as they actually come to us in the Scriptures we have nothing to hold on to. If a teacher cannot simply repeat what the Scriptures say about a topic but substitutes his own words, then the Scriptures do not have authority for that teacher. Such a teacher should not be lauded as a great Bible-teacher but should be looked upon as a tool of the devil, pelted with dung, and driven out of town. The same holds true for teachers who know the truth but fail to proclaim it. If the pastor does not proclaim Christ-crucified as the central message of the Scriptures, he does not hold to the authority of the Scriptures.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper

Update: I have been informed that more recent printings of this book do not contain the typographical and formatting errors mentioned in this review..
Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul by Jordan Cooper. There are already a number of books that critique the New Perspective on Paul but most of them do so from an exegetical perspective. For those looking for an exegetical treatment as well as very thorough explanation of the various views of the New Perspective guys, I would highly recommend Westerholm's book.There are also some some critiques that deal primarily with the religious beliefs within second temple Judaism. But Jordan Cooper's book is unique because it deals primarily with the way that the early church fathers understood Paul's writings. This is important because much of the New Perspective advocates say that Protestants have misunderstood justification because they have wrongly understood justification in terms of personal salvation by following the interpretations of Augustine and Luther. The NPP folks have referred to this as "the introspective conscience of the West." They argue that prior to Augustine the church understood Paul correctly. So Jordan Cooper provides us with a very helpful and honest look at the Apostolic and other pre-Augustine church fathers. He doesn't try to shoehorn the fathers into a particular theology that matches his own but honestly represents them and points out similarities and differences between the church fathers, confessional Lutherans, and the NPP. The evidence he presents shows diversity among the church fathers on soteriology but none of them speak of justification as the NPP folks do. Some of them sound like proto-Lutherans while others do not.

This is an extraordinarily important book that those who have been influenced by the NPP should definitely read. The book does have some problems that could hopefully be addressed in a second edition. The first third of the book is plagued by numerous typos and formatting errors as are the last few pages. Fortunately, these errors are less frequent in the most important sections of the book dealing with the writings of the Apostolic Fathers. But I could imagine someone getting 40 or so pages in and just being frustrated with the errors. Also, I think the book could be better organized. The chapters are listed as follows:

1. The New Perspective on Paul
2. Methodology
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. Which Luther
5. The Apostolic Fathers
6. Justin Martyr
7. Conclusion

In my opinion, the overall argument would flow better if it were written as follows:

1. The New Perspective on Paul
2. Which Luther
3. Previous Research on Patristic Theology
4. The Apostolic Fathers
5. Justin Martyr
6. Conclusion

I don't think the chapter on methodology is necessary as an individual chapter. Some of what it contains could be completely eliminated while other parts of it could be incorporated into the other chapters.

In addition to the other issues, I think a fresh translation of some of the patristic quotations would be helpful but this is a minor complaint. The author could also have incorporated some material from modern Lutherans such as a Michael Middendorf who agree with the NPP folks that nomos refers to the Torah but take it in a different direction than the NPP does. But regardless of my criticisms, this book is still very helpful and fills a gap in the NPP debate.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Romans and Homosexuality

In Romans 1, Paul speaks of God's wrath being revealed against the unrighteousness of all men. He says that although all men have not been given the Torah (the Old Testament), they are still without excuse because God's standards of righteousness have been revealed in nature itself. These Gentiles exchanged the true God for the gods of their own imagination and because of this God gave them over to desires which are contrary to nature. Paul uses rather graphic language and speaks of men doing the shameful deed in other men and of women having sexual relations with one another. Some have argued that Paul is only speaking against temple prostitution but this position does not seem defensible since the deed itself is regarded in the passage as unrighteousness that develops from the unrighteousness of idolatry. Interestingly enough, Paul does not appeal to the Torah to show that homosexuality is bad but points to natural law. For those of us who live in pluralist societies this should give us good reason to argue using natural law rather than appealing directly to the Scriptures when lawmaking is done with those who do not believe in the authority of the Scriptures.

The passage clearly speaks of homosexual acts as being acts of unrighteousness but that's not Paul's point. Paul assumes that his readers would agree that these acts are unrighteous. Paul's point is found in the chapters that follow. Remember, Romans was written as one sermon. One of the problems with some types of preaching that go verse by verse through the Scriptures is that the point can be completely lost. What Paul is doing here is similar to what Nathan does with the sins of David. Nathan gets David outraged at the sins of this man who turns out to be David. You can almost picture the Jewish Christians in the congregation that heard Romans being read nodding their heads in agreement and thanking God that they are not like these horrible Gentile sinners. But in chapter 2, Paul shows that they are just as guilty of unrighteousness as these sodomites. All men are guilty before the law. It is only through the blood of Christ that we can stand righteous before God. No one is righteous. No one seeks after God. But we receive an alien righteous through faith. We are justified through faith apart from the works of the Torah because of Christ's work.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare by Dr. Robert H. Bennett

I was browsing through books published by Concordia in the Kindle Store and came across I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare by Dr. Robert H. Bennett. The book takes a serious look at exorcism in the Lutheran church in Madagascar and shows how it is very similar to the examples of exorcism we find in the Scriptures. It's not sensationalistic at all but provides lots of statistics as well as lots of interviews with those who have conducted exorcisms or been demon possessed. Many of the churches in Madagascar are syncretistic and those who convert to Christianity often return to the religion of their families at which point they become demon-possessed. Christ has driven out the demons from many of these people through His Word by the people in the Lutheran church in Madagascar. Dr. Bennett, I believe, successfully argues that the Lutheran church in Madagascar has something to teach us, especially as our culture becomes more and more fascinated with occult practices and other religions. Even if we don't admit it in our words, the tendency in many churches is to act as if the Devil does not exist. The Lutherans in Madagascar know that he is very real but also know that they do not need to be afraid because Jesus is the victor. Dr. Bennett provides some very good exegetical work as well as some helpful quotes from Lutheran theologians. His work challenges many commonly held beliefs by Christians about demon possession. Dr. Bennett also maintains a blog:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits by Jack Kilcrease

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits by Dr. Jack Kilcrease. If you are a pastor, seminary student, or educated lay person I highly recommend it. The end result is a Biblical and Systematic Christology that is in harmony with the Book of Concord but the approach is unique. As the title suggests, Dr. Kilcrease views the incarnation as God's Self-Donation. Dr. Kilcrease begins in Genesis and brings us through the rest of Scripture, showing us how God gives Himself to us in His Word and promises and ultimately in the incarnation. He draws insights from a variety of scholars--ancient, modern, liberal, conservative, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, etc. The book is written in an irenic tone and Kilcrease masterfully draws from the positive insights  in the different schools of scholarship while rejecting the negative. N.T. Wright, Scott Hahn, Luther, Chemnitz, Forde, Peter Leithart, Calvin, Barth, Thielicke, and a whole host of others all make appearances. There's a surprising number of lesser known Reformed theologians that work their way into the book. The book has an extensive bibliography and lots of footnotes. Dr. Kilcrease does not waste words and occasionally he left me wanting to read more on a topic and I always found a footnote that made it easy to find an article or book that covered that issue more thoroughly. I found the sections on the communication of the attribrutes extraordinarily helpful as well as the way he dealt with the hiddenness of God. I loved the section in which he explained that Christ became simul justus et peccator for us. I wasn't completely convinced by his argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary or against the harrowing of hell but I can't imagine a book such as this in which everyone is going to agree on every jot and tittle. However, his overall argument is well-supported and documented. I wish there were indexes in the back but this is a minor complaint and is only a problem for those of us who do not have amazing memory of Dr. Jack Kilcrease. It is very rare to come across a book written at the academic level such as this one that is just so full of wonderful Gospel. You can read portions of Dr. Kilcrease's book here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Luke 22:36, Self-Defense, and Firearms

Luke 22:36 (ESV) He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
I've seen this verse quoted quite a bit recently in debates over self-defense and firearms. But does the verse really have anything to do with these things at all? First of all, there's a textual variant in the verse. Most Greek manuscripts actually would be translated as, "And the one who has no sword will sell his cloak and buy one." If this reading is accepted, Jesus' words in verse 36b are descriptive rather than prescriptive.But more importantly, the context of the verse must be considered.

Luke 22:35-38 (ESV) And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Jesus reminds the Apostles that while he remained with them, they had everything they needed. But the time is coming when they will be persecuted as depicted by the swords. Jesus knows that some of them are already carrying swords and do not trust him protect them. The presence of the swords also indicates that they are the transgressors that Jesus is numbered with. The Apostles are still hoping for some type of revolt. They produce two swords, but rather than saying, "But ten more," Jesus says, "That's enough." They don't understand what Jesus is saying and make the same mistake that some do today in thinking that Jesus is telling them to arm themselves. This is similar in some ways to the Matthew 16 passage where the disciples think Jesus is complaining that they didn't bring any bread. The fact that Jesus' Apostles misunderstood him is confirmed by what happens shortly after this. When Jesus is being arrested, Peter draws a sword and cuts off one of the servant's ears and in Matthew's account Jesus warns that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

The Apostolic confusion over many of Jesus' words are evident throughout the period prior to the resurrection. But especially after Pentecost, they seem to get what Jesus is saying. And we read of many examples of persecution, but none of the Apostles takes up arms against his persecutors. In order to interpret Jesus' words as being a lesson in self-defense we would have to conclude that Apostles actually did understand Jesus prior to the resurrection but misunderstood him after the resurrection. All but John were martyred and nobody takes up a sword to fight off the Romans or the Jews. This is also the case with the early Christians. During various periods the Christians suffered great persecution, but they didn't take up arms.

If someone breaks into a man's house to harm his family, it is well within the vocation of father to protect his family and stop the intruder by force, but there no Scriptural warrant for self-defense in the case of persecution. Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and the Book of Revelation shows us that the Lamb conquers through the blood of the martyrs not through the blood of the persecutors.

And the Scriptures simply are not interested in giving us a list of weapons we may or may not own. Societies can decide what restrictions should be placed on weapon ownership based upon what they believe will best protect human life. It is the vocation of the President of the United States to uphold the Constitution and to protect the right to bear arms but if laws are passed that prohibit this right it is the vocation of the citizen to obey these laws. The citizen must only disobey when they are commanded to disobey God and God has not commanded anyone to own any weapon.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Help, Mom! There are Arminians Under My Bed!

Yes, this is a real book published by a division of Lifeway (affilliated with the SBC) and when a Facebook friend told me about it, I just had to read it. It's written by a Calvinistic Baptist and is supposed to teach children about Calvinism. Unfortunately, I think the title is the best part of the book. You would expect a book with a such a title to be humorous but it really wasn't and the plot didn't make much sense. The book attempts to portray a boy's (Mitchell's) nightmares where he sees the doctrines of TULIP worked out. The strangest section is the one dealing with the Limited atonement or "Particular Redemption" as the book calls it. This chapter, along with the rest of the book, portrays Jesus as a knight on a white horse conquering. He comes through and breaks the chains of the elect. But the strangest thing about this chapter is that there is no mention of the atonement at all. The atonement isn't really mentioned at all until the chapter on Irresistible Grace and talks about how the King wanted to show his justice and mercy by punishing his son in the place of certain criminals. Everyone else gets what they asked for--"their idols and sin and rebellion." You would expect Mitchell to ask why the King wouldn't have his son be punished for all criminals and maybe ask how that was fair to the son but Mitchell doesn't ask these questions. I highly doubt that the book would convince any Arminian to become a Calvinist. It certainly didn't convince this Lutheran to become a Calvinist. But I think it's a good illustration of the lopsided nature of Calvinism in general. Calvinism does not approach the Scriptures as being primarily about Christ-crucified (which plays a very minor role in this book) but being about God's glory. I would say that in this book it's not even so much about God's glory but of God's election and everything is viewed through the lens of election. In the book God works apart from any real means. He doesn't work through His Word, He certainly doesn't work through His sacraments. It's no wonder that Mitchell continues to have these nightmares. He really has nothing to cling to that proves he is one of the elect. If you read between the lines of the first chapter it would seem that the only thing you can cling to is your outward moral behavior that you perform after you become a Christian.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Patristic Quotations on the Limited Atonement

I wrote a previous post on Horton's attempts to show TULIP in the church fathers. Someone recently asked me to comment on a list of patristic citations that are supposed to show the Limited Atonement in the church fathers provided by Tur8in fan. Unlike Horton's list, this list provides citations which makes tracking them down easier. The list is also prefaced by the statement:

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it is not intended to be a representative list. There are a lot of odd statements by the church fathers on the atonement, and a lot of strange theories that some of them adopted. Also, just because they adopted a view of limited atonement (in the sense of understanding that Christ was offered to bear the sins of the elect or in that he redeemed the elect in particular) does not mean that they held to a thoroughly "Calvinist" (what an anachronism to call it that!) understanding of TULIP. This, therefore, provides some patristic views of the atonement.

On the one hand, I applaud the honesty. On the other hand, the parameters of what is trying to show aren't very helpful. I think both Calvinists and non-Calvinists would agree that the Scriptures speak at times in more restricted terms about the atonement and speak of Christ dying in relationship to the church that ultimately receives the benefits of the atonement. So proving that the church fathers sometimes speak this way isn't very beneficial. It's already agreed upon by both parties in the debate. The debate is really over whether or not Christ died for those who are not elect. And really to show that the church fathers taught a limited atonement in the same way that the Calvinists teach a limited atonement you really do have to show that they taught the rest of TULIP because the Limited Atonement as Calvinists understand it, is the logical outcome of the rest of their system. In fact, if somebody denies the other teachings of TULIP but uses language that sounds as if they might be speaking of a limited atonement then you would probably have to conclude that they don't mean the same thing in their exclusive language as the Calvinists believe. At the very least it is required for the church father to teach that if a person falls away from the faith that person never really had faith to begin with. Otherwise, if the church father teaches that Christ died for believers that number would at the very least be greater than the "elect" in the Calvinist system and include those who will not inherit eternal life. This will become more apparent as we look at the concrete examples. The article begins with two quotes from Ambrose.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): Although Christ suffered for all, yet He suffered for us particularly, because He suffered for the Church. Saint Ambrose of Milan, Exposition of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke, trans. Theodosia Tomkinson (Etna: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998), Book VI, §25, p. 201.

Latin Text: Et si Christus pro omnibus passus est, pro nobis tamen specialiter passus est; quia pro Ecclesia passus est. Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, 6.25, PL 15:1675.

Ambrose (c. 339-97): Great, therefore, is the mystery of Christ, before which even angels stood amazed and bewildered. For this cause, then, it is thy duty to worship Him, and, being a servant, thou oughtest not to detract from thy Lord. Ignorance thou mayest not plead, for to this end He came down, that thou mayest believe; if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee. "If I had not come," saith the Scripture, "and spoken with them, they would have no sin: but now have they no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also." Who, then, hates Christ, if not he who speaks to His dishonor? -- for as it is love's part to render, so it is hate's to withdraw honor. He who hates, calls in question; he who loves, pays reverence. NPNF2: Vol.: Volume X, Of the Christian Faith, Book IV, Chapter 2, §27.
The first quote teaches that Christ did in fact suffer for all but suffered for the church particularly. This seems similar to what 1 Timothy 4:10 teaches. Ambrose doesn't say in the first quote that Christ only suffered for the church but points to those who eventually receive all the benefits of Christ dying for them.

The second quote, I think can be understood in a similar way to the first quote. As long as you remain in unbelief Christ is of no benefit to you. It should also be kept in mind that Ambrose held to the historic doctrines concerning the sacraments. Ambrose taught that baptism regenerates and gives faith and did not deny that some people end up walking away from the faith. Understood in this context, the person who has faith at any point in time has Christ as their savior and does not have Christ as their savior if they depart from the faith. You can find a pretty extensive list of quotations from Ambrose on the atonement here. The next quotation is from Ambrosiaster cited second hand from John Owen:

Ambrosiaster: The people of God hath its own fulness. In the elect and foreknown, distinguished from the generality of all, there is accounted a certain special universality; so that the whole world seems to be delivered from the whole world, and all men to be taken out of all men. See Works of John Owen, Vol. 10, p. 423.

Latin text: Habet ergo populus Dei plenitudinem suam, et quamvis magna pars hominum, salvantis gratiam aut repellat aut negligat, in electis tamen et praescitis, atque ab omnium generalitate discretis, specialis quaedam censetur universitas, ut de toto mundo totus mundus liberatus, et de omnibus hominibus omnes homines videantur assumpti: De Vocatione Gentium, Liber Primus, Caput III, PL 17:1084.
First it should be noted that Ambrosiaster is not an actual person. There was a period of time in which this work and others were believed to be the work of Ambrose. When it was discovered that these were not the works of Ambrose the name "Ambrosiaster" was given to them. However, now this work in particular is believed to be the work of Prosper of Aquitaine and has been published in English as The Call of the Nations. Owen seems to have left out a sentence from the original text:

God's people, therefore, has a completeness all its own. It is true that a great part of mankind refuse or neglect the grace of their Saviour. In the elect, however, and the foreknown who were set apart from the generality of mankind, we have a specified totality. Thus the whole world is spoken of as though the whole of it had been liberated, and all mankind as though all men had been chosen. (p. 46)
As the quotation indicates and as is made clearer if you read the rest of the section, Prosper is not speaking of the atonement but of election. And it's not as if Prosper doesn't comment on the atonement. He deals with the extent of the atonement on pages 118ff. in the same work. The whole section is worth reading but I'll just quote the beginning of it:
There can, therefore, be no reason to doubt that Jesus Christ our Lord died for the unbelievers and the sinners. If there had been any one who did not belong to these, then Christ would not have died for all. But He did die for all men without exception.
To say that Prosper taught a limited atonement in this work is extremely dishonest. Prosper actually sounds very Lutheran in both his approach to predestination and the atonement. On to the next quote.

Hilary of Arles (c. 401-449) commenting on 1 John 2:2: When John says that Christ died for the sins of the "whole world," what he means is that he died for the whole church. Introductory Commentary on 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177. Latin text: et non pro nostris tantum. set etiam pro totius mundi peccatis; Aecclesiam mundi nomine appellat. Expositio In Epistolas Catholiicas, Incipit Epistola Sancti Iohannis Apostoli, Cap. II, v. 2, PL Supp. 3:118.
This quote doesn't really prove anything. This is Hilary of Arles commenting on one specific text and following a specific tradition of interpreting a specific passage. What needs to be proved is that Hilary taught that Christ only died for the elect, not that when commenting on a specific passage Hilary believed it only applied to the elect.

Augustine (354-430): 2. But alongside of this love we ought also patiently to endure the hatred of the world. For it must of necessity hate those whom it perceives recoiling from that which is loved by itself. But the Lord supplies us with special consolation from His own case, when, after saying, "These things I command you, that ye love one another," He added, "If the world hate you, know that it hated me before [it hated] you." Why then should the member exalt itself above the head? Thou refusest to be in the body if thou art unwilling to endure the hatred of the world along with the Head. "If ye were of the world," He says, "the world would love its own." He says this, of course, of the whole Church, which, by itself, He frequently also calls by the name of the world: as when it is said, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." And this also: "The Son of man came not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." And John says in his epistle: "We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also [for those] of the whole world." The whole world then is the Church, and yet the whole world hateth the Church. The world therefore hateth the world, the hostile that which is reconciled, the condemned that which is saved, the polluted that which is cleansed. 3. But that world which God is in Christ reconciling unto Himself, which is saved by Christ, and has all its sins freely pardoned by Christ, has been chosen out of the world that is hostile, condemned, and defiled. For out of that mass, which has all perished in Adam, are formed the vessels of mercy, whereof that world of reconciliation is composed, that is hated by the world which belongeth to the vessels of wrath that are formed out of the same mass and fitted to destruction. Finally, after saying, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own," He immediately added, "But because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." And so these men were themselves also of that world, and, that they might no longer be of it, were chosen out of it, through no merit of their own, for no good works of theirs had preceded; and not by nature, which through free-will had become totally corrupted at its source: but gratuitously, that is, of actual grace. For He who chose the world out of the world, effected for Himself, instead of finding, what He should choose: for "there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. And if by grace," he adds, "then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace." NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate LXXXVII, §2-3, John 15:17-19.
Augustine (354-430): Hence things that are lawful are not all good, but everything unlawful is not good. Just as everyone redeemed by Christ's blood is a human being, but human beings are not all redeemed by Christ's blood, so too everything that is unlawful is not good, but things that are not good are not all unlawful. As we learn from the testimony of the apostle, there are some things that are lawful but are not good. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., Works of Saint Augustine, Adulterous Marriages, Part 1, Vol. 9, trans. Ray Kearney, O.P., Book One, 15, 16 (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1999), p. 153.
Augustine, like Ambrose speaks of redemption in terms of who receives the benefits of the atonement but he also would speak of Christ purchasing redemption for all men. In the example below he says Jesus redeemed Judas:

To suffer indeed He had come, and He punished him through whom He suffered. For Judas the traitor was punished, and Christ was crucified: but us He redeemed by His blood, and He punished him in the matter of his price. For he threw down the price of silver, for which by him the Lord had been sold; and he knew not the price wherewith he had himself by the Lord been redeemed. This thing was done in the case of Judas. “Exposition on the Book of the Psalms,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, 8:309.
Of this death the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore all are dead, and He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again.” Thus all, without one exception, were dead in sins, whether original or voluntary sins, sins of ignorance, or sins committed against knowledge; and for all the dead there died the one only person who lived, that is, who had no sin whatever, in order that they who live by the remission of their sins should live, not to themselves, but to Him who died for all, for our sins, and rose again for our justification, that we, believing in Him who justifies the ungodly, and being justified from ungodliness or quickened from death, may be able to attain to the first resurrection which now is. ,“The City of God and Christian Doctrine,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series. 2:245.

You can find a more extensive list of quotations from Augustine on the atonement here. 

Chrysostom (349-407) on Hebrews 9:28. "So Christ was once offered.": By whom offered? evidently by Himself. Here he says that He is not Priest only, but Victim also, and what is sacrificed. On this account are [the words] "was offered." "Was once offered" (he says) "to bear the sins of many." Why "of many," and not "of all"? Because not all believed, For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing. NPNF1: Vol. XIV, Epistle to the Hebrews, Homily 17.
This is another extraordinarily dishonest quote because Chrysostom explains what he means by "did not bear the sins" in the very words that follow:

And what is [the meaning of] “He bare the sins”? Just as in the Oblation we bear up our sins and say, “Whether we have sinned voluntarily or involuntarily, do Thou forgive,” that is, we make mention of them first, and then ask for their forgiveness. So also was it done here. Where has Christ done this? Hear Himself saying, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself.” (John xvii.19.) Lo! He bore the sins. He took them from men, and bore them to the Father; not that He might determine anything against them [mankind], but that He might forgive them. “Unto them that look for Him shall He appear” (he says) “the second time without sin unto salvation.” What is “without sin”? it is as much as to say, He sinneth not. For neither did He die as owing the debt of death, nor yet because of sin. But how “shall He appear”? To punish, you say. He did not however say this, but what was cheering; “shall He appear unto them that look for Him, without sin unto salvation.” So that for the time to come they no longer need sacrifices to save themselves, but to do this by deeds. Chrysostom, “Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and the Epistles to the Hebrews,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 14:447-448.
So Chrysostom explains himself as meaning that when he says "did not bear the sins" he means he does not forgive their sins because they do not have faith. He's not saying that Christ only died for the elect. You can find plenty of quotes here that show what Chrysostom believed about the extent of the atonement. 

Prosper of Aquitaine (d. 463): He is not crucified with Christ who is not a member of the body of Christ. When, therefore, our Saviour is said to be crucified for the redemption of the whole world, because of his true assumption of the human nature, yet may he be said to be crucified only for them unto whom his death was profitable. . . . Diverse from these is their lot who are reckoned amongst them of whom is is said, 'the world knew him not.' Latin text: Non est autem crucifixus in Christo, qui non est membrum corporis Christi, nec est membrum corporis Christi, qui non per aquam et Spiritum sanctum induit Christum. Qui ideo in infirmitate nostra communionem subiit mortis, ut nos in virtute ejus haberemus consortium resurrectionis. Cum itaque rectissime dicatur Salvator pro totius mundi redemptione crucifixus, propter veram humanae naturae susceptionem, et propter communem in primo homine omnium perditionem: potest tamen dici pro his tantum crucifixus quibus mors ipsius profuit. . . . Diversa ergo ab istis sors eorum est qui inter illos censentur de quibus dicitur; Mundus eum non cognovit. Responsiones ad Capitula Gallorum, Capitulum IX, Responsio, PL 51:165.

Prosper of Aquitaine (d. 463): Doubtless the propriety of redemption is theirs from whom the prince of this world is cast out. The death of Christ is not to be so laid out for human-kind, that they also should belong unto his redemption who were not to be regenerated. Latin text: Redemptionis proprietas haud dubie penes illos est, de quibus princeps mundi missus est foras, et jam non vasa diaboli, sed membra sunt Christi. Cujus mors non ita impensa est humano generi, ut ad redemptionem ejus etiam qui regenerandi non erant pertinerint. Responsiones ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum, Capitulum Primum, Responsio, PL 51:178.

I think Prosper of Aquitaine's position on the extent of the atonement has been dealt with sufficiently above in the "Ambrosiaster" section. But you can read more quotes from Prosper here.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466) commenting on Hebrews 9:27-28: As it is appointed for each human being to die once, and the one who accepts death's decree no longer sins but awaits the examination of what was done in life, so Christ the Lord, after being offered once for us and taking up our sins, will come to us again, with sin no longer in force, that is, with sin no longer occupying a place as far as human beings are concerned. He said himself, remember, when he still had a mortal body, "He committed no sin, nor was guile found in his mouth." It should be noted, of course, that he bore the sins of many, not of all: not all came to faith, so he removed the sins of the believers only. Robert Charles Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul, Vol. 2 (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), p. 175.

I think this is best understood in the same way that Chrysostom's statement is understood. He's not speaking of Christ only dying for the elect but of those who believe receiving forgiveness. As he writes elsewhere:

"By raising the flesh He has given the promise of resurrection to us all, after giving the resurrection of His own precious body as a worthy pledge of ours. So loved He men even when they hated Him that the mystery of the economy fails to obtain credence with some on account of the very bitterness of His sufferings, and it is enough to show the depths of His loving kindness that He is even yet day by day calling to men who do not believe. And He does so not as though He were in need of the service of men -- for of what is the Creator of the universe in want? -- but because He thirsts for the salvation of every man. Grasp then, my excellent friend, His gift; sing praises to the Giver, and procure for us a very great and right goodly feast." (Theodoret, Letter LXXVI To Uranius, Governor of Cyprus)
Now on to the quotes from Bede:
Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:1: The Lord intercedes for us not by words but by his dying compassion, because he took upon himself the sins which he was unwilling to condemn his elect for. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 177. Latin text: Interpellat ergo pro nobis Dominus, non voce, sed miseratione, quia quod damnare in electis noluit, suscipiendo servavit. In Primam Epistolam S. Joannis, Caput II, PL 93:89.

Bede (672/673-735) commenting on 1 John 2:2: In his humanity Christ pleads for our sins before the Father, but in his divinity he has propitiated them for us with the Father. Furthermore, he has not done this only for those who were alive at the time of his death, but also for the whole church which is scattered over the full compass of the world, and it will be valid for everyone, from the very first among the elect until the last one who will be born at the end of time. This verse is therefore a rebuke to the Donatists, who thought that the true church was to be found only in Africa. The Lord pleads for the sins of the whole world, because the church which he has bought with his blood exists in every corner of the globe. On 1 John. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. XI, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p. 178. Latin text: Qui per humanitatem interpellat pro nobis apud Patrem, idem per divinitatem propitiatur nobis cum Patre. . . . Non pro illis solum propitiatio est Dominus, quibus tunc in carne viventibus scribebat Joannes, sed etiam pro omni Ecclesia quae per totam mundi latitudinem diffusa est, primo nimirum electo usque ad ultimum qui in fine mundi nasciturus est porrecta. Quibus verbis Donatistarum schisma reprobat, qui in Africae solum finibus Ecclesiam Christi esse dicebant inclusam. Pro totius ergo mundi peccatis interpellat Dominus, quia per totum mundum est Ecclesia, quam suo sanguine comparavit. In Primam Epistolam S. Joannis, Caput II, PL 93:90
Bede is commenting on a specific text and pretty much doing what others have done with this specific text but it hardly proves a limited atonement. From all of this it seems to me that Gottschalk in the 9th Century was actually the first to hold to the limited atonement. He also held to a heretical teaching on the Trinity that amounted to a sort of Tritheism. But I'm just very disturbed by the dishonesty in the quotes above.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book of Concord FTW

I just recently finished listening to my Kindle read me the Book of Concord. This is my second time through and my first time since becoming a Lutheran. I would encourage anyone who is interested in Lutheranism to read it and I would especially encourage Lutherans to take the time to read it. There are many books you could read on Lutheran doctrine but the Book of Concord tells you what it actually means to be a Lutheran. Compared to the confessions of Protestant church bodies it is quite large but it's full of Scripture. The Scriptures aren't just referenced in a footnote as some kind of proof-text but are found throughout. It also provides plenty of patristic evidence throughout that this is not some new doctrine but the historic Christian faith. I don't think there are any other confessional standards that have as much Christology either. And while the Reformed and Presbyterian confessions establish theological boundaries that allow for various positions, the Lutheran confessions tend to provide an actual and definitive confession of the truth.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Trinitarian Argument For the Limited Atonement

One of the common arguments for the limited atonement is that the members of the Trinity have the same goal and purpose and therefore the Son would not die for those whom the Father did not elect. According to those making this argument, a universal atonement would put the Son in conflict with the Father.

The first problem with this argument is epistemological. The argument assumes that through our fallen human reason we can get inside of God's head and figure out what God would do in a particular circumstance. God explicitly says in Scripture that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts but the argument assumes that they are. In reality, everything about the atonement is mysterious, paradoxical, and runs counter to our human reason and yet they latch on to one piece of it and think they can arrive at some theological truth via human reason.

The Trinity itself is revealed in Scripture but is beyond all human reason. God is one being and three persons as Scripture tells us, but whenever someone tries to explain this in a way that is reasonable they end up denying either the threeness or oneness of God. God is far greater than any of us and it shouldn't be any surprise that God is incomprehensible apart from His self-revelation. It's not surprising that most Calvinist churches have abandoned the Trinitarian worship of the historic liturgy in favor of more reasonable forms of worship.

The incarnation defies all human reason. God dying for sinners defies all human reason. The meaning of the atonement cannot be arrived at with our reason but must be revealed to us by God. I would argue that any argument that demands that the atonement be reasonable has presuppositions behind it that if taken to their logical conclusion would lead to a denial of the atonement completely. There is nothing reasonable about God dying for us sinners who killed Him. Annihilation would be reasonable. I think if the Calvinist presuppositions are taken seriously, not creating us in the first place would actually be the only reasonable option. The doctrine of the limited atonement is in fact a distraction from the absolutely confounding and offensive reality of the crucifixion itself. It turns our eyes away from God bleeding and dying for us to the hidden God which is not revealed but what we think we can figure out.

The limited atonement is also contrary to the plain teachings of Scripture. The Calvinist has explanations for all the passages you can produce just like every theology has some sort of answer for passages that contradict it, but it's hard to believe that Jesus or the Apostles would speak in the way that they do if they actually believed in a limited atonement. I've never heard Calvinists speak in the way that the Scriptures speak about the atonement without lots of qualifications and insertions. A Calvinist would never speak of those who deny the Master who bought them unless they are preaching on that specific passage and then they will spend the first half of the sermon telling you about why it doesn't mean what it sounds like it means. The Calvinist will never say with the Apostle Paul that all men who died in Adam were justified in Christ on the cross.

There is no conflict between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God loved the world and sent His Son to die for it. God desires the salvation of all men. We may not understand why God does not then elect all men but it's foolish to try to twist the clear passages of Scripture to make God act in a way that we think is appropriate because the crucifixion shows that God does not act in ways that we think are appropriate.

The Trinitarian argument for the limited atonement seems to assume a god who doesn't do more than he absolutely has to. But God is gracious and mericful and bestows His good gifts upon all men. The promises of God in Christ are far too wonderful to consider reasonable or try to explain away. Instead we should cling to them in faith. Christ died for sinners. That's good news because you're a sinner.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Would the Apostles Say What They Said If They Believed What You Believe?

This issue came up in a recent podcast by Jordan Cooper and I've thought about it myself many times. Every theological tradition within Christianity has its way of explaining texts within Scripture to fit its theology. There are ways of getting around just about anything. But would the Apostles say what they said if they held to your theology? Would your theology guide you to state what the Apostles say in the very same way that they said? The ability to say what the Apostles said on a particular topic without adding caveats and qualifications is a very valuable tool in arriving at the same theology as the Apostles.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Owen's Syllogism and the Limited Atonement

The classic book defending the doctrine of the Limited Atonement is John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. The book is lengthy but his argument is summarized in the following way:

The Father imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for, either:
1. All the sins of all men.
2. All the sins of some men, or
3. Some of the sins of all men.
In which case it may be said:
That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so, none are saved. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins? You answer, “Because of unbelief.” I ask, Is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!
Owen concludes that if the first is true, then Jesus did not die for the sin of unbelief. The problem with this reasoning is that the Scriptures say that damnation is the result of unbelief. So, Owen's argument is really with the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures never say that the damnation is the result of Jesus not dying for anyone. In fact, we have examples in Scripture of people whom the Scriptures say Jesus bought but that end up denying Christ and end up perishing. No matter how much Owen tries to make these texts say something different, it's pretty clear that anyone who held to a limited atonement would not say the things that Scripture says. There's a reason why you don't really find anyone teaching a doctrine of limited atonement until the medieval scholastic period.

The Scriptures use a variety of language to speak of Christ's atonement. Sometimes they speak of the atonement as a ransom. Some of the church fathers concluded that since in a human ransom one party must be paid for another that in the atonement Christ is paying the Devil. The Scriptures never say that Christ is paying the Devil but these church fathers pushed the picture further than Scripture does. Owen and the Calvinists essentially do the same thing with the legal language used in Scripture. In an ordinary legal setting if one person takes the place of another for punishment, the guilty person cannot be punished for the crime. But the Scriptures never teach us that if Christ suffered for someone that person will be saved on the last Day and that it would be unjust to punish that person. In Romans 5 we learn that all who died in Adam are justified in Christ and yet we learn elsewhere that this justification is received through faith which itself is a gift of God. The only way to say that someone was not justified upon the cross according to Romans 5 is to say that they did not die in Adam. The only reason given in Scripture for why someone who was justified on the cross does not receive that justification is because of unbelief.

Even Owen's argument just by itself leads to absurdity because if Christ did not die for someone it would be hard to explain how unbelief could be a sin. In the Gospel we are called to believe that Christ died for our sins. If Jesus didn't die for that person then it would be sinful for the person to believe that Jesus died for him. The doctrine of the limited atonement has the wrong starting point for doing theology. It starts from the glory of God. But Paul said he preached nothing but Christ-crucified. Christ-crucified is the central teaching of the Scriptures. If you begin with Christ-crucified you don't have to explain away what the Scriptures clearly teach and you can have confidence that Jesus really did die for you and pay for your sins. If Jesus only died for some you can never be certain you are among those for whom Jesus died because if you fall away from the faith you will just have to conclude that you never had faith to begin with.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Faith and Despair

The Christian world tends to view despair and unbelief as things which cannot exist in someone who has true faith. But in The Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope, Melanchthon says that the true worship of God is faith struggling against despair. Luther's own accounts of his own Anfechtungen are well known and have led many to conclude that he was mentally ill and that his theology should not be trusted. But what do the Scriptures say?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us of his own despair. In Mark 9, a father who had a demon-possessed son confesses both his belief and unbelief. The Psalms were given as a prayer-book for the ancient Israelites and for the Christian church and the majority of them are lamentations in which we confess our despair and even cry out in anger toward God for His failure to act.

The most shocking and paradoxical cry of despair in all of Scripture is Jesus' use of the Psalms on the cross, especially when He cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" In this cry we can see both  unimaginable faith and unimaginable despair exhibited in the most profound way. Truly Christ has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. We truly have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses and who has felt our despair. God uses this despair to drive us to prayer just as it drove Christ to prayer and it's foolish to try to be polite and hide our despair from God. Instead, we are invited in the Psalms to cry out in our despair to God. By being honest about our own despair we are able to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ in their despair and bear one another's burdens. We need not be afraid of those who question or doubt.