A Few Reformation Day Reads

martin-lutherIt’s Reformation Day again–the day we celebrate the Reformation of the Church (and mourn its current disunity) by remembering Martin Luther’s nailing of The 95 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenburg. Last year I wrote a little piece on the proper way of celebrating Reformation Day through repentance. This year, I’d simply like to include a few links and readings for your Reformation Day.

First of all, there’s the 95 Theses themselves, or more properly “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Now, you need to know these are a series of theses to be argued about in a theological context, so some of it inside baseball that only medieval theology experts will get. What’s more, most Protestants, and Luther himself, would come to dispute plenty of these. Luther was still a good Augustinian monk at the time he penned these. That said, there’s real power in some of them, that non-experts like you and I can benefit from, starting with the first and most famous of them all:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

If you want a good understanding of what all went into that from one of those medieval experts, Justin Taylor has an interview with Carl Trueman on it that’s pretty helpful.

Following that, it’d be wise to work your way through Luther’s more mature letter to Pope Leo, commonly known as “The Freedom of the Christian.” It’s really just fabulous. After you get through the hilariously sarcastic opening, (vintage Luther) you get to some truly meaty Reformation spirituality as Luther explains the true righteousness and freedom that God gives us by faith.

Behold:

Now since these promises of God are words of holiness, truth, righteousness, liberty, and peace, and are full of universal goodness; the soul, which cleaves to them with a firm faith, is so united to them, nay, thoroughly absorbed by them, that it not only partakes in, but is penetrated and saturated by, all their virtue. For if the touch of Christ was healing, how much more does that most tender spiritual touch, nay, absorption of the word, communicate to the soul all that belongs to the word. In this way, therefore, the soul, through faith alone, [110] without works, is from the word of God justified, sanctified, endued with truth, peace, and liberty, and filled full with every good thing, and is truly made the child of God; as it is said: “To them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John i. 12.)

From all this it is easy to understand why faith has such great power, and why no good works, nor even all good works put together, can compare with it; since no work can cleave to the word of God, or be in the soul. Faith alone and the word reign in it; and such as is the word, such is the soul made by it; just as iron exposed to fire glows like fire, on account of its union with the fire. It is clear then that to a Christian man his faith suffices for everything, and that he has no need of works for justification. But if he has no need of works, neither has he need of the law; and, if he has no need of the law, he is certainly free from the law, and the saying is true: “The law is not made for a righteous man.” (1 Tim. i. 9.) This is that Christian liberty, our faith, the effect of which is, not that we should be careless or lead a bad life, but that no one should need the law or works for justification and salvation.

It’s probably best to print this one, as it’s a longer read.

I’d also commend this article by Michael Horton on the 5 Solas or “Onlys” of the Reformation (“Only Scripture,” “Only Christ,” “Only Grace,” “Only Faith,” and “To God Alone Be Glory.”) It’s a good summary and explanation of the significance of each of these “Five Pillars of the Reformation.”

Finally, Calvin fan that I am, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you to this excellent recent article by Chuck Colson (no, not that one) over at Mere Orthodoxy on Calvin’s view of salvation and sanctification through union with Christ. One of the chief calumnies against the Reformation is that taught a doctrine that cut the nerve of Christian holiness. It seems fitting end by remembering that receiving a justifying righteousness by the free grace of God comes only through union with Christ, and therefore necessarily results in a deeper holiness than that secured by fear or self-justifying works. The Reformation was not only about recovering a true understanding of God’s justifying grace, but his sanctifying grace, through Christ alone.

To quote Calvin:

Although we may distinguish them, Christ contains both of them inseparably in himself. Do you wish, then, to attain righteousness in Christ? You must first possess Christ; but you cannot possess him without being made partaker in his sanctification, because he cannot be divided into pieces (1 Cor. 1:13). Since, therefore, it is solely by expending himself that the Lord gives us these benefits to enjoy, he bestows both of them at the same time, the one never without the other. Thus it is clear how true it is that we are justified not without works yet not through works, since in our sharing in Christ, which justifies us, sanctification is just as much included as righteousness (Institutes, 3.16.1)

Soli Deo Gloria

How Do You Explain the Jews without the Exodus?

exodusWhile I’m sure there are a number of historical and archeological arguments for the historicity of the Exodus, I found this passage Andy Crouch’s Culture Making compelling for its brevity and force:

The exodus does not just have religious significance. It stakes a claim to human history. To be sure, more than a few moderns question whether the events recounted in the Bible happened the way they were recorded. Undoubtedly the biblical texts, like all texts, streamline or condense certain features of the historical events. Yet those who would deny the basic historicity of the exodus, like those who would deny the historicity of the resurrection, are left with a daunting historical problem: how to convincingly explain the coming into being of such a distinctive people, with such deeply rooted and enduring religious, ethical, and cultural practices, without any cataclysmic event like the deliverance from Egypt. One need only compare the exodus account to the crazy quilt of national origin stories in Greek or Roman mythology. We have to admit a pantheon filled with a wild variety of gods of various sort and conditions, playing favorites, and capriciously intervening in history in an endless cosmic competition, seems much better suited to the haphazard process of cultural consolidation in the ferment of the Mediterranean Basin than the idea of a single Creator God who has chosen a particular people and sticks with them with the ferocity of covenant love. Even in spite of their admitted temptations to assimilation and syncretism, even through cycles of marginalization and exile, the Jewish people maintained a tenacious and culture-shaping faith in that one God, YHWH They did so despite living, generation after generation, in cultural contexts where monotheism in general and worship of YHWH in particular was all but impossible. In the face of such and extraordinary religious and cultural achievement, something like the exodus comes much closer to being the simplest and most plausible explanation.

–Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, pg. 204-205

In essence, “How do you explain the Jews without the Exodus?” You can’t.

What’s So Great About Vanhoozer? (Engaging KJV Part 1)

I don't know what he's thinking right here, but it could probably serve as a Ph.D. thesis.

I don’t know what he’s thinking right here, but it could probably serve as a Ph.D. thesis.

When it comes contemporary systematic theology Kevin J. Vanhoozer is the man. I think I’ve said something like this before, but The Drama of Doctrine single-handedly saved my theology of Scripture when I was in my semi-emerging phase. His recent work Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship is probably the most important text engaging the doctrine of God and first theology (the confluence of God, scripture, and hermeneutics) that’s come out in the last 10 years. (I’ve summarized Vanhoozer’s summary of what that’s about here.) At least, in my admittedly unqualified opinion.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I got my hands on Southeastern Theological Review‘s volume for Summer 2013, which is dedicated entirely to interacting with Remythologizing. The volume is based on an ETS symposium dedicated to the subject, consisting mainly of four critical essays by Stephen Wellum, Oliver Crisp, and Fred Sanders and is capped off by a final response article by Vanhoozer himself. I’ve been waiting to read some constructive engagement with his work, but since the book is relatively new (only a couple of years old), and has been prohibitively priced (until now), there hasn’t been much.

I’ll just say that for those interested in an introduction to Vanhoozer’s project, or further discussion of the important issues involved, these are excellent essays from top scholars. Vanhoozer’s piece alone is worth the price. In order to encourage readers to either pick up the book, or follow up with the essays, over the next few weeks, I’ll write one post addressing each of the respective essays, probably picking out a key passage framing a critical issue, as well as sections from Vanhoozer’s own response.

What’s So Great About Vanhoozer? For this first week, though, I’d like to summarize a small section from Guest Editor Mark Bowalds’ introductory piece “A Generous Reformer: Kevin Vanhoozer’s Place in Evangelicalism.” Using an early piece in the Vanhoozer corpus, Bowald highlights four key features of Vanhoozer’s theological practice that make him necessary reading for those interested the future of Evangelical theology.

1. “First among these characteristics is his commitment to affirm and promote that quintessential feature of evangelical theology: the unrivalled authority of Scripture and the appropriate and fitting practices of its reading.” (pg. 3) Though nuanced, complex, and catholic (in the best sense), Vanhoozer’s theology unquestionably Evangelical, especially in its orientation to, and robust affirmation of the authority of Scripture. Indeed, anyone who has trucked through Is There a Meaning in This Text?, First Theology, or The Drama of Doctrine has seen his passion for, not only the authority of Scripture in the abstract, but it’s lived practice. For Vanhoozer, theology is not only scientia, but also sapientia, a lived out wisdom that gives the life of the Church its particular form. Scripture is not properly read until it is performed by a company of disciples steeped in the Theo-Drama of the Gospel.

2. “The second feature on display early on is his fearless and insatiable appetite to explore and read broadly and engage positively with diverse traditions and authors.” (pg. 4) Among the many accolades his books could (and have) been awarded with, Vanhoozer’s could probably qualify for that of most interesting bibliographies. For instance, in The Drama of Doctrine, alongside the theological titles of expected theologians (Calvin, McGrath, Webster, Barth, Von Balthasar), you’ll find Jeffrey Knapp’s study Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England and Stanislavski’s An Actor Prepares. Beyond that, you’ll find these works seamlessly blended with the insights of philosophers such as Wittgenstein, Gadamer, Riceour, Searle, and Habermas. Vanhoozer won’t be limited to the usual suspects when it comes to theological dialogue.

3. “Third, he displays a unique confidence in drawing from this great breadth of material, integrating and weaving it creatively and humorously into dialogue with evangelical thought.” (pg. 4) Following off of this, it must be noted that he engages this diversity well. As Bowald points out, with section titles like “Propositional Paradise Lost? Some problems with the Concept of Revelation”, he’s obviously comfortable playing with the big boys (and girls), and it shows in his delightfully playful literary demeanor. This isn’t mere whimsy, or the sign of an unserious thinker, however, but rather a mode of communication that displays the confidence that Evangelical doctrine ought to engender. Instead of insular jeremiads, or timid, lowest-common denominator forays out into the broader theological world, Vanhoozer displays a creative ease building on and generously critiquing his interlocutors from a generously Evangelical vantage point.

4. “The last noteworthy…aspect of Vanhoozer’s work which emerges from the foundation of these first three, is his willingness to hold on loosely to method.” (pg. 4) As Bowald points out, this feature of Vanhoozer’s thought and practice is often misunderstood. While he definitely has a clear theological method, Vanhoozer is quite comfortable employing various conceptual aids in an ad hoc, bricolage fashion in order to supplement traditional doctrines; a little speech-act theory here, a bit of acting methodology there, and a dash of continental hermeneutics there and you have a retooled doctrine of Sola Scriptura ready for use.  For “serious” theologians, who need there to be a more explicit, linear, link-up between method and articulation, this can be a bit disorienting. (Of course, that’s part of the reason nobody reads them.) Bowald is keen to note, however, that this flows from his humble and generous approach to theological science–a willingness to appropriate and employ whatever insights he can, always in submission to the Word of God.

All of this amounts to a very winsome, irenic, and moderating, yet essentially conservative figure. (In a sense, think Tim Keller, but in systematic theology.) As Bowald notes: “Evangelicals have always been better at building moats than bridges. Evangelical theology tends to be insular and centripetal; Kevin Vanhoozer’s approach to theology is porous and centrifugal.” (pg. 5) All of this goes doubly for the Reformed. Vanhoozer manages to be confessional without being cantankerous, faithful without being fearful. Besides the importance of his constructive answers on the actual material questions he addresses , he is an exemplar of an approach theology interested in reaching, without compromise, beyond the borders of our own little, insular world.

And isn’t that what a truly Evangelical theologian ought to do?

Soli Deo Gloria

Part 2 – Does Diversity of Form Lead to Diversity of Message In Theology?

Part 3 – Is Vanhoozer Still a 5-Point Alvinist?

The Importance of Context in the Conquest of Canaan (The Story Notes #7)

jerichoMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Text – Joshua 6 and the Invasion of Jericho

While a lot of us have trouble with most of what they read in the Old Testament, up until now a lot of us could get by okay. Let’s not play around here, though–there is a serious difficulty for many of us reading and understanding texts like this. The invasion and conquest of Canaan presents an assault on the modern mind, with modern sensitivities, horrified at what strikes us as a simple war of conquest in the name of God. We live in a post-9/11 world and the specter of religious terrorism, and not to mention modern ethnic cleansing, so this stuff understandably terrifies us.

Problem is, it seems like the Bible is full of awkward sections like this. What do we do with these pictures of violence? Or all the weird laws that we find in the Torah? How do we accept them as the word of God and possibly relate them to our own lives when they seem so terrible? We have to do something with them don’t we? This isn’t just an academic question for a lot of us. These are the texts that get thrown in our faces by our atheist and agnostic classmates when the Bible comes up. And, if we’re honest, they’re the ones that keep some of us up at night, doubting if what we’ve been taught in Sunday School is really all just a made-up, human construction.

What I want to do tonight is try to deal with this text, yes, but also the importance of reading the troubling texts of Scripture in context. In this case there are three contexts that I would tell you that you have to consider: historical, redemptive-historical, and the Gospel. But to set that up, let’s recap the story.

The Story Recap– At this point, the 40 years are up, and the Israelites are beginning to enter and take the promised Land. Joshua, Moses’ Second in Command, is now leading Israel’s armies and beginning to fight the Amalekites, and the rest of the Canaanite peoples, in order to take possession of it. That’s pretty much the story so far from last week.

1. Historical Context – So, here they are, about to take the ‘city’ of Jericho, and here’s where it becomes important to start examining the first context, the historical one, in order to understand what we’re reading.

a. Geopolitical-Theological Power Centers – Most of us, when we hear about a city like Jericho, make the mistake of thinking of a modern city, or maybe an old town, filled with normal life, families, etc. with Israel camping around, ready to invade. Here’s where modern archeology and biblical scholarship begins to shed some light. See, the reality is, most of the “cities” we see listed as being taken are really concentrated military/political/theological centers that controlled the regions.

They were small, maybe about the size of Trinity (our church campus). Realize, this is not LA or even Tustin we’re talking about. These were small, composed of maybe a couple hundred people which is why Israel can march around seven times in one day, and then still have the energy to conquer it. Beyond that, they consisted of military personnel, local royalty, slaves and prostitutes, with the civilian populations (if significant) living outside the walls. This was an attack on the equivalent of a key military base.

And here we come to something important: there is every reason to think that these civilian populations cleared out as the armies approached. There are a number of texts in the Law and in Exodus where God promises to “drive them out” before the Israelites:

I will send my terror in front of you, and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send the pestilence in front of you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, or the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. –Exod 23:27-31

So, when Rahab talks about the “Fear” that had fallen on the land, there is the strong implication that most of any civilian population had cleared out before the Israelites ever got there. If they didn’t, before, then after 7 days of watching Israel marching around the gates, they did. These were not large massacres, but strategic strikes on key religious and political centers.

b. War Hyperbole and Rhetoric-– Beyond that, we need to address the language about total destruction in these texts right? Because we read these awkward phrases about “men and women and children”, “left no one breathing”, “left no survivors”, etc. According to Scholar Paul Copan we need to know that this is typical Ancient Near Eastern War Rhetoric:

This stereotypical ancient Near East language of “all” people describes attacks on what turn out to be military forts or garrisons containing combatants — not a general population that includes women and children. We have no archaeological evidence of civilian populations at Jericho or Ai (6:21; 8:25).8 The word “city [‘ir]” during this time in Canaan was where the (military) king, the army, and the priesthood resided. So for Joshua, mentioning “women” and “young and old” turns out to be stock ancient Near East language that he could have used even if “women” and “young and old” were not living there. The language of “all” (“men and women”) at Jericho and Ai is a “stereotypical expression for the destruction of all human life in the fort, presumably composed entirely of combatants.”9 The text does not require that “women” and “young and old” must have been in these cities — and this same situation could apply to Saul’s battling against the Amalekites.

So we have good reason to doubt that there was even close to the picture of  families and dense, civilian populations here. And this is not an issue of the text lying either. This is typical ANE war rhetoric and most people would have heard and read it that way.

c. Infiltration as Well — This is backed up by the fact that If you look at the earlier sections of the Law, there are dozens of laws talking about not inter-marrying with people of the land, or later on in Judges, the Bible talks about fights with the Canaanites, that assume they weren’t all wiped out, but continued to be a significant presence in the land. Again, as we saw in this Exodus text, the strategy wasn’t coming in and actually totally wiping people out, but slowly infiltrating key power centers and moving into the land that way. This is not the indiscriminate wholesale slaughter that we might be tempted to picture.

These and a number of other historical factors need to be considered when reading these texts. We live at a distance of thousands of years from these text and bring assumptions to it that the original readers wouldn’t have shared, and don’t assume things that they would have. So whenever you run across a difficult text in the OT, realize that there are a times when a lot of confusion and heart-ache can be avoided with a good commentary and some historical scholarship. Not entirely, of course, but still significant.

2. Redemptive-Historical Context – That said, the historical context isn’t the only one to consider. Another level that we have to consider is the “Redemptive-historical” context–or the whole story of the Bible. These events take their place in a longer story and must be understood within that context or they don’t make sense.

a. God’s patient judgment – One angle on this is to consider why God says he is driving out the Canaanites. Back in Genesis 15:13-16 God says:

Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

Then again, we read in Deuteronomy 9:4-5:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you.  Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

In these texts we see that God was using the Israelites as his sword of judgment. This is not God just looking around at random and destroying a people. The cultures that were invaded were abysmally dark, notorious for their rampant injustices towards the weak and the poor. They were conquerors and bloody bullies who soaked the land in blood and death. These are not peaceful monasteries in Tibet we’re talking about here. Their worship was corrupted to the point that it involved bestiality, temple prostitution (which like involved sex-slavery), and, most horrifying of all, child sacrifice. We have archeological digs with pits, full of the skulls of children these cultures offered up to the flame. As an associate of mine pointed out, just consider Rahab the prostitute–how weird is it that she was willing for invaders to come? No, for her, and those like her, this was not just invasion, but in many ways, liberation.

See, God tells us that he is the God who care about poor, powerless, etc. He cannot and will not let injustice go on forever and so, at times, his final judgment breaks out in the present in order to stop gross injustice. Beyond that, in the first text we see that God waited 400+ years for the people to become corrupt enough to justify thing. He didn’t just pick a land and take it, he waited until the culture became so corrupt and wicked that their judgment was merited and necessary. This was God’s extreme patience towards the Canaanites–he waits hundreds of years for their sin to ripen and mature (far longer than we probably would have), until even God’s patient mercy must give way to judgment.

b. God will give them no taste for conquest — The other thing we need to note is that this is not a set-up for empire-building. In Deuteronomy he commands them not to have standing armies, chariots, or any of the other paraphernalia of empires. This a limited project, undertaken at one time, for a specific purpose. This is not a program of Empire to be appropriated later, or used to justify other violence. “You get this land, about half the size of California and no more.” This is part of the logic of the total destruction of these key sites. Israel is not to get a taste for war. And you see in the rest of the OT, the rest of the Yahweh-approved wars are fought defensively.

c. God’s other purpose is to create a Redemptive Space — The second reason that needs to be considered is what were God’s purposes with Israel. God had project: he wanted to create a people through whom the world would see what God was like. What’s more, the ultimate goal is not for Israel alone, but that all the nations of the world may be saved and blessed by God through Israel in the coming of her Messiah. For this to happen, Israel needed a land, a space to develop a culture as a people, set apart from other peoples, for the redemption of all peoples. They needed space to practice the 10 commandments. A set-apart, holy land devoted to justice, peace, and the true worship of God, in a way that would be un-corrupted by the local Canaanites and their distorted practices.

This is another, if not the key reason to understand that this was not a whole-sale killing, genocide or ethnic-cleansing. Israel took Rahab and her family in as they acknowledged the true God, and as a friend pointed out, this is likely just a shadow of Israel’s mercy to other people–the accounts don’t cover everything. Just as they included repentant Egyptians in the crowd as they left Egypt, it is not unlikely that repentant Canaanites could join the people. Of course, this points ahead to the Gospel of Jesus and the inclusion of the Gentiles. Clearing out the nations serves the purpose of one day bringing in the nations.

So what we’re seeing then, is a tactical, limited invasion, whose goal was to establish beach-heads, driving out the surrounding peoples and their corrupt cultures slowly. Why? For God’s specific, purposes of judgment on a wicked people, and the grand redemptive purpose of saving all peoples. (Incidentally, this is why this can’t be used as a warrant for modern violence–different covenant, no divine command, etc.)

This is where I make an analogy that might not work. Most of us look back at WW2 and think there was a lot of horrible stuff that happened on both sides. I mean, I think I’m only now reconciling myself to the horror of the firebombing of Dresden and the terror of Hiroshima. These were…damnable. Thing is, with all of Europe in the choke-hold of a monster, and the gaping jaws of Auschwitz and the camps devouring millions of Jews, I don’t think any of us would say that no bullets should have been fired or that no bombs ought to have been dropped.

If that holds true for the temporal salvation of some people and one point in history, how much more then for the salvation of the whole world? Again, this may not work for you. I get that. I’m not sure it does entirely for me either. Still, it might put the breaks on our rush to rule this out as something God “couldn’t” do. We have a God who has committed to saving historical beings, precisely in history. We shouldn’t be surprised if that involves some messy moments.

3. Theological Context of Christ – Of course, the final context I would say we need to look at this in, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, you can’t understand Jesus without the rest of the story of the Bible. On the other, you can’t understand the story of the Bible without look at the Gospel of Jesus. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are like a light at the center of the Story-line that allows us to see all things properly in its light.

In this case, I think the Gospel reminds us of a couple of big-picture theological truths that we need to keep in mind when we look at these stories.

God Hates Sin – One thing these texts remind us of is the radical seriousness with which God takes sin. I was talking to a buddy the other day and he was telling me how it just really occurred to him that God hates sin–like, he really can’t stand it to the core of his being. But honestly, that’s a good thing, right? If God is good, loving, just, great, righteous, and holy, he really can’t love sin. He can’t and shouldn’t put up with it forever, right? I mean oppressing the poor has to end sometime right? Violence, arrogance, racism, rape, child-sacrifice, sex-slave trade, and idolatry can’t go on forever. And we don’t want it to.

This is what we see in the Cross of Jesus. The cross of Jesus is God judging sin for what it is–something damnable and horrifying–something that has not place in God’s world and will ultimately be done away with. What happened to Jesus is what ought to happen to us, and will, if we don’t allow him to be judged in our place.

God Loves Sinners – Now, while that’s one truth we need to see, there’s a far deeper one beneath it that is essential for us to consider–God loves sinners:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10, ESV)

The fundamental truth about God that we see in the Cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that his will is to save them. He loves them. He doesn’t want to judge us. He doesn’t want to ultimately condemn us. He is just, so if we refuse to turn, if we continue to hate good and choose evil, well, he’ll let us do that and suffer the consequence. But his deep desire is to draw us to himself. He looks at us and says, “Though I can’t stand what you’ve done, both to me, your neighbor, and yourself, yet I love you. I would separate you from your guilt. I would remove from you your sin, that I might hold you to my own heart that loves you still.”

So in order to do that, he suffers judgment himself. Realize, the God we see in the OT, is the same God who was willing  to become a man and suffer the worst pain that anyone in human history has ever faced. This is the God who suffers the rejection of Hell for us, so that we might not face it. In the end, God conquers sinners through judgment–His own, on the Cross. This is ultimately what I have to look to.

We’ve gone through a lot of these different contextual issues and historical considerations that change the shape of how we think about these text. They’re important to consider and helpful as we wrestle with the awkwardness of the story of scripture. At the end of the day, though, I have to put my trust in that God is who I see in Jesus Christ and him crucified–the God who proved himself perfectly just and perfectly loving in a way I could have never imagined. I never could have fathomed a God so good he was willing to die for those who wanted to put him to death in order to save them from death.

So when I come to these troubling texts, no, I don’t just read them and say, “Welp, it’s the Bible, so, no problem here.” I have doubts and struggles. What I do say is, “God, you’ve already proven yourself to be unfathomably just and unfathomably loving beyond my finite and fallen comprehension. I still don’t have a grid for the Gospel. I’m having trouble accepting this, but I trust you, so shine a light on this.” Then I wait. I study, pray, and wait. And you know what? I think God’s okay with that.

If you’re struggling tonight, that’s okay. Church is meant to be a place where, yes, we confess, praise, trust, and grow. It also should be a place where you can safely struggle. What I do hope you’ve seen is that when it comes to difficult texts, context matters–a lot. And can make a big difference. So before you chuck your Bible across the room, slow down, ask questions, do a little digging and prayer and trust God to show up.

Soli Deo Gloria

Okay, so, I know this is an incomplete treatment of the text, or even the whole conquest. I didn’t address God’s rights as creator, scratch the surface of the epistemological issues, moral grounding, and the authority of scripture over culture. Honestly, I had a half hour, and I try not to push my students beyond that. For those who are interested in exploring the question in greater depth, I would commend these resources to you:

1. Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan – This has three chapters devoted to the question of the context that are extremely helpful on this question.
2. How Could God Order the Killing of the Canaanites? by Paul Copan – Short article summarizing much of the book.
3. Is YHWH a War Criminal? by Alastair Roberts — Another thoughtful, article-length treatment of the subject.

An Infernal Mindset: The Son of the Morning

son of the morningI don’t know that many have undertaken the task of understanding the infernal mindset–getting into the Devil’s head, so to speak. It’s really seems like a rather distasteful exercise in one sense. The two that come to mind, of course, are C.S. Lewis’ portrait of a tempter in the Screwtape Letters, and Dostoevsky’s portrayal of Mephistopheles in The Brother Karamazov. I’m sure there are others, of course.  One thing that I’m quite sure I’ve never seen is what Oh Sleeper‘s did with the title track on their second album “The Son of the Morning”: put it to fabulously shredding metal:

The dominant voice is that of Satan himself, Lucifer, “The Son of the Morning”, addressing God, the “weak forgiver”:

“I am the rival. I am the one who speaks in whisper.
Hear me now, dear, weak forgiver.
Hear me now, weak forgiver. Hear me now…

Don’t send an angel to face the devil.
You’re wasting power on grace.
A maggot will always seek to feed from the grave,
where I’ll lead them and teach them to feast on the skin that defeats them, the skin they crave.”

Every night I start my rise, climbing high into the morning sky,
but soon after I lose your bride and I damn your son for stealing my light.
This world is mine…

They call me the son of the morning.
They call me the son of the morning.

I can mound all your fallen past the clouds as they roll in,
and when I do I will claim your throne through all these cowards you call your sons.
I am the lord of air and my dawn will last forever.
Go on pouring out because in the end I will have them.

I have to confess, I’m always moved by this song. Both in the blindness that I find mirrored in my own heart, as well as the goodness of God seen through perverted eyes.

Satan here is proud, the “rival”; a fallen glory, bitter with rage at the Son who “stole” his light. The Son of the Morning is a tragic figure–deluded, the bitter has-been, though eclipsed by the True Son, is still furiously trying to reclaim what he never had. He is, as I think my friend Morgan described him, a diva who cannot accept that all creaturely glory is but a refraction of the Glory of the Son. At its heart, the infernal mindset is a refusal to acknowledge our creatureliness and delight in the proper joy of creatures, which is to reflect, to bask, in the glory of the Son. We imitate the great thief when we forget our glory is not our own–we do not sustain ourselves.

The infernal mindset is also uncomprehending of the goodness of God. God is a “weak forgiver”, according the logic of hell, that does not recognize the cosmos–reordering power of the Cross. His grace lavished on sinners, is fruitless prodigality to the Accuser of the Saints. In his eyes, we’re nothing but perverted cowards that God shamelessly and foolishly calls “sons.” I’ll admit I’ve shed tears at those moments when I realize that, apart from the grace of God, he’s right.  And yet this is God’s plan–to take cowards, adopt them, and make them his courageous sons.

Satan’s is not the only voice we hear, though. The Lord is given a word to speak in the chorus:

“If you could see like me you’d see you haven’t won anything (anything)
If you could see like me you’d see, it’s by my grace that you’re breathing (breathing)
If you could see like me you’d see you haven’t won anything.
If you could see like me you’d see, your precious light is fading.
Your light is fading.”

This is the heart of the amazing delusion of Satan: it is even blind to the grace that sustains it. No, it is not special, saving grace, but more like the rain that God sends on the just and the unjust. If we could see with the eyes of God, we’d understand that it is still by his grace that the deceiver even draws breath. Thankfully, one day he will draw his last and his lies will come to an end. The Son has won an unshakable victory and the false, distorted light of the Morning star will pass from this world forever.

Of course these same words hold true for those of us who remain opposed to God, fighting him as his enemies, setting ourselves up as false suns in the universe of our affections. God graciously gives us space to breathe out defiant words. Thankfully in our case it is time to repent, draw near, and be converted from rebels to beloved children.

Soli Deo Gloria

How to Avoid Celebrity Derangement Syndrome: Dealing Fairly with Evans, Driscoll, and Piper (CaPC)

kid yellingBack in G.W. Bush presidency, someone coined the term “BDS” or “Bush Derangement Syndrome”, in order to refer to that unhinged segment of the punditry who couldn’t mention his name without the words “Nazi” or “anti-Christ.” (Now, for Obama it’s ”Muslim/Socialist” and “anti-Christ.”) I’d like to submit three new terms: PDS, RHEDS, and DDS. John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, and Mark Driscoll Derangement Syndrome. Those three number among a set of high-profile names you can attach to any story and immediately pique the interest of the bizarre, tribalistic, and over-active Evangelical segment of the social media universe. They’re also among the select group of people that we’re beginning to lose our ability to speak to, read, or read about, sanely.

Enraged Illiteracy
I’m not talking about the regular, normal, justified criticism any one of these high-profile teachers and authors deserve. But if you pay much attention to evangelical culture, you know what I’m talking about. So and so tweets out a tweet, and it’s extrapolated into an entire political philosophy, or psychology of parenting, or what-have-you. We have heard so much of their teaching (actual or reported), made our judgments, and now we read every sentence waiting to pounce, publicize, and mobilize the troops in shock and outrage.

Click on Christ and Pop Culture to read the rest of the article.

A Kingdom of Forgiven Priests (Story Notes #6)

GoldCalfMy church is, across all departments, going through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical story-line of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Things get screwy when you forget who you are–even for a little bit. For instance, when a poor college kid forgets that he’s a poor college kid, and acts like a rich one–well, that looks like years of credit card debt. The same thing is true for Christians who forget their identity–it can look ugly. Tonight we’re looking at the story of Israel getting its primary identity, and as we look at that, we’ll learn something about our own identity as a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Recap – Now, at this point in the story, God has already set the Israelites free. God basically kicked the Egyptians butts by sending ten plagues from everything like flies, to hailstorms to boils to killing the firstborn in every household and so finally the Pharoah let the people Go (Sunday school style). Yeah, and so Moses led them out of Egypt into the desert and here’s where we pick up in verse 1

Text – Exodus 19:1-6

A Kingdom of Priests — Ok, so here we are at the base of the mountain and God here is about to make his covenant with the Israelites. He’s about to make the deal that will make the Israelites his people and he tells them that if they will be his people, if they will keep his covenant, his ordinances and worship him, then the nation of Israel will be for him “A Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.”

Here we see what God was up to in saving the Israelites. He saved them out of slavery to Pharoah in order that they could be free to be for him a “Kingdom of Priests and a Holy nation.” He saved them for a task. He saved them so that they might serve God his priests, so that they might be a holy nation “out of all the nations.”

In this context, what does it mean to be a priest? Well, in the ancient world and even today, a priest was someone who stood between God and the rest of the people. He was the person who represented God to man and brought man to God. He was the go-between, the representative, the middleman. He taught people the ways of God and led the people in the worship of God. If you wanted to know what a god was like, you’d go check out his priest.

So, what does it mean for God to call an entire nation to be his “Kingdom of Priests”? Well, God is calling these people, to be his representatives to the world. They were to be a nation that taught the rest of the world what God was like. Like Adam in the Garden, they were to live in a way that revealed God to his world.

Israel and the Church

Ok, now, if you have your Bibles I want you to go to 1 Peter 2:9. Fast-forward from Moses about a thousand years to about the year 60 something A.D. Peter, one of the first followers of Jesus is writing a letter of encouragement to Jewish and Gentile Christians, the beginnings of the Church scattered throughout Asia Minor who are possibly suffering persecution and whatnot. Towards the beginning of the letter here in chapter 2 verse 9 he drops this statement:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy…Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Hold on there, did you hear that first part? “But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Do you see what Peter is doing here? He’s writing to this early Christian community composed of both Gentiles and Jews and invokes the Exodus text about the Israelites to apply it now to the community that has formed around the person of Jesus.

He tells this group that they are now to be to Jesus, what the Israelites had been for God back in the day. They are to be the people who declare the praises of “Him” who called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. Just as the Israelites were supposed to do this for the God revealed himself in the Exodus, the church is supposed to do this for that same God who revealed himself in Jesus.

This happens in two basic ways, both in the OT and in the NT:

1. Living Good Lives Among the Pagans — See, in just a chapter, Moses is going to lay down the 10 commandments (and the rest of the commands of the covenant) that express God’s expectations for the relationship. As Israel obeys those commands and observes them, the world begins to see what God is like.

It’s kind of like in your family, you have family rules. When you find out about your friends house-rules growing up, you find out about their parents. Are they uptight? Relaxed? Fun? Organized? Etc. In the same way, God’s commands are the house-rules that reflect God himself. That’s because those commands are not just arbitrary rules that God makes up, but expressions of his character. So, when you look at the commands they begin to tell you about what he’s like:

1-3 God demands we worship no other gods, we worship him and honor him properly because he cares about true relationship.

4. God tells us to rest because he is the creator and wants us to trust in him.

5. He wants us to honor our parents, and respect the authority by which the world functions.

6. Lying about our neighbors destroys the fabric of love and respect he wants for the world.

7. Stealing is the opposite of the generosity which characterizes the Creator God.

8. Murder is the opposite of the God who gives life.

9. Adultery is an affront to the value God places on relationships and promise-keeping.

10. Coveting reflects an ingratitude and lack of contentment that denies God’s provision.

The point is, in each of these commands you see something about the world and the God who made it. As Israel lives out these commands, the pagan nations around them find out something about the God that they worship. They would see that the God of Israel had just and wise laws and so was a just and wise God.

The same is true for us. As we live good, just, patient, honest lives in front of our neighbors, they should see something about the God we worship. It should be the kind of thing where, even though they don’t believe in God, or agree with our beliefs, they should be glad we’re their neighbors because of the lives we live with them.

Problem –  The problem is that Israel sucks at this. I mean, really, royally sucks at this. They hear the law, agree to it in a very sacred ceremony, and then Moses goes up the mountain for a 40 day to get the law on Tablets. In the middle of that, Israel get’s antsy and decides, “You know, let’s make an idol. That sounds like just what we need. Let’s get an idol.” Of course, right at the front of the list of commands is, “no idols”, right? Now, as usually happens, when you start worshiping other things, other sins follow. All idolatry leads to immorality somehow. In this case, they start partying, doing weird, freaky sexual stuff, and just getting crazy.

Now, I read this and kinda shake my head, but that’s totally me, right? I mean, I’ll be at church one minute, and then next I’m cursing somebody out in my car, or hating my neighbor, or back at that same sinful pattern I’ve been trying to break. I don’t know what it is for you. Maybe it’s being at that party. The blunt in hand. Blacked out again. Sinfully controlling people around you. Lying to make yourself look better. Disrespecting your parents. Coveting and comparing yourself to your neighbor. Murdering people in your heart.

So, how are we supposed to be priests if we’re caught up in all of this? How do we represent God to the world if half the time we look just like them?

2.  Singing His Praises For Salvation. This leads us to the next way we show the world what God is like. Its something that comes up, not so much in the text of the chapter, but in all the chapters that the Story cuts out. See, over next chunk of Exodus, and the whole book of Leviticus, God lays out a pattern for worshiping him, the other key task of the priests.

“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.(Exodus 25:8, ESV)” Just like in the Garden, God wants to dwell with his people. He gives laws for how the Tabernacle, the traveling tent in which God met with Moses should be made. If you study it, it’s gorgeous and intricate, in-laid with all kinds of craftsmanship. Beyond that, it goes through in painstaking detail the processes involved in dwelling and worshiping the holy God. There is chapter after chapter about how to deal with ceremonial issues, and at the center of them all stands the chapter on the Day of Atonement.

See, God gives the people of God his laws, but the fundamental truth about Israel is that it can’t keep it. Inevitably, they will fail to obey God’s commands and so for them to maintain right relationship, God institutes the sacrificial system in order to deal with that. The sacrificial system teaches two truths simultaneously: God wants relationship with us, and our sin gets in the way of that. God’s holy and perfect character is opposed to our sin, while still loving us.  Throughout the system of sacrifice we see that God is totally holy, perfect, righteous, and will not tolerate sin. And yet, he loves sinners and wants to be near them, so he provisionally accepts sacrifices in their place to pay for their sins.

In the sacrifices, there were multiple levels of meaning going on, but at the heart of it was the recognition that sin deserves death. As the worshiper brought the animal to be slaughtered, they were basically saying, “God, through my sin I’ve chosen to reject you, the source of life, which deserves death. Through sin, I’ve chosen to break relationship with you, the source of life, so I shouldn’t have life with you.” And God accepted that animal in their place.

Thing is, all of this points to the Gospel of Jesus at multiple levels. In Jesus, God makes a way for the relationship to work. In Jesus, God comes near to us despite all of our failures and all of our inability to perfectly keep the Law. Jesus is God in the flesh, coming near to dwell with us. It is God saying, “I know what you’re like. I know you can’t pull this off, or make this relationship work, so I’ll go ahead and ensure it.” And so Jesus goes to the Cross, and actually substitutes himself for us to pay for our sins as they deserve, without destroying us in the process.

So, in the sacrificial system we see why we worship. We worship because God has come near in Jesus and saved us from sin and guilt, and set us free to live for him. And there’s a holy irony about it: when you see God’s grace towards you in Christ, forgiving you for your failure to keep the commands, you begin to worship him more, and the reverse of the idolatry pattern kicks in: you start to obey more.

And this is the pattern that we model to the world. We show the world who God is in our obedience, our praise to God for his mercy on our disobedience, and our renewed love and gratitude for him in that.

What does this Look like? A lot of things, but it includes people who praise God by obeying and singing about his forgiveness for the times they fail. People who strive to live holy lives in front of the world around them. People who are honest about their failure to one another. People who are gracious when others do the same. It looks like a Kingdom of Forgiven Priests.

Soli Deo Gloria