5 Thoughts on the Liberating Judgment of God in the Plagues

The plaguesWe’ve been going through the book of Exodus in church recently, and we just hit the section on the plagues YHWH poured out upon Egypt (sans the 10th plague on the firstborn). After listening to my pastor’s sermon on it, I was spurred to jot down a few quick thoughts on the role the plagues play in the salvation in the Exodus, as well as what it might say about God’s work in salvation today.

Salvation is Liberation. The first point is somewhat obvious, but the plagues are aimed at the liberation of Israel. Whatever else God wanted to do, it is clear that he desired Pharaoh to let his people go (Exod. 9:1). They were enslaved to the Egyptians and in the plagues, God aimed to loosen the Egyptians grip so Israel might be free from their sore labor. The same is true of our salvation today. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1) from the bondage to sin, the law, death, and the devil.

Liberation Comes Through Judgement. Secondly, liberation comes through judgement. This is a longitudinal theme that you can trace throughout all of Scripture, but the plain fact is that God’s judgment and God’s liberation are not ultimately at odds. In the plagues, God is judging Egypt, judging Pharaoh, and if you study it closely, all of the gods they worshipped (Exod. 12:12), and it is in these acts of judgment that God sets Israel free. The God of mercy, the God of liberation, the God of salvation, is one and the same with the God of judgment and acts of violent wrath.

Of course, the chief revelation of this is the cross of Christ, where the merciful judgment of God finds its perfect expression in its duality and unity, where our liberation comes through his judgment.

Liberation Is Multifaceted. I could go more into this, but in The Mission of God Christopher J.H. Wright points out that the liberation of the Exodus is multifaceted. There are spiritual dimensions, economic dimensions, political dimensions, and more in the judgments of the plagues. All at once God is unraveling, de-creating the Egyptian’s idolatrous society that depended on the broken bodies of Israelite slaves to sustain and fund it.

Now, there are differences here between the Old Testament and New Testament.  But eventually, I believe this to be true in the New Testament as well. When a people are liberated spiritually, united with Christ, justified, sanctified, and renewed in their minds, economic and political implications eventually follow.

Yes, there are places where our economic and political activity seem outwardly unchanged, though our hearts have been; we vote and purchase and pursue justice with a view towards the kingdom of God, not or our own. That said, there are others where we do things differently and social upheaval follows. A slave girl is set free from a demon and a business collapses (Acts 16). When the Ephesians turned from idols to the true God, the economy of a city built on idolatry shifted (Acts 19). When Constantine abolished the Games in light of Christian ethics, Roman culture shifted. More examples could be given, and other dimensions adduced, but suffice it to say, the salvation of God does not stay only a “spiritual” affair.

Liberative Judgments Lead to Knowledge of God. This point and the next are tightly intertwined, but the plagues of God are aimed at the knowledge of God: ”Then I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Exod. 6:7). Through the liberative judgments of God, Israel would know God as the faithful, covenant-keeper who delivered his people just as he promises their ancestors.

And not only Israel, but the Egyptians also: “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the son of Israel from their midst” (Exod. 7:5). God demonstrates many things about his character and power in the plagues. For one thing, he shows up the false gods of the Egyptians—Pharaoh didn’t “know” who God was that he should obey him (Exod. 5:2). By the end of the plagues, he knew exactly who he was: the actual God who controls the Nile, the Sun, the skies, livestock, weather, and everything else the Egyptians depended on.

In much the same way, the Lord’s salvation involves a liberating knowledge that displays both the falsity of all of our idols and the faithful power of God. Only now, it comes through the cross and resurrection of the Son who disarms and exposes the powers for what they truly are (Col. 2:14-15).

Liberation is for Worship. Finally, I’ll simply note that this liberation is aimed at worship. The Lord calls Pharoah to let his people go, “so they might worship me” (Exod. 9:1; 5:1; 7:16; 8:1, etc.). Liberation is not aimed at some radically autonomous freedom to wander out into the desert to simply do whatever we please. The freedom that God delivers to Israel, and the freedom he gives to us, is the freedom of serving and worshipping the Lord whom we have come to know in his mighty acts of liberating judgment. This is why liberation from slavery to idols goes hand in hand with a knowledge of the true God: we were made for the joy of worship.

God is good and all that he does is good–even his mighty acts of judgment are aimed at liberation and worship. Let some of these thoughts frame your meditations this Holy Week as we reflect on the work of our Savior.

Soli Deo Gloria

Assorted Thoughts on #TGC17

no other gospelThis last week I had the privilege of attending TGC’s National Conference for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There was a focus on Galatians and remembering the legacy of the Reformers for the sake of the Church of today.  I have to say, overall it was a very encouraging time. I would commend the audio to all the breakout sessions to you when it becomes available at TGC’s website. For now, the main plenaries are up and worth your time.

I have no grand thesis or synthesis about it, but a few assorted thoughts now that I’m home and am somewhat recovered.

The Gospel is Really Good News. First, I just enjoyed hearing as much preaching out of Galatians as I did. I know that you can preach the gospel from any book, but you basically trip over it in every verse in Paul’s power-packed epistle. Hearing careful Scriptural preaching regarding justification, the history of redemption, Christian liberty, and the cross is one of the better ways of remembering and carrying on the legacy of the Reformation. Beyond that, it just ministered to my soul.

Older Preachers. Second, I was struck when listening to Sandy Wilson’s talk on Galatians 2 what a blessing it is to hear older preachers. When I was a younger man (say 20), I loved hearing the dynamic 30-year-olds preaching. I podcasted some of the hip, young voices whose references and humor sensibilities were closer to mine and really wanted to imitate them. Now that I’m 30, I love listening to preachers in their sixties.

Obviously, they’ve had years of practice and experience. But that’s not the whole of it. Plenty of young preachers are fine expositors and skilled orators. Beyond technical skill, though, there is a qualitative difference that comes with years of wisdom, maturity, heart-ache, and being closer to the end rather than the beginning of the ministry race. It’s like there’s a different energy. I’ve heard Tim Keller comment that with younger preachers, you’re more likely to pick up the subtext under the exposition that says, “Do you like me? Am I smart? Good? Funny?” or whatever, that is more likely to have evaporated in the years of the crucible of ministry.

I’m not sure there’s an obvious set of tips to get there besides prayer, living life, and growing up. Also, as a note to young preachers, if you listen to other preachers, mix it up. Don’t ignore the great preachers of our parents’ generation. Even if you don’t resonate immediately with the style, there’s gold to be gleaned, not just in content, but I think in spiritual presence and wisdom.

Marriage and Real Life. When you write and do the sort of work that leads to friendship through correspondence and social media, one of the great things about conferences is being able to hang out in the flesh. Email and Twitter are fine, but face to face solidifies things.

This time I was able to bring my wife along, though, and it’s interesting what a difference that makes. For one thing, I didn’t have to miss her, which is huge.

But beyond that, I was reminded of Matthew Lee Anderson’s theory that you can’t really call someone your friend until they have met your spouse. Matt is absurd to the extent to which he takes it, of course. Still, every time she met another one of my “writing friends”, it felt like they were finally meeting another part of me–or rather, a fuller version of me. It’s like two halves of your life no longer feel quite so bifurcated.

I suppose it’s a testimony to the way marriage really is a matter of joining lives, uniting the two into one flesh. There’s a real sense in which don’t really know me until you know McKenna.

Millennials and Their Parents. Beyond attending, I did give a talk on Millennials at one of the breakout sessions. That was a blessing and an honor. For those who were praying, thank you. One thing I’ll say is that I was very encouraged by the conversations I had after the session. I got the chance to talk to a few different kinds of people who came. Some were young types looking to minister to their friends in their churches. Others were older pastors who were genuinely striving to understand this generation. I already knew this, but there is good work being done in the church despite some of the stats we read.

Maybe my favorite, though, were the parents who were there. One lady in particular, Kathy, was a joy. She was one of the volunteers helping out at the event. I asked her why she was here volunteering and she replied laughing, “Millennials.” Kathy and her husband had something like 4 or 5 children in the age bracket and had just made the decision move to after 30 years at their old church to a new one that had maybe two other people their age, with the rest being Millennials. Smiling the whole time, she just said she couldn’t understand these kids or how to serve them, but she was trying.

That heart to sacrifice comfort to move, and seek to love a group she didn’t understand well, but wanted to love gave me so much hope. I told her that just being there, walking up to them, inviting them over for dinner, and being married in front of them is probably the best thing her and her husband can do to love them well. The more Kathys we have the in Church, the more hope I have for the Millennials within it.

Well, that’s it for now.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

When God’s Mercy Sounds Like Bad News (My 1st CT Column)

mercy like bad news.jpgI already announced this online last week, but I’ve accepted the invitation to be a columnist for the Christianity Today print edition for the next year. The column is entitled “Confessing God”–a title I’ve taken from the late John Webster. My hope is that each piece will do just that: confess the God of Scripture as a member of the Church for the sake of the Church and the watching world.

In any case, my first column entitled, “When God’s Mercy Sounds Like Bad News” has just been unlocked at Christianity Today. Here’s an excerpt:

Moses was well-acquainted with the patience of God. He pled for Israel when they betrayed the Lord with the Golden Calf. For years he dealt with the Israelites in the desert, their complaining and recalcitrance. They “vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41), and still God bore it, restraining his wrath and refusing to cut them off (Isa. 48:9). God’s patience is a central, defining feature of his character.

But this wasn’t always a comfort to Moses. Rather than being left to deal with the grumbling and sin of his people, he asks God to kill him outright (Num. 11:15).

Moses isn’t alone in this frustration.Unnerved by the success of lawbreakers, thieves, and idolaters, the psalmist asks, “How long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Ps. 94:3). David cries a similar lament in the face of his enemies’ taunts (Ps. 13:1). Overwhelmed by opposition, he wonders whether God will defend him. In Scripture, God’s people are surprised and repelled by God’s patience as often as they are comforted by it.

You can read the rest here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Work Unto the Lord, Not Unto the Advocate

elijah-in-the-desertAdvocating for justice is a difficult business at the best of times. This is not only because we are fallen sinners, but because we are finite and the world is a complex place. Moral discernment takes hard-won wisdom, passion, and a great deal of humility. Acting on it takes even greater courage and care. Few places seem require this more than the painful struggles around racial reconciliation and justice, both in the broader culture as well as within the walls of the Church.

Unfortunately, it seems particularly easy for discouragement to set in at just this point.

I do not consider myself an expert in these matters, though I have written on them occasionally. Still, I wanted to briefly speak to one particular sort discouragement: that of the frustrated ally. I have noticed among some of my white friends (especially Evangelicals) who care and speak out on issues of racial injustice and bias (often in the face of opposition), a disappointment and weariness that sets in when it seems that their efforts go unrecognized.

This discouragement sets in especially when some POC (people of color) advocates speak as if there are no white allies trying to stand alongside them. Or as if the efforts of certain allies still aren’t good enough—or indeed shouldn’t be seen as true efforts at all.

At that point, for some the question can become, “Why even bother?” And I get that. I’m not white (Arab and Hispanic), so I don’t typically struggle with white-guilt about these sorts of things. But I can imagine a bit of the frustration, especially if you felt you’d sacrificed and were doing your level-best from the heart.

To that frustration I would speak a few quick points and one major encouragement that might be summed up as, “Work unto the Lord, not unto the advocate.”

First, if you’re aiming your efforts in part to please the loudest voices for justice out on social media you’re setting yourself up for frustration. Prophetic voices are not often looking to hand out praises to those who are doing work that is the basic responsibility of Christians anyways. Also, the prophetic mindset is often more keenly attuned to what is wrong, what is still broken and needs to be alleviated, than applauding what is going right with some. Third, they are humans as well, who cannot see all and speak to all things. Finally, you should consider that they might not even be talking about you.

Second, I’ll be very Calvinistic and say that, as sinners, we often tend to evaluate our efforts more highly than we ought to anyways. I know I do that myself. In which case, there is likely more to forgive in our best works for reconciliation than we’d like to admit in the first place. We need to not rob ourselves of the opportunity to learn from these voices and to grow in our work unto the Lord, by letting our first instinct be that of self-vindication. They are not perfect, and they may be missing some of the good in your work, but the Lord can use them to sharpen us nonetheless.

Third, following this, we need to remember that all of our work is done unto the Lord anyways.  As Jesus puts it in his brief parable, at the end of all of his hard work, all any faithful servant can really say is, “‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10). God does not owe us for our hard work for justice. We are to work, sweat, struggle, cry, pray, and go to bed only to wake up and go through the same cycle over again, simply because it is the proper obedience due to our Lord who wills justice.

Fourth, and this is probably the most important point, it is to the Lord that we work. And this is the forgiving, saving Lord who is our Righteousness. It is unto the gracious One whose eyes behold heaven and earth, who judges the living and the dead that we turn our efforts. In which case, we know that even if others do not see our efforts for what they are, he does. And on the right day, he will vindicate them and reward them.

What’s more, even our most impure efforts he will forgive and accept, for (as Lewis says) he is a gracious Father who is never satisfied, but quite easily pleased by the stumbling first steps of his children. Indeed, Jesus says there is a special blessing from the Father for those good works done without any public recognition (Matt. 6:4). This is a special encouragement to work from a pure heart unto the Lord alone.

That said, we should recall we have already been vindicated in Christ. In which case, our efforts for justice in the world are no longer part of our project of self-justification. They are carried out in the power of the Spirit because we have been united by faith to the Just One, Jesus Christ. And he is the one who is at work in us, giving us the energy to do what is right whether or not the voices whose approval we seek give it or not. We love them and we serve them, but we serve them because we work unto the Lord.

Take heart, then. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

Soli Deo Gloria

Called By Triune Grace by Jonathan Hoglund

called-by-triune-graceAt the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus says, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). And at his words, the dead man awakes again and walks out of the tomb. He is obedient to the call of the Lord. Indeed, the call of the Lord is what seems to enable the obedience, and even the hearing of the command!

Reformed theologians have historically taken as a picture of what happens in conversion. In God’s calling of sinners from death to life in the gospel (Eph. 2:1-10), those who were dead to God, hear the proclamation of the gospel and find themselves alive anew in Christ. This has traditionally been termed “the effectual call.”

And while this is a mainstay of Reformed theology, there have historically been numerous questions and controversies surrounding it, even down into the present day. For instance, who does the calling? And is the calling that awakens us to new life identical with the outward preaching of the Word? Or what is the semantic content of the call? What is God saying? Or is he even saying anything? Is the language of calling more symbolic or metaphorical? If he is saying something, how different is it than human speech? What about the relationship between calling and regeneration, or rebirth? Are they distinct things? If so, is there a logical order between them? Do you have to be reborn before you can hear God? Or do you have to hear God in order be reborn? Or what about illumination and testimony? The questions just keep coming.

While I’ve read a bit about it in the past, I haven’t been able to take a significant amount of time on the subject. Which is why I was pleased to see this new volume Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call by Jonathan Hoglund in the IVP series Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture. Written originally as doctoral dissertation, in this study Hoglund puts forward a carefully-constructed proposal for thinking about the effectual call in trinitarian perspective.

I won’t give a full-on review try to give a general impression of what you’ll find within.

Integrated. In Called by Triune Grace, Hoglund has given us a model of biblical, historical, and dogmatic reasoning at are fully-integrated. So, you’ll find plenty of sections engaging key biblical material in their historic context, in conversation with recent interpreters, lexical studies, and so forth. Specifically, Hoglund engages Paul’s theology of the call in letters like the Thessalonians, Romans, and others. He also tackles key material in the gospel of John with care and erudition. He wants to show that there is a solid grounding for thinking of the effectual call on multiple levels of biblical discourse, across the canon, and not mere “proof-texts” here and there.

You’ll also find careful examinations of historic contributors to the theology of the effectual call like Augustine, Calvin, Francis Turretin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, Claude Pajon, Friedrich Schleiermacher, as well as the more recent proposals of Michael Horton, Kevin Vanhoozer, and Oswald Bayer. These expositions serve both to demonstrate the range of (primarily) Reformed theologians approaches to the issue, as well sharpen the theological questions we have to wrestle with in treating it properly.

But these sections aren’t hermetically-sealed. So the historical sections have an eye on exegesis and the exegetical sections freely consult both historic and contemporary interpreters of the text.  What’s more, all of this is done in a dogmatic key. Which is to say that Hoglund is reading Scripture and history in order to settle constructive, dogmatic questions about how the Church is supposed to confess the work of the Triune God in salvation today.

Triune Rhetoric. Materially, Hoglund is concerned to show that a proper dogmatic account has to take seriously the semantic content of the call–that in the effectual call, God doesn’t deal with us as blocks of stone and wood, but as communicative agents made in his image. That’s something the whole tradition has tried to be careful about, by the way. And yet Hoglund thinks that recent suggestions by Vanhoozer and Horton about the importance of the category of communication for the effectual call are helpful for developing our theology of the call.

He presses beyond them, though, in his deployment of the category of rhetoric as an appropriate analogy for thinking about the effectual call, especially once placed in Trinitarian perspective. To boil everything down into an inadequately distilled form, it’s about capturing the ethos, logos, and pathos of the Triune God’s summons of persons from death to life in Christ. After throwing in all the necessary caveats about the unified activity of the Trinity ad extra, appropriations, etc. Hoglund assigns these three components to the persons of the Trinity and works it out all very cleanly and suggestively.

I was about to try and summarize it all for you, but I realized it’s a bit ambitious to do so without doing damage to the proposal. I’ll simply note that Hoglund is careful to establish that: (a) the whole Trinity is at work in the act of divine persuasion; (b) this persuasion is communicative, not bypassing our intellect, and so is tied to our understanding of the actual content of the summons to trust Christ as our saving Lord; and (c) it is a divine persuasion, such that the Spirit’s work in illumining our mind, will, heart to find Christ beautiful is efficacious in a way that is beyond that of any other speaker, not just quantitatively, but qualitatively.

Honestly, I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a clear, but comprehensive piece of work and I highly commend to anyone interesting in the questions surrounding the effectual call and salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria

Answering Jacobs’ Questions On False Teaching and Teachers

false-teachers

I think this is the standard blog image for false teaching posts. No watch-blogger should be without it.

What follows is a reply to the always-thoughtful Alan Jacobs who replied to Andrew Wilson who replied at TGC to his follow-up to a post by Steve Holmes after ETS. Go ahead and read those before proceeding.

Jacobs says Andrew has avoided the most important questions he raised about how we adjudicate disputes about sex ethics in the Church. Jacobs then lists five rather lengthy ones. Andrew has responded a bit on Twitter, but since I’ve gotten too big for my britches lately, I figured I’d give it a bit of a go myself.

First, though, I’ll answer as proposed, but I want to offer a re-situation or two at the end that I think matter. So do please stick around. 

Q & A on Protestant Problems

Jacobs #1: How do we distinguish between error in interpreting Scripture, which we are all guilty of, and “false teaching”?

Carefully.

But seriously, this basically goes back to the very old issue of establishing what deviations in teaching count as heresy as well as the importance of dogmatic rank (first tier, second tier, etc.) as a concept in theology. At that point, the question is sifting how nested a particular teaching is within the broader fabric of Christian theology, and what implications it has for our basic gospel confession. It’s not an easy one, but presumably the same process that is used for sifting through disputed matters in Christology can likely apply here as well.

It takes deep study of Scripture, discernment, listening to the Church through history, prayer, and patience. Because this teaching hasn’t been challenged for nearly 2,000 years of church history, we maybe haven’t had to explicitly draw all the lines between these doctrines, but the process is not new by a long shot. 

Jacobs #2: How do we distinguish between error in interpreting Scripture and sin? (Presumably not all errors are the product of sin, though some are.)

Again, carefully.

The problem is that the question is so fuzzy. Your error in interpreting Scripture might be a result of a willful desire to avoid what Scripture says–a somewhat conscious suppression of the truth a la Romans 1–or it might be much softer. Your sin may lie much farther back, layered over with broader plausibility structures, family dynamics, and personal histories that have levels of guilt within them, but are not directly leading you to twist the truth. Unraveling that mess takes more insight into the human heart than most of us have.

Now, I do think there are smaller, mid-level, “non-sinful” errors. But the question I wonder about for Jacobs is whether we are ever culpable for our “good-faith” beliefs? So we might, through a series of unfortunate educational events, come to believe the Bible teaches polytheism. And we believe this “honestly” and in “good faith.” This is an “error” in interpretation. All the same, this belief is materially gross idolatry and sin, despite the fact that you arrived at it in conscious honesty. The belief itself is what is objectionable and culpable beyond the processes by which you arrived at it and the earnestness with which you pursued the question. 

It takes care, then, but it seems that sort of judgment can and must be made at points.  

Jacobs #3: How do we distinguish between the accountability of those who promote erroneous interpretations and the accountability of those who believe those interpretations? (The argument that those who affirm same-sex unions are “leading people onto the highway to hell” implies that God will damn people for being badly catechized. That’s an implication that requires some scrutiny.)

As Andrew pointed out online, James 3 has some things to say about this. I would also think the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, etc), which lay out the qualifications for elders and teachers in the church, do as well. Applied more broadly, theses might be expanded to include theology professors as “doctors” of the church.

The distinction between teachers and others matters and I’m glad Jacobs raised it. There is a great deal of difference between those who are confused in the pews and those doing the confusing. But honestly, I don’t think this is as complicated as Jacobs seems to imply by raising it as an issue Andrew has just brushed past. Presumably Andrew has a functional theology of teachers and eldership that’s in play. 

Beyond that, Jacobs raises the point that Andrew’s position might suggest that someone could end up damned because they were badly catechized. I think Jacobs has put the question badly and brought us back around again to the previous answer. Will people be held account because they were badly catechized, or rather is it because of the grievous practices they engaged in, in part, because they were badly catechized?

Yes, Scripture holds teachers to a higher account. But it seems to hold everyone to some account. God warns Ezekiel that he will be accountable for the blood of anyone he does not warn, but he never says that he will be accountable in the place of that person (Ezekiel 33). He will be accountable alongside them for the sin of not holding them accountable for the grievous sins he should have.  

Now, I do think Lewis’ comment in Mere Christianity likely is on the mark. God will judge us differently according to our time, place, upbringing, socio-historical context, and so forth. It’s plausible to think that for many in the pews, and even some in the pulpits, the intellectual conditions under which we live make certain errors more likely and less culpable than if they were made in other times and places. But not entirely.

This brings us to Andrew’s article listing out the various consequences for flagrant disobedience. The point wasn’t simply to argue against “antinomianism” in general, but rather to call attention to the fact that Scripture connects the violation of specific commands with the threat of disqualification from the kingdom of God in a way that presumably doesn’t violate sola fide, in which case Holmes’ appeal to it doesn’t quite settle the matter.

It may be that there is a different level of culpability in God’s sight for certain violations according to time, place, and so forth. But that’s not anything to bank on when we have very forceful, very direct texts on the subject.

Jacobs #4: While, as Andrew points out, there are many passages in Scripture that emphasize the importance of correcting erroneous teaching and calling out sinful behavior, under what circumstances may we say that someone who teaches error, or who commits certain sins habitually, is not a Christian at all and that we must say so? If we do believe that we can and should make this judgment, how then do we interpret the parable of the wheat and the weeds?

This question is a good one, but again, I’m somewhat puzzled by it, simply because it’s just the question, “How should we practice church discipline?” under a different form. It seems relevant to point out that the same Jesus who told the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt. 13) is also the one who gave us instructions for how to deal with a sinful brother in the context of the Church and gave the disciples the power to bind and loose (Matt. 18). He also empowered his apostles to give some instruction on the matter (1 Cor. 5, etc.). I personally have found Calvin’s warnings against ecclesial perfectionism or libertinism to strike a pastoral and eschatologically-realistic balance (see the Institutes Book 4, chapters 1 & 2). 

Of course, these are prudential judgments on the basis of Scripture to be made with fear and trembling. What’s more, they’re best made in an ecclesial setting. And thankfully, most ecclesiastical traditions with ethicists, ecclesiologists, canon lawyers, etc. seem to have a lot of material on the books in that respect. 

Jacobs #5: Presumably those who denounce interpreters who affirm same-sex unions as false teachers who are leading people on the highway to hell would readily acknowledge that they themselves are sinners — but redeemed sinners; people not on the broad path that leads to destruction but on the narrow way that leads to salvation. How do they distinguish between their sins and those they are denouncing? Why does Jesus’s contrast between the speck in your brother’s eye and the long in your own not apply to them?

I think Jacobs muddies things a bit with a general appeal to “we’re all sinners” moving to “what makes your sin different from theirs?” There may be all sorts of things. Two seem particularly relevant.

The first is that those doing the denouncing may be sinners in all sorts of ways (arrogant, angry, boastful, etc) and yet not actually be teaching anybody to do such things. At least not explicitly. They may be awful examples, but given that the conversation is about false teaching, there is a relevant difference between being a glutton and an Arian. And so with respect to the charge of false teaching, that their sin is not a species of teaching (true or false) seems important.

The second and main answer to this question–and I do wonder somewhat at its status as a question and not a rhetorical jab–is whether those sins are being repented of or not. That’s probably the biggest and major difference between them. Hopefully the teachers who are doing the “denouncing” are not falling afoul of Paul’s warning in Romans 2 against hypocritical condemnation. 

In the context of teaching, that means that if someone comes to them and corrects them on a point of doctrine and interpretation where they are wrong, then they will repent, turn from this teaching, and teach something else. So if they find out about a speck or a log, hopefully they’re plucking it out–even if it feels like taking an eye–in order that they might not lead any of Christ’s little ones astray.

Of course, that doesn’t settle the question entirely, because we’re still left with the issue of “who says?”

But this is where I have to admit I’m just a bit puzzled over all the questions in general. For taken together they are essentially the question of Protestantism, Scripture, and ecclesial authority. They’re real questions, mind you. (And if you don’t mind, here’s a shameless plug for my advisor’s new book on just that issue!) But they’re not new by a long shot. I have a suspicion it’s mainly the pastoral difficulty of the presenting issue (sexual practice) that makes it seem very different and tempts us to pose them that way.

Warning Brothers Who Teach Falsely Against Becoming False Teachers

Now, I have been talking as if I am very strong and rigid and clear on all of this. In practice, I’m not really. I have friends and acquaintances that I love talking to and engaging who believe all sorts of things I disagree with–heresies, false teaching, variances of opinions, etc. I’m not very interested in running around and labeling them heretics, cutting them off, or wagging my finger at them. I like getting along and I haven’t found that waving a big stick is all that effective in conversation anyways. (Though, a good scrap from time to time…) 

I too am skittish about drawing a straight line between someone teaching something false and calling them a “false teacher” in an absolute sense–as if that is the determinative judgment upon them for now and into eternity. I’m reminded of the fact that Abraham Kuyper was once a resurrection-denying heretic in school and that gives me pause. It also gives me hope to patiently pray, argue, and engage with people I have profound disagreements with on serious issues. 

That said, my question for Jacobs is whether it’s possible for us to look our friends in the eye, the ones we honestly believe love Jesus deeply, and say, “Look, I’m not calling you a false teacher, but what you are teaching is false–dangerously so. And if you persist, if continue down this course, instructing others in this way, you will indeed be a false teacher. And that is a heavy thing for which God will hold you eventually accountable. This is not simply an ‘agree to disagree’ issue.” (Incidentally, that’s part of what was at issue in ETS having a panel that, intentionally or not, functionally treated the issue of same-sex relationships as if it was in that category.)

I think we have to be able to say something like this warning to our friends who are teachers, or we ignore the weight of the warnings against false teaching in Scripture. One text I have been thinking of is Romans 1. Not verses 26-28, but verse 32 which follows the broader vice list condemning the Gentiles, not only for practicing all the vices listed, but precisely because they “give approval to those who practice them.” It is against such things that Paul says the wrath of God is being revealed. 

Or again, I think of Galatians 2, a text which Jacobs rightly raises in his first post. He uses the example of Paul confronting Peter as an example of lovingly confronting someone in deep error, not walking in conformity with the gospel, but yet confronting him as a brother. I want to say that’s a good word and an excellent example.

But what I wonder about is what would have happened had Peter persisted in that error and enabled the Judaizers to mislead the sheep? What if Peter continued to refuse fellowship with the Gentiles even if only for fear of the Judaizers and not even agreement? Do we not think Paul would have eventually looked at him and said, “You are falling under the anathema of God for denying the Gospel and giving place to those who do” (Gal. 1:8-9)?

Those are the questions I’d be curious to see Jacobs answer. Indeed, they’re the questions all of us with teaching voices in the Church will eventually have to answer.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mere Fidelity: The Election and So Forth

Mere FiWe decided it was a good idea to talk about the Election and what it means. We had the full cast and crew for this one to talk about our reactions,the implications for the church in North American, Evangelical witness, as well as our responsibilities as Christians, disciples, neighbors, and so forth. We hope this will be a challenge and an encouragement. We know it was for us.

By the way, Alastair has written an absurd amount of analysis on the election.

Here are a few posts: 10 Sets of Questions to Ask Before Voting For Donald TrumpThe Social Crisis of Distrust and Untruth in America and EvangelicalismHow Social Justice Ideology Gave Us Donald TrumpFurther Thoughts: How Social Justice Ideology Fuels Racism and SexismA Crisis of Discourse—Part 1: Cracks in the Progressive Left, and A Crisis of Discourse—Part 2: A Problem of Gender.

Agree or disagree, there’s always plenty to think about with Roberts.

Well, here it is.

Soli Deo Gloria