Monthly Archives: August 2009

Does Boston offer proof of a Covenant of Works at Sinai (2)

Continuing my interaction with Boston, his second argument is as follows:

2. The nature of the covenant of works is most expressly in the New Testament brought in, propounded, and explained from the Mosaical dispensation. The commands of it from Exod. xx. by our blessed Saviour, Matt. xix. 17-19, “If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery,” &c. The promise of it, Rom. x. 5, “Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them.” The commands and promises of it together, see Luke x. 25-28. The terrible sanction of it, Gal. iii. 10. For it is written, (viz: Deut. xxvii. 26,) “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

But the ten commandments are never propounded as a system by which one may attain salvation if one provides perfect and perpetual obedience.  Rather, they are the way of faith, the path of new obedience with the Covenant of Grace requires.  This is certainly true of the way Jesus used the Decalogue for the young man in Matthew 19.17-19 and in Luke 18.18-30.  In Romans 10.5, Paul is not contrasting the Gospel with Moses, but proving that the Gospel is the fulfillment of Moses.  Here is the passage in context:

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 And the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Emphasis added).

Now, notice I corrected the ESV’s mistranslation.  The conjunction here can be interpreted as either.  But on Boston’s reading, the Israelites were not guilty of pursuing the Mosaic Law by faith “but as if it were based on works.”  No, according to Boston it really was based on works.  That is the whole method of turning the Decalogue into a covenant of works in contrast to the Westminster Standards which teach that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace.  Romans 9.32 is turned on its head.

(Of course, it is simply not the case that Paul’s concern for “works” here is directly related to merit theology or the claim of perfect obedience.  Error compounds error.  But there is no need to get into that.)

Paul in fact, uses the decalogue and its rewards not as the basis for a hypothetical covenant of works, but as the way of faith for Christians leading to a reward.

In fact, in every case, Boston’s evidence relies on an impossible reading of his texts in order to reach a pre-ordained conclusion.  His mention of the “terrible sanction” is especially bizarre.  For consider what the author of Hebrews writes:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10.26-31).

If Boston followed his interpretation consistently (which he never did, thankfully) he would be forced to teach that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is a super-severe Covenant of Works.  That would be ridiculous.

John Piper pushes for a more Biblical understanding of the order and parts of salvation

Glorification Now? :: Desiring God.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me it would be excellent if the Reformed tradition (i.e the grammatical customs preserved by those who call themselves “Reformed”) reformed themselves to conform more closely to Pauline speech.

Right now, the term “sanctified” is only used for changes relating to sin.  I become less sin-prone means I become more sanctified.  But the change that Jesus wroughts in believers by His Spirit, involves transformation that goes beyond the issue of sin.  The author of Hebrews uses Jesus as a model for believers and says that Jesus himself learned obedience through suffering.  Saying that Jesus had to be sanctified throughout life is impossible.  But if we used the “glorification” we could include sanctification in the case of sinners and yet see Jesus as a model and pioneer.

Excellent post.  Go read it.

Really fine line, but it still excludes

Asked a PCA pastor friend when he became a Christian. He was raised in a relatively non-religious home and became more aware as a believer in Jesus later in life. But he was baptized as an infant and the first words from his mouth were, “Well I became a Christian when I was baptized.” He said them like he was happy to have the opportunity to do so.

Then he spent a few minutes explaining what was wrong with “Federal Vision.” It was like a man condemning gluttony with his mouth full–and defining as a few more calories and a few fewer fat grams than his own diet.

J. S. Bach

I finished this book awhile ago.  It was quite readable and appropriately brief.  Bach was a superior musician who knew he was superior and was usually at the mercy of people who didn’t know enough to appreciate him.  He didn’t always respond well to such circumstances, and when he was younger probably caused himself some trouble.

I found it interesting that the book mentioned two authorities Bach had to wrangle with who opposed his musical and educational efforts.

The first was a “pietist” pastor–the continental version of a Puritan.  He was suspicious and hostile to exceptional music in church.  (To the extent that such artistry got in the way of congregational participation, I could be sympathetic to this, but I don’t think that was his issue.)  The second was an enlightenment-oriented school master, who thought that music was a waste of time and that education should be focused on science and economically productive skills.

I can’t help but suspect that what these two people had in common reveals something important about Puritanism, the Enlightenment, and the surpising roots and fruits of secularism.

In those days, when there was no king in Israel,

a certain Levite was sojourning in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, who took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. And his concubine was unfaithful to him, and she went away from him to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband arose and went after her, to speak kindly to her and bring her back. He had with him his servant and a couple of donkeys. And she brought him into her father’s house. And when the girl’s father saw him, he came with joy to meet him. And his father-in-law, the girl’s father, made him stay, and he remained with him three days. So they ate and drank and spent the night there. And on the fourth day they arose early in the morning, and he prepared to go, but the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, “Strengthen your heart with a morsel of bread, and after that you may go.” So the two of them sat and ate and drank together. And the girl’s father said to the man, “Be pleased to spend the night, and let your heart be merry.” And when the man rose up to go, his father-in-law pressed him, till he spent the night there again. And on the fifth day he arose early in the morning to depart. And the girl’s father said, “Strengthen your heart and wait until the day declines.” So they ate, both of them. And when the man and his concubine and his servant rose up to depart, his father-in-law, the girl’s father, said to him, “Behold, now the day has waned toward evening. Please, spend the night. Behold, the day draws to its close. Lodge here and let your heart be merry, and tomorrow you shall arise early in the morning for your journey, and go home.”

But the man would not spend the night. He rose up and departed and arrived opposite the place of the Evangelicals (that is, the Arminians and/or Baptists). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. When they were near the place of the Evangelicals, the day was nearly over, and the servant said to his master, “Come now, let us turn aside to this city of the Evangelicals and spend the night in it.” And his master said to him, “We will not turn aside into the city of non-Calvinists, who do not belong to the people of Presbyterians, but we will pass on to the conservative Presbyterian or Reformed denominations.” And he said to his young man, “Come and let us draw near to one of these places and spend the night at the sanctuary of confessional Presbyterians or continental Reformed.” So they passed on and went their way. And the sun went down on them near Gibeah, which belongs to Benjamin…

Trade is embedded in God

The fundamental fact of reality is God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God could have decided not to make the world. He could have chosen to simply remain “alone.” But there is no possible world in which God does not exist as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are a community of love. They are always such a community. They always will be.

So, even though they could have created the world in many different ways, they would never consider creating a world that didn’t reflect that fundamental reality—their social nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When the human race is created in God’s image, the Bible makes it clear that the Divine image is related not only to each individual man or woman, but also to a human family or community:

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

This would lead us to expect that Trinitarian relationships are the model for social relationships. We can hardly avoid this conclusion for parents and children when we worship and read about Father and Son. But also we find it for wives and husbands: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (First Corinthians 11.3).

One way the Apostle Paul exhorts Christians in marriage is to recognize a mutual dependence or interdependence. He tells the husband, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…” (Ephesians 5.28, 29). That “body” solidarity is also invoked by Paul to describe relationships in the Church (First Corinthians 12).   The church is one body so that all the members of the Church, like the organs or parts of a living body, all contribute to the good of the rest.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (First Corinthians 12.14-26).

But what about relationships that are less intimate? What about the insurance salesman or the cashier at your local grocery store? How do those relationships model on the Trinity? Even though the word “relationship” can seemed stretched by applying it to strangers whom you only know through transactions, there still seems a way in which the word applies and the Trinity applies as a model. Jesus pointed to a fundamental way in which the persons of the Trinity relate to one another: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17.1). This passage appears related to many others about mutual glorification that takes place in the Trinity The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a mutual interchange. It seems to work very much in the same way the Church functions as a body with diverse members according to First Corinthians 12.14-26). Indeed, Augustine of Hippos saw this in the Holy Spirit, of which he wrote:

But the relation is not itself apparent in that name, but it is apparent when He is called the gift of God; for He is the gift of the Father and of the Son, because “He proceeds from the Father,” as the Lord says; and because that which the apostle says, “Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His,” he says certainly of the Holy Spirit Himself. When we say, therefore, the gift of the giver, and the giver of the gift, we speak in both cases relatively in reciprocal reference. Therefore the Holy Spirit is a certain unutterable communion of the Father and the Son; and on that account, perhaps, He is so called, because the same name is suitable to both the Father and the Son. For He Himself is called specially that which they are called in common; because both the Father is a spirit and the Son a spirit, both the Father is holy and the Son holy. In order, therefore, that the communion of both may be signified from a name which is suitable to both, the Holy Spirit is called the gift of both (The Trinity, Book 5, Chapter 11).

Augustine correctly sees that the “gift of the Spirit” given from God to the Church is a reflection of the eternal reality that the Spirit is given by the Son to the Father and vice versa. They are in an eternal interchange of love. Humanity, made in God’s image, is created and then redeemed to reflect this in human relationships.

What is an intimate and relatively unquantifiable interchange in intimate human relationships (husband and wife) translates to exchange among those relationships that are not so intimate. None of us are independent. We need one another and we help sustain each other through mutual cooperation in trading or exchanging goods. God made us to be this way.

How wide is the anarchist principle?

The definition in the preface of Chrispin Sartwell’s Against the State seems surprisingly soft to me. “By anarchism I refer to the view that all forms of human association ought to be, as far as possible, voluntary.”  Wouldn’t any minarchist say the same?  Or even a social democrat?  I doubt this statement rules out neocons.

I look forward to reading more of the argument.

But it also strikes me that there is no reason why what is possibly voluntary would remain constant in all human history and in all situations.  This reminds me of the situation in Judges where there is no tax-supported offices that constitute a unified civil society.  But in times of war, while there is no ordinary conscription, towns that refused to help liberate their brothers could be attacked.  A non-voluntary state, if you will, assembled and then dis-assembled as the situation demanded.

5 books every Anglo-American Evangelical Reformed Bookworm should read

OK, the rather lengthy title is there for a reason.

First an apology: I don’t mean to be sectarian.  Ideally the subject matter of these books should be grasped by every Christian, period.  But most of them are written to a certain audience and make certain assumptions about them.  So I’m trying to aim these books were I think they would be best received. [Similar apology for “Anglo-American.”]

I do mean to include “Reformed Baptists,” by the way.  “Calvinism” is spreading relatively rapidly among Bible-believing Christians, from what I hear (I’m not going to take the time to link the news reports).  I think these five books are the ones they all need to read.  I started thinking about this blog with two in mind, but realized a few more were necessary.  Still, I also tried to keep the list as short as possible.  There are other books that would be helpful, but these I consider the minimal core and also to be “primary sources” in what they communicate.

Finally, why am I addressing “bookworms”?  Because that is a more honest and helpful designation than the self-serving term currently in vogue: theologians.  Has there ever been a more casually arrogant word than “theologian” among Christian laymen?  We have somehow trained productive people who actually have better things to do with their lives than read lots of books, pontificate, and argue, to diminish themselves before the exalted label.

I hear people say, “He’s no theologian but he’s a godly man.”  What does this mean?  Typically, one or more of the following:

  • He is no longer a college student.
  • He has a real job that takes up his time and concentration.
  • He doesn’t blog.
  • He doesn’t start arguments in chat rooms.
  • He doesn’t read a lot of theological books (just as Solomon would advise).

I guess what has happened is that respect for the calling of pastor (good thing) has generated a lay-custom of imitating some visible (and very sedentary) aspects of that calling.  But in my opinion this doesn’t work.  And it actually leads to disrespect since everyone starts thinking they can do it too, as a hobby.  Pastors are not paid hobbyists.

But I pass no judgment on bookworms.  There are worse things to be.  The main issue I have is that a bookworm who reads theology not think he is a better bookworm than the one who reads Stephen King.

But if you are one, and want to read important theological books.  Here is the list:

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