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By In Theology

Apostasy Happens … Slowly

Apostasy happens. Various schools of thought within the church have different explanations concerning the nature of apostasy, but the fact that it happens is undeniable. Judas, chosen by Jesus himself to be an apostle, is the paragon of apostasy. The ability to apostatize from the faith is assumed in Jesus’s exhortations in John 15 for the disciples to continue to abide in him. Jesus also alluded to apostasy in his parable of the soils when he spoke of those who receive the word of the kingdom with joy, endure for a while, but then fall away when tribulation and persecution come (Matt 13.20-21). The writer of Hebrews assumes the ability of apostasy when he exhorts the Jewish Christians not to do so throughout his letter. The possibility of apostasy also undergirds Paul’s exhortation to the Gentiles in Romans 11 not to be proud but fear, for if God did not spare the natural branches (i.e., the Jews), neither will he spare them.

Apostasy happens. Explain it however you will, but it happens. There are people who are a part of the people of God, people who may even be excited about their faith (as in Jesus’s parable), but as time passes they become the enemies of Christ. They forsake the faith and are the objects of God’s wrath. (more…)

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By In Theology

Jesus’ Baptism And Ours

If we would not be too proud to admit it, many of us American Protestants are scared of water. Whenever people start talking about what happens in baptism instead of what doesn’t happen in baptism, many of us start twisting in our seats. Images of superstitious priest-craft and mechanical guarantees of salvation start to swirl through our heads, and we have violent reactions like any good Protestant.

Some of us have seen people presume upon God because they have been baptized. That kind of abuse of baptism has caused us to go to the opposite extreme and reject any effect of baptism at all. Besides that, we know that God wouldn’t use water on our bodies to do anything substantive in regards to our salvation. That all happens directly by the Holy Spirit without any sort of means. (more…)

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By In Theology

God’s Chief End For Man: Glorification

What is God’s chief end for man? To glorify man and enjoy him forever. This is not quite the catechism question we are used to hearing, but it is just as true as the one with which we are familiar. God created man for glory, and he himself would bestow that glory on the man. In the incarnation of the eternal Word we see God’s intention for man realized: glorified flesh. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1.14) We behold the glory of God in flesh, the flesh of man.

The Hebrew word for “glory” speaks about something that is weighty. Glory is heavy. Glory is the regal robe and crown of the king that sits heavy on his body making him a sight to behold while also reminding him of the weightiness of his responsibility. Glory is the vestments of the high priest in Israel by which he reflects the beauty of God and his people while also carrying the tremendous responsibility to God and for his people. Wherever God adds weight to our lives through privilege and responsibility, he is glorifying us. (more…)

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By In Politics, Theology

The Birth of the King

Every Christmas our thoughts are (rightfully) turned toward the babe in the manger who is the incarnate, eternal Word. We see scenes of that event in nativities set up in various places. Churches across our land tell the story again and again in plays and musicals. It can be a very emotional and even sentimental time; a time to recall those special times of childhood and evoke those nostalgic memories of yesteryear. This is the time of friends, family, and festivities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things (indeed, many of these blessings are the result of what Christ accomplished), the first Christmas was not viewed by many the same way as many view it today. (more…)

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By In Culture, Theology

Family Matters

“Peace on earth.” This was the proclamation of the angels when they announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds (Luke 2.14). “Peace on earth.” The promise of salvation in the Christ was not escape from the earth, but rather its rescue from the bondage of sin and its rearrangement under the lordship of Jesus. The eternal Son became a man, not so that we could leave this earth, but so that the earth would become everything that God intended it to become.

Creation matters to God. The way he created the world and his purposes for the world have not been abandoned with the incarnation. In the incarnation of the eternal Son, God has affirmed his love for the creation and his purposes for it. Creation is not being abandoned but rescued and glorified. (more…)

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By In Theology

Patient Reading

We Americans tend to be an impatient lot. (I’m sure other cultures have their own problems with impatience, but I am writing as an American.) Patiently waiting for things is practically a thing of the past. If I want to know something, I can simply talk to my phone, and I will get a million possible answers in .34 seconds. If I want something, I need only tap a few things on a screen and, sometimes, by the end of the day, I can have it. I need … I want … answers fast. Who has time anymore to wait on things with all of our time-saving mechanisms?

Then we come to the Bible. The Bible is an ancient book with laws concerning white hairs growing out of sores, where you may and may not defecate, and how to deal with goring oxen. There are odd stories about an axe head floating, a man being swallowed by a great fish, and some guy name Jacob being touched on his thigh so that he walked with a limp the rest of his life (therefore, “the children of Israel do not eat the muscle that shrank, which is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip in the muscle that shrank.” Gen 32.32). You come to the New Testament letters and there is a quite a bit about Jews and Gentiles and their relationships with one another. What use is all of this stuff? (more…)

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By In Theology

Wordless Gospel Proclamation

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor words;
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19.1-4)

If you will but look up, you can see the glory of God; his beauty, wisdom, and power. As the sun takes its path through sky, as the constellations proclaim the times of the year, and as we are overwhelmed by the vastness and beauty of the sky (or what the Bible calls “the firmament” or “the heavens”), the creation itself is wordlessly proclaiming to all the inhabitants of the world the truth about the God who created all things.

In theological parlance this is called “natural” or “general revelation.” General revelation is distinct from “special revelation.” Special revelation is God revealing himself in the Scriptures and ultimately in Christ Jesus. We need special revelation in order to be saved. Paul makes it clear in the beginning of Romans that general revelation is enough to reveal the truth about God but not enough to save (Rom 1.19-23). General revelation is enough revelation to condemn but not enough to save.

Psalm 19 is a classic passage used to speak about the distinction between general revelation and special revelation. In the first part of the Psalm, David sings of how the creation wordlessly proclaims the glory of God. Then, in the latter part of the Psalm, he turns his attention to extolling the special revelation of God’s Law.

In what seems to be an odd move, Paul uses Psalm 19.4 in Romans 10.18 to refute any arguments that the Jews haven’t heard the gospel. “But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for ‘Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.’”

Is Paul contradicting what he said in the opening of his letter? Is he now saying, “Well, general revelation really does preach the gospel?” I don’t think so.

Within this little section of Romans (10.14-21), Paul refers to a number of different passages in Isaiah. All of these passages deal within their contexts with how God is making a new creation through his Suffering Servant. Paul’s argument is that this new creation has begun and is embodied in Christ Jesus. The Jews as well as the Gentiles can see this new creation in the church. And that is where Psalm 19 comes in.

While there is no doubt Psalm 19 sings of the literal creation of firmament, sun, moon, and stars, the firmament and all of the heavenly bodies are images of the people of God. God promised Abraham that his children would be like the stars of heaven (Gen 15.5; 22.17; 26.4). This was a promise, not only of the number of Abraham’s descendants, but of their position in the world. Just as the sun, moon, and stars were seated in the heavenly places to rule over the earth, determining times and seasons (Gen 1.14-19), so Abraham’s children would be seated in heavenly places, ruling the earth.

Joseph and Jacob certainly understood this relationship. When Joseph had a dream that the sun, moon, and eleven stars/constellations would bow down to his constellation, Jacob replied, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” (Gen 37.10) Joseph and Jacob understood that they were the heavenly bodies who ruled the earth.

What is happening after Christ comes is a firmament rearrangement. The Gentiles are now being seated as stars in accordance with the promise to Abraham that all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen 12.1-3). The Jews are seeing this new firmament arrangement in the church. New relationships are being created. The old walls of separation have been broken down (Eph 2.11-22). Now, in Christ, we are all seated in heavenly places (Eph 1.20; 2.6).

Paul’s use of Psalm 19.4 is, I believe, a reference to this new situation. The Jews are hearing the wordless proclamation of the gospel by looking at the church and its new Jew-Gentile make-up. By this proclamation they are being summonsed by the King and his ambassadors to whole-hearted allegiance to Jesus as Lord; a summons that includes being a part of this renovated family of God.

The proclamation of the gospel by means of the spoken word is indispensable to the gospel ministry. People must hear of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. They must hear how their sins can be forgiven and how they can have true life.

But the spoken word must never stand alone. The church must wordlessly proclaim the gospel in the way we live our live together. People must see how we love one another. People must see how we live in healthy male-female relationships. People must see how we deal with sin appropriately. People must see how broken lives are being mended. In short, we heavenly bodies must proclaim the glory of God–his beauty, wisdom, and power–in our lives together. Only as we do this are we faithful ministers of the gospel.

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