Showing posts with label Galatians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Galatians. Show all posts

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Called to Freedom (A Meditation for Ordinary Time, Proper 8)




Called to Freedom 
(A Meditation for Ordinary Time, Proper 8, Year C, II)
Galatians 5:1, 13-25





Virtually every aspect of life among ancient cultures in biblical times was centered around a nation's own temple and it's god. All people of all ancient nations thought this way.

To have communion with the gods, so it was thought, you needed a house for your God to dwell in. And once your God had taken up residency among you and your people, it claimed that territory as its own, and it claimed ownership of everyone within it. Your God reigned as lord over your tribal territory, and even over your household. And if you wanted to stay in the land your god gave you, if you wanted favorable provisions in life from the hand of your god, you needed to become its household slave.  Being a slave of a king or a god wasn't a bad thing, by the way. It was, in fact, a highly privileged position to be in.

But just because your god dwelled among you and your people, that did not mean everyone else around you or your people had direct access to your god. In order for your neighbors to have access to this special relationship with your god, they needed to submit to the laws of their temple, which were the laws of their gods. The laws of their gods were the sacramental tapestry holding all of ancient social order together. 

This is the background of the "slavery" imagery which Paul uses throughout his letter to the Galatian Christians, except here, in chapter 5, we learn that there is one catch to Paul's rhetoric: with the coming of Israel's messiah, Jesus Christ had set all Christians free from such slavery.

Another important bit of background information worth remembering is that when Paul writes to the Galatian Christians, he is condemning specific types of "false-brothers" secretly planted among them, who are trying to take away their liberty in Christ (2:4). Paul is not condemning obedience to "laws" or "commandments" in the abstract. Paul is only condemning the patterns of life exhibited by such "false-brothers" who want to enslave Christians under the Law taught in Judaism (of which he, Paul, used to be an "advanced" and zealous advocate; 1:13-14). The "false-brothers" of Judaism were those who had fellowship with Christians but still insisted upon life under the law taught within Judaism, the law which centralized the liturgical and social structures of the old covenant temple, and separated Jews and Gentiles (and others) from direct access to God. 

Paul condemns the law under first century Judaism, not because the old covenant law per se was intrinsically "bad," but because of two other significant reasons. First, Paul condemned the law under Judaism because in the first century, the application of God's "Law" had become incredibly corrupt, abusive, and manipulative—and all for the sake of building up an empire lead by corrupt Jewish authorities, whom Jesus also condemned. Secondarily, Paul condemns the law under Judaism because Jesus came and replaced that first century Jewish temple with the temple of his body, making all of God's laws fulfilled and centralized in Christ's Body.

So when Paul spoke of Christ "freeing" the Galatian Christians "for the sake of freedom," telling them to submit to Christ and not to a yoke of slavery, his concern was very specific. Certain Jews had crept into the Christian church masquerading as disciples of God, but instead of promoting the work of God's Spirit in building his new temple, they were persuading Gentiles to enslave themselves to the old covenant temple and the laws of Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. They taught that in order to be a slave of God's house—which, again, was a highly privileged position to be in—you had to yoke yourself to the whole system of Jewish Law, which was centralized in their temple within Jerusalem.

In other words, the desire of these "false-brothers" was to make disciples of Judaism, not disciples of Jesus. Keep in mind, also,  that it was John the Baptist and Jesus who first spoke out about the corruption of Judaism and God's condemnation of their entire religious system. First century Judaism, as Paul understood best, was a yoke of slavery requiring obedience to uniquely Jewish laws as an entrance point into life and communion with God. But when God came down to earth in flesh and lived among men in the flesh, that changed everything about the relationship between God and men. That crossed a temple boundary enshrined in law which had never been crossed before in ancient history. Through faith in Jesus, Paul knew that the "false-brothers" of the Christian churches were deadly wrong in their understanding of communion with God, and any committed, first century disciple of Judaism was doomed to destruction along with the destruction of their temple (which was destroyed in 70ad). The whole sacramental fabric of Judaism's social order was doomed to die in 70ad via the prophecies of Jesus reaching their fulfillment. Life under the temple-centered mindset of Judaism was of "the flesh," Paul says, and that "lust of the flesh" brings death. Only the Jesus-centered desire of the Christianity was of the Spirit, producing life.

With all of this in mind, it's important to understand why Paul emphasizes "living by the Spirit" in contrast with living "under law." 

Did Paul mean to teach his Christian disciples that the law of God had now become obsolete—that the law of God is no longer a lamp unto our feet and a light for the path they walk on?

I think that if we are studying the letter to Galatians carefully, it's clear that for Paul the Law of God itself as a whole had not become obsolete. It's temple and God's covenant in relation with that temple had become obsolete, but not the law of God itself. Rather, Paul insists, the Law of God is fulfilled in Christ and his body. In Christ, God's Law had become the Wisdom and Spirit of God personified. 

Note carefully how this is evident by what Paul says in verses 13-14: 
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be slaves to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

In these two verses, Paul not only quotes a portion of God's Law word for word to endorse Christian love (Lev. 19:18), but he seems obligated to reveal such an objective standard for love because it is already well-known that the whole law has been fulfilled in Christ and his Body. Paul's exhortation to love one another would be meaningless if the whole law was not fulfilled by Christians. You shall love your neighbor as yourself, Paul says. You fulfill the whole law, Paul says. And in context, Paul seems to be saying that they ought to do so by the Spirit of the Law, just as Jesus did, and not merely the letter of the Law, as the false-brothers of Judaism did. 

Therefore, it can be safely asserted that Jesus fulfilled the law for us so that we might walk in him, fulfilling the Spirit of the Law to serve one another.

It is precisely because Christ has fulfilled the law that the church also shares in active fulfillment of God's law as well. But Christians ought not to do so by reconstructing society according to the letter of the law. That's what Judaizers did! The Judaizers could not grasp the idea of Jesus replacing their temple in Jerusalem. The holy city of Jerusalem, and it's temple sanctuary was mistakenly believed to be central to their identity with the living and true God, instead of Jesus being central. Likewise, many Christians today mistakenly centralize the Church in their own particular denomination instead of in Christ alone. Even worse, many Christians today have gone beyond the sin of first century Judaism by centralizing themselves individually as the temple of God, instead of committing to the health and well-being of the local, visible church. If you've ever heard a professing Christian say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious," you know what I'm talking about. The fundamental danger of that kind of reasoning is that the life within Jesus' Body (i.e. the baptized body, the Church) is not believed to be integral or necessary for life with Jesus himself. But that's like separating the head (Jesus) and a finger (one's self) from the rest of it's body (the visible, baptized body), and claiming that the finger can live perfectly healthy severed from the body as long as it knows the "head" (Jesus) it belongs with. But life in Christ is more than mere personal belonging to Jesus. It is a mutual belonging and indwelling of all members of the body, including it's head.

So how is it that we, the Church, can actively fulfill the whole law of God, as Paul commends here in Galatians?

Well, as a starting point, I suggest that when Christians today look back at the Law of God in such places like Leviticus 19, we should do our best not to reconstruct that exact system and its relationship to the temple of Jerusalem. Sadly, that is what most fundamentalists today desire (shown most explicitly among dispensational fundamentalists). Instead, Christians today should want to build up the body of Christ—the new covenant temple—with the Spirit of God's Law. Christians are fools if they go to God's law as a blueprint for reconstructing a Christless society. Instead, Christians ought go to God's Law to find Christ in it and to retrieve the fruits of his Spirit taught within it. If God's Law is not used by Christians to construct a Christlike culture, then whatever culture God is building through them cannot and will not ever be godly. Our American Christian culture is suffering greatly today, not because it needs God's law or because it is opposed to God's Law. It suffers because it lacks the Spirit of God's Law.

As the Spirit of God's law in Leviticus 19 teaches us, Christians have a responsibility before Christ to provide for the poor from their own fields. Christians ought not to steal or deal falsely with one another, or lie to each other, tearing apart the social fabric of godly integrity. Moreover, the Spirit of the Law teaches us that we ought not oppress our neighbor, or even rob them by withholding or delaying the wages they worked for—wages Christian employers might owe them. The Spirit of the Law teaches us to care for and treat those who are disabled exceptionally well. They are not to be treated as outcasts, because in Christ they are loved. The Spirit of the Law teaches that we ought to judge justly in civil matters. We ought to avoid the slander of our neighbors, not hating our brothers in the heart, but rather reasoning frankly with them, and not taking vengeance against them or bearing a grudge. Not only is that what the Spirit of Leviticus 19 teaches, but that is also what the Spirit of Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-26, 33-42). The Sermon on the Mount is what living by the Spirit of Leviticus 19 looks like—it looks like the Law of the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ and the commandments he gave.

One last thing about Paul's letter to the Galatians is worth noting carefully.

Remember, Paul has the Judaizers of Galatia in mind when he quotes a portion of God's law as a standard for the whole of Christian love. Paul is not opposed to a Christian transfiguration of God's Law, because it is Christ-centered; and because it is Christ-centered, it is also Christian-Church centered. Paul (just as much as Jesus) was opposed to the way the Judaizing system of God's "Law" promoted "legal" corruption and wicked behavior, contrary to the works of God's Spirit. Throughout Paul's letter he describes the disciples of Judaism as "fleshly" and deadly, not spiritual and alive.

This is why, toward the end of the letter which we read, Paul gives a long list of unspiritual, ungodly behavior. The works of "the flesh" are found in Gal. 5:19—21. Interestingly, God's Law has something to say about all of those behavioral categories, and the Spirit of God's Law condemns and transfigures such behavior. For, Paul says, those who belong to Christ Jesus have "crucified the flesh" with such lusts and passions (5:24).

Instead of standing condemned by God's Law, the Spirit of God's law revives us, granting Christians the liberty to produce the fruits of God's Spirit. What are those fruits? Galatians 5:22—23 provides a list for us. Yet notice carefully, again, how Paul concludes his list of Spiritual fruits. He says that against such Spiritually fruitful behavior "there is no law."

What Law is Paul referring to? I would contend (along with many other Christians in history) that Paul is referring to the very well-known law—the same Law that condemned the listed "fleshly" behavior in the previous three verses. From this, we can conclude that there is no law of God which stands against the fruitful behavior of Christ's Spirit within a believer. And if we behave by the Spirit, we are not merely obeying laws of God, as those of first century Judaism who did so to build up their own tribe. Instead, the Spirit of God gives us liberty to fulfill God's Law in various ways. And as the Church is filled-full with the Spirit of God's Law, the world grows into what God wants His Temple to look like. It looks godly. It looks like our God and our King, Jesus.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



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Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of the Spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.






Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Church as Lone Prophet (A Meditation for Ordinary Time)

The Church as Lone Prophet
A Meditation for Ordinary Time (Proper 7, Year C, II)
I Kings 19:1-15
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39


In 1st Kings chapter 18, we learn that the wicked king of Israel, Abab, has hunted down all the prophets of YHWH in an attempt to remove their influence throughout the land. And just before our reading today, he summoned all of Israel and all of their prophets to defeat the Lord's last prophet, along with his "God" on Mount Carmel. At this point in the story, it's all the prophets of Baal versus one prophet, Elijah, the lone prophet of YHWH. Elijah, again, is outnumbered. The odds seem to be completely against him. But as we soon learn, just one lone prophet with the Lord on his side, is greater than the world that opposes him. 


You all know the story. In the end, the prophets of Baal cannot summon their gods to rain down fire from heaven. The Baal worshipers make fools out of themselves all day long, and at the end of the day Elijah prays to the Lord one time, and the Lord answers him. The Lord answers by raining fire down from heaven, and Elijah's God—the living and true God—wins. And when all the people saw the Lord answer Elijah's prayer, they fell on their faces confessing that YHWH is God (1 Kings 18:38-39).

Because of Elijah's loyal and loving faithfulness to the Lord, by the end of chapter 18, it looks as though the dawn of Israel's redemption seems very near. We finally see a glimmer of hope in the story, where the Lord seems to be turning the idolatrous house of Ahab, and the corrupt hearts of Israel, back to Himself. But as soon as we turn the page and enter chapter 19—which is our reading for today—we hit a major road block. Apparently Elijah's loyalty to YHWH didn't stop all of the leaders of Israel. Jezebel, the queen, was particularly upset with his victory. And instead of turning to the Lord, the leaders of Israel follow Jezebel's reaction against Elijah's faithfulness by threatening and conspiring to kill this last, lone prophet of YHWH. For those familiar with the history of the powerful nations surrounding Israel, reactions of these sorts are expected from enemies. (Similar reactions occurred with later prophets as well, like John the Baptist and even Jesus himself.) In Elijah's day, Israel had become another powerful empire of its own, just as corrupt as the surround ungodly empires.

Even Paul, when writing to the Galatians, was prepared for the hostile reactions of Judaizers who were breathing threats against him and against his gospel. The Judaizers painted Paul's gospel as a threat to the Faith, yet Paul faithfully and lovingly urged the Galatian Christians to follow his example, obeying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and not another gospel.

Like Elijah and Paul, the Church is called to be a prophetic witness sent out ("apostled") to the nations. As such, the calling of the Church is to love and serve the Lord through all threats against Him and against His anointed ones. In doing so, the Lord's victory over the idols of every generation becomes obvious to all. But that isn't to say that such faithful witnessing is always easy or even comfortable. It can be incredibly intimidating and demanding at times as well.

Like Elijah fleeing into the wilderness and lying down in despair under a tree to die (1 Kings 19:5), at times we—the Church—will exhaust ourselves through various trials, and will even want to lie down and accept defeat at times, too. But the witness of Holy Scripture reminds us that the Lord is faithful to those who remain jealous for Him. He is faithful to those who trust and obey Him through the high mountain-top victories and low valleys of wilderness wandering—quite literally through life and death. As we see vividly in the Elijah narrative, just when the feelings of defeat and death set in, the Lord resurrects hope within, visiting them with food and drink to endure their long journey (1Kings 19:5-8).

The gospel of our Scripture readings today could not be more clear: In the midst of despair, when most people follow the "Baals" of the land or simply reject the lordship of Jesus outright (as many of Israel did in Paul's day), the Lord does not forget His people. Instead, the Lord nourishes and raises up a remnant in the midst of a dry and thirsty land, to remind us that even when despair or depression or exhaustion has distorted our vision of God's love for this world, God has the situation under control. He has not stopped loving this world of His, even through its trials and judgments; nor has He forgotten His people through such judgments. Just as the lone prophets and apostles were God's means for preserving the Faith of Israel through judgment, so the ministry of the Church in Christ Jesus—the prophet and apostle of our confession (Heb 1:1-4; 3:1)—is God's means of saving the world.

As we learned in our gospel reading today, it is in Christ that each earthly house—whether it's the house of the Gerasenes, or Israel, or Baal—can flee from judgment, and can have its Legion of demons cast out. As the Church of Jesus Christ, we are sent out into the world to bear witness to that One who delivers his enemies from bondage to sin and calls them to proclaim how much God has done for them (Luke 8:39). Our calling might be difficult. It might be exhausting too. But when we get weary and weak because of our faithfulness, at least we know where rest and refreshment are found for our journey. It is here, in Christ's Church, that the weary are given rest, and the weak receive food and drink for every journey ahead.

It is in Christ Jesus that we, the Church, are all sons of God. For Paul says, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. In Christ we are now a new creation, so we ought to live like the new creation we are, living with gratitude, living with praise and adoration of Jesus Christ, living unashamedly as a prophetic witness of His lordship over all. It is in this Church united to Jesus Christ—this new Jerusalem which has already come down from heaven—that death is swallowed up in victory, and all things are being made new.

Believe that, and don't be ashamed to proclaim how much God has done and will continue doing for the world. And if you're ever feeling ready to throw in the towel, don't lean upon your own understanding. Rather, in all your ways acknowledge Jesus and He will direct your paths. He won't forsake you or anyone else who puts their trust in Him. So put your trust in Him. Lean on him. He wants you to, especially when you feel like a lone prophet in this world. He walks alongside you, directing the way you should go, so that you can put your trust in Him. Even if it's through death's darkest valley, don't fear any evil, for the Lord is with you. Let his rod and staff comfort you, for he walks with you, ready and willing to show the world that He is your Shepherd, and in Him you lack nothing. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.



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O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.







Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Tim Gallant, Paul's Travail: A Reintroduction to Galatians

Paul's Travail: A Reintroduction to Galatians

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a previous review of Gallant's book, These are Two Covenants, I gave a critical review, highlighting all of the pros and cons of that booklet. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this commentary considering that it builds off of the essays found in that booklet. Much to my surprise, Gallant's latest release, Paul's Travail: A Reintroduction to Galatians, not only clarified most of my concerns (see my review of These are Two Covenants), but he also presented a verse-by-verse pastoral approach through Galatians that is both scholarly, accessible, and unique. In this work, Gallant provides many valuable insights regarding this very important letter from Paul. He also provides many helpful user-friendly tools for the average reader, including a summary of the entire letter, a fresh translation of the entire letter, a chronological table of the events surrounding the letter, and a clear introduction to the hermeneutical method employed in this letter. In addition to all of this great material, Gallant also offers numerous articles in the appendices related to biblical theology and typology. Even though some people may consider the hermeneutics employed in this commentary as somewhat of a novelty, this is the kind of commentary which every pastor and teacher of Galatians should have because it is so thorough, scholarly, and accessible. It is definitely a relevant "reintroduction" to Galatians.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Moses and those on the outside



  The fact that Paul does not write about the law in all his letters to Gentile Christians indicates that circumcision and law became topics for discussion only when there was an external stimulus to do so. Thus the topic is discussed at length in only two letters--Galatians and Romans. On the basis of these two letters the incorrect impression later emerged that liberation from the curse of the law is at the center of Paul's gospel. But we must realize that the law was for the readers of these letters a topic they looked at from some distance. They had never lived under the law and were at most familiar with the special traditions the Jews observed on the basis of their Holy Scriptures. But Jewish traditions were not their traditions!
  It was radically different for the Jews: for them living according to the law was the natural expression of belonging to God's people. This people was characterized by a number of customs, of which circumcision, sabbath observance, and dietary laws are best known. When we read Josephus we do not get the impression that these customs were viewed as a means to justification; rather, they were understood as the hallmark and virtues of the people. Whoever wanted to belong to the God of Israel had to live as a fellow-citizen of Moses and the prophets. 
  It is important to note that the law looks very different from the Jewish than from the Gentile perspective. What for the Jews is self evident tradition, handed down from the forefathers, would be a new duty for Gentiles when they become Jews. In a sense the law of Moses is for outsiders primarily a law, for the Jews themselves a custom, a way of life. The law as obligation is not a theme because the law is so demanding and coercive, but rather because to every non-Jew the law looks like a precondition.
  At issue were not the monotheistic faith and its moral and ethical values that many God-fearing people admired and adopted. Rather, it was about the law as a closed system that included rites of passage, sacrificial customs, and dietary laws that often made it difficult for God-fearing non-Jews to become Jews. Viewed from the outside, it was possible to make a distinction between, on the one hand, beliefs and values that could easily be adopted and, on the other hand, specific customs that permeated daily life. From the inside no such distinction existed--the whole system of laws and customs was of one piece. That is why only the circumcised Gentile can be considered a believer, since the requirement of circumcision cannot be separated from the law as a whole. 
  In the letters to the Galatians and Romans Paul is forced to go into detail about the law as a whole because of the presence of the synagogue (in Rome) and the arrival of Jewish Christians (in Galatia). Thus the immediate cause for dealing with the topic is Jewish, but he does not write from a Jewish perspective. Rather, he writes from the context of those outside Judaism.1

1.  Jakob Van Bruggen, Paul: Pioneer for Israel's Messiah [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005], pp. 200-01  






Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fallen from God's favor, part 3






Continuing where we left this discussion a couple weeks ago (part one and two), John Calvin did not believe that the Scriptures described "election" and "adoption" in only one sense, even though many modern Calvinists use those terms in only one strict sense: the sense of God's eternal, predestined will for those who would be "regenerated" throughout history. Instead, John Calvin believed that in various places within Scripture we find a more "general election," a "common adoption," all of which fall under the rubric of a "common covenant" of grace. In this "common covenant" God makes people outwardly equal in receiving His mercy, favor, and status as His children. Commenting on Romans 9, Calvin writes:
There is no doubt that he has taken this from Moses, who declares that God would be merciful to whom he willed [Exodus 33:19], even though the statement concerned the chosen people, whose condition was outwardly equal, as if he had said that in common adoption is included in his presence a special grace toward some, like a more holy treasure; and that the common covenant does not prevent that small number from being set apart from the rank and file. Therefore Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi that I have just cited that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all [Romans 9:13].1


In other words, God "elects" or discriminately selects people out of the general world that stands condemned by their sin, and He graciously shows them favor by bringing them into a common covenant with Him, which can also be viewed as a common adoption into His family. This, according to Calvin, is how Paul sometimes speaks when discussing election. As I'll show in a moment, Calvin calls this general election. But Calvin contends that, according to Paul, this general election (i.e. this common covenant and adoption) does not automatically impart the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration, giving them the ability to please God in the things they do. Calvin continues:
It is easy to explain why the general election of a people is not always firm and effectual: to those with whom God makes a covenant, he does not at once give the spirit of regeneration that would enable them to persevere in the covenant to the very end. Rather, the outward change, without the working of inner grace, which might have availed to keep them, is intermediate between the rejection of mankind and the election of a meager number of the godly. The whole people of Israel has been called the "inheritance of God" yet many of them were foreigners. But because God has not pointlessly covenanted that he would become their Father and Redeemer, he sees to his freely given favor rather than to the many who treacherously desert him.2 


From this we can deduce that Calvin did not view the community of God's covenant people as elect and non-elect. Calvin viewed the covenant community as generally elect and specially elect.3 Actually to be more specific, Calvin explicitly calls this special mode of election, employed for a part of the generally elect, a "secret election." This he also describes as a "more limited degree" of general election. Calvin writes:
We must now add a second, more limited degree of election, or one in which God's more special grace was evidence, that is, when from the same race of Abraham God rejected some but showed that he kept others among his sons by cherishing them in the church. Ishmael had at first obtained equal rank with his brother Isaac, for in him the spiritual covenant had been equally sealed by the sign of circumcision, Ishmael is cut off; then Esau; afterward, a countless multitude, and well-nigh all Israel....By their own defect and guilt, I admit, Ishmael, Esau, and the like were cut off from adoption. For the condition had been laid down that they should faithfully keep God's covenant, which they faithlessly violated. So the answer may be divided into two parts --that God has by no means cast away the whole race of Abraham contrary to the tenor of his own covenant-- and that yet the fruit of adoption does not exist in all the children of the flesh, for secret election precedes.4
Elsewhere Calvin describes this "secret election" as eternal election:
We shall never be clearly persuaded, as we ought to be, that our salvation flows from the wellspring of God's free mercy until we come to know his eternal election, which illumines God's grace by this contrast: that he does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others. ...Ignorance of this principle greatly detracts from the glory of God, and diminishes true humility.5 


In other words, Calvin viewed secret election, the more limited degree of general election, as though it flowed from God's free election made from eternity past. Commenting elsewhere with regards to God's eternal and unchangeable plan, Calvin writes:
For the fact that God was continually gathering his Church from Abraham's children rather than from profane nations had its reason in his covenant, which, when violated by that multitude, he confined to a few that it might not utterly cease. In short, that adoption of Abraham's seed in common was a visible image of the greater benefit that God bestowed on some out of the many. That is why Paul so carefully distinguishes the children of Abraham according to the flesh from the spiritual children who have been called after the example of Isaac [Galatians 4:28]. Not that it was a vain and unprofitable thing simply to be a child of Abraham; such could not be said without dishonoring the covenant! No, God's unchangeable plan, by which he predestined for himself those whom he willed, was in fact intrinsically effectual unto salvation for these spiritual offspring alone.6 

And let's not forget that Calvin saw all of this as manifesting the gracious character of God. This view of Calvin couldn't be more clear than when he speaks as though all men are born sinful and in need of God's mercy and favor. Calvin comments:
What fellowship have we with God, when we are born and come out of the womb, except he graciously adopts us? For we bring nothing, we know, with us but a curse: this is the heritage of all mankind. Since it is so, all our salvation must necessarily have its foundation in the goodness and mercies of God.7

In the next (and final) post of this series, I will summarize all of these thoughts together. Stay tuned for the final part -- part 4.











1.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 216  Italics mine. 
2.  Ibid. pp. 216-7  Italics mine.
3.  Calvin distinguishes general and special election in numerous places in his commentaries, a few of which are his commentaries on Genesis 17:7, Deuteronomy 10:15-17, Ezekiel 16:21, and Matthew 15:24.
4.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the Development of Covenant Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001] p. 215  Italics mine.
5.  Ibid. p. 214  Italics mine. John Calvin, Institutes, Book 3, Chap. 21, sec. 1
6.  Ibid. p. 217  Italics mine.
7.  Ibid. p. 222






Friday, May 10, 2013

Fallen from God's favor



Last night I had a conversation with some good friends about meriting God's favor. In the end we all agreed that the language of "meriting" God's favor, even if it's being used in the narrow sense of pleasing God, is not wise in our current christian climate because it gives the impression that salvation can be earned. However, for those who know me personally, it probably won't come as a surprise that I had some lingering concerns about our current christian climate, and in particular the concern that christians shouldn't talk or think as though doing things -- literally any things -- could either decrease or increase God's favor upon an individual, especially christian individuals. This whole conversation arose from a study in Galatians chapter five. 

In Galatians chapter five, Paul speaks adamantly toward those Gentile christians within the Galatian church who are considering to accept the rite of circumcision on the terms of the "Juidaizers" who "wanted to distort the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:7) by teaching that God only justifies sinners in virtue of the Mosaic Covenant with Israel, through "works of the (Mosaic) Law." This first century controversy, in effect, convinced the Christian Gentiles of Galatia to voluntarily place themselves under the Old Covenant, thereby identifying themselves with the covenant-people of Israel, in order to receive a righteous standing before God; and that is patently false and contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and justification through faith in him alone (Gal. 2:15-21; Eph. 2:1-10). Paul even describes this particular worldview of judaism with which he was personally familiar as though it were a pagan and idolatrous system of worship that enslaved the human heart instead of freeing it (Gal. 4:8-11, 21-31; 5:1). And yet, after all of this contention with insidious Judaizers and the proselytes to Judaism which they nurtured and developed in Galatia, Paul declares emphatically that those Gentiles who have become tangled within this controversy and honestly think they are being justified by the Mosaic Law and its stipulated works "have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4).

Now, in our current Christian climate, it is presumed that Paul did not truly believe that a Christian could fall away from God's grace, because that would imply a loss of salvation -- a salvation which was granted unconditionally. In other words, it is presumed that Paul was serious in the tone of his warning but not in the actual content of his warning. That is to say, Paul is speaking rhetorically for the effect of appearing threatening, but the propositional threat itself was not true. That, to me, seems more like an idle threat than good rhetoric. And under such urgent circumstances like the situation in Galatia, an idle threat would not only be foolish, it would also be useless. These Christian Gentiles cannot have possibly fallen away from something that they did not have. In this case, it's God's favor

The most logical inference of this allegedly "idle" threat is that previously these Gentiles had been viewed as having obtained God's favor. In other words, they had been viewed as Christians by the Apostle Paul, and other Christians within the church of Galatia believed they were Christians too. And one of the benefits of that Christian faith is they had received God's favor. Paul thought they had received God's favor. They thought they did too.  If they didn't think that, Paul's warning would be absolutely meaningless. And it is that position of favor from which Paul says they "have fallen away from" (aorist active indicative of ekpipto) God's favor or "grace."

The apostle Peter speaks this way also in one of his letters. He says, "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose (ekpipto) your own stability" (2 Pet. 3:17). The author of Hebrews is even more explicit in his language: 
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 trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:28-29) 

It seems to me that the apostles of our Lord Jesus christ were not speaking hypothetically when they described the certainty of God's promised, decreasing favor upon those who had been sanctified by the blood of His covenant and had outraged the Spirit of grace (i.e. the Spirit of favor).  Similarly, Paul speaks to the Colossian Christians as though they too could fall away from some kind of relationship with Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:21-23, he writes:
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
In Paul's letter to the Gentile congregation in Rome, he writes concerning the covenant-body of Israel:
They [the covenant body of Israel] were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. (Rom. 11:20-21)

The very clear inference of these statements by Paul is that the Gentiles who once were alienated and hostile in their minds toward God have now been graciously brought into a relationship with God where they (perceivably) are no longer hostile to God in their minds and are no longer alienated from God. Yet, Paul still speaks as though they were able, in some sense, to become lax, unstable, and irresolute in their faith, shifting away from the hope of the gospel that they heard and (apparently) received with favor. A few verses later (Col. 1:28) Paul states that all men need to heed this "warning" of God's gospel: "Him [that is, Jesus] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ." The obvious implication of this "warning" is that these identifiable Christians could "shift from" the hope of the gospel, at which time God's warning would be appropriately given to them -- that warning being the promise of God's hostility toward them, the deliverance from which they did not deserve in the first place. And if the sovereign kindness of God placed the people of Israel into a covenant relationship with Him, and He eventually did not spare them, allowing them to "fall" because of their unbelief and pride, how much more is God's warning appropriate for Gentiles who receive God's kindness and yet are tempted to do the same?

It seems to me that in some sense, God's kindness can be diminished with those who are in covenant with Him. If this is true, one logical implication would be that God's kindness could also increase with those who are in covenant with Him. 

Now, I realize that in our current Christian climate, especially among "Baptistic" and "Calvinistic" circles of Christianity, it is likely that I will be accused of being Arminian, Palagian, semi-Palagian, and possibly even a total pagan for believing that Christians in covenant with God can do things which increase or decrease God's favor. That would mean, or so they might think, that Jesus does not cover all of their sins, or that Christ only covers their sins intermittently (covering them and uncovering them, and covering them back up again, etc.). But is that really true? Must we deny substitutionary atonement by affirming that God's favor upon His covenant people can increase or decrease depending on their faithfulness? It seems to me that no matter which Christian tradition we come from, both substitutionary atonement for Christians and the ability of Christians to fall away from God's favor are part of the clear language of God's Word; and first and foremost, as Christians, we ought to commit ourselves to the Word of God above all traditions. But does this mean that by accepting this peculiar biblical language about "falling away from grace" that other biblical doctrines are being compromised, even the doctrines of sovereign grace? Does this diminish God's sovereignty over all? Does this diminish the sinner's accountability to God one bit? Does this even imply that God is not worthy of our love, adoration, and respect? I don't believe so, and I'll tell you why. 

The language of God's Word also, and just as clearly, affirms that all men are completely dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1) and by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:2-3) and enemies of God by their very nature (Rom. 5:10) through their legal covenantal union with the first Adam who fell into sin in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3; Hosea 6:7; Rom. 5:12-19). Because of their union with the first Adam they are by nature slaves of sin (Rom. 6:20). God's Word is also very clear that no man who is dead in his sins is righteous in himself (Rom. 3:9-20), or can do things in himself which merit God's favor, thereby causing or stimulate God to make him righteous or even to give him an alien righteousness. All men have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23) and there is no one righteous, not so much as one (Rom. 3:10). Therefore the natural man, if he is to be righteous in God's sight at all, must be elected by God to partake of, and be covered by, His righteousness--the righteousness of the Righteous One (Rom. 3:19-26; 4:7; 5:1-21). 

Moreover, God does not base the foundation of His election on anything inherent within the individual sinner. God chooses to save sinners based on the gracious and kind intention of His own will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11). God's electing love, though sufficient for all and for all time, is for those whom God alone wills, and only for those whom He wills (John 6:37; 17:9). And because God has sovereignly, powerfully, and graciously saved a people for Himself, they have eternal security in Him (Rom. 8:1; John 10:27; I Cor. 10:13; Philip. 1:6).

And so, how does all of this fit together? How is the language of falling away from God's favor to be understood in light of God's favor originating and continuing from His completely sovereign grace?  

Are we to believe that God's favor is unlimited and static no matter what (that is to say, it doesn't move up or down or increase or decrease at all in time and history) for those who are in a covenant relationship with in Him? 

Are Christians, graciously placed within a covenant relationship with God, held to certain conditions which necessitate their faithful obedience, lest they fall away from God's favor?

I will gladly confess that it is a tremendous error to believe that spiritually dead men and enemies of God can do something to earn or "merit" God's favor in any sense. But is that true for those who are no longer spiritually dead and have been graciously placed within a covenant relationship with God? Is that true of people who are no longer considered God's enemies?  I get the funny feeling that Christians in our current climate get all flustered by this language because they equate a covenant relationship with God (something which contains blessings and curses and is objectively verifiable) as God's eternally electing, predestinating decree of salvation itself (something which man, in and of himself, could not possibly know because it's hidden within God's knowledge alone, Deut. 29:29). I also suspect that because such Christians don't want to attribute human perceptions of immorality to God (and His holy character), they don't like the thought of a God who would do such things as blessing them for obedience/faithfulness and cursing them for disobedience/faithlessness. They might think it's not "good" or "loving" or "gracious" for God to do that, especially if their righteous standing before God is because of the righteousness of another man who stands in their place (i.e. Jesus). 

But perhaps the most serious concern which stems from this apparent paradox is the thought that one could lose their regenerate or eternally elect status in God's sight if such things as covenant conditions (i.e. blessings and curses) were indeed true (and not just idle, hypothetical threats displayed for purely rhetorical purposes). The thought might be (i'm imagining) that no one can rest in any absolute assurance of salvation because God's covenant, through which he saves sinners, is conditional in some sense. And if it's conditional, after having already begun a work of regeneration, then one can lose his or her regeneration. Moreover, if it's conditional, God could not possibly predestine my eternal destiny, because it would change depending on something I do. 

Obviously, these apparent paradoxes are all serious concerns. And they all need to be addressed.

There is one thing Christians can be sure of, even when they are wrestling with this apparent paradox of "falling away from grace"; and that is the covenant faithfulness of God. God will always be faithful to the terms of His covenant with his people (Psa. 33:4; 36:5; 86:15; 89:1, 8; 115:1; Lam. 3:22-23; Rom. 3:3-4; I Cor. 1:9; 10:13; II Cor. 1:18; I John 1:9). But (and this is a big "but") if the terms of His covenant do include conditions, why would any professing "Christian" pretend as though His or her faithfulness will result in an eternal life in God's comfortable presence? In other words, why would a professing Christian presume that God's gracious covenant with them continues so that they could live sinfully? As the apostle Paul says, "Should we continue1in sin, that grace may abound?" (Rom. 6:1)?

In one of the following posts, I would like to offer a solution to this apparent paradox, but I can promise you that the solution won't be my own. In the following posts I would like to offer the solution presented by John Calvin, which was based upon his own study of God's Word. Now, I realize that our current climate of Christianity has many views, both pros and cons, concerning John Calvin the person and "Calvinism" as a theological think-tank, but I'm not going to offer a solution to this apparent paradox from our current "Calvinistic" climate. I'm going to offer John Calvin's own solution, which, as we'll see, is different from modern mainstream "Calvinistic" solutions. Stay tuned for those upcoming posts.






1.  The verb for "continue" in Rom. 6:1 is stated in the subjunctive mood, signifying possibility and potentiality. I prefer the HCSB translation which reads, "Should we continue...".  Other translations say "Are we to continue in sin?" (ESV), or "Shall we go on sinning..." (NIV). 




Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: Paul and the Jews by Andrew Das

Paul and the JewsPaul and the Jews by A. Andrew Das
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Andrew Das. His work is very scholarly, which tends to drag a little, which is why I only gave it four stars. But on a better note, Das maintains a healthy balance of majorly neglected reformed doctrines in our day, such as the relevance of Mosaic Law for New Covenant Christian ethics. I don't agree with a few of his views (particularly his pro-Israel eschatology), but his insights into Pauline theology are exceptionally helpful. He makes Lutheran theology look great. I highly recommend Das, especially if you are interested in studying the book of Romans.

View all my reviews

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review of Tim Gallant's "These Are Two Covenants"

These Are Two CovenantsThese Are Two Covenants by Tim Gallant
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tim Gallant's first book, "Feed My Lambs," was a fantastic book, filled with great historical and exegetical insights. This second book of his, "These Are Two Covenants," however, was not as good as I was hoping. Here are some major pros and cons for why I gave his second book only two stars.



PROS:
1) Gallant addresses (in brief) the traditional Protestant Reformed & Evangelical perspectives and the NPP/N.T. Wright perspectives of law within the book of Galatians and Romans, and he seriously considers the best of both worlds. And so, because he does not limit his exegesis to any particular tradition, he offers some fresh insights on disputed passages within those two books. These fresh insights of his are definitely worthy of consideration as long as students of Scripture keep dabbling in "Pauline studies," looking for some balance between classical protestant interpretations and various nuances from (and similar to) the "New Perspective on Paul."

2) Gallant keeps all of his theological jargon to a minimum, which makes the dense theological content very accessible to the student of Scripture as long as they have an English Bible and Greek translation in hand.

3) Gallant very clearly affirms the doctrine of Justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as well as the Christian's necessity to faithfully obey God's law through the lens of Jesus Christ (i.e. his life & teaching). And so, he remains a very clear protestant in the classical sense of the term, and he also clearly opposes antinomianism.

4) Gallant also clearly disagrees with and criticizes some of the views of Sanders and Dunn (explicit views among the NPP, e.g. pp. 53,58), as well as some overlooked views of NPP critics (particularly John Piper, e.g. p. 57).

5) Gallant highlights (what I believe to be) a very important aspect of Galatians, namely that "the law" can be, and very likely was, understood and viewed in terms of a "covenant" with the people of Israel and not just a set of rules for believers in Yahweh. And also, along with this conceptual continuity of viewing the Mosaic Law as a covenant, Gallant also highlights the importance of viewing life under the Mosaic Covenant as life under an eschatological age which was (back then) fading away and becoming obsolete because it explicitly pointed to the coming Messiah and a new age under which all of the Christian life would be placed.

6) Gallant also presents a brief, but solid argument, that the notion of "meriting salvation" within Galatians is not at all Paul's concern (and I agree).




CONS:
1) Even though this book is filled with fresh insights, select "chunks" of it appear to be a condensed version of N.T. Wright's commentary on Romans (which I found tremendously confusing), and either James Dunn's or Ben Witherington's commentary on Galatians. I don't have any life-altering or dramatic disagreements with any of those commentators, but I just don't find them to harmonize very well with each other, which left me feeling that Galllant was attempting to offer his own harmonization of those three men's views about the "Law" -- a feeling which smacked of trying to be novel in one's approach to Romans and Galatians.

2) Gallant seems to view both Romans and Galatians with a very strict typology of Jesus as the New Covenant and Israel as the Old Covenant -- which, in and of itself, is fine -- but this affects every one of his interpretations of nomos (i.e. "law") within Romans and Galatians, leaving in some instances a very arbitrary interpretation of what Paul meant by "law" when (allegedly) he's not referring to "keeping" or "fulfilling" the law in a strict typological sense.

3) Gallant seems to stress something which is not very obvious from the text of Galatians itself. His argument appears as though Paul is more concerned about Gentile Christians who revert back to life under the old aeon (i.e. the "age" of life under Old Covenant Mosaic Law) instead of life under the new aeon (the age of life under Christ). In other words, Paul's concern is more with one's public identification with the new aeon. This, according to Gallant, means that Paul's concern is more "cosmic" than the traditional Protestant understanding of Galatians. Instead of discussing what is most obvious about the concerns explicitly addressed by Paul, namely that some "Judaizers" were seditiously and insidiously dividing the gentiles among the Christian church by means of Judaizing dogma which rejected faith in Jesus alone as the ground of their justification in God's sight (as seen through the enforcement of circumcision as one's entrance into covenant with God), Gallant shifts the emphasis to be one's public placement within this New Covenant aeon which brings life through the Spirit, as opposed to the Old Covenant aeon which piles up transgressions and brings death. 
   It's as though, according to Gallant, Paul's typology was the driving force behind the entire letter to Galatians, and therefore he was more concerned with keeping Gentiles focused upon the New Covenant aeon (not the Old aeon), than the way in which Gentiles and Jews alike share in the New Covenant through faith in Jesus Christ, and how that was being jeopardized by the Christian Judaizers (i.e. false brethren) among them.

4) Gallant attempts to show that Jesus "becomes the Abrahamic covenant" and "the covenant to the nations," and he even says that this is the point of the "two covenant schema" in Galatians 4:24 (Gallant, p. 68), but I just don't think he invests enough time to clarify what he means by this. Although I agree with his general typological understanding of Jesus fulfilling Torah, I don't think Paul's allegory in Gal. 4:24 was supposed to illustrate Jesus "becoming" the Abrahamic covenant (or any covenant for that matter). Gallant's approach to these two covenants seem very strained (and unnecessarily so).

5) Gallant spends an awful lot of time towards the end of his book trying to explain the sense in which Christians under the new aeon "fulfill" God's Law (Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14), but virtually all of the law's objectivity as a standard for Christian ethics gets obscured by his own muddied language and over-emphasized typology. On the one hand he says that the word "fulfill... takes on an eschatological dimension...no longer simply straightforward Torah-keeping," yet elsewhere he quotes Paul in first Corinthians 7:19 and defends his statement that "keeping the commandments is what matters." Gallant says that under the New Covenant there has come to be "a radical reordering of what we can now call the commandments of God." (p. 73).
   From this bold conclusion, and perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Gallant proposes that "Torah remains normative Scripture, but not a normative covenant, and the way in which it functions ethically is determined by God's act of redemption and new creation in Christ, with all that attends it." (p. 74) Now, when I first read this, I was hoping that Gallant would provide some objective standard (or even some "proof-texts") by which Christian ethics should function under this "radically reordered" New Covenant aeon, but he doesn't. As we just saw, he simply states dogmatically that the Torah "functions ethically," and then moves on. Elsewhere within the same page of his book, he follows up that claim by arguing that the Torah has been "transformed." However, even that argument of his falls short. In a weak attempt to clarify what objective standard determines the ethical function of Torah under this new aeon, he lists three very general picturesque aspects of God's act of redemption: A) the climactic satisfaction of God's justice upon the cross, B) the gift of the Spirit, and C) the ingathering of the Gentiles.
   These three "determinative" aspects hardly scratch the surface of providing a clearly objective standard for normative Christian ethics, nor does it show the way in which this "transformed Torah" remains valid in its present law-format for Christian ethics (other than the general notion that it remains "Scripture" but not a "covenant"). I think I understand the goal of what his hermeneutic is trying to achieve (i.e. that narrative of Scripture becomes this newly "transformed" standard for normative ethics); but still, in my eyes, nothing could be more vague and open to scholarly scrutiny than this explanation of "transformed Torah" and how it functions ethically.

6) Furthermore, Gallant provides an open challenge against Greg Bahsnen in particular, and "Theonomy" in general. From reading his very clear opinions against Greg Bahnsen (which he, virtually, criticizes exclusively, even though many other "Theonomists" could have been legitimately criticized), one would get the impression that Gallant has studied enough of Greg Bahnsen's literature and audio teaching on the subject of Theonomy to definitively present Bahnsen's views (and the views of "Theonomy" in general) as worthy of such stern criticisms. But, for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's views of Biblical Law, Theonomy, and the "Theonomic movement" of the 80's (of which I am one), it does not take long to recognize Gallant's fallacious straw-man arguments. If, in fact, Gallant has studied Greg Bahnsen's books and audio lectures concerning Biblical Law, he most definitely misunderstood the most basic emphasis of Greg Bahnsen himself. For example, Gallant provides the childishly stereotypical caricature of Greg Bahnsen's view of Theonomy by claiming that "even the most insignificant details of the law remain binding (unless overturned specifically by new covenant revelation)." (Gallant, p. 77). However, this is Gallant's own spin on what he thinks Bahnsen meant, and not actually what Bahnsen ever taught comprehensively.
   Bahnsen's careful and detailed position is that all of God's revelation, including Mosaic Law, is morally binding, and that God's revelation in Jesus Christ and the teaching of his apostles abrogates all "restorative laws" (Bahnsen's words, not mine), and that all of the "civil" and "judicial" laws have expired, leaving the general equity thereof to be morally binding. And what Bahnsen meant by "general equity" is that all of God's laws, including God's "civil" or "judicial" laws, illustrate something about God's unchangeable moral character, and hence, God's moral law. And so, for Gallant to claim that Bahnsen thought and taught that "even the most insignificant details of the law" remain morally binding unless the writings of the New Testament authors "specifically overturn" them, is simply an distortion of the facts. One could reference Greg Bahnsen's numerous audio lectures on "Theonomy in Christian Ethics 1 & 2," "Theonomy and its critics," and "Theonomy vs. Autonomy" as but four very accessible audio resources to help clarify Gallant's misunderstanding of Bahnsen (which can be found here: http://www.cmfnow.com/mp3-bahnsen.aspx )
   Gallant also outlines four specific points of critique against Greg Bahnsen's views proposed in his book, "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" (Gallant, p. 77), but he fails to acknowledge that Greg Bahnsen actually refuted all four of his claims in his follow-up book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics." Moreoever, Gallant adds a footnote to one of his own articles about the subject of "fulfillment" in Scripture ("Fulfillment in the Gospel of Mathew", footnote 119, Gallant p. 78), which has its main objective of critiquing Greg Bahsnen's opening chapter of "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" concerning Matthew 5:17 and the theonomic interpretation of the word "fulfill" in that passage. Again, every single one of Gallant's misunderstandings of Greg Bahsnen's position have been addressed in his book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics", and it can also be found in his audio lectures concerning theonomic ethics (as I referenced above). Gallant also appeals to Vern Poythress' critique of Bahnsen's position concerning the word "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17, but Gallant fails to address the fact that Bahsnen addressed Poythress' concerns in both writing and in his Biblical Hermeneutics & Exegesis lectures. Bahnsen even clarifies the benefits of Poythress' research, while still showing his (Poythress') misrepresentation of his (Bahnsen's) own theonomic thesis.
   Furthermore, later on in Gallant's book, he claims that this Theonomic view (and by implication, Bahnsen's theonomic thesis especially, because Bahnsen had been his main focus of critique over the previous six pages) provides "a neat severing of 'moral' law from 'ceremonial' and 'civil' law, as if he former simply carries forward and the other two are abolished." (Gallant, p. 81). This kind of clumsy exaggeration is flat-out embarrassing for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's scholarly contributions toward on Theonomic ethics. NOWHERE in Greg Bahnsen's literature does he "sever" moral from ceremonial or civil law. Bahnsen distinguishes them, but he does not "sever" or separate them. Bahnsen views the Mosaic Law (and covenant) as a whole unit. And interestingly, even though Gallant attempts to critique this theonomic "severing" of moral law from other aspects of the Mosaic Covenant-Law (which Bahnsen does not do), Gallant himself (accidentally?) distinguishes between Mosaic Law and God's moral law (as Bahnsen does) when he mentions Paul's written list of "the fruit of the Spirit" as being morally binding, treating them in passing as moral codes of conduct which Paul even says: "against which there is no law." (Gallant, p. 73). In other words, Gallant, very naturally, distinguishes between Mosaic Law and moral laws of God in some sense, which is fundamental to Bahnsen's theonomic thesis. 

7) And last of all, during Gallant's critique of Greg Bahnsen's theonomic views of Christian ethics, Gallant proposes solutions in opposition to Greg Bahnsen's views which actually are (embarrassingly, for Gallant) endorsed by Bahnsen explicitly. For example, Gallant says that, contrary to Greg Bahnsen's views which allegedly "repeat" Torah, "The whole Torah (and not simply the 'moral law') is validated and established in Christ, and the whole Torah (and not simply the 'ceremonial law') is transformed into something new in Christ" (Gallant, p. 78). Greg Bahnsen agrees with this general statement in his audio commentary on Galatians: (which can be found here: http://www.cmfnow.com/mp3-bahnsen.aspx ).

In the end, Gallant proposes that his view of the "Law" or "Torah" in Romans and Galatians (which allegedly is Paul's too) regarding its application for Christian ethics today is "a more robust holiness" (p. 81), but he fails to explain even one jot or tittle from an objective standard among God's own revelation to qualify what that "robust holiness" looks like for every Christian. Is it the life-style of Jesus? Is it the narrative of Scripture as a whole? Is it the narrative of this "transformed Torah" alone? He doesn't say. In other words, his explanation of the way in which this "transformed Law" functions is extremely vague, even though he says that Paul appeals to it, and Christians should too. These and other arguments of Gallant ultimately end up appearing more nebulous than cosmic, which is extremely disappointing for such a talented mind and faithful Christian man. My own opinion is that even if someone disagrees with "Theonomic ethics" in general, Greg Bahnsen's audio commentary on Galatians (a verse-by-verse exposition with 28 lectures total) is better than Gallant's attempt at clarifying Paul's letter to the Galatians. Bahsnen's audio commentary can be found here: 
http://www.cmfnow.com/galatians.aspx




Monday, October 29, 2012

Learning to be a gardener


N.T. Wright comments on the fruit of the Spirit:
The "fruit of the Spirit" does not grow automatically. The nine varieties of fruit do not suddenly appear just because someone has believed in Jesus, has prayed for God's Spirit, and has then sat back and waited for "fruit" to arrive. Oh, there may well be strong and sudden initial signs that fruit is on the way. Many new Christians, particularly when a sudden conversion has meant a dramatic turning away from a lifestyle full of the "works of the flesh," report their own astonishment at the desire that springs up within them to love, to forgive, to be gentle, to be pure. Where, they ask, has all this come from? I didn't used to be like this. That is a wonderful thing a sure sign of the Spirit' working. 
But this doesn't mean it's all downhill from there. These are the blossoms; to get the fruit you have to learn to be a gardener. You have to discover how to tend and prune, how to irrigate the field, how to keep the birds and squirrels away. You have to watch for blight and mold, cut away ivy and other parasites that suck the life out of the tree, and make sure they young trunk can stand firm in strong winds. Only then will the fruit appear. 
And, in case anyone should think I am imposing an alien note on Paul's cheerful list of these wonderful characteristics... we note the final characteristic in the list: self-control. If the "fruit" were automatic, why would self-control be needed? Answer: it isn't, so it is: it isn't automatic, so it is needed. All the varieties of fruit Paul mentions here are comparatively easy to counterfeit, especially in young, healthy, happy people -- except for self-control. If that isn't there, it's always worth asking whether the appearance of the other sorts of fruit is just that, an appearance, rather than a real sign of the spirit's work.1 






1.  N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 195-196