Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Whitefield on the Celebration of Christmas

Quite contrary to Spurgeon's take on the same holiday, here are Whitefield's thoughts on the necessity of Christians celebrating Christmas:

Therefore, if we do but consider into what state, and at how great a distance from God we are fallen; how vile our natures were; what a depravity, and how incapable to restore that image of God to our souls, which we lost in our first parents: when I consider these things, my brethren, and that the Lord Jesus Christ came to restore us to that favor with God which we had lost, and that Christ not only came down with an intent to do it, but actually accomplished all that was in his heart towards us; that he raised and brought us into favor with God, that we might find kindness and mercy in his sight; surely this calls for some return of thanks on our part to our dear Redeemer, for this love and kindness to our souls. How just would it have been of him, to have left us in that deplorable state wherein we, by our guilt, had involved ourselves? For God could not, nor can receive any additional good by our salvation; but it was love, mere love; it was free love that brought the Lord Jesus Christ into our world about 1700 years ago. What, shall we not remember the birth of our Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king, and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? Shall that only, which ought to be had chiefly in remembrance, be quite forgotten? God forbid! No, my dear brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival of our church, with joy in our hearts: let the birth of a Redeemer, which redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Savior's love never be forgotten! But may we sing forth all his love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above! May we chant forth the wonders of redeeming love, and the riches of free grace, amidst angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, without intermission, for ever and ever!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What Spurgeon Thought about Christmas

I find very few people funnier than CH Spurgeon. When delivering a sermon on December 23, 1855, Spurgeon opened (what would you get in your homiletics class if you used this as an introduction?) with these words:

This is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born on that day, and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus...
With that he began his sermon on the incarnation of Jesus. Awesome!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Conclusion

You may want to first read Part 1, Part 2, part 3, part 4, and, part 5.


Stephen Neill is indeed correct in his summation, that “the Christian finds that he can never think of God without thinking of Jesus Christ, and that he can never think of Jesus Christ without thinking of God.”[1] In the NT, the faith of the apostles and the early church is seen to be one which is profoundly centred on the person of Jesus. His deity is inherent in the authority with which he acts in the gospels, it is transparent in the titles of κύριος and θεός as ascribed to him throughout the NT, and it is powerfully evident as he is prayed to and worshiped by the church as a whole. It is experientially true for New Covenant believers that “even the Old Testament idea of God, magnificent as it is, no longer covers the Christian’s experience and has had to be radically transformed. Vast new dimensions have been added.”[2] We have spoken of great things, but it will never be enough. Endless eternities of exploration will never allow us to plumb the depths of the realities of this man-God; this conquering, victorious Lamb who loved me and gave himself for me. So let us begin now!

[1] Stephen Neill, What We Know About Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 83.

[2] Ibid.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Part 5

You may want to first read Part 1, Part 2, part 3 and, part 4.


Aside from being portrayed as deity by his authority in his earthly ministry, and declared to be both “Lord” and “God” throughout the NT, Jesus is also strongly implied to be deity by virtue of the activities which are carried out in his name by his followers.

A. PRAYER TO JESUS. Adolf Schlatter, in his discussion of the early church, speaks of the unifying effect of the doctrine of Christ as divine, and the unified church which resulted. The centrality of Jesus’ divinity

becomes clear in view of the community’s prayer. For its hallmark was that it called upon the name of Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:22; Rom. 10:13; Acts 9:21; 22:16; 7:59). Faith directed toward him finds its closest, most simple result in moving man to request his grace and help. The thought that Jesus could be called upon without calling upon God did not arise in the early church. It directed its adoration, its thanksgiving, and its petition to God.[1]

In other words, this monotheistic community of believers drew together in prayer to Jesus Christ by virtue of their belief in his deity. The NT bears witness to this reality, as is shown by his citations. To his list may be added 1 Cor 16.22; 2 Cor 12.8; and Rev 22.20.[2] This is a remarkable fact for God-fearing Jews who understood that there is only one God who created the heavens and the earth, and who is able to answer prayer (Dt 6.4; 2 Kgs 19.15).

B. WORSHIP OF JESUS. Heb 1.6 declares that not only men, but also the angels of God are to worship Jesus, and this is the pattern that is laid down for us in the records of the earliest Christians. Throughout the NT “doxologies are addressed to him, either alone (Rom. 9:5 ... 2 Tim. 4:18; 2 Pet 3:18; Rev. 1:5f.) or with the Father (Rev. 5:13; 7:10).”[3]

Nor is the worship of Jesus something which is seen to decrease as the church grew. Rather, the book of Revelation records some of the most glorious scenes of Jesus being worshiped.

The lamb in Revelation is both Redeemer and Ruler, the Judge who died for his people, the Lamb-God, who is both slain and triumphant, Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14; 19:16).[4]

Along similar lines as Woodbridge, Newman notes that “in a book that venerates God’s omnipotence in unprecedented ways, it is surprising to find that Revelation also openly encourages and models the worship of the enthroned Jesus.”[5] Several examples of this may be given, including 1.6; 5.9, 12, 15; 7.10; and 12.10. He continues, “Revelation legitimates and promotes the worship of Jesus and God—the worship of Jesus as God—and it does so at the very places where God is worshiped and with the very language that is used to venerate God.”[6]

Commenting on Rev 1.6, Mounce concludes that this is an “ascription to Christ of glory and dominion forever and ever. In this context, ‘glory’ is praise and honor, and ‘dominion’ connotes power and might. … The statement is both a confident assertion about the exalted Christ and an exhortation to regard him correspondingly,” which is—among other things—to worship him as the true, conquering King of kings and Lord of lords (19.16).[7]

[1] Schlatter, Theology of the Apostles, 365.

[2] Packer, God’s Words, 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] P.D. Woodbridge, “Lamb,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 622.

[5] Newman, “God,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments, 428.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 50.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Part 4

You may want to first read Part 1, Part 2, and part 3.


B. JESUS AS QEOS. Many of the passages which may speak of Jesus as θεός are heavily debated, and some with good reason. The ones which most certainly do refer to Jesus as θεός are John 1.1; 20.28; Rom 9.5; Tit 2.13; Heb 1.8; and 2 Pet 1.1.[1] For our purposes we will need to limit ourselves to a discussion of Rom 9.5 and John 20.28.

Rom 9.5 is famously difficult to translate on account of the great role to be played by punctuation absent from the original. As Witherington sums up, “the argument turns on whether the verse should be read ‘the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever’ (as the NRSV has it), or ‘the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever’ (as JB, NIV, and the marginal reading of NRSV have it).”[2] Schreiner observes that most objections to Christ being here referred to as θεός “though diverse, boil down to one fundamental objection: it is improbable that Christ would be called θεός since this is uncharacteristic of Paul elsewhere.”[3]

This argument, however, from external tendencies and based on limited evidence must not be allowed to overrule plain grammatical evidence. “The natural antecedent to ὁ ὢν is Χριστὸς, for doxologies are virtually always attached to the preceding word and asyndetic doxologies do not exist.”[4] Again, grammatically, “it is easier and more natural to maintain an identity of subject from ὁ Χριστὸς to ὁ ὢν, since there is grammatical concord between the noun and the participle, than it is to assume a change of subject.”[5] Therefore, in this passage there are three distinct affirmations made about Christ: “he is Lord of all, he is God by nature, and he will be eternally praised.”[6]

In John 20.28 the grammar is much simpler and less debated. While there are several alternatives given by various commentators, they are quickly refuted by Harris as unlikely for lack of evidence which, when present, is based largely on Classical tendencies. Rather, the simplest—and best attested—way to understand Thomas’ cry is as a vocatival address to Jesus himself.[7] Köstenberger points out that “in the OT, ‘Lord’ and ‘God’ are frequently juxtaposed with reference to Yahweh (e.g. Ps. 35:23-24),” just as they are here to Jesus.[8]

Where it is objected that Thomas’ confession, as recorded in this passage, is too developed for coming only one week after Easter, it must be remembered that (1) there is little evidence to suggest that such Christological titles took time to evolve, and, (2) there are accounts in the Jewish OT—with which Thomas would have been familiar—where men found themselves talking with a man, only to discover to their shock, that it was Yahweh himself. Moreover, the repeated pronoun μου makes Thomas’ confession of faith intensely personal, thus fitting together with the purpose of the book expressed in the immediate context (v 31).[9] This confession of Jesus as ὁ θεός μου also functions to form a literary bookend with John 1.1 and 1.18, where Jesus is also referred to as θεός. “In the Johannine narrative, the evangelist desires that the reader respond in the same way Thomas did.”[10]

[1] The most extensive work on this is Murray J. Harris’ book, Jesus as God: The New Testament Use of Theos in Reference to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), where he deals in-depth with these and several other texts.

[2] Ben Witherington III, “Jesus as the Alpha and Omega of New Testament Thought,” in Contours of Christology, ed. Longenecker, 35.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 487.

[4] Ibid., 488.

[5] Harris, Jesus as God, 171.

[6] Ibid., 167.

[7] Ibid., 110-111.

[8] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 579.

[9] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 658-659.

[10] Köstenberger, John, 579.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Part 3

You may want to first read Part 1 and Part 2.


A. JESUS AS KURIOS. It must be noted first that we are not primarily dealing with the gospels in this section, since “when people address Jesus as ‘Lord’ in the Gospels, this is often no more than a customary polite form of address.”[1] Rather, we will aim more narrowly at the post-resurrection narratives in Acts and the canonical epistles of the early church.

In the book of Acts, following the account of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the word κύριος takes on new significance for the earliest Christians. As C.C. Newman observes,

The resurrection undeniably revealed Jesus’ true identity as the divine Lord, the kyrios (Acts 2:36). Numerous times within the narrative does Acts specifically identify Jesus as the ‘Lord’ (Acts 1:6, 21; 4:33; 7:59; 8:16; 9:5-6; 11:17, 20; 15:11, 26; 16:30; 19:5, 13; 20:21, 24; 21:13; 22:8; 26:15; in many other places implied). By employing the same word used by the Septuagint to translate the divine name (i.e., Yahweh) as a title for Jesus, Acts comes close to binitarianism.[2]

Trejer agrees, noting that while during his lifetime “Lord” was merely a term of respect akin to “sir” in modern usage, after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension “its use as the Greek equivalent of the OT Yahweh becomes significant.”[3]

This significance is carried on from Acts into the epistles of the early church. Of particular significance are the NT passages where OT texts specifically referring to Yahweh are said to be fulfilled in Christ, who is κύριος.[4] One such text is found in Phil 2.9-11. Here Trejer notes that

Paul uses this name to identify Jesus with Israel’s covenant God—in shocking fulfillment of a strong monotheistic text, Isa. 45:21-24. The exaltation of a human being to share in what was, and is now fully revealed to be, Yahweh’s identity was a remarkable claim.[5]

In this particular context it is essential to note the importance of both names in general, and of the name of Jesus in particular. “In ancient thought a ‘name’ was employed not only as a means of distinguishing one person from another but also as ‘a means of revealing the inner being, the true nature of that individual’.”[6] So in a context where names are significant for identifying the essence of the person it is especially significant to note, with O’Brien the following:

The name (τὸ ὄνομα is definite) greater than any other that God conferred on Jesus as a gracious gift (ἐχαρίσατο) is his own name, κύριος (‘Lord’), in its most sublime sense, that designation used in the LXX to represent the personal name of the God of Israel, that is, Yahweh.[7]

O’Brien concludes by noting the greatness of this honour by viewing this statement in light of Is 42.8: “ἐγὼ κύριος ὁ θεός τοῦτό μού ἐστιν τὸ ὄνομα τὴν δόξαν μου ἑτέρῳ οὐ δώσω.” Other passages of similar thrust and importance include 1 Cor 8.6; 12.3; Heb 1.10-12; Rev 19.16, however, space restrictions will not allow for in-depth discussion of these passages here.[8]

[1] I.H. Marshall, “Jesus Christ,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, eds. T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 599. For some possible exceptions to this, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 544-545. Among the more plausible are Matt 3.3; 22.44; Luke 1.43; 2.11, 18. Nevertheless, the normal use of κύριος throughout the gospels is still simply a “polite address to a superior” (544).

[2] C.C. Newman, “God,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 416.

[3] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[4] See, for some examples, Matt 3.3; Mark 1.3; Acts 2.21; Rom 10.9, 13; 1 Cor 12.3.

[5] Trejer, “Jesus Christ”, 364.

[6] Peter T. O’Brien, Commentary on Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 237.

[7] Ibid., 238. Emphasis original.

[8] For a more extended discussion of κύριος implying Jesus’ deity, see J.I. Packer, God’s Words (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus), 48-51.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Part 2

Part 1 may be read here.



Darrell Bock notes that whereas the number of times when Jesus is directly spoken of as “God” in the gospels is relatively small, it is “far more common” that Jesus, in his teaching and actions is seen to be “impinging upon space or prerogatives unique to God.”[1] As in Matt 11.2-6, where John the Baptist is instructed by Jesus, so we will likewise turn to what may be seen of Jesus’ life in order that we may see what may be properly believed of him.

A. JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER THE OLD TESTAMENT. From the very beginning of his teaching ministry (the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus makes the double claim that he is the one to whom the OT points (Matt 5.17) and that he has the inherent authority to re-interpret and apply whatever his hearers had previously been taught (vv 21-48). Commenting on this passage, Stonehouse notes boldness of Jesus’ teaching:

Six times Jesus, completely on his own authority, and without any attempt to vindicate his categorical declarations, seems to set his own pronouncements in antithesis to “that which had been spoken,” the latter deliverances consisting of, or at least including, in every instance quotation from the law of Moses.[2]

Over against the will of God as the people of his day understood it, Jesus declares an authoritative interpretation for all people, “according to his own authority as the law’s ‘fulfiller’.”[3] Both up until this time and ever since no man has lived and preached with this authority. As Carson elsewhere notes from Matthew’s gospel, “At the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8), the whole point of the Matthean account is that Jesus alone and not even Moses or Elijah is to be heard as the voice of God; ‘Listen to him!’”[4] Thus the voice of God the Father is heard to be declaring the superiority of the authoritative revelation in Jesus as compared with that which came through Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets).

B. JESUS’ AUTHORITY OVER THE SABBATH. Repeatedly throughout the gospels Jesus is seen to be flatly contradicting the expectations of Sabbath behaviour commonly held by the Jews of his day. Jesus’ explanation for this is often a declaration his own authority, such as “one greater than the temple is here” and “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12.6, 8). Jesus’ boldness in “working” on the Sabbath could elsewhere be used to display his oneness with the Father:

When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath (John 5), he claims that God has given him authority to work on the Sabbath, to give life, and to raise the dead. These three privileges belonged only to God. Jesus’ claim that he rightfully exercises these prerogatives because God has authorized him to do so is not lost on his hearers, who hear in his words an impious claim to equality with God.[5]

This type of claim to be carrying out the work of God with the authority of God smacked of blasphemy to his disbelieving audience, who clearly perceived that he was claiming equality with God himself, and therefore divinity.

C. JESUS’ AUTHORITY TO FORGIVE SINS. As Bock notes, it is often the works of Jesus which draw the most attention to his claim to divinity. Thus in Luke 5:17-26 and 7:36-49 where Jesus freely forgives people of their sins, “the leadership complains that he is claiming to do something only God can do. … He is claiming to make himself equal with God.”[6] Rather than denying or avoiding this challenge from his opponents, Jesus seems desirous in both accounts of drawing public attention to the fact that he has done God’s work. Thus, we can conclude that the gospel writers have included these pericopes for the very same reason: to challenge the reader to evaluate Jesus’ claims. And we must not miss them, since “Jesus’ opponents appear to appreciate the significance of his actions and what they ultimately mean.”[7] Something so obvious to Jesus’ contemporaries must not be overlooked; in forgiving the sins of humans, Jesus is claiming the rights and responsibilities of deity, and making himself to be equal with God.

[1] Darrell L. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 605.

[2] Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of the Synoptic Gospels to Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1944), 198.

[3] D.A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, v.8, ed. Frank Gæbelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 148. Emphasis added.

[4] D.A. Carson, ed., From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 75. For a discussion on the role of such “reliable statements” concerning Jesus and their role in developing the Christology of Matthew, see Terence L. Donaldson, “The Vindicated Son,” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament, ed. Richard N. Longenecker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 108-109.

[5] Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, eds. Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 187-188.

[6] Bock, Jesus According to Scripture, 605.

[7] Ibid.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Jesus Christ: My Lord and My God! - Part 1


The importance of recognizing that the New Testament identifies Jesus as deity, and yet as completely one with the Father, cannot possibly be over-stated. For the authors of the NT, this Christ himself became not only the interpretive grid, but also the sun at the centre of their scriptural universe, around which everything else has its orbit. Reflecting on the centrality of Christ in the Scriptures as displayed by these NT authors, Trejer states,

It is a Christian truism that Jesus Christ is central when reading the OT and NT as Scripture: he is their basic content, the Word of God; he gives them their form (in a certain sense Old and New Testaments); he himself is the aim toward which their reading should be oriented.[1]

Schlatter, likewise, speaks of the importance of the identity of Christ in the apostles’ teaching, saying that the early Christian message “in all its forms” focused on Jesus’ identity—in particular, his “oneness with God.”[2] This was so because “their success depended completely on their ability to transcend the notion that they worshipped the man Jesus in place of God or beside God. If they could not utterly discredit this charge, their work would disintegrate.”[3]

Given the centrality and importance of the deity of Jesus Christ to the apostles and the early church, it comes as no surprise that throughout the NT Jesus’ divinity is displayed in a diversity of ways. It is the aim of this series of posts to answer the question, “In what ways does the NT portray Jesus as divine?”[4] The goal will be to cover material from the different authors and genres of the NT. We will first examine how Jesus’ divinity is portrayed through the authority of his teaching and actions in the gospels. Second, we will note particular uses of both κύριος and θεὸς in reference to Christ, particularly in the epistles. Finally it will be noted how the ministry carried out and the worship offered to the name of Jesus clearly identify him as none other than true, almighty God.

[1] Daniel J. Trejer, “Jesus Christ, Doctrine of,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 363.

[2] Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology, trans. Andreas Köstenberger (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 33.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Obviously an exhaustive answer cannot be conducted here given our present constraints. We will rather work within the limits presently laid out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Who's In Your Church?

The Kerux has had quite an interesting conversation emerging on his blog lately about the issue of baptism and church membership. These are issues I've thought about for some time, but I confess, I have not come to a firm view.

The arguments against having paedobaptists as members are legion, but I think that most (all?) of them fall short. Here's one of the arguments against it that drives me nuts:

Paedobaptists have aberrant theological views. We should not allow people with aberrant theological views into church membership. Therefore, paedobaptists should not be allowed to be members in baptist churches.
Some even extend this logic to the issue of who we allow to partake of the Lord's Supper. That just doesn't make any sense to me! Does that not seem unbiblical to anyone else?

It seems to me that when I examine the New Testament evidence, there is no theological quiz given before the Lord's Supper. Believers were not required to jump through theological hoops to be considered 'valid church members.' Membership in the local church was based on identification with Christ--which, granted, included baptism.

But paedobaptists believe they have been baptised, and if they are believers, have identified themselves with Christ. So why do we exclude them? Because they believe an 'aberrant theological view.'

But don't you hold 'aberrant theological views' too? I'm certain that I do.

So whether we like it or not, we're either (a) saying that we hold no aberrant views on any secondary issues, or else (b) what we've already done is drawn a line in the sand, saying that there are certain aberrant views we will accept and others that we won't.

Why draw that line at baptism? What if someone in our church is a dispensational premillenial (gasp)? What if someone is a continuationist rather than a cessationist? What if--God forbid--one of our people should be Arminian? Do we say 'Get out of our church!' or, 'There's no bread for your types around here!'?

I think not! If someone were to start picking apart my systematics with such a fine-toothed comb, I would think it would not be long before I would be barred from the Table!

Let me pose this question to all who are concerned for the preaching of doctrinal truth from our pulpits: Who do you want in your church?

I want people who love my Lord Jesus and are committed to loving him with heart, soul, mind, and strength. I want paedobaptists in my church because they'll hear me preach on baptism. I want Arminians in my church because they'll hear us teach on God's sovereign saving grace. I want egalitarians in my church because they'll hear the truth about gender distinctions in the church and in the home. I want charismatics and cessationists in my church because these are secondary issues and we love and serve the same Lord and we all have much to teach each other!

Where else will all of us with 'aberrant theological views' go to hear the truth, if not to our local church?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Interesting Comparisons

It was quite a delight when Nana recently loaned me some old photos of me as a baby at our family cottage. It was even more of a delight to compare me bathing in the cottage sink to my daughter (25 years later!) bathing in the same sink!

Of course, as baby photos often do, these ones sparked some other interesting comparisons in my mind. These two are of me and my favourite nephew, Wes. Both of us seem to like chocolate.

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

How to React to the Fall of Rome - Part 2

In the previous post we saw that the ancient church's view of a historical phenomenon (namely, the Roman Empire) shifted dramatically within the space of a few generations, on account of their particular experiences with that empire.

I would suggest that we have seen something somewhat similar take place over the past few generations up until our day--though not with an empire, per se.

I think it is particularly interesting to see how many Christians lament over the end of modernism the way Jerome mourned the fall of Rome. So many of us weep over modernism as if it was a Christian creation, designed for the spread of the gospel--God's chosen means for reaching the world.

In reality, there is little that is further from the truth. In and of itself modernism was never a friend to the gospel. Secular modernist philosophers and scientists have always used modernism as a means of attacking and discrediting the claims of the Christian faith.

For all the ways that modernism has provided a platform for displaying the truthfulness of Christianity (text criticism, archaeological studies of ancient cities, much of creation science, etc.), it was never a 'Christian' view.

The trustworthiness of Christianity in a modern mindset boils down to little more than making a 'case for Christ' logically. The trouble is that Christianity, by its very nature, will not fit in these categories.

All that we are as Christians is based on the claim that Jesus Christ was entirely God and entirely man, lived a perfect life fulfilling God's law, suffered and died to take on the curse of the law for us who receive his righteousness, and that God really did physically and literally raise him from the dead.

But here's the deal: I can't prove that to you in a scientific way. I can point to evidences, but that's all. There is something necessarily personal and experiential (existential?) about the Christian faith. What we believe is not relativism, because our believing does not determine whether something is true or false, but our faith is what saves us.

In other words, it's something personal, internal, 'unprovable' that makes all the difference in the world. That's what our religion is based on. This is the kind of thing that modernists can't grasp. They want something to touch, to examine, to test, to prove.

So what then? Do we rejoice over the fall of Rome? Do we rush off to align ourselves with the newest invaders who have come to expose Rome's weaknesses? Do we embrace all that is postmodernism with open arms?

I suggest that we do what Augustine did. We use this opportunity to look around and evaluate from the perspective of eternity. What about modernism was evil and passing? What was good? What reflected God? How was modernism used for the spread of the kingdom?

And then, we ought to begin asking some careful questions about the 'empire' that is coming upon us. How can we use its strengths and its weaknesses to further the cause of the kingdom? How does postmodernism provide ways for the gospel to go forth that modernism never would?

In the end we must remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is 'God's perspective.' These philosophical mindsets are of man, and they will pass. We need to examine the world around us closely so that we can see how to better hope in, trust in, and point to the world that is to come.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How to React to the Fall of Rome - Part 1

Looking over my notes today from my early church history course, I noticed something interesting. It's nothing new or profound, but it caught my attention anyway. The church's response to the fall of Rome was weird, in many ways.

I think it's necessary to lay some background before we move on.

From the founding of Christianity (Pentecost somewhere around 33AD) to 64AD the Christian church enjoyed religious protection, since it was seen by Rome as a Jewish sect. When Rome burnt in 64AD, however, Nero needed someone to blame and so he blamed the Christians.

Nero's actions set the precedent for persecution of Christians that would last the next few hundred years. Rome was ruled by pagans who hated Christians. From the heart of Rome all the way up to places like Gaul (southern France) Christians were persecuted.

It is important to note that throughout this time period, Christians saw the hand of Satan at work in the Roman Empire, as both he and they sought to destroy Christ's church.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that in 312AD a Roman Emperor (Constantine) becomes a Christian. This is part of a monumental shift for the way Christianity and Rome came to relate. Though (contrary to popular belief) Constantine did not legislate Christianity, he did legally protect Christians from persecution.

As Christianity gained favour with the upper segments of society (it's popular to like what the emperor likes), Rome grew in favour with the Christians as well.

Within a few generations, it seems, Christians had forgotten that Rome had for so long killed and persecuted their forefathers in the faith. Now Rome was a friend to them, and they could see it as nothing else.

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Jerome's reaction to the fall of Rome. In his writings, he laments the fall of the Roman empire, citing Scriptures originally speaking of Jerusalem, and now using them in reference to Rome! Christians like him wept and lamented that this 'Christian' empire could fall.

This is a far cry from the view of Christians who had lived only a few generations before him, who saw Satan at work through the Roman empire.

How could this shift have happened?

It happened because Christians like Jerome were so consumed with what they could see in their own time, that they lost sight of what the scriptures truly do say about kingdoms, empires, and earthly regimes.

Just as a side note, in closing, it must be noted that my personal hero, Augustine, did not fall prey to such a short view. In response to Jerome, Augustine would write letters to him, admonishing him to look past Rome to the City that will never fall. Likewise, against the pagans who said that the fall of Rome meant the fall (and failure!) of Christianity, Augustine wrote the City of God which functions as a theodicy and an apologetic to the philosophers of his day.

What does all this have to do with us and how we view history today, as it unfolds? That's for another post.

Monday, June 04, 2007

TBS Principal's Banquet

I was quite blessed with the privilege of speaking at this year's Principal's Banquet for the Toronto Baptist Seminary. I was to give a 'student's perspective, in three minutes or less.' I was given the task of explaining why I chose to come to TBS, and why I continue to study at TBS. In other words, from a student's perspective, I should answer the question, 'Why should someone continue to support the work at the seminary?'

Below is the manuscript I had written out. It is close to what I actually said.

My name is Julian Freeman and I just finished my second year as a full-time student at TBS. I count it quite a privilege to be here tonight and to have the opportunity to speak to you about why I have chosen to study at TBS and why I continue to study at TBS. I do think it is somewhat unfair for them to give me such a broad, open-ended question, and then only give me a few minutes to talk about my reasons, but here is my best effort anyway.

The first thing that drew me to TBS was the doctrinal statement. I had an opportunity to do my undergraduate degree at a school where I had significant differences in doctrine with some of the professors. This was a benefit to me as it exposed me to many different viewpoints on many different issues. However, when it came time for me to do my graduate work, my work which would be preparation for pastoral ministry, I knew that I had to go to school where I would no longer have to second guess the ones teaching me, but would be able to receive the truth as it was taught emphatically from scriptures.

TBS plays an absolutely crucial role in the training of men for pastoral ministry in Canada, because to the best of my knowledge it is the only complementarian school in Canada and it is also one of the few schools which still emphasizes the doctrines of grace. In these crucial areas our school still stands firm, with the word of God as our authority.

Another key factor in my choosing of TBS was its location. I was born and raised in Toronto, and my church involvement before seminary was in Toronto as well. Attending seminary close to home has allowed me to maintain my closeness to my local congregation, and has allowed them to continue to play a crucial role in my personal and spiritual development as I prepare for ministry. There are simply no other seminaries in the area where a student can go to get a solid, biblical education in preparation for pastoral ministry. The only alternative is to go to the United States, be removed from our local churches and Canadian context, and perhaps never come back. Having a school like TBS here, in Canada, helps ensure that our guys stay here and continue to minister in our context--right where we need them.

The main reason why I have loved being at TBS, however, and what keeps me committed to the school is the professors themselves [men like the kerux, Kirk Wellum, and Michael Haykin]. Never have I once questioned their commitment to us as individuals, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and as those training for future ministry. The professors have always made themselves available for us to speak about what issues concern us, be they spiritual, doctrinal, or personal. Over and over again I have been amazed by the grace of God at work in these men that they so freely give of their time and their talents so sacrificially in order to benefit us and through us, to grow God's kingdom.

I am so thankful to our Lord for what he is doing in our midst at TBS: he has given young men like me who have sensed God's calling on our lives an opportunity to learn God's truths from God's word, as taught by godly professors who are concerned for God's glory in the growth of his kingdom. Please do continue to pray that God would continue to increase the work he is already doing amongst us at TBS.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Hearing God's Word

It seems to me to be an incredible blessing to live with the technology of the 21st century at our disposal. When the Bible was first written it was given to the people of God to be read aloud in their public worship services. Over the years, however, that practice was lost in our modern, western culture of individualism. Now that everyone owns their own Bible (or five) and we no longer need to go to church in order to hear what the Bible says, reading and hearing the Bible read aloud seems redundant and superfluous.

I’m so thankful for technology because it gives us new ways to carry out our old traditions. Recently, when I was at a conference in the States with my friend Tim, I purchased the Bible read by Max McLean on MP3 CDs that I can listen to my car.

My habit lately has been to listen to a single book of the Bible, listening carefully for major themes for connecting thoughts. When the book is over, I hit rewind and hear it read again. I do this several times to get my head around the whole flow of thought int he book.

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times we go back over the same text of God’s inspired word, the Spirit reveals more and more of God’s truth to us through the words on the page. Because of my calling and my stage of life I have found it particularly important to study the pastoral epistles again. I love how in so few pages God has packed so much wisdom for all generations of his church’s undershepherds.

If you have never taken the opportunity to hear God’s word read aloud, then let me encourage you to do so. I think it will amaze you, as it has amazed me, to see how thoughts are related from paragraph to paragraph in a way that you cannot understand simply by reading quietly in your head (also, you don't have to worry about the visual false divisions of chapter and verse).

If you do not have anyone to read the word of God aloud to you then let me suggest simply reading the word on your own out loud to yourself. On the T4G blog, Mark Dever recently confirmed what I had previously been suspicious of, namely, that Ambrose was the first figure in history of whom it is said that he read silently to himself. So before the end of the fourth century it was clearly the practice of our forefathers to read whatever they were reading aloud. If the Bible was written in order to be read aloud, then why not give it a shot?

If you are not convinced by my arguments here, then let me dare you to give it a shot. Go to the ESV web site and spend some time listening to the streaming audio that is available for free. If you don’t benefit from it, then don’t worry about it. But, if you are like me, and you do find benefit in it, then go out and buy yourself the Bible on CD. The more ways we find to make the Bible come to life for us--so that God the Father can reveal Jesus Christ to us through God the Spirit as he speaks through the words on the page--the better!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

All-Male Eldership, Part 6: Concluding Thoughts

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. And finally we come to the...


It has been the intent of this series to present several of the exegetical arguments for the complementarian position. Admittedly, some arguments are more persuasive than others, but we have been firmly founded in the God-breathed texts from the Old and New Testaments throughout.

We have not claimed to have all answers for all questions, nor have we come close to providing exhaustive definitions, arguments and proofs, so as to close the case—that was not the intent. What was desired has been accomplished, however, and the Scriptures have been allowed to interpret themselves in order to present the reader with a broad view of how God inspired his writers to structure the husband-wife relationship.

Since this has been a presentation of the classical interpretation and the plain reading of all of the passages mentioned, a personal plea to the reader must be made:

Do not allow yourself to be swayed away from the doctrine of Paul, Peter, and the historic Christian church by any showy argument.
If there is any temptation to move to a novel egalitarian position, scrutinize motives in agonizing detail: Why do you desire to depart from the biblical teaching?

Examine arguments carefully: Are they logical? Are they consistent with the style and intent of arguments of biblical writers? Are the criteria used biblical in nature?

And most importantly: Make sure your position is derived from Holy Writ and nowhere else. No other text is God-breathed, and no writer since John has been inspired. We may be absolutely sure that God’s will (at least at one point) was for wives to submit to husbands. We may not in any sense whatever be certain that it was ever or ever will be God’s desire for a husband-wife relationship to exist without headship and submission.

Seriously consider: Where does the burden of proof lie? The argument must not be framed in a way so as to make complementarians the ones who must give an explanation why we believe what we do, since what we believe is plainly revealed in Scriptures. The burden of proof clearly lies on egalitarians.

For those swayed by the "cultural exceptions" type arguments, let me ask you this: Just for a moment, put yourself in Paul's place, wanting to lay down clear and binding regulations for the male-female relationship for all Christians everywhere... how would you present it? Would you refer to the creation order and why we were each created? Would you refer to the relationship of man and woman prior to the fall? He did. Would you refer to the undoing of the curse in redeemed Christian relationships? So did he. Would you refer to the inner workings of our Triune God? That was Paul's approach. So now, let me ask you, what could Paul have referred to that would convince you that this commands are binding for all time? There is nothing left! You've rejected every God-breathed reason that has been given.

If we complementarians are wrong, it is because we have attempted to stick too closely to the revealed will of God. If egalitarians are wrong, it is out of desire to abrogate the commands of God in order to appeal to a feminist and pluralistic culture. Clearly, unless there is absolutely not one a single doubt anywhere in your mind that an egalitarian interpretation of Scripture is correct, it only makes sense to remain a complementarian with Paul, Peter and the 2000 years of church history that has followed them. May we all be able to stand before the judgment throne of God one day and be cleared of any charge of adding to or subtracting from all the words of his divine self-revelation.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

All-Male Eldership, Part 5: Headship and the Trinity

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

The Trinity

Perhaps one of the more sobering truths about the egalitarian-complementarian debate is the reality that more is at stake than just the interpretation of a few words or a few verses. Rather, our whole vision of God is altered by how we view the nature of authority relationships. This is so because authority relationships plainly exist within both the immanent Trinity and the economic functioning of the Trinity.

As it has been noted, the husband is given authority over the wife in 1 Cor. 11:3 because “the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Since the word kephalē has never been acknowledged as meaning anything other than “one in authority over another,” we must plainly see that this verse is teaching not only that men are to submit to Christ and that wives are to submit to husbands, but that the example for these requirements to submit is the relationship of Christ submitting to his Father. This example is important because it clearly shows that there can at the same time exist 1) equality in a relationship, and 2) an authority structure within a relationship.

Within the Trinitarian relationship, the Father “gave” his Son (Jn. 3:16) and “sent” the Son (Jn. 3:17, 34; 4:34; 8:42; Gal. 4:4; etc.). The Father predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29; cf. 1 Pet. 1:2) and “chose us in the Son” before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The Son is obedient to the commands of the Father (Jn. 12:49; Phil. 2:5-10) and confessed that he had come to “do the will” of the Father who “sent him” (Jn. 4:34; 6:38). God the Father created the world “through” his Son (Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 8:6). These relationships are never reversed. The Son never initiates of his own will, never directs the Father, never creates through the Father, never sends the Father. The Father never speaks the words that the Son gives him to speak. The Son sits at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3, 13; 1 Pet. 3:22; etc.). The Father never sits at the right hand of the Son.

These relationships are proven to be eternal (ie. they exist in the immanent Trinity and are not limited to the economic functioning of the Trinity while Christ was on earth) for several reasons. It is easily seen that the Father created the world through the Son (see above). Even before the creation of the world, however, the Father chose his elect in Christ to be reconciled to him through Christ (Eph. 1:4-5). Furthermore, passages such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 make it plain that it was the predetermined and definite plan of God the Father that Christ would come and suffer for the sins of his people (interpretation affirmed by NT preaching; Acts 2:23). Moreover, it is plainly visible in John 17, at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry that he viewed both his words and his own followers as those which God the Father had given him. After the defeat of death, at the consummation of all things, Christ remains under the authority of God the Father who has always held all authority (1 Cor. 15:26-28).

God is one and all parts of the Trinity remain equal in holiness, worth, beauty, etc., yet there is clearly presented within the Trinity an authority structure relationship. All this has yet said nothing about the Holy Spirit who is portrayed as being under the authority of both Father and Son, yet is himself in authority over neither of the others. We must allow this picture to form our understanding of value and authority in a culture that views being in authority as great and being under authority as horrible. The picture of submission within Scripture itself shows that submission to a rightful authority is a beautiful, noble, even wonderful task because it models the Trinity itself. Thus the husband is seen as a picture of Christ (because he is an authority over his wife, as Christ is authority over man) and the woman is seen as a picture of Christ (because Christ is under the authority of the Father and gladly submits to his will). Both positions in the relationship are godly and God-glorifying.