Monday, January 29, 2007

On the 'Inadequacy' of Language

I've often come across (and myself even flirted with) several forms of the notion that language is entirely 'inadequate' to describe God. In fact, I still in many ways find this to be true. No language can exhaustively declare the reality, the beauty, the holiness of our Triune God.

What is unfortunate, however, is how often people in our day will take their queues from neo-orthodoxy and give up on propositional language at all to describe God. God becomes one meant to be experienced rather than spoken of.

I have found some observations from Vern S. Poythress on this topic to be quite helpful, so I thought I'd post them for your pondreing as well.

On what basis are we to make judgments about adequacy and inadequacy ... ? What could we mean by saying that human language is inadequate to talk about God ... ? In what way is it "inadequate"? And what do we expect talk about God ... to be like? Our expectations and definitions of "adequacy" ... are themselves shot through with values, with preferences, desires, standards, and perhaps disappointments at goals that we set but are not reached. Where do these values come from? If God is Lord, we ought to conform our values to his standards. Hence there is something intrinsically rebellious about negatively evaluating biblical language [for its adequacy as "God talk"].[1]

He continues, pointing out the self-defeating nature of these notions of the uselessness of language to speak of God:

How does the objector obtain the necessary knowledge about God, truth, and cultures in order to make a judgment about the adequacy of language for expressing theology and truth, and for achieving cross-cultural communications? How does he do this when he himself is largely limited by the capabilities of his own language and culture?[2]

So, what can we say to all these things? Is language enough to speak of God sufficiently? Absolutely not. But at the end of the day, I think it's safest to land where Augustine does, after spending a page of small print describing some of the glorious mysteries of God:
You are my God, my Life, my Holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you!
I may never be able to describe God completely, but may that never stop me from spending every last breath he gives me declaring his goodness and his glory!

[1] Vern S. Poythress, “Adequacy of Language and Accomodation,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, ed. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 353.

[2] Ibid., 354.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Gleanings on the Spirit from Acts

I don't know if you're anything like me, but if you are, then you probably wonder from time to time why you have to learn something so many times before it finally sinks in. This morning, as I was reading through Acts, I couldn't help but be struck with the reality of my need to regularly read big chunks of Scripture at a single sitting.

This is true for lots of reasons. For one thing, it's the way Scripture was meant to be learned. Luke didn't write Acts in handy little chapters and verses so that we could read a little bit each day. He wrote it as one story to be read aloud or to oneself in one sitting. If we want to understand a book of the Bible, we need to read it like it was meant to be read.

Following on that reason, it brings out a lot of the bigger themes that you're so prone to miss in a book if you don't see them repeated over several chapters. Call me an idiot, but it blew my mind to see this time through the book just how big a role the Holy Spirit plays in this book. It's plain to see, I know, but our need of the Spirit, the necessity of the Spirit going where the gospel goes, the sovereignty of the Spirit in determining where the gospel goes, the role of the Spirit in guiding and protecting believers, the role of the Spirit in redemptive-history, the necessity of the filling of the Spirit for any effective ministry... over and over and over again the Holy Spirit (or 'the Spirit' or 'the Spirit of Jesus') is emphatically spoken of as essential to the gospel-cause.

That's something that I need to hear more of. In the cessationist circles I've always moved in the Spirit is viewed with a funny kind of suspicion--as if he really actually did have something to do with those whacko tv-preachers. Obviously that's not who he is. But the temptation, of course, is to swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that we leave the Spirit no room in our lives or churches.

In fact, I dare confess that there have been times in my life when in my own theology I have made the Spirit out to be a sort of demi-God, under the Father and Jesus who are truly God. I mean, I would never have said this, but it seems to be the way I viewed the world. I looked at God working in this world as if the Father could or would do anything without doing it through his Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Free Online Don Carson Sermons

Les Jumeaux posted this link a little while ago, and I immediately checked it out. It was only on my second or third perusal of the list that I realized just how much of an awesome resource this is.

Here is a listing of all the free online D.A. Carson sermons that these guys have found. They're broken up under categories, such as 'The New Perspective on Paul', 'The Emerging Church', 'Eschatology', 'The Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament', etc. There is even this message here, in which D.A. Carson declares what Toronto needs the most.

Thanks to the twins for this head's up!

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Past Weekend

This past weekend I was extremely humbled and blessed to be invited to preach at the Winter Retreat for the Nipissing University / Canadore College Christian Fellowship. We gathered on Friday evening at Camp Kahquah in Magnetawan, ON.

As a group, they're studying The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges this year, so they asked me to come and preach on the topic of holiness. I was asked to preach on Friday night, twice on Saturday, and again on Sunday morning.

To be honest, I really wasn't sure what to expect from this group. Some campus ministry groups I've known have been pretty flaky, so I was suspicious. But when I got there, I was pleasantly surprised.

As a group, they were attentive to the word being preached (which is saying a lot, given the preacher!), they were eager to think through the hard issues brought up, challenge each other through discussions in small groups, and were full of questions for me on practical issues of holy living that each of them were facing in their own lives.

I was truly blessed to have spent this time with these dear brothers and sisters, and have been truly humbled by the invitation to come and teach the word of God to them.

I would like to give special thanks to Nathan for putting my name forward as a possibility to come and preach. If it weren't for his recommendation I wouldn't have had the chance to be encouraged by these believers in North Bay. This was a weekend for which I am truly thankful to God.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Desperate Need of Jesus

This morning I found myself finishing up the last few chapters of Luke and realizing again just how desperately I need Jesus.

I confess that for much of my Christian life I have seen my need of Jesus mainly in a soteriological sense (i.e. I need his vicarious death to accomplish forgiveness of my sins and so that I can be clothed with his righteousness). To be sure, that need is the burden of these chapters in Luke. Jesus himself, we are told, explained to his disciples 'that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations'. This is why Jesus died, and this is what we need from him, first and foremost. That's what Scriptures testify, and that's what I believe.

But there's more than that, though. I have so much more need of Jesus that I can see even just from these few chapters.

At the beginning of chapter 22 we are told that Satan enters into Judas. Half way through the chapter, Jesus says these words to Peter: 'Behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.' Wow. God ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by Judas, who gave himself over to Satan, but when Satan wanted Peter, Jesus said no.

What stands between Satan and me? What stops Satan (or one of his workers) from entering me and working in me to do his bidding? What holds Satan back from causing my faith to fail? The will of God and the prayers of Jesus. I have great need of Jesus to pray for me and be merciful to keep me.

In a similar vein, I need Jesus to remember me. This was the request of the thief on the cross, that when Jesus would come into his kingdom, that he would remember--be favourable to, merciful to--this thief who was guilty of sin and crime and deserved nothing but death and punishment. How am I any different than the thief? I need Jesus to remember me, too.

In these chapters is recounted the literal, historic events of Jesus' death and resurrection. As Paul would teach later (Rom 6), we have need of Christ's death becoming our death to sin (and to the law). In this way, we die to sin and to the law, and are no longer held captive by it, to do its will. Rather, all who have baptized into Christ, having been unified with him in his death, have been made alive with him in his resurrection. I have great need of Christ's resurrection, which makes me alive to God. Though formerly I was dead in transgressions and sins, now through Christ's resurrection, I have been made alive to God, that I might do his will.

In the last chapter of Luke we read of the two walking to Emmaus, who meet up with Jesus, but can't figure out that it's him. Jesus describes himself as the fulfilment of everything that has come before (Moses and the Prophets), but they still don't get it. It wasn't until he broke bread with them that their eyes were opened. I have great need of Jesus to open my eyes to see him for who he is. I am foolish and slow of heart to believe the word of God, but his grace is sufficient to enable me to see with the eyes of faith.

The disciples (and the rest of humanity since!) are no different than the two on the road. When Jesus comes to them they don't know what to make of him. They think all kinds of wrong thoughts about him (like, 'Maybe he's just a spirit or something?'). It wasn't until Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures that they could understand Jesus.

I have great need of Jesus opening my eyes to understand the Bible, in order for me to know him. Unless Jesus grants that my eyes be opened I can read the Bible till I die (or not read the Bible till I die) and I will never know Jesus. The only way to know him is from his word, and the only way to understand his word is if he opens our minds.

Man, am I needy!

And to think, that's from only a few chapters...

Friday, January 12, 2007

It's Dumb to be a Hypocrite

I know it's true, because Jesus said so.

And yet, the sad reality is that this truth is one I need to continually be preaching to myself and my foolish heart.

This morning as I was reading through a portion of Luke's gospel I came across these verses:

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
I take this to be showing me that hypocrisy is dumb. Here's why:
  1. It's dumb to try to keep your sin secret when nothing's going to stay secret forever. When we hide things we're hiding them from men because we want to impress (we're afraid of) men. But what we try to hide won't remain hidden forever anyway. So even the things we can keep hidden for now won't remain 'our little secret' for good. If you're a Christian who's tried to live in sin you know this to be true. Your sins will always find you out.
  2. It's dumb to fear people when all they can do is kill you. That may seem like a big deal, but think about it. For those of us who have access to computers and the internet, the chances of actually being martyred for our faith are pretty ridiculously small. But even if it were a real and pressing danger (as it was for the man speaking these words), so what? It's not like you weren't going to die anyway. If you fear men, you'll die one way or another and then you'll be out of their reach. But there's something way worse than death, and that's hell. Jesus won't settle with people being wishy-washy with him. You either fear men or else you fear God. There's no middle ground.
So which would you rather have? A little bit of comfort here and now in the presence of men--until they figure out who you really are and realize you're a hypocrite--and then an eternity of torment in hell, or some persecution and hardship now, with a clean conscience and full assurance of an eternity of unimaginable joy to come?

You're telling me it's not dumb to be a hypocrite?

Gnosticism: A Very Brief Introduction

In our times Gnosticism has had a startling revival. It continues to pop up in popular books, magazines, news articles, etc. Where did this thing called Gnosticism come from? Who were some of the key players?

What follows is a very brief introduction to the second-century Gnosticism engaged by early Christians like Irenæus (c.130-c.202).

The Gnostics were individuals who belonged to various religious movements, who believed that people could be saved only by their knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge was secret—known only by those to whom it had been revealed by God. Though Gnostics were involved in a variety of religions and sects, they particularly flourished through their association with the fringes of Christianity.

Gnosticism is known widely for its particularly sharp dualism: that which is “spiritual” is good, but that which is physical is bad. This influenced everything they thought and taught. For example, creation was the result of the fall of “wisdom.” Thus, even the very act of the creation of the physical was a result of sin. The one sent by God to be the redeemer of the universe, then, is sent so as to bring a “secret knowledge” to God’s people by which they may be saved.

Also as a result of this sharp dualism morals of Gnostics varied. Some believed that since knowledge of the spiritual was all that was required for salvation how one behaved physically was of no relevance, and thus rampant immorality was encouraged. Others argued that since the physical was bad, it should not be indulged in any sense. This latter group was the more common position and resulted in drastic asceticism. Under this view marriage, sexuality, wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and many other things essential to the Christian life had to be abandoned.

The Christology of Gnostics was affected drastically by the idea that anything physical is evil. They were forced to hold to a Docetic view of Christ, insisting that he was not human, nor physical, nor were his sufferings real. Rather, all of these were mere apparitions.

The Gnostics were also dualists in their view of God. They saw a sharp contrast between the God of the Old Testament and the God and Father of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament was a God of justice and anger, committed only the nation of Israel, willing to destroy all the nations of the world for their sake. The God of the New Testament, they argued, is much more merciful and loving. The God of the Old Testament created the world which is physical and therefore evil, but the God of the New Testament is spiritual and is concerned with saving people through a secret knowledge of the spiritual which is revealed in Jesus.

The Gnostics were prolific writers and produced many works still extant even now. The Mandaean communities currently living in modern day Iraq and Iran are the only remnant of Gnosticism in today’s world. Even this sect, however, did not come into existence until at least the second century ad and thus had no influence on the world of Christ or the writing of the New Testament.

It is argued that Simon of Acts 8 was a prototype which later Gnostics would follow and modify. Several other key Gnostic figures and teachers include Cerinthus, Marcion, Basilides, Carpocrates, and the most prominent teacher, Valentinus.