Moving Beyond a ‘Plain’ Reading of Scripture

In theological debate, a plain and straightforward reading of Scripture is often adduced as a compelling “biblical” argument.  However, a straightforward reading of Scripture is often in danger of reading the Bible out of context, by truncating or removing texts from their original contexts.  In this way, many “biblical” arguments turn out to be exercises in theological redaction and atomistic hermeneutics.

This is the point that Lee Gattis makes in his recent book on the extent of the atonement.  He writes,

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God’s Love: Particular in Its Design, Infinite in Its Offer

When considering the love of God towards fallen humanity, one of the greatest challenges is rightly discerning how his particular love for his children (1 John 3:1-2) is distinguished from his universal love towards all people (Matthew 5:45).  On that subject Charles Hodge has provided a couple helpful illustrations in his Systematic Theology.  Listen to what he says, and tell me what you think.  I’d love to know if you think these illustration are helpful or not.

If a ship containing the wife and children of a man standing on the shore is wrecked, he may seize a boat and hasten to their rescue. His motive is love to his family; his purpose is to save them. But the boat which he has provided may be large enough to receive the whole of the ship’s company. Would there be any inconsistency in his offering them the opportunity to escape? Or, would this offer prove that he had no special love to his own family and no special design to secure their safety. And if any or all of those to whom the offer was made, should refuse to accept it, some from one reason, some from another; some because they did not duly appreciate their danger; some because they thought they could save themselves; and some from enmity to the man from whom the offer came, their guilt and folly would be just as great as though the man had no special regard to his own family, and no special purpose to effect their deliverance.

Or, if a man’s family were with others held in captivity, and from love to them and with the purpose of their redemption, a ransom should be offered sufficient for the delivery of the whole body of captives, it is plain that the offer of deliverance might be extended to all on the ground of that ransom, although specially intended only for a part of their number.

Or, a man may make a feast for his own friends, and the provision be so abundant that he may throw open his doors to all who are willing to come. This is precisely what God, according to the Augustinian doctrine, has actually done. Out of special love to his people, and with the design of securing their salvation, He has sent his Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept of it. Christ, therefore, did not die equally for all men. He laid down his life for his sheep; He gave Himself for his Church. But in perfect consistency with all this, He did all that was necessary, so far as a satisfaction to justice is concerned, all that is required for the salvation of all men. So that all Augustinians can join with the Synod of Dort in saying, ‘No man perishes for want of an atonement.'” (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:556).

For more quotes on this subject, click on Atonement (Extent).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Priest’s Particular Work (NT)

Moving from Old Testament to New, the particularity of the priestly office continues.  In fact, just as the high priest represents the 12 tribes whose names are engraved on his heart; Christ lays down his life for his church, the New Israel, those who are made new in Christ (cf. Gal 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9).

Jesus Priesthood in John’s Gospel

For instance, in John, Jesus describes his atoning work as accomplishing salvation for those who believe (3:16), for all his sheep (10:14), for all his friends (15:13), and for all those God the Father has “given to him” —Jew or Gentile.  Consider Jesus high priestly prayer,

Since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:2, 6-9).

As John records it, Jesus does not reveal himself or pray uniformly to all people.  He prays for those whom the father has given him.  In priestly vernacular, he mediates only for those whose names are written on his ephod and breastpiece.

Maybe you are thinking, can we really connect Exodus 28-29 with John 17? That is a legitimate question, so it is important to see that there do seem to be some linguistic and conceptual links between the two passages.  This is most evident in verses 16-19.

They [i. e. those whom God has given to Jesus] are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world… For their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth

In this brief prayer, there are at least two words/ideas that were used in Exodus 28–sanctify/sanctified and consecrate.  Apparently, as Jesus anticipates his atoning death, he prays to the Father for his own.  He stakes the fact that he will consecrate himself for them, which has explicit reference to his priestly work of sacrifice, so that they might be sanctified for access into God’s holy dwelling (cf. Heb 10:19ff).  This was obviously the purpose of Exodus 25-40; and so it is with Jesus, who makes atonement not in an earthly tabernacle, but in God’s heavenly temple.  And who does he make atonement for?  According to John 17, it is those people whom the father has given.  This is not a universal group; it is God’s particular covenant people.

Jesus’s Priestly Work in John’s Apocalypse

Finally, the list of names for whom Jesus represents as priest is also given in Revelation.  For instance, in Revelation 13:8, John declares that judgment is coming upon “Everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.”  In other words, God in eternity past purposed whose names would be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Here, John is warning earth-dwellers of their impending demise, but by contrast, those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will be saved.  Clearly, it would be inappropriate to say that this passage refers to the ephod or the breastpiece.  However, the principle is analogous.  In both the Lamb’s Book of Life and on his priestly garments are the names of those for whom Christ died.  Again, the names indicate a particular representation for a particular people.

Likewise, in Revelation 17:8, John records, “And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.” Like the earlier verse in chapter 13, John is describing those whose names are left out of the book; but that has to imply that their are others–a countless multitude in Revelation 7–whose names are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Thus in both positive (the ephod and breastpiece) and negative (the book of life) terms, God distinguishes those whom the Lamb dies for, and those whom he does not.  As God’s appointed priest and sacrifice, God sends him to earth to be slain, so that by his blood he would ransom people for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (5:9-10).  In this way, God’s particular means of salvation are made known to all the earth; and the promise that the gospel will be universally effective is found in the fact that in every tribe, language, people, and nation, God has his chosen ones.  In this way, God’s offer of salvation can be offered to all people indiscriminately; and it has the promise of absolute efficacy, because of Christ’s perfect, priestly atonement and intercession (see Hebrews 9-10).

The Good News of Christ’s Priestly Work

This is the Good News!  Christ’s salvation cannot be revoked.  It cannot be overturned.  It will not fail.  While the Levitical priests were weak, and unable to cleanse human guilt, they did preserve the flesh.  Yet, they could never save the soul.

Not so with Jesus.  His priestly ministry is infinitely better.  For all whom he died, he effectively saved.  He is a glorious and beautiful priest!  He perfectly intercedes for all those whose name are on his vestments; he does not forget us.  We are close to his heart.  As John records, He has lost not one!  And all those who have trusted in him and repented of sin, can have glad-hearted confidence that their name is written across his heart.

May we proclaim that word all over the earth, until the priestly-king returns to reign on the earth!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Sermon Notes: The Priest’s Particular Work (OT)

In typological fashion, the names of Israel engraved on the breastpiece & ephod show how the priest represents God’s people before YHWH.  In other words, in Exodus 28 we learn that the priestly duty was to represent Israel before God in the holy of holies (cf Heb 5:1).  Specifically, verses 12 and 29 say that Israel was to remember them as they were kept on Aaron’s heart as he entered the holy of holies.  In this way, he made atonement for Israel.  Notice, in the OT, he didn’t make atonement for Egypt, Assyria, or Babylon.  He only represented those who were redeemed from Egypt, who passed through the sea, who were in covenant with God at Sinai.  It tells us that the priestly service was for those who are in covenant with God.  In fact, the Exodus 28 is a very strong typological argument for definite atonement.  Let’s consider.

To start, the priestly garments are made “for glory and for beauty” (28:2), but they are not simply for aesthetics; they are highly symbolic and even instructive for discerning what the priest did behind the veil.[1]  As Carol Meyers puts it, “priestly office and priestly garb are inextricably related.”[2]  G.K. Beale has developed the connection between the priestly garments, the temple and the universe,[3] but there is also good reason to examine the relationship between the priest and the covenant people.

In this regard, the priestly attire ‘visualizes’ the particular nature of the atonement.[4]  It does so in this way: From head to foot, the priest is to wear the holy attire designed and decorated to teach Israel and later generations what the priest is doing as he enters into the holy of holies.[5]  Of greatest interest (and illumination) are the “shoulder pieces” and the “breastpiece of judgment.”   Concerning the former, YHWH instructs,

And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked. It shall have two shoulder pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together… You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. As a jeweler engraves signets, so shall you engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel… And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance (Exod 28:6-12; cf. 39:2-7).

The purpose of the shoulder pieces is far more than ancient Near Eastern fashion or utilitarian function.  The names of the twelve tribes were “deeply and permanently cut into the onyx,”[6] signifying the priest’s intimate connection with the people of Israel. As the priest of the covenant, he mediated for the people of the covenant.  Of this “corporate solidarity” that the priest shared with Israel, it was a necessary function of his office to be in communicative relation with those whom he represents. In other words, the priest does not mediate for an unspecified group or number, the “stones of remembrance” were designated to represent “the sons of Israel”—one stone for each tribe.  So that, when the priest entered the tabernacle, and later the temple he did so with Israel on his heart and mind.[7]

In the same way, the high priest’s breastpiece of judgment functioned as a symbol of the high priest’s covenantal representation.[8]  Moses records,

You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work… It shall be square and doubled, a span its length and a span its breadth. You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree. There shall be twelve stones with their names according to the names of the sons of Israel. They shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes… So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD (Exod 28:15-30; cf. 39:8-21).

Like the shoulder pieces, the breastpiece is designed to bring the sons of Israel into “regular remembrance before the Lord” (v. 29).  Again, as a priest chosen from his brothers for his brothers and their families, he does not generally atone, intercede, or minister.  Rather, God has appointed the high priest to make atonement for God’s particular people, people who knew they had a priest.  Rightly, D.K. Stuart says, “the high priest symbolized Israel” and “that whatever he did, he did as the people’s representative, and his actions would have the same essential effect that they would have if all of them, one by one, had done the same thing.”[9]  This, by itself doesn’t prove definite atonement, but it does show the exact representation of his priestly office.  It is not general, but particular.[10]

In fact, this notion of personal relationship between priest and people has been forcefully argued by Hugh Martin as evidence against indefinite atonement. Unpacking Hebrews 5:1, which develops the Levitical priesthood, Martin argues that the law of the office of the priest “rests on personal relation,” and this relation is not abstract.  Rather, the priest represents “individual men, particular persons.”[11]  Moving from textual observation to dogmatic assertion, he concludes,

If the atonement of Christ falls under the category of His Priesthood, it is impossible it can be impersonal, indefinite, unlimited; for the priesthood is not.  In order to its very constitution, it pre-requires personal relation; and the same must be true of the Atonement, unless the Atonement transpires outside the limits and actings and conditions of the priesthood…The pre-requisite of personal relation to particular persons is so indispensable in all real priesthood whatsoever.  It is true of “every” priest that is taken from among men [Heb 5:1].  Any “general reference” contradictory to this, or in addition to this—except simply community nature, secured by his being taken from among men—violates the very first principles of the office.[12]

While the priestly garments do not give conclusive evidence for Christ’s particular work on the cross; they are very suggestive.  Moreover, the fact that Christ, as the antitype of Israel’s high priest, wears the golden plate on his head declaring ‘Holy to the Lord’ and the names of his covenant people on his chest; there is great reason to see in his attire the inseparable union of Christ and his elect from every nation.

What do you think? Would love to hear how you think Christ’s priestly garments typify the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


[1]They also connote a strong sense of authority.  See Douglas Stuart, Exodus, New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 604.

[2]Carol Meyers, Exodus, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 240.

[3]G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 39-45.

[4]For instance, speaking of the priest in his vestments, Alec Motyer writes, “he is the visual display of the Lord’s ‘judgment,’ his opinion regarding his people” (J. A. Motyer, The Message of Exodus, The Bible Speaks Today, ed. J.A. Motyer [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005], 279.

[6]Stuart, Exodus, 609.  Stuart’s offhand comment about the engraving does not in itself signify anything about the definite nature of the atonement, but it does add to the mounting evidence that the priestly work was for a people whom he would not forget (cf. Isa 49:16).

[7]“This feature [the names engraved on the priestly attire] has commemorative symbolic value, bringing all Israel into the tabernacle with Aaron as he carries out the rituals thought to help secure the well-being of the people or adjudicate their conflicts” (Meyers, Exodus, 241).

[8]“The breastpiece was not merely a patch on his ephod but a square frontal vest, a very prominent, central, expansive, symbolic display of the covenant relation of God to his people” (Stuart, Exodus, 610).

[9]Stuart, Exodus, 611.

[10]On this point, it should be noted that the priests served the covenant people only, and they stood against those who were outside the people of God (David Williams, The Office of Christ and Its Expression in the Church, 13-14).

[11]All these quotes are taken from Hugh Martin’s discussion of the nature of Christ’s priestly office in The Atonement, 58.  Martin ties this particular relationship to the definite nature of the atonement.  Speaking of the Levitical priests, he says, “The priests of Levi were chosen for, or in lieu of, the first-born [Num 3]; and they were ordained for [Lev 8-9], or in room and on behalf of men, even for the Israel of God collectively and individually.  They acted for individuals; and besides such action, they had no priestly action whatsoever, no official duty to discharge.  The introduction of a ‘general reference’ into the theory of their office is an absurdity” (The Atonement, 65).

[12]The Atonement, 63-65.

Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as God’s Meeting Place

A Tent of Meeting

The holiness of God in his sanctuary is matched by the plan for God to meet with his people at the tabernacle.  Now to avoid confusion, it should be said that later, in Exodus 33:7-11 to be exact, there will be a tent constructed that is called the “tent of meeting.”  This is not the same thing as the tabernacle.  This is a temporary meeting place where Moses met with God, but this was only to last until the tabernacle was constructed.  Still, the purpose was the same—to meet with God.

In Exodus 25, there are two verses that make this meeting place explicit.

25:8. And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.

25:22. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.

While the meeting place plays a significant role in the life of Israel, it also helps Christians today to understand the kind of relationship that we have with God in and through Jesus Christ.  Let us notice three ways that the tabernacle in Exodus foreshadows Christ–the true tent of meeting.

Jesus is the True Tabernacle

That God instructs Moses to build this tabernacle foreshadows God’s loving desire to meet with rebellious humanity.  In this way, the tabernacle is an incredible source of encouragement.  God who dwells in heaven, has moved heaven and earth to reach down to us.  When we could not get up to him; he climbed down the ladder to get to us.

John sees this tabernacling impulse of God in Jesus Christ.  John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth.”  The word for “dwelt” is literally “tabernacled.”  In Jesus, we have a greater tabernacle, one made without human hands, in which the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col 2:9). Likewise, John says that Jesus is full of grace and truth, which also references Exodus, for in chapter 34, God “appears” to Moses and describes himself as a God as “abounding in steadfast love (grace) and faithfulness (truth).” 

When we read about the tabernacle, we cannot comprehend fully its significance without seeing that it is the shadow of the substance of Jesus Christ.  Yet, in the tabernacle, we don’t just have a general connection between the tabernacle and Christ, it also gets more specific.

The Incarnation

In Exodus 25, there are three kinds of furniture.  In verses 25:10-22, Moses receives directions for constructing the ark of the covenant.  In verses 23-30, a blueprint for the table for the bread of the presence is given; and in verses 31-40, the golden lampstand, otherwise known as a Menora is given.  Each are covered with gold and placed inside the residence of God.  Now while the gold speaks of the value and worth of the deity who inhabits this home, the three pieces of furniture—a seat, a table, and a light—were the common furnishing of the ancient Israelite.

When God comes to dwell with Israel, he assumes the same humble residence as those in the wilderness.  Though not incarnation in the New Testament sense of the term, this is a kind of incarnation that prepares the way for the true Immanuel.  His gracious condescension meets us where we are, and he becomes just like us.  He is not just a God transcendent.  He is a God close, personal, and as near as the hearing of his word.

We see the incarnation in another way as well.  On the inside of the tabernacle are beautiful colors—scarlet, blue, and purple.  Everything is covered in gold.  It shines forth the glory of God.  Yet, from the outside, the temple is drab.  The beautiful garments on the inside are covered by the black curtains of goats hair.  While the light burns eternal inside the tabernacle, all outside is dark.

Again this teaches us much about the life and ministry of Christ.  When he came to the earth, he did not come in power, glory, or beauty.  Rather, he became a common carpenter.  If you saw him in a crowd, he would not have had a radiant glow or a halo over his head.  He was plain and common.  He was human.  So common was his appearance that Isaiah can say, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should rejoice him” (53:2).

This is the antithesis of our culture and the world at large.  In our world, image really is everything.  Have you ever see an ugly person on the news?  What about on the cover of a magazine?  On TV?  We are a culture who has confused glamour for beauty.  I would go so far as to say that we know little of  what true beauty is.  The tabernacle is a corrective for this.  God’s dwelling with humanity is beautiful.  Yet, from an earthly point of view it is unimpressive.  Such is the wisdom of God.

Atonement  

Not only does the tabernacle point us to Christ’s incarnation, it also foreshadows and explains his atonement.  We see this in the altar and the mercyseat.

The Bronze Altar.  Standing in the center of the courtyard, the priests could not enter the tabernacle without passing this giant altar.  As T.D. Alexander describes it, “this altar dominated the area in front of the tabernacle; it was half the width of the tabernacle (2.5 metres) and over 4 feet high” (T.D. Alexander, From Paradise to Promised Land200). It was constantly burning with sacrifices, and as Hebrews picks it up, it teaches us how much more valuable Christ’s New Covenant sacrifice was than all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood (Heb 13:10-12).

The Mercy Seat.  In addition to the altar that stands outside the tabernacle, there is the mercy seat that rests inside God’s inner chamber.  It was here that God dwelled, and significantly it was a place where mercy might be found.  Though a series of purification rituals were needed for the priest to come into the most holy place once a year on the day of atonement, it was nonetheless a place of mercy and grace in time of need (cf. Heb 4:14-16).

Significantly, the name “mercy seat” is translated in Greek by the word, hilasterion, which is the word translated in English as “expiation,” “propitiation,” or “atoning sacrifice” (see Graham Cole for an up to date, careful, and evangelical reading of hilasterion in the New Testament in his God the Peacemaker).  That the the mercy seat is the place where God’s wrath is removed and replaced with his favor is significant; more significant however, is the way in which that propitiation is procured.  It is by the blood of the lamb that is sprinkled on the throne of God.  In the Old Covenant, this atoning sacrifice permitted God’s people to dwell in his presence.  It protected Israel in the flesh from God’s anger breaking out on those in the camp.  However, in the New Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice does not merely atone for the flesh; it purifies the conscience as well.  Moreover, it is not applied to a shadowy tabernacle on earth; iti is applied to the heavenly altar in the throne room of God.  Thus, his sacrifice is far superior and finally efficacious.

Thus we conclude today with the statement in Hebrews 9:12-14, that depends heavily on sacrificial system established in Exodus.

[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Beware of ‘Airy Nothings’: Hugh Martin on the Atonement

Anyone who has spent time studying the nature of the atonement knows that there is much debate around the unpopular notion of  penal substitution.  Even in the last few decades, “crucicentric” evangelicals have begun questioning the atonement and its penal nature, along with its substitutionary role in salvation. In its place have arisen a bevy of Christus Victor and Christus Exemplar theories.  Thus, a defense of penal substitution is always needed.  Yet, sometimes the best defense comes not from our own day, but from centuries gone-bye.

Such is the case with Hugh Martin.  In his work entitled simply, The Atonement, Martin, a Scottish Presbyterian from the nineteenth century, does a masterful job unpacking the biblical presentation of the cross “as it relates to the covenant, the priesthood, and the intercession of our Lord.”  He argues for penal subtitution and particular redemption and presents a robust understanding of the cross.

In a world of competing theories of atonement, Martin’s biblical logic is much appreciated and instructive.  While many like Steve Chalke, Denny Weaver, and Thomas Finger offer a reductionistic approach to the cross, Martin incorporates all the biblical data and secures it to the penal substitution of the cross.  He argues that if you “get” the primary nature of the cross, you will be able to keep the other secondary and tertiary benefits; but if you misunderstand penal substitution, you will let go of everything else too.  His quote is worthy of consideration and meditation.

(1) It was by the atonement of a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, satisfying Divine justice, that Christ had scope for that unmurmuring patience by which He left us an ‘Example’ that we should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21-24)

(2) It was by dying a substitutionary and atoning death that He underwent ‘Martyrdom’ as a witness for the truth (John 18:37).

(3) It was in setting His face as a flint to go to Jerusalem, there to fill up with antitypical reality all Jerusalem’s priestly services, by offering Himself without spot to God a curse-bearing sacrifice for sin, that He denied Himself and took up His cross, and commended ‘Self-denial’ to His followers.

(4) It was when he proffered Himself to the sword of offended justice, awakened against Him, according to His own covenant arrangement, by the Father, that He illustrated ‘Self-surrender.’

(5) With Him, ‘Self-sacrifice’ was specifically sacrifice for sin, a satisfaction and a reconciliation.

(6) There is indeed in His Cross a ‘Governmental Display.’  It ‘declares the righteousness of God for the remission of sins;’ but only because Christ is there ‘set forth a propitiation through faith in His blood’ (Rom 3:25).  And it declares, manifests, [and] displays the love of God; but only in that God ‘sent forth His Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).

(7) A ‘Moral Influence,’ also, undoubtedly flows from the cross of Jesus.  But it is a fountain of moral influence; — moral influence without spiritual power were needlessly exerted on men dead in trespasses and sins; — it is a fountain both of Moral Influence and of regenerating energy to turn us unto righteousness, only because He there gave Himself in justice-satisfying substitution, ‘the just for the unjust, that He might bring us unto God’ (1 Pet 3:18).

Secure the intrinsic and essential nature, and the primary and direct design of the atoning death of Christ, and all the secondary results—flitting otherwise as mere shades in dream-land, vainly claiming the reality of fact—become real and true, and are secured.  But when they claim to be of the essence of the atonement, they fight against their realization… In the hands of those who plead them as explanations of the cross, they are at the best but ‘airy nothings;’ ‘their local habitation,’ and only home of life—their source of truth, reality, and power—is just that same old doctrine which they malign and would subvert.  As if sunbeams revile the sun! (The Atonement [Greenville, SC: Reformed Academic Press, 1997], 69-71).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

TGC Reviews

I recently had the opportunity to review a couple of new books on the cross of Christ.  Graham Cole’s God the Peacemaker and Atonement, a compilation edited by Gabriel Fluhrer, are both helpful treatments on the work of Christ.  In the former, Australian-native and TEDS professor, Cole provides a biblical-theologial treatment of the atonement which delves into the personal and universal effects of the cross.  In the latter, evangelical stalwarts like J.I. Packer, J.M Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, and others expound Scripture to give a rich treatment of the beauty and majesty of the cross.

You can read both of my reviews at TGC Reviews–which by the way is a brand new website connected with the Gospel Coalition, and looks to be an excellent resource for pointing people to high-octane books.  I appreciate Mike Pohlman and John Starke who are coordinating this project.  Well Done!  Check it out: TGCReviews.com

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Pascal on the Glory and the Garbage of the Universe

Graham Cole quotes Blaise Pascal in his chapter, “The Glory and Garbage of the Universe” (God the Peacemaker).  With arresting language, Pascal bemoans of our condition:

What sort of freak then is man!  How novel, how monstruous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious!  Judge of all things, feeble earth-worm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe… Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness!  (Quoted in from Pascal’s Pensees in God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009], 53).

So too, the ‘true religious’ preacher must preach on the wages of sin that lead to death and deform our lives, and the glorious possibilities of life found in Christ, led by his re-creative Spirit.  May we consider Pascals words and grow downward in humility and upward in adoration of the God who made us and makes us anew in Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Thinking about the Atonement?!

Currently, I am taking a hiatus from my doctoral studies.  Having recently moved to a new city, with a baby on the way, and learning what the daily life of a pastor looks like, I thought it best to ‘interrupt’ my studies for one semester.  Which means I have less assigned reading, but more opportunity to prepare for the messages at Calvary BC and to read up on the subject that I hope to eventually consider in my dissertation–the power of the cross and the covenantal application of Jesus blood.

With that in mind, I came across a helpful reminder from D.A. Carson on the subject in the introduction to Graham Cole’s new book, God the Peacemaker: How atonement brings shalom — I love that subtitle, by the way!  If you are thinking about the cross of Christ, especially at a level where you are trying to explain it to others, Carson’s words are worth remembering.

Even to do justice to this theme [atonement] one must attempt at least five things: (1) The way the theme of sacrifice and atonement develops in the Bible’s storyline must be laid out. (2) Equally, the way this theme is intertwined with related themes (the holiness of God, the nature of sin, what salvation consists of, the promise of what is to come, and much more) must be delinated, along with (3) more probing reflection on a selection of crucial passages.  These first three items belong rather tightly to biblical theology.  Of course, (4) how therse themse have been handled in the history of the church’s theology must not be ignored.  (5) Equally, if [any volume on the cross] is to speak to our generation, it must engage some of the more important current discussion (p.12).

May we labor together to better know, love, and tell the message of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss