For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Spirit-Empowered Service is a Mark of True Obedience

For the first thirty-four chapters in Exodus, the people of Israel are consistently stiff-necked.  Their speech is marked by grumbling; anxiety, fear, and accusations characterize the disposition of their hearts; and more than once Moses has to intervene on their behalf to protect them from God’s wrath.  However, after Moses returns from Mt Sinai, something surprising happens.  Instead of being disobedient, breaking God’s word, as they do with the Golden Calf, they are now remarkably obedient.  In fact, chapters 35-40 repeat again and again, how Israel has fulfilled all of God’s words.  Instead of having hard-hearts, their hearts are ostensibly willing (cf. 35:20-29).

It is striking to see how this people has changed.  Which makes me ask: How?  How did they become obedient?  And how should their change–I don’t want to say conversion because Psalm 95 tells us that most of these Israelites died in their unbelief in the wilderness–impact the way we understand God’s work in our lives today?

Today and tomorrow, I will point out two things in the text of Exodus that show us what impacted their hearts to make a change.

The Power of the Spirit

One of the main reasons why Israel expresses obedience is the work of the Holy Spirit, equipping and enabling Israel to make the tabernacle.  Now, the work of the Spirit in Exodus is not quite the same as the gift of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  The Spirit is not regenerating and dwelling in these saints, so much as he is empowering them to work.  Nevertheless, with that caveat in place, the Spirit effects obedience as he equips these Israelites to carry out the functions of building the tabernacle.

This Spirit-caused change is seen when we compare Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32 to their God-directed service in Exodus 35-40.  In Exodus 32, idleness at Sinai led to idolary, but with the Spirit (and just as important, as spirit-filled mediator in Moses), God moves Israel to heed God’s word and build God’s place. Thus, we see that obedience–if only external and temporary–is accomplished by the Spirit.  We see this in Exodus 35:30-35.

Then Moses said to the people of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft. And he has inspired him to teach, both him and Oholiab the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. He has filled them with skill to do every sort of work done by an engraver or by a designer or by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, or by a weaver–by any sort of workman or skilled designer.

Clearly, the tabernacle of God could not be completed by men, as men.  They needed God’s help.  Thus, the skill, intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship in all sorts of design-work was necessarily given by the Holy Spirit.  I think, by extension, we can say that everything God commanded required the work of the Spirit.  Just the same, for God to be pleased with our works, it requires faith (Rom 14:23; Heb 11:6), and what does Galatians 5:22-23 say?  Faith is a fruit of the Spirit.

So here is the point: All Israel’s skilled hands were gifted by the Spirit.  Thus, every inch of the tabernacle and all its component parts were made by men, but not without the Spirit.  God’s dwelling was a Spiritual creation.  In trying to understand the relationship between God and man in this setting, I would propose that its construction must be analogous to inspiration. Just as the Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles, so that the minds and hands of free men could write exactly what God wanted—without error; in the same way, God’s spirit guided men to make his dwelling place.

To say it another way, in one sense, Moses, Bezalel, and the skilled workers built the tabernacle; but in another more ultimate sense, God himself built the tabernacle.  Since everything was done according to his word and by his Spirit, the obedient Israelites worked exactly as God intended.  In true Spiritual freedom they built God’s dwelling place.

So now lets go back to the original question: What caused Israel’s obedience?  My answer is that it was the Spirit.  Though, there are other factors, without the Spirit there would not be the ability or the willingness to fulfill God’s word.  But with the Spirit, stiff-necked Israel is able to obey God’s word “perfectly.”  That is, God is totally pleased with the tabernacle to the point that his Spirit descends upon the man-made tent as soon as it was completed.

Traversing the Covenantal Divide

So how might Christians apply this reality today?

Fast-forwarding these realities to the New Covenant, we need to realize that the scope and locus of the Spirit is wider and closer, respectively.  As to the former, the Spirit now works in all nations and in all peoples.  He is no longer restricted to Israel.  Rather, He  is given to everyone for whom Christ died.  Likewise, his work is more interior.  He no longer works externally on those people whom God has chosen for service (think of Saul); rather, he circumcises the heart, indwells the believer, and saves all those in whom he dwells.  He does not simply gives gifts; he is the down payment for salvation.

In this way, Exodus shows how the Spirit effects obedience, but in the whole canon of Scripture, we find that the testimony of God is that the Spirit works in greater ways today.  For in Israel, the same hands that built the tabernacle were attached to bodies that died in the wilderness because of unbelief.  Not so today, the Spirit saves eternally.  While David feared losing the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51, that is not a fear New Testament believers should ever have (Eph 1:13-14). In all, while there is continuity between the people of Israel and the church, there is greater discontinuity.

With all that said, as we return to the question of obedience, it is clear that the Spirit is the responsible party for our faithful service. With the tabernacle, the people were moved, led, guided, directed by the Spirit of God, and thus they were able to obey fully because God enabled them to obey and do the work.  Today, it is still the Spirit who causes us to walk in the statutes of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27), and indeed if there is or will be a change in our lives, it is because of the power and influence of the Spirit.

Let us pray unto the Father to pour out his Spirit in our lives and in our world, so that Christ would be reflected in the lives who have been purchased by his blood.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Sermon Notes: The Tabernacle as a Typological Model

When we think about the tabernacle, the first thing to realize is that it is more than meets the eye.  In other words, the tabernacle is built to show off theological, cosmological, and Christological truths–just to name a few.  Today, lets consider a couple of these things. 

1. A Portable Mountain of God

First up, the tabernacle’s three sections—the courtyard where the people would bring sacrifices, the holy place (the first section in the tabernacle) where the priests would work, and the holy of holies where the high priest would enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, all correspond to the pattern that Moses saw on the mountain.  A few verses prove this:

25:8-9.  And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.  Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.

25:40.  And see that you make them [Mercy Seat, Table, Golden Lampstand] after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.

 26:30. Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to the plan for it that you were shown on the mountain. (cf. The Bronze Altar, 27:8)

 God gives Moses a vision and instruction of this tabernacle, so that Israel can see beyond it to the throne room of God—remember, most of the people never went inside, so this information has a curb appeal because of the mysterious of God’s tent.

2. The Cosmos

Second, in general and in detial, the tabernacle which is God’s earthly dwelling place with Israel is simultaneously constructed in a way that represents all creation.  Gregory Beale has proven this thesis in his book, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God.  More succinctly, T. D. Alexander has followed Beale with his more popular treatment, From Eden to New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical TheologyFor our consideration, let me mention a couple verses. 

Ps 78:69.  He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.  Clearly, this proves in a single verse the connection between the tabernacle and the construction of the universe. However, you will also find in Scripture those places where Scripture describes the reverse–the universe is God’s macrocosmic temple.

Psalm 104:1-6.  Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.

 The significance of this microcosmic-macrocosmic temple is simply that what God does in Israel has cosmic significance.  God’s goal is much larger than a singular sanctuary in the Middle East; it prepares the way for Christ and the garden-temple that is revealed in Revelation 21-22.

3. Eden

Not only is Moses given a vision of God’s mountain throne and the cosmos which he upholds, what we learn in the construction of this tabernacle is the way it points back to Eden.  Notice a couple of connections.

  1. Gold in the tabernacle goes back to the gold that existed in Eden (Gen 2:11-12; Exodus 25:7, 11, 17, 31; cf. 1 Kings 6:30)
  2. The Menorah points back to tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22; Exod 25:31-35); the bread of God’s presence corresponds to the food provided by God in the garden (Gen 2:17).
  3. Angels embroidered on the Veil reflects the angel who dwelt outside Eden (Gen 3:24).
  4. That God would dwell and even walk in the midst of Israel is Eden-like (Gen 3:8; 26:12).

Significance

Now the question arises: Why does this matter?  Let me suggest two reasons.

Typology.  Each of its elements is meant to represent something else—it is like a giant object lesson for Israel and for us.  In fact, verse 40, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:5, actually uses the word “type” (typon, LXX). Thus, to understand the furniture of Exodus 25 and the tabernacle itself (26), courtyard (27), we must appreciate its symbolism and typology. (We will explore this more in the days ahead.

Telos.  Since the purpose of the tabernacle is typological, it is also eschatological.  It does point back to Eden, but even more it points ahead to a permanent rest in the land.  This is prefigured in Israel’s entrance into Canaan, but even more it foreshadows the work of Christ and the dwelling he promises in the age to come.

Thus, if you know the Bible well, you know Rev 21:22 says that in the end there will be no temple in the city, but that doesn’t deny an eternal cosmic temple.  What is a temple, but the dwelling place of God.  And what Revelation teaches is that at the end of the age the God who dwells in heaven, will again dwell with man on earth; and not just in one box-shaped tabernacle.  All creation will be his dwelling place.  The glory of God will cover the earth.

Revelation 21:16 makes this so clear in the light of Exodus 25-40.  John records that the city of God that comes down from heaven is 12,000 stadia (1380 miles) in length, width, and height.  It is a perfect cube–just like the holy of holies.

So to understand Revelation 21, we must read it with Exodus 26, and what we see is that at the end of the age, the whole earth will be as holy as the holy of holies.  So the goal of God is not a 15x15x15 golden box in Israel.  His goal is a perfect, purified world where he dwells with his redeemed.  This is what Exodus teaches us.

It beckons for a temple not made with human hands, even as it is given to Moses for the construction with human hands.  Exodus points beyond itself and leads us to see that Jesus is the builder of this better tabernacle, and if we care at all about what God has done in Christ and/or is doing, we must see look carefully at the details of the tabernacle.

May God give us eyes to see his design in this ancient tabernacle and hearts that long for the temple that is to come!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

John Bright on Biblical Intertextuality

John Bright, in his book The Kingdom of Godoffers a very historically-enriching and theologically-astute presentation of the kingdom which unifies the entire Bible.  I have benefitted much from reading it, especially in the way that he looks at the people under God’s rule as a unified and yet developing body of believers.  In this outline, he is much like Graeme Goldsworthy, who emphasizes God’s people, under God’s rule, in God’s place, but Bright’s pages are more comprehensive in scope, being filled with copious details about the kings of Israel, the dynasties of foreign nations, and the who’s, the when’s, and the how’s of Israel’s history. (It is noteworthy that Goldsworthy references Bright’s work at the end of many chapters in his book According to Plan). 

In The Kingdom of God, there are many helpful subjects, but I found this description of the Bible’s intertextuality most helpful.   He writes,

The Old Testament is, therefore, as it were, an incomplete book.  It is a story whose Author has not yet written the ending; it is a signpost pointing down a road whose destination–and surely its destination is a city, the City of God (Heb. 11:10, 16)–lies out of sight around many a bend.  [The OT] is a noble building indeed–but it lack a roof!

That roof, by its own affirmation, the New Testament supplies: in announcing in Christ the fulfillment of the hope of Israel it stands as the completion of the Old Testament.  But–and this must not be forgotten–to say that is at the same time to say that it cannot be understood to itself alone apart from the Old Testament.  If the Old Testament be a building without a roof, the New Testament alone may be very like a roof without a building–and that is a structure very hard to comprehend and very hard to hold up!  It is a structure that may be put to all sorts of uses and may shelter all sorts of things, but it is a structure which may be easily be knocked down.  By this we certainly do not mean to say the New Testament is merely an appendage of the Old, or to deny Christ is himself the cornerstone of a mighty building (1 Cor. 3:11; 1 Pet. 2:4-7), but only to insist that it is impossible to set the New Testament apart and to construct a purely New Testament religion without regard to the faith of Israel.

The New Testament rests on and is rooted in the Old.  To ignore this fact is a serious error in method, and one that is bound to lead to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible message.  he who commits it has disregarded the central affirmation of the New Testament gospel itself, namely Christ had come to make actual what the Old Testament hoped for, not to destroy it and replace it with a new and better faith (John Bright, The Kingdom of God [Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1953]).

May we never stop marveling at the wisdom and beauty of God’s holy Word.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Israel On Your Mind?

Sitting in Dr. Russell Moore’s Systematic III class and then again in his Eschatology class, I became convinced from the Scriptures that Israel is not just a what, but a who.  And that who is Jesus Christ. 

Today, with Israel in the headlines and  just returning from the “Promised Land” himself, Dr. Moore summarizes his thoughts on the future of Israel.  It is a snapshot of the biblical theology that was presented in those classroom lectures–a biblical theology of God and his people that unifies all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), the True Israel of God.   Whether you are Dispensational, Covenantal, or agnostic in terms of all things eschatological, it is worth a look.

Anyone thinking through these matters–eschatology, the nature of the church, the future of Israel, and how evangelicals have debated these things over since Scofield–should consider Moore’s arguments.  Reading his book on the subject would be a great place to begin, The Kingdom of Christ.   Similarly, another great chapter on this subject of the identity of Israel is Stephen Wellum’s chapter on the covenants in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in ChristBoth are excellent.

Thankful to be a co-heir with Christ, the True Israel, and I hope that he too is on your mind!

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Land Ho!!! A Biblical Theology of the Land

 

Three years ago I had the privilege of traveling to Israel.  On a mission trip with my church, we spent nearly two weeks touring the country and participating in evangelistic efforts in places like Haifa, Tiberias, and Tel Aviv.  It was an incredible experience to tell a young Israeli whose barber shop opened up to the Sea of Galilee, “On that water Jesus walked, and in this Hebrew New Testament, you can learn more about the Messiah.”  Needless to say, I returned to the U.S. with a host of memories and incredible images of the countryside in which our Savior was lived and died.  

This weekend many of those bucolic scenes were recalled as I read O. Palmer Robertson’s book Understanding the Land of the Bible: A Biblical-Theological GuideRobertson’s premise in the book is that the land of the Bible which intersects the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe was divinely designed to proclaim gospel truth.  Concluding his introduction he writes, “Let us allow this land in its uniqueness to reinforce for us today the truths that bring salvation for men” (4). 

In his book, he unfolds a biblical theology of the land.  In so doing, he considers the land from West to East and then from South to North and then by paying attention to many of the features of the land.   Without allegorizing or spiritualizing, he shows how consideration of the land really does reveal redemptive truth.  After laying out the latitudinal aspects of the region, Robertson summarizes, “Traveling across the Land of Promise from west to east can provide many insights into the purposes of God for the whole of the world.  In microcosmic fashion the design of the land serves as a means of embodying the truth of God intended for all nations” (24).  What is this intended truth?  Figuratively, that people dwelling in desolate wilderness will move into the hospitable presence of God within the Promised Land.  Clearly, this pattern of dwelling in the land plays itself out within the Bible (Abraham’s call to Canaan, Joshua’s entry into the land, the return from Exile, and Jesus crossing the Jordan into the land at his baptism are all physical-geographical moves that contain theological significance).

Moreover, moving from South to North recalls history and geography that carry historical and theological import.  The exodus drove north out of Egypt, the divided kingdom was split according to Northern tribes of Israel and the Southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, after Babylon repopulated Samaria, the Northern Samaritans were disdained by the more Southern Judeans, Galilee of the Gentiles on the Northern-most end of the country, was filled with foreigners during Jesus day and became a microcosm of the diverse world He can to save.  In short, “The whole of the land was designed by the Lord for his good purposes as he determined them from before the foundation of the world” (37).

After considering the beautiful and rugged terrain of the Bible, Robertson surveys the cities of importance throughout the land of Canaan.  He does so chronologically, considering the role of each during the Patriarchs, the Judges, the united and divided monarchies, and finally at the time of Christ.  Taking a chapter on each epoch in redemptive history, he examines the Scriptures for significant references to these locales and shows how their particular placement in the land and in time shaped the biblical narrative. 

Overall, Robertson’s treatment, which at times seems more like a survey than a theology, does well to help the student of the Bible read the Scriptures with an awareness of God’s plan within the land.   He unveils the significance of geographic features and historic locations for the reader less attuned to such particulars.  And he shows how all Scripture and all creation points to its Creator and Redeemer.

This land was made for Jesus Christ.  All its diversity was designed to serve him.  Its character as a land bridge for three continents was crafted at Creation for his strategic role in history of humanity.  Even today all nations flow constantly to this place, for its is uniquely his land, the focal point of the world (109).

This point is worth considering further.   For it challenges us to think about the land of the Scriptures in way that many of us are slow to do.  It makes us come back to the Bible looking at it with renewed eyes.  For consider, Psalm 72:8 says, “May he [the king] have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  Yet, how can we begin to understand such a sweeping statement without a particular understanding of the seas, the River, and the ends of the earth?  Indeed, we need to learn more about the land to understand this language.  Certainly, the Scriptures speaks to these things, but too often I overlook them.  Consequently, Robertson’s book is helpful in calling my (our) attention back to reading the Bible more faithfully, and better understanding all that it is saying about Jesus Christ.

So let me commend to Understanding the Land of the Bible, as it would help you read the Bible more completely or supply biblical-theological material to your next sermon.  Still, beyond reading another book, let me urge you to reflect on the significance of the land in the Scriptures.  It is steeped with history and with revelation concerning the redemptive plan(s) of God.  For, as Robertson reminds us, “It is Christ’s land” (cf. Psalm 2)!  Studying the Scriptures with a view to the land points us forward to a day when Jesus will return to have dominion over all the lands.   Until that day let us become more well-versed in the land in which he inhabited, so that when he comes he might find us faithful in the land in which we now reside.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss