Lordship from the Start: A Meditation on Saving Grace

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Updated: I’ve included a few quotes from Charles Ryrie and Robert Wilkin to demonstrate my concerns with their truncated understanding of faith.

Although it has been some time since John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus launched a biblical salvo into the Free Grace Movement, every now and again I come across people who believe in Non-Lordship Salvation. I have Charles Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation book on my shelf—a book that argues against Lordship Salvation—because a friend who denied Lordship salvation gave it to me as a free gift.

But the trouble with Ryrie’s position is the way in which Scripture itself speaks of faith. In one place he writes, “it seems that many believers do not settle the matter of personal, subjective lordship of Christ over the years of their lives until after they have been born again” (68). Aside from the convoluted grammar of that sentence, he essentially suggests a faithless faith, a belief that may never bear the fruit of faithfulness. As Robert Wilkin, the executive director of the Grace Evangelical Society, puts it, “Christians can fail to endure, fall away, and prove to have been wicked,” and thus “salvation is based on faith in Christnot faithful service for Christ(Four Views of the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, 29, emphasis his).

If this sounds like amazing grace to you, it doesn’t ring true with all Scripture says. Because in the Bible, faith is qualified by terms like obeying the truth, following Christ, feeding on Christ, honoring the Son, and keeping God’s commands. For instance, in both Romans 1:5 and 16:26, Paul speaks of securing the “obedience of faith” in the gospel. What does that mean? In short, it means that saving faith is more being convinced or giving creedal affirmation of the gospel, which is Ryrie’s stated definition of faith (So Great Salvation, 144).

By contrast, a new covenant understanding of the question describes faith as the life and breath of a man or woman made alive by the Spirit. Thus, from the beginning, faith in Jesus Christ has eyes to see who Christ is (2 Corinthians 4:5), a desire to turn from all other idolatrous lords (Acts 3:19; 26:20), and a willingness to submit oneself to him. This is what a full examination of Scripture indicates and what  Luke 7 demonstrates. Continue reading

I Believe in Free(d) Will: Humanity In Its Fourfold State

simeon-muller-3505Whenever the question ‘Do you believe in free will?’ comes up, I want to stop the conversation and step back about thirty yards. Too often that question is presented as if there are only two answers:

  1. Yes, I believe in free will (and therefore, righteously and obviously affirm the moral responsibility of humanity).
  2. No, I don’t believe in free will (and therefore deny the moral responsibility of humanity and foolishly make humanity to be a set of fated robots).

The trouble with this subject is the binary nature of the question. What if instead of asking, “Do you believe in free will? Yes or no?” We ask, what does the Bible say about humanity and our freedom? Though any answer that follows is still to be tainted by our own philosophical (and geo-political) prejudices, it might just get us a bit closer to a good set of questions and a more biblical answer.

But if we take time to consider this subject biblically, what kind of questions should we ask? And if Scripture doesn’t give us a philosphical treatise on the matter, what kind of passages can we find? The answer is that Scripture is filled with passages that address the inner psychology of the soul; the Bible regularly describes the mind, will, emotions, and heart—not to mention the image of God. And, in fact, it does so with regard to four different states of existence. Continue reading

Pierced ‘That I Might’ Praise: The Worship Only Penal Substitution Creates

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For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
— 2 Corinthians 5:21 —

For Christ also suffered once for sins,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God,
being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.
— 1 Peter 3:18 —

In and around the church, there has always been a group of theologians and pastors willing to question or deny penal substitution—the evangelical doctrine that affirms Christ’s death as a payment of penalty for sinners who trust in Jesus. Like Peter objecting to Christ’s prediction of suffering and death (Matthew 16:21–23), liberal theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Schweitzer, and Adolph Von Harnack, along with modern authors like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and William Paul Young (author of The Shack) have maligned the blood of the cross.

Unfortunately, such denial of penal substitution depends upon a denial of Scripture, a defamation of biblical authors, and twisting of biblical words. At the same time, making Christ a mere model, teacher, or prophet, follows the lie of Satan (Matthew 16:23); it effectively denies the deity of Christ and God’s plan of salvation, foretold in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New. But aside from the theological considerations—which are considerable—denying penal substitution  steals glory from God’s work and praise from the believer’s heart. Continue reading

Grasping the ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’: Four Quotes on Inaugurated Eschatology

kingA few weeks ago I mentioned inaugurated eschatology in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. While this “three dollar word” can at first seem confusing or unnecessary—“let’s just stick with the simple gospel,” I can hear someone say—the concept of Already and Not Yet is so important for understanding New Testament eschatology, I couldn’t pass it by.

So in the sermon I used the term, defined it, describe it, and employed the obligatory D-Day / V-Day illustration. Today, I want to point out four quotes that further explain the place and importance of this concept. In short, inaugurated eschatology is a concept that relates to way God’s kingdom has come to earth and yet awaits its final consummation. As I understand it, this concept is most clearly seen in regards to Christ’s resurrection (the topic of 1 Corinthians 15), the Holy Spirit, and the kingdom of God.

Indeed, it is safe to say any theology of the Spirit, the kingdom, or the resurrection that does not take into consideration the already and not yet mismanages God’s economy and distorts the way God is working and will work in the world. Therefore, this idea is of the greatest importance for reading the Bible and doing theology. So, take time to consider these quotes. They will help solidify the concept which covers nearly every page of the New Testament. Continue reading

Lyrical Eschatology: Andrew Peterson’s Songful Seminar on Eschatology

hillsEvery year new books on prophecy, eschatology, and end times are written, and most of them—if not all of them—suffer from the same deficiency: they only focus on the facts and figures of end time predictions. With lots of biblical citations, they spend considerable time debating about the millennium, literal hermeneutics, and how to read Revelation. Of course, these are all important truths to consider, yet, in almost every case, these theology texts fail to convey the beauty, goodness, and truth of biblical eschatology.

In Scripture eschatology is almost always lyrical. In the Prophets, the place where eschatology rises like the Rockies, we do not find naked propositions and bland predictions. Rather, we find naked men foretelling the coming judgment of God (Isaiah 20), baskets full of good and bad fruit (Jeremiah 24), and hills overflowing with wine to describe the future restoration (Amos 9). Indeed, in the Bible eschatology is poetic, not prose. It is meant to captivate hearts, even as it illumines minds.

Yet, except for a few biblical scholars, this feature is almost entirely lost. Daniel is treated like Nostradamus (converted), and Ezekiel’s prophecies are read as an architect manual for some future building project. Yet, this is not first and foremost what the Spirit of Christ was leading these men to see and say. Their authoritative words are given not to a supply us a chronological forecast of future events. Rather, these servants of God are commissioned by God to call us to trust in the covenant Lord who declared the end from the beginning.  In other words, eschatology is centered  on the last man (1 Corinthians 15:45), not just last things!

Even more, in Scripture the medium employed by the Prophets was poetry, visually stimulating words intended to produce faith and hope. Accordingly, any book on eschatology that turns poetry into prophecy charts suffers the same fate: it gives facts without fire, hope without the Prophet’s heart, predictions without poetry. Indeed, it may communicate much truth, but it is truth denuded of spiritual life and eschatological hope.

Therefore, we who love the Lord and believe every jot and tittle of the Bible, need eschatology that sings. We need more than “textbooks.” We need lyrical eschatology. And thankfully, we find it in places like the stories of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the music of Andrew Peterson.ap

For years I have said evangelicals need to put down Left Behind saga and pick up the richer, more biblical, lyrical eschatology of Andrew Peterson. Why? Because the heart of eschatology is not the details surrounding the Rapture. The heart of the eschatology is the resurrection and the hope of a new creation in Christ. This is what Andrew Peterson captures in his music. And thus I have put together the unauthorized Andrew Peterson’s (Songful) Seminar on Eschatology. (Yes, I’m an admitted fanboy).

As an adjunct professor of theology, these songs will now be part of my syllabus on eschatology. If you have never heard them before or considered the way biblical eschatology is lyrical and centered on the new creation (not the timing of the tribulation), I urge you to listen. While I believe every album of Andrew Peterson has eschatological themes, these are the top twelve songs (now) eighteen songs (including one by Ben Shive), divided between Eschatology Proper (i.e., that which focuses directly on last things—resurrection, the coming of Christ, etc.) and Eschatology Presently Effected (i.e., the effects that the resurrection of Christ currently has on life).

Again, take time to listen to Andrew Peterson’s songs. Maybe you can listen to them as you make space on your eschatology shelf for his books on eschatology (The Wingfeather Saga) or other lyrical eschatology like that of The Gray Havens, another singer-songwriter impelled with the same Narnian vision. In whatever manner you listen, let us all consider how Scripture impels us to do more than fight over for our eschatology; it requires us to sing our eschatology. And for that I’ve found no one more helpful than Andrew Peterson.  Continue reading

Kingdom and Covenant: The Main Entrance to the Cathedral of Scripture

In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.

This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar  conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,

In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’  (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading

Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Understanding the Spiritual Gifts: A Few Translation Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:1–11

focusFirst Corinthians 12:1–11 is a glorious passage but also intensely debated. As I prepared to preach this passage on Sunday, I found that it is more than the theology that is challenging in these verses; it is also the translation of the text.

What follows are a few notes on what Paul is saying in these verses that help hone in on who he is speaking to and what God is doing. As we will consider this passage again next week, I will try to put up a few more translation notes as we consider this challening passage.

1. The ‘Spiritual Ones’ (v. 1)

The ESV, NASB, NIV, NRSV) all translate πνευματικῶν as “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1. Others (e.g., CSB), however, have recognized the ambiguity of Paul’s language. While 1 Corinthians 12–14 pertains to spiritual gifts (χάρισμα = 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31), there is good reason for rendering πνευματικῶν as “spiritual things” or “spiritual persons.” Let’s see why. Continue reading