What God Has Joined Together Let No Man Separate: A Few Words on Scripture and Tradition

jenny-marvin-u3py_1Tcnuc-unsplashLast week, I offered a few (here and here), reflections on the important and challenging relationship between Scripture and tradition. This week, I offer a few more, beginning with a three-paragraph summary of sola Scriptura from Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier. Avoiding the error of thinking we can interpret Scripture by ourselves (solo Scriptura), it is important to understand that sola Scriptura affirms a proper, yet secondary, place for church tradition. That is, any historic church teaching is always evaluated and when necessary corrected by Scripture, even as creeds, confessions, and catechisms aid the church to read and understand Scripture. Put differently, the apostle’s possess a magisterial authority that comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, while the church catholic enjoys a ministerial authority that rises or falls as it properly understands and applies Scripture.

Bringing these three ideas together—Sola Scriptura, apostolicity, and catholicity—Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel J. Treier, in Theology and the Mirror of Scripture, remind us how to avoiding separating what God has joined together. They write,

Mere evangelical theology is both catholic and apostolic. To say apostolic affirms the supreme authority of the commissioned testimony from the prophets and apostles—those “sent” to extend in writing Christ’s self-communication. Apostolic thus signifies the inspired human writings borne along by the Holy Spirit, who “speaks only what he hears” in bearing witness to the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ. To say apostolic identifies what anchors both faith and theology: the canonical gospel. To say catholic explains what is “mere” about evangelical theology’s focus, namely, what it believes with the whole church about the gospel of God and the God of the gospel. Continue reading

In Defense of Tradition: Five Reasons Protestants Should Not Protest The *Proper Use* of Tradition

photo of church during daytime

In yesterday’s blogpost, I outlined a doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency, arranging Kevin Vanhoozer’s articulation of sufficiency into a fourfold taxonomy—sufficiency caricatured (i.e., what sufficiency is not), sufficiency simpliciter, material sufficiency, and formal sufficiency. The last of these is the most debated, because it gets wades into the intersection of Scripture, tradition, and interpretation, as well as the insufficiency of human knowledge. While Scripture is sufficient for all that it promises to do, we are insufficient in ourselves to understand the Word of God.

But this is the point that Vanhoozer addresses with respect to formal sufficiency. Instead of solving the problem of our insufficiency with a church authorized interpretation (i.e., the Roman Catholic magisterium) or a personally authorized experience of God and his Word, Vanhoozer presses us back to the Scripture with the all-sufficient aid of the Spirit. In this articulation of formal sufficiency, Vanhoozer addresses the ministerial role of tradition. And it is this proper use of tradition that I want to outline here.

In his book, The Drama of Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer gives six reasons for accepting and applying tradition, when done under the greater authority of Scripture. In other words, the tradition that Protestants seek is not written with a capital ‘T’. It is not put on the same level as Scripture, but as children of God who have come to life by the Spirit and the Bride (Rev. 22:17), we need the teaching of the church, along with the creeds and confessions that help articulate biblical truth. Similarly, we need to rightly understand the role of tradition and avoid wrong uses and absolute dependence on human institutions. However, affirming the fact that the church is not a mere human institution, but the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit, we can and should seek to benefit from the church universal and the church local.

With that positive approach to the church in view, I want to share five of Vanhoozer’s six ways that tradition can and should be applied in the life of the believer and the life of the church. Again, you can find these points outlined in Vanhoozer’s, The Drama of Doctrine. Continue reading

Sufficient for What? Four Aspects of the Doctrine of Scripture’s Sufficiency

pink pencil on open bible page and pink

Writing about Sola Scriptura in his book Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity, Kevin Vanhoozer notes that the reformation principle of Scripture Alone “implies the sufficiency of Scripture” (114). But then he asks and important question: “Sufficient for what?” What does the sufficiency of Scripture promise? And what does it mean?

To that question, he gives four answers—one negative and three positive. Here they are in abbreviated form.

  1. Scripture is not sufficient for anything and everything that it may be called upon to do or describe.
  2. “Scripture is sufficient for everything for which it was divinely inspired. ‘[My word] shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isa. 55:11).”
  3. “Scripture is materially sufficient (‘enough’) because God has communicated everything we need to know in order to learn Christ and live the Christian life: ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ (2 Pet. 1:3).”
  4. Scripture is formally sufficient, which means when it comes to interpretation “Scripture interprets Scripture” so long as the interpretive community (i.e., the church) relies upon all the means of grace created by the Holy Spirit.

Understandably, these four answers need further elucidation, and in his chapter on “Scripture Alone,” Vanhoozer explains each point that I have abbreviated above. Here are a few quotes and explanations to help round a sufficient doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency.

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The Proof is in the Patterns: How Typology Demonstrates the Trustworthiness of the Bible

empty gray and white concrete spiral stairs

In a few weeks, I will be teaching a class on Scripture at my church, followed by teaching Systematic Theology at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. In preparation for those classes, I have begun thinking through many of the facets related to the doctrine of Scripture, especially as it pertains to Scripture’s trustworthiness.

For those who question Scripture and its veracity, they often make claims regarding errors in the manuscripts, discrepancies in the text, or immoral teachings in the Law or Paul. Each of these must be and can be answered by a careful reading of the text. But one aspect of Scripture that has repeatedly born witness to its reliability, unity, and even its divine authorship is typology—namely, the way that types and shadows, patterns and persons (in their public actions and offices) are repeated and fulfilled throughout the Bible.

Most recently, I encountered this in the book of 1–2 Kings, where Solomon is presented as a new Joshua. Previously, I had seen Solomon as a new Adam, but in reading again from Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 and 2 Kings, I found his observations compelling, in that the author of 1–2 Kings presents Solomon as a new Joshua. Continue reading

Taking God’s Word on Offense: Inerrancy, Apologetics, and the Proof of Gospel Preaching

aaron-burden-TNlHf4m4gpI-unsplashIt’s been said that the best offense is a good defense. However, it is also true that if your defense spends too much time on the field, they will eventually fatigue and fold. For that reason, it is equally true that the best defense is a good offense.

And when it comes to apologetics, the art and science of defending the faith, it is important to do more than play defense, but also to go on the offensive. With firm confidence that God’s Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), firmly fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89), unfailing in accomplishing God’s will (Isa. 55:11), and always proving itself true (Ps. 18:30; Prov. 30:5), there is no reason to merely defend God’s Word. Instead, we should positively proclaim the Scriptures as the living and active word of God.

Articulating this point forcefully with respect to biblical inerrancy, the late Philip Edgcumbe Hughes (1915–90) reminds us that Christians should do more than defend the faith, we must also proclaim the faith positively. Here’s what he says, Continue reading

We Don’t Like Theology, Do We? Three Reflections from the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention

2021 Nashville-1500 x 500-Final BWe destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
— 2 Corinthians 10:5–6 —

It has been six years since I attended a Southern Baptist Convention, and seven since I wrote about it. But re-reading my reflections on the 2014 convention, I can only begin to describe the difference between those comparatively halcyon conventions and this one. While some reports may focus on the unifying leadership, the conventional conservatism, or the most diverse convention stage to date, as a pastor and theologian I find a host of reasons for concern. These concerns swirl around the refusal to engage theology for the sake of the gospel and the church. To be brief (and Baptist), let me make three points. Continue reading

‘Anyone, Anyone . . .’ Want to Learn Economics: Three Reasons Why Christians Should Study God’s Household Rules

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
— Luke 14:27–30 —

What comes to mind when you think of economics?

If it is only a stuffy college classroom, a contentious topic that resurfaces at election time, or anything like Ben Stein in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (see above), then you are not getting your economics from the Bible. In Scripture, economics is a subject that informs the story of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. From the command to subdue and rule the world to the promise of Christ’s payment of our sin-debt, we find economic realities. And just as prominently, from the inability to build a tower in the land of Shinar (Genesis 11) to Jesus’s warning of the same (Luke 14), we find dangers associated with bad economics.

Put the other way, when economics is studied, it touches on issues that penetrate deep into the life of everyone made in God’s image. Personal finance, raising children, going to work, making decisions about the future, and paying (and evaluating) taxes are all economic in nature. To put it more broadly, economics is not only about supply and demand, monetary theories, or policies related to taxation. Rather, economics is a fundamental aspect of human activity and moral imagination. When Jesus said to “count the cost” of following him, he employed an economic way of thinking.

Thus, like every other area of life and knowledge, economics is something intrinsic to human nature. And in Scripture, God’s prophets and apostles speak about the world God has made and the resources that exist therein. Even more, Scripture tells us how God intends for us to use creation for his glory. And all of this is economics.

To borrow the language of Thomas Sowell, “Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses” (Basic Economics, passim). Now Sowell does not approach economics through the lens of Scripture, but his definition recalls the vast-but-limited nature of our world. God has created a finite world, where productivity is possible, but also fragile. Thus, the world God has made teaches us our need to learn economic principles for good stewardship. 

How we steward our limited resources (e.g., our time, our energy, our money, our vocations, etc.) is a moral endeavor. And economics, when rightly conceived, is a way of looking at God’s world that calls us to use those resources well. Indeed, the father of economics, Adam Smith, was not an economist, but a moral philosopher. And when we rightly consider the subject, economics is a way of thinking about God’s world and our place in it that calls us to invest our lives in things eternal.

I doubt many textbooks on economics speak like that, but they should. And starting this Sunday, our church will consider what Scripture says about economics in a new Sunday School series. In this post, I want to offer three reasons for studying economics. These reasons are explicitly biblical, but for that reason, Christians should not perceive economics as the “dismal science” (a pejorative label often assigned to economics). Instead, Christians who want to renew their minds with God’s Word should consider how God teaches us to think economically about the world, God’s salvation, and good works. Continue reading

Obeying God and Obeying God’s Servants: Five Truths from 1 Peter 2:13–17 (pt. 2)

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In obedience to God, we gather and sing and testify to the risen Lord.

Yesterday, I began a two-part series on 1 Peter 2:13–17. I am trying to answer the question, What does submitting to governing authorities looks like? Especially, what does submitting to governing authorities look like when they are ruling in ways that oppose God and God’s Word? Previously, I have tackled this subject in Romans 13 (see herehere, and here),, but now I am considering the text of 1 Peter 2.

Yesterday, I began by parsing out the fact that submitting to governors means putting God first and obeying earthly rulers as an application of obeying God. Conversely, we do not define doing good as obedience to our governors (full stop). Rather, we are called to consider what the good is from the unchanging and ever-authoritative Word of God. Then, in obedience to God, we promote the good by obeying good laws. And lest it go unsaid, the goodness of the law is decided by God’s standards, not my personal preferences. I am not advocating a hedonistic approach to ethics: “Just do what feels good.” No, we must obey laws that pinch our desires. That being said, to do the good we will at times need to resist tyrants when they enforce laws, rules, and regulations that directly defy the commands of Scripture or lead us to violate our conscience in following God.

That’s where this argument started yesterday. We must put God first. Today, I will flesh out the idea of God’s preeminence by looking in more detail at 1 Peter 2:13–17. In his letter to the elect exiles of Asia Minor, Peter has much to say about obeying the emperor and governors. And when we read his words in the context of his whole letter, and apply them to our own situations, we will gain much wisdom for walking well with the Lord. To that end, let’s look at five truths about obeying God and obeying God’s servants. Continue reading

Solus Humanus: Why We Need a Sixth Sola in Our Confused Age

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

It used to be a given that humans, made by God, were assigned a gender based upon their biological sex. As Genesis 1:27 puts it, God made them “male and female.” Culturally, this is no longer the case, however. As documented in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman shows just how modernism has turned the person inward and how psychological man (i.e., the self-directed person) has been eroticized and taught to create a world in their own image.

Most recently and most dramatically, the transgender movement has assumed a view of the world, where the inner feelings of a person outweigh their biology. No longer is gender something that comports with the givenness of the world, or God’s gift of a physical body—made either male or female. Now, individuals are taught that they can create their own fluid identity and they can demand that others recognize their self-created self, even if it does match traditional norms. Everything is queer now.

To say it another way, as gender studies have defined identity as something people can create, gender is no longer biologically determined. This shift away from an essentialist view of gender to a constructivist view is a key change in our society, and one Christians must address in order to share the gospel and to rightly relate to reality. Yet, the trouble goes beyond gender; it relates to the larger question of what it means to be human.
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Reading Mark 13 in Context: Seeing 16 Connections between Jesus’s Olivet Discourse and His Death and Ascension

robert-bye-6PLB5SKWiIY-unsplashI saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
— Daniel 7:13–14 —

On Sunday, I preached a message on Daniel 7:13–14, how it is understood by the New Testament authors and why Christ’s ascension is such good news for us today. You can listen to the sermon here. And if you do, you will find that the longest part of the message is located in Mark 13–14.

The reason for that long meditation is that Mark cites Jesus referencing Daniel 7:13–14 in two places. First, answering his disciples’ question about the destruction of the temple and when these things will be (Mark 13:1–2), Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Second, after his arrest, Jesus is  interrogated by the high priest. In response to a question of his identity, Jesus again references Daniel 7, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Following the lead of Daniel itself, I interpreted these two passages as a reference to Jesus’s ascension in relationship to his impending crucifixion. Instead of reading these references of the clouds to something still future or his second coming from heaven to earth, I recalled the original meaning of Daniel 7:13–14 and explained how Jesus is speaking about his ascension and entrance into heaven.

As you might expect, this led to some questions. In our community group that followed Sunday’s sermon, there were more than a few questions about this reading, as it stands in contrast to more popular readings of Mark 13 and its parallel accounts in Matthew 24–25 and Luke 21. In what follows, I will restrict my focus to Mark and try to explain how we might read his Gospel with greater attention to his own words and the meaning of Jesus’s words in Mark 13. By paying attention to the literary connections between Mark 13 and Mark 14–15 (#4 below), I believe we can see how Jesus is preparing his disciples and Mark is preparing his readers for understanding a heavenly perspective on Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, with (perhaps) ongoing implications for the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

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