Friday, November 17, 2017

The Vision (11.17.17): All men should honor the Son

Image: Berries, North Garden, Virginia, November 2017.

Note: Devotion take from last Sunday's sermon on John 5:15-24.

John 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son: 23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

In vv. 22-23 Jesus turns to the issue of judgment. He notes that the Father has given the task of judgment to the Son (v. 22; cf. John 3:16-17, 35-36).

The Father has so decreed that all men should honor the Son even as they honor him (v. 23a). He adds: “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which sent him” (v. 23b).

This is a declaration that Jesus Christ is the dividing line for all humanity. There are only two types of men, not Jew and Gentile, not male or female, not high or low, but those who honor the Son and those who do not honor the Son (cf. Matthew 10:32-33).

Jesus says that the Son of God must receive the same honor as does the Father. One cannot say I believe in God the Father, but I do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God. No one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). This has been called the scandal of particularity. If you take this scandal away, you are rejecting what Jesus himself taught!

Calvin says on this passage:

[Muslims] and Jews do indeed adorn with beautiful and magnificent titles the God whom they worship; but we ought to remember that the name of God when it is separated from Christ, is nothing but a vain imagination. Whoever then desires to have his worship approved by the true God, let him not turn aside from Christ.

Let us then honor the Son, as we honor the one who sent him.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Gleanings from Plantinga's Knowledge and Christian Belief

I’ve been reading Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Knowledge and Christian Belief (Eerdmans, 2015) this week. This is the popular level version of Plantinga’s influential (and more technical) Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford, 2000).

A few gleanings:

Plantinga argues that moral categories do not necessarily apply to beliefs. He gives this illustration:

If I fell out of an airplane at 3,000 feet, I would fall down not up; and it wouldn’t be up to me which way I fell… my falling down isn’t something that can be morally evaluated. I can’t sensibly be either praised or blamed for falling down.

He concludes:

And isn’t the same thing true for religious belief? I am a theist; I believe that there is such a person as God; but I have never decided to hold this belief. It has always just seemed to me to be true. And it isn’t as if I could rid myself of this belief just by an act of the will (17).

He later connects this to Calvin’s notion of the sensus divinitatis, or sense of divinity, which is “subject to malfunction” (33).

After reviewing Freud’s rejection of theism as “wish-fulfillment,” Plantinga turns the argument on its head:

Indeed, unbelief can also be seen as resulting from wish-fulfillment—a result of the desire to live in a world without God, a world in which there is no one to whom I owe worship and obedience (44).


Monday, November 13, 2017

John Cosin on Chronicles as "a perfect epitome of all the Old Testament"

In Robert Haldane’s The Books of the Old and New Testaments Proven to be Canonical (1830), he discusses the threefold division of the Hebrew Bible, noting that it traditionally ended with the Chronicles.

On this he cites the observation of John Cosin (1594-1672) in A Scholastical History of the Canon (1672):

Which last Book of the Chronicles, containing the sum of all their former histories, and reaching from the creation of the world to their return from Babylon, is a perfect epitome of all the Old Testament, and therefore not unfitly so placed by them, as it concluded and closed up their whole BIBLE.

It is indeed noteworthy that 1 Chronicles begins with reference to the line of Adam (1 Chronicles 1:1) and ends with the edict of Cyrus, resulting in the restoration (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). It is an epitome of the entire OT.

Why then, in the Christian ordering of the OT does Malachi appear last and not 1-2 Chronicles? Perhaps this stems from a tradition that held Malachi to be last of the prophets. Certainly the ending of Malachi (4:5-6) with its reference to the sending of Elijah “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” made sense as the perfect segue to Matthew’s account of Christ and John as his Elijah-like forerunner (see Matthew chapters 1-3 and especially Matt 11:14; contrast, however, John 1:21). So Chronicles was the fitting ending for the Hebrew Bible but Malachi for the Christian OT.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Word Magazine 82: Review: Karl Barth and Evangelicals

Yesterday I recorded WM 82: Review: Karl Barth and Evangelicals (listen here). In this episode I offer a review and some responses to Mark Galli's new book: Karl Barth: An Introductory Biography for Evangelicals (Eerdmans. 2017). Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today. He provides a sympathetic review of Barth's life and thought. One of the more controversial aspects of Barth's life raised in the book concerns the nature of his relationship with his assistant Charlotte von Kirschbaum.

Image: Barth and von Kirschbaum

I have completed a written review of the book, which provided the ground for this audio review. Here is the last paragraph of the written review:

In the closing chapter of this engaging overview of Barth’s life and thought, Galli raises an interesting justification for Barth’s value for modern evangelicals. He notes that Barth’s theology made waves in the early twentieth century, because he challenged the Protestant liberalism of his day, epitomized in the theology of Schleiermacher (and his stress on feelings and experience) and Ritschl (and his stress on morality and ethics). What one finds today, says Galli, is “liberal” evangelicalism. “New evangelicalism” is just “a reincarnation of the theology of Schleiermacher” (141). So, Galli, concludes, Barth offers modern evangelicals “a theology that can prevent feeling and ethics from taking over and sabotaging the church’s mission” (146). I believe that Galli is largely on target in his suggestion of parallels between contemporary broad evangelicals and last generation’s Protestant liberalism. Where I would take exception would be in his suggestion that Barth’s theology is the proper treatment for what ails evangelicals. Rather than Barth, how about a dose of John Calvin or John Owen?


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Vision (11/10/17): A Secret Movement of Faith

Image: Fall scene, North Garden, Virginia, November 2017

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on John 5:1-14.

Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee (John 5:14).

With v. 14 we have Christ’s second meeting with the “impotent” man whom he healed at the pool of Bethesda. This meeting occurs in the temple. Here is yet another example in John of a process of spiritual transformation. It often takes more than one encounter with Christ for real transformation to occur.

Calvin suggests some “secret movement of faith” in this man’s life. Even after he was physically healed, the man did not know his Physician (cf. v. 13: “And he that was healed wist [knew] not who it was…”). Calvin adds:

Again, in the person of this man it is important for us to observe with what gentleness and condescension the Lord bears with us.

Indeed, the roots of vices are too deep in us to be capable of being torn out in a single day, or in a few days; and the cure of the diseases of the soul is too difficult to be affected by remedies applied for a short time.

We have a snippet of their conversation here in v. 14. Notice three things:

First, Christ declares the man’s full physical healing: “Behold, thou art made whole.”

Second, he demands spiritual renovation: “sin no more.” Compare his words later to the adulteress (John 8:11: “Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more.”). Clearly, Jesus’s concern is not merely with the man’s physical restoration. This is where the social gospel crowd goes astray. Jesus would not merely save a man’s body and neglect his soul.

Finally, notice that he also warns the man of God’s wrath, lest he repent: “lest a worse thing come unto thee.”

There are worse things than being physically disabled. There are worse things than suffering with some malady for 38 years, even if it covers all 38 years of one’s existence upon earth. Think of the thing that brings you the most temporal vexation. Remember that there are worse things than that.

The worst thing is to fail to repent one one’s sin and to trust in Christ and to face the just wrath of a holy God. But Christ is patient, and he meets with men more than once to awaken spiritual life in those who would believe.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Calvin on the angel stirring the water during an age of cessation (John 5:3b-4)

I preached last Sunday on the opening of John 5, the healing of the impotent man at Bethesda (vv. 1-16). In his commentary on this passage, Calvin does not acknowledge the textual difficulties of vv. 3b-4 relating to the angel coming down to stir the waters. Instead, he simply accepts this passage as part of the undisputed text. He does, however, provide an intriguing explanation for the unusual circumstances, interpreting the strange stirring of the water in the pool of Bethesda as an unusual demonstration of the Lord’s intervention into earthly affairs during a time when the prophetic spirit had largely been withdrawn. So, Calvin observes:

But about the time of Christ’s coming, as they were deprived of the Prophets, and their condition was very wretched, and as various temptations pressed upon them on every hand, they needed this extraordinary aid, that they might not think that God had entirely left them, and thus might be discouraged and fall away. For we know that Malachi was the last of the Prophets, and, therefore, he closes his doctrine with this admonition, that the Jews may remember the law delivered by Moses (Malachi 4:4) until Christ appear. God saw it to be advantageous to deprive them of the Prophets, and to keep them in suspense for a time, that they might be inflamed, with a stronger desire for Christ, and might receive him with greater reverence, when he should be manifested to him.

I was intrigued by this statement with regard to recent thoughts on canon. Calvin and other Reformers reject the apocrypha, in part, because they did not see it as emerging during an age of active prophesy. This was the first of William Whitaker’s three arguments against the inspiration, and thus the canonicity, of the apocryphal books in his Disputation (see pp. 49-54; the second argument being that that these books were not accepted as canonical by the Jews, and the third that their content was non-canonical [uninspired]). Calvin sees the time between the last OT Prophet (which he takes to be Malachi) and the coming of Christ as a “dead zone” with regard to the activity of the prophetic spirit. Again, the test of canonicity for any book is not the decision of the church but the inspiration of the Spirit.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Did the church choose the canon?

I recently read Archbishop Paul of Finland’s booklet The Faith We Hold (St. Vladimir Press, 1978), which offers a basic introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy. In an opening chapter on “The Sources of Doctrine” he writes the following:

Why is the church given priority as the subject of the first chapter in this book? Because the Church came into being first, and only afterwards, little by little, did the books of the NT, the Gospels and Epistles, appear….

The prime importance of Tradition is plainly shown by the fact that it was not until the fifth century that the Church established conclusively which books in circulation should be regarded as genuinely inspired by God’s revelation. Thus, the Church itself determined the composition of the Bible….

It is our belief that the Bible by itself, without the Tradition as its living interpreter, is insufficient as a source of truth (pp. 18-19).

I used that quote in my conference message on canon at Redeeming Grace to illustrate the Orthodox view on the authority of Scripture.

The contrasting Protestant position is well articulated by the Puritan William Whitaker in his 1588 book A Disputation on Holy Scripture:

The Scripture is autopistos [self-authenticating] that is, hath all its authority and credit from itself; is to be acknowledged, is to be received, not only because the church hath so determined and commanded, but because it comes from God, not by the church, but by the Holy Ghost (pp. 279-280).

For Protestants, it is not the church who chooses the canon. Rather, it is best to say that the church acknowledges or recognizes the self-authenticating canon of Scriptures as being the inspired Word of God.