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.


Monday, November 06, 2017

Canon Conference Message on Jeremiah 36

I've posted the audio for the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 29, 2017 at the "Canon and Reformation" Conference at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, Virginia. The message gives an exposition of Jeremiah 36. You can find it here.


Friday, November 03, 2017

Word Magazine 81: Modern Challenges to Canon

Image: Pastor Van Loomis speaking to the congregation of Redeeming Grace, Matthews, Virginia, following lunch last Sunday, 10/29/17.

I have uploaded WM 81: Modern Challenges to Canon (find it here).

I spoke at a Reformation Conference at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, Virginia last Saturday-Sunday, October 29-30, 2017. The conference included two sessions on Saturday evening and one session on Sunday morning:

Session 1: The Canon of Scripture

Session 2: The Reformation and Canon

Session 3: Modern Challenges to Canon

The first two sessions were not recorded. The third session, however, was recorded and the audio is included in WM 81. In this lecture, I trace five areas of modern challenge to canon in the following areas: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Modern "Pop" Skepticism; Modern Academics; and within Evangelicalism itself.


The Vision (11.3.17): Canon and Inspiration

Image: St. Paul Writing His Epistles, by Valentin de Bolougne, c. 1618.

Note: I spoke in a Reformation Conference last weekend at Redeeming Grace Church in Matthews, VA. The topic was the canon of Scripture. Here are some of my notes from the opening conference message, noting the connection between canon and inspiration.

The definition of canon is vitally linked to the doctrine of inspiration. The classic prooftext for the doctrine of inspiration is found in Paul’s second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16:  All scripture is given by inspiration of God [theopneustos], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

The books that make up the canon of Christian Scripture are inspired books, God-breathed books. This is the fundamental quality which they possess which distinguishes them from all other uninspired writings, including those that might be spiritually profitable. The Scriptures are autopistos [self-authenticating], because they are God-breathed.

Given this reality, it would be accurate to say that the canon of Scripture was completed and became closed when the last inspired book was written, perhaps the book of Revelation, around AD 90. This was the culmination of a process that had begun some 1500 years before when Moses composed the Pentateuch. It would also be appropriate to say that this canon has existed since its completion, even in times when it has not been properly recognized and acknowledged by God’s people.

It is sometimes said both by skeptics and, interestingly enough, also within some Christian traditions (Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) that the church chose the Scriptures.  We believe it is more biblically faithful to say that the church did not choose the canon, but that it acknowledged or recognized it for what it is in essence: the God-breathed, inscripturated Word. In fact, it is also more historically reliable to take this position as well, given that we must conclude that the recognition or acknowledgement of the canon of Christian Scripture did not come about from the top-down, through conciliar decisions, but from the bottom-up through the organic usage of God’s people.

How is it that God’s people are able to recognize these inspired, canonical books as the Word of God and to distinguish them from uninspired works? It is a spiritual process that defies any simple, naturalistic explanation. First, we acknowledge, again, that the inspired Scriptures are breathed out by the Holy Spirit of God. As Peter puts it, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Second, believers have been regenerated by this same Holy Spirit who then indwells them (cf. Romans 8:8-11). Thus, Paul can conclude, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). Positively, he can also affirm that the Spirit of God “beareth witness” with the spirit of the believer (Romans 8:16).

How, then, is it that a believer recognizes the Word of God? The Spirit of God which is in him resonates with the Spirit of God which is in the Scriptures. This is the way Jesus himself describes this phenomenon in John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Christians recognize in the inspired, canonical Scriptures, the voice of their Shepherd.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Poh Boon Sing on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Pastor Poh Boon Sing has posted an insightful article on the Gospel Highway website, marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, celebrated by many this week. Here's the opening to the article and a link to the whole (below):

It is safe to claim that the Reformation of the 16th century in Europe has impacted the world, directly and indirectly, for good. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. How should it be rightly celebrated?
I. What was the Reformation?

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The event sparked of a spiritual movement that spontaneously spread across the nations, and continues to reverberate down the centuries. The Reformation was a work of the Holy Spirit, a true revival, and the mother of all subsequent revivals. Luther was the instrument used by God to start off the Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic monk and theologian who had been much exercised over the superstitious beliefs and practices propagated by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Ninety-Five Theses consisted of propositions of biblical truths, contrasted with the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, that were put to the public for debate. It began with the claim that repentance from sin, shown by a changed life, is essential to the Christian life. The Pope has no power to save. The buying of indulgences — i.e. certificates pronouncing remission of sins — from the church cannot give salvation. The Ninety-Five Theses ends by urging Christians to follow Christ, whose death on the cross alone saves. Although the Ninety-Five Theses does not explicitly mention “justification by faith”, this doctrine lies at the base of Luther’s experience of salvation and was the spur to his action on that fateful day.
The fire of Reformation burned in the hearts of the people who discovered salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, alone. The teaching of Martin Luther spread throughout Europe. Luther, now excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, founded his own congregations. Other men were raised up by God to strengthen the cause of the Reformation. John Calvin escaped France and settled in Geneva to preach there. His “Institutes of the Christian Religion” helped to consolidate the teaching of the Reformation. Other notable Reformers included William Farel, Martin Bucer, Philipp Melanchthon, and Heinrich Bullinger. John Knox brought the Reformation to Scotland. From the 16th century, a band of preachers arose in Britain who preached the truths of the Reformation. They have been called the Puritans — also dubbed the second-generation Reformers. Various Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed Baptist, and Reformed churches of today would own the Reformers as their spiritual forefathers, and the Reformation as their historical root.
To continue reading the full entire article look here.

Update: With Pastor Poh's permission I also recorded an audio version of the article to You can listen to it here. I also uploaded a pdf of the article. You can read it here.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Book Review Re-Posted: Richard Barcellos, In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology

Note: I wrote this review in March 2006 and it was posted at the time to an online site which is no longer available. I had a recent conversation with a friend about New Covenant Theology and shared this review with him. I thought it would be worthwhile to re-post the review for others who might be interested. I also recorded an audio version of the review and posted it to (listen to it here). 

Richard C. Barcellos.  In Defense of the Decalogue:  A Critique of New Covenant Theology.  Enumclaw, WA:  WinePress Publishing, 2001, 117 pp.

New Covenant Theology (NCT) is a recent attempt to find a middle ground between Covenant (Reformed) and Dispensational theology in the areas of ecclesiology (the relationship between Israel and the Church) and ethics (the relationship between law and grace).  Most central, according to Barcellos, is the issue of the continuing function and role of the law (and the Ten Commandments in particular) for Christians.  NCT sees no continuing role for the Old Testament law in general and the Decalogue in particular for New Covenant believers.  Barcellos’ book offered this critique even before a definitive work by NCT scholars appeared on the market [That work has since appeared:  Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, New Covenant Theology:  Description, Definition, Defense (New Covenant Media, 2002)]!

Barcellos writes from the confessional perspective of being a Reformed Baptist.  His disagreements with NCT are clearly but amicably presented.  They fall into eight general areas:

First: NCT’s view of the promise of the New Covenant.

The contention here is that NCT misreads Jeremiah 31:31-34 by assuming that the “New Covenant” “will be the death knell of the Decalogue as a unit”, rather than ‘the death knell of the Old Covenant” (24).

Second: NCT’s view concerning the identity of the Old Covenant.

Here the author takes NCT to task for equating the Decalogue with the Old Covenant.  Instead, Barcellos argues that “the Decalogue is still binding as a unit under the New Covenant, though not in the same manner in which it was under the Old” (40).

Third: NCT’s views related to the abolition of the Old Covenant.

The primary bone of contention here is the proper interpretation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20.  Counter to NCT, Barcellos argues that the Old Testament is still binding, “but not in the same way it used to be”, since its application is now conditioned by the coming of Jesus (65).  This argument is buttressed by appeal to Ephesians 2:14-16.  He concludes this unit: “The abrogation of the Old Covenant does not cancel the utility of the Old Testament” (69).
Fourth: NCT’s perspective on the Sermon on the Mount.

Barcellos contends that, “Christ is not altering the Law of Moses in the Sermon on the Mount, but rightly applying it, unlike the scribes and Pharisees who were hypocrites” (76).

Fifth: NCT’s position on the identity of the Moral Law.

At core here is an exposition of Romans 2:14-15.  According to Barcellos, NCT contends that nine of the ten commandments (excluding the 4th commandment to observe the Sabbath) comprise “the Moral law common to all men” (77).  Barcellos sees no reason to exclude the 4th commandment from the Moral Law as it is made known to the Jews through special revelation and to Gentiles through general revelation.

Sixth: NCT’s hermeneutical presuppositions.

Barcellos contends that NCT holds to the maxim “Not repeated, not binding.” On the other hand, “The historic Reformed hermeneutic assumes continuity between the testaments unless rescinded” (85).  His point:  Just because each of the Ten Commandments is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament does not diminish the fact that they are still binding.

Seventh: NCT’s implications for canonics.

Barcellos’ warning here is that though NCT may give formal recognition of the complete canon (Old and New Testaments), it results in an ethical approach that functionally acknowledges only the New Testament.  NCT, therefore, “leaves itself open to the accusation of Neo-Marcionism, due to its reductionistic, myopic, and truncated approach to ethics” (88).

Eighth: NCT and historical theology.

Barcellos begins by defending the position on the law, often chided by NCT, taken in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689).  He then attacks two areas where NCT has claimed historical support for its position.  First, NCT has looked to the so-called “continental Reformers” for support of its Decalogue and Sabbatarian ideas.  While acknowledging that Calvin’s views on the Sabbath, in particular, are complex, Barcellos concludes that NCT “does not bear the mantle of John Calvin when it comes to the issue of the Sabbath” (100).  Second, NCT has often appealed to the writings of John Bunyan on the Sabbath for historical support for its ideas.  In fact, an annual gathering of NCT-sympathetic pastors and theologians is called “The Bunyan Conference.”  Barcellos, however, contends that NCT has misread Bunyan who “was not combating the Puritan view of the Sabbath” “but writing against a movement that sought to impose the seventh day Sabbath as Moral Law upon Christians” (101).  He concludes, “Fairly stated, John Bunyan is not New Covenant in his view of the Sabbath” (107).

Conclusion and Assessment:

Barcellos concludes his critique by offering four specific areas of disagreement with NCT:  (1) NCT and exegetical theology; (2) NCT and Biblical theology; (3) NCT and historical theology; and (4) NCT and systematic theology.  The author is to be commended for the charitable spirit with which he conducts this review, analysis and critique of NCT.  In the opinion of this reviewer, the stiffest challenges that he places before NCT proponents are the exegetical ones involving the New Testament’s own reference to the Ten Commandments (Rom 3:19-20; 2 Cor 3:3; Eph 6:2-3; and 1 Tim 1:8-11) and his caution concerning NCT’s neo-Marcionite tendencies.  I would also be interested to know how those who hold to NCT might respond to Barcellos’ challenges concerning Bunyan’s views on the Sabbath.  Barcellos admits that NCT is not “totally fallacious” but in the end he charges that it “goes astray at the point of exegesis and thus produces a faulty theological system” (111).  Here we find perhaps the harshest assessment in an otherwise charitable work, as Barcellos argues that NCT “ends up producing a diseased system of doctrine, which produces diseased Christian thinking and living” (110). This book is brief but well argued.  At this point, it has convinced me that NCT does not offer a viable middle ground between New Covenant and Dispensational theology. Ω