Happy Reformation Day

31 10 2012

In my humble opinion there is no finer piece of Christian hymnody ever written.  In these few words the whole of the Gospel is proclaimed.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Ridley Systematics: Christology

23 10 2012

)Over the past few posts we’ve talked about epistemology, that is how we can know God and ourselves, we’ve spoken of how God is one divine being who eternally exists in three persons call the Trinity, last week we spoke of how God is our redeemer.  We used Thomas Boston’s definition of a Redeemer, which is as follows:

Under the law, when a man was not able to act for himself, to assert and use his own right, one that was akin to him, had a right to act for him, coming in his room, and standing up in his right.

-Thomas Boston, A View of the Covenant of Grace

In this post we’re going to push that discussion further along with the subject of Christology.  It is not enough to acknowledge that we are in need of a redeemer, but we must acknowledge that we are in a need of a specific type of redeemer.  Speaking of our redemption, Anselm of Canterbury wrote in the 11th Century his famous Cur Deus Homo provocatively wrote::

No being, except the God man, can make the atonement by which man may be saved.

His thesis was based upon two points.  Because sin infinitely offends a Divine Person, only a Divine person could bring a satisfaction and offering of infinite worth.  That is why our redeemer must be God.  However, the penalty for sin, as we reviewed last week, was death.  A divine person cannot die.  Only a mortal creature can die.  Thus our redeemer has to be a man.  Neither nature, the divine nor the human on its own can adequately be the redeemer we need.  Thus our redeemer must be a God-man, fully God able to offer an sacrifice of infinite worth and fully man, able to pay the wages of sin, that is death.  My strategy in this post is to explain why our redeemer must be fully God and fully man existing in one person.  As that’s laid out, we will of course articulate this union of two natures in one person and explore some aberrant, or heretical views of this union. Read the rest of this entry »

Ridley Systematics: God Our Redeemer

23 10 2012

Grant, Almighty God, that as we have not only been redeemed from Babylonian exile, but have also emerged from hell itself; for when we were the children of wrath thou didst freely adopt us, and when we were aliens, thou didst in thine infinite goodness open to us the gate of thy kingdom, that we might be made thy heirs through the Son, O grant that we may walk circumspectly before thee, and submit ourselves wholly to thee and to thy Christ, and not feign to be his members, but really prove ourselves to be his body, and to be so governed by his Spirit, that thou mayest at last gather us together into thy celestial kingdom, to which thou daily invitest us by the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

–John Calvin, Commentary on Hosea

Over the past several weeks we’ve introduced you to range of deep and difficult topics.  In the first week we looked at the topic of epistemology and learned that knowledge of God is only possible as he comes to us, accommodating his infinite nature to our finite capacity.  The second week, we learned about God who is one divine nature existing in three divine persons.  Last week we learned about creation, how it was made that we might enjoy God and glorify him forever.  We also learned how we fell away from this glorious purpose into sin and more specifically into idolatry.  Tonight we begin the discussion of how we were recovered from this ruin by exploring the concept of God as a redeemer.  What we’re seeking to answer here tonight is what is a redeemer and why do I need one?  We’ll do this by looking closely at three covenants revealed in Scripture.  These three covenants are the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Grace, and the Covenant of Redemption. Read the rest of this entry »

Ridley Systematics: Creation and Fall

19 10 2012

In this post we’ll be talking more specifically about how we have relationship with God and how we have fallen away from this relationship.  Our topic is Creation and Fall and tonight we’ll be exploring themes such as what were we made for, why are we here, and what went wrong? Read the rest of this entry »

Ridley Systematics: Epistemology

18 10 2012

The English Puritan, Richard Sibbes, encouraged his congregation in the 17th century with the following words:

 Labour for the Spirit of God…Beg of God to seal to our souls that the Bible is his word, and the he would sanctify our hearts to be suitable to the word, and never rest till we can find God by his Spirit, seasoning our hearts, so, that with relish of our souls may suit to the relish of divine truths, that when we hear them we may relish the truth in them, and may so feel the work of God’s Spirit, that we may be able to say, He is our God.

–Richard Sibbes, The Marriage Feast Between Christ and the Church, The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes Vol II pg 496

It is appropriate to begin this with a reminder from Richard Sibbes that we might take into consideration that theology is more than the act of learning, it is more than the act of application, rather true theology begins with a miracle.  That miracle being the work of the Spirit of God to sanctify our hearts, making a fit receptacle for his word, that our souls might “relish the divine truth” found in Scripture.  So before any text is read, before any words digested, before any truths applied, lets remember together at the outset that we’re not dependent upon how great or how weak our intellect, but rather dependent upon the Spirit of God. Read the rest of this entry »

Hey let’s get practical! A few applicable thoughts on Docetism

18 10 2012

So last Tuesday night I had the pleasure of teaching Christology at the Ridley Institute.  I have been asked through e-mail and conversation to point towards where Christological heresies exist in the church today.  Never one to shy away from calling someone a heretic (it does have a nice ring to it) I’ve decided to wade into this discussion.  Be warned!  It may not be a discussion you want to have!

Docetism is derived from the Greek word dokein (sorry, I don’t have Greek characters) which means “to seem.”  Docetists believe that God only seemed to come in the flesh, be born, suffer and die on the cross.  There are a variety of reasons that the Docetists would posit such a thing, such as a desire to protect the immutability of God (why should I define it and make it easy for you?).  However, the Docetists faced clear difficulties from the church assembled at Nicaea but more significantly from scripture, which says clearly that the humanity of Jesus was no mere illusion.  God really did take on flesh and dwell among us (John 1.14).  So without further ado….

I see Docetism in YOU (and me)!  Repent!

It was Richard Sibbes who said that the best sort of men are severe to themselves and gracious towards others.  So with this discussion, lets begin with ourselves rather than pointing the finger at others.  Often when I come home to my family, my heart and my mind stay at the office.  I may be physically present, but the most important parts of me, namely my heart and my mind remain somewhere else.  Thus my presence with my family is only an illusion.  It is by the way, an illusion not nearly so masterful as to deceive my wife who will eventually say, “Hey!  Are you paying attention?  What did I just say?”  Oops, the jig is up!

When the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us, he did not leave his most important bits in heaven but he really came, was really and fully present, and was completely committed to living life amongst us with all of its joys and all of its sorrows.  This is no mere illusion, but a profound mystery.  God in flesh is present unto death, even death on a cross.  When he comes to dwell, it’s all or nothing.

So to be fair, when you and I fail to be present with our friends or family we’re not heretics.  But we are living inconsistently with what we profess.  Namely, if God took on flesh and dwelt amongst us, how can we who have benefited so greatly from his presence be absent to the very people God has given us to love?  Food for thought.

Multi-Site = Docetism

This is probably more what you were after but I bet you won’t like the application.  When I say multisite, I don’t mean all multisite but specifically those multisite churches that video feed in the pastor from 10 miles or 100 miles away.  As a friend of my is fond of saying, the problem with multisite churches is that “God so loved the world that he sent a….video.”  Oops!  But that’s not how the scriptures speak of God.  For God so loved the world that he sent a person, his Son who was a real man, who had real relationships, real friends and real enemies.  When a preacher video feeds himself in to an off site location, he is not really and truly present but only appears to be.  He cannot respond to his congregation.  He won’t have to answer questions in the receiving line by confused or angry congregants.  He will not lay real hands on real shoulders to offer a word of compassion or consolation or even a prayer because he’s not really there.  He is a phantasm, a ghost, that you most likely will never touch or speak to.  Again, this does not make such people are heretics, but it does mean that they are operating out of Docetic principles.  There are of course other arguments for video feeding in preachers, none of which are particularly good.  I suppose there’s no guessing where I stand!  I like old time religion, where real men preached a real Gospel to a real congregation.  But alas, I think that’s going the way of the Dodo!

Qur’an = Docetism

Now we must be careful in that this is not classic Docetism.  The Qur’an does not believe that God only appeared to take on flesh in Jesus because the Qur’an does not put forth a picture of a divine Christ.  Where the Qur’an does take on some docetic flavor however is in the crucifixion, where it only appears as if Christ was crucified when in fact Muslims believe that “Allah took him up unto himself.”  I’ve excerpted the relevant section from the Sura below:

And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah’s messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain. But Allah took him up unto Himself. Allah was ever Mighty, Wise.

Concluding thoughts:

Now that we’ve seen some real world examples of Docetism, I hope you’ll do the responsible thing and look first to self before you wag the finger at anyone else which brings me back to my first point.  The Word really became flesh and really dwelt among us.  The Word did not appear to dwell with us, he really did and this was to our benefit.  Living this out consistently dictates that Christians value relationships and presence and intentionally repent of leaving their hearts and minds behind at the office, or at the game, or wherever it’s most likely to wander.  When someone is with you, be with them, heart and mind with focused intentionality.  Christ after all, having done nothing less, did of course do so much more.

Farewell Martin Luther! We hardly knew ye!

17 10 2012

I’m about as ready to say goodbye to Martin Luther as I am to say goodbye to my cat Rico (who is much loved by yours truly).  But it should be obvious that the great hero of the Reformation, celebrated on the lips of Protestants, has long since been excused from the Evangelical Church in North America.  Like a handyman who is no longer needed, he’s been let go to make way for bigger, more majestic projects (Like Christian Radio).  Neither the man himself nor his theology would be at all welcomed in most American pulpits.  Consider the following:

This is clear:  He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering.  Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.  These are the people whom the apostle calls “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3.18), for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works.  Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good.  God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said.  Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are dethroned and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works is crucified.  It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God’s.

-Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation LW pg 53

Let me briefly share why I’m not ready to let this ship sail.  First, Luther is imminently realistic.  Life is hard, fully of suffering and failure.  Blind appeals to God’s goodness and the victory we have in Christ Jesus only cosmetically address the serious problems of life.  Second, Luther understands that God becomes most precious and is most fully known in suffering and failure.  Only a sinner with an afflicted conscience can truly appreciate grace and thus truly appreciate God’s presence in moral and spiritual failure.  Only one suffering can truly, with Paul, understand the sufficiency of Grace and God’s power present in our own weakness (2 Cor 12.9).  And finally, Luther grasps that God is revealed most fully not the in the mountaintop experiences of conferences or powerful worship on Sunday, but rather in the deep, descending darkness of Golgotha.  Here we behold a crucified man, forsaken and abandoned by his friends and say “Truly, this was the Son of God” (Matt 27.54).  When it appeared God had packed up and left town, he was actually doing the most glorious and grandest thing he would ever accomplish.  Hold on to that thought next time you think God has packed up and left town, leaving you forsaken and helpless.  Finally, Luther understood that appealing to the will to encourage works was inherently dangerous.  The “old Adam,” writes Luther “is especially edified by works.”  And how this is celebrated in most churches!  Encouraging people to take the hill for Jesus while never realizing that the glory of the Gospel is that he ascended the hill (by himself!) for them.  The Gospel deflates the old Adam and destroys him so that the New Adam is edified only by Christ and his Gospel, God hidden in suffering.  It is actually being edified only in Christ that makes any good work acceptable, for it means that good works are no longer selfish (for self-edification) nor mercenary (to get you into heaven) but good works are offered freely from the Christian who really and truly has nothing to gain from the endeavor.  It is an overflow from his heart for the love of Christ.