Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

My Photo

Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jesus Without Disease

[The following blogpost was originally published on 12/13/2010. I re-published it here on the tenth of this month, but since that time I added a couple of points, so I'm re-posting it now.]

Near the end of his article declaring that Jesus made mistakes, Sam Storms offers speculation regarding the physical life of the fully human Christ during His earthly ministry. Storms asks questions which include the following:

Sam Storms
"Did Jesus ever get sick? When he hit his thumb with a hammer while working in his father's carpenter shop (assuming he did!), would he have been susceptible to getting an infection? ... Could Jesus have caught the flu from one of his family members? Could Jesus have suffered from a 24-hour stomach virus (with all its unpleasant symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diahhrea) caused by drinking dirty water from the Jordan River?"

Storms concludes: Yes, most likely.”

In an article titled, "Did Jesus Ever Get a Stomach Virus?" Dr. Russell Moore emphatically answered, "[Jesus] was not exempt from something as common as sickness."

Russell Moore
While I do NOT think that differences on this issue have such immediate negative consequences as the assertion that Jesus made errors or mistakes, I DO think that we should consider that Christ was not subject to disease. Reflect, dear reader, upon the following:

1. Sickness is not a necessary element of humanity; Adam, before the Fall, would not have gotten sick. Illness was not was not a necessary experience for Christ, as He is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:141 Cor 15:45). 

2. Human weaknesses of Jesus are specifically mentioned in the Gospel accounts; He hungered after fasting (Matt 4:2), He grew tired after physical exertion (John 4:6), etc. These experiences ARE necessary to humanity, due to our physicalityfinitude, and mutability. The inspired Gospel writers seem keen to record the truly human experiences of Christ. But the Gospels never mention Jesus being sick, which-if He had gotten sick-would have been similarly notable.

3. On the other hand, the Gospels DO record that Jesus faced situations in which we who are affected by sin would normally contract disease, yet in the accounts of these situations there is no hint that He contracted a disease. For example, Matthew 8:1-4 records that Jesus healed a leper by touching him. Jesus certainly did not cease to be human when He touched the leper. Yet, unlike any of us, Jesus did not contract leprosy. His true humanity did not necessitate that He catch the disease.

4. Matthew 8:16-17 is (I believe) key in this consideration: "When evening came, they brought to [Jesus] many who were demon-possessed, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were ill. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 'He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases'" (NASB). IF we only had the textual information from the prophecy in Isaiah WITH the theological information concerning Christ's true humanity, THEN it may be reasonable to assume that "He Himself took our infirmities" should be understood in terms of Jesus Himself-like us-becoming sick. But this is NOT the only information that we have been given. Matthew 8:17 records the Holy Spirit-inspired interpretation of Isaiah's prophecy: "[Jesus] healed all who were ill to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet," etc. ["This was" is not in the original text, but only supplied by translators.] HOW did Jesus take our infirmities and carry away our diseases? FIRST through His healing ministry, which provides a preview of the kingdom of God that (when fully manifested) will include no disease. THEN-as the function of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in the New Testament is considered as a whole-we understand that Jesus bore sin, sickness, and death on the Cross in our place and rose again to conquer these enemies of Man, as He is the first-fruit of resurrection. NOTICE: the idea of Jesus personally becoming sick never enters into this account. The idea that Jesus must have become sick is an inference, which-due to the reasons presented here-seems both textually unnecessary and theologically problematic (at best).

5. The primary reason that the inference concerning Jesus becoming sick (prior to His passion) is theologically problematic is that sin, sickness, and death appear to be related in the Bible (for example: Isaiah 53:4Matthew 8:17). Just as Jesus, being sinless, would not have "naturally" died as we "naturally" die-rather, He laid down His life on His own accord (John 10:18)-Jesus wouldn't have "naturally" fallen ill.

6. In so emphasizing the Incarnation, I fear we run the risk of under-estimating the uniqueness of the Cross. We may miss the idea that Jesus, at a specific point in His ministry, began to bear the sins of His people upon His own body and endure divine wrath on our behalf. Jesus did not experience the wrath of God against sin throughout His entire life; He would not have cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Matt 27:46) at His baptism.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jesus Without Mistakes: Christ as the New Adam and Inerrant Word

Someone has made a mistake:
either the Lord of glory,
or this gentleman preaching
in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
[This blogpost was originally published on the ninth of this month. As I was re-reading Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, I found a pertinent quote from Klaus Issler, so I'm re-publishing this with the Issler quote.] 

To Be Human is to Err?

"To err is human..." This proverb, though not found in Scripture, is certainly reflective of our normal daily experience. But is the obverse true as well? Is 'to be human to err'?

Mark Driscoll, in discussing the true humanity of Christ, seems to think that the answer is 'yes,' and-responding to objections against Driscoll on this issue-Sam Storms has emphatically answered in the affirmative. Driscoll and Storms both believe that in order to be truly human, Jesus must have made errors or mistakes.

Driscoll and Storms are both careful to say that they are not asserting that Jesus made any moral errors or mistakes. Rather, Driscoll believes-and Storms asserts-that Jesus made factual errors or mistakes.

On The Distinction Between Moral and Factual Errors

5, 280!
The distinction between moral and factual errors or mistakes can indeed be meaningful. The antiChrist himself (as a Reformed Baptist, I mean Pope Francis) may be able to say how many feet are in a mile (or meters are in a kilometer) without making a factual error or mistake. Yet, due to the radical corruption of human nature through Adam's fall, none of us can relate even the most commonplace facts in a way is free from moral error. This is because God created all things for His own glory, but when we consider the things that He has made and principles that He has established, we never glorify Him to the level we ought. When we fill out our multiplication tables in elementary school, even if we make no factual errors, we never perform this activity in a way that is characterized by complete, untainted love for God: heart, soul, mind and strength.

So, making moral errors or mistakes is a necessary part of what it means to be a fallen human being. But-laying aside the question of fallenness, as Jesus was (and is) sinless-is making factual errors or mistakes a necessary part of what it means to be a human?

On the Proper Distinctions Between God and Man

What are the necessary characteristics of humanity? Specifically, what are the necessary characteristics that distinguish God and Man (considered apart from the Fall)? Most obviously, Man is embodied: as the Baptist Catechism declares, "God made the body of Adam out of the ground and formed Eve from the body of Adam" (Gen 2:7, 21-23; 3:19; Psa 103:14). On the other hand, "God is a Spirit, and does not have a body like men" (John 4:24; 2 Cor 3:17; 1 Tim 1:17).

The other necessary characteristics of humanity-the characteristics that distinguish people body and soul from God-are summed up in two terms: finitude and mutability. Man is finite and mutable, which is to say that people (unlike God) have limits and are subject to change. God alone is infinite and immutable. Jesus' (post-resurrection) statement to His disciples that He is with us always, even unto the end of the age, as we go into all nations (Matt 28:19-20)-a statement indicating that He is limitless-and the declaration by the author of Hebrews that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb 13:8): these are indicative of His divine, not His human, nature.

Jesus is fully human. Jesus is embodied (even now, as Colossians 2:9 declares in the present tense). Touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was finite and mutable. During His time on earth, "Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52).

Growth in Wisdom: Some Needed Distinctions
Sam Storms

Driscoll and Storms believe that the human characteristics mentioned above imply that Jesus must have made factual errors. Sam Storms writes, "[D]id Jesus ever 'mistakenly' think that 5x5=30? ... When, as a young boy, he looked up at the sky, did [Jesus] ever wonder whether the sun might orbit the earth?" Storms gives a few other examples, and he asserts that these kinds of questions should be answered "yes."

Not all of Storms' examples are alike, and when writing about Jesus' education, Storms fails to distinguish between ignorance, confusion, and false assertions.

In His human experience, Jesus-like all other people-went from not knowing to knowing. In this sense, the Son of Man experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. There is no culpability in this. As with all other children, Jesus had to learn to walk and talk, and He had to be educated day by day. The experience of ignorance, and having one's ignorance overcome through education, does seem to be a necessary part of human experience.

But not knowing is different from being mistaken. I believe that Driscoll and Storms go astray-and lead others astray-from a right understanding of Christ when they indicate that He experienced confusion and seem to indicate that He may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact.

Unlike ignorance and growth in knowledge, confusion is not a necessary part of what it means to be human. When God created Man and declared him "very good" (Gen 1:31), was Man in a state that necessarily included confusion and error? Is the promised paradise of God (Rev 2:7) a place-because people are present-that will contain confusion and error? (I have no doubt that we will be ignorant about many things when we arrive in the new heavens and new earth, and that we will spend eternity growing in knowledge.) God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). Without diabolical influence, the people in Eden would have lived in simple faith: growing in knowledge certainly, but never experiencing confusion.

Even more problematic is the idea that Christ may have made false assertions concerning matters of fact. Notably, Storms-in making inferences concerning Jesus' education-never directly states that he believes Jesus spoke statements contrary to fact. Storms clearly believes that Jesus would have, at times, held to mistaken notions about factual subjects like Math or Astronomy. Would He have ever spoken about such mistaken notions? If not-if He actually held to erroneous beliefs concerning matters of fact, but was somehow prevented from speaking these beliefs-then His experience of human life was certainly unusual. (Storms seems zealous to promote Jesus as having a rather normal daily human experience, including confusion and error.) If, on the other hand, the Son of God spoke factual errors, then hopefully no one wrote them down!

The Practical Importance of This Consideration

The idea that Jesus would have thought-or possibly voiced-false assertions leads to a matter of practical importance in this consideration. While the distinction between factual and moral errors is meaningful on one level (as noted above), a great deal of overlap between these categories seems unavoidable. Klaus Issler sees this clearly, noting, "That Jesus would not develop fallible beliefs in these important matters [the 'important matters' Issler has been discussing include categories such as Literature and History] is crucial for maintaining his sinlessness." Even the most basic factual error (say, to take one of Storms' examples, an assertion that 5x5=30) improperly reflects the created order. In this sense, factual errors are indicative of something broken or marred in the way that humans display the image of God. This is one reason, when defending biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement declares, "We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science" (more on this below).

You say Jesus made mistakes?
I agree!
But many questions of fact have even more immediately apparent, long-lasting spiritual consequences. To give two examples: in Matthew 19, Jesus gives authoritative statements concerning marriage, divorce, and adultery; in John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is the exclusive way to the Father. Both of these passages involve assertions of fact. Now, if Driscoll and Storms are correct, then Jesus was liable to making factual mistakes. Isn't it possible, taking this view, that Jesus was unknowingly wrong concerning questions of fact touching the doctrine and practice of the Church? If Jesus-like the rest of us-is liable to make factual mistakes, then maybe we should reexamine His statements and see if we should take different views: re-defining marriage; being more inclusive in our view of other religions. This is the position held by many liberal theologians.

Evangelicals who follow Driscoll and Storms' line of thinking on this subject, and who wish to avoid giving credence to liberal questions or denials of Jesus' teaching, may wish to assert that the words of Jesus found in Scripture are free from mistakes or errors. But on what basis are the words of Christ in Scripture inerrant? Isn't it because the Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture? As the Chicago Statement again declares, "We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."

In writing true and trustworthy Scripture, free from error, the prophets and apostles did not become omniscient. They did not become more than human. In writing the New Testament, the apostles received prophecy and clarity concerning Christ from the Holy Spirit (John 2:22; 16:13-14). They began in ignorance concerning some of these matters, and they grew in knowledge. On the other hand, when penning holy Scripture, the apostles were never confused about what they should write down. They certainly never included false assertions in the Bible.

The beliefs that evangelicals readily affirm concerning the production of the Spirit-inspired written Word of God should also be affirmed concerning the life of the Spirit-anointed incarnate Word of God. Scripture, though penned by humans, is inerrant. Jesus, though truly human, is (and always has been) without error or mistakes.

Ignorance Without Errors

If I am correct, then Jesus, while having experienced ignorance and growth in knowledge as a human, was never confused, nor did He make any false assertions. How could this distinction be maintained in Christ, practically speaking? Certainly, no mere human being knows another's thoughts (1Cor 2:11), and we can never come close to fully comprehending the thought-life of a theanthropic Person who is able to read our thoughts (and was able to read other's thoughts during His earthly ministry, even before the resurrection: Matt 9:4; 12:25; Luke 11:17). But I believe that Mark 13:32 provides a helpful basis for considering how Jesus could be ignorant without being confused or led to false assertions. As recorded in this verse, Jesus declared concerning the destruction Jerusalem, "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (NASB).

As a human being like us, Jesus-during His pre-ascension earthly ministry-experienced ignorance concerning certain matters of eschatology. How, then, did Jesus deal with ignorance in a way that did not involve confusion or false assertions? He admitted it! Jesus was perfect in humility. When-as a Man-He did not know something, He did not offer up fallible speculations. Instead, He said, 'I don't know.'

This presupposes, of course, that Jesus-as an unfallen human being, not suffering the noetic effects of sin-did not experience confusion. He never thought He knew something that He didn't actually know. In this way, He was free from the error of making false assertions.


Driscoll and Storms are correct to declare that Jesus was and is truly and fully human. We should understand this to mean that touching His humanity (at least during His earthly ministry), Jesus was like us in being finite and mutable. Jesus experienced ignorance, which had to be overcome through education. This placed Jesus in the position of needing humility.

In their consideration of His humanity, I fear that Driscoll and Storms have failed to properly account for certain aspects of Jesus' human existence. Jesus is the new and better Adam (Rom 5:14b; 1 Cor 15:45). Taken out of the mass of humanity-as the seed of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the descendant of David (Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8)-Jesus became a new beginning. Sinless like Adam, Jesus did not experience the noetic effects of sin. He never experienced confusion. When His disciples woke Him up during the middle of a storm (Matt 8:23-27)-though He was obviously very weary (showing His real humanity)-Jesus did not respond to the situation with the shock and confusion that we all would have likely experienced. He did not make any confused statement, which He did not really mean.

Driscoll and Storms also fail to properly consider the inerrancy of the Word. They would, I believe, affirm the inerrancy of the written Word of God. The inerrancy of Christ should be affirmed on the exact same principles as scriptural inerrancy. I sincerely pray that they-and those on whom they have influence-will see that the incarnate Word of God is (and always has been) free from errors or mistakes.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Learning From What We Don't Know

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
The above verse indicates that the wonderful actions of Christ, even during His short (approximately three year) public ministry, were innumerable. Though we have sufficient material to inform our faith, practice, and worship, an earth-sized library would not hold the volumes that the apostles could have written about the activities they personally witnessed between the Lord's baptism and ascension.

In addition to Jesus' unrecorded works, it is also interesting to note how many basic personal facts go unmentioned in the Gospel accounts. Four different kinds of biographies of Christ are recorded in Holy Scripture. Yet there are a host of details that-in this world-we will never know concerning the Son of Mary.

We're pretty certain that Jesus
looked nothing like this guy.
What did He look like? Though He was apparently physically unremarkable, and certainly no Aryan superman, given the prophecy in Isaiah 53:2b and the genealogies in Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38, we have no details concerning His height, eye and hair color, etc.

What did He sound like? Now that He has been glorified, Christ's voice is overwhelming, like a trumpet blast (Rev 1:10). During His pre-ascension public ministry, Jesus spoke with unusual authority (Matt 7:29). But what was His tone as He delivered His authoritative teaching? Did He speak with the Middle Eastern equivalent of a country twang, or was His voice a booming baritone? There is no way to know.

What was His favorite food? This is a question that my six-year-old son asks. I've told him that the answer might be "fish," since Jesus-after His resurrection-apparently ate fish with His disciples on at least two occasions (Luke 24:42-43; John 21:9-15). However, we can't be sure.

What was He like as a child? Prior to when He amazed teachers in the temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:46-47), we know basically nothing about Jesus' personality and experiences as a child, except that He grew in wisdom, stature, and God's favor (Luke 2:40). The lack of biblical information concerning the childhood of God incarnate has successfully tempted some authors to wild mythologizing. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas asserts that the boy Jesus gave life to clay birds and that He struck another child dead then raised him back to life. Some Arthurian legends clam that Jesus travelled to Britain with His uncle. More recently (and less fantastically), I read an article by an evangelical leader who portrayed the infant Jesus living as an illegal alien in Egypt (though we obviously have no information on what steps Joseph did or didn't take-or exactly what societal expectations were-regarding possible immigration laws).

What were His political views? Jesus definitely believed in a kind of separation between Church and state obligations, and He upheld the propriety of paying taxes (Mark 12:17). But notice how many important political issues Jesus did not address. For example, Jesus did not speak about slavery, torture, or Caesar vs. republican rule. If the burning political issues in the Roman Empire of His day were reduced to a political platform, it is hard to know where Jesus would have stood on every issue or how He would have ranked the relative importance of each plank.
Set His face like flint:
not this Flint.
The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is no mere oversight. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus set His face like flint to go to Jerusalem, full of determination to accomplish His atoning work on the Cross and to be restored to His rightful glory in the ascension (Isa 50:7; Luke 9:51). But even before that time, Jesus-during His entire public ministry-has a laser-like focus on His mission: to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) through the crucifixion and resurrection (Mark 10:33-34).

Jesus' ministry on earth was a ministry of humiliation. In humility, Jesus did not glorify Himself. He glorified the Father, trusting the Father to vindicate Him and to return Him to the state of glory that they had together "before the world began" (John 17:4-5).
The lack of personal information concerning the incarnate Word is especially instructive to us in the digital age. We live in a situation where it is possible, accepted, and almost expected that we broadcast a great amount of personal information. Especially with smart phones, which can keep the Internet at our fingertips 24/7, our public presence can become dominated by personal pictures and likes or dislikes on gourmet food, fashion, cars, entertainment, political issues, etc., etc.

I am NOT suggesting that we cannot speak or write about anything unaddressed by Jesus. We have a whole Bible-not just the Gospel accounts-for a reason. The Apostle Paul, for example, gives instructions on how Christians should think about a wider range of issues, such as: homosexuality, divorce due to abandonment, ecclesiology, etc.

Also, I recognize that Jesus' ministry was unique. He alone came to live, die, and rise again in order to bring justification before God to undeserving sinners. Followers of Christ must proclaim the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done, but we cannot replicate His work.

Christians today may find ourselves in all manner of various vocations. It may be appropriate, and even necessary, for a Christian for a Christian chef to constantly broadcast information concerning recipes, a Christian politician to broadcast information on healthcare or immigration reform, or a Christian film critic [I'm thankful for resources such as Plugged In Online] to broadcast information about movies.

I am concerned, however, with how we Christians often spend our discretionary time, as reflected by our presence on the Internet. Many Christians have Facebook status pages (for example) that are dominated by personal information, entertainment likes, or political views. I believe that, if we are not careful, this kind of public presence will have two results:

1. We may make much of ourselves and little of Christ. John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This must be the attitude of every follower of Christ.

2. We may tacitly present the gospel as relatively boring or unimportant. What captures our minds' attention and our hearts' affection? What gives us the most joy? Is it the entertainments of this world or the hope that we have for the world to come? What causes us the most concern? Is it the agenda of a political part, or the condemnation faced by anyone who does not accept Christ (John 3:18)?

Remember, beloved: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [even post to the Internet!], do everything for God's glory. (1 Cor 10:31 HCSB)


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Necessary Relationship Between Poetic and Technical Theological Language

[Does technical theological language lead to dead orthodoxy? Does poetic theological language lead to intellectual sloppiness? Fred Sanders helpfully addresses these issues in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. The following blogpost is quoted from pages 14-16 of that work.]

The difference between saying "Jesus is Lord" and saying "the two natures of Christ are hypostatically united without confusion, change, division, or separation" is striking. The transition, however, is not only necessary, but also tremendously helpful, fruitful, and nourishing for Christian faith and understanding.

Consider, for example, how Chalcedonian categories helped a Christian poet express himself. In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote: "O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me!" This is a bold thing to say, because it claims so much: "God... died." The Bible itself says it that bluntly in a few places, such as Acts 20:28, "God purchased the church with his own blood." This is how the voice of faith speaks when it confesses what God has done. This is a good Christian sentence. When theologians get hold of stark, paradoxical statements like "God died," they have an instinct to clarify what is being said. They do not want to remove the shock or the force (that would be very bad theology), but they do want to make sure that the true paradox rather than something else is being communicated. They want to rule out misunderstandings that either take away the shock, or substitute for it the fake shock of logical incoherence.

For example, it is possible to think "God died" means something like, "just as there is a human death for humans to die, there is apparently a divine death for God to die, and that is what happened at Calvary." But the analogy is nonsense. Death is a concept that only works inside the context of a creation. You need a finite, contingent existence to have its eclipse or dissolution in death. "Divine death" as an analogue of "human death" is probably not even a coherent idea. It seems to belong to the category of "neat tricks you can do with language," by combining any adjective with any noun: square circle, blue height, quiet toddler, cold heat, divine death. When you remove the chimera of a properly divine death, you can see that "God died" means that God experienced the only kind of death there is to experience, and that is creaturely death. How could that have happened? This is precisely where Chalcedonian categories come into play, and rather than stripping away the poetic power of Wesley's words, the incarnational theology of Chalcedon, so to speak, put the poetry into the poetry. According to the Chalcedonian explication of the incarnation, the Son of God took into personal union with himself a complete human nature, and thus existed as one theanthropic (divine and human) person. He did not cease to be God, but he took up human nature into hypostatic (personal) union with himself. He made that humanity his own, and in that appropriated humanity he appropriated real human death. He died the only death there is to die, our death.
So with all the elaborate distinctions in place, the sentence "God died" can also be said in this longer form: "The eternal second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took into personal [and perpetual] union with himself, without confusing it, changing it, dividing it or separating it from his eternal divine nature, a complete human nature through which he experienced death." It is no surprise that Charles Wesley did not set that longer sentence to music. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the longer sentence is precisely what he meant by the shorter one. To the suggestion that he could have meant anything else by it, Charles Wesley would have replied that, being an orthodox Christian and no heretic, he could not possibly have intended anything else. Furthermore, there is no trickery and no sleight of hand in that expanded paraphrase of "God died." The longer sentence is what the shorter sentence means, and both sentences are true precisely insofar as they mean each other.
God died on the cross! Charles Wesley certainly knew the value of the incarnational and trinitarian framework, because when he sang "O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God died for me!" he immediately paraphrased it in terms of the second person of the Trinity's vicarious action on our behalf: "The Father's coeternal Son bore all my sins upon the tree."


Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Mission of the Body of Christ: Sermon Notes from Matthew 16:13-20 (Sermon by Keith Stell)

[These notes are taken from the evening service this past Lord's Day at New Georgia Baptist Church.]

Matthew 16:13-20.
Keith Stell

I. "But who do you say that I am?"

A. This is the single greatest question we might be asked.

B. This question implies mission, as we are to be saying something about Jesus, and it is important that we say something correct.

C. This question was a kind of catechism.

II. What is the Church on Mission?

A. Ecclesia = "called out" ones; we are called out of sin.

B. The Church is a congregation: a body gathered for a purpose.

C. The Church is designed to reflect the glory of God's grace.

III. Whose Church is It? What is Its Guarantee?

A. Peter is not the foundation of the Church.
1. Peter, after the statement in Matt 16:18, denied Jesus three times.
2. Peter, after the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, was rebuked by Paul, as recorded in Galatians.
3. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter refers to himself as a fellow elder.
4. The question of "who is the greatest?" which the disciples posed to Jesus, was not answered by an appeal to Petrine primacy.
5. The different terms for "rock" point away from Peter being identified as the foundation of the Church.

B. The Role of the Apostles is Foundational to the Church
1. Ephesians 2:20.
2. Revelation 21:14.
3. Acts 2:42.

C. Ultimately, the Rock is Christ
1. Jesus said, "My Church."
2. Christ has preeminence in all things.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Mistakes, Disease, and the Humanity of Christ: Necessary Inferences and the Burden of Proof

Say that an evangelical pastor/teacher has come to the conviction that, following His incarnation and  prior to the Cross, Jesus made factual mistakes and/or that Jesus suffered from diseases. If this pastor/teacher limited himself to speaking on biblical examples of Jesus making mistakes or suffering from particular diseases, what would he say? Nothing at all. There is NO biblical example of Jesus making a mistake or suffering from a disease.

Should this fact end discussion of these matters outright? Not necessarily. There are such things as necessary inferences from Scripture.

Concerning the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith paragraph 1:6 declares:
The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture, unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
Paragraph 1:6 of the Second London Baptist Confession begins with the exact same wording, except that in place of the Westminster phrase, "or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture," the Baptist Confession has the phrase "or necessarily contained in Scripture." As Fred Malone notes:
Fred Malone
Likely they [the Baptists] did this [i.e., changed the wording at this point] in order to distinguish true good and necessary consequence, which should always be limited by the containment of Scripture, from the abuse of good and necessary consequence as logical inference alone. [Fred A. Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2007), 20.]
In the work cited above, Malone had previously noted:
[I]t is a valid hermeneutical method to draw inferences from Scripture. Drawing good and necessary inferences is required to draw up confessions, to do systematic theology and to engage in pastoral applications to people.
Given the validity of necessary inferences, the question is: does the humanity of Christ necessarily imply that He made mistakes and/or that He suffered from disease? I have argued that the answer is "no." Mistakes and diseases are not necessary to the definition of humanity: Adam in Eden would not have made mistakes or contracted diseases; refraining from mistakes or avoiding disease does not make one less than human. Even in light of the Fall, we find that the Gospels record Jesus facing situations in which we who are affected by sin would normally make mistakes or contract disease, yet in the accounts of these situations there is no hint that He made a mistake or contracted a disease. Furthermore, the idea that Jesus made mistakes and/or that He contracted diseases raises problems for important biblical considerations: namely, inerrancy and the unique work He performed in His passion. (I grant that the idea that Jesus was without error is more clear and crucial in this regard than the idea that He was free from all disease.)

The burden of proof, then, is firmly on those who would argue-without direct scriptural example-that we must infer mistakes and/or diseases as necessary to Christ's humanity. Are necessary inferences being made in these matters? The answer to this question must NOT lie in human reasoning about how the fallen world around us normally looks. Rather, we must form our thoughts upon the analogy of faith.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 07, 2014

Willing to Follow: Sermon Notes from 2 Timothy 2:8-13 (Sermon by Dr. James R. Burdette)

[The following are sermon notes from yesterday morning's worship service at New Georgia Baptist Church.]

2 Timothy 2:8-13.

I. The Lord's Preeminence (v. 8)

A. The Lord is risen from the dead.

B. The Lord is "of the seed of David."

II. The Lord's Word [Unchained] (v. 9)

A. Scriptural cross-reference: Philippians 4:22; even as Paul was imprisoned, the Lord's Word had reached the household of Caesar.

B. Historical reference: John Bunyan, who ministered and wrote Pilgrim's Progress while in prison.

C. Contemporary reference: the spread of Christianity in China, despite government prohibition.

III. The Lord's Work [Election] (v. 10)

A. The certainty that some will believe is a great encouragement.

B. Salvation is a work of God.

C. God sends us to proclaim the gospel to everyone.

IV. The Lord's Blessing (vv. 11-13)

A. We "need to remember the promise of God."

B. 2 Tim 2:12b, xref. Jn 3:18.

C. 2 Tim 2:13, xref. 1 Jn 1:9.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Shocking! A Straw Man Comes to Life: Some Reformed Theologians/Ministers Deny Lay-Evangelism

Straw Men and Reformed Theology

Merriam-Webster defines "straw man" as "a weak or imaginary argument or opponent that is set up to be easily defeated." The most blatant example of this informal logical fallacy that I've ever personally encountered is Nelson Price's infamous 'bus driver' illustration of Reformed Theology, published in The Christian Index (the Georgia Baptist newspaper):
The Reformed view of God,
according to Nelson Price.
A mass of people are gathered at a bus stop marked “Planet Earth.” Along comes the Celestial Bus marked “Destination Heaven.” It pulls up and stops. The driver, who is God, opens the door, and says, “All destined for heaven get on board.” A number do. A missionary couple who with zeal have served Christ all their lives start on and God says, “Step aside. You haven’t been chosen to ride this bus.” A couple of infants start on and God tells them to step aside. Persons who from youth have loved and ministered in Christ’s name are told to step aside. As the bus is about to depart and the door is closing God says to those not on board, “Catch the next bus.” “No,” they plead, “here comes the next bus and it is driven by Satan and marked ‘Destination Hell.’”
As Dr. James White pointed out in his open letter to Dr. Price, "No Reformed theologian, no Calvinist, with the slightest knowledge of their faith, would ever own your story as their own. Not a one."

Reformed Objections to Lay-Evangelism: A Straw Man?

As of last week, if someone had told me, 'Reformed theologians don't believe in lay-evangelism' ["lay evangelism" meaning that Christians-even those who are not ordained ministers-are duty-bound to introduce non-Christians to Christ], I would have asserted-and believed!-that he or she was involved in a gross example of the straw man fallacy on a level approaching Dr. Price's 'bus driver' illustration.
Dr. Robert Gonzales

When I saw that Dr. Robert Gonzales, Academic Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary, had written a blogpost affirming lay-evangelism, I honestly believed that the post was designed as an encouragement for Christians to do what we all already know we ought to be doing. If I'd thought about objections to lay-evangelism, I might have supposed that there would be some one lone sad hyper-Calvinist out there somewhere who thought a person had to be ordained in order to evangelize. But I did not imagine that anyone anywhere near the mainstream of Reformed thought would question the responsibility of every Christian to point people to Christ.

Upon reading Dr. Gonzales' post, I was shocked to discover that he had received push-back on the subject of lay-evangelism. Some of this came from participants on the Puritan Board website. Perhaps even more troubling, when the Confessing Baptist Podcast reported on Dr. Gonzales' post, one of the regular panelists on that podcast registered some objection to the practice of lay-evangelism.

Reformed Objections to Lay-Evangelism: Sometimes a Question of Terminology

Or: "Keep Calm and Witness"?
I was somewhat relieved to note that some (even most, I hope) of the objections to lay-evangelism by Reformed theologians/ministers were actually an objection to the term "lay-evangelism." For example: R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, asserts, "There’s not a lot of evidence in the NT that unordained Christians did much ‘evangelism.’" But Dr. Clark seems [if Gonzales is reading him correctly] to believe that the word evangelism is only related to ordained ministers in the NT, while still holding that laypersons ought to bear witness concerning the "faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). [On the other hand, Dr. Sam Waldron, the Academic Dean and Resident Professor of Systematic Theology for the Midwest Center for Theological Studies, argues that "witness" in the NT is a term reserved for the apostolic ministry, so that-according to this view-Christians today cannot witness, but we should all evangelize.] I would argue that there is no major cause for alarm in certain Reformed theologians/ministers objecting to the term "lay-evangelism," while actually teaching that all Christians should be involved in introducing non-Christians to Christ. A close inspection of New Testament terminology, with a desire for accurate reflection of this terminology in discussions of gospel presentation, may actually be beneficial to the body of Christ.

Francis Wayland's Call for Lay-Evangelism

On the other hand, as referenced in Dr. Gonzales' blogpost and evident from some reactions to the post, there are apparently some Reformed theologians/ministers who deny lay-evangelism as both a term and a concept, believing that the duty for gospel proclamation rests solely upon ordained ministers. Dr. Gonzales-in the blogpost linked above-does an admirable job answering this error. Over a hundred and fifty years ago, Baptist theologian and abolitionist Francis Wayland similarly defended lay-evangelism. (Providentially, I came across Wayland's article at about the same time that I read the blogpost by Dr. Gonzales.)

In an address before the New York Baptist Union for Ministerial Education, Wayland called for every Christian to be involved in the proclamation of the gospel to every person. One of the most compelling texts that Wayland highlights in this regard is Acts 8:1-4. (Dr. Gonzales mentions this text as well.) According to the Spirit-inspired historical record, the church in Jerusalem was all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. The result was NOT that the work of evangelism suffered, but those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Certainly, as we would expect, ordained ministers led by example (in the next verse, we read about the deacon Philip's ministry in Samaria), but the language of this passage points to the entire church-even while scattered abroad-proclaiming the gospel.

Wayland also directs his hearers/readers to consider the example of Moses lifting up the brazen serpent in the wilderness. (This is especially appropriate as Jesus Himself points to this OT episode as a type of His redemptive work.) Wayland writes:
Francis Wayland
When the Israelites were bitten by the fiery flying serpents, and the bite was inevitably fatal, Moses was directed to set up a brazen serpent, with the assurance that whosoever that had been bitten, looked upon it, should be healed. You can imagine how the first man who felt its saving efficacy, flew to communicate the news to his brethren, and urge them to avail themselves of the remedy which had delivered him from death. Every man who was healed became immediately a herald of the glad tidings to others. Every one who was saved became a publisher of the salvation, or, in other words, a preacher, until in a few minutes the news spread throughout the encampment; and in this sense every tribe was evangelized.
Should we-who have beheld the one cure for sin, death, and Hell-not likewise all publish the good news to our neighbors?

Objections to Lay-Evangelism NOT Rooted in the Reformed View of God's Sovereignty

If this line of reasoning is indeed biblical, if the exhortation to lay-evangelism is in tune with the Spirit-then what is the motivation for some Reformed theologians/ministers objecting to the idea that all Christians-including the non-ordained-are under the duty to publish the gospel?

Reformed theology is generally distinguished by the highest view of the sovereignty of God in all matters: including matters of salvation. Evangelicals who object to Reformed theology often assert that the Reformed focus on God's sovereignty is necessarily a detriment to evangelism. So the question is raised: does the fact that some Reformed theologians/ministers deny lay-evangelism prove that evangelical critics of Reformed theology are correct?

I would argue that the denial of the duty upon all Christian laypeople for evangelism, as published by some Reformed theologians/minsters, is NOT rooted in the Reformed view of God's sovereignty. (In other words, this subject has no bearing upon debates over the nature of God's sovereignty.) Upon examination of the objections to lay-evangelism, it seems that there are two sources contributing to these objections. The first underlying source is the idea from some Reformed paedobaptists that Christians should presume that their children are regenerated. This idea-based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the New Covenant community-results in a denial that the home itself is a field for evangelism. Without presumptive regeneration, a rejection of lay-evangelism becomes much less likely. Because if Christian parents see that their own offspring are "by nature children under wrath" (Eph 2:3), and thus in desperate need of salvation "by grace...through faith" (Eph 2:8), and if these Christian parents take seriously the command to bring up their children in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4), then it becomes well-nigh impossible to reach the conclusion that only ordained ministers need be involved in introducing people to Christ.

But (presumably without paedobaptism and presumptive regeneration), the panelist on the Confessing Baptist Podcast mentioned above does reach some kind of conclusion by which he seems to object to lay-evangelism. This is due to a second underlying source for why some Reformed theologians/ministers object to lay-evangelism: namely, an over-reaction against the hyper-individualism seen in current evangelicalism. Evangelicalism as a whole has emphasized the need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to the point of denigrating the need for a corporate relationship within the body of Christ as expressed in a local church. Despite clear NT passages such as Hebrews 10:25 and 1 John 2:19, many evangelicals view church participation as optional to their Christian life. This has led some Reformed ministers to react by exalting the necessity of the corporate relationship to the point where the individual's relationship to the Lord is seen as secondary at best. This is an over-reaction, and a denigration of the individual relationship with Jesus Christ misses the properly individualistic nature of many Gospel passages. For example: the individual penitent publican in Luke 18:9-14 is justified before God by means of his repentant faith; the individual Samaritan woman in John 4 invited the people of her town to meet Christ. Likewise Christians today should recognize that individuals need to be justified and that each of us individually has the responsibility to invite non-Christians to trust in the Lord Jesus.

I'll end this post with a final quote from Francis Wayland:
[E]very disciple of Christ is under imperative obligations to become a herald of salvation to his fellow men, and to beseech them, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God.

Labels: , ,