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, April 19, 2017

Cessationism: No Need to Argue

[The following blogpost is slightly updated from one that was originally published on 12/23/15.]

I have had many friends who consider themselves charismatics or continuationists (believing that the miraculous spiritual gifts of speaking in different languages, prophesying, and healing continue in the present day). These friends of mine are/were part of Assemblies of God churches or Sovereign Grace churches. In writing this post, I mean no ill-will against my friends. On the other hand, I believe that consideration of whether we should look for the miraculous gifts to be manifest in churches today is important. If my charismatic or continuationist friends are correct, then my church (and many other Baptist churches) are missing out on a work of the Spirit that we really should be experiencing. On the other hand, if the cessationist position (the teaching that the miraculous gifts have ceased to be a regular part of church life with the close of the apostolic era) is correct, then churches should not invest time and energy seeking after these gifts.

In considering how we should think about the miraculous gifts, I would like to draw readers' attention to the following passages:

14 And [Jesus] was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons." (Luke 11:14-15)

45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs." (John 11:45-47)

14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (Acts 4:14)

Notice that when Jesus and His apostles performed miracles, they did so in public, and even their enemies could not deny that the miracles had taken place. This is in accordance with how Christians in the generation just after the apostles wrote of the miracles of Jesus. Take the following passage from Justin Martyr as an example:
The spring of living water which gushed forth from God in the land destitute of the knowledge of God, namely the land of the Gentiles, was this Christ, who also appeared in your nation, and healed those who were maimed, and deaf, and lame in body from their birth, causing them to leap, to hear, and to see, by His word. And having raised the dead, and causing them to live, by His deeds He compelled the men who lived at that time to recognise Him. But though they saw such works, they asserted it was magical art. For they dared to call Him a magician, and a deceiver of the people. Yet He wrought such works, and persuaded those who were [destined to] believe in Him; (Dialogue with Trypho, 69)

Even the Babylonian Talmud, written by Jews who did not believe in Jesus as their Messiah, mentions the miracles of Jesus. This document does not contain a denial that the miracles occurred, but it attributes them to sorcery, rather than the power of God:
On the Eve of Passover they hung Yeshu the Notzarine [Jesus the Nazarine]. And the herald went out before him for 40 days [saying]: “Yeshu the Notzarine will go out to be stoned for sorcery and misleading and enticing Israel [to idolatry]." (Babylonian Talmud [Munich manuscript], b.San.43a)
The point here is that the miracles were obvious to all: believers and unbelievers. This observation places the burden of proof squarely on the shoulders of charismatics/continuationists. If the miraculous gifts are operative in the church today, then where are they? [NOTE: this is NOT a question about the presence of occasional miracles occasioned by prayer, which cessationists do NOT deny, but about people empowered to perform miracles, as the apostles were.]

Notice that even those who opposed Christ and His apostles in the New Testament era--King Herod and the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:8; Acts 4:14)--knew of the miracles and had to admit that they had occurred. Where are the miracles today that match the types of miracles found in Scripture: miracles that are so obvious as to be undeniable even to skeptics and enemies of the faith?

Dr. Michael Brown, a charismatic apologist, says that asking for such proof undermines the sufficiency of Scripture. But if Scripture itself sets forth a model by which we should expect to see certain proofs, then calling for those proofs is simply submitting to scriptural authority. In the absence of the type of miracle-workers found in Scripture, the cessationist has no need to argue. It is pointless to argue about something that is obviously not occurring.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 17, 2017

John Piper: A Clarifying Analogy for “Faith Imputed for Righteousness.”

[The following blogpost was originally published on 11/14/09.]

Justification is by faith alone.” This doctrinal statement was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation. With this statement, the Reformers taught that people are counted as righteous before God, not based on their own good works, but based on their belief in who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of sinners. Traditionally, Protestants have taught that the good works God requires were actually accomplished by Christ and that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to sinners on the basis of their faith in Him [this faith in Christ is also seen as a free gift from God], so that faith is considered the instrument that takes a hold of the righteousness of Christ: this is why “justification is by [means of] faith alone.” The basis of justification is seen to be Christ’s righteousness alone.

Today, some scholars once identified with the Protestant tradition have begun to question the teaching outlined above. For example, N.T. Wright asserts:

“… it makes no sense that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or gas that can be passed across the courtroom,” [N.T. Wright, The Shape of Justification, 98.]

One new school of thought teaches that the phrase “justification is by faith” should be understood to mean that God graciously accounts a sinner’s faith itself as the fulfillment of all righteousness. In this view, justification does not come through the imputed righteousness of Christ on the sinner’s behalf, received by faith; rather, justification consists of faith, which God considers to be righteousness.
In defending the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, John Piper– in the middle of a careful exegetical study of relevant biblical passages– gives the following helpful illustration:

Suppose I say to Barnabas, my teenage son, “Clean up your room before you go to school. You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.” Suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. And suppose I discover the messy room and clean it. His afternoon fills up, and he gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what he has done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences. No game.

To which I say, “Barnabas, I am going to credit the clean room to your account because of your apology and submission. Before you left for school this morning I said, ‘You must have a clean room or you won’t be able to watch the game tonight.’ Well, your room is clean. So you can go to the game.”

That’s one way to say it, which corresponds to the language of Romans 4:6. Or I could say, “I credit your apology for a clean room,” which would correspond to the language of Romans 4:3. What I mean when I say, “I credit your apology for a clean room” is not that the apology is the clean room, nor that the clean room consists of the apology, nor that he really cleaned his room. cleaned it. It was pure grace. All I mean is that, in my way of reckoning– in my grace– his apology connects him with the promise given for the clean room. The clean room is his clean room.

You can say it either way. Paul said it both ways: “Faith is imputed for righteousness” (4:3,9), and “God imputes righteousness to us [by faith]” (4:6,11). The reality intended in both cases is: I cleaned the room; he now has a cleaned room; he did not clean the room; he apologized for the failure; in pure grace I counted his apology as connecting him with the fulfilled command that I did for him; he received the imputed obedience as a gift. [John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ, 63-64]

I encourage readers to consider again the imputed righteousness of Christ.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Acts Resources

Yesterday at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, Daniel Scheiderer (who is an elder there) taught my Sunday school class from Acts 3. As part of the study notes given to the class, he handed out the following list of resources that he used to prepare for his teaching. I believe that these are the best possible sources to use when studying/teaching/preaching from the Book of Acts.

Bock, Darrell L. Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007.

Bruce, F.F. The Book of Acts. Rev. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

Calvin, John, and Henry Beveridge. Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Lawson, Steven J. Foundations of Grace: 1400 BC - AD 100. Vol. 1. A Long Line of Godly Men. Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2006.

Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933.

Sproul, R.C.  Acts. St. Andrews Expositional Commentary Series. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.


Saturday, April 08, 2017

Summary of Differences Between Tom Schreiner and Tom Wright on Justification

[The following blogpost was originally published on 11/24/10. The doctrine of justification is the teaching on how a sinner can be counted right in God's sight. Getting this doctrine correct is a pretty big deal.]

Below are some notes from SBTS New Testament professor Tom Schreiner's response to Tom Wright in a plenary session of the Evangelical Theological Society. The full text of Dr. Schreiner's response was posted originally on-line by his son, Patrick Schreiner.

Dr. Tom Schreiner identifies a central difference with the following:
Tom [Wright] continues to think that justification is mainly about covenant membership and ecclesiology, whereas I think the primary emphasis is on soteriology with ecclesiological implications.
Schreiner responds to Wright's explanation of Romans 4:11 concerning the identification of "justification" with "covenant membership" with the following:
The text does not say that circumcision ratifies that one is a covenant member but that it confirms that one stands in the right before God by faith. An illustration may help. Baptism may document and ratify that one is saved, and those who are baptized are covenant members, but it doesn’t follow logically or lexically from this that the word “saved” means covenant membership. I would say the same line of argument applies to circumcision and righteousness in Rom. 4:11.
Schreiner identifies a second major difference through an examination of Philippians 3 and Romans 4. Schreiner argues, contra Wright, that the false idea of justification that is refuted by the Apostle Paul in these passages largely concerns not merely Jewish ethnic "boundary-markers," but a striving for legalistic self-achievement. Schreiner points out that in Philippians 3 the contrast is not only between Jews and Gentiles, but between Paul during his pre-conversion days as a Pharisee, seeking to be justified by his works, and other Jews. Schreiner adds:
Let me draw one implication from what Paul says. Jews didn’t think they were better than Gentiles solely because they were circumcised and were members of the covenant. They typically believed that they were more obedient and more godly than the Gentiles, that the Gentiles were judged, not merely for being Gentiles, but because they were sinners.
Schreiner then shows parallels between Philippians 3 and Romans 10, a passage in which Jewish ethnic "boundary-markers" are nowhere present.

Schreiner then argues that the argument against justification by works in Romans 4 cannot be understood in terms of Jewish ethnic "boundary-markers" and that Abraham's reward comes fundamentally due to his faith, rather than his obedience.


Friday, April 07, 2017

A Response from Thomas R. Schreiner to the Teaching of N.T. Wright Re: Gal 3:10

[The following blogpost was originally published here on 1/24/11. The following consideration highlights two major problems in Wright's teaching. First: Wright seems to teach against the idea that the law of God requires perfect obedience, and I would argue that this denigration of the righteous requirement of the law undermines the biblical portrayal of God's holiness, also taking away the means for spiritual conviction that should drive people to the Cross. Second: Wright is zealous in teaching that the New Testament does not focus on personal salvation, and I would argue that his undermining of the soteriological thrust of Scripture yields grave results regarding evangelism.]
For as many as are of works of law are under a curse, for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not remain in all the things written in the book of the law so that he does them." (Galatians 3:10)
In the Introduction to his recently published Galatians commentary, Dr. Thomas Schreiner [who was my professor for a Greek exegesis class on Galatians] writes about the impossibility of reading Galatians as if we are the first recipients of the letter. Similarly, in the Preface, Dr. Schreiner argues that a responsible interpreter must interact with various views taken regarding the text. Among the various scholars with whom Dr. Schreiner interacts in his text, N.T. Wright is one of the more well-known and controversial.

Responding to the ideas of N.T. Wright is certainly not a major focus of Dr. Schreiner's commentary. Nor can the commentary as a whole be thought to take a combative position toward all of Wright's views (about half of the time Wright's works are footnoted, Schreiner is expressing at least partial agreement with Wright). However, there is one fairly lengthy interaction with Wright that I wanted to discuss on this blog, in regards to Galatians 3:10,

Is Paul, in Galatians 3:10, seeking to demonstrate the requirement of perfect obedience to the God's law (the Torah), and universal human sinfulness? To be sure, Wright affirms that Paul teaches "all human beings are under the power and rule of sin" [see Wright's essay HERE for this and related issues re: Galatians], but, from what I have read, Wright does not seem to think that God's law requires perfect obedience, and he certainly does not think that perfect obedience or general human sinfulness are the point of Gal 3:10; instead, Wright teaches that Gal 3:10 is about the nation of Israel coming under the curse of God and being exiled due to failure to keep Torah.

After noting that Paul does not use the language of exile, Dr. Schreiner raises and defends three points in objection to N.T. Wright's teaching on this verse:
  1. The sins listed listed in Deut 27:15-26 (the text Paul quotes in Gal 3:10) all apply to individuals.
  2. Paul's argument in Galatians is not just that national Israel has not kept the law, but that each individual cannot keep the law.
  3. Paul does not address his words to Israel with a reference to Israel's history, but to the Galatians, with a warning that if they turn to the law for their hope, perfect obedience to it is required to avoid God's curse.
On this last point, Schreiner notes that Seyoon Kim, in Paul and the New Perspective, 138-140, "rightly remarks that Paul does not confine his critique to Israel, but to all people in [Gal] 3:10."

This debate is important especially due to its relevance re: controversies concerning Wright's teaching on justification.

The following is an extended quote from Dr. Schreiner's Galatians commentary, pages 206-207, in which he details his argument against N.T. Wright's reading of Galatians 3:10:


It is increasingly popular to see a reference to the exile in Paul, particularly because of the work of N.T. Wright. Such an interpretation is also defended in Gal 3:10 by James Scott, who notes that the proof text in Deut 27:26 can be traced back to the covenant curses in Deuteronomy. The emphasis, therefore, is shifted from the sins of the individual to the corporate sins of Israel. It is not the case, on this reading, that Paul criticizes individuals for failing to observe the law perfectly. Rather the focus is on the sin of the nation as a whole. [Emphasis added.] In the context of Deuteronomy, when sin becomes serious enough, it warrants the curses of the covenant manifested supremely in the exile.

This is not the place to interact in detail with Wright's thesis. [In other words, Dr. Schreiner does not want to turn his commentary on Galatians into an extended debate with N.T. Wright.] We should note that Paul himself does not use the language of exile, and hence some reserve about the appropriateness of the term is salutary. Wright is correct in the sense that the covenant promises of the OT were not completely fulfilled. Most of those in Israel would probably agree that this was due, in part, to the nation's sin. Nevertheless, it is unpersuasive to apply the exile theme to Gal 3:10. It should be noted first of all that the sins listed in Deut 27:15-26 all apply to individuals. Nothing is said about a corporate curse on the nation in these verses, but the curse is on individuals who violate the Torah. Even if there is a corporate referent (which is doubtful), individuals are not excluded. As Das says, "The fate of the nation as a corporate whole cannot be abstracted from the conduct of its individual members. The sin of individual Israelites accrues to Israel as a whole."

Second, even if one were to agree that we have a reference to the curse of exile, Paul's readers could have drawn a very different conclusion from the argument. If the exilic curse lies on Israel because it violated Torah, the Gentiles could reason, "We will keep Torah and avoid the curse." If Paul's argument does not contain an argument about the impossibility of keeping the Torah, such a response on the part of the Judaizers and the Galatians would be fitting. Paul's argument has more depth than the exilic interpretation recognizes. He not only claims that people have not kept the law; he also asserts that they cannot keep the law.

Third, it is unclear that a reference to Israel's history is intended. Paul does not sketch in here a historical summary of Israel's past. He directs his words to the Galatians, to any who rely on works of law, warning them that if they turn to the Torah, they must keep it perfectly to avoid God's curse.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 06, 2017

John MacArthur on N.T. Wright

The following is a transcript of a section from John MacArthur's sermon "The Nonnegotiable Gospel" from the 2017 Ligonier National Conference.

"N.T. Wright has written hundreds and hundreds of pages on the gospel, and the more you read of it, the less you understand what he affirms. It is confusing, it is ambiguous, it is contradictory, it is obfuscation of the highest level: academic sleight-of-hand. But while I cannot figure out what it is that he does believe, even after hundreds of pages, it is crystal clear what he does NOT believe.

"More recently, he has written a book called The Day the Revolution Began, and in that book he says this: 'We have paganized our understanding of salvation, substituting the idea of God killing Jesus to satisfy His wrath for the genuinely biblical notion that we are about to explore.' So [according to Wright] all of us who believe in the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross have been worshiping a paganized perversion of biblical truth, now to be clarified by him.

"Another quote: 'That Christ died in the place of sinners is closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than it is to anything in either Israel's Scriptures or the New Testament.' He's clear on what he rejects; he rejects the substitutionary atonement of Christ, he rejects imputation, he rejects the gospel. He says to worship God as one who justifies by sacrifice and imputation is nonsense.

"Here's a quote: 'If we use the language of the law-court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not a substance, an object, or a gas, which can be passed across the courtroom. This gives the impression of a legal transaction, a kind of cold piece of business, almost a trick of thought performed by a God who is logical and correct, but hardly one we want to worship.'

"Christianity Today identified him as one of the five most significant Christian theologians of our day.

"He further says: 'No one will be justified until he reaches Heaven.'

"One more painfully clear denial is in these words: 'I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is NOT what Paul means by the gospel. The gospel is NOT an account of how people get saved.' I have NO idea what he believes, but I know what he does NOT believe. He doesn't believe the gospel, and he doesn't believe the gospel is an account of how people get saved, in spite of the fact that 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 says, 'Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel, which I preached to you, which you also reached, and in which you stand, and by which also you are saved.'

"N.T. Wright has just piled up high-sounding words, raised up against the knowledge of God, to be smashed by the truth: fortifications to be crushed under the force of the truth. What strikes me, though, is this: here is a man and those who follow him who seem to have no angst about their heresy, who seem more than content to offer themselves as the ones who have arrived at the solution 2,000 years after the New Testament, and who are happy to propagate it as far and wide as they can, lay down their head on the pillow at night, and go to sleep. Here are people who clearly [based on their teaching that 'no one will be justified until he reaches Heaven'] are content to be in an UNJUSTIFIED state but have (apparently) little or no angst about the reality of their condition. They are still in the state of Luther before he understood the gospel, utterly void of the way to be right with God, but instead of feeling the pain that Luther felt, the anxiety that overwhelmed him, the agonies of Job, they're comfortable: they're content. They don't really care whether works is the ultimate CAUSE of justification or the EVIDENCE of justification. It really doesn't matter [to them]; it's a very small, inconsequential issue to them. To be a heretic is one thing, to be a confident, happy heretic is quite another.

"The Apostle Paul, in dealing with the content of the gospel, was always profoundly exercised, as you know. He could barely endure any situation in which he felt the gospel was in any sense compromised at all... If there was any deviation at all from the foundations of the gospel, it was a terrifying reality to the Apostle Paul. He said to the Corinthians, 'If you have at all deserted the simplicity that is in Christ for another Christ, another gospel, this is more than I can bear.' People who know the true gospel and love the true gospel are people who have a true peace, a settled peace, and people who have a passion for its proper declaration on behalf of others.

"N.T. Wright's influence is spreading rapidly. It continues to be very attractive. Novel theology's always attractive. Many young theologians and pastors have been 'drinking the Kool-Aid,' and so the battle for the gospel still rages."

Labels: ,

Monday, April 03, 2017

Apologetics: This Is Where I Am Right Now

When I was in middle school, my mom worked as the office manager for an organization called American Vision. While there, her boss (Gary Demar) gave my dad some Greg Bahnsen cassette tapes on apologetics to borrow. Dad and I would listen to the tapes while he drove me to and from school. That was my first real introduction to apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith).

Later, when I was in high school, I read and benefitted from books on apologetics like Mere Christianity and More Than a Carpenter. Then, when I was in college, while I was taking a class on Augustine and Aquinas, I studied the classical proofs for God's existence. Through all this, I realized that there were differences in the way people were presenting apologetics, but I didn't fully recognize that there were competing schools of thought on how apologetics should be done.

After college, I began to listen to podcasts and debates from James White, who utilizes and advocates for presuppositional apologetics (the same school of thought on apologetics that was put forth by Greg Bahnsen). I agreed with White's presentation on apologetics, especially as I'm a Reformed Baptist. I thought that everyone agreed that presuppositionalism is THE Reformed way to do apologetics.

More recently, I've been reexamining Thomas Aquinas. I work at a classical school (Sayers Classical Academy), and Aquinas has been quite influential on Christian classical thought. Also, I've been listening to James Dolezal on divine simplicity; Dolezal utilizes Aquinas frequently regarding theology proper. This line of thought led me to take another look at Aquinas' classical proofs for the existence of God. I was surprised to learn that some Reformed theologians (most notably, R.C. Sproul), follow Aquinas in advocating for classical apologetics over against presuppositionalism. Sproul has even debated Greg Bahsen on this issue.

What I believe I must affirm from presuppositionalism is the following: in God, we live and move and have our being. All people, fallen in Adam, naturally suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They are morally culpable for this suppression. Since all are guilty of suppressing the truth, then all—on some level—know this truth. This is the case even when a particular sinner in question has no ability to form a proposition concerning the truth that he or she is suppressing.

Given this set of circumstances, there is no middle ground between the believer in Christ and the unbeliever. There is a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness (Col 1:13); there is no middle kingdom. Within a debate (whether formal or informal), it is impossible for a debater to be neutral. For a Christian apologist, indifference toward Jesus is neither possible nor desirable at any point of the debate. The Christian apologist must stand with Christ, tearing down arguments and opinions that the fallen world tries to set up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:5).

It may be the case that the methods of demonstrating the above considerations are indeed necessarily a posteriori. While both the order of being and—in a fundamental way—the order of knowing would necessarily seem to be prior to the suppositions introduced into any argument, the arguments themselves would proceed from specific premises to specific conclusions, and the conclusions would not usually be identical to their premises. Nor does the FORM of every argument need to begin with the premise, "I believe in God." (Not every presupposition need be a premise; we do not usually begin arguments by re-stating the laws of logic.) Therefore, I do think that there may be a quite legitimate place in apologetics for the classical arguments for God's existence.

As you may be able to tell, I'm still thinking through these issues. I recently finished the Sproul/Gerstner/Lindsley work on Classical Apologetics, and I'm now reading Greg Bahnsen on Van Til's Apologetic. I also recently finished listening to a six-hour lecture from K. Scott Oliphint focused on critiquing Thomas Aquinas. I have a select list of other books that I plan to read on apologetics. I'm posting this here so that if anyone sees my posts here or on Twitter/Facebook regarding apologetics, you can know where I'm coming from.

Labels: ,