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)

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Albert Mohler on a Young Earth: Why not just join the consensus?

Earlier this year, Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took part in a friendly debate with Dr. Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary regarding the age of the earth. In the following quotes (from about 30 minutes into the debate), Dr. Mohler gives his reasons for speaking against an 'old earth' understanding of the universe. I post these here because I think that these reasons are well-stated, and they represent my own view of the matter as well.

"Why not just join [the current consensus of 'settled science'] and affirm a universe that is billions of years old? Well, the answer is this:

"[1] I believe I am bound by Scripture as read by the Church for 1800 years and a view that is symphonically affirmed by Old Testament texts [even] outside of Genesis.

"[2] I believe that the embrace of an 'old earth' comes with theological and hermeneutical consequences that can have far-reaching effects (and potentially damaging, doctrinally harmful effects).

"In summary, I believe that an affirmation of an 'old earth' universe is:

"First, NOT most faithful as an act of biblical interpretation;

"Second, NOT most in keeping with the consensus fidelium;

"Third, NOT without potentially disastrous theological consequences;

"[Fourth], NOT required by the evidence (particularly, the biblical evidence)."

You can watch the entire video of the debate HERE.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Animal Death, the Fall, and the Age of the Earth

Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the earth? Some argue that the word for "days" in Genesis 1 can refer to long ages of time.  Whereas I'm convinced that the language used in Genesis 1 clearly depicts creation occurring in 6 days as we would normally understand "days" (with each day delimited by a 'evening and morning,' in the same way that the Jewish people came to recognize their calendar days), I believe that the term for "day" is not the ONLY reason to consider the Bible as depicting the world as (relatively) young. Another key reason to believe in the "young earth" position is based on the biblical account of how death–not just for humans, but also for animals–was brought into the world through sin.
Examples of evangelical proponents of the "old earth" position: Dr. Ted Cabal of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary are two examples of "old earth" proponents who are truly evangelical. They are "evangelical" in the good, old sense of the word, meaning that they hold to the "first-order doctrines" of the Christian faith. Touching this debate, it is important to note that "old earth evangelicals" like Drs. Cabal and Collins explicitly hold to a special creation of a historical Adam and Eve: an original, historical man and woman, who fell into sin as the result of succumbing to a specific temptation, thus bringing humanity into sin, for which we all need redemption through the second Adam, the God-Man Jesus Christ.
The Issue Raised 
I believe that the "old earth" position (even when held by those who are otherwise sound) is problematic for a number of reasons. This blogpost focuses on one. Though the affirmations that Drs. Cabal and Collins make concerning the impact of a historical fall upon humanity are most crucial, there are other results of Adam's sin impacting creation as a whole. One aspect of the way that sin disrupts the original created order may be seen in the death of animals after the Fall. Whereas the "old earth" view necessarily holds to animal death occurring to the appearance of man (the [seemingly] ancient fossil record being a key piece of evidence cited for an "old earth"), the Bible depicts animal death as being the result of Man's violation of the Creation Covenant.
Following the worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis 6-9, there was a difference in how Man related to animals. This difference demonstrated in both the ongoing effects of sin and God’s gracious provision even in light of the curse. As originally created, the relationship between Man and animals was characterized by peace. Both Man and animals were originally vegetarian (Gen 1:29-30). Nothing that had “the breath of life” in it–Man or animal (Gen 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22)–would need to give its life as food. When God brought the birds and beasts to Adam in order to name them (Gen 2:19)–and again when Noah brought birds and beasts onto the ark (Gen 6:19-20; 7:2-4)–there was no hint that the animals were afraid of Man (or vice versa). There was also no hint that the animals were afraid of each another.
         The first death recorded in Scripture came as a result of sin, when (instead of immediately striking Adam and Eve dead) God provided animal skins to cover over the sinners' shame (Gen 3:21). Even before God provided the animal skins, the peaceful relationship between humans and animals (and between animals with each other) began to be eroded in the curses following the fall of Man into sin, when God pronounced enmity between the woman and the serpent–her seed and the serpent’s seed–as recorded in Genesis 3:15. Though the typical, natural enmity between people and snakes pointed toward the enmity between Christ and Satan, it was also indicative of the cursed state into which the world had fallen. As marriage, childbearing, and work in general became accompanied by frustration and suffering due to the Fall (Gen 3:16-19), Man’s original dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28) also became accompanied by frustration and suffering. Following the great flood, enmity between Man and animals increased, so that now animals usually fear Man (Gen 9:2), and now animals–rather than being properly subject to Man–sometimes go so far as killing people (Gen 9:5).
         God’s words allowing Man to eat animals (Gen 9:3) are a gracious permission. Man had been expelled from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23-24) and the ground had been cursed, so that growing food was no easy matter (Gen 3:17-19). The great flood would have drowned all growing plants, and it would have taken time for harvests to return. Furthermore, the climate conditions on Earth post-flood were likely quite different than prior to the flood (for example: the rains bringing the flood seem to have established the current water-cycle as we know it; previously, plants were watered by a mist going up daily from the ground, Gen 2:5-6), and post-flood climate changes probably made growing crops even more difficult. Therefore, it would have been important for people to have another food-source other than fruits and vegetables.
         Though mankind was vegetarian according to the original created order, there is no sin involved in making use of God’s permission to kill and eat animals. From a biblical worldview, killing an animal is in no way equivalent to killing a human being. Following the Fall, God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skin (Gen 3:21), and the LORD found Abel’s animal sacrifices pleasing (Gen 4:4); in these cases–and in later sacrifices, in which the priests are commanded to eat the meat of the sacrifices (Lev 6:26; Deut 18:1)–the death of animals involved is in no way presented as morally problematic. Furthermore, passages such as Romans 14:2, 6, 1 Corinthians 10:25-26 and 1 Timothy 4:3 make it clear that a vegetarian diet does not make a person more spiritual.
         However, in eating beasts, Man is not to become beastly. God’s prohibition against eating blood–beginning in Noah’s time (Gen 9:4), before the Mosaic Covenant, and carried over into the New Covenant era (Acts 15:20)–is intended to promote moral sensitivity. We are not to tear into animals as if we were predators or scavengers in the animal world. We are to be dignified, thoughtful, and even worshipful in our food preparation (1 Cor 10:31).
         A state of perfectly peaceful co-existence between Man and animals–and even between animals and other animals–will be restored in the new heavens and new earth, as described by the Prophet Isaiah:
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isa 11:6-9 ESV)

         And again:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind… The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. (Isa 65:17, 25 ESV)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, famously described Nature as “red in tooth and claw.” And that is how nature DOES often appear to us today. But that is NOT how it was originally created. When God pronounced each aspect of nature “good” upon its creation, as recorded in Genesis 1, He did NOT do so with a view that animals would immediately start doing violence against each other and that there will be hundreds of millions of years of animal deaths prior to the arrival of humanity. Sin placed Man under a curse, and it fundamentally disordered creation. But there will come a day when all things are set right, when all of creation is rightly ordered (“on Earth as it is in Heaven”), and when universal peace is restored.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Is our salvation based on God punishing an innocent man?

Yesterday, I retweeted the following from Matt Smethurst, an elder at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and a contributor to The Gospel Coalition:
Justification: God declares us righteous in his courtroom.
Adoption: God welcomes us into his living room.

This Tweet prompted my friend Brian Preston (who has apparently been on some kind of theological journey since leaving the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) to pose the following question: “Because He punished an innocent man?”

The following is my response.

In the sacrificial system, did the high priest shed the blood of an innocent animal on behalf of the people? When providing skins for Adam and Eve (Gen 3:21), was the blood of an innocent animal shed? Was Isaac innocent when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice him, and was the ram that God provided in his place innocent (Gen 22)? Was Joseph innocent when God purposed for him to be sent into slavery and imprisonment in Egypt, so that (once he had ascended to the throne) many might be saved through him (Gen 50:20)?

In addition to these foundational considerations from the fabric of Scripture, you have the explicit biblical statements:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:4-5)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” (Gal 3:13)

These biblical statements are further understood in light of covenantal and systematic considerations, which help to demonstrate why Christ’s death is in not properly analogous to a human father/king simply sentencing his innocent son/prince to death

Covenantally: according to the Covenant of Redemption, the Son freely entered into an arrangement with the Father by which, through His perfect obedience and substitutionary death, He would be awarded a people, united to Him for the glory of His name. (It was for the joy that was set before Him that the Son agreed to this arrangement, Heb 12:2.)

Systematically: the Son and the Father, though distinct persons, are yet one God; as “will” is properly attached to nature, rather than to person, it is according to the single divine will that the Son assumes His role of mediator.

According to both of the above considerations, there can be no idea of the Son unwillingly dying.

In all of these ways and more, the truth of substitutionary atonement is abundantly displayed. Did God punish an innocent man? Yes, in a very specific sense. That innocent man, before coming as a man, was one God with the Father from eternity. That innocent God-man, before coming as a man, had agreed from eternity past to die for sinful men, so that we might be redeemed, to the glory of His grace. We are naturally under a curse, and are characterized by transgressions, iniquities, enmity, griefs, and sorrows. It is these that Christ took upon Himself on the Cross. The willing death of that innocent man in our place is good news for us sinners.

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Monday, May 15, 2017

An Introduction to Martin Luther's *On the Freedom of a Christian*

I. Letter to Pope Leo X

A. Significance of the 95 Theses
Martin Luther began his treatise concerning Christian liberty with a letter to Pope Leo X. In that letter, he mentioned that he had "now, for three years, been waging war." As the letter was written in 1520, we know that the beginning of the three year period he mentions must refer to 1517. This means that, from an early time, Luther himself dated the beginnings of his public struggles for the Reformation to the posting of the 95 Theses Against Indulgences on the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. So this event was seen as significant not only to historians following the time of the Reformation. Rather, in Luther's own time (as the 95 Theses had been taken by his students, translated, given to the printing press, and then distributed across Europe), these Theses were seen as causing a huge stir within the Church, thrusting Luther's teachings into the spotlight.

B. Luther's Intentions Not Ad Hominem

In 1520, previous to writing his treatise concerning Christian liberty, Luther had written his treatise To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation. In that earlier treatise, Luther had been quite polemical against the papacy, going so far as to name the pope as the anti-Christ. In a certain sense, Luther's letter to Pope Leo X at the beginning of his treatise concerning Christian liberty was intended to dial the rhetoric back a bit. Luther tries to make the point in his letter to Pope Leo X that he is not attempting to personally attack Leo X himself. While Luther has problems with the Roman Church and issues with the papacy itself, he wants to make the point that the issue is not with Pope Leo X as an individual.

C. Luther's Issues With Rome Not Focused on Morals but Doctrine

Along with his assertions that his aim was not to criticize Leo X on a personal level, Luther also wanted to emphasize that the reformation he desired was not a mere improvement of morality within the Roman Church. His critique was not primarily about the lack of good works exemplified by those following the pope, nor was his major concern focused on the 'lifestyle choices' (to use our current term) of those in Romanist leadership. Luther thus implicitly distinguished his objections to the Roman Church from those of others within the Roman system, such as Erasmus (the prominent scholar who had rendered a critical edition of the Greek New Testament), who had criticized the lax morals and abuses of power of some within Roman leadership. Whereas Erasmus did not want to fundamentally change the doctrine taught by Roman Catholic theologians, Luther saw his own call for Reformation as getting more to the heart of the problems within the institutional Church. Luther's call for Reformation involved a reformation of doctrine: specifically, a clarification on the teaching about how sinners could be counted right in God's sight.

D. A Proposed Solution

Luther called upon Pope Leo X to abolish the curia [the administrative body through which the pope governs the Roman Catholic Church]. As Luther had previously urged the German nobility to call a Church Council, he now urged Pope Leo X to call a Church Council. The idea that the pope would call a council that would in any way limit papal claims to authority or de-centralize the pope's role in the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation was highly dubious given the fact that various popes had spent centuries accumulating authority. It seems more likely that the contents of Luther's public letter to Pope Leo X were intended to help the German nobility see that they should indeed call a council, which would determine the degree of control that Rome could claim over the German churches.

E. Luther's Admission of Personal Fault

1. The Fault. At the beginning of his letter to Pope Leo X, Luther admitted that he had "a great beam" in his own eye. Luther said that he couldn't be "the first to cast the stone at the adulteress." Whereas Luther was fully convinced that he has taught no false doctrine in his struggle for reformation, he did admit that the way in which he had engaged in this struggle had, at times, been characterized by rashness, impiety, or intemperate speech.

2. A Defense. ON THE OTHER HAND, he did defend the idea that sometimes strong language IS APPROPRIATE when contending against false teachers. Luther referenced Philippians 3:2 as an example when Paul called his opponents "evil dogs." Luther wrote, "The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that as soon as we perceive anything of ours is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by not other pretense, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries. What would be the use of salt if it were not pungent, or the edge of the sword if it did not slay?" The idea of 'snowflakes' or being overly sensitive to 'micro-aggressions' is not new to our own day (though the terminology may be), but Luther saw the people of his time as being too weak to realize that the New Testament writers themselves labelled false teachers as wolves or vipers.

II. Body of the Treatise

A. Confronting the Common Misconception That the Christian Life is Meant to be Easy 

Whereas many conceive the Christian life as an easy thing, Luther argued that true faith is attained through trials. Concerning his own life, Luther confessed that he had been "vexed by various temptations." However, Luther viewed these temptations, along with the required perseverance over temptation, as a help, rather than a hindrance, to his faith.

B. THESIS FOR THE WORK: "A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone." 

C. The Thesis Proven through a Consideration of the Word and Faith

1. The Word.

a. Precepts and Promises. The Word gives us precepts by which we are condemned. The Word then gives us promises by which we are justified. Justification comes by the authority of the Word of God alone; therefore, the Christian man is free from all other authorities.

b. The Doctrine of Scripture. NOTICE the four-fold Protestant doctrine of Scripture present within this text. Scripture is implicitly presented as authoritative in the way that Luther cites it; a mere citation of Scripture stands as proof by itself, needing no outside proof to back it up. Scripture is implicitly presented as clear in matters concerning salvation; Luther does not feel obligated to dive into extended exegesis of various gospel passages, but he feels that they are understandable on their face. Scripture is explicitly presented as singularly necessary for salvation; as Luther wrote, “One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty, and that is the most holy word of God.” Scripture is explicitly presented as sufficient for the Christian’s spiritual life; as Luther wrote, “having the Word, [the soul] is rich and wants nothing.”

2. Faith.

a. Justification. Justification comes by faith alone, bringing the soul of the Christian man into direct communion with God; therefore, the Christian man is free from all other authorities.

b. Faith vs. Works. Faith yields freedom for the Christian because any work that could be commanded could do nothing to bring a person into right standing before God; whereas, by faith, the Christian is already certain of right standing before God. Luther argued that works cannot be added to faith as the basis of our justification, because faith and works are antithetical; adding faith to works is halting “between two opinions.” Luther wrote, "Faith, which is the brief and complete fulfilling of the law, will fill those who believe with such righteousness that they will need nothing else for justification."

c. The Benefits of Faith. Faith takes hold of the gospel promises. Faith glorifies God, and it unites the soul to Christ. UNION WITH CHRIST was key to Luther’s argument in this treatise. Drawing on Scripture, Luther pointed to the direct analogy between the bride’s union with her husband and the Christian’s union with Christ. Luther wrote, “The believing soul may take to itself and boast of as its own whatever belongs to the soul that Christ claims as His.” Whatever riches that Christ has gained in His work, the believer has a share in those things. Luther understood a right consideration of union with Christ to PROVE both components of his thesis. In Christ, the Christian has victory over sin and death. United to Christ, who is King of Kings, the Christian is free from all other authorities. United to Christ, who was a suffering servant during His earthly ministry, the Christian is the most dutiful servant of all.

3. The Faithful Preaching of the Word. The right manner of preaching is NOT teaching the life of Christ as mere historic fact. It is NOT teaching the “laws of men and the decrees of the Fathers.” It is NOT an attempt to move our affections to sympathize with Christ. INSTEAD, the faithful preacher promotes faith in Christ, through teaching why He came.

III. Conclusion to the Treatise

A. Consideration: What role do works play in the Christian life?

B. Objection from Luther’s Opponents: “If faith does everything, and by itself suffices for justification, why then are good works commanded. Are we then to take our ease and do no works, content with faith?”

C. Flesh and Spirit

The outer man must be brought into conformity with the inner man. The inner faith of the Christian must impact every aspect of the Christian’s life. The flesh struggles against the spirit. The flesh must “be purified from its evil lusts.”

D. Similes for Understanding the Relationship of Faith and Works

1. Adam in the Garden. The state of the working believer is like unto the state of Adam working in the Garden. When Adam was placed in the Garden, before he fell into sin, he was in a right relationship with God. He did not have to perform some work to bring himself into a right relationship with God. Yet, before sin entered the picture, he was given works to perform (in naming the animals, tending the garden, etc.), and he would have performed those works out of loving obedience to his Lord.

2. A Pastor in the Church. The state of the working believer is like unto the state of a pastor serving his church. Having been ordained to the pastorate, the pastor does not do his works in order to earn his position in the church. Rather, the pastor’s good works are an outworking of his calling.

E. Further Examples of Luther’s Thesis

1. The purification of the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:22-23; 39).

2. The circumcision of Timothy (Acts 16:3, though Titus was not circumcised, Gal 2:3-5).

3. Peter paying tribute money (Matt 27:27).

4. In each of the above cases, the works mentioned did nothing to bring the person performing them into a right standing before God; rather, they were performed out of love for God and consideration toward others.

F. Works Proceed from Nature

A good tree produces good fruit, not vice-versa. A good builder makes good houses, not vice-versa. People are justified in the sight of other people by good works, but many are deceived [and deceiving] by appearances. “[H]e who wishes to do good works must begin, not by working, but by believing, since it is this which makes the person good.”

G. Our Works Are NOT the Grounds for Our Justification Before God

Works are condemnable when they are taken as “grounds for justification.” The wrong view, that works are grounds for justification, is “invincible when sincere faith is wanting” (sinners naturally tend toward this wrong view), and the wrong view is strengthened by wrong tradition. True Christian works are performed for the purpose of bringing the body under subjection to the spirit or for serving our neighbors; they are never for the purpose of obtaining justification. The person with faith is “free from all law, and in perfect freedom does gratuitously all that he does.” The Christian freely works for, and subjects himself to working for, the good of his neighbor (cf. Phil 2:1-4). Luther resolved, “[I] will do nothing in this life except what I see will be needful, advantageous, and wholesome for my neighbor, since by faith I abound in all good things in Christ.” This is what it means to be a Christian [NOT seeking after merit].