My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"
28 June 2005
The most interesting happenstance this morning is the argument(s) over the "Understanding the Times" report. Understanding the Times is a committee appointed to do some research and report to synod on the most important developments & ideas in our world. Obviously, such a charge is next to impossible, so the best the committee can hope for is to present some issues and thoughts on those issues and then to spur the delegates on to further thought on the matter.
This year's report spoke quite a bit of President Bush (pro and con) and his foreign policy. Other topics were the spread of Islam, the culture of death (i.e., Terry Schiavo), and the Protestant church's relationship to the Roman church...a sticky issue, indeed. The report excellently concluded: the Reformed Presbyterian Church testifies to her confidence that Jesus Christ reigns with all power in heaven and earth. While the light of Christendom may be dimmd in the year 2005, the truth of Christ's reign remains absolute. Therefore, the Reformed Presbyterian Church must remain courageous in her commitment and undaunted in her testimony of Christ to the nations. Although the generations present may never look upon the resotration of a Christ centered culture, we recognize that it is our honor to bear the dimmed embers of Christendom, preserving theri glow until Christ is prepared to fan them into a roaring flame.
26 June 2005
Being gone means I might not get a chance to post much; I'll try to find a computer and send some thoughts on the week. But if not, I'll be back towards the beginning of next week.
For readers who are part of our local congregation, upon a great suggestion, I hope to start posting the sermon text, title, and psalms we'll be singing part way through the week; this was suggested so that people newer to psalmody could spend some time working on them before worship...which would be a great idea for all of us!
25 June 2005
Kate Rusby, Underneath the Stars - Rusby is an English folk singer who specializes in taking very old lyrics and putting them to new music and somehow making it work. She sings about her loves going off to sea, about a blind man stealing the king's horse, about knights and cheating wives, all in a clever and modest manner. It's a very laid-back album with excellent but understated musicianship, mostly reminding me of Celtic instrumentation and melody. But I think the thing that will keep most coming back is the near-angelic quality of her voice; it is simply beautiful and joyful to listen to.
John Scofield, That's What I Say (Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles) - I mentioned this album a few days ago and now I'm happy to report that it is outstanding. So much fun that it's hard to know where to start. Excellent guests - Dr. John, John Mayer & Aaron Neville are the standouts for me. Great arrangements - Scofield arranged all the songs and horns himself; he does a great job letting the groove of each song capture Charles' original tune, then adding new, much more jazz-like solos into it. After a couple listenings, another thing that really stands out, in addition to the great guitar work, is the great organ/B-3 laying down the groove on each song. Anyway, somewhere between jazz and R&B, this album is just a lot of fun.
Ben Harper & The Blind Boys of Alabama, There Will Be A Light - What can I say? I was so pre-disposed to Ben Harper's music and excited about the Blind Boys that this album was a shoe-in before I heard it. Mostly composed of Ben Harper originals, the album maintains a great balance between old gospel and Ben-Harper-groove. I suspect that some won't like Harper's singing nearly as much as the Blind Boys'; he often uses some falsetto and something that reminds me of yodeling (but isn't really at all). But the two styles of singing blend quite well. The band is great, and Harper's weissenborn playing is highlighted on the solo "11th commandment." The Blind Boys sure sound like they're having fun, too.
23 June 2005
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave
Edward T. Welch
I bought this book at a Nouthetic Counseling conference last year and read it soon after. As I didn’t take very good notes while reading, this might be a short review.
Welch dives skillfully into a topic that has touched all of our lives, if only indirectly. All of us have fought a sin so long that it could be labeled an “addiction.” All of us know someone stuck in some addiction, whether alcohol or drugs or sexual addictions. So, we simply need to look around to see the need for such a book.
The first section of the book deals Biblically and theologically with the topic of addictions, answering questions like “How can people with good theology still fall into addictions? (A: By not really believing what they believe.) Are addictions sickness or sin or both? (A: Sin, but we must recognize and deal with the profoundly physical nature of many temptations.)”
At the end of each chapter, he includes some direct comments to those fighting addictions and to those helping others fight. These may be the best part of the book – it’s great to see someone bring theological depth to such practical levels!
In the second section, Welch helps us understand & deal with addictions: how the descent into addiction happens, how to speak to the “addicted”, how to counsel at each stage of the battle, what Christ’s holiness has to do with anything, etc.
Welch writes earlier in the book that addictions are a worship disorder, a matter of worshipping ourselves and our desires instead of the living God. This means it is an inherently spiritual problem and must be dealt with using the means of grace God has given. Rather than make the book esoteric and metaphysical, thinking about addictions as false worship gives us absolute, concrete ways to help people Biblically. Thus, the book is replete with helpful, relevant Scripture passages (as well as with attention-grabbing stories from Welch’s own counseling ministry).
Addictions is a book that could be easily read by anyone who needs to. It’s interesting, well-written and well-edited. Most importantly, it shines with the hope of the gospel for those in sin. Should you buy this book? If you are stuck in sin or helping someone who is – yes! I expect it to come down off the shelf more than once. You don’t even have to consider yourself addicted; this is a book with solid, Biblical help for anyone concerned to fight sin for the glory of Christ.
22 June 2005
If you're trying to keep tabs on postmodernism and the "emerging" church, here's a good review of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy by Al Mohler. Frightening stuff. I also want to note that I realize not all "emergents" can be grouped together neatly and succinctly; but, insofar as McLaren serves as godfather to this new brand of seeker-sensitive churches, it is a good barometer.
We're gearing up for the RPCNA Synod next week in Beaver Falls, PA. Please pray for Christ's mind of wisdom and love among the delegates, for safe travel, and for the building of Christ's kingdom even through long meetings.
21 June 2005
Bondage of the Will,
15. But what about the promises? – Some might counter with, not just commandments, but many Scriptural promises based on someone’s actions. Not only is this common in Proverbs, but throughout the New Testament (merciful receiving mercy, etc.). Here again the answer is the same: even in the real world, consequence/reward doesn’t necessitate or even imply ability. This is not to deny that God fulfills those promises, of the merciful receiving mercy; but the real question is, “Why are the merciful merciful in the first place?” Answer: Because God made them merciful by the power of His Spirit. Thus, even rewards for goodness show forth the sovereignty of God in salvation.
16. But they’re mine! All mine! – Mt. 7:16, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” How does Luther deal with the possessive pronoun – if they’re my works, how can God take credit for it?? To say our works are ours doesn’t mean they originate with us. Our good works are ours in the same way a tree’s fruit is the tree’s, that is, by way of God’s sovereignty. Luther goes on to give this similar treatment to several New Testament passages speaking of our works.
John 1:12 says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – Erasmus uses this in support of free will, noting the power we have to become sons of God. Luther simply responds by reading the verse back: God gives the power to become sons of God…where here can one find free will? It is all of God.
Chapter 5 – “Review of Erasmus’ Treatment of Texts that Deny ‘Free-will’”
1. Erasmus’ battle-plan – Erasmus gathered to himself a “dreadful army” of passages that seem to speak of free-will, as well as gathering to himself the support of many church fathers who speak well of human ability to satisfy God’s justice. Then he addressed some passages that seem to deny free-will, such as God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12). Even though Paul already answered this in Romans 9, Luther agrees to put his pen to showing these and other passages to deny man’s ability to overthrow God’s sovereignty.
2. Figgers – Erasmus’ main tool in disposing of texts that seem to deny man’s free-will is to claim that, “Here we have a figure of speech.” You can already see that this tool can be brought out whenever one doesn’t like something Scripture reports about us. Luther responds with an incredibly important part of good hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture): “no ‘implication’ or ‘figure’ may be allowed to exist in any passage of Scripture unless such required by some obvious feature of the words and the absurdity of their plain sense, as offending against an article of faith.”
Translation: you can only say something's a “figure of speech” when its plain meaning would be crazy, going against the gospel. Scripture does use figures, but it’s always clear when it does. Remember this, grasshopper, it will serve you well.
We’ll see next time how Erasmus deals (poorly) with the texts in question.
19 June 2005
A regulation that allowed a cook to make omelettes only on condition of first putting on a top hat might conceivably be given the force of law, and penalties might be inflicted for disobedience; but the condition would remain arbitrary and irrational. The law that omelettes can be made only on condition that there shall be a preliminary breaking of eggs is one with which we are sadly familiar. The efforts of idealists to make omelettes without observing that condition are foredoomed to failure by the nature of things. The Christian creeds are too frequently assumed to be in the top-hat category; this is an error; they belong to the category of egg-breaking.
That is, Christianity must be accepted or denied based on what it claims to be: total truth about the world and humanity's state before God. Christianity never claimed to put forth "laws" like we have "laws" about baseball; instead, we claim to have "laws" built into the fabric of nature by the Creator. So don't let anyone shove off Christianity's claims simply by relegating it to the "top-hat" category of laws.
Being a father is great. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. (Pro. 23:24) If I didn't believe in God's sovereignty, I'd wonder about Him giving children to kids like me. But He's in control and His grace is sufficient, so we're going to go with it.
18 June 2005
Scofield is one of the coolest guitarists in jazz. Cool by way of understatement. Somehow you know he could play a million notes a minute, but a few do much better. Even if you don't like jazz, you could dig "Sco"; it's a lot of laid-back groovy stuff.
I read on his website that he's done over 30 albums...I only have one, so I'm way behind. Anyhoo, I thought I'd point him out to further your musical tastes!
16 June 2005
Noll also makes the charge that evangelicalism is inherently a parasitic movement, since it is always aimed at reforming dead religion. This basis as a reforming institution has led, according to Noll, to several failiures in modern evangelicalism, including a failure to address the culture effectively. What do you think? Is evangelicalism parasitic? Are we too focused on reforming the church while missing the outwardness of our call?
14 June 2005
If you weren't with us Sunday morning, listen to Pastor Long's sermon, too. Very helpful insights into the testimonies of Christ - made me wish I had heard this before I went a few rounds with some Jehovah's Witnesses last week. What do you do when you talk to JW's? Here are a few thoughts that generally go through my head:
1. If you are able, keep them at your place as long as you can. At least that way, they're not proselytizing your neighbors.
2. As soon as you can, turn the topic of conversation to Jesus Christ. Be specific and make them be specific.
3. In response to their claim that Jesus is not God, don't use John 1:1 (they have a pre-baked answer for that one). Use instead things like Thomas' confession, "My Lord and my God" (Jn. 20:28) or John 5:18, where the leaders themselves understood that Jesus claimed divinity. [Don't get caught up in the discussion of Bible versions; it's an argument they like to use. Theirs is translated with deceit and JW presuppositions in mind.]
4. Better yet, when they speak of our Bibles not using Jehovah's real name (that's how they translate Yahweh and they deride all who don't - generally, Protestant translations use "LORD" for Yahweh), turn to John 8:58 ("Before Abraham was, I am"). The OT word "Yahweh" is built upon the verb "to be". Yahweh literally means the one who is - remember how God told Moses to introduce Him to the people: "I am who I am" (Ex. 3:14). So, when Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am", He was taking to Himself the very name of God, that name which JW's claim to value above all else. The two I talked to last Saturday had no answer for this - so they kept changing the subject.
5. Force the issue. Ask them, "Do you believe that if I don't convert to Jehovah's Witnesses, I will go to hell?" They, and the Mormons, are very hesitant to say anything that mean. We, however, do believe that, outside of a belief in Christ as God and Savior, there is no salvation. This makes things uncomfortable in the conversation, but at least they ought to know where you stand.
6. Invite them back. Invite them to church. Ask them to listen to your understanding of the gospel for a few minutes. Try to balance forthrightness with grace. Rattle their cage with God's truth, which, if done apart from malice, is an inherently gracious thing.
These thoughts assume a few things. First, that we believe Jesus is God, that He must be God for salvation to work, and that we are able to show our belief true by the Scriptures. Second, that we understand Jehovah's Witnesses as a false religion, one that traps people in lies and threatens to make your neighbors twice over sons of hell. Third, that we care enough to not just shut the door in their face.
12 June 2005
1. I've decided to preach straight through Proverbs, rather than topically. It seems that God isn't capricious and He put Proverbs together in the form He wanted us to use. So, believing God's purposes, I believe we'll get to see a lot of exciting connections one might not pick up on if he/she were just studying every Proverb that speaks directly of money or speech.
2. The twin themes of 10:1-16 are our work and our words. What do these two have to do with each other? These are two (if not the two) most significant ways we have to impact this world. It is these two things, our work and our words, which will determine our legacy, the glory we are able to spread here for Christ.
Today is the last day a family from the Netherlands will be worshipping with us before they return home; the father's been doing research at the local university, and we have been very blessed to get to know them. They come from a reformed, Psalm-singing Dutch church and took to us as well as we took to them. It's just been one of those little things God uses to remind me of how big His church is, of how many millions are worshipping Him today, all across the earth. It's good to be in this worldwide family. Plus, their kids loved our kids and, I think, vice versa.
09 June 2005
The Peacemaker by Ken Sande
One of my passions in ministry is discipleship, helping and training others to become mature follower of Jesus Christ. Sometimes discipleship spills over into counseling, which I simply define as crisis discipleship. Many times, the subject of most counseling sessions isn’t a subject that, at its inception, had to be discussed between pastor and counselee. Often, it’s some sin we’re trying to root out, sometimes a sin snowballed into significant conflict in their life. Because of this pattern – this pastoral ministry of helping others work through sin, which is a valid part of a pastor’s work which I rejoice to do – I am also passionate about Christ’s disciples learning how to be self-counselors.
What is a self-counselor, you ask? I’m glad you asked. A self-counselor is one who, in times of trouble or sin or conflict, has the resources and training to go to God through His Word and there to seek and to find the help and solution he/she needs. This is not to say that one can be in a position where he/she will never need help from a pastor, but it is to say that we should all be progressing in our faith, progressing in our ability to kill sin and solve the problems it causes. Being a self-counselor means knowing how to read the Bible, how to find answers in the Bible, how to spiritually approach a problem, how to know what the root of a problem is, etc.
Toward that valiant end, I am happy to recommend to you Ken Sande’s justly-famous Peacemaker. [I believe there’s an updated edition out, but I have the first edition.] Very few books I have read come close to this one in accomplishing their stated purposes. Sande does a masterful job of being Scriptural, clear, concise, and incredibly practical all at the same time.
He begins by convincing the reader that conflict is, at the very heart, an opportunity to glorify God in a sinful world. Such an attitude changes everything! Next, he directs us to get the log out of our own eye – herein lies the place of Christian humility in peacemaking. This is one of the most powerful parts of Biblical peacemaking.
After we have resolved to glorify God and have examined ourselves by Scripture, Sande follows Scripture and directs us to confront those who offended us. Such confrontation is not the end; forgiveness and restoration are the goal we desire and he shows us how to, God-willing, arrive at that end. These last two sections, about confrontation and restoration, contain extremely valuable (trust me, please) insight into how we talk to others, how to conduct such meetings, what to say, what not to say, etc. Throughout the whole book, Sande uses vivid stories from his own ministry and the reader is left with no uncertainty as to his point.
Should you buy this book? Yes; I won’t talk to you anymore if you don’t. In order to be a solid disciple of Christ, in order to be equipped to help others during times of conflict, please buy this book and read it. The value of this book became immediately apparent to me the first time I read it. It convicted me of wrongdoing in a confrontation I was trying to solve and set me on a Biblical path. My copy is highlighted and marked up in all the right spots, and I expect to use it whenever I have opportunity to help someone through a time of conflict.
08 June 2005
Bondage of the Will,
10. Letting God be God – To his credit, Luther doesn’t back away from the hard questions. Here, the hard question is: “Does the righteous Lord deplore the death of His people which He Himself works in them?” Luther embarks thus on a different line of reasoning, one borrowed by many since him – the difference between God revealed and God “in His own nature and majesty.”
In speaking & thinking about God, all we have to go on is what He’s told us about Himself – which is surely all true. But that information is also surely not comprehensive. We could never bear such knowledge. So we operate on the level that God gives to us, believing Him at His word and realizing that there’s much, so much, that we cannot comprehend – more majesty, more wisdom, more glory and beauty than we could imagine. So, in the area of eternal election, even in the area of predestination unto death, we will let God be God and trust that He is good and gracious altogether.
It is enough simply to know that there is in God an inscrutable will; what, why, and within what limits It wills, it is wholly unlawful to inquire, or wish to know, or be concerned about, or touch upon; we may only fear and adore! This reminds me of a story my seminary prof told us – as a younger Christian, he experienced the familiar “what about the African natives who’ve never heard the gospel?” dilemma and went to speak with his pastor. His pastor told him two valuable truths: (1) you are not the African native; you have heard the gospel and how you respond is vital. (2) You must now let God be God and trust that everything His Word reveals about Him is true – including that He is good and completely sovereign.
11. Deuteronomy 30:11-14, The repetition goes on – Now Luther, in responding to Erasmus’ comments on Dt. 30, returns to his mantra: command does not imply freewill, duty does not necessarily translate into ability. But Erasmus goes farther here – he says, “This passage declares that what is commanded is not only set within us, but is like falling off a log.” Wow. To think this whole time that obedience you’re striving for…well, it’s as easy as falling off a log. Luther is beside himself – how can such a monstrous thought ever be written. To claim obedience as possible (nevermind easy) apart from Christ and His Spirit completely does away with any need for regeneration, faith, repentance, and so on. Christ is made nothing by such human-idolatry.
Moses speaks in Dt. 30 of the law being “not above thee, neither is it far off”, that the law is near to you…which Erasmus takes to mean that we are able to keep it. Luther simply argues that “near” means “near.” Moses was telling the people that they had the law, that it wasn’t vague and unrevealed, but (literally) concrete and right before them. This in no way implies ability, but does clearly reveal the duty of those to whom the law is given.
12. Matthew 23:37, letting God be God, part 2 – Jesus said in Matthew 23, "O Jerusalem,
Luther again calls the reader to allow God to be God. We are not given access to the Book of Life or any other secret decrees of God. To those who question whether such a distinction is Scriptural, he quotes Romans 9:19-20 – “Who are you you, O man, to answer back to God?...” When Christ speaks of wishing and cries true tears of hurt and distress, the humble believer will rejoice at the goodness and love of such a Savior, even while Arminians search here for something to support humanity’s freedom of will.
13. Matthew 19:17, the law illuminates inability & God’s salvation - And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." If there’s no free-will, Erasmus argues, how could Jesus say these words with a good conscience? Luther responds with two repeated arguments. First, an imperative/command does not imply ability. Second, if you force this verse to prove freewill, you have also constructed an argument for the uselessness of the cross of Jesus Christ. If I can enter life by keeping the commandments, what a useless death Jesus died!
But there’s another thought behind these verses, a promise of Christ’s. Luther rephrases the verse: “If thou art willing, if thou shalt be willing (that is if thou art such with God that He sees fit to give thee this will to keep the commandments), thou shalt be saved.” If such a view is adopted, God’s law doesn’t just show us our inability, it also serves as a promise of what He plans to do with our lives.
14. The purpose of New Testament commands - Doing some more repeating, Luther adds some more thoughts about New Testament commands. The main point he makes is that the commands of James, for example, are intended for the regenerate. So whenever we read the New Testament and see a command to obey, we ought to understand that the work of the Spirit is implied in the very giving of that command. Failure to see that implied work leads to a straight legalistic reading of Scripture.
[Note: I believe this applies to Old Testament commands as well. God’s law, wherever it’s found, ought to first drive us to the cross because of our inability to meet God’s holy standard, and, second, cause us to rejoice in God’s promised Spirit who works such grace into our lives.]
07 June 2005
Homesick, heavenly pilgrims in a land of lies and wars, the church is to set her eyes on the throne of grace through the worship of God, calling to Him, confident of His answer and deliverance.
This is the first of the “Songs of Ascent” (Pss. 120-134), songs collected to be sung by the Hebrews on their yearly journeys to
And so it is with Psalm 120. At first glance, it may seem like everyday discontentment. But at the heart of it, this is a song sung by those deeply distressed – distressed not just at the state of this world, but because they feel, deep down, “this is not my home. I don’t belong here, I’m not happy to stay here.” Has the church become too comfortable here? Have God’s people forgotten that we are travelers, destined for a far greater country? Have we taught our children that this isn’t our home? This song will help remind us, will help by calling us to a divine dissatisfaction with this world, even while we love the lost sheep wandering here.
First, we see that God hears the prayers of such homesick pilgrims (v. 1), and for this we can give thanks. The Lord will give ear to your cries from this lonely world. He will hear you and lift you up. Second we see the song’s first area of complaint: that this is a world of lies. Surely, few of us have to be convinced of this. Lies are the food of much advertising, the theme of most sitcoms, the backbeat of radio hits, the heartbeat of human-centered philosophy. Where in this world can we turn to find the truth? Who will give us the plain, unvarnished truth that we need to hear? Aren’t you yet frustrated with this world of lies? If so – good! Lies are not the innocent creatures they would have us believe; they are sharpened arrows, destructive coals.
Our final piece of dissatisfaction is this world of war. Dwelling with Meshech and Kedar refers to living among heathens committed to warfare instead of God. Perhaps nothing has characterized the history of man more than war. Mankind has never been without war, never been free from factious tribes or fighting nations. Despite the frequency of the word “peace” in the mouths of politicians, we have no reason to anticipate peace in this world. And that’s precisely it – this world is destined to be redone, dismantled and reassembled into a glorious, heavenly place where peace will reign. Let us sing with Divine discontentment, longing for that day, calling God to save us from lies & wars.
“The song reminds us that if we are Christians, this world is not our real home. We cannot settle down in Meshech or be at home in Kedar. So if you are, stop trying to conform to this world’s lies and ways of life. Put on your hiking boots, Strap your pack on your back. Say good-bye to your sins, and start marching to
03 June 2005
Real Sex: the Naked Truth about Chastity
This book has received quite a bit of press over the past couple months and this subject has always received quite a bit of press. Any time a Christian writer attempts to deal with this topic forthrightly, it deserves to be taken seriously (despite the other pastors in the car who, on our road trip, continually mercilessly mocked me for reading this book).
Disclaimers: This is a frank book with frank discussions, stories and details that may simply not be appropriate for many; it’s certainly not a book to hand to our kids without reservation. During reading, I often found myself wishing that Winner had used a little more discretion in her writing – I’m sure she would disagree with me on this. Also, this is not a book to read for clear and reformed theology. What theology is here (and there is some) is fairly Biblical, but absent is any talk of how chastity is ultimately designed to glorify the Lord of Glory.
After setting forth some frightening, familiar (and a few unfamiliar) statistics of churchgoers and sex, the author does a good job outlining a Biblical theology of creation & the “case for sex in marriage.” While nothing here should be new to mature believers, it is all-important to view creation (our bodies) in light of the Creator (God); such a view forces the serious believer to accept the Creator’s limitations on our bodies, believing that such limitations will prove to be, in the end, freedom.
Chapters 3-5 are, I believe, the most helpful of the book. In ch. 3, Winner argues that sex is far too private; that is, although we live in a sex-saturated society, the church is far too reticent to speak about sex on a personal, though discrete, level. Despite popular belief, what we do in our bedrooms does matter for everyone else in the church and in society. Chapter four outlines our culture’s lies about sex (sex can be separated from procreation, how you dress doesn’t matter, etc.). More importantly, chapter five outlines the church’s lies about sex (premarital sex always makes you feel lousy, bodies are gross/bad, women don’t really want to have sex, etc.).
The final four chapters seek to be more practical, and I imagine they could be to post-college-age singles. Instead of remarkable insight, Winner ends up kindly repeating what many teachers have said for many years about chastity and repentance.
Should you buy this book? I have a hard time recommending it carte blanche. There are certainly helpful points and very important reminders to the church, but in the end I don’t commend this book to you because the author’s suggestions aren’t always as radical – that is, Biblical – as I would like them to be and because I simply differ with her on standards of discretion. This book may prove to be most helpful to pastors and elders as they shepherd “singles” in their church.
02 June 2005
Trace Bundy, a.k.a. the acoustic ninja. Just found his site today and am thinking about ordering the double cd. It's that impressive - check out his arrangement of canon in D by Pachabel.
Michael Kelsey, Lafayette, IN hometown boy. He's making his way now, but still comes around every now and then. Agressive acoustic guitar stuff. And probably the best showman I've ever seen; it's almost ridiculous how much fun he has on stage.
I think they both have some video on their site. It's worth the download time, even for the dial-ups among us.
Bondage of the Will,
6. Grace or no grace…but no middle ground – Packer & Johnston’s intro to Luther’s work does a good job tracing the historical developments of Erasmus’ Diatribe. They help show that Erasmus wasn’t super interested in doing that piece of writing, but he felt it was important to keep the church at peace, to find a middle ground where all the parties could stand. But it’s that middle ground where Luther pins him to the wall.
Erasmus would like to say that free will is able to do produce some endeavoring, some desire to keep the law. But he would also like to say that such desire and endeavor is really impossible without grace. It just doesn’t work. There are only two options: (1) Full-blow Pelagianism, where man is in complete control of his destiny and is fully able by himself to choose heaven or hell…or (2) Free-will is a myth, the smoke and mirrors of human pride. If you say that free-will needs grace, then free-will isn’t free (and fuzzy-wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, wuz he?).
As an example of his point, Luther offers Adam. Now here’s a man; if anyone could choose good, surely this Adam who walked with God. But he didn’t – and we, who are infinitely worse for it, do we think that we can supersede the first man’s ability to desire and endeavor for good?
7. Genesis 4:7, let the repetition begin – “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." Erasmus believes that this, God’s Word to Cain, constitutes proof that the heart’s inclination toward evil can be overcome. Luther responds simply: if we can overcome evil, why do we need God? If we need God to overcome evil, how can we speak of our wills as completely free?
The point that must be grasped is this: God’s commandments imply duty, not ability. The mere presence of God’s law no more proves my ability to keep it than do my marriage vows automatically guarantee me to be the perfect husband.
8. Deuteronomy 30:19, let the repetition continue - I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. The point above remains the main thought for Luther: duty doesn’t mean ability. But look at the history to see this proved: God’s people had His commandments, and how well did they choose life, how well did they endeavor for good? The Israelites of the old covenant are our living, breathing examples of the difference between duty and ability. They had it to do and they didn’t. They didn’t long enough and proved they couldn’t.
Erasmus, et al, may respond: the law is then a mockery of humanity. On the contrary, the law is a great gift of a good God. The real cruelty, the real mockery would be convincing people in prison that they weren’t trapped at all (instead of convincing them of their chains). It’s the knowledge of inability, the despair of bondage that will lead people to the cross of Christ.
Finally, Luther makes a wonderful point about grammar. Erasmus and his semi-Pelagian buddies keep taking an imperative and turning it into an indicative. They say “ought” proves “what”…which every grammar student knows isn’t the case. When God says we ought to do something, He is not making a commentary on what actually is the state of our ability. To get that what info, we must turn to other passages, such as Psalm 14, which tell of us our state, our abilities and disabilities.
9. Confusing law & gospel – that grammar confusion continues, working itself out theologically. Erasmus continues his arguments through various portions of law in the Old Testament, hoping to see in the imperative (“do!”) an indicative (“can”). In the end, those who desire to make much of man must make very, very little of the grace of God. Those who desperately want to keep free-will as the right of man must admit that grace really isn’t grace (or isn’t really undeserved).
On the opposite side, those who make much of God realize first that we cannot make much of man. Second, those who elevate God understand that all His law has the same purpose: to convince men of our inability to keep it and to force us to ask: where can I find that ability, where can I find forgiveness, who is able to keep such a law? So when God says, “I desire not the death of a sinner,” (Ezek. 18:23) He is making a wonderful gospel-call, not a statement of His inability to prevent death.
If, by ourselves, we are able to obey, the law is the gospel. But if we are unable, as Scripture seems to clearly say over and over, then the law is a tutor to lead us to the gospel, lead us to Jesus.
01 June 2005
So we are all born worshippers, we are incurably religious. We are also born blasphemers. Which deity will you worship, which will you blaspheme? The true and Living God calls, inviting you to worship Father, Son & Holy Spirit and to blaspheme the idols you once served. No man or woman will believe that Christ is Lord who refusese to blaspheme the idol of their heart. Which brings another interesting thought: repentance as blasphemy against the idol of our desires. Let's get blaspheming!