Mr. Moral Magoo? (Adam Parker)

I’m sure there’s a generational gap when someone refers to Mr. Magoo. If you’re under 30, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of Mr. Magoo. I just so happened to have watched enough classic cartoons over the years to have seen a few episodes. Mr. Magoo is a cartoon about a legally blind man who blundered around the city, never knowing where he was going or what he was doing. And yet he always seemed to end up in the right place. By the end of the episode, Mr. Magoo had tripped off of girders only to land on another girder exactly in the right place. It made no sense, but he always seemed to survive by the end of an episode. He accidentally made it every time. He had always gone the wrong way and ended up at the right place.

I wonder how many of us have good theology and solid moral positions, but we have no idea how we got to them. Many in the Church have “Magooed” themselves into moral and theological positions that happen to be biblically sound, but we have no idea how we got there. If someone asked us why we believe or do what we do, we couldn’t give an answer for it beyond our own cultural norms.

Christians, of all people, need to understand that the why of our moral and theological positions is just as crucial as the what of our moral and theological positions. Here is one example of that about which I am thinking: In the south, when I read Scripture that relates to human sexuality, there is very little pushback. When I read Paul’s words regarding homosexual behavior in the south, I am preaching to the choir. I still never have anyone come up to me after the service and say that they need to talk about what I said – maybe people are thinking it, but there isn’t any obvious pushback. For most, I hope, this is because they’re been exposed to the teachings of Scripture and submit themselves willingly and joyfully to God’s own revealed will about biblical morality.

However, I suspect that many have simply inherited a proclivity toward…

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Race and the Imago Dei (Editors)

In light of current discussions regarding racial reconciliation, we thought that it might be a benefit to our readers to run a series of videos from a longtime contributor, Rob Ventura, and his wife, Vanessa, concerning a variety of subjects related to interracial marriage. Rob is the pastor of Grace Community Baptist Church in Providence, RI. Rob and Vanessa have been married 20 years and have three children.

The interviewer, Suhylah Claudio, has provided the following rationale for this series of interviews:

“To share the varying perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, and nationality from various ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to dispel myths and stereotypes and expose points of view from those whom we may not feel are ‘like us’ and ultimately to think about what Scripture says about these things. My goal is to help unite us as one race of Christians who are aware of the perceptions and experiences of one another so that we can be more sensitive and loving as brethren in Christ.”

In this video, Rob and Vanessa talk about race, all mandking being made in the image of God, and how the cross gives meaning to all of life

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Wisdom Christology in James and 1 John (Gabriel Williams)

In the previous post in this series, we briefly considered how Calvin’s appreciation of wisdom theology is particularly present in his comments on the Johannine literature. In Calvin’s commentary of 1 John, we discover one of the marks of the wisdom theology, namely, its appreciation of the transcendent nature of God’s Word. For Calvin, The Word “which believers we have heard and believed” is the same Word who is from the beginning the divine Wisdom. We find this very clearly in the following comment by Calvin:

“Moreover, the term Word may be explained in two ways, either of Christ, or of the doctrine of the Gospel, for even by this is salvation brought to us. But as its substance is Christ, and as it contains no other thing than that he, who had been always with the Father, was at length manifested to men, the first view appears to me the more simple and genuine. Moreover, it appears more fully from the Gospel that the wisdom which dwells in God is called the Word.”

The Word of God is a transcendent reality. In fact, it is the fundamental transcendent reality of our salvation. We also notice from Calvin’s commentary that the Word of God has the capacity to enliven. Wisdom, as it is understood in Scripture, is far removed from the sort of abstract intellectualism that many associate with an education in philosophy, the humanities, and the sciences. Wisdom is a way of life, but more than that, it is a power and “sacred vitality”. This, too, is a mark of wisdom theology. When the text speaks of the “Word of life”, Calvin interprets this to mean the “vivifying Word.” This vivifying “Word of life” was with the Father, according to the text. Calvin comments:

“This is true, not only from the time when the world was formed, but also from eternity, for He was always God, the fountain of life; and the power and the faculty of vivifying was possessed by His eternal wisdom.”

As Calvin understood, the eternal Wisdom is a creative, redemptive, and sanctifying wisd…

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A Historic Framework for Social Responsibility (Jay Harvey)

How shall the church think about social issues of race, justice and power? It is increasingly popular for these issues to be framed and discussed in the church using the categories of social justice and racial privilege as defined by the social sciences. In secular academic settings such categories find their genesis in and are tethered to Marxist systems of analysis. These systems emphasize the struggle between oppressed and oppressor. Marxist frameworks may have surface resonances with Biblical concerns for justice, equality and the poor. However, these frameworks emphasize the ongoing Hegelian struggle of thesis and antithesis without a clear pathway for resolution. Therefore, the insights gained from such analyses are not placed within a framework adequate to provide a healthy response to the social problems posed.

Rather than relying–almost exclusively in certain sectors of the church–on categories that find their genesis in systems hostile to orthodox Christianity, the church should rediscover the corrective guidance of its own tradition and draw upon its creedal and confessional resources. One such resource is the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC), a document famous for its exposition of the moral law of God. The WLC offers a paradigm for social responsibility, a framework for robust ethical reasoning, and points toward the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Paradigm for Social Responsibility

We don’t need to rely on Marxist paradigms to teach us about social responsibility. The WLC’s rules for interpreting the moral law make it clear that we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. WLC 99 states that “what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.” Similarly, rule eight sates “what is commanded to others, we are bound, according to our places and callings, to be helpful to them; and to take heed of partaking with others i…

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Game of Dethroning Sexual Sin (Nick Batzig)

Yesterday, Kevin DeYoung kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest when he wrote a post titled, “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones.” That post was swiftly met with a tirade of social media attacks, such as, “The Bible has many, many more violent and lewd scenes than Game of Thrones…know your Bible, Kevin,” “[you] shouldn’t expect consciences to be the same” and “Bad idea denouncing what you have no experience with…” Honestly, it was painful to read through the emotionally charged, biblically weak and grammatically poor responses to DeYoung’s encouragement for professing believers to pursue holiness in regard to what we set before our eyes on television.Before saying anything else, I want to confess that, over the years, I have watched television shows and movies that I ought not to have watched–entertainment that I did not watch to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). While I have not watched Game of Thrones, I have watched a litany of other shows that are subject to similar criticisms as those raised by Piper and DeYoung. Those which I have watched have had enough sexual content and innuendos in them to fall into a category similar to that of Game of Thrones. While I have fast forwarded through as many of those scenes as I could whenever they appeared, I now confess that I should not have watched the show in the first place. I am no more like Christ and no more fruitful in the work of His Kingdom for having watched them. I have asked the Lord to forgive me for having watched things that I shouldn’t have watched and that I did not watch to His glory. I say this to confess my own sinfulness at the outset.What are we to do, then, when it comes to fix a limit on what a Christian should and should not watch? Is drawing such a line tantamount to fundamentalism? Are we to simply chalk everything up to a case of personal liberty of conscience? Is it legitimate to compare the sex in the Bible to the sex in a show like Game of Thrones? We must ask and answer …

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A Theology of Vacationing (Mark Johnston )

This summer has been no different than those which proceded it. At this time of year, you are possibly continuing to see references to the usual litany of ‘Summer Reading recommendations for Pastors.’ As end-of-summer vacations loom, men in the ministry feel the need to catch up on those weighty tomes of theology that have been gathering dust somewhere but which a guilty conscience tells them ought to be read. (Though their wife and children may have other ideas!)

Despite the title, these paragraphs are not intended to add to this ministerial guilt trip; but, rather, they are intended to relieve it! Instead of offering yet more theology to take on vacation, I wish to offer a theological justification for viewing a vacation as being a good thing – and this, not just at ‘vacation times’ when they happen to occur.

The rationale behind this comes partly from some well intentioned, but significantly misguided ideals I held in the early years of my ministry. Namely that it was somehow a mark of sanctification to not take my full allocation of annual leave. And it was only after some wise and gentle persuasion from my dear wife that this theological aberration was put right.

However, a more direct factor that made me think about the Bible’s teaching on this issue came from a verse from the Gospels that seemed to find its way into my mind on an annual basis – always as the Summer holidays drew near. It was the verse in which Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’ (Mk 6.31).

It is one of those almost throwaway remarks that Mark includes in his record of our Lord. Not unlike the detail in Christ’s calling of the Twelve, that he chose them in part in order that ‘that they might be with him’ (Mk 3.14) – to provide companionship for him. So even though this verse about rest may seem incidental, it actually has much more to teach than we might imagine.

At the most basic level it says a great deal about the genuineness of…

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The Foundation of the New Perspective (Jeff Waddington)

Admittedly the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) isn’t so new anymore. As a significant scholarly hermeneutical movement, it goes back at least as far as the late 1970s with the groundbreaking work of E. P. Sanders. It goes back even further if we take into consideration the endeavors of a Montefiore and a Moore. The NPP is old enough now to have had a plethora of erudite nuanced critical responses (one thinks of Newman, Gathercole, Westerholm, Kim, Carson, Waters, and the like). As I write this review, my scanning of the web has revealed several new studies slated for forthcoming release. One of the most recent, and I would suggest, best interactions with the NPP is Robert Cara’s Cracking the Foundation of the New Perspective on Paul. I believe Cara succeeds on many levels. Before I get to my assessment I want to describe what Cara has done.

Cracking the Foundation is divided into four chapters, followed by a concluding summary and an appendix on Jewish literary sources. The first chapter (19-36) is a fine introduction to the NPP and its relation to the doctrine of justification and the question which is a bug-a-bear for any serious interaction with the NPP: is it a unified movement, therefore justifying the appellation New Perspective or is the movement a conglomeration of different perspectives whose only unity is in the rejection of the traditional Lutheran and Reformed reading of Paul and the Second Temple Judaism that lay behind him? In looking at this question Dr. Cara seeks to focus his attention on E. P. (Ed) Sanders’ argument that the Judaism of Paul’s day was not a legalistic works-righteousness based religion but was a grace-based faith and that this perspective was nearly universal across the spectrum of views representative of Second Temple Judaism. In a nutshell, covenantal nomism is the view that one gains entrance to the people of God by election (i.e., grace) and stays in by obedience to the Law (i.e., works).

The second chapter (37-75) is devoted t…

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Double Black Diamonds: Navigating the Slopes (Jay Harvey)

In his helpful blog post “The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box” Rev. Rick Phillips explains that there is indeed a slippery slope about which we must be concerned in theology.  I say indeed, because many will be aware that the slippery slope is typically considered a logical fallacy: one assumes that adoption of one position will lead to the adoption of another position, without showing causal relationship between the two.  However, if you can demonstrate a causal relationship then the argument becomes plausible.

In theology, it does indeed seem to be the case there is a valid concern regarding a weak doctrine of Scripture as a plausible slippery slope.  So Phillips writes: “It is the unstoppable descent into liberalism and unbelief that begins when the authority of Scripture is compromised out of cultural accommodation. The slope is slippery because without the friction of an inerrant, divinely authoritative Bible, faithfully interpreted, there is nothing left to restrain the downward gravitational pull of the world’s demands.”

I would suggest that we label this type of slippery slope the Hermeneutical Slippery Slope.  The sin of our heart and the pressure of our culture place special tension upon those passages of Scripture that oppose them.  Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). But that does not mean that the world, our flesh and the Devil won’t try.  As Phillips notes, in a culture hostile toward distinctions of roles based on gender, passages that restrict ordination to males will come under extreme pressure.  At the personal level, a person struggling deeply with sexual temptation may find special tension upon passages forbidding extra-marital sexual gratification.  When we are reading Scripture and feel this tension from without or from within we have three options before us:

(1)   In faith, we can let Scripture push back against the culture and the sin of our hearts.  Under the …

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The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box (Richard D. Phillips)

Over twenty years ago, while in seminary, I was present during a hallway conversation with a professor who then seemed to be moving toward liberal theology. A student asked how this man’s higher critical methods would enable him to remain a Christian. The professor gave quite the revealing answer: “I have a Jesus Box that I never touch.” By this, he meant that he had drawn a line of piety around his faith in Jesus to keep out the implications of his liberal scholarship. I remember thinking at the time how vain was this hope. Method always gobbles up message, and no pietistic zeal will ever protect us from our actual lack of faith. That professor has long since moved on, and from his seat in a liberal college he has not surprisingly revised his former evangelical faith in Jesus.

This conversation came to mind yesterday when I learned of Fred Harrell’s tweet endorsing a denial of Christ’s propitiation on the cross.1 He commented: “As the living Word of God, Jesus regularly forgave sins without the need for retributive justice.” The article to which Harrell linked, written by Derek Vreeland on Missio Alliance, asks: “Is the Cross Even Necessary?” Informed readers will recognize the argument made here, which amounts to a blend of Abelard’s moral influence theory and the New Perspective on Paul.

More interesting than Vreeland’s standard denial of penal substitutionary atonement is Fred Harrell’s endorsement. Trained in ministry under Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Harrell planted a high-profile and well-funded PCA church in San Francisco in 1997. His career charted a path that progressive ministers in the PCA long to emulate: RUF campus minister; associate at progressive-leaning urban church; pioneering church plant in a progressive city. In 2006, Harrell led City Church out of the PCA and into the liberal RCA on account of a change of heart regarding the ordination of women (which the PCA does not permit). At the time, defenders cha…

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Calvin, Keller and the Westminster Assembly (Scott Cook)

Over at Derek Rishmway’s blog Reformedish, Tim Keller has posted an excellent article on the reality of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Relying on excerpts drawn from Calvin’s interpretation of the descent of Christ into hell (Book II.16.8), Keller deals with the question of how Christ could have experienced forsakenness on the cross while never actually having lost the love of the Father. Keller follows Calvin in arguing that the line “He descended into hell”–as stated in the Apostles’ Creed–“represents biblical teaching that Jesus suffered not just bodily pain but all the torments that a soul in hell, cut off from God’s presence, would experience.” Thus Keller affirms that Christ truly felt in his soul the pain of separation from the Father. However, any affirmation of Christ’s suffering must not create an actual rift between the Father and the Son, on pain of destroying the doctrine of the Trinity. Keller helpfully offers a solution to this thorny theological issue: Christ ontologically (and hence objectively) did not lose the Father’s love in any way, yet experientially (and hence subjectively), Christ’s soul experienced all the feeling of anguish as if he had truly and really lost the Father’s love. This model maintains the eternal bond of love between the Father and the Son while not selling short the real anguish that the Son experienced on the cross.

Keller is to be commended for his approach, particularly because of the doctrines at stake in the topic. This is no mere intellectual exercise for personal theological entertainment. The doctrines of salvation and the Trinity are at stake in this question. Minimizing the sufferings of Christ is dangerous for our salvation, because it is only in the sufferings of Christ that the wrath of God is propitiated. On the other hand, creating an ontological rift between the Father and the Son destroys the eternal blessedness of the divine nature of the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit, particularly if one fol…

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