Jesus and the Victim Card (Nick Batzig)

All men share in the common experience of being image bearers of God, in having descended from the same first parents, of being fallen in the same federal representative and in needing the same salvation in Christ. However, no two people have exactly the same experiences or conditionings in their lives. Even siblings who have grown up in the same home–who have experienced the same love and the same sinful dysfunctions of their parents–have many different life experiences. This fact is profoundly intriguing when we consider the way in which our unique God-ordained personalities and our unique God-ordained circumstances intersect. However, it can also be a profoundly dangerous thing when one seeks to use uniquely painful experiences in order to hide our sin. It is this danger to which I wish to focus our attention.

We are all masters at latching onto any and every excuse in order to dismiss our sinful actions and words. Like our first parents, we are natural born experts at blame shifting, covering ourselves and downplaying the severity of our sin when it comes to light. One of the most sophisticated ways that we can excuse our sin is by hiding behind the painful experiences of our lives. It is actually quite easy to adopt the persona of a victim. We have all–at some time or another–been the object of unjust actions or words. Accordingly, all of us have an ample supply of experiences with which we can play the victim card.

This problem is often compounded by the fact that God has commanded His people to bear one another’s burdens. It is one of the greatest of all Christian virtues to sympathize and empathize with those who have suffered (physically, sexually or emotionally). When someone begins to share their burdens in the context of the church, they inevitably draw the attention of deeply compassionate church members. They immediately identify those who could give them t…

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Theology for Beggars (Part 1) (David Owen Filson)

On February 19th the “scrawny shrimp,” as he was affectionately called, stood startled, as his lecture on Romans was interrupted by news no one wanted to hear. Hardly able to gather himself, Philip Melanchthon tearfully announced to his students assembled in the great hall at Lutherhause, “Ach, obiit auriga et currus Israel!” (Alas, the charioteer of Israel has fallen!”)

Biographer Roland Bainton suggests Martin Luther had done the work of five men in his lifetime. By February 18th, 1546, it caught up with him. Returning from a trip to Eisleben, marked by weeks of efforts to reconcile two brother counts of Mansfeld, his heart was failing him. The weather had been terribly disagreeable. This didn’t help. Luther, admittedly feeling his age and frailty, wearily took ill. As the story goes, his companions managed to find lodging for him in a nearby house. His condition worsening, one of them asked, “Dr. Luther, do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught.” Breaking his labored breathing of prayer and scriptures, a distinct “Ya!” leaped from his lips. Between 2-3am, Luther died a good death – full circle, in the very town in which he was born 62 years prior.

One of the most telling pieces to this dramatic conclusion to a dramatic earthly journey is a note Luther scratched out just two days earlier. Knowing his dire condition, he penned something of a humble epilogue to his life, churchmanship, the Scripture he adored, and the “doctrine he had taught:”

“No one can understand Virgil in his Bucolics and Georgics unless he has spent five years as a shepherd or farmer. No one understands Cicero in his letters unless he has served under an outstanding government for twenty years. No one should believe that he has tasted the Holy Scriptures sufficiently unless he has spent one hundred years leading churches with the prophets. That is why: 1. John the Baptist, 2, Christ, 3. The Apostles were a prodigious miracle. Do not profane this divine Aen…

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A Just Silence (Adam Parker)

We’ve all felt the pressure to speak out about things that we know little to nothing about. The increasingly prevalent sentiment is that if Christians-and especially Christian leaders-don’t speak up on the hot button issues of the day, then they are complicit in fueling social injustice. The insistence of many that all of us need to continually speak out about almost every social issue and make official statements of sympathy or refutation in the court of public opinion–when, in fact, the courts that God has established have not had a chance to run their due course–is, quite frankly, wearing me out. I suspect I’m not alone.The strong insistence of those who press Christian leaders to speak out on any given social issue is fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that many of us simply don’t know enough about most issues in order to make educated, timely and necessary statements. It is a very dangerous thing for finite creatures of limited intelligence to behave as though we are infinite beings of unlimited intelligence.This past summer, a number of individuals insisted that I was complicit in a police shooting when I did not speak out about the evil of such an injustice. I can understand someone leveling that charge against an eyewitness or against someone who was withholding pertinent information. But to tell someone sitting in a living room 800 miles from the incident–who knows virtually nothing about the situation or those involved–that he isn’t loving his brethren unless he speaks out against an injustice is itself an injustice. It is the injustice of placing a biblically unlawful burden on the conscience of another. Many feel compelled to watch more news, read more pertinent books, research related cases and further educate themselves so that they can knowledgeably speak out and finally absolve themselves of the charge of functional complicity. But is this the right response? Years ago, John Piper was speaking on the subject of sleep. In th…

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Why You Don’t Read Your Bible (Bruce Baugus)

According to Søren Kierkegaard’s analysis of spiritual despair in Sickness unto Death, in terms of faith (see the first post in this series) and consciousness (part 2 and part 3), despair is the universal condition of being without God and hope in the world (Eph. 2:12). It is crucial to note that this concept of despair is “psychological” in the older spiritual sense and having to do with one’s soul and not in the more contemporary sense of having to do only with one’s mental or emotional self-consciousness. One can be in spiritual despair, in other words, without presenting any of the symptoms we commonly associate with psychological despair.

Spiritual despair, he contends, just is the faithless posture of not resting oneself transparently in God. As such, despair is unbelief before God (coram Deo) which is both sinful in itself and integral to all other sinning insofar as “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23; cf. Heb. 11:6). Spiritual despair, then, is always present to some degree wherever faith is imperfect, no matter if one is conscious of being in despair or not. Since not even those under grace are perfect in faith, some degree of despair remains; what is more, in our weakness we continue to wrestle with a kind of false consciousness of despair insofar as we doubt the sufficiency of the saving grace of God for us in Jesus Christ. In other words, because Jesus Christ is an all-sufficient savior for us the believer’s despair is baseless, which only makes it all the more perverse, offensive, and pernicious.

So far Kierkegaard’s analysis of despair coram Deo; my point here and in the next post is that this same spiritual dynamic is at work before Scripture (coram Scriptura). Exegetical despair, if you will, is often just spiritual despair before God operative in the act of reading and handling his word. This is because whenever we come before this text we come before God, who is “speaking in the Scripture” (WCF 1.10): coram Scriptura, cora…

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An Intro to the Institutes (Derek Thomas)

The opening sentence of John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion alone is worth a lifetime’s contemplation: ‘Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.’

What is it about Calvin that so inspires me? This: his disciplined style, his determination never to speculate, his utter submission to Bible words as God’s words, his submission to Christ’s Lordship, his sense of the holy, his concern to be as practical as possible; the fact that godly living was his aim and not theology for the sake of it. In a forest of theologians, Calvin stands like a Californian Redwood, towering over everyone else.

The Institutes begins with an introductory, “To the Reader” making references to the unexpected “success” of “the first edition” (1536), the “summary” nature of its contents, the publication of further editions (in Latin: 1539, 1543, 1550 and 1559; and in French: 1541 and 1560), and the hope that in this (1559) edition he has “provided something that all of you will approve,” written in the winter of 1558 when in the grip of a fever which he believed threatened his life and a rumor that he had defected “to the papacy.” His aim throughout, he tells us, is “to benefit the church by maintaining the pure doctrine of godliness” and providing “the sum of religion in all its parts” arranged in such a manner so as to indicate what is fundamental in doctrine.

Calvin saw the Institutes as a handmaiden to his commentaries; the latter, as he explains in the Epistle Dedicatory to his commentary on Romans, written with “lucid brevity.” The exegete cannot interpret soundly without the control of systematic theological formulation. The part cannot be understood without a firm grasp of the whole. Readers of Calvin’s commentaries need to have a copy of the Institutes at hand.

The Institutes as we now have it is the product of a lifetime’s thought and reflection by one of the greatest …

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Praying Through the Scriptures: Joshua 24; Acts 4 (Chad Van Dixhoorn)

Over the years it has been my practice, learned from others, to offer up praises and petitions framed by a passage of Scripture. Some of these passages were read in preparation for preaching, others offered material for meditation in daily devotion; still others were plundered specifically for the purpose of finding fresh material for prayer. As I continue to learn how to pray I have shared a few prayers with my family and friends for their use or adaptation. Here is the fifth prayer–based on Joshua 24–in a series on Praying Through the Scriptures:”Father in heaven, long ago you wrested Abraham from the grip of idolatry, delivered your people at the Red Sea, and preserved them in the wilderness. You reversed the curses of Balaak and issued blessings through Balaam. You gave your people a home they did not build, and food they did not earn. Surely, there is no one like you; surely there is no one who saves as you save.

And now in these latter days you have done even more. You have taken us from our idolatry, delivered your people at Calvary, and continue to preserve us in the wilderness of this world. When our accuser would curse us, you bless us. It is because of you alone that we are now destined for a home that is not our making, and that we will be welcomed at a feast that you yourself will spread. Surely, there is salvation in no else but Jesus; surely there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved and eternally blessed.

And so as we count our blessings, help us Lord to serve you in sincerity and in faithfulness. Help us to be able to say, “as for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Help us never to deal falsely with you who are so true to us. Help us to do what is right in your sight.

And as we recall our salvation and your sustaining hand, give us the grace to share what we have seen and heard and experienced. Grant us the grace to speak with all boldness. Please fill us with your Holy Spirit to that end. In Jesu…

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The Public Reading of Scripture–Presbyterian-Style (Brain Tallman)

In 2011, the session of the church that I pastor sought to educate and assist the members of the church regarding proposed changes that we had decided to make to an important aspect of our corporate worship services. Prior to these changes, unordained men would regularly lead the congregation in the public reading of Scripture and prayer. Desiring to bring our worship into greater conformity with our doctrinal standards and historic Reformed practice, our Session passed a motion limiting the public reading of Scripture to the minister who is preaching.

Since we are a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America, some within the congregation rightfully and insightfully raised the question about the propriety of this change in light of Book of Church Order 50.2. That section reads: “The reading of the Holy Scripture in the congregation is a part of the public worship of God and should be done by the minister or some other person.” Obviously, the phrase in question at the end of the statement is, “or some other person.” So, are we to understand by this phrase that unordained men and women are allowed to read Scripture in a worship service in the PCA? Those who allow unordained men to read the Scripture in public worship appeal to this phrase, as do those who wish to allow women reading Scripture in the context of public worship.

What follows is not intended to be an exegetical wrestling with Scripture about the topic of women or unordained men reading the Scripture in worship; neither is it meant to be a substitution for that. That is, of course, most important and necessary. This is an attempt to investigate the background of BCO 50.2. Additionally, appeal will be made to the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Directory for Public Worship. After all, the BCO should be interpreted in light of those documents due to their respective provenances.

First, if “some other person” means, “anyone else without qualification,” then there is cle…

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Luther on History and National Identity (Aaron Denlinger)

I’ve been preparing a talk on Luther and education for a conference this summer, and so have been reviewing Luther’s 1524 “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany, That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” In examining this work, I’ve been especially struck by Luther’s plea for a stronger dose of history in the curriculum of Germany’s schools. “Among the chief books [needed for the education of German youth],” the reformer writes, “[are] chronicles and histories, in whatever language they may be had; for they are of wondrous value for understanding and controlling the course of this world, and especially for noting the wonderful works of God.”

Luther particularly notes the need for national history in the school curriculum, and laments the lack of reliable German histories extant for that purpose. “How many fine tales and maxims we should have today of things that took place and were current in German lands, not one of which is known to us, simply because there was no one to write them down, and no one to preserve the books had they been written.” Luther compared Germany rather unfavorably to ancient peoples in this regard, noting that “the Greeks and Romans and even the Hebrews recorded their history so accurately and diligently that if but a woman or a child did or said anything unusual, all the world must read and know it.”

As intimated above, Luther viewed a knowledge and understanding of history as fodder for praise. God is sovereign over human history. Knowledge of history, then, equals knowledge of God’s past doings. But Luther also demonstrated rather profound insight into a truth that philosophers of history have only recently made much noise about: the truth that history — or more specifically, national history — plays a crucial role in shaping national identity, and so too national mores. Indeed, history owes at least as much, if not more, power to shape national identity as shared language, ethnicity, and/or rituals. Luther, in other wo…

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To Be A Diaper Changer (Nick Batzig)

I recently happened across a picture online, in which a group of young adults were linking arms at a well attended Christian Conference. The person who had posted the picture wrote a caption underneath it that said something along the following lines: “I don’t just believe in these young men and women; I believe that they can change the world.” A few days later, I came across the self-designation of girl who termed herself a “world changer” in her Twitter bio. One doesn’t have to look far these days to see how ready the better part of young Christians are to embrace grandiose visions about their futures. On one hand, this seems so very noble. After all, as image bearers of God, shouldn’t we desire excellence and seek to be a blessing to as many people in the world as possible? On the other hand, it comes across as supremely naive and somewhat narcissistic to think that I am so important that the entire world needs me and that I will most certainly be a change agent for the entire planet. Perhaps we need a reevaluation of our own personal worth and calling. A “change the world” mentality often ironically serves as a catalyst for discontentment or undue guilt. The common failures and frustrations experienced in the mundane day-in and day-out aspects of life tend to leave those–who had hoped for more importance–jaded or callused as the years progress. Like the person who gains weight over the years and cannot seem to lose it (I know this so well experientially!) has the peculiar temptation of thinking back to the days when they were younger and thinner, the disappointments embraced by those who have misplaced expectations about their own influence can lead to a nostalgic paralysis in later years. Such a mentality also has the adverse effect of inadvertantly leading others to dismiss the importance of the work of the mother who faithfully changes her children’s diapers, drives them to sporting and music practices, takes them to the d…

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Subordination in Scripture: Indivisible Divine Authority in Mutually Defining Relations (Alastair Roberts)

In the previous post in this series, I made some remarks upon the meaning of the term κεφαλή, especially in the context of 1 Corinthians 11:3. Challenging the supposed meaning of this term among certain advocates of the eternal subordination of the Son (ESS) position is important. Not only does it unsettle the frameworks within which authority is conceived of more generally, it also checks a tendency in the direction of univocally applying terms to God and humanity. However, there remains more to be said.

In particular, granting, purely for the sake of argument, that κεφαλή means ‘one in authority (over),’ we still haven’t determined over whom the Father would be in authority. The assumption that the term ‘Christ’ is interchangeable with ‘Son’ in the dogmatic sense of that term is unjustified, as the first term relates to the Son in his human nature, while the second (in the context of dogmatic theology) more typically relates to the Son in his divine nature.

This distinction is not a trivial one, as orthodox theology has readily confessed a submission and obedience proper to Christ in his human nature, a submission which is not appropriate to his divine nature. Calvin writes:”God, then, occupies the first place: Christ holds the second place. How so? Inasmuch as he has in our flesh made himself subject to the Father, for, apart from this, being of one essence with the Father, he is his equal. Let us, therefore, bear it in mind, that this is spoken of Christ as mediator. He is, I say, inferior to the Father, inasmuch as he assumed our nature, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”1

The question of whether a relation of authority and submission obtains between Father and Son in the eternal life of the Trinity is an important one, as our answer to it will frame our understanding of the work of the Son in the divine economy. Such an emphasis upon the oneness and unity of the divine will and authority protects us from the danger of slipping into concei…

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