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Monday, November 21, 2011

Get More Bibles to the Global South

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 2 "God" Sec. A. "God the Father"

"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise. God is Father in truth to those who become children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. He is fatherly in His attitude toward all men."

One of the things in this section that I want to discuss is the distinction made between "Father in truth" and "fatherly in His attitude."

It seems that the F&M here wants to affirm both the scriptural truth that fallen sinful human beings are only made spiritual sons and daughters of God by the adoption that comes with salvation by faith in Christ the eternal Son, as well as the scriptural truth that God rules with providential care over men such that He extends common grace to all men and gives rain and sunshine both to the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45).

While common grace is an extraordinarily important category to affirm from Scripture--the truth that God's mercy is over all His Creation (Psalm 145:9)--it may be slightly misleading to use the language of "fatherly attitude" toward all men. Clearly, there is a difference in at least the kind of "fatherly attitude" God had toward Israel as opposed to the nations He used Israel to drive out of the promised land and utterly destroy. Yes, God loves all men and desires their salvation in at least one sense. But covenantally speaking, God graciously entered into covenant with the nation of Israel alone, and that not for any reason having to do with their righteousness or might compared to other nations. God bound Himself to Israel as her Husband, as Christ does the Church in the New Covenant. And there's a difference between the fatherly attitude of God toward His covenant people (who have repented and trusted in Him ultimately because of His gracious work in their hearts) and His posture of readiness and good will toward those even outside the covenants. The difference is nowhere more clearly seen than in the scriptural texts that also speak of God's hatred for and anger with unrepentant sinners (for example, see Psalm 5:5). Such things are never said of God's attitude toward the Church.

"Fatherly in His attitude toward all men" gets at an important aspect of the universal love and essentially gracious character of God, but for those who recognize the category of sonship under God as primarily a scriptural category of salvation in Christ by faith, it may threaten to blur the distinction between being "in Adam" and "in Christ." It may fail to adequately articulate the important distinction between common and saving grace.

I'm personally more comfortable with the language of "common grace" than with "fatherly attitude toward all men," but as long as the above distinctions are kept in mind, I don't have any final or overwhelming problems with the phrase used in the F&M. We must affirm that God the Father has the personal attributes we would expect of a "divine father." He is the ultimate provider of human needs, He loves His Creation, and shows mercy to all men.

The only other thing I would mention about this section is that I would prefer a stronger statement of God's providence over history than that He reigns over the "flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace." "Flows" and "streams" sound too vague and generalized. I believe the Bible teaches God's exhaustive, active governing of the details of history according to the purposes of self-glorification especially in dispensing grace. Passages that give credence to this idea would include, among others: Proverbs 16:33; Daniel 4:35; Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 46:8-11.

Obviously this idea creates theological problems that the Bible addresses to an extent, although perhaps not to our ultimate intellectual satisfaction. But the idea of God's exhaustive, actively exercised sovereignty over the minutia of all history is designed by God to give comfort and encouragement to believers, and to cause His people to trust that He is wisely working gracious and holy purposes even through all the evil and suffering that occurs in the He has decretally intended to come to pass from all eternity (though He commands against and disapproves of the evil committed by the sinful human and demonic moral agents). We see the clearest examples of this dynamic in the stories of Joseph (summed up in Joseph's word to his brothers in Genesis 50:20) and the crucifixion of Christ as explained by the apostles after the fact (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). The only reason I make the theological leap to applying the same dynamic to all of the rest of history as well is the presence of passages like those listed above about God's sovereignty and providence more generally. They speak just as strongly about all of history.

Again, I may be quibbling over mere semantics. It is likely that the vagueness in this section of the F&M is intentional to allow for a variety of specific views on God's providence among churches wishing to align themselves and cooperate with the SBC. And no one should be faulted for that. Fellowship ought not to be broken over such details of doctrine. Not to say that even details of doctrine are unimportant, but this specific issue is something that the Church universal has wrestled with understanding and articulating for 2000 years now. Still, my personal conviction on the issue remains, and I pray the Church (including myself) will grow in unity and understanding in this area until we all attain to the fullness of spiritual maturity in Christ!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 1 "The Scriptures"

"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation."

I agree wholeheartedly with every word of this section of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. The only reason I bothered to write a post about it was to comment on one detail.

I wish they had gone further in the second to last sentence.

It says that Scripture is "the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried." True enough, as far as it goes! And possibly sufficient for the Message's purpose of delineating a religious confession of faith.

I only wish that it used more exhaustive, universal language about the kinds of ideas and opinions that should be tried by Scripture--namely, all of them. Maybe "religious" is a sufficient term if one thinks of all ideas as being "religious" in the sense of being related to God in some way--antagonistic, indifferent, or otherwise. But at least in our contemporary context, I think that "religious" brings to mind an unfortunately limited realm of thought containing only Theology Proper and specifically church-related, scripture-related, and ritual-related notions.

In actuality, Scripture is the ultimate standard of all truth, as the infallible witness to God's ultimate self-revelation in Christ. All things are related to God, derive their most fundamental meaning only in relation to His existence and character. Therefore there is a sense in which the Bible is not only true in all that it addresses, but it actually addresses everything, even if less directly or obviously in some cases. That is not to say it addresses everything in the same way, or with the same sets of concerns, or in the same categories as those in which we think of things.

For example, the Bible is not concerned to give us a scientifically detailed account of the mechanics of Creation. Now, once we have interpreted Genesis 1 and 2 with careful regard for literary, cultural, historical, and linguistic context, as well as Christocentric hermeneutics and a regard for a scriptural Analogia Fide (a task that is not easy or devoid of controversy even among solid, faithful evangelical interpreters), in principle we could deduce from the biblical text limits on what a faithful Christian may or may not believe even about the "scientific" details of the mechanics of Creation or the lives of the first human beings. For example, even though I am open to a "Framework Hypothesis" view of the six days of Creation as described in Genesis, I am not open to understanding Adam and Eve as anything other than two literal, historical people who were the first human beings (because of convictions I have about what the rest of Scripture also says about Adam, etc.)

In conclusion, this post may have been unnecessary because the Baptist Faith & Message also refers to "all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions" being subject to Scripture as the ultimate standard of truth. "Creeds" here could refer (and interpreted in the best light, should probably be thought of as referring) to all human ideas whatsoever. Nevertheless, I am afraid the word "creed" has the same problems as what I said above about the word "religious." That's why, if I had written the document myself (a scary thought indeed), I would have used clearer and more explicitly exhaustive and universal language about just which human ideas must be subject to the written Word of God (all of them). But I think this chapter of the Faith & Message is great! It has an appropriately high esteem for the written Word.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Series Idea

I'm considering starting a new blog series where I go through some of the major confessions of faith and give some of my personal thoughts about their theological accuracy and balance in the light of (at least my current understanding of) Scripture.

Confessions would, perhaps, include the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message (this might be up first, as it is shorter and very relevant to my context--I may get some interesting feedback from personal friends!); the Augsburg Confession (a Lutheran document); and the Westminster Confession of Faith (a Presbyterian confession). It's possible to also include sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although it is extraordinarily long and highly philosophical instead of being primarily scriptural, due to the Catholic Church's view of the authority of Tradition. So that might be a waste of time. But we'll see. I may also go on from the Westminster Confession to discuss the Westminster Larger Catechism. Who knows how long I'll actually keep this whole thing up.

Right now it's just an idea. If you get a chance, let me know what you think!