December 31, 2010

2010 Top Clicks

We have come to the end of yet another year, which means its time for all and sundry to post their top ten lists of this and that.  Below you will find the posts which have gotten the top clicks on this blog over the course of 2010.  The posts may have been written in previous years but are included in the list if they ranked high enough on page views during 2010.  Thanks for reading and for linking to Incarnatio

December 28, 2010

He Shall Reign Forever and Ever

I was happy to receive Sinclair Ferguson's In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life for Christmas.  Ferguson is a strong writer whose prose often stands as a model combination of style and content.  Here's a brief excerpt that is well-suited for Advent and Christmas devotions:
We do not see everything under man's feet - not yet. But we see Jesus already crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:5-9a) because He tasted death for us (Heb. 2:9). We see Him by faith, and we realize that His enthroned presence in heaven is the guarantee that he will return to consummate the kingdom He has already inaugurated. Then the last word will be spoken; then the final reversal will take place. The new order begun in the resurrection of our King will spread to everything that He claims for Himself: the fissures in the created order will be sealed and transformed; the groans of creation will be heard no longer (Rom. 8:19-22). Everywhere and in everything there will be reflections of His perfect glory. Then loud voices in heaven will be heard saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever!" (Rev. 11:15).
But all of this lay in the future of the Little One wrapped in swaddling cloths in the Bethlehem manger (Luke 2:12). For the present, the One who "binds up the water in His thick clouds" (Job 26:8), the One who can "bind the cluster of the Pleiades" (Job 28:31), Himself lay bound in strips of cloth wrapped around Him under the illusion that otherwise His little limbs might become deformed in later life.
Here are wonders upon wonders: the Strong One is weak; the Infinite One lies in a manger; the Prince of Life dies; the Crucified One lives; the Humiliated One is glorified.
Meekness and majesty, indeed!
Behold, then, your newborn King! Come and Worship Him!
A refreshing meditation as the Christmas season winds down.  A refreshing reminder in the midst of holiday distractions that the Babe of Bethlehem has become the King of the Cosmos.

December 23, 2010

New Books Worth a Look

I wanted to point to a couple of books that I was pleased to see published as of late.  The first is Commentary on Selected Passages in the Four Gospels: Searching the Scriptures for Grace and Guidance; the second is Commentary on Selected Passages in Paul's Letters: Searching the Scriptures for Grace and Guidance; both are authored by Walter Albritton and will certainly be worth a look.  I'm pleased to see these books come out because Walter is to me not only a mentor, pastor, teacher, and colleague but a very dear friend.  I was privileged to sit under his preaching for 13 years, and to this day he is at the top of my call list when I'm in need of wise counsel.  In fact, I actually started this blog after some advice he gave me on becoming a better writer.  I'm excited about these books because I know that so much of his wisdom will fill their pages.  Indeed, these two books are the product of nearly 60 years of pastoral ministry and reflection.  Walter has always been able to draw insights from the scriptures and apply them to the life of the people of God in accessible and encouraging yet challenging and edifying ways.  All who read will benefit from these books.  I'm looking forward to reading them myself.  Keep an eye out for a review or two sometime in future.  If you'd like to get to know Walter a little better, you can check out his blog: Walter Rambling.

December 20, 2010

Gospel Priority

Peter T. O'Brien on Philippians 1:12-26 from The Epistle to the Philippians (NIGTC; Eerdmans, 1991):
For Paul the goal of the gospel's advance overrides all else; thus his personal inconveniences, sufferings, and imprisonment serve this end.  He knows of this surprising progress of the gospel because of the effects of his imprisonment upon those outside the Christian community (v. 13) and because others within the Christian fellowship have been given fresh courage for the work of evangelism (v. 14)...Paul knows of the progress of the gospel through these empirical results (vv. 13-14).  Their presence shows the gospel is making headway at Rome.  At the same time one can describe these results as the advance of the gospel itself, or at least significant elements of its progress (87, emphasis mine).
My guess is that most of us don't typically tend to think of our personal inconveniences and sufferings in light of how they serve the goal of the advance of the gospel.

Seven Pointers on Putting Pen to Paper

I enjoy writing.  If you read this blog, you probably already know that.  I also enjoy reading what other people write about writing.  I like to think I enjoy reading about writing because it is part of developing my own skill; however, it is more likely that I enjoy such reading because I can feel like I'm becoming a better writer without actually putting pen to paper (or digits to keys in this age of word processors).  One writer who has written on writing over the last year is Douglas Wilson.  He began by outlining "Seven Basic and Brief Pointers for Writers".  He then, it seems, decided to elaborate on those brief pointers in a series of posts which came out periodically from April to Novemeber.  I enjoy Doug's writing, and I've enjoyed this series on writing.  So, I thought I'd summarize and point the way to it here.  Each pointer is linked to the explanatory post.
  1. Know something about the world.
  2. Stretch before your routines.
  3. Learn other languages, preferably languages that are upstream from ours.
Each post brings the typical Dougish blend of humor and wisdom.  You'll have to click through to get all of that, though.  Enjoy.

December 18, 2010

The Leadership Dynamic: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders

Books on Christian leadership abound these days, and many take the approach of applying insights from the secular business world to the church in order to aid church leaders in building successful organizations.  This is not an altogether unhelpful approach.  I've read several of these books and have benefited from them in various ways.  On several occasions I've come away with ideas and initiatives that I've found to be truly helpful in leading a local church.  But each time I've been a bit cautious at the basic assumption that business leadership models should be taken as the primary way of thinking about developing the leaders of the church.  That's why I was hopeful when Harry Reeder's The Leadership Dynamic (Crossway 2008) was recommended to me.  The subtitle says it all: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders. 

Reeder is also wary of starting with the business leadership models of secular culture when thinking about cultivating leaders for the church.  Thus, instead of going outside the Christian tradition for insight, Reeder goes straight to scripture to see if a biblical model  for leadership development can be found; his answer: an emphatic yes.  Without going into the details of the book, Reeder's overall framework is what he calls "3-D Leadership": Defining, Developing, and Deploying Christian leaders.  The chapters of the book fall basically into these three categories to articulate a comprehensive plan for developing Christian leaders that is thoroughly biblical and rooted in historic Christian belief. 

Let me mention three features of Reeder's book that are particularly commendable.  First, when Reeder says he is giving a biblical model, he isn't kidding.  This book is scripture saturated.  Every leadership principle is grounded in or drawn from the biblical text.  The strength here is that we know we are not twisting an idea from a non-Christian context to try and make it fit church culture.  Instead, the result of Reeder's method is a model of leadership development that is shaped and refined through scriptural interaction.  Second, if Reeder's first calling is that of a pastor, his second is that of historian.  The book is chock full of historical vignettes that make Reeder's points vividly.  Many of the short but potent narratives are drawn from the lives of Christians who made leadership decisions based on their understanding of scripture, which clearly falls within Reeder's goals.  Third, Reeder is ridiculously good at coming up with short and punchy memorable maxims that help the reader follow and remember his main points.  This makes the book highly readable and easy to follow.  For these reasons and others, I highly recommend Harry Reeder's The Leadership Dynamic: A Biblical Model for Raising Effective Leaders.

December 17, 2010

Education Vouchers and So-called Private Schools: What's at Stake and What's the Solution?

New Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott is catching some heat for his suggestion that all Florida children receive vouchers which can be redeemed at public or private schools.  The plan is controversial because a mass exodus from public schools is feared were the government to give vouchers for students to attend schools of their parents choice, be they public or private.  The vouchers are expected to be worth $5,500 dollars, which is the amount it costs to educate a pupil in the state education system.   

At issue here is whether private schools ought to honor government vouchers.  I champion the view that they should not.  "Why?" you ask.  Good question.  Once private schools begin to accept government funding in any form, even vouchers, then they are basically ceasing to be private schools.  Seldom does the government pass out cash with no strings attached.  The recent government bailout of General Motors and the subsequent executive branch canning of that company's CEO make that point with clarity.  It's not hard to imagine the government putting educational and ideological stipulations on which so-called private schools can receive funding in the form of school vouchers.  Imagine this scenario:  Let's say a private school begins honoring government vouchers.  A couple of years later and after some law suits over the use of public funds to pay for private education, the government implements stipulations about what curriculum can be used in private schools if they want to keep the cash flow coming in the form of vouchers.  By this time, the school has increased its enrollment and hired on a lot of new teachers.  What do they do?  Decrease enrollment and lay off a bunch of teachers when they can't afford to pay them because they don't have the government funds?  Or just keep on taking the cash and adjust the curriculum (and eventually everything else) in line with government regulations?  Obviously, most will keep taking the cash.  And now the government is calling the shots in the private schools.  And the private schools aren't really private any more.  So, should private schools accept government vouchers?  Not if they want to stay private. 

What is the solution then?  I propose that instead of vouchers, states that truly desire to grant to parents the freedom to choose the way their children are educated should allow a tax credit to those families who elect to use private education.  This tax credit could be set to the tune of what it costs to educate a child in whatever state is in question, $5,500 in Florida.  This would free up money for children to attend private schools and avoid the problem of government checks being written to private schools.  Of course, the problem with this plan in Florida is that there are no state income taxes.  In this case, the government could just cut families who opt out of public education the $5,500 check.  I certainly don't expect to see this plan in legislation any time soon.  It's way too conservative; way too small government; way too hands-off my kids and their education.  It would, however, provide for a truly free parental choice in the education of their children, which is what Governor-elect Scott claims to advocating.  It would also guarantee that private schools stay private, which is very important. 

December 16, 2010

The Gift of Death

To say I am appalled at the news that Planned Parenthood of Indiana is selling gift certificates that can be redeemed for abortions would be an understatement.  This is depravity beyond words.  And I almost find it hard to believe that anyone, even a merchant-of-death company like Planned Parenthood, would stoop to such a level to peddle their evil services.  The leading provider of abortions in the United States says that the certificates are intended to encourage women not to forgo important heath care.  But Planned Parenthood is a for-profit company, and the reason for-profit companies sell things like gift certificates is, well, for profit.  Now profit is not bad in and of itself.  Profit is evil, though, when it is made by taking advantage of women who are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically vulnerable and on the slaughtering of countless little ones robbed of life before having the opportunity to breath outside their mother's womb.

Beyond all that, what kind of person would give one of these things to another person anyway?  What a way to say you care.  You know; spread a little holiday cheer...with an abortion gift certificate.  I can see it now.  A teenage mom-to-be is getting up on a snowy white Christmas morning.  She has struggled with what to do and where to go for help.  She is looking for a little hope and maybe even some joy on this holy day, and what does she find stuffed in her Christmas stocking?  Not a lump of coal but a big fat book of gift certificates good for one abortion if used before the expiration date.  So, make your appointment and hurry on in.  Can't you just feel the last semblance of hope and joy sucked right out of the holiday?  What a ridiculously bad idea.  So, if you're looking for a last minute gift idea, there's always the gift of death.

Methodists and the Meaning of Membership

I was pleasantly surprised to see Bishop Will Willimon's recent  blog post on the importance of "Making Membership Mean Something."  I was excited because I have begun to think recently that the meaning of membership may be the issue facing United Methodists now and in the coming years.  Many of our denominational battles revolve around the meaning of membership; indeed, some have tried through various means to make membership absolutely meaningless.  In recent years these attempts have included legislation to General Conference and petitions to the Judicial Council calling for removal of the pastor's authority and responsibility to determine readiness for membership.  Others have fought to maintain biblical standards for church membership.  One thing we have not done is define the biblical meaning of church membership for United Methodists.  We should not be so blind as to think this will not be a difficult and even painful battle.  Indeed, it has been already.  The notion of increased expectations, accountability, and service as part of the meaning of United Methodist membership will be tough to swallow for some.  But if the denomination is going to make it, we must be willing to step up to the challenge.  If United Methodist's are to be faithful in our mission to "make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," we must first transform our understanding of membership and discipleship; we must get serious about the biblical meaning of church membership.

December 15, 2010

SBL Student Survey on Policy Changes

The Student Advisory Board of the SBL is conducting a survey of student members on their perceptions of the policy changes regarding student presentations at the annual meeting.  I found the survey through Michael Halcomb's website: Pisteuomen.  Here's what he says:
As many of you may know, there has been considerable conversation about new policies regarding students and student paper presentations at the SBL Annual Meetings. The Student Advisory Board (SAB) has been collecting feedback for a response to be sent to the SBL Executive Council. As part of this response, we would like to include the results of a short survey gauging your responses to these new policies. This will allow us who are on the SAB to present hard data alongside written feedback. If you can, please take just a couple of minutes and fill out this survey.
Here's the link to the survey.  I hope student members will make their voices heard.  Perhaps these policies will be changed.

Wednesday with Wesley: JW on Holiness & Resurrection

Here's a short exerpt from John Wesley on the manner in which the Christian should live in light of the future hope of bodily resurrection from the dead:
Be ye steadfast - In yourselves. Unmovable - By others; continually increasing in the work of faith and labour of love. Knowing your labour is not in vain in the Lord - Whatever ye do for his sake shall have its full reward in that day. Let us also endeavour, by cultivating holiness in all its branches, to maintain this hope in its full energy; longing for that glorious day, when, in the utmost extent of the expression, death shall be swallowed up for ever, and millions of voices, after the long silence of the grave, shall burst out at once into that triumphant song, O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory? (Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, 1 Cor 15:58).

Scientific Evidence for Noah's Deluge?

I came across the Ugley Vicar's link to this story: Life may have survived 'Snowball Earth' in ocean pockets.  According to the article, "researchers in Britain and Australia claim to have found deposits in the remote Flinders Ranges in South Australia which bear the unmistakable mark of turbulent oceans."  Hmm...the unmistakable mark of turbulent oceans in the middle of a mountain range.  The Vicar indicates that he is quite tempted to call this evidence for the biblical flood during the time of Noah.  I think I'm a bit more than tempted.  It always makes me chuckle when the scientific guild provides evidence that suggests we can trust the scriptures.  I'll leave you with the citation from the biblical record which this geologic discovery would seem to corroborate: "The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mighly on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered (Genesis 6:17-19, ESV). 

SBL Restricts Student Participation

Along with other student members of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), I recently received an email letter from John F. Kutsko, Executive Director of SBL, informing me of changes that have been made by the Council of SBL to the way in which student members may participate in the SBL Annual Meeting.  Here are those changes:
1. All students without a doctoral degree are required to submit to the Program Unit Chair the full text of the paper they will read. The paper will be submitted at the time of proposal. Student proposers will submit the paper they intend to read, not a full-length article intended for written distribution.
2. The number of sessions students can participate in will be limited to one. This policy pertains to participation as panelist, presenter, and respondent.
As a student member of SBL currently at work on my doctoral degree, I was extremely disappointed over these changes.  These restrictions put students at a disadvantage in the presentation proposal review process and, if maintained, will ultimately lead to reduced student participation in the Annual Meetings, a consequence of which will be less interaction with and feedback from other scholars which is so valuable to ongoing doctoral research.  Let me flesh a few of these points out in more detail.
  1. Student participation will be reduced.  If students are required to turn in their full paper at the time of proposal, then their time to conduct and complete their research is reduced by more than eight months.  Research that will not be presented until November is now due in February.  I finished the final draft of my 2010 paper presentation only days before the conference.  I had expected to get to work on some other ideas for 2011, submit them as proposals, and, if accepted, be able to conduct and finish the research over the course of the next year.  The idea of having all the research completed and written up by the first of March is crippling and near impossible given the responsibilities of my work and as a student.  This change in SBL policy is demoralizing and discourages me from attempting to put the work together in less than half the time to which I am accustomed.  This sadly means that it is unlikely that I will submit a proposal for next year.  From the looks of things circling on the blogs, my fellow student members feel the same way.  What is said to be an aid to students will ultimately strip us of previous opportunity and valuable experience.
  2. If student participation is reduced, students will have less opportunity to receive feedback on their work.  My first presentation at SBL was in 2008, while I was an M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary.  It went very well, and I had some very interesting and helpful interaction during the Q & A time after my presentation.  Given the significantly increased difficulty in gaining acceptance at the Annual Meeting, I can kiss such feedback and interaction goodbye.  The SBL is supposed to be fostering biblical scholarship and the next generation of biblical scholars.  To implement restrictions that will inevitably decrease student participation is a contradiction to the stated mission and vision of the SBL. 
  3. In the past, the peer reviewers of the paper proposals did not know which proposals came from students and which came from senior scholars.  Now that students have to submit full manuscripts as opposed to titles and abstracts, it will be quite clear who the students are.  This will make it impossible to prevent biased decisions against student papers and in favor of those written by holders of the Ph.D. and places students at a distinct disadvantage in the review process.  This undermines the credibility of SBL as an unbiased organization that professes to value inclusiveness, collegiality, and scholarly integrity.
  4. These changes may qualify as a breach of contract.  I registered as a student member under the condition that I would "receive all the same benefits as a full member."  Now that student members are not granted all the benefits of full membership (e.g. reduced appearances and increased proposal requirements), it would seem that the SBL has violated the terms of our membership agreement and may be legally liable for that infringement.  It doesn't appear that they really thought this one through. 
For these reasons, the new restrictions to student involvement at SBL meetings are an insult to student members and a stain on the reputation of the Society of Biblical Literature. So much for fostering the future of biblical scholarship.

December 14, 2010

Will the NIV Lose its Base?

I summarized some of the controversy over the new NIV 2011 in a recent post.  This has prompted some thoughts on whether the primary readership of the NIV will change.  One friend has predicted a massive exodus on the part of Southern Baptists based on what may be percieved as some liberal tendency in the new translation of the NIV (see that previous post for more).  I suspect the NIV probably will lose some of its traditional readers, but I suspect most who use it in the larger evangelical world will probably stick with it for the sake of familiarity and sentimental reasons.  I tend to think the NIV 2011 may pick up some new readers as well, particularly if it seems less biased against women in positions of ministry leadership.  So, even if there are some who bail on the new edition, I suspect that things will probably balance out in the end.  It will likely be quite some time before the NIV is eclipsed as one of the most widely used translations.  What about you?  Will you try out the new NIV?  Or will you leave it behind? 

December 11, 2010

More on the Arminocalvinist Spectrum

Adrian Warnock has responded to my previous post on his discussion of the Arminocalvinist spectrum.  Here's what he says:
I do take your point about the Open Theists, but we have to put up with the Hypercalvinists who’s attachment to the doctrines of grace leaves them seeming graceless! I genuinely believe that is one of those debates where those closest to the middle, far from compromising, seem to be closest to the Bible. Truth be told, sometimes the Bible itself sounds quite Arminian, and at other times I would argue it definitely sounds quite Calvinist!
Likewise, I take your point on the Hypercalvinists.  I also agree that the points closer to the middle are probably better reflections of scripture.  I wanted to add that I think we agree that what really matters is one's love for Christ and the scriptures.  I can work with people who disagree with me on resistible grace, if they get excited about Jesus.  I also think that the more Calvinistic emphases on the transcendence, glory, and majesty of God should be absorbed by Arminians.  I have benefited greatly from many Calvinist preachers and writers.  We would all do well to see what we can learn from each other in an effort to honor our common Lord and grow in our understanding of the scriptures. Again, thanks for the interaction.  It has been fun and beneficial.

Spectrum or Divide? A Response to Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has recently written on: An Arminocalvinist spectrum, or why it’s not so simple as Arminians vs Calvinists.  I would like to note a few items in response, but let me say first that I appreciate Adrian and the tone he has taken as a mediator in this debate.  Adrian has served Christ's church in many ways, especially with his book, Raised with Christ: How the Resurrection Changes Everything, which, as the title indicates, points to the centrality and importance of Christ's resurrection (and the believer's) for the Christian faith.  Let me say that I also appreciate the irenic tone that Adrian has taken in the Arminian/Calvinist debate.  I aim to take that same tone in my response.  Adrian is looking for ways to unite those with somewhat different views on how God accomplishes and applies his saving work in Christ to those who believe.  That is a noble and helpful endeavor that should be undertaken by more.  All too often, we Christians focus on what divides us rather than on that which unites.  These things said, here are a few thoughts in response to Adrian's "Arminocalvinist spectrum".

First, it is quite helpful to point out the differences (or spectrum of beliefs) within the larger Calvinist and Arminian groups.  There are things that Calvinists disagree on; the same is the case with Arminians as well.  Different people mean different things by these labels.  So, Adrian's taxonomy, which utilizes qualifiers like hard, moderate, or soft, is very helpful in that it provides nuance to differing views within each larger position.  This taxonomy also nicely highlights the fact that some brands of Arminianism are closer to Calvinism that others.  For example, I probably fall in the "Reformed Arminian" group, which would likely put me closer to Calvinism that it would an open theist.  This is a benefit of the taxonomy because while both myself and an open theist might be labeled Arminian, I would much prefer that others see me as closer to Calvinism than open theism. 

Second, while there are variations within the Calvinist and Arminian camps, we should remember that there are specific differences between them as well.  The divide comes down to whether or not God overcomes the wills of those whom he saves; that is, the divide is over the nature of grace, whether it is resistible or irresistible.  The spectrum of Calvinist views in Adrian's taxonomy are united by their belief that God acts in such a way upon his elect to overcome their resistance, and that he does not act in this way upon those who have not been chosen.  All the Arminian groups, on the other hand, believe that God doesn't act in such a way as to irresistibly overcome any person's will.  So, while there is a spectrum of belief, we shouldn't forget the divide in the midst of the spectrum.

Third, I'm very hesitant to grant the Arminian name to open theists, though many of them would want to adopt it.  My hesitancy stems from my readings of James Arminius and John Wesley.  Both saw God's foreknowledge of faith as essential to the doctrine of predestination.  God elects those whom he knows will one day believe.  If God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge and cannot foresee faith, then neither can he elect on the condition of faith.  The result is that the historical Arminian soteriology goes out the window and must be replaced with something else.  Is it is accurate to place two highly contrasting views of salvation in the same camp?  I tend to think not, though many on both sides of the debate would disagree in this case.

To close this post out, let me say again that I appreciate Adrian's work and think his post is quite helpful.  This debate needs more like him who will look for what unites us rather than bombard each other over what divides.  I hope this post contributes to just that.

December 10, 2010

Warring Worldviews

In a recent post, I highlighted some thoughts from John Oswalt's The Bible Among the Myths on the matter of science and the way that the Christian worldview undergirds it.  Here's another gem from the first chapter in which Oswalt reveals his agenda for this book.  I don't know about you, but when I read this I got excited.
In this book I want to examine the distinctive view of reality that is first found in the Old Testament as it presently stands and which provides the underlying assumptions for the New Testament.  I will show why current attempts to describe the Bible as one more of the world's great myths are incorrect.  I will argue that in the end there are only two worldviews: the biblical one and the other one.  I will demonstrate why the Christian faith cannot be other than exclusivist.  I will show how current trends in the United States in particular are the logical result of the loss of biblical faith.  In passing, I will ask whether any other explanation than the one the Bible claims (direct communication with the one God) can explain where this understanding of reality came from.  In the end I hope to have convinced younger readers especially of the necessity of standing absolutely firm on the biblical understanding of reality and of giving no quarter to what is, in the end, the enemy (28).
And somehow people have a hard time believing this guy is Methodist?

December 9, 2010

What About Imputation? More on N.T. Wright at ETS

In a recent post, I said that N.T. Wright's presentation at ETS surprised me with regard to two areas: his clarification regarding final justification and the role of works and his comments on imputation.  Here are my reflections on the role of works.  Now on to the matter of imputation.

Wright has often suggested that the Reformed doctrine of imputation makes righteousness out to be a gas-like substance that can be passed across the divine courtroom from judge to defendant.  I thought this was an interesting and, perhaps, valid objection; that is, until I read some Reformed writings on imputation.  I then discovered that Wright's portrayal of imputation was a caricature and that he was knocking down a straw man.  No serious Reformed thinker thinks of imputed righteousness as a substance that can be passed around like a gas.  It would seem that the debate was at an impasse.

I do think, though, that some of Wright's comments at ETS may provide room for some progress in the debate.  If I recall correctly, at the end of his talk he indicated that through faith the believer is united to Christ and, as a result, that which is true of Jesus becomes true of the believer as well, which may very well include Christ's righteousness, even though the Bible doesn't really speak that way of Christ.  Wright said that you could call that imputation, but that this is not what the Reformers meant by the word.  Wright is concerned about the idea of merit being acquired by Christ and shifted to the believer.  He charged that those were medieval categories that the Reformers took on board but shouldn't have, and that may or may not be the case.  I'm no historical theologian, so I'll avoid saying too much about what the Reformers said. 

I would suggest, though, that the concept of faith-union with Christ as the way in which that which is true of Christ becomes true of those in Christ is a good place to start an attempt to move forward.  I think Wright and the Reformed camp could agree on this.  If Christ has indeed been justified, that is declared righteous, because of his perfect obedience, and if those who are in Christ share with him all that is his, then it is right to say that the verdict that came to Christ because of his obedience (merit?) is reckoned to the believer because they are joined to Christ by faith.  The imputation of Christ's righteousness would be shorthand for that rather long sentence.  I think both sides could agree with this summary.  If not, someone out there help me out.

Science and the Creator

In the opening chapter of his recent book, The Bible Among the Myths, John Oswalt, of Asbury Theological Seminary, takes the opening chapter to describe the contrast between the Greek philosophers, who intuited a unifying principle behind the universe, and the Hebrews, who believed in the revelation of the one transcendent God.  The problem, he suggests, for the Greeks was that their philosophy had not been proven on the testing ground of life; it never took hold among the populous that was committed to myth and contradiction.  The problem for the Hebrews was that they had not worked out the logical and philosophical implications of their monotheism.  It the gospel of Jesus Christ, which presupposed the Hebrew worldview, that confronted the Greco-Roman world and brought about "the combination of the Greek and Hebrew worldviews in the distinctively Christian way" (25).  Oswalt goes on to draw some conclusions regarding the nature of the relationship between science and the biblical worldview:
One important conclusion that must be drawn from all this is that contrary to the nineteenth- and twentieth-century delusion, science and logic are not self-evident.  They cannot stand on their own. It was not until the biblical idea of one personal, transcendent, purposeful Creator was allowed to undergird them that science and logic were able to be fully developed and to come into their own.  Without that undergirding, they fall to the ground under a barrage of contrary data, just as Euripides' pale, rationalistic men fell under the knives of the vital, earthy women.  We in the last two centuries have shown the truth of this statement. We have tried to make logic and science stand on their own, and they have begun to destroy themselves (26-27).

December 8, 2010

Room in the Camp

Arminians are often characterized as believing that a true Christian can lose his salvation.  I suspect this is probably the reason that many non-Calvinistic Baptists refuse to be labeled as Arminians.  But according to Roger Olson, the matter is not so cut and dry: "Arminius himself never settled the matter. His strongest statement about it was that 'I should not readily dare to say that true and saving faith may finally and totally fall away.'" (Olson, Arminian Theology, 187). The Arminius quote is from his "Examination of Dr. Perkin's Pamphlet," which can be found in the London edition of The Works of Arminius (3:454).  Some of Arminius' followers went the way of believing that true Christians cannot fall from grace, while others went on to affirm that one's salvation can indeed be lost.  The point is this: Arminianism is a big enough camp for both prespectives to pitch their tents.  Critics of Arminianism should be more careful to acknowledge that some Arminians do indeed believe in the final perseverance of all true believers, and that the room for this position comes straight from the writings of Arminius himself.  Hopefully, those non-Calvinists who resist the Arminian label because of its "lose your salvation" associations will come to see that there is room in the camp for them as well.  As I've said before, a two-point Calvinist makes a fine classical Arminian.

December 7, 2010

Is the New NIV Going Liberal?

That appears to be the concern of some in the blogosphere concerning the translation of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the new edition of the NIV due out in 2011.  The original NIV translated this verse: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”  The NIV 2011 has announced a new translation which reads: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."  Craig Blomberg and Douglas Moo, both of the NIV 2011 Committee on Bible Translation (CBT), have said that this translation was chosen because it was neutral and did not take a particular theological stance on the issue of women serving in pastoral ministry.  The accuracy of the new translation has seen some discussion at BibleGateway.com

Against the new translation, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) has said that it cannot endorse the NIV 2011 because of problematic translations like that of 1 Timothy 2:12.  Other strong objections have been leveled against this translation move.  Denny Burk of Boyce College fears that "readers may very well conclude that women may exercise authority over men (i.e., serve as pastors) so long as they do not 'assume' that authority independently."  And Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, believes that "At worst...the NIV makes it sound like Paul is against the inappropriate assumption of authority, not women-over-men authority in general."

What do you think?  Is the NIV 2011 providing a faithful translation that could be interpreted in either direction?  Or have the translators given into the pressure of Egalitarians?

December 5, 2010

The Role of Works: Further Reflection on N.T. Wright at ETS

Thanks very much to Revd. John P. Richardson for directing his readership to my post reflecting on Tom Wright's recent comments at ETS.  So many of you clicked through that I thought I would say a bit more regarding my brief comments in the previous post.  So, I'll take a post on the matter of the role of works and one on the matter of imputation language. 

As indicated previously, I was quite pleased with Wright's statement that he affirmed the language of final justification "according to works" over against "on the basis of works."  I was pleased with this move because I raised just this question at the IVP lecture at SBL in New Orleans last year.  I raised the question because Piper very clearly asked Wright for clarification in his book The Future of Justification (22).  Piper did not charge Wright with teaching justification on the basis of works but pointed out that he regularly spoke of final justification on the basis of the whole life lived; Piper carefully cited several places where Wright has said this or a slight variation of it.  To Piper, this came across as suggesting that our works were the basis of our justification.  So, Piper asked for clarification.  In my reading of Wright's response to Piper, I didn't find any real clarification on this point.  So, I asked for clarification at the IVP lecture: Is justification on the basis of the whole life or in accordance with the whole life?  Insofar as my memory is accurate, Wright indicated that he believed that to be a distinction that is not made in the Greek.  Very well; that is a response.  Given the opportunity, I would suggest that this may be the precise distinction made when Paul speaks of judgment as each being repaid according to his works (kata ta erga Rom 2.6) as opposed no man's inability to be justified from works of the law (ex erg┼Źn nomou Rom 3:20).  That would have to be worked out in a much longer discussion; I simply submit it here as a potential avenue of conversation. 

The main point I'm getting at is that I took Wright to have actually thought through this a bit more and made the clarification for which he was repeatedly asked.  Last year he didn't see a distinction between "basis" and "according to"; this year he has said that he agrees with judgment according to works over against judgment on the basis of works.  In my hearing of Wright and my reading of his clarification at The Ugley Vicar, I think he is saying that final justification is in accord with the works produced by the Spirit indwelling the believer.  I think Piper would agree with this as well. 

Given all that, I really think the talks at ETS provided an opportunity to make progress in the conversation on justification.  Tune in next time for some post-ETS reflections on imputation.

December 4, 2010

Belated ETS & SBL Reflections

I'm a bit behind most in the blogosphere who have already posted reflections on the recent annual gatherings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature in Atlanta.  Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts:

1. This was the first year I attended ETS.  I was struck by the charity and reverence throughout.  You might be surprised to hear that I was struck in this way, ETS being a confessional professional society composed of people who are supposed to be, well, evangelical.  Academic conferences are not always the most charitable gatherings with many eager to present their work and critique that of others.  But this was different.  There was a certain attitude about the place, a certain holiness; this was a gathering of people who typically seemed to love Christ and his church, a gathering of people who desire to serve Christ and his church.  That would not be typical of academic conferences, even in theology.

2. As many have written, one of the best things about these conferences is the opportunity to gather with old friends and make new ones.  I enjoyed catching up with many I've not seen since these conferences gathered last year.  Catching up with classmates and professors at the Asbury reception is always a highlight.

3. Speaking of Asbury, let me say that I was quite glad to see a number of Asbury Seminary people at ETS.  In the past, you might only find one or two Asbury profs present.  I was happy to see several of Asbury's doctoral students and hear a paper from Dr. John Oswalt, who is now in Wilmore once again.  Asbury's president, Dr. Tim Tennent, was slated to present as was Dr. Robert Coleman, who has also moved to Wilmore.  I'm not sure if he's teaching or not, though I imagine many would hope for it.  This is significant because Asbury has had a reputation for a bit of a leftward shift in recent years.  In light of that, I was very encouraged to see an increasing Asbury presence at ETS.  Wilmore seems to have gotten an evangelical influx in the last couple of years, for that we can be thankful.

4. I thought the plenary discussions on "Justification by Faith" at ETS were especially helpful and served to move forward what has, at times, become a stale conversation.  Thomas Schreiner's presentation was very clear and kind.  Frank Thielman's proposal that dikaiosune theou (righteousness of God) is polyvalent and includes the concept of "God's fairness" was highly stimulating, entirely fresh, well-argued, and carried significant potential for common ground in the justification debate, if, of course, he is right.  I'm not ready to pronounce a verdict; his proposal needs time to simmer.  I was a bit surprised at how close Thielman landed to Tom Wright, which brings me to his presentation.  Wright surprised me as well.  I somewhat expected him to dig his heels in and simply restate what he had said in the past; this, of course, is basically what he did in his last book on justification, which disappointed me.  If one is going to take the time to write a book, then he ought to be sure to move the discussion forward.  But Wright really answered some questions this time.  Two particularly surprising moves were his statements (1) that final justification would be in accordance with works rather than on the basis of works and (2) that he might be comfortable with imputation language depending on how carefully it was defined.  These are movements towards the middle of the debate for Wright.  If you want more see the summary post by Andrew Cowan and a clarification post by Wright himself.  To my Southern friends, let me apologize now, but it cracked me up when Wright suggested some neo-Catholicism lurking behind closed doors at Southern Seminary (UPDATE: more on Wright at ETS here). 

5. Last and most likely least, my paper presentation at SBL was largely uneventful.  It went smoothly, and no one challenged my thesis.  No one said anything actually, which means either that the paper was not all that significant or that it was so clear and precise that everyone was stunned silent.  I'll opt for the latter.  There was one senior scholar present who was nodding as I read the conclusion; so I'll take that as encouragement and roll with it.