Archive for May 2013
What follows are some thoughts on Klaas Schilder’s Christ and Culture (PDF).
I had been aware that there was some falling out between Schilder and followers of Kuyper, but wasn’t sure what the nature of the disagreements were. From this book, it seems at a minimum that there was disagreement over the possibility of common grace, and over the notion of presumptive regeneration of covenant children. Steven Wedgewords provides some additional background information.
I appreciate many of the points that Schilder stresses in this book. He reminds us that the work of individuals must be evaluated with respect to Jesus — our work is pleasing to God only to the degree that we receive things with thanksgiving and offer our work to him in faith and worship. There is a distinctively Christian way to eat a bowl of ice cream, paint a painting or mow the lawn. Or, to put it in other terms, even our working must undergo a sort of death and resurrection if it is to be pleasing to God. And by extension, if we are to speak with Kuyper of “spheres” of life, the church as the center of worship and the center of the Spirit’s out-breaking into the world, holds a central and formative position relative to all other spheres. Schilder offers all this as a criticism of Kuyper; I’m not familiar enough with Kuyper to know how well it sticks, but it is something with which I agree.
There are some areas where I disagree with Schilder. On the petty side, I disagree with some of his application of imagery from Revelation. More significantly, I question his suggestion that Christianity or that Calvinism should be expected to beget a single peculiar style. I don’t think this is a necessary consequence of his principles, although I do think that as Christianity develops in a nation one would expect to see the church and her worship fostering a more mature or “high” style throughout the culture. The kings who bring gifts to Jesus in Psalm 68, Revelation 21, etc. may be attired differently, but they will all be invested with glory of one sort or another.
My most significant area of disagreement is with Schilder’s deduction (primarily in chapter 18, but appearing throughout) that we cannot speak of a “common grace” in the sense that Kuyper and others would have. He deduces this in a very hyper-Calvinistic manner from God’s eternal decrees: since God intends to condemn the reprobate, everything that they enjoy and do, and even the very lengthening of their life, is fitted for the purpose of their destruction and is not fit to be called grace. But Scripture reveals that God is always doing more than one thing at once; it is false to say that, because God intends to condemn someone, that what he is giving them now is not a genuine gift or an expression of of genuine love. As Mark Horne chides:
So the question arises: Did God love Adam and Eve? Were His good gifts to them a revelation of His love for them, or were they snares meant to hurt them? The answer must be that, though God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass, and ultimately causes all things, God’s gifts and offers of future reward are all genuine expressions of a genuine love. It may be difficult to conceive of how this objective revelation in history is to be reconciled with God’s eternal decrees, yet it is perverse to use the decrees to deny that God’s gifts and promises are motivated by love. The fact is, just as without God’s love there is no ground for God’s jealousy, so without God’s good gifts there is no ground for holding ingrates accountable for how they abuse and pervert these gifts. It was Satan’s strategy, after all, to deny that God loved Adam and Eve. If our inferences from God’s decrees put us in Satan’s camp, we need to rethink our position.
We know from passages like Romans 1:21 that unbelievers no less than believers have an obligation to give thanks to God for all they have. More than that, there is a history in the reformed tradition of recognizing that these gifts from God are in fact a spillover from the cross. While this is not saving grace, it is a gift none the less. This explains passages such as 1 Tim. 4:10. Consider Charles Hodge:
Augustinians do not deny that Christ died for all men. What they deny is that he died equally, and with the same design, for all men. He died for all, that He might arrest the immediate execution of the penalty of the law upon the whole of our apostate race; that He might secure for men the innumnerable blessings attending their state on earth, which, in one important sense, is a state of probation; and that He might lay the foundation for the offer of pardon and reconciliation with God, on condition of faith and repentance.
These are the universally admitted consequences of his satisfaction, and therefore they all come within its design. By this dispensation it is rendered manifest to every intelligent mind in heaven and upon earth, and to the finally impenitent themselves, that the perdition of those that perish is their own fault. They will not come to Christ that they may have life. They refuse to have Him to reign over them. He calls but they will not answer. He says, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” Every human being who does come is saved.
This is what is meant when it is said, or implied in Scripture, that Christ gave Himself as a propitiation, not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. . . .
While I believe Schilder is wrong in saying that we cannot regard the abilities and work of unbelievers as a genuine gift from God, he is right to remind us that no working is neutral with respect to God. So there are multiple layers we must wrestle with — not only the permissibility of our enjoying the work, but also how we are to regard the worker. And yet there are a great many works of unbelievers that we can receive and enjoy with thanksgiving, and even offer to God in worship.
See also: Common grace.
A friend pointed me to a commentary on contemporary worship by Carl Trueman. Trueman suggests that “Christian worship should immerse people in the reality of the tragedy of the human fall and of all subsequent human life.” He commends the Scottish tradition and its “somber tempos of the psalter, the haunting calls of lament, and the mortal frailty of the unaccompanied human voice.”
I’m not a fan of happy-clappy worship, but I believe that Trueman errs on the wrong side. To be fair, Trueman wants tragedy to be woven together with joy and triumph. I agree that we should cover the whole emotional and experiental palette of the Psalms (I would suggest covering all the Psalms themselves). But I raise my eyebrows at “somber” and think that we should err on the side of being outright Pentecostal.
Here’s why: Whatever balance we strike, death cannot become a primary emphasis; it needs to fit properly in a broader story arc that exults, “O death, where is your sting?” History itself is a comedy (in the technical sense) rather than a tragedy, and if we want the worship service to tell the gospel story, then it may have a sense of agon-contest, but will always move towards and culminate in an exuberant, matrimonial, comedic denouement. We worship on Sunday rather than Friday or Saturday: every Lord’s day is a miniature Easter. Also, if our Lord’s-day worship is an assembly and meal in the very presence and house of our king and husband, then something like Nehemiah 8:9-12 should apply (“do not mourn or weep . . . do not be grieved”), at least for the vast majority of worship services. Consider, too, the ratio of feasts to fasts in the old covenants. To mention but one important precedent, the Sabbath was a weekly feast (Lev. 23:1-3).
While a rock band might not be appropriately majestic for the king (compare the bizarre and unbecoming James Bond sequence in the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony), neither is a dirge:
So David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing. And because God helped the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as also were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the music of the singers. And David wore a linen ephod. So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres.
And as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart. — 1 Chronicles 15:25-29
We should take notes from David and not Michal on how we are to behave when we have an audience and meal with the king of kings.
See also: Ascent.
Today is Ascension Sunday. Psalm 97 exults:
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods!
Zion hears and is glad,
and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O Lord.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
He preserves the lives of his saints;
he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!
God covenanted with Noah and the world:
Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” — Gen. 8:20-22
Jeremiah later gave a prophecy that seems to allude to this:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name: “If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.”
Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.” — Jer. 31:31-37
I have suggested elsewhere that there are some subtleties here in Jeremiah that we typically overlook. For one, given its context, this passage has a dual fulfillment, fulfilled proximately and partially in the return from exile, and ultimately and fully in Jesus (Heb. 8-10). Furthermore, this passage and the quotations in Hebrews seem more interested with the question of whether God himself will bring an end to the covenant, and less interested in the question of whether particular individuals might break the covenant (a possibility which Hebrews itself countenances; e.g., Heb. 10:29).
Jeremiah’s apparent allusion to Genesis strengthens the notion that he is stressing God’s commitment not to end the covenant. Through Noah, God covenanted with the world that he would not destroy it. Through Jeremiah and now Jesus, God covenants with his people that he will establish them forever, never again leaving them a mere remnant in the earth.
Here is where this prophecy’s ultimate fulfillment in Jesus comes into the foreground. There was to be a remnant of the true Israel at the establishment of the church (Acts 15:16-17, Rom. 11:5). But Jeremiah and Hebrews give us the amazing assurance that, from Jesus’s resurrection onwards, there will never again be a mere remnant of the church. After Israel put her husband to death, the resurrected husband was united to a resurrected bride, “never to die again” (Rom. 6:9).
Here are some references I collected in preparation for a small group discussion on anger from Ephesians 4:26-27.
Much is written of God’s anger and wrath in Scripture. We should remember that his anger is subordinate to his love. After all, he is “abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon [him]” (Ps. 86:5). In themselves, everyone is subject to God’s wrath, but God offers the gift of life and salvation to all. It is only those who reject and despise him, “neglect[ing] such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3), who are subject in the end to his jealous anger (e.g., Deut. 6:14-15). So we see that although God has a righteous anger, even this grows up out of a more fundamental mercy. As we see in Exodus 34:6 (also elsewhere, such as Num. 14:18, Neh. 9:17, Ps. 103:8ff, 145:8ff, Joel 2:13, Micah 7:18, Nahum 1:3), the very name of Yahweh identifies him as “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Likewise, God wants us to be people whose most basic instinct is to show patience and mercy rather than anger at personal offenses. We are to put off the “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy” that are “works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19-20) and put on “the fruit of the Spirit, [which] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Here are some verses that speak of our anger:
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. . . . Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
1 Tim. 2:8
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.