I gotta have my orange juice.

Jesu, Juva

Begetting

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Jesse - David - Solomon

Peter Leithart makes the point that the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1 shift from father-son language to the language of death with the introduction of kings. Building on this, we could say that:

  • Priests beget sons and houses in a Fatherly fashion (1 Chronicles 6:3)
  • Kings beget kings and kingdoms in a Son-like fashion, by dying (1 Chronicles 29:28 – 2 Chronicles 1:1)
  • Prophets beget in a Spirit-like fashion, by speaking-breathing:
    • New life into being by their prayer (1 Kings 17)
    • A new covenant-creation-world into being by their authority (Zechariah)
    • New prophets into being by their teaching (2 Kings 2:3)

All God’s people now are priests (1 Peter 2:5), kings (Ephesians 2:6), and prophets (Acts 2:17-18). Be fruitful, and multiply!

Written by Scott Moonen

September 28, 2016 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Sacrifice

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James Jordan suggests a kind of monergistic understanding of sacrifice:

Sacrifice is something God does, not something we do. We commonly speak of “making a sacrifice” when we give something up for someone else. That “works-centered” notion of sacrifice does not do justice to the Biblical idea of sacrifice. The lamb led to the slaughter was not particularly thrilled at the idea, and neither was Jesus, who asked that if possible the cup might be taken from Him. When God comes to sacrifice us it is usually painful, and that is why singing the psalms is so important, because the psalms are full of pain.

We would like to think that when the pain comes, we will joyfully accept it. Sometimes that is what happens, but think about it: If you are able to keep a cool head during your suffering, then you are not experiencing the fullness of suffering. The most potent kind of suffering, and of sacrifice, comes when you experience a “dark night of the soul,” when it feels as if God has deserted you, when the inward agony does not let up day after day, when you are weak and not strong, when you join Job on the ash heap of ignorance concerning what God is doing to you. This kind of sacrificial experience means that the Great Physician is doing “depth surgery” on you, operating at levels you cannot understand. The psalms are full of this kind of experience, and it is this kind of experience that Lord’s Day worship is, in part, all about. (Theses on Worship, 86)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 15, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Good Samaritan

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James Jordan writes of a three-layered meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan:

For 1900 years, pastors in every branch of the Church have interpreted the parable of the Good Samaritan as having a “first application” to our Lord Himself. Jesus is the Good Samaritan, who helped in the face of death when the Old Creation’s representatives (priest and Levite) were unable and unwilling to do so. The inn at which He left the man is the Church, the community of believers that has been given money and oil (the Spirit) to help converts. The broken man in the parable is the lawyer who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered, “I am your Neighbor, man. Don’t you see that you are near death? You have left the holy city Jerusalem and gone down to the accursed city of Jericho. You need a Neighbor, and I am He.” A secondary point of the parable of course, is to set an example for us, who are in Christ. (Theses on Worship, 56)

Luther states that “This Samaritan of course is our Lord Jesus Christ himself.” Calvin, on the other hand, notes in his commentary that he has “no liking” for this interpretation, suggesting that it “disguise[s] its natural meaning.” To be fair, Calvin here is not arguing against Luther directly, but rather against “advocates of free will” who apparently argue from the man’s injury rather than death that he was not beyond reach of saving himself. Perhaps Calvin would not after all disagree with Luther’s and Jordan’s more straightforward application.

I side with Luther and Jordan. With Frame (tri-perspectivalism) and Poythress (symphonic theology) I don’t think that we must choose a single natural meaning and application here to the exclusion of all others. For example, we follow the very same approach in the Psalms, where we acknowledge that Jesus is the first singer of the Psalms (consider Heb. 2:11-12), and yet both the church corporate (the body of Jesus) and the individual Christian (united with Jesus) are also proper singers of the Psalms.

Written by Scott Moonen

August 15, 2016 at 9:31 pm

Sovereignty and responsibility

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Calvinism is often accused of a kind of fatalism or determinism that does violence to the will of the creature. But this is a caricature, at least of the best of Calvinism. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith confesses that “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet . . . the liberty or contingency of second causes [is not] taken away, but rather established.” (WCF 3.1)

This was a position that ebbed and flowed in the church. Augustine defended the sovereignty of God against Pelagius, and the Protestant reformation once again recaptured it.

In his recent book, Delivered From the Elements of the World, Peter Leithart shows that a healthy Augustinian view still persisted in the early stages of medieval Scholasticism:

[H]igh Scholastics like Aquinas did not . . . think that human beings could in any way escape the oversight and providence of God. Human beings are ontologically incapable of being independent causes of anything. For Thomas at least, cooperation between God and humans is not competition, and causation is not a sum total of divine and human causation.

According to Fergus Kerr, this theme “takes us right to the heart of Thomas’s theology. He often quotes Isaiah 26:12: ‘Lord, thou has wrought all our works in us’—which he takes . . . precisely as excluding all competitiveness between divine and human agency.” Cooperation for Thomas does not picture “two rival agents on a level playing field,” but rather he “sees it as a mark of God’s freedom, and ours, that God ’causes’ everything in such a way that the creature ’causes’ it too.” . . . According to Kerr, Thomas consistently contests the notion that “if God produces the entire natural effect, surely nothing is left for the human agent to do,” emphasizing instead a doctrine of “double agency,” in which God and humans act to produce the same effect, though in different ways. Thomas rightly sees this as an implication of the doctrine of creation: “It is always by divine power that the human agent produces his or her own proper effect: that is the doctrine of creation. It is not superfluous, even if in principle God can by himself produce all natural effects, for them to be produced by us as causes. Nor is this a result of the inadequacy of divine power, as one might be tempted to think, thus giving way to the charms of process theology. On the contrary: it is a result of the immensity of God’s goodness (bonitas: “bounty”). It is another implication of the doctrine of creation that God wills to communicate his likeness to things not only so that they might simply exist but that they might cause other things. Indeed, this is how creatures generally attain the divine likeness—by causing.”

. . . On this early understanding [prior to 1250], . . . [d]ivine and human causation are never in competition; causation is not a “zero-sum game” in which creaturely causation can only be affirmed at the expense of divine causation. Every event in creation is wholly the product of God’s action, and yet at the same time it is totally caused by creatures. God causes by influencing from within the creation, not by exerting power externally from without. . . .

So long as divine and human causation were not seen to be competitive, and as long as a human action was not conceived of as the product of human causation added to divine causation, human contributions to salvation could not be conceived of as independent contributions. On this view, there might be a proper synergism: We work out our salvation not in addition to God working in us, but because God works in us. We work and love because his Spirit who is love is poured into us and his power works in us. As soon as the notion of causation assumes an area of pure nature in which human beings act and exist in semi-independence of God’s action, then synergism becomes a Pelagian nightmare. This is the kind of cooperation posited by late medieval theology, and the kind of cooperation the Reformers were correct utterly to reject. (Leithart, 320-324)

All this is simply to say that God is the author of his creation. We do not think to say that Sauron and Saruman are not deeply responsible and accountable for their actions just because Tolkien penned them. We do not think to say that Frodo and Sam made no great sacrifice or achieved no great thing because Tolkien had intended it all along. Nor do we think to charge Tolkien with a lack of affection for his creation, willfully subjecting so many to the destruction of Melkor, Smaug, Sauron, Saruman and others, merely to show off his ability to turn a beautiful story.

Nor should we think to charge God with this.

Yet, wonder of wonders, unlike any other author, God entered his own creation to make things more deeply right than any other story.

God so loved the world (John 3:16)

Outrushing the fall of man is the height of the fall of God. (Chesterton, Gloria in Profundis)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 12, 2016 at 10:42 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Religion and culture

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Peter Leithart opens his recent book, Delivered From the Elements of the World, with the following observation:

No purely secular society exists or has ever existed. Define religion how you will: As a matter of ultimate concern, as belief in something transcendent, as the organizing master narrative for history and human lives, as a set of practices. However religion is defined, all institutions, structures and patterns of behavior have religious features. All cultures are infused with values and actions that have religious dimensions and overtones. Whether they name the name of a known God or not, societies and cultures are always patterned by some ultimate inspiration and aspiration.

By the same token, all religions have social aspects; they are all embedded in and rely on patterns of interaction among persons. Even the retreat of a solitary ascetic into the desert is a social act, since it is a retreat from social relation. And all religions deal with artifacts, symbols and rituals that might as well be called “cultural.”

Religion is not the “soul” of culture, nor culture the “body” of religion. Religions have bodies, and cultures have souls. It is rather the case that in dealing with any group of human beings, we are always dealing with socio-religious or religio-cultural entities. The common contemporary rhetoric of conflicts between religion and politics obscures the reality. Conflicts are never between politics and religion. Conflicts are always between rivals that are both religious and both political.

Islamic terrorists kill themselves and innocent bystanders for overtly religious reasons. In response, the United States sends troops to the Middle East to make the world safe from terrorism, but also to sacrifice themselves to preserve and advance America’s values, freedom and democracy. To say that the terrorist and the Marine are both motivated by religious values is not to make a moral equivalence. But we misread the times unless we recognize that the war on terror is a religious war on both sides.

We think ourselves all secular, all grown-up, but we have our taboos, our pollution avoidances, our instincts of recoil and disgust. Not so long ago, many found homosexual sodomy disgusting. In a matter of decades, the disgust has turned inside out, and now those who consider homosexual conduct sinful and unnatural are outcasts, treated with contempt. The freedom to engage in any form of consensual sex is now considered a right, and a sacred one, as inviolable as the sacred precincts of an ancient temple. (Delivered From the Elements of the World, 11-12)

Written by Scott Moonen

August 1, 2016 at 6:49 am

Posted in Books, Quotations

Deployed

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Peter Leithart writes:

If the Philistines have taken our cities and our churches, we can still be agents of Yahweh’s victory. If we end up in exile or worse, it is because Jesus is sending us into new territory. The ark wasn’t captured, and neither was Samson. They were deployed. When God is with us, we are never captives. We are always invaders. Wherever He sends us, He sends us with better news than Dagon’s, the good news of Dagon’s ultimate defeat.

Written by Scott Moonen

July 27, 2016 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Biblical Theology

Jonah

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James Jordan offers a compelling psychologizing of Jonah, which he attributes to Scottish Presbyterian Patrick Fairbairn:

Jonah had been reluctant to preach to Nineveh, fearing that God would convert those people and thereby raise them up as a powerful nation. He knew that Israel deserved judgment, and that God had threatened to take the Gospel to another nation, thereby raising it up as a weapon to punish Israel (Deuteronomy 32:21). Sure enough, the people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah, and Jonah was horrified. In spite of her sins, Jonah loved wayward Israel and hated to see the Gospel taken from her to the Gentiles (compare Paul, Romans 9-11). (Jordan, Through New Eyes, 83)

This makes Jonah akin to the possibly despondent Elijah of 1 Kings 19. It also means that Jonah’s failure becomes a double failure. For one, even if this means that Jonah is not exhibiting garden variety nationalistic prejudice, clearly he is lacking in compassion for Assyria (witness God’s rebuke in Jonah 4:11). But in addition to that, he is misunderstanding God’s intentions towards Israel. Far from simply raising up Assyria as a scourge for Israel, God is actually using Jonah to prepare a place for Israel in exile. In fact, just as Moses spends forty years in the wilderness before leading Israel into the same experience, Jonah’s own experience is a foreshadowing of what God will bring the faithful remnant in Israel through. Just as Jonah is carried through the sea by a big fish before being spit upon dry land, Israel will be carried through the Gentile sea by Assyria before being brought back into their land. Just as Jonah is shaded from the heat of the sun by a plant, Israel will be shaded by Assyria for a time (God explicitly compares Assyria to the plant in Jonah 4:10-11).

The exile experience will be a judgment upon faithless Israel, but God will preserve a remnant through it, and will in fact use the residue of Ninevite believers converted by Jonah both to help soften the blow of exile and to help preserve his people. (You may wonder how it can be said that the ten lost northern tribes were preserved. The myth of the “ten lost tribes” is generally discredited. One quick illustration of this lies in the fact that Asher’s line remains alive in Luke 2:36.)

The Big Fish was Assyria. God was sending Jonah to convert Assyria to Him. Assyria would become a place of refuge and protection for Israel while they were in captivity. Eventually they would leave the land of Assyria (after Babylon and then Persia took it over) and return to their own land. (Similarly, in Jonah 4, converted Assyria would be a suddenly-arising gourd plant to shade captive Israel from the sun of God’s wrath.) Even though later on Assyria apostatized, as the book of Nahum records, still there would be a remnant there who would provide a pillow for Israel’s coming experience of captivity. (Jordan, Biblical Horizons issue 91, 1996)

Jordan observes that some of the imagery of Jonah also suggests that he is a new Noah creating out of Assyria an ark in which to preserve God’s people into the new post-exilic creation. Jonah’s name means dove, Jonah himself is carried safely through a storm on the seas, and the salvation brought by Jonah even includes the preservation of animals (Jonah 3:7-8, 4:11).

This understanding of what God is doing in Nineveh also serves to greater highlight his mercy. Not only is God showing mercy upon Jonah and upon the people and animals of Nineveh, but God is even as a result of this showing a double mercy upon Israel: first, to provoke them to a jealousy that will win them back to him (as in Romans 10); and second, to prepare not only a scourge but also a refuge for them. There is also possibly a “nearer” mercy that God is showing to Israel here. Jordan points out that there is the strange case of the savior for Israel mentioned in 2 Kings 13:5. Clearly this savior was not king Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7). It may be that God used Assyria as a more immediate shade to Israel as well.

Jesus later sleeps in a boat and calms a storm. Unlike Jonah, Jesus’s sleep is one of faith rather than unbelief. Jesus calms the storm and will later pass into the heart of the greater storm as a substitute, exactly like Jonah (Matthew 12, 16). Jesus does not simply use Jonah as a convenient analogy to express the time span of three days. In fact, “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” is a strained analogy for the crucifixion. To make Jesus’s experience cover three days and three nights, we must extend it to his time on trial, so that the “heart of the earth” is Jerusalem and thus includes Jesus’s trial by Jew, Edomite, and Roman. (Calling Jerusalem the “heart of the earth” is not a novel reading; Ezekiel 38:12 refers to the “navel” of the land, and Ezekiel 5:5 describes Jerusalem as being in the “middle” of the nations.) So: Jesus passes into the storm of God’s wrath, at the hands of the Romans and Jews, to prepare a home for his people. We could speak of this home in both a not-yet and an already sense; Jesus prepares a place for us in the resurrection, but also a place for us now, in his church, which is a sort of ark and shade for God’s people in the present age.

So, then, the time Jesus spent in the tomb is parallel to the time Jonah spent in the Big Fish. Then Jesus is resurrected and goes forth to create a new Church (like Assyria) into which His old people can migrate for safety from the wrath to come upon Jerusalem. (Jordan, Biblical Horizons issue 91, 1996)

This ark-and-shade church was even founded by fishermen-apostles, and sailing tentmaker-apostles. There are a few more direct echoes of Jonah after the crucifixion. Peter struggles with God’s call to minister to Gentiles at the city of Joppa, but unlike Jonah at Joppa, Peter obeys God (Acts 10). Paul equally wrestles with the question of taking the gospel to the Gentiles in Romans 10-11, but expresses confidence that God will use it to bring about salvation. Paul thus does much sailing for the purpose of visiting Gentiles. Ultimately, Paul does not calm the storm like Jonah and Jesus, but leads people out of a sinking Roman ship in the midst of a storm (Acts 27). You could say that Rome served as a temporary protecting shade for the church during Jewish persecution, to allow the full number of Jews to pass into Jesus’s church. Then Rome’s protection is withdrawn, Jerusalem is destroyed, and the church stands alone as a possible protection from and even a table of bread in the storm.

In fact, you could even say that it is the church, through baptism, who turns the tables on the stormy nations and takes the waters of God to them; we are to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19).

Written by Scott Moonen

July 10, 2016 at 10:44 am

Posted in Biblical Theology