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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

Metábasis eis állo génos (2-4)

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James Jordan points out that we commonly misread Matthew 28:

This is the actual command of the Great Commission: Disciple all nations. Jesus might have said, “disciple the world,” but that might have implied that nations are to disappear. He might have said, “disciple individuals” or “families,” but that might have implied that nations as such are not to be discipled. The phrase “disciple the all nations” clearly means the whole world, and embraces individuals and families as well.

This has a number of implications for us. First, we ought to have faith that this is something the church can accomplish, because all authority has been given to Jesus. Second, we ought to have faith that this is something the church will accomplish, because all authority has been given to Jesus. Third, the church is always already discipling the nations. Duane Garner observes that:

God has placed His Church in a position of leadership over the world and has ordered things in such a way that the Church is set at the vanguard of culture and society. The world sits down-stream from the Church so that whatever we pour in the water up here flows out into the world way down there, for better or for worse.

See also James Jordan’s further comments on the principle that the church is the center and ruler of the world. One of our contemporary failures has to do with narrowing our understanding of God’s work in the world from one of dominion, conquest, and redemption to focus exclusively on redemption.

You know that when the world bows in glad unison to the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, Aslan has them right where he wants them. It is a good time to pray that God will send bad dreams, and wise counselors, to people in positions of power and authority around the world.

In this week’s issue of The Theopolitan, Peter Leithart briefly reviews Kyle Pasewark’s A Theology of Power. He writes that:

Power isn’t domination but, for Luther, God’s power is His “communication of efficacy” (198). . . [God] exercises power by empowering. . . Power as “communication of efficacy” is more coherent than power as external domination or the ability to do what one wills. Power-as-domination is ultimately self-contradictory.

The primary purpose of power and authority and rule are to beget and bestow power and authority and rule. This is an apt summary of parenting, pastoring, and even rightly exercised political power:

So Judah and Israel dwelt in security,
each one beneath his vine and beneath his fig tree,
from Dan to Be’er–Sheva,
all the days of Shelomo (1 Kings 5:5, Everett Fox, Hebrew numbering, emphasis added)

Alex is thinking about the ‘rona here, but this is true at many more levels:

It seems that we may be in the process of adjusting PCR cycle counts downward. You heard it here first, folks: a joint Nobel Prize in Medicine for Biden and Fauci for extraordinary efforts to “eradicate” the ‘rona.

You should follow Jack Posobiec.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 24, 2021 at 6:46 am

The Lost Supper

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I recently read, and greatly appreciated, Matthew Colvin‘s book The Lost Supper. Colvin builds his understanding of the Lord’s supper on a thesis earlier offered by Robert Eisler and David Daube. He summarizes the puzzle he is seeking to unlock with an opening quote from Daube:

“Jesus could not at the same time have introduced both the general idea of eating a cake of unleavened bread as the Messiah and the specific identification of that cake with himself. That is just not how rites come into being.” This is an important difference between [Daube’s] view and most Christian understandings of the eucharist and Last Supper: many Christians have a view of the effect of Jesus’ words of institution that actually renders them incomprehensible to the disciples in the Upper Room. (Colvin, 37)

Colvin and Daube are not arguing that we must backdate the modern Seder into the first century. But they are arguing—compellingly—that the first century Passover must have had Messianic echoes that reverberate today in both the Eucharist and the Seder. Colvin summarizes his conclusion as follows:

Thus, as we also found in the case of the words over the bread, we discover that Jesus’ words about the wine are more concerned with using the Passover to speak to his disciples about his own impending death and its significance within Israel’s story than they were about explaining the metaphysical relation of the bread and wine to his body and blood. His words over the bread identify himself as Israel’s Messiah; his words over the cup are a way of indicating that he will offer himself as a sacrifice, a new Passover lamb to accomplish a new Exodus; and that this will bring about the coming Kingdom of God. Messiah, new Exodus, and coming Kingdom: this is a deeply Jewish set of meanings for these rituals, full of the themes that were on every mind and heart at Passover. Jesus in the Last Supper is doing what we should expect for a Jewish Messiah’s last meal with his disciples; he is doing exactly what Jews have always done with the food and drink of the Passover: make them tell the story of God and Israel—past, present, and future—and by ritual participation inscribe themselves in that story, in those events. (Colvin, 92)

This idea that a ritual is a removal from time, a participation in both the past and future, is key to Colvin’s understanding. He quotes Alastair Roberts:

Much as in the case of a Passover meal, a memorial of a past deliverance anticipates future salvation and each repetition re-establishes us within musical cycles of memory and hope. It repeatedly stabilizes us by restoring us to Christ’s decisive, once-for-all, action in the past, and destabilizes us by exposing us to the fecundity of the future that this action opened. It ties together founding action with the anticipation of final judgment. (Colvin, 82, quoting Alastair Roberts, A Musical Case for Typological Realism)

Colvin rejects mere real presence in favor of robust participation:

Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples on Passover, far from culminating in a sacramental “real presence,” begins with presence and moves from presence to something higher. The disciples have Jesus “present”—sitting in front of their eyes—but they still do not understand who he is or how they are to relate to him. . . .

In [Luke’s] narrative, the presence of Christ is not effected by the eating of the bread (still less by “consecration” of it); indeed, the resurrected Jesus appeared and was bodily present to his disciples on the road to Emmaus only in order to bring about the disciples’ participation in his new life, which is the life of the renewed Israel, the climax and fulfillment of Israel’s story. The goal is participation, not “presence.” (Colvin, 97-98)

Colvin’s project is very similar to that of Leithart with baptism: he understands the spiritual activity of the Lord’s supper to run along thoroughly corporate, social, and physical lines. It is a bodily activity as well as a mental one:

According to the Westminster Larger Catechism’s formulations, it is a positively daunting feat of reverence and emotions, requiring 14 different mental acts beforehand, another 13 during the Supper, and another 7 if they judge themselves to have partaken successfully, or 5 if unsuccessfully! Astonishingly, the Westminster Divines do not actually state that those “that receive the sacrament” must eat and drink the bread and wine. Every action specified in Q. 174 (as well as those in Q. 171 and 175) is something Christians do with their minds. By contrast, all of the commands of Jesus concerning the Supper—”take, eat, drink, do this”—are things that Christians do with their bodies. (Colvin, 100)

Thus, for Colvin, failure to discern the body is not a cerebral but rather a thoroughly public and corporate and social matter, consistent with much of the rest of 1 Corinthians:

The form this condemnation took is also the same as in the Exodus: supernaturally inflicted death. “Because of this [failure to draw the boundaries of the people of God properly], many among you are weak and sick and some are asleep [i.e. dead].” (11:30) If we are looking for a mechanism by which the eucharist operates, I submit that we have found it here: the communal meal, as an acted sharing in the salvific sacrificial death of the Messiah, marks the people of God as the ones who are to be spared God’s deadly judgment, leaving those outside the Christian community exposed to that wrath. It is inflicted by God’s own power.

This modus operandi should look familiar to us. In Exodus 11:4-7, YHWH announces that the Passover will work the same way. . . . The discrimen, the means by which this difference [between the Egyptians and Israel] is marked, is the ritual meal itself. (Colvin, 128)

The supper therefore naturally functions as a memorial to God rather than a mere reminder to ourselves:

Was Israel also commanded to remember? To be sure, and all the rituals of Passover to this day are aimed at inscribing the Exodus indelibly in the consciousness of every Jewish child. Yet in Egypt, it was not the Israelites’ consciousness, but the Lord’s response to his own commanded memorial (zeker) that effected salvation for the Israelites and destruction for their enemies. In Paul’s understanding, the eucharist operates not by the followers of Jesus thinking about it, but because it marks them as the people defined by Jesus’ sacrificial death, which God remembers and honors and to which he responds with action in history. (Colvin, 133)

All of this is simply a function of how meals work:

Paul’s arguments by analogy with pagan sacrifices (1 Cor. 10:20) and with Jewish sacrifices in the Temple (1 Cor. 10:19) are only possible if the eucharist works the way other meals work. What is special about it is not the way it connects its participants to a person, but the person to whom it connects them. (Colvin, 137)

Thus, the supper is a participation-communion-koinonia, side by side with all of God’s people, both in the past events of the crucifixion and resurrection, but also in our future resurrection and glorification. But this is only a specific instance of what happens throughout the entire service of covenant renewal worship. On the Lord’s day, together with all the Lord’s people, we really are caught up out of time and into the heavens. The bread and wine that we consume are heavenly–spiritual bread and wine; not just a foretaste of the coming feast, but an actual distribution of it. And all this is precisely what it means to worship in Spirit (John 4, Revelation 1).

Colvin closes with helpful practical thoughts on the Lord’s supper today. I largely agree with him, although I think that treating the supper as a feast should not lead us to make much of a common cup. He does not take up a critique of the pious notion of withdrawing oneself temporarily from the supper as a kind of contrition, but I think his principles warrant against that powerfully.

I’ve argued previously for real presence along several lines, but I take greatly to heart Colvin’s charge to think in terms of participation-communion-koiononia rather than mere presence.

However, my friend Randy also cautions that we have a sure hope even if bread and wine are taken away from us:

But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV)

Incidentally, as part of his argument, Colvin also makes a fascinating point about the Lord’s prayer. He argues that the entire prayer has an eschatological bent, including the petition for bread:

[This word] is thus “the coming bread,” the eschatological bread. . . . Thus, the force of the word is to make the petition a request for “the bread of tomorrow” or the eschatological bread. (Colvin, 57-58)

Written by Scott Moonen

January 19, 2021 at 11:14 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2–3)

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Mark Horne surfaces a thought–provoking quote from James Jordan, pointing out, as he says on Twitter, that “the law led to wisdom because it was public property.”

Jordan frequently points out that the head–heel typology instructs us in how to live by faith. It may appear that the wicked are well coordinated while the church and the righteous walk with a limp. However, by faith we recognize that the head of the wicked has been crushed, cast down, bound. And while the church’s heel is wounded, she reigns together with her head at this very moment.

My son, if you receive my words
and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God. . . .

So you will walk in the way of the good
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
For the upright will inhabit the land,
and those with integrity will remain in it,
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. (Proverbs 2, ESV)

I think there is something to this:

I’m slowly working to decouple myself from Google, and plan to document the process on my other blog.

It is a family tradition to watch The Lord of the Rings movies in the wintertime, and we just finished this week. This year I hope to work through the books as well. One thing struck me this time through: Gandalf brought three eagles to rescue Frodo and Sam. Jackson has one of these eagles carry both Gandalf and a hobbit, but Tolkien is more vague. This makes me wonder if Jackson, or Tolkien, or both, intended to show that Gandalf hoped Gollum might have been saved.

‘Twice have you borne me, Gwaihir my friend,’ said Gandalf. ‘Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing. You will not find me a burden much greater than when you bore me from Zirak-zigil, where my old life burned away.’

‘I would bear you,’ answer Gwaihir, ‘whither you will, even were you made of stone.’

‘Then come, and let your brother go with us, and some other of your folk who is most swift! For we have need of speed greater than any wind, outmatching the wings of the Nazgûl.’

‘The North Wind blows, but we shall outfly it,’ said Gwaihir. And he lifted up Gandalf and sped away south, and with him went Landroval, and Meneldor young and swift. And they passed over Udûn and Gorgoroth and saw all the land in ruin and tumult beneath them, and before them Mount Doom blazing, pouring out its fire.

. . .

And so it was that Gwaihir saw them with his keen far-seeing eyes, as down the wild wind he came, and daring the great peril of the skies he circled in the air: two small dark figures, forlorn, hand in hand upon a little hill, while the world shook under them, and gasped, and rivers of fire drew near. And even as he espied them and came swooping down, he saw them fall, worn out, or choked with fumes and heat, or stricken down by despair at last, hiding their eyes from death.

Side by side they lay; and down swept Gwaihir, and down came Landroval and Meneldor the swift; and in a dream, not knowing what fate had befallen them, the wanderers were lifted up and borne far away out of the darkness and the fire. (The Return of the King, 227–229)

I’ve always been intrigued by churches that choose not to register as a corporation. If you belong to such a church, your charitable contributions are likely still deductible on your income tax. See:

For subscribers of The Theopolitan, Peter Leithart summarizes Rich Lusk on James Jordan on the Bethlehem star: it is Yahweh’s glory cloud. Lusk points out the movement of the cloud, the host of angels appearing to the shepherds, and Jesus’s tabernacling among us. I conclude, therefore, that stars are angels.

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.” (C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

He counts the number of the stars,
to all of them gives names. (Psalm 147:4, Robert Alter)

I had forgotten that company originates from bread–together. How beautiful!

Charlotte and Asher made these handy deadlift stands. They’ve lasted over a year now!

You’ve probably seen this. But it has been delighting me this week:

Written by Scott Moonen

January 16, 2021 at 7:19 pm

Metábasis eis állo génos (2–2)

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I received Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies as a Christmas present, and finished it this week. It’s outstanding, as, of course, is Solzhenitsyn’s original essay. (How striking that he would admonish us even to “immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if [one] hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.”) Here are my favorite quotes from the book:

“The question is, which is going to win: fear, or courage?” [Jan Šimulčik] says. “In the beginning, it was mostly a matter of fear. But once you started experiencing freedom—and you felt it, you felt freedom through the things you did—your courage grew. We experienced all this together. We helped one another to gradually build up the courage to do bigger things, like join the Candle Demonstration.”

“With this courage also developed our sense of duty, and our need to be of service to other people,” the historian continues. “We could see the products of our work. We could hold these samizdat books in our hands, and we could see that people really read them and learned from them. We saw what we did as service to God and service to people. But it took years for us to see the fruit of our labor and to see our communities grow.” (168)

[Franišek] Mikloško’s close association with secular liberal writers and artists helped him to understand the world beyond church circles and to think critically about himself and other Christian activists. And, he says, liberal artists were able to perceive and describe the essence of communism better than Christians—a skill that helped them all survive, even thrive, under oppression. (175)

“I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, as such,” [Maria Wittner] says. “What is fear? Someone who is afraid is going to be made to do the most evil things. If someone is not afraid to say no, if your soul is free, there is nothing they can do to you.”

The old woman looks at me across her kitchen table with piercing eyes. “In the end, those who are afraid always end up worse than the courageous.” (188)

My pastor preached from Revelation 12 this week and argued that the archangel Michael is Jesus. An interesting additional proof of this is the quote from Zechariah 3:2 in Jude 9. Whom Zechariah identifies as Yahweh and the angel of Yahweh, Jude identifies as Michael, “who is like God.”

This quotation highlights another interesting bit of biblical theology. Many people, Calvin included, believe that Michael is disputing about the body of the man Moses. However, the quote from Zechariah makes clear that what was in dispute was the Old Testament church. This church was the body of Moses in the same sense that we are the body of Jesus. Some more evidence for this reading is the fact that Israel was baptized into Moses (1 Corinthians 10:2).

It is so interesting to me that one of the reasons God restrains wicked rulers is to preserve his people in faithfulness. It is true that there are such great examples of faithfulness in times of persecution, but we also pray and thank God for cutting persecution short for the sake of bruised reeds and faintly burning wicks:

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion never shaken, settled forever.
Jerusalem, mountains around it, and the LORD is around His people now and forevermore.
For the rod of wickedness will not rest on the portion of the righteous,
so that the righteous not set their hands to wrongdoing.
Do good, O LORD, to the good and to the upright in their hearts.
And those who bend to crookedness, may the LORD take them off with the wrongdoers. Peace upon Israel! (Psalm 125, Robert Alter)

Of course, he also uses persecution to strengthen what is weak.

I’ve enjoyed our little project of chanting Psalms as a family this school year. We are now a third of the way through the Psalter! Wherever possible, we are using the Theopolis Liturgy and Psalter, which is marvelous; otherwise we are using Concordia’s ESV Psalter.

How many Christians confess this:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3 ESV, emphasis added)

Once again, corporate America and the media are pretty much unified in their, ah, brave stands for justice. Even the Wall Street Journal is calling for Trump to resign. What I want to know is why we are only starting to think about this now. There’s quite a few politicians, celebrities, media personalities, corporate leaders, and church leaders whose behavior over the past year year is worthy of resignation. Why, imagine: if Biden and Harris had humbled their own hearts, we might be looking forward to President Gabbard right now.

Related, Aaron Renn is beginning a series considering how and why the Republican party hates your guts.

And yet—be sure to consider also Mark Horne’s exhortation to speak cheerful words to yourself.

I love Ted Kooser’s “Splitting an order”—

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

Thanks to Jon Barach for calling my attention to it.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 8, 2021 at 9:17 pm

Do this

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John Barach writes:

The (Admittedly Oversimplistic) History of the Lord’s Supper:

Jesus: “Do this….”
The Church: “Let’s try this instead.”

Examples:

Jesus: “Sit down.” (The Greek indicates reclining, normal festal posture.)
The Church: “Let’s kneel.” Or: “Let’s stand.”

Jesus: Two prayers of thanksgiving, one for the bread, one for the wine.
The Church: One prayer.

Jesus: Giving thanks (which is what “blessed” means).
The Church: Petition, asking God to do something.

Jesus: Everyone eats the bread first. Only then is the wine handed out.
The Church: Some people start drinking wine before others have had bread.

Jesus: Wine.
The Church: No wine. For centuries, church members get communion in one kind (bread) only. But today, wine gets replaced with grape juice.

Jesus: Everyone eats the bread first. Only then is the wine handed out.
Someone: “Hey! I know! Let’s DIP the bread in the wine!”

Scripture: Feast.
The Church: “Let’s make it mournful and sad. Maybe make the building dark.”

Scripture: Feast.
The Church: “Let’s teach everyone to close their eyes and think their own thoughts as if they were all alone in the building.”

Scripture: Break bread on the first day.
The Church: “Let’s not do it very often.”

Jesus passed around the bread and the wine so that, say, the bread went to John and then to Peter and then to Judas and then to Levi and so on.
The Church: Every member must receive from the hand of the pastor.

See also: The Lord’s table

Written by Scott Moonen

December 27, 2020 at 6:29 am

Metábasis eis állo génos (26)

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Vrolijk Kerstfeest!

This post marks six months—twenty–six weeks—of this weekly bricolage. (Twenty–seven weeks if you count the final occasional edition of “Various.”) Glancing at the archive index, it looks like this month also marks two and a half years of monthly posting of one kind or another. Most of those are quotes, and for that time period many of them are from Eugen Rosenstock–Huessy.

You can, of course, get this delivered to you by email (see subscription button to the right) or by RSS reader (I like Feedly, but I wonder what you recommend). It’s a good discipline to write regularly. I’d like to see more writing from you in 2021, even if—perhaps especially if—it is mostly just your favorite quotes and poems and articles. And even if it is just once a month. Send links, please.

I picked up my title from Rosenstock–Huessy, who uses it in his course Cross of Reality, and translates it as transgression into another domain: the fallacy of transferring concepts blindly from one domain to another. It seems a fitting acknowledgement that I’m often writing at the margin of my education and experience, but not my curiosity and convictions.

I had about a quarter of our 2019 pictures left to sift through and upload this week, plus about half of our 2020 pictures. That was quite an exercise! For 2021 I plan to treat picture–sifting as an idle phone activity to be pursued alongside Twitter browsing.

I’ve joked for awhile that EDR and similar systems like CrowdStrike or Carbon Black would become Skynet. Or, more likely, a tool of international espionage and cyber–warfare. It doesn’t feel good to be vindicated. (Now imagine someone accomplishing this with a major browser or password manager application.) Complex and highly interconnected systems are difficult to make stable, resilient, or secure; and cannot possibly be made anti-fragile. (This is a lesser reason why I miss my old pickup truck.) I’m not very excited about Kubernetes for the same reason. It’s also partly why I’m not very excited about artificial intelligence; but additionally because analysis of data, whether by machine or by human, does not automatically involve either wisdom or decisiveness (see also Edwin Friedman and Nassim Taleb).

And if Rosenstock–Huessy is right, the coming turning of the age will be a turning from the big to the small, from empire to tribe. Perhaps that is still a hundred years away, or perhaps it is just one disastrous computer incident away.

Hallelujah.
Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the faithful’s assembly.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker, Zion’s sons exult in their king.
Let them praise His name in dance, on the timbrel and lyre let them hymn to Him.
For the LORD looks with favor on His people, He adorns the lowly with victory.
Let the faithful delight in glory, sing gladly on their couches.
Exultations of God in their throat and a double–edged sword in their hand,
to wreak vengeance upon the nations, punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings in fetters, and their nobles in iron chains,
to exact from them justice as written—it is grandeur for all His faithful.
Hallelujah. (Psalm 149, Robert Alter)

I now forget who reminded me of this, but as much as we love to think about the incarnation at Christmas, we ought to be celebrating it on March 25 as well.

C. R. Wiley and friends reflected on human scale recently. Wiley says that “we actually live in a world where our institutions dwarf us, make us feel insignificant and small, and reinforce that by, well, not being responsive to us.” Wiley quotes Leon Krier, who asserts that submissiveness is generally the human response to tyranny rather than primarily the cause of it, because (quoting Wiley quoting Krier quoting Boswell), “when the mind knows it cannot help itself by struggling, it quietly and patiently submits to whatever load is laid upon it.” I’m not sure that is always true, because classic conservatism recognizes that an undisciplined people does require external discipline—and if we do not discipline ourselves then God will do so in judgment. But in any case, this is an interesting corollary to the statement that evil prevails when good men do nothing. It also parallels Solzhenitsyn’s “Live Not By Lies.” And yet, I wonder: how shall I balance this against providing for my family, against being wise as a serpent, against the call to be a living dog rather than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4)? A partial answer is that we also live not by fear, of any kind.

In spite of BigEva’s complicity in enabling evil, much of the evangelical church is simply unprepared for the next decade. Who knew that we actually needed to warn our people, and brace our own selves, against great evil? Who knew that lies would be so sugar–coated and so popular? Churches that are expecting vaccines to return everything to normal are in for a big surprise. God has only just begun his work of sifting and winnowing. He is sharpening the antithesis.

And though there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or the Miserific Vision. (C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, chapter 9; also see Sharper)

Fortunately, we have the opportunity right now to repent and study harder for the next exam! In Jesus, and through his church, death is no longer contagious: life is!

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.”

“And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.” (Revelation 22:1–7, ESV)

Childermas, the feast of the innocents, is the original sanctity of life day. I realized this week that these young men show up again—as part of the host under the altar:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9–11, ESV)

One of the things that their blood and their prayers accomplish is our release from Abraham’s bosom:

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13, ESV, emphasis added)

By the end of this heavenly liturgy, their prayers have helped to bring about the destruction of God’s and their enemies. God has judged and de–created the old covenant world, and these young men have been released to stand face to face with him in the freedom of the glory of the sons of God:

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

“Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” ( Revelation 19:1–3, ESV)

Written by Scott Moonen

December 25, 2020 at 7:27 am

Worship is warfare (6)

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This event from David’s life is striking:

But the Philistines went up again,
and spread out in the Valley of the Shades.
So David inquired of YHWH,
and he said:
You are not to go up;
lead [your men] around, behind them,
and come at them in front of the balsam-trees.
And let it be:
when you hear the sound of marching on the tops of the balsam-trees, then you are to act-decisively,
for then YHWH will go out before you, to strike down the camp of the Philistines. (2 Samuel 5:22–24, Everett Fox)

I wanted to find a connection to balsam or mulberry trees in the New Testament but can’t think of one. However, apart from Chronicles, the only other place this word for balsam trees appears is in Psalm 84, as the Valley of Baca:

How lovely Your dwellings, O LORD of armies!
My being longed, even languished, for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh sing gladness to the living God.
Even the bird has found a home, and the swallow a nest for itself,
that puts its fledglings by Your altars, LORD of armies, my king and my God.
Happy are those who dwell in your house, they will ever praise You.

Happy the folk whose strength is in You, the highways in their heart,
Who pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it into a spring—yes, the early rain cloaks it with blessings.
They go from rampart to rampart, they appear before God in Zion.
LORD, God of armies, hear my prayer. Hearken, O God of Jacob.

Our shield, O God, see, and regard Your anointed one’s face
For better one day in Your courts than a thousand I have chosen,
standing on the threshold in the house of my God, than living in the tents of wickedness.
For a sun and shield is the LORD, God is grace and glory.
The LORD grants, He does not withhold bounty to those who go blameless.
O LORD of armies, happy the man who trusts in You. (Psalm 84, Robert Alter)

When the happy folk of Yahweh of armies go up to his house to worship him, this is a marching through the balsam trees.

See also: Worship is warfare (5), etc.

Written by Scott Moonen

December 13, 2020 at 2:26 pm

By faith, not by sight

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I read and enjoyed Gaffin’s By Faith, Not by Sight recently. I think that he could have gone a little farther towards finding multi-perspectival resolutions, but I am generally very appreciative of the book. Some choice quotes:

Since the goal of redemption is union with the risen Lord, there seems little doubt that, if Paul has a center to his order of salvation, it is this doctrine. When other applied blessings, such as justification or sanctification, are made central, there are inevitably deleterious consequences for the Christian life, whereby incipient forms of antinomianism and legalism creep in. For example, a certain Lutheran view that justification precedes sanctification, so that it causes union with Christ and sanctification, ends up attributing to justification a renovative/transformative element. The notion that one applied benefit can cause another applied benefit has always perplexed me. But when union with Christ structures the whole of applied redemption, the aforementioned errors are dealt with better. This has to do with the fact that Christ’s person, not simply his work or his applied benefits, must have the preeminence. Indeed, the gift of Christ’s person is a greater gift to us than his benefits. As many of our finest divines have vigorously argued, there exists a priority of Christ’s person over his work. Union with Christ helps us to keep this salient fact in mind. We are not simply recipients of his benefits; we also belong to him. (Mark Jones, Foreword, p. x)

One important methodological consideration is that, with all due attention being given to his immediate historical context, including relevant extracanonical texts and materials, in interpreting [Paul’s] letters the context that is not only primary but privileged is the canonical context. (10)

All along I have been speaking of Paul’s “theology” and referring to him as a “theologian.” For many, that will not be a problem, but this way of speaking warrants some clarification, since for some it is questionable at best. The perceived danger here is that we will, as it could be put, “drag Paul down to our level.” . . . What offsets this leveling danger is appreciating Paul’s identity as an apostle, at least if we understand apostleship properly. . . . Regarding [his] authority, the apostle is as Christ himself.

Paul the theologian, then, is Paul the apostle. That points to the God-breathed origin and authority of his teaching, its character as the word of God. It highlights the radical, categorical difference there is between his theology and post-apostolic theology. His teaching, along with the teaching of the other biblical writers, is Spirit-borne, canonical, and foundational. (14-15)

Increasingly over the course of the last century, to fill out this brief historical sketch, a new consensus concerning Paul emerged across a broad front in biblical studies. This happened in tandem with a reassessment of the kingdom proclamation of Jesus. It is now widely maintained that the controlling focus of Paul’s theology, as for Jesus before him, is eschatology—or what is equivalent for some, redemptive history (historia salutis). Specifically, the center of his theology has been recognized to be the death and resurrection of Christ in their eschatological significance.

In my view, this basic conclusion is sound and, by now, well established. (29)

The center of Paul’s soteriology, then, at the center of his theology as a whole, is neither justification by faith nor sanctification, neither the imputation of Christ’s righteousness nor the renewing work of the Spirit. To draw that conclusion, however, is not to decenter justification (or sanctification), as if justification is somehow less important for Paul than it is for the Reformers. Justification is supremely important; it is absolutely crucial in Paul’s “gospel of salvation” (cf. Eph. 1:13). If his teaching on justification is denied or distorted, it ceased to be gospel; there is no longer saving “good news” for guilty sinners. But no matter how close justification is to the heart of Paul’s gospel, in our salvation there is an antecedent consideration, a reality that is deeper, more fundamental, more decisive, more crucial: Christ and our union with him, the crucified and resurrected, the exalted, Christ. Union with Christ by faith—that is the essence of Paul’s ordo salutis.

At the opening of Book 3 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion and controlling all that he has to say about “the way” of salvation—that is, its personal, individual appropriation, including what he will eventually say about justification—Calvin writes, “First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.” (49-50)

[Some have observed] that Paul’s exhortations to the church as a whole, his ethics of the Christian life in their entirety, can be summed up in the epigram, “Become what you are.” This is helpful, but by itself it carries a liability that can render it decidedly unhelpful (suggesting some form of personal autonomy), unless it is read with an all-encompassing Christological gloss, “Become what you are in Christ.” (80)

The point here is that “the path of good works runs not from man to God, says Paul, but from God to man.” [quoting Berkouwer] Ultimately, in the deepest sense, for Paul “our good works” are not ours, but God’s. They are his work, begun and continuing in us, his being “at work in us, both to will and to do what pleases him” (Phil. 2:13). That is why, without any tension, a faith that rests in God the Savior is a faith that is restless to do his will. (88)

On the coherence between [faith and works], it is hard to improve on what J. Gresham Machen writes aphoristically, “As the faith which James condemns is different than the faith that Paul commends, so also the works which James commends are different than the works which Paul condemns.” (118)

Written by Scott Moonen

November 28, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Baptism exhortation (2)

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Amos,

In the New Testament, Peter and Paul speak of two great old–covenant baptisms: the baptism of the flood, and the baptism of the Red Sea crossing.

In both of these, God rained water on his people, and drowned his enemies. Psalm 77 tells of God’s rain at the Red Sea crossing, and Psalm 68—the great battle Psalm of the Huguenots—tells of rain in the wilderness:

O God, when You went forth before Your people,
When You marched through the wilderness:
The world shook;
Indeed, the heavens dripped at the presence of God, the One of Sinai,
At the presence of God, the God of Israel.
A rain of gifts You showered, O God;
Your inheritance, though it languished, You Yourself established.
Your beasts dwelled in it;
You prepared it in Your goodness for the lowly, O God. (Psalm 68:7–10, James Jordan)

So you see that the waters of baptism are a rescue from judgment and death, and they are a source of life and refreshment. But they are also a commissioning, into a priesthood and into an army! As soon as Israel had crossed the Red Sea in battle array, they fought the Amalekites. Likewise, Psalm 68 continues:

My Master gives the word;
The messengers are a great army.
Kings of armies flee; they flee;
And those remaining at home divide the spoil,
Those remaining with the sheepfolds:
A dove’s wings covered with silver,
And her pinions with green–gold.
When the Almighty scattered kings there,
You made it snow on Black Mountain.
O mountain of gods, mountain of Bashan,
O mountain of ridges, mountain of Bashan,
Why your hostility, you mountains of ridges,
Toward the mountain God delighted for His dwelling?
Yes, Yahweh will dwell there endlessly.
The chariots of God are twice myriads,
Thousands upon thousands,
My Master among them,
At Sinai, in the holy place!
You ascended on high;
You captured a captivity;
You took men as gifts—
And even rebels—
In order that Yah, God might dwell. (Psalm 68:11–18, James Jordan)

The same thing happened when Israel crossed the Jordan into the promised land. God brought them safely through waters, circumcised them, and formed them into his own army to conduct a holy war.

Amos, God still has an army that wages holy warfare with the sword of the Spirit: the word of God. God has commissioned you into his service today. You are and will always be a soldier of Jesus. You belong completely to him, and it is good to belong to him. I charge you to serve him faithfully and fearlessly!

See also: Baptism exhortation

Written by Scott Moonen

November 16, 2020 at 3:50 pm

Enchanted

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‘Cause I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
And dripping from the prophet’s lips.

Andrew Peterson, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone

Written by Scott Moonen

November 8, 2020 at 5:15 pm