Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

20140805-093752-34672680.jpgStrasbourg Cathedral – Stained glass windows – Jesus calming a storm, used through a CC License.

“It is not entirely unreasonable for those who want to be followers of Jesus to think that because he is in the boat suffering will not arise. But suffering does come, and the wind roars around and the sky turns black, and the storm of all storms appears to envelop all in darkness and terror. Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing becomes an incredulous for all who would wish for immunity from the troubles of life. But Jesus’s answer reminds us that faith does not insulate us from life’s storms. Indeed, as noted author Craig Barnes has written “Faith…has little to do with our doctrines or even with our belief that Jesus could come up with a miracle if he would only pay attention. Faith has everything to do with seeing that…the Savior [is] on board“
– Ravi Zacharias

via http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/questions-in-the-boat/

We all have those questions…you know, the ones that basically begin with “why God…?”. The difficult thing is that He doesn’t ever clearly answer the “why” question. When Job asks it The Lord answers with “were you there when I created the universe?”. He simply refers Job to His Eternality and Omnipotence.

When the disciples ask Jesus about the killing of priests by Roman soldiers, Jesus replies with “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”, referring to the fact that the universal problem is not the fact that people die, but that they die in their sins. No clear answer to the why question.

In the boat story, Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples questioning of His not caring. He simply stills the storm, and rebukes the disciples for their lack of Faith.

There will always be questions about theodicy (the theist’s response to the problem of evil). It is an emotional, as well as rational conundrum.

Why doesn’t God answer the question straightforwardly?

If you’ll allow some sanctified musings, (my own personal opinions), I propose a couple of possible reasons.

1. It could be that this side of resurrection, we are too dain bramaged to understand the answer.

2. It could be that The Lord knows no answer that He gives to people in the midst of suffering will ever fully answer emotions or reason.

3. It could be that The Lord doesn’t need to justify His Ways to us, so we had just better trust Him, and seek His face while suffering.

None of these answers will ever satisfy the suffering. Perhaps we’d better stop trying to give intellectual reasons, or isolated Scriptures taken out of context, and just sit with the suffering, and cry with them.

After all, the real troubles for Job began when his friends decided to chime in on the theodicy question. Before that, they sat quietly and mourned and comforted Job for several days.

Maybe we should keep our mouths shut, and our tear ducts open.

I’m just sayin’…

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This is the Theological Hall in the Strahov Monastery in Prague. Image by Andreas Gohr, used through a CC license. This image has not been altered.

“The value of theological studies, in an intellectual point of view, does not consist so much in the amount of information as in the amount of energy imparted by them. The doctrines of theology, like the solar centres, are comparatively few in number, and while the demand they make on the memory is small, the demand they make on the power of reflection is infinite and unending. For this reason theological studies are in the highest degree fitted to originate and carry on a true education. There is an invigorating virtue in them which strengthens while it unfolds the mental powers, and therefore the more absorbing the intensity with which the mind dwells upon them, the more it is endued with power.
-William G.T.Shedd, Discourses and Essays, pg. 28, as quoted by Eric Parker

via http://feedly.com/e/PiQ8Sd38

Remember this the next time someone tells you that the study of theology is useless. There is a reason for the fact that at one time, theology was deemed “the queen of the sciences”. The study of Christian theology stimulated the minds of many scientists who have made great scientific discoveries. In point-of-fact, to eliminate theistic philosophy and theology is to stifle the greatest source of wonder and deeper reflection known to man.

Psalm 40:4-5, ESV

How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust,
And has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood.
Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done,
And Your thoughts toward us;
There is none to compare with You.
If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

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image by OUCHcharley through a CC license

We are always tempted to come to Christ according to our own merit (Justification), or to better ourselves through our own merit (Sanctification).

Because of our present abhorrence of biblical terms, we need to clearly define Justification. I define Justification as the legal action through which God declares a person as just or righteous.

But with God, we have to come empty-handed, or Grace will not be Grace. That’s the difference between the Reformers’ definition of justification (Sola Gratia and Sola Fide), and the Roman Catholic definition of Justification, which involves a complicated formula that consists of:

“Actual Grace, Faith, Good Works, Baptism, Participation in the Sacraments, Penance, Indulgences, and Keeping the Commandments.”[1]

I won’t get into the subtleties of Roman Catholicism other than to say that the Roman Catholic formula for Justification looks thusly:

Justification = Faith + Works

This is simplistic, but it does give credit to Roman Catholicism for the belief in Justification by Faith as a necessary element in Justification.

The Reformers made the distinction of “Faith Alone”. Their formula would look like this:

Faith = Justification + Works

For Roman Catholics, faith is a necessary component of Justification, but not a sufficient component. Just as oxygen is a necessary component of fire, but not sufficient on its own (fire requires oxygen and a fuel source), so faith is not sufficient on its own, but requires works (Baptism, Penance, etc.).

This is illustrated in the Council of Trent, Session 6:

“CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

CANON XIII.-If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and disposition, that his sins are forgiven him; let him be anathema.

CANON XIV.-If any one saith, that man is truly absolved from his sins and justified, because that he assuredly believed himself absolved and justified; or, that no one is truly justified but he who believes himself justified; and that, by this faith alone, absolution and justification are effected; let him be anathema.”[2]

Until the Roman Catholic Church rescinds these anathemas, there can be no true reconciliation between themselves and Protestants. It doesn’t matter how many conciliatory documents are signed by well-meaning Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, the Council of Trent is binding.

The Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification can be summarized as follows:

“The Roman Catholic doctrine of justification may be summarized by the following points: 1. Baptism is the instrumental cause of justification.
2. Justification is by infused grace.
3. Believers must cooperate with and assent to grace to the extent that righteousness becomes inherent within them.
4. Faith is necessary for justification but not sufficient for it.
5. A person is justified until or unless he or she commits a mortal sin.
6. The second plank of justification is the sacrament of penance by which works of satisfaction must be done to gain congruous merit.
7. Believers who die without being pure must go to purgatory for cleansing before they enter heaven. 8. A person is justified by faith plus works.
9. A person is justified by grace plus merit.
10. Justification is effected scare mentally.
11. Sola Fide is rejected and anathematized as a false Gospel.”[3]

For the Reformers, Justification was forensic. That means that a person has been declared righteous. It doesn’t mean you are just in yourself, or that you are made to be just. It means that righteousness is imputed to you. You have been declared righteous by Divine Edict.

The Reformed doctrine of Double Imputation illustrates this point.

“In the atonement, God lays upon Jesus our sins. Jesus is the Lamb without blemish who receives our blemishes by imputation. He is our substitute, so that God pours out the wrath of his judgment on Christ who vicariously accepts the imputation of our guilt and sin. On the cross Jesus was simul justus et peccator in the opposite way from us in our justification. On the cross Jesus was just in himself and sinner by imputation. When Scripture speaks of Jesus becoming sin for us, it does not mean that he became in himself a sinner. If that were the case, he would not have been worthy to save himself, let alone us.”[4]

Imputation works one way for Christ, with our sins being imputed to Christ. It works for the sinner exactly opposite. Christ’s Righteousness is imputed or laid on us. It isn’t ours any more than our sins were Christ’s. That’s why Martin Luther called Christ’s Righteousness “Alien”, and “extra nos” (outside of us).

All of this begins for us when God gives us faith, and we believe God’s Word of Law and Gospel, and come to Him with empty hands. We have nothing He wants, we have nothing to offer that is untainted by sin, not even our very selves. This coming through Faith Alone, or Sola Fide, was so important that Martin Luther said it was “the article with and by which the church stands.”

Do not think that the difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrines of Justification is a minor point. The Reformers risked life and limb to bring the church universal back to the belief in Christ Alone, by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, according to Scripture Alone, for God’s Glory Alone.

Grace requires an empty hand. We have to let go of the idea that we can bring anything of worth to Him to merit salvation. Nothing means nothing…period.

I end this with the second and third stanzas of Rock of Ages, and a long quote by Charles Spurgeon.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

“God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than free, unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, he excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace.”

-Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace, as quoted by Dr. James White

via http://vintage.aomin.org/empty.html

1. Slick, Matt. “Attaining Salvation in Roman Catholicism.” Salvation in Roman Catholicism. CARM.org, n.d. Web. 5 May 2014.

2. “~The Council of Trent – Session 6~.” ~The Council of Trent – Session 6~. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2014.

3. Sproul, R. C.. Justified by Faith Alone. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010. Print. Pg. 31, Kindle file.

4. Ibid, pg. 37, Kindle file.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

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Icon of the Passion, detail showing (left) the Flagellation and (right) Ascent to Golgotha (fresco by Theophanes the Cretan, Stavronikita Monastery, Mount Athos).

“While the theology of the cross proclaims God’s descent to sinners in the flesh, by Grace alone in Christ alone, theologies of glory represent human attempts to ascend away from the flesh to union with God through mysticism, merit, and philosophical speculation.”

— Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, Loc 862, Kindle File.

Today we live in a world obsessed with everlasting progress, always minimizing pain, and expecting the good life. Christians absorb this philosophy and express it by acknowledging the Cross, but using it as a means to an end; where the end can mean anything from self-improvement, transforming society, or finding your “purpose” or “your best life now”. This would be the “theology of glory” mentioned by Martin Luther.

In contrast to this, Luther also spoke of the “theology of the cross”, which is God hidden in suffering. It means strength in weakness, accepting the difficult thing instead of denying it, and staring right into the face of suffering, calling “a thing what it is”, as Luther put it.

Today’s American Evangelicals are completely unprepared to face the type of suffering experienced elsewhere by contemporary Christians. We call suffering being the brunt of some mild name-calling or social shunning.

Our default setting is to crave optimistic encouragement, flattery, positive thinking, and self-esteem reinforcement. Grace becomes just another supplement in our “bettering myself” regimen. We’re looking for one more rickety rung on our broken ladder of “prosperity” that never seems to reach its goal.

God simply exists for our personal transformation.

For most of us, real growth comes through suffering. Ironically, our closest moments with Jesus usually occur through the thing we want most to avoid-pain.

We don’t have to look for suffering. The Lord usually arranges it so that it finds us. Finding Christ in it will get you through it. Be a theologian of the Cross, not a theologian of glory.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

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Jesus giving the Farewell Discourse (John 14-17) to his disciples, after the Last Supper, from the Maesta by Duccio, 1308-1311.

There really is a false dichotomy being promoted in modern Evangelicalism, epitomized by Rick Warren’s creed (sic), “…deeds, not creeds…”

We cannot practice the Christian Faith without knowing what we’re doing. It’s like trying to build a house without a blueprint. Sure you could start building immediately, but I wouldn’t want to live in it.

We should never be forced to choose between loving God with our minds, and loving God with our hearts, or loving God with our hands. All three are necessary.

We would rather do than think. Google has made us stupid, because we don’t know the steps to critical thinking, and intelligent inquiry.

‘Tis laziness that compels us to bypass theology for practice. Avoiding either step is detrimental to our maturity as believers.

“The modern dichotomy between doctrine and life, theology and discipleship, knowing and doing, theory and practice has had disastrous consequences in the life of the church and it’s witness in the world.”

— Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, Loc 111, Kindle File

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

A Systematic Theology Reading Group

Posted: February 23, 2014 in Quotes, Theology

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Oh, what I would give to be part of a group like this. How wonderful it must be to fellowship in a church that would foster theologically-thinking members. I feel like an oddity…an enigma…a relic whose mentors are a lot old dead white guys. Our culture of American Christianity would rather feel than think…would prefer experientialism over exposition.

Yeah, I know…would I like some cheese with that whine? Well, yes sir, I would. Gouda for me-lol.

“Pastor, I want to thank you. My marriage has been totally turned around.

These aren’t the words you expect someone to write three months after their spouse began reading a 1,291-page systematic theology book, yet that’s exactly what I was being told in a card. My prayers had been answered. I’d prayed that God would give people such a love for him and his Word that it would begin to affect all areas of their life. I’d also prayed that reading and discussing a systematic theology book with others would be one of those means.”

— Eric Bancroft, on The Gospel Coalition blog

via http://feedly.com/e/WxdI8sVm

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams