Biblical Theocracy

James Jordan says:

The gospel is the announcement that Jesus is now king of the entire world, and that all nations are to be discipled. Israel was the model discipled nation, and now all nations are to be discipled. Israel’s history relates typologically to all the world now, as we are put into the olive tree. Everything God told Israel, including the Law, is typologically normative for all the world, for all nations. I call this “Biblical theocracy.”

The gospel is not theology or ideas. It is not experiences. It it not even the church considered merely as some kind of annabaptist worshiping community in the midst of a world that will never be changed. The gospel is a new creation, a new world. It is Christendom. It is theocracy. This is not “theonomy” as Bahnsen defined it, but it is close enough that it looks like it to many people. And the practical implications of Biblical Theocracy are often quit similar to “theonomy” as regards the discipleship of nations, because typological application is still application. And just as the early church directly challenged Caesar’s purported lordship, there is a need today for the prophetic people of God to directly challenge modern ideas of law and democracy and insist on the crown rights of King Jesus.

Jordan on Pastors

James Jordan says:

Second, by no means are all pastors, teachers, and preachers gifted as exegetes or expositors. Pastors are curates of souls primarily. Teachers often are called to pass on the heritage of the faith, not rework it for modern times. One of the errors I encountered in seminary was the notion that all pastors should develop their sermons out of an in-depth exegesis from the original Hebrew and Greek. Virtually nobody ever does this, of course, but it was held out as an ideal. There is nothing ideal about it, however. Preachers need to pass on the heritage of the church to their people, with a pastoral eye to their psychological and spiritual situation. If they get their homilies by borrowing from Spurgeon, or from other people’s outlines — what’s wrong with that?

Schism and Heresy

In the letters of John Hales to D. Carlton on the Synod of Dort, Hales relates how a member of the Synod defined heresy and schism. A certain Lydius of South-Holland proposed this distinction between schism and heresy:
…For a Schism is only a breach of Charity and Peace of the Church, the Doctrine remaining entire. If there were a separation by reason of Doctrine Heretical (as here he thought there was) it was not to be called a Schism.

Church Government = National Government?

I’m wondering if the church often reflects the governing paradigm of the world-empire that it is situated in. In Roman times this meant the highly-structured governmental organization that mirrored the Imperial government. In America it means a reflection of corporate governance, with the pastor as CEO and maybe a “board” with some other trappings of democracy. My impression is that even in the Catholic Church, democracy has invaded at the local level to a large extent.


James Jordan writes “One of the essential failures of the Protestant Reformation was the forfiture of a truly international ecclesiastical organization, and too close a tie of the church to national interests.”

Joy

One of the puzzling facets of the Christian life as I live it and see it lived is the lack of joy that we have. It seems to me that many Americans are living lives of quiet desperation, under layers of regret, hopelessness, frustration and outright depression. This applies to the unsaved as well as the saved, but in our case it is puzzling because of what Jesus has told us.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” I imagine that the joy of Jesus is of such an infinite magnitude that it would be wonderful to experience. Furthermore, God sternly rebuked Israel for not serving him with joy. He said, “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and lacking everything.”

That seems to summarize our American condition succinctly – an abundance of things but no joy or gladness of heart. I’m sure that the reasons for this condition are many, “you must realize the depth of your sin and the reality of God’s sacrifice” I can hear someone saying. But I have some ideas on why we feel down in the middle of everything, or sometimes in the face of great actual suffering. In no order they are:

1. We don’t do what we should due to fear of man, i.e. we don’t suffer because we are too worried about our reputation. I often hold back in public situations when I think I will be mocked for Christ, I don’t identify with him when I should. Jesus said that in this world we will have suffering and he is the prime example of it. The Apostles rejoiced to be counted worthy to suffer with him. The mockery, beating and death they endured was a liberating cause of great joy for them. I avoid this kind of suffering and therefore my joy is not full.

2. Church isn’t what it should be. I don’t mean this in terms of a primitive, “New Testament” church or in terms of doctrine (thought it might be that too), but rather in terms of love, relationships, care for the poor, missions mindedness, and so on (think about the ‘one anothers’). To me, this is a huge factor in joylessness. Our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be lived out horizontally amongst God’s people. Instead, churches are full of people with no clue about how to be hospitable, how to love, how to eat together, talk to each other, or otherwise be the body of Christ. When your church situation is good, the rest of life coheres and is easier. When it isn’t, the rest of life suffers from isolation, alienation and depression.

3. Debt. Our society is structured around debt slavery. Because we are in debt, we cannot contribute like we should, help those in need like we should and so forth. In my case, there aren’t good church options around me and I can’t move close to a good church due to the housing situation which essentially boils down to a debt situation.

There is a certain grim determination to put one foot in front of the other that gets many of us Christians through life and I think that is fine in a sense. The lie of “happy all the time” positive-thinking Christianity is a nauseating answer to legitimate suffering and depression. That’s not what I’m advocating at all. We will all suffer. Until recently, when I thought of suffering I thought of persecution, medical problems or death. But now I think suffering includes (and perhaps primarily includes) the daily grind, boredom, Groundhog Day like repetition, rejection from the Church you are part of, not being able to exercise your gifts for God, things like that.

There are many other legitimate reasons for this lack of joy. I don’t have the answers, I just know the dilemma. Thank God we do have Jesus, for without him this joylessness would be truly overwhelming. The world if full of people numbing themselves  with movies, consumption, hobbies, family activities or whatever and all for nothing. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Fear God and keep the commandments, this is the whole duty of man.

Sailhamer’s Biblical Theology, I

In his book Introduction to Old Testament Theology, A Canonical Approach, John Sailhamer outlines four contrasting approaches to doing Scriptural theology (in this case OT theology). These four contrasts are:

1. Text or event;
2. Criticism or canon;
3. Descriptive or confessional;
4. Diachronic or synchronic.

I. Text vs. Event

What does Sailhamer mean by these terms? First, let’s look at text vs. event. Sailhamer writes:

Does an OT theology focus its attention on the scriptural text of the OT itself, or is the text primarily a witness to the act of God’s self-revelation in the events recorded by Scripture? […] We will maintain in the following discussion that while professing to be text-centered in their approach, evangelical biblical theologians sometimes treat the text of Scripture as a means of getting at what they perceive to be the real locus of God’s revelation-the events in the history of Israel or the religious ideals that lie behind the text.

While we may think that we have a clear picture of events, what we have in fact is the events selected for presentation by the author according to a narrative strategy. Sailhamer says:

The recounting of events in the narrative is not intended to direct the reader’s attention outside the text but rather within the text and to the narrative world depicted there. The reader, as audience, is to understand the meaning of the events through the author’s development of the plot structure and characterization of the narrative. Thus divine revelation may be thought of as lying within the narrative text of Scripture as a function of the meaning of the events in their depiction.

I would note that you hear this in sermons all the time. The preacher is often not seeking to explain what the author intended, the narrative strategy, and so on, but rather wants to talk about what the character was up to in his estimation, what else was going on back then, things like that. It is a subtle difference but one with large ramifications. I think it springs mainly from ignorance about what a book is, what an author does, etc. In other words, the Biblical authors have already interpreted the events for us in their writings, they do not present us with the events in order for us to interpret what the event meant. We are rather to focus on what the text says the event meant. Sailhamer explains that we often lack a text theory and describes what a text is:

By its very nature a narrative text is something that does not project itself on us as such. When reading a text we are not constantly reminded of the fact that we are looking at words on a page, just as in watching a movie we are rarely conscious of looking at light on a screen. The function of a narrative text is to be a vehicle for telling a historical story.

He provides an example:

A photograph of a tree is a good example of the distinction between a text and the event depicted in it. A photograph is a representation of a tree. It represents the tree accurately and realistically, yet it does not have bark and leaves, nor is the sky behind the tree in the photograph a real sky. Nevertheless the actual bark and leaves of the real tree are represented in the photograph and so is the real sky…To say that a photograph only represents the tree but is not actually the tree, does not mean that the tree never existed or that the photograph is inaccurate because it only shows one side of the tree.

Sailhamer has many other helpful things to say on this subject, but let me skip ahead. He says:

The effect of overlooking the text of Scripture is favor of a focus on the events of Israel’s history can often be a “biblical” theology that is little more than a philosophy of history, an exegetical method that is set on expounding the meaning of the events lying behind Scripture rather than those depicted in Scripture itself.

Needless to say, Sailhamer chooses a text based approach rather than an events based one.

N.T. Wright in Boise

Back in April of 2003 I was able to attend an all day seminar with N.T. Wright on the resurrection. He had just published his massive book defending the resurrection of Jesus and was lecturing on that subject. I took notes on the occasion and I don’t believe I put them up on my blog, so here they are, six years later.

About thirty folks met at First Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in Boise on Monday with N. T. Wright. We were seated on the platform of the church under an enormous cross with Dr. Wright seated at a desk with a few books in front of him. I noticed the Septuagint and his new book amongst others. He
lectured from 9 am to 3 pm with a break for lunch basically covering the material from The Resurrection of the Son of God and doing a Q and A every hour.

I talked to Wright beforehand and he said the next major book in the series would be on Paul. He is also working on Galatians and Philippians and does not know when he is working what article will go in which book. He mentioned that it will be more difficult to work as the Bishop of Durham, but that he is looking forward to doing pastoral work again. He said one of the problems of being at Westminster is that you are always just dealing with the next 500 tourists and that he looks forward to having an actual congregation. He mentioned Paul’s pastoral inspiration, how he founded churches and wrote at the same time. He also made an aside about how pretentious it is to be enthroned physically at Durham, but he has to sort of go along with it all.

He critiqued the modern, fuzzy notions of heaven and life after death, and made a point of calling the resurrection the real goal, which is “life after life after death.” He dealt extensively with what was expected in the hereafter in pagan literature and then in the Jewish world. He said that the early Christian belief was originally close to the position of the Pharisees within Judaism, but with key mutations, six of which follow:

1. No spectrum of differing beliefs about the resurrection. All Christians believed in the resurrection with the exception of Gnostics who came later.
2. Periphery to Center. The belief was peripheral in Judaism, but became absolutely central in Christianity.
3. Transformation. In Judaism there was not an expectation of transformed physicality—i.e. a new body that was the same, but on a higher level. But in Christianity, this was the expectation (I Cor 15).
4. 2 moments of resurrection. Jesus first, everyone else second. This was not known in Judaism.
5. Different metaphorical use of the word. In Judaism res. could stand for national restoration as in Ezekiel, but in Christianity this meaning ends and it is used of things like baptism (Rom 7) and holiness (Col 3).
6. Resurrection of the Messiah. Jews did not expect the Messiah to rise again, because they did not expect him to die.

Wright had a lot of positive things to say about Polkinghorne’s work on the new creation as Polkinghorne is coming from a scientific background and so has a lot of insight into such things.

Wright called Rev. 21-22 the ultimate answer to Gnosticism. He said that of all the modern writers he read in researching the new book, C.S. Lewis’ chapter on the resurrection in “Miracles” was the best he came across (I read it today, it is good).

On the subject of hell and damnation, Wright said that it is not only possible but also certain that some reject God and say no to Christ. He said that we should all want to be Universalists in the sense that we don’t want to see anyone go to hell but that we should realize that we cannot. He said that worship is the chief thing that humans do and that those who continue to worship something other than God may in some sense cease to bear God’s image and ultimately become what Wright called “ex-human.” Just as the redeemed will be human on a higher level, the damned will be “beyond hope, beyond pity” so that the saints in the new creation will be able to experience joy without regret for those who are lost.

I had Dr. Wright sign my copy of the new book and out of curiosity asked him if he had met Martyn Lloyd-Jones at some point. It turns out that indeed he had back in the 70’s. He said he reviewed a couple of the Romans series that Jones had put out. Though he did not agree with Lloyd-Jones conclusions at all points, he had immense respect for the man and the devotion and time he had put into the book of Romans. He said Lloyd-Jones was deeply suspicious of him because he was an Anglican, but that he had been over to Lloyd-Jones for lunch. He remarked that the movement at Westminster Tabernacle that was so energetic in the 50’s and 60’s was not meeting the current climate of London intellectually.

N.T. Wright on Predestination

In Wright’s commentary on Romans, he says:

Foreknowledge is a form of love or grace; to speak thus is to speak of God’s reaching out, in advance of anything the person may do or think, to reveal love and to solicit an answering love, to reveal a particular purpose and to call forth obedience to it…More particularly, this foreknowledge produces God’s foreordaining purpose…What we have here, rather, is an expression, as in 1:1, of God’s action in setting people apart for a particular purpose, a purpose in which their cooperation, their loving response to love, their obedient response to the personal call, is itself all-important. This is not to deny the mystery of grace, the free initiative of God, and the clear divine sovereignty that is after all the major theme of this entire passage, here brought to a glorious climax. But it is to deny the common misconception, based on a two-dimensional rather than a three-dimensional understanding of how God’s actions and human actions relate to each other, that sees something done by God as something not done by humans, and vice versa….Woe betide theology if discussions of grace take their coloring from the mechanistic or technological age where all actions are conceived as though performed by a set of machines. God’s foreknowledge and foreordination, setting people apart in advance for particular purposes, are not equal and opposite to human desires, longings, self-questionings, obedience, and above all love. You do not take away from the one by adding to the other….Christian faith, ultimately irreducible to any analogy, and certainly not reducible to terms of “yet another odd paradox,” involves wholeheartedly and responsibly answering the call of sovereign love, gratitude, and obedience that come from the depths of one’s own being and are simultaneously experienced as a response to sovereignty, a compulsion even, to which the closest parallel remains that of the highest love. (on Rom 8.18-30)

He affirms predestination, but seeks to guard from an overly-deterministic mindset – something where I believe the Reformers agree with him, despite perceptions to the contrary.

In a footnote of his Romans commentary, Wright comments on Douglas Moo’s recent commentary which adopts the standard view of predestination in Romans and says:

…Moo allows his discussion to be overshadowed by the anachronistic debates between Calvinism and Arminianism…

Some of his comments:

“Paul is not, then, producing an abstract essay on the way in which God always works with individuals, or for that matter with nations and races. This is specifically the story of Israel, the chosen people; it is the unique story of how the creator has worked with the covenant people, to bring about the purpose for which the covenant was made in the first place. It is the story, in other words, whose climax and goal is the Messiah;
…These sections tell the story of Israel’s patriarchal foundation (vv. 6-13), then of the exodus (vv. 14-18), and then of God’s judgment that led to exile and, through it, to the fulfillment of God’s worldwide promise to Abraham (vv. 19-24).
9:11-12. The second explanation occupies center stage in this brief telling of the Jacob/Esau story: it cannot be that God’s selection of Jacob had anything to do with Jacob’s merits, since the promise was made before he and his brother were born. God’s choice has nothing to do with merit observed.
Nor (to meet the objection of a latter theology) could it have been foreseen, and hence explained in terms of God’s knowing how the brothers were going to turn out; Jacob’s behavior as a young adult, cheating and twisting this way and that, would scarcely have earned him favor with an impartial deity. The point is, though, that Paul is not here discussing what an abstract, impartial deity would or should have done; he is discussing the long purposes of God for Israel, and through Israel for the world. Central to those purposes is the principle that all must be of grace, “not of works, but of the one who calls.”
Paul is not, then, using the example of Pharaoh to explain that God has the right to show mercy, or to harden someone’s heart, out of mere caprice. Nor is it simply that God has the right to do this sort of thing when someone is standing in the way of the glorious purpose that has been promised. The sense of this passage (9:17-28) is gained from its place within the larger story line from 9:6-10:21–that is, as part of the story of Israel itself, told to explain what is now happening to Paul’s “kinsfolk according to the flesh.”
As in the parable of the sheep and the goats, there is an imbalance between what is said about the “vessels of wrath” and what is said about the “vessels of mercy” (Matt 25:34, 41). The former are “fitted for destruction,” leaving it at least ambiguous whether they have done this to themselves by their impenitence or whether God has somehow been involved in the process. The latter, though, have been “prepared for glory” by God himself.
“It isn’t a matter of willing, or running, but of God’s mercy” (v. 16); that text alone, even without its context, can bring solace to a troubled and anxious heart. That, indeed, is part of the point of expounding God’s sovereignty: not to terrify us with the sense of an unknowable and possibly capricious deity, but to assure us that the God of creation, the God we know in Jesus Christ, overflows with mercy, and that even negative judgments have mercy in view all along, if only people will have the humility and faith to find it where it has been placed. To be able to rest in the sovereign mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ is one of the most valuable aspects of the Christian’s calling.”

Augustinian Platonism

My lovely wife picked up a cheap book for me yesterday at the library sale : The Age of Reform 1250-1550. [50 cents!]

The author, Steven Ozment, outlines Augustine’s modification of Platonism in a chart which I have reproduced here.

Augustinian_Platonism_Picture.001

Ozment writes:

Augustine replaced the Platonic doctrine of reconciliation with his own distinctive doctrine of “divine illumination,” one of his most influential teachings. This doctrine placed the eternal forms of the Platonists within the mind of the triune Christian God, thereby making them truly divine ideas. Hence, when one plumbed the depths of one’s own mind in search of truth, one found there, not an innate ability to recollect eternity, as the Platonists had taught, but Christ, the eternal wisdom of God, the second person of the Trinity, whose very name was Truth. Through the illumination of Christ, indwelling truth, the mind received divine light by which it could know truly. Whether pagan or Christian, people understood and functioned within the world around them, thanks to this special grace of God. Without such divine illumination, all they would know was a chaos of phantasms. According to Augustine, just as God frees the will so that people can truly do good things, so he enlightens their minds so that they can surely know.

Wright on Rome

Over at Christianity Today there is an article on Protestants who defect to Rome. Bishop N.T. Wright is quoted in the article, but his full quote is not provided. Here is his full quote:

a. I’m on sabbatical writing Volume IV of my big series, on Paul; so I don’t have time for more than a quick response.

b. ‘Sacramental, transformational, communal, eschatological’? If you gave me that list and said ‘Where in the Christian world would you find that?’ I could easily and truthfully answer: (i) in the best of the Reformed tradition — spend a couple of days at Calvin College, or read Jamie  Smith’s new book, and you’ll see; (ii) in much of the best of the  charismatic movement, once it’s shed its low-church prejudices and discovered how much God loves bodies; (iii) in the best of… dare I say it… Anglicanism… ; (iv) in some bits (not all) of the Emerging Church movement . . .

c. Trent said both much more and much less than this. Sacramental, yes, but in a muddled way with an unhelpful ontology; transformational, yes, but far too dependent on unbiblical techniques and practices; communal, yes, but don’t let the laity (or the women) get any fancy ideas about God working new things through them; and eschatological?? Eschatology in the biblical sense didn’t loom large, and indeed that was a key element in the Reformers’ protest: the once-for-allness of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection as producing, not a new system for doing the same stuff over and over, but a new world. Trent, and much subsequent RC theology, has had a habit of never spring-cleaning, so you just live in a house with more and more clutter building up, lots of right answers to wrong questions (e.g. transubstantiation) which then get in the way when you want to get  something actually done. In particular, Trent gave the wrong answer,  at a deep level, to the nature/grace question, which is what’s at the  root of the Marian dogmas and devotions which, despite contrary  claims, are in my view neither sacramental, transformational,  communal nor eschatological. Nor biblical. The best RCs I know (some  of whom would strongly disagree with the last point, some would  strongly agree) are great conversation partners mainly because they  have found ways of pushing the accumulated clutter quietly to one  side and creating space for real life. But it’s against the grain of the Tridentine system, in my view. They aren’t allowed to say that but clearly many of them think it. Joining in is just bringing more of your own clutter to an already confused and overcrowded room…

d. I am sorry to think that there are people out there whose Protestantism has been so barren that they never found out about sacraments, transformation, community or eschatology. Clearly this person needed  a change. But to jump to Rome for that reason is very odd. It reminds  me of the fine old German NT scholar Heinrich Schlier, who found that the only way to be a Protestant was to be a Bultmannian, so, because he couldn’t take  Bultmann, became a Roman Catholic; that was the only other option in  his culture. Good luck to him; happily, most of us have plenty of  other options. To say ‘wow, I want that stuff, I’d better go to Rome’ is like someone suddenly discovering (as I’m told Americans occasionally do — sorry, cheap shot) that there are other countries in the world and so getting the first big boat he finds in New York to take him there . . . when there were plenty of planes lined up and waiting at JFK. Rome is a big, splendid, dusty old ocean liner, with lots of grand cabins, and, at present, quite a fine captain and some excellent officers — but also quite a few rooms in need of repair.  Yes, it may take you places, but it’s slow and you might get seasick  from time to time. And the navigators have been told that they must never acknowledge when they’ve been going in the wrong direction . . .

e. I spent three very happy weeks as the Anglican observer at the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops last October. They were talking about the Bible: about how for so long they have more or less banned the laity from reading or studying it, and how now they want to change all that, to insist that every Catholic man, woman, child, cat and dog should have the Bible in their own mother tongue and be taught to read it, study it, pray with it, individually and together. Hallelujah! Who knows what might happen. Question: why did nobody say this in 1525? If they had, we’d have been saved a lot of bother.
Let’s engage cheerfully in as much discussion with our Roman friends as we can. They are among my best ecumenical conversation partners, and  some of them are among my dear friends. But let’s not imagine that a renewed biblical theology will mean we find ourselves saying ‘you guys were right after all’ just at the point where, not explicitly but actually, they are saying that to us . . .

Aside from what may be an implicit endorsement of women’s ordination in there, that’s pretty good stuff! I particularly like his rejection of Mariolatry in Rome. Perhaps Rowan Williams should listen to Bishop Wright more.