Without the gospelThe really helpful indentation was done by Justin Taylor and you can read more of it on his blog. Or read the whole thing at Google Books. It is incredible. Apparently the first thing Calvin wrote as a Protestant (in 1534). Seriously, it is absolute gold!everything is useless and vain;without the gospelwe are not Christians;without the gospelall riches is poverty,But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made
all wisdom folly before God;
strength is weakness,
and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God.children of God,
brothers of Jesus Christ,
fellow townsmen with the saints,
citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven,
heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whomthe poor are made rich,
the weak strong,
the fools wise,
the sinner justified,
the desolate comforted,
the doubting sure,
and slaves free.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Saturday, July 25, 2009
I enjoyed reading The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis recently. I lot of challenging stuff. I was particularly challenged by his discussion in letter 11 of the four causes of human laughter ('Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy'). Screwtape identifies flippancy as the most likely to lead people to damnation. It is something I suffer from, and I found his description of it quite brilliant:
Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it
Thursday, July 23, 2009
It is great to see read Athanasius On the Incarnation and see that he had a very similar understanding to the cross to what we share. The gospel has remained the same. Also it is encouraging that he seems to share my understanding of what is going on with truth and lies in Romans:
it was absurd that, having spoken, God should lie, in that he had established a law that man would die by death if he were to transgress the commandment, and man did not die after he had transgressed, but God's word was made void. For God would not have been truthful, if after he had said we would die, man had not died. And furthermore, it would have been improper that what had once been created rational and had partaken of his Word, should perish and return again to non-existence through corruption [...]
It would have been absurd that for our benefit and permanence God, the Father of truth, should appear a liar. What therefore in this matter had to occur, or what should God have done? Demand repentance from men for the transgression? [...] But repentance would not have saved God's honour, for he would still have remained untruthful unless men were in the power of death [...]
for this reason the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God came to our realm; not that he was previously distant, for no part of creation is left deprived of him, but he fills the universe, being in union with his Father. But in his benevolence towards us he condescended to come and be made manifest. for he saw that the rational race was perishing that death was reigning over them through corruption, and he saw also that the threat of transgression was firmly supporting corruption over us, and that it would have been absurd for the law to be dissolved before it had been fulfilled [...] thus taking a body like ours, since all were liable to the corruption of death, and surrendering it to death on behalf of all, he offered it to the Father. And this he did in his loving kindness in order that, as all die in him, the law concerning corruption in men might be abolished [...] consequently by offering his temple and the instrument of his body as a substitute for all me, he fulfilled the debt by his death. And as the incorruptible Son of God was united to all men by his body similar to theirs, consequently he endued all men with incorruption by the promise concerning his resurrection.
(pp. 147-155, ed. and trans. by Robert W. Thomson, Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione)
Sorry for the long quote. I have this problem whenever a book is really good. I can't decide what to not quote! It seems to me similar to what Anselm argues in Cur Deus Homo.
Commenting on Jesus' use of the term 'Son of Man' and its dependence on Daniel 7 James Denney writes:
what primarily determined its significance was its contrast to the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the terrible beast with iron teeth. When Jesus defined it and made it His own - when he turned 'one like unto a son of man' into 'the Son of Man,' and used the name almost as a periphrasis for 'I' - He intimated to those who were able to understand it His consciousness of being head of a new, universal, and everlasting kingdom, in which all that was truly and characteristically human should have authority. The wild beasts had had their time; not the hour had come for the dominion of the human; man claimed his sovereignty in Jesus [...] It is one great part of His work, in this very character of the Son of Man, to revolutionise the current idea of sovereignty by exhibiting the true and everlasting one [...] It is not, then , simply nearness to us, brotherly tenderness and sympathy, that the name 'the Son of Man' expresses; it is nearness, brotherly tenderness and sympathy, ministering life and ransoming death, as the essential marks and attributes of the one true King of our race [...]
the point of the name lies in its combination of two things in one person - an entire identification with men, which makes all that is theirs His; and a sovereignty exercised in purest humanity which makes this true brother the Redeemer of His kind.
(italics original, pp. 36-39, Studies in Theology)
I was kept up last night reading an old set of lectures by James Denney I had just picked up for £1.50. One in particular was excellent entitled 'The Witness of Jesus to Himself'. I have tried to give get down an outline of what he had to say in his own words:
1. The 'present, permanent, and all-embracing significance of Christ is the mark of the Christian religion in all its historical forms'.
2. 'Jesus, in all the accounts we have, speaks much about Himself. He knows that He is a problem to those by whom He is surrounded, and that on the true solution of the problem everything depends.'
3. 'What, I think, strikes every reader of the gospels, and what must have been immensely more striking to those who heard Him speak, is the moral authority claimed and exercised by Jesus.'
- 'Christ claimed, authoritatively, to be the consummator of the old religion.'
- 'it was part of the moral authority exercised by Jesus that He criticised, and where He thought fit, abrogated, even what had hitherto possessed divine authority.'
- 'But Christ's authority is principally exercised, in the first instance, in the demand for personal obedience and personal confidence. Follow me is a summary of all He has to say to men.'
4. 'He claimed a unique knowledge of God, and claimed it on the basis of a unique relation to Him. He revealed God as the Father, and He was able to do so because He knew Himself as the Son [of God].'
5. When Jesus referred to himself as "the Son of Man" 'He intimated to those who were able to understand it His consciousness of being head of a new, universal, and everlasting kingdom, in which all that was truly and characteristically human should have authority.'
6. 'with all His identification of Himself with our interests - making common cause with us as men to the very utermost - Jesus, it is plain on every page of the gospel, was conscious of the immense interval which separated Him from us.'
7. 'Jesus often puts Himself forward [with] the character of a Judge [...] Jesus looked into the future, but what He saw there was not the coming of another, but His own coming again.'
You may notice the overlap with John Stott's three points.
Glen has just posted on the differences between Luther and Cramner on the Lord's Supper. Pete Jackson asked what Luther's liturgy for Communion was. It ran something like this, although these were more guidelines than the equivalent of the BCP:
To begin the service we sing a hymn or a German Psalm...
Then follows the Kyrie eleison...
Thereupon the priest reads a collect...
Thereafter the Epistle...
After the Epistle a German hymn...
Then he reads the Gospel...
After the Gospel the whole congregation sings the Creed in German...
Then follows the sermon on the Gospel...
After the sermon shall follow a public paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer and admonition for those who want to partake of the sacrament...
- I admonish you first of all to lift up your hearts to God to pray with me the Lord's Prayer, as Christ our Lord has taught us and graciously promised to hear us...
- [A expanded Lord's prayer where each of the petitions is explored]
- Secondly I admonish you in Christ that you discern the Testament of Christ in true faith and, above all, take to heart the words wherein Christ imparts to us his body and his blood for the remission of our sins. That you remember and give thanks for his boundless love which he proved to us when he redeemed us from God's wrath, sin, death and hell by his own blood. And that in this faith you externally receive the bread and wine, i.e., his body and his blood, as the pledge and guarantee of this. In his name therefore, and according to the command that he gave, let us use and receive the Testament...
Thereupon the Office and Consecration [i.e. 1 Cor 11:23-25]...
administer the sacrament immediately after the consecration of the bread, before the cup is blessed...Meanwhile, the German Sanctus or the hymn "Let God Be Blest," or the hymn of John Huss, "Jesus Christ, Out god and Savior," could be sung. Then the cup be blessed and administered, while the remainder of these hymns are sung, or the German Agnus Dei....
The collect follows with the benediction.
(pp. 389ff, e.d. Theodore G. Tappert, Selected Writings of Martin Luther vol.3)
Got to love the two 'admonitions'!
I probably also ought to note that the Kyrie, the scripture texts, the Creed and the Office and Consecration are all sung. There is a lot of music.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
This is not really anything. It is not an interpretation of all of Romans but is an attempt to pick up some of the themes that Romans deals with, with 7:11 as the pole around which everything else revolved. Although that is not to say that it is an exposition of that verse.
It is the result of some reflection on truth and lies in Romans. I posted a word search on truth, lies and deceit here, but should have searched for 'knowledge'/'knowing'/'knew'/'know' and more would have been clearer sooner. But as 7:11 connects deceit with the law, it is also my attempt to understand how these themes fit with the law.
This is also not my promised post on knowledge of God through creation, but will hopefully feed into it... so with that out of the way....
God in creation made himself known by revealing the truth about his power and nature (1:18). However all humanity rejected this truth preferring instead to believe a lie (singular, 1:25). What was this lie? If we read Genesis 3 the lie that the serpent deceived Eve with was the lie that God would not follow through on his threat of death. In short he persuaded Eve that 'the wrath of God is [not] against all ungodliness and unrighteousness' (1:18). That wrath has been revealed so we should now know it to be true, and yet humanity still believes the same lie.
God provided Israel with the law which was the 'embodiment of knowledge and truth' (2:19-21). This law meant Israel knew 'that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice' sin (2:2). However, Israel while believing this truth in relation to others did not believe it applied to them, and so they did not 'obey the truth' (2:8). Instead of letting the law judge them they relied on it and boasted that they knew God's will (2:17-18). They taught others but not themselves.
The people of Israel were believing the serpent's old lie that judgment would not really fall on them. So if God entered into judgment with Israel, like God did with David (in Ps 51 quoted in Rom 3:4), God would be justified in punishing Israel - proving the lie to be a lie. Israel should listen to their own law which, as Paul shows in the quotations of Romans 3, declares them to be under sin and under the curse. Instead they were using their tongues to deceive themselves and others about their true situation which was that they were under the curse of creation and of the law.
But what of the covenants and the promises of God to Israel? Can God really be faithful to these promises and also be justified in his judgment against sin? Or from the other direction, how can God pass over former sins and yet stay the righteous judge who does not let the wicked go unpunished?
Paul explains that God has fulfilled both the law and the promise that appeared 430 years earlier. He did this by putting forward Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins. He took the curse of the law (showing God to be righteous) but he also fulfilled the promise of the covenant with Abraham that God would be faithful to his promise even at the cost of his own life.
But does this only affect the Jews, of is it for the Gentiles also? After all the promise was to Abraham and his offspring, and the law was only for the Jews as well. Aren't the Gentiles just spectators to this drama of the Jewish people. No, because God is the God of all of creation. The law was just the embodiment of what was already in creation (chap 1). The promise to Abraham was that 'all the nations be blessed' (Gal 3:8). The Jews were priests to the world, and represented the world to God. God was never just interested in them.
But all this assumes that the promise cannot come through obeying the law. Isn't that what the bible teaches? Wasn't Abraham declared righteousness because he obeyed the law, and receive the promise because of his obedience? No! Abraham was declared righteous because he believed in 'him who justifies the ungodly' (4:5). He then received the promise, not because of what he did but as a gift.
So why then the law? What did the law achieve?
- It brought knowledge of sin (3:20)
- It brought transgression (4:15)
- It counted sin (5:13)
- It increased the trespass/sin (5:20)
- It held us captive (7:6) Imprisoning us under sin (Gal 3:22)
- It showed sin to be sin (7:13)
- It made sin sinful beyond measure (7:13)
These can be brought under two headings:
- It described what sin looked like and told us that it would lead to God's wrath
- It actually increased the sin
We can understand how the law did 1. while remaining good, but how did it do 2. while still being a good thing?
Well it did it because it was not the law itself but Sin using the law to its own advantage. It used the law to bring the deception it had been perpetuating since Eve, to its climax. It used the law to perform the deception of history, which showed more than had ever been shown before how sinful humanity was.
By the commandment the Devil deceived humanity into believing not merely that God's judgment wasn't as strong as they thought (as he did with Eve), but instead he deceived humanity into using God's judgment against God himself. Israel did this whenever they boasted about the law. They did it every time that thought that doing a good work earned them a wage. But they did it supremely in the greatest sin of history, the crucifixion of God's own Son.
This was legalism brought to its climax. They rejected the cornerstone and it became a stumbling block (9:33; 1 Peter 2:7-8). They had a zeal for God, a zeal for keeping the law, but this was not according to knowledge of the truth and so they did not submit to God's righteousness in the person of Christ but instead they killed him (10:1-3)! They condemned the perfect obedient son using the very law that should have led them to accept him. They were deceived like Eve was into thinking that they could take the place of judge over God, instead of letting God judge them. But they increased the trespass because where as Eve had just rejected God's law and asserted her authority, the Jewish leaders had used God's law itself to assert theirs.
However that judgment was shown to be a lie by God's raising of Christ from the dead for his justification (1 Timothy 3:16). He 'was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead' (Romans 1:3). But that justification of Jesus was also our justification if we see ourselves judged in his death by being baptised into it (4:5). We too can share in his declaration to be a child of God. We too can share in his new resurrection life.
- Further thoughts on reading Romans: Reading Romans backwards
What do you think? Does that make sense of the text? My particular concern might be that it reads the truth/lie as belief/rejection of the judgment of God against sin, when the connected promise should also be in there as well. Some of the passages seem to fit the latter better than the former.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Gerhard Forde wonders why "there were so few attempts to construct theodicies prior to the 18th century". He quotes Hannah Arendt as offering an answer: "When men could no longer praise, they turned their greatest conceptual efforts to justifying God and His Creation in theodicies" (pp.84-85, On Being a Theologian of the Cross).
I had a 20min conversation with a colleague at work today about why he wasn't a Christian. It was annoying because I had to cut it short because after 20min of just chatting it was about time we got back to some work. But it was also annoying because I did a really rubbish job of giving a reason for my hope... One of the many problems I see looking back on it was I failed to really praise God with what I said.
Lets pray God uses the foolish and sinful.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
'Or do you not know, brothers — for I am speaking to those who know the law — that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.' (Romans 7:1-3)
In the OT Israel is often depicted as the unfaithful wife of God. They were married to one another through the Mosaic covenant. However, Israel broke the covenant countless times by committing adultery by worshipping other gods. God kept taking Israel back despite the requirements of his own law that the adulteress shall be put to death (with the man/god she committed adultery with).
God's promise and his law were in conflict, and there seemed no way in which he could fail to be true to one or the other. He kept on passing over the former sins of his wife but he couldn't keep on doing that forever without denying the truthfulness of the very thing that bound them together.
But what if instead of the adulteress dying, the faithful husband died? Then the adulteress could have relationships with other men without penalty, because the covenant that brings the curse no longer exists.
PS. Sorry once again Chris for breaking my own promise. It is still top of my mind, but I wanted to get down my random thoughts on Romans 7.
- 'the wrath of God is revealed...against...men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth' (1:18)
- 'they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator' (1:25)
- 'for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.' (2:8)
- 'if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?' (2:19-21)
- 'Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, "That you may be justified in your words"' (3:4)
- 'But if through my lie God's truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?' (3:7)
- 'Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive' (3:13)
- 'sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me' (7:11)
- 'I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit — that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.' (9:1-2)
- 'you will say "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true.' (11:19-20)
- 'Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs' (15:8)
- 'such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.' (16:18)
So, I went through Romans like that because I'm trying to understand how Sin deceived Paul through the commandment (7:11). Not sure if it has helped. Does anyone have any thoughts?
Moo says Sin '"deceived" Israel into thinking it could obtain life through [the law]'. Calvin is no help. I haven't got Luther on Romans.
The law is not a remedy for sin. It does not cure sin but rather makes it worse. St. Paul says it was given to make sin apparent, indeed, even to increase it. It doesn't do that necessarily by increasing immortality, although that can happen when rebellion or the power of suggestion leads us to do just what the law is against. But what the theologian of the cross sees clearly from the start,is that, more perversely, the law multiplies sin precisely through our morality, our misuse of the law and our success at it. It becomes a defence against the gift.
(italics original (bold by me), p.27, Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518)
So the law does not increase sin by making us more like younger brothers, but like older brothers which is worse.
I can't believe that this thought is new to me. It is one of those occasions where I wonder whether after all my reading I'm still yet to really get Luther's main points.
But does it make sense of Romans 7 to see sin increased by:
(a) increasing immortality; or
(b) through our morality as a defence against the gift?
I'm not sure. But I think the fact that it is the sin's deceit that Paul draws attention to (v.7) may support Luther and Forde.
Here is a fairly rough breakdown of 'who Paul is addressing' in Romans:
|Chap 1: Gentiles||Chap 2: Jews|
|Chap 6: Gentiles||Chap 7: Jews|
To some degree that is helpful, but it is not quite the structure as it is in Romans. It is more like:
|Chap 1: Everyone||Chap 2: Jews as representatives of everyone|
|Chap 6: Everyone||Chap 7: Jews as representatives of everyone|
Romans is not just written for us in the sense that an analogy between the Jews and Gentiles can be drawn with us. We are ourselves being addressed through the original addressees.
We must get away from the thinking that Romans 1 is addressed to Gentiles. It is about all humanity. We must also get away from thinking that the Jews were just a particular historical people under a particular God-given historical law that is only analogous to our situation. They were always the representatives of all humanity, and we misunderstand the bible if we think they were just an example.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Chart from The Economist
In 1909 only 0.2% of people were cremated in England & Wales, today it is 75% (interestingly though it is only 18% in Northern Island, source).
What does that say about our culture that cremations haven't been this popular since before the conversions of the Anglo-Saxons?
Are we becoming Panthesistic as Tom Wright suggests the scattering of ashes implies ('the underlying assumption [is] of a desire to be simply merged back into the created world, without any affirmation of a future life of embodiment', Surprised by Hope, p.32)?
Or are we so concerned about the ephemeral spirit that the body is now only and instrument to carry the soul which can be destroyed to set the spirit free (a bit like some Eastern religions?)?
Or perhaps we are so agressively materialistic that the cheapest, most space-efficient and hygenic way of disposing of bodies is to be preferred (as the pioneers in the UK argued)?
Answers on a postcard.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
As a society, and as churches we so often do not do a good job of helping people with depression or other mental illnesses.
I want to talk about some things I've learnt about how we can do better. I have in mind particularly Christians who have depression which is often accompanied by a lack of assurance. In fact these two things often feed off each other. I'm sorry for the narrow focus, but that is where most of my experience is.
I think we can mess up by either treating this sort of misery purely as an illness requiring professional help and medication or as purely 'spiritual' problem requiring preaching the word of the gospel into people's lives. However, the medical profession almost never addresses the 'spiritual' questions because it does not share the beliefs of the sufferer. The church can do far more than the medical profession can ever do. Whereas the church cannot prescribe medication and provide professional advice it can do a lot to address both the problem of belief and the illness (although you cannot really separate them).
To move out of misery we have to recognise that human-beings are multifaceted and take an approach which responds to that.
However the first and most important step for the miserable Christian is to step outside of his/herself. Otherwise you will only reinforce the position you are in. Once you step outside of yourself then address yourself and the different aspects of your being that make you up (these are a bit schematic and overlap so forgive me):
1. Intellectual beings
Conservative Evangelicals are probably unlikely to forget this. However, it is essential to address false beliefs that we are carrying which may lead to our lack of assurance, and remind ourselves of what we may have forgotten. Particularly helpful is to remember a few different aspects of (justification by) faith:(a) faith => we are not saved by works
(b) faith => we are not saved by our feelings
(c) faith => our hope is future. We must not expect to experience salvation fully now (e.g. 1 Corinthians 13:12).
Really, people can say they believe this, but probe just a little in your heart and others and you see we often doubt it, and that is cancerous.
2. Emotional beings
Preaching to ourselves must not just be intellectual. It must involve mediating and savouring truths. Turning over and over in our minds and hearts how good God is towards us in his beloved Son. However, emotions are not all so rational. That is why Luther so often suggests listening to music to troubled friends. Entertainment (not just electronic, but physical and social) has a amazing power to change our mood all by itself.
3. Social beings
This was also a favourite suggestion of Luther. Spend some time with friends. Don't succumb to extremely strong desire to hide away and avoid company. Seek it out for both light conversation and to talk about your struggles so they can encourage you. Be open to hearing their encouragement, and believe their encouragement and absolving words to have all the authority of Christ's (Matthew 18:18). To the friend of a miserable Christian, remember one of the most helpful things you can do is stick by them. Just being there is essential. Keep seeing your friend regularly even though frankly it can be an incredibly dispiriting experience for you.
4. Physical beings
Our physical health has a remarkable power to affect our psychological and spiritual health. Ensure that you get enough sleep, but don't sleep too much. Ensure you get exercise, but not too much. Identify other things that affect you physically (food you eat, coffee, Coca-cola [I kid you not]) and adapt your behaviour. Finally, professional medical advice, and prescribed medication often has an essential role to play in controlling our chemical balances.
5. Creaturely beings
We did not create ourself and we cannot heal ourself either. God is in ultimate control despite the devil's power, and so prayer is probably the most important thing we can do for ourselves, and others to do for us.
I probably ought to say something about 'spiritual warfare' and habits as well, but that will do. I probably also ought to say that often there is no 'cure' for the misery, and it never goes away. It can sometimes only be kept under control. Circumstances and illness bring out our lack of faith in making us doubt our assurance. However, that is not to say that happy Christians are any more holy for their happiness. It may be that their happiness would crumble much more easily if it had to face difficult experiences.
PS sorry Chris this is not the post I promised about creation, I'll do that one next but it will take longer to write.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
The Song of Songs has always puzzled me, as I imagine it has puzzled lots of other people.
I may not have great literary antenna but I have always thought that the repeated phrase found throughout the book, which is just about its only direct address or command by the bride to those outside the story, holds the key to understanding the book's message. Repeated three times in 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4 is the phrase: 'I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem [...] that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.' This book it appears is about knowing the 'time to embrace, and [the] time to refrain from embracing' (Eccl 3:5).
Structurally key to the book is the only other time that the bride 'adjures' the 'daughters of Jerusalem' which is in 5:8, and is for them to find her beloved and tell him that she is 'sick with love'. I think this marks a turning point in the story. Up till this time it has been too early to awaken love, which has shown in the confusion and obstacles which mark the first two-thirds of the story. It follows the dream sequence where she has both longed for him, but also been unsure of her love - her 'soul failed' (5:6) and she lost him. However, after 5:8 both the bride and bridegroom seem much more sure of their relationship with each other. The bride is challenged 'What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?' and she answers persuasively so that the 'others' agree to help her find him (6:1).
She seeks to find if the time is now right to awake love 'to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom' (6:11, 7:12). It clearly is by the wonderful words that the couple shower on each other. They are encouraged to return and present herself to the community (6:13). As the right time has arrived she 'comes up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved' (8:5). Now finally it is the time for love to be awakened and the bride declares 'Under the apple tree I awakened you' (8:5).
The watchmen in the story have always confused me. They appear benignly in 3:3 and the bride finds her bridegroom immediately after seeing them. In 5:7 however they are violent, abuse her and seem to prevent her finding her love. Their role as 'watchmen of the walls' should explain their identity. At the end of the book we read of others who have responsibility for walls (8:8-9):
We have a little sister,
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for?
If she is a wall,
we will build on her a battlement of silver,
but if she is a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
They are presumably her brothers who in the OT often seem to have responsibility for protecting their sisters. In Israelite society romance was both public, arranged and dealt with in community and especially family. Throughout the book it is never just the lovers who are involved in this romance.
The 'daughters of Jerusalem', the young women, and those who have a role in protecting her, have a responsibility to ensure that love is not forced early, and sex does not happen until the appropriate time. Coercion to force love, or prevent it is the folly this wisdom book opposes.
The Song of Songs is both a cautionary tale of how things can go wrong, but also of how wonderfully it can come together in the end. In the end there is 'peace' after all the commotion of the early story. It is something to look forward to.
BTW if as I have incoherently argued, not awakening love too early, and the responsibility of the lovers and the community in behaving in line with this, is central to the purpose of this book, then I cannot see how a description of the relationship of God to Israel or Christ to the Church is the original intention of the author. Which is not to deny that it is not pointed to, as it is in every loving relationship no matter how marred by sin. Although I have to admit fault is surprisingly difficult to find with the bridegroom given my interpretation....
"it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." (Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins)
"[Hegel] grasps the nature of work and comprehends objective man, authentic because actual, as the result of his own work" (Marx)
"man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself" (Satre)
"your action, and your action alone, determines your worth" (Fichte)
In case you think I am wider-read than I am, I stole all but one of those from Oswald Bayer (guess which).
In what I thought was the most controversial post I have written this year, but that generated no comments, I suggested that without the word of the Gospel creation just communicates the law. I explained that while creation can witness to its creator, it cannot witness to how we are to relate to him (through Christ) and so only condemns. I didn't really explain how if functions as law even if you do not see the witness to God in it. Oswald Bayer describes how:
If the world is not believed as that which is promised, then it will be experienced as a "fearful natural realm" [Arnold Gehlen], as a relentlessly necessary, oppressive law, which says: you must squeeze some sense out of this chaos, this fearful natural realm in all its uncertainty; you have to be in charge of making sense in this and out of this chaotic world; you yourself have to establish its order! If the world is not believed to be that which is promised, then it becomes, as Nietzsche aptly observed, "a thousand deserts, mute and cold." In such muteness and such coldness I experience God's wrath - admittedly so anonymously that I simply cannot even identify it as God's wrath.
(p. 102, Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation)
I think we have rediscovered in recent years that our salvation is our new creation. We are picking up and emphasising all those NT and Isaianic images of creation when describing our redemption. This is great. Lets celebrate it.
However, somehow in the process there seems to be a desire to shift justification to one side as one metaphor among many. Drawn from the legal context justification can be preferably pushed aside to make way creation which is more fundamental.
Oswald Bayer will not buy into this because to him what God says is fundamental to everything. Justification is what God declares in grace over us, it is also what he declared in grace over the whole of creation.
justification is not simply an isolated topic, next to which other topics can exist; it has essential importance and is connected with every topic. Justification does not affect just my individual life, not even just the history of the world, but impacts the history of nature as well; if affects all things. It is thus not sufficient to speak of the article on justification solely as the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae - as the article on which the church stands and falls. Instead, the meaning of justification must be taken seriously in its breadth, with ramifications that have application for a theology of creation and for ontology. In a prominent position in the Smalcald Articles Luther says: "One cannot go soft or give way on this article, for then heaven and earth would fall." "Without the article on justification the world is nothing but death and darkness."
(p. 98, Oswald Bayer, Martin Luther's Theology: A Contemporary Interpretation)
God's word is 'the creative Word of God that justifies' (p.97, ibid). 'Creation is speech act' (p.103).
I should really comment more but I haven't got time. By the way, I have quoted Oswald Bayer before the fundamental nature of justification before.
Feel free to pass over this post as I do bang on about it a lot. I just wanted to note down this quotation because otherwise I won't be able to find it again:
The whole of Scripture is in some parts law, in others gospel. The books of Moses in some sections propound the law, in others the gospel, and moreover the gospel is concealed in the very law itself. For what can you find more evangelical than that promise which the Spirit of God added as the etiology of the First Commandment: "Showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments" (Deut. 5:10)? And see how suddenly Moses is transformed from lawgiver to evangelist, that is, a herald of grace and mercy, when he says in Ex. 34:6 f.: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast lover and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty." Try to find a more evangelical pasage in the whole New Testament [...]
In like manner, Christ expounds law, for grace cannot be preached without law. [...]
Often, to be sure, Christ also preaches law, because without law sin cannot be recognized and unless we experience sin, we shall not understand the power and fullness of grace. Therefore, both law and gospel ought to be preached at the same time, and both sin and grace ought to be made clear.
(pp. 73-77, 'Loci Communes' (1521) in LCC: Melanchthon and Bucer)
Canadian researchers found those with low self-esteem actually felt worse after repeating positive statements about themselves.
They said phrases such as "I am a lovable person" only helped people with high self-esteem.
I would like to say that this shouldn't surprise Christians, but I think it would surprise some. A helpful corrective would be Graham Beynon's Mirror, Mirror.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
Probably Philip Melanchthon's most quoted comment was 'to know Christ means to know his benefits' (p.21, 'Loci Communes' (1521) in LCC: Melanchthon and Bucer). However, often people just read the immediate context of the quote and take him to mean that we should prioritise knowing about the work of Christ over his person. But that is not really what he is writing about. Instead it is concerned with one of his major concerns in the Loci, which is to overturn the Roman Catholic understanding of faith.
For Melanchthon the knowledge of Christ 'is faith alone' (p. 106, ibid). Faith is not just belief that some things are true, it is that God has promised salvation to me. For the Reformers assurance was an absolutely central part of faith, and this pervades all of Melanchthon's Loci:
'You see, then, that "the assurance of things hoped for" is called "faith." Therefore, those who do not hope for the promised salvation do not believe. "But," you will say, "I believe that salvation was promised, but that it will come to others." For thus the flesh thinks. But listen! These promises are made to you also, are they not? Has not the gospel been preached to all the nations? You do not really believe, therefore, unless you believe that salvation has been promised to you also.' (p.97, ibid)
In fact you can see her that assurance is not just part of faith, but faith itself for Melanchthon. In this he is following Luther who defines faith as 'a living, daring confidence in God's grace' (p.101, 'Preface to the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans' Luther's Basic Theological Writings). Melanchthon refuses to even give the name 'faith' to belief that is not assurance of receiving the benefits of Christ, instead he terms it 'frigid opinion' (p.100, Loci).
Carl Trueman observes that the Puritans saw this understanding of faith as potentially damaging to fragile spirits. They did not respond by going all the way back to the Roman Catholic position of denying it is possible to be assured of salvation, but they denied that it was a necessary attribute of faith. In the WCF Chapter 18 we read that 'his infallible assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties, before he be partaker of it'.
I'm not sure who was right really. But I cannot help observing that it is undeniable that when the Puritans said they believed in justification by faith, they meant something quite different to the Reformers (and especially the Lutheran reformers). For the Lutherans faith=assurance. For the Puritans faith led to assurance.
Things are a lot messier than we would like to believe sometimes.
... I know the position we take will affect our encouragement of other Christians, I wonder if it would affect our evangelism too.
It is often commented that we live in an information rich age. In 2005 206,000 new titles were published in the UK (can you believe that! that is more than any other country, even the US!), and we have easier access to those that are out of print than we did in the past. In addition we have countless other sources of information.
It is not a new problem though. Over 2000 years ago before there were too many books and the Teacher complained that 'Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh' (Ecclesiastes 12:12)... I wonder if he saw the irony as he added to the pile.
Luther saw the problem he created by writing so much (the English translation of some of his works numbers 55 volumes) when he wrote in his Preface to the Wittenberg Edition of his German writings that:
I shudder to think of the example I am giving, for I am well aware how little the church has been profited since they have begun to collect many books and large libraries, in addition to and besides the Holy Scriptures, and especially since they have stored up, without discrimination, all sorts of writings by the church fathers, the councils, and teachers. Through this practice not only is precious time lost, which could be used for studying the Scriptures, but in the end the pure knowledge of the divine Word is also lost, so that the Bible lies forgotten.
Philip Melanchthon was a true disciple when he also constantly apologised for writing so much. In his 1521 Loci he ends his very restrained work by recognising that it is good to write on good things, but that it can have bad results:
I think I have done well to discuss such important topics more briefly than I should have done, lest with misplaced diligence I call someone away from the Scripture to my disputations.
The problem is not always that we spend our time doing bad things instead of good, but that we spend time on good things and displace the best. I was reminded this when I observed on Sunday that my church was about to embark on some new thing. Our pastor rightly explained how this thing was good and Biblical, but then inferred that it therefore should be done (not seeing that A needn't imply B). This week I've realised that what is true of my church is true of me too. For example, I have got an unusually long list of good 'must read' books on my shelf at the moment but they do crowd out other things, including reading the Scriptures.
At the heart of this problem of not prioritising, or ordering our loves (?!), is that we don't want to accept that we are finite. We want to do a million things well. We just can't. We have to accept that we are not God. We cannot sustain the whole world by our action, comprehend all knowledge, or enjoy all good things we have been given.
I need to learn this, and our churches need to learn it as well.