Romans 5:1 in many translations, including the ESV, reads: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is a variant reading with this passage, however, and some manuscripts say instead “since we have been justified by faith, let us have peace with God.” In the first reading, peace with God is an absolute reality following from justification. In the second, it sounds as though, even though we are justified, we may have times where we are not “at peace” (or, complete peace) with God, and thus need to seek a state of complete peace with God, and our justification enables this.
Many people say both are true. While we do have peace with God because of justification, it seems as though we can disrupt our fellowship with God through sin. Not our acceptance (and thus ultimate peace) with God, but our fellowship and experience of that peace. While I think that distinction needs to be refined somewhat, there is probably something to it.
But what did Paul have in mind here? Did he have that distinction in mind, or was he making an unqualified statement about the perfect, unfailing, and infallible and unchanging rock-bottom peace and acceptance we have with God because of our justification, which continues even if our fellowship is disrupted through sin?
I think he was making the unqualified statement, because Romans 5:1 is a clear echo of Romans 8:1, which is unqualified. Romans 5:1 states it positively: “We have peace with God.” Romans 8:1 states the flip side: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 5:1 and Romans 8:1 are restatements of one another. Each tells us the same truth, from different sides of the coin. To have peace with God (Romans 5:1) means, conversely, having no condemnation before him (Romans 8:1). Likewise, if we have no condemnation before him (Romans 8:1), then we are at utter and complete peace with him (Romans 5:1).
There is no textual variant with Romans 8:1 — it unquestionably states that we now have no condemnation. Hence, it is most likely the case that the parallel statement in Romans 5:1 is stating the same thing — that we now have peace with God, having been justified by faith.
Why does this matter? First, because it is important in itself to know what the correct reading of any text is. Beyond this, however, it gives power in the fight against sin and provides a foundation for true humility. For no matter how diligent you are to confess your sins and turn against them (as you ought to be diligent to do!), it is always the case that our sin is greater than we realize at any point in time.
The radical affirmation of Romans 5:1 (and Romans 8:1) is that our full and complete acceptance with God comes fully through faith, and not on our ability to fully see the depth of our sin in all respects which, this side of glory, is probably not fully possible. Thus, a correct understanding of Romans 5:1 keeps us from the pride of thinking that even our experience of fellowship with God is ultimately due to our own diligence in and ability to see the full depth of our sins.
In other words, it means that even the experience of fellowship with God is available to imperfect people. This is truly stunning, if you think about it.
This is a great statement from the Heidelberg Catechism:
Question 86: Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we still do good works?
Answer: Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify, by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation [lifestyle] others may be gained to Christ.
Note a few things.
First, good works are a means by which we imitate, and thus glorify, Christ. We have been renewed “after his own image,” and doing good works reflects his image, and thus glorifies him. Christ was mighty in word and deed (Luke 24:19), and thus it is essential that we reflect Christ in our actions as well as our words.
Second, note that we are to testify to the greatness of Christ “by the whole of our conduct.” You don’t just testify to the greatness of Christ in words, as critical as that is. You must also testify to his greatness in all of your conduct. You not only may, you must!
Third, our good works are a form of worship. We do them in gratitude to God and out of love for him, and offer them to him in our doing of them. That’s what worship is. And God wants to be worshipped in the whole of our lives (Romans 12:1-2), not just our words. This makes our good works — that is, all the things we do in faith, even tying our shoes — intrinsically meaningful.
Fourth, one result of living wise lives filled with good works is that others will be won to Christ. Good works are not valuable simply as a means to bringing others to faith; they are valuable in themselves (see above points). But they do also have the effect of supporting our testimony to the gospel, and others will come to faith as a result (that’s the meaning of the very odd and hard to understand passage in Ephesians 5:7-14).
So, once again, we see that the Reformed tradition was holistic. The dichotomy between doing good/living wise lives and preaching the gospel does not exist in the theology of the Reformation. The ministry of the word goes to the root, but testifying to the greatness and love of God in our deeds is equally essential.
A truncated focus on the spiritual needs of people without concern for the physical and social needs of people is not part of the legacy of the Reformation. It came later, and from other sources.
The Reformers were remarkably holistic, caring about all dimensions of the human person. The spiritual is most foundational, but this doesn’t mean we are to be unconcerned about the other dimensions of human need and activity. Further, they weren’t only concerned about private spirituality, but the renewal of society as well.
Here are two quotes that display this.
When asked what he would do if the world would end tomorrow said, “I would plant a tree today.”
“God has filled my mind with zeal to spread his kingdom and to further the public good.” (Institutes, ed., John T. McNeill, vol. 1, p. 4)
And, following in the legacy of the Reformers, Jonathan Edwards wrote:
And as the spirit of charity, or Christian love, is opposed to a selfish spirit, in that it is merciful and liberal so it is in this, also, that it disposes a person to be public-spirited. A man of a right spirit is not a man of narrow and private views, but is greatly interested and concerned for the good of the community to which he belongs, and particularly of the city or village in which he resides, and for the true welfare of the society of which he is a member.
God commanded the Jews that were carried away captive to Babylon, to seek the good of that city, though it was not their native place, but only the city of their captivity. His injunction was (Jer. 29:7), “Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it.”
And a man of truly Christian spirit will be earnest for the good of his country, and of the place of his residence, and will be disposed to lay himself out for its improvement.
A great article by Michael Horton on inerrancy. Here’s the first paragraph:
Against the repeated claim that the doctrine of inerrancy, unknown to the church, arose first with Protestant orthodoxy, we could cite numerous examples from the ancient and medieval church. It was Augustine who first coined the term “inerrant,” and Luther and Calvin can speak of Scripture as free from error.
The reason is that spiritual poverty, in a certain sense, is not a good thing at all.
To be spiritually poor, in the first dimension of the word, is to be a sinner. This is not a good thing. Jesus isn’t talking merely about humble people here; he is talking about sinners.
But we know that being a sinner in itself is not at all something blessed. So there is certainly more going on here. This is the second dimension of spiritual poverty — namely, recognizing and acknowledging that you are a sinner.
The church in Laodicea had this first dimension of spiritual poverty, but not the second: “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17). They were spiritual poor in the objective sense (they were sinners), but not in the subjective sense (they didn’t recognize their spiritual poverty, but instead thought their material wealth made them rich and independent). That is not blessed.
When Jesus says, then, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” he means: “blessed are those who subjectively recognize what is objectively true about themselves — namely, that they are spiritually bankrupt and sinful apart from My grace.”
This state is blessed, because this is precisely the reason came: not to call the “righteous,” but to call sinners to repentance (Matthew 9:13). And if we do not recognize that we are sinful — if we do not acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy in ourselves — we cannot heed his call to repent and come to him to receive true spiritual riches.
It can sometimes be hard to see how God’s war against evil and Satan is a “real war,” given that evil is clearly outmatched (since God is omnipotent). It’s like when I wrestle with my two-year-old: there’s no way he can win.
And, of course, there is indeed no way evil can win. But it’s still a real war. And here’s why:
Satan cheats, and God doesn’t.
In terms of power, there is no comparison between God and Satan. God is infinitely more powerful. But Satan lies, cheats, steals, and uses all manner of under-handed tactics against God. And yet God still wins.
This displays the extent of God’s wisdom and the beauty of his character in his victory over Satan.
The war, in other words, is about much more than power. It’s about whether righteousness can succeed on its own terms, on the basis of unflinching character and justice. And God shows decisively that the answer is yes.
How angels respond to worship:
And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8-9)
How Jesus responds to worship:
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:32).
In other words, angels reject worship, saying only God is to be worshiped. But Jesus does not reject worship, but instead accepts it. This is truly incredible if you think about it.
The fact that Jesus accepts worship is one of the most striking evidences of his deity.
Michael Horton’s new book, For Calvinism, is now available.
I haven’t read it yet, but as with everything else by Horton that I have read, I am sure it will be excellent. Back in college, I also found his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel, which is also on the doctrines of grace, to be a very helpful introduction to these truths and a good book to give to people. It was very clear, easy-to-read, biblical, and written with grace. I am sure that For Calvinism will be the same.
Here’s the summary from the back cover:
The system of theology known as Calvinism has been immensely influential for the past five hundred years, but it is often encountered negatively as a fatalistic belief system that confines human freedom and renders human action and choice irrelevant.
Taking us beyond the caricatures, Michael Horton invites us to explore the teachings of Calvinism, also commonly known as Reformed theology, by showing us how it is biblical and God-centered, leading us to live our lives for the glory of God.
Horton explores the historical roots of Calvinism, walking readers through the distinctive known as the ‘Five Points,’ and encouraging us to consider its rich resources for faith and practice in the 21st Century.
As a companion to Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism, readers will be able to compare contrasting perspectives and form their own opinions on the merits and weaknesses of Calvinism.
A Summary of Vern Poythress’ Article “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology”
Vern Poythress’ article “Modern Spiritual Gifts as Analogous to Apostolic: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology” is by far the most helpful, enlightening thing I have read on how to understand things like impressions, seeming modern-day prophecy, a sense that something is going to happen (and then it does), and other such extraordinary forms of awareness that do not seem to have a natural explanation.
For one of my classes back in seminary, we had to summarize 20 journal articles having to do with the Holy Spirit and his work. Poythress’ article is the first one I chose to summarize. After seeing Justin Taylor’s post on Mark Driscoll and Douglas Wilson’s discussion on spiritual gifts and extraordinary happenings where he mentions Poythress’ article, I thought it might be good to post my summary here. Since the original article is fairly long, this summary might help you get the gist of his article in about 1,000 words or so.
Poythress’ thoughts relate not simply to understanding spiritual gifts and strange happenings, but also general guidance in the Christian life. For example, I don’t think that God has an “individual will” for us to discover and follow (rather, when the Scriptures do not mandate one way or another, we are free and responsible to choose our own course of action). But how should we understand it when we have an impression that God would have us do this or that? Are we stuck with either concluding that such things are to be utterly disregarded as not from God or, on the other hand, that if they are real that they are authoritative and as binding on us as Scripture? Poythress’ framework gives us a third way, which is incredibly helpful.
I’ll let you see his answer below. So, enough introduction — here’s my summary:
Poythress’ thesis cannot be stated any better than he himself has worded it: “Modern spiritual gifts are analogous to but not identical with the divine authoritative gifts that are exercised by the apostles Since there is no strict identity, apostolic teaching and the biblical canon have exclusive divine authority. On the other hand, since there is analogy, modern spiritual gifts are still genuine and useful to the church. Hence there is a middle way between blanket approval and blanket rejection of modern charismatic gifts” (71).
He begins by providing a biblical framework for thinking of the gifts, and suggests that all gifts can be classified as prophetic, priestly, or kingly. A pyramid structure in turn helps illustrate the functioning of the gifts. The top level is messianic, which only Christ has and which is of infallible authority. The second level is apostolic, which only the apostles and “apostolic men” had, and is also divinely authoritative and unrepeatable. Third is the level of special, prominent gifts such as pastor, teacher, and so forth. The gifts on this level are ongoing and repeatable. The final level is that of every believer’s involvement, which is also repeatable.
The main distinction being made here is between “gifts with full divine authority and subordinate (uninspired) gifts” (74). The gifts in level one and two have unqualified divine authority. The gifts in levels three and four are not inspired (the speech of these people is not identical to the speech of God such that it carries unqualified authority), though obviously we can still say that God is at work in them and they come from the power of the Spirit.
Gifts with unqualified divine authority have ceased with the apostles; all gifts today have qualified authority, and thus although they are analogous to apostolic gifts (we preach today, for example, as the apostles did), they are not identical (they differ in authority). There are three reasons for concluding that unqualified divine authority ceased with the apostles: “the finality of revelation in Christ (Heb 1:1-3), the foundational character of the teaching of the apostles (Eph 2:20), and the fact that the canon of Scripture is complete” (74). Both charismatic and non-charismatic sides agree here, he points out.
Building on this, we can distinguish gifts based upon the “awareness of the basis for [our] ideas or actions” (75). Some gifts are discursive, and some are nondiscursive. Ideas have a discursive basis when they have in mind a conscious basis, such as a biblical text. Preaching falls into this category. Ideas are nondiscursive when we are not consciously aware of their source. Hunches, feelings, and intuition fall into this category. Third, some ideas fall in-between these groups in that we have a partial awareness of their basis.
He then makes the crucial point that there is no reason to think an idea is authoritative simply because it is nondiscursive (76). Just as modern preaching is only authoritative insofar as it is derived from biblical truth, so also modern nondiscursive extraordinary events (like visions and prophecies, or less vivid impressions and hunches) are authoritative only insofar as they repeat and apply what is already in the biblical text (78; see esp. 79.7).
So far Poythress has been focusing on the process by which an idea comes about. He now moves on to make his final distinction, which concerns “content rather than process.” There are three distinctions here: attempts to say what the Bible teaches, called teaching content; attempts to speak about circumstances, called circumstantial content; and a combination of the two, called applicatory content. A biblical example of all three is 2 Chr 25:3-4, where Amaziah applies Deut 24:16. In this vein, we need to remember that all knowledge, whether about everyday life or recorded in Scripture, is ultimately from the Lord (Prov 2:6).
All of this is brought together in the following way. The controversial gifts (prophecy, word of knowledge, tongues, etc.) are nondiscursive. As discussed earlier, this does not therefore make them divinely authoritative. But neither does it make them useless. If teaching content is involved, arising nondiscursively, it is to be believed if it is biblical, and disbelieved if it is not (84). With circumstantial content, the level of authority is the same whether it is gained through discursive means (a telephone call) or nondiscursive (an impression). Information received in a telephone call can be in error, and so can information received nondiscursively; conversely, both may also be true.
Some may think that God is more involved in nondiscursive processes; but that doesn’t make such processes infallible. It is wrong “to confuse involvement of God with full divine authority in the product” (86). For example, God is involved in making the grass grow (Ps 104:14), but “growing grass is not inspired.” God is involved in the information gained from a friend through a phone call, but that doesn’t make it inspired and infallible. Likewise, God is often involved when information is gained nondiscursively, but that doesn’t make the nondiscursive information any more infallible or authoritative than a telephone call.
How can we judge the accuracy of nondiscursive circumstantial content? If we cannot directly check out the facts, we judge the content the same way we would a long distance telephone call from a friend. Although the friend is to far away for us to seek immediate confirmation, we can ask ourselves if our friend is generally reliable, if we are hearing him clearly, and so forth. So also if one’s nondiscursive processes have generally checked out, there is a greater reason to believe them.
After specifically discussing within this framework predictions and instances involving commands, Poythress then explains how this understanding allows us to welcome extraordinary spiritual gifts without being slavishly obedient to them. He argues that the best exponent for the continuance of the gifts (Grudem) and for their cessation (Gaffin) actually are at the same place in substance since Grudem agrees that modern day gifts are not divinely authoritative, and Gaffin agrees that God can work through nondiscursive means. The main difference is simply whether the prophecy of today is that which Paul discussed in 1 Cor 12-14, or whether it is a “fallible analogue.” The other difference is that Gaffin needs to integrate more fully these modern phenomena into his theology of gifts, and Grudem needs to be more clear about the status of prophecy. But these are only practical adjustments; the substance is the same. Finally, Poythress concludes by giving accounts of extraordinary events throughout history (post-biblical times) to prove that his conclusions are not novel (94-101).
In sum, Poythress has sought to provide us with a framework that affirms the work of God in modern day nondiscursive events while still upholding the sufficiency and finality of Scripture.
Poythress, Vern S. “Modern Spiritual Gifts Analogous to Apostolic Gifts: Affirming Extraordinary Works of the Spirit Within Cessationist Theology.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39/1 (March 1996): 71-101.
Critique — done well — is a gift to the one being criticized. We should welcome the opportunity to have our thinking corrected and clarified. We see through a glass dimly, and God has gifted the church with teachers who often see things more clearly than we do at present. In God’s providence and through the gift of common grace he may also use unbelievers to critique our views, showing our logical mistakes or lack of clarity.
Critique done poorly — whether through overstatement, misunderstanding, caricature — is a losing proposition for all. It undermines the credibility of the critic and deprives the one being criticized from the opportunity to improve his or her position.
It’s impossible in a blog post to set forth a comprehensive methodology of critique — if such a thing can even be done. But there are at least three exhortations worth remembering about criticism.
His three exhortations are:
- Understand before you critique
- Be self-critical in how you critique
- Consider the alternatives of what you are critiquing
What Does it Mean to be Pure? Or, How We Often Minimize What Jesus Really Means When He Says We are to Be “Pure in Heart”
Our daughter’s name is Kate, which means “pure.”
The other night I came in to tuck her in a bit late, and she said “I just got done praying.” Which is fantastic (she’s 6). I said to her “what did you pray for?” One of the things she said was: “I prayed that I would be pure, just like my name means.”
That is really, really great. Lord, may it be so.
Kate’s prayer echoes, of course, Matthew 5:8 (though she doesn’t know it!): “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Now, being 6, she probably has a very small idea of what it means to be “pure.” But most of us who are adults do, too.
Most of think of purity mainly in relation to lust. To be pure is to refrain from lustful thoughts and lustful desires. That is critically important (Matthew 5:27-30). And, it flows from being pure in heart. But that is not the main meaning of purity. The main meaning is far, far more.
Jesus expounds on what it means to be “pure in heart” in two other places in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasure sin heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy [literally: "single"], your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-24).
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
It was always puzzling to me what Jesus meant by “the eye is the lamp of the body” in 6:22 But if you look at it, you see he has simply switched metaphors.
Jesus just got done telling us to lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth, so that our heart will be in heaven — not on earth. Then he says “the eye is the lamp of the body” and that if it is healthy, everything else is right for you. In other words, what he has just said about our heart — fix it on heaven — he is expounding on, only now using the metaphor of the “eye.”
He is saying, in effect, “let your eye be single — be focused on just one thing, on heavenly realities.” Let your eye — your heart — be set on God.
He then re-iterates this in different terms in the verse next verse, setting it against the backdrop of the biggest competitor to God for many: money. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
In other words, once again, you cannot have two ultimate priorities. “No one can serve two masters.” You can only have one master, one ultimate priority, and it is to be God.
Jesus then applies this to worry (for worry is often a result of not having our priorities straight), and then re-states the point again in different words: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33). Seek first the kingdom of God. Let that, and that only, be your ultimate priority and aim. If you have other ultimate aims, your heart is not “pure” — it is not single and wholly devoted to God, but divided. The pure heart is the heart that is fully devoted to God, set on heaven, loving him and not ultimately other things like money.
Does this make us so heavenly minded we are no earthly good? Is Jesus saying “don’t care anything about this world? Let ‘the things of earth become strangely dim’?” No. To have God as your ultimate priority is not to become a hermit and care nothing for this life; it is rather to care even more for this life — but for a different reason. We now care about it because we care about loving others and living out the priorities of God’s kingdom in the face of injustice and hardship and trouble — as Jesus said right at the start of the sermon: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Love for God lives itself out through love for our neighbor (1 John 4:21).
Bringing this all back to Matthew 5:8: To be “pure in heart” means to be single-minded for the glory of God. It is to have God and his kingdom as your ultimate priority, with no competitors. It is to serve one master, not two. It is to have a single eye, treasuring heaven and Jesus more than anything in this world. It is for your ultimate aim and priority and value in life to be knowing Jesus Christ and, from that, living a life of good works so that he, not you, is glorified (Matthew 5:16).
Clearly, the result of this will be that you are not ruled by lust (5:27-30) — or anger (5:21-26), or undependability (5:33-37), or retaliation (5:38-41), or stinginess (5:42), or lack of grace and generosity (5:43-48), or love of the praise of men (6:1-4), or money (6:24). The entire sermon, in a sense, is an exposition of what it looks like when your heart is pure. And so we see that having a pure heart is not simply a matter of not lusting, but a whole lot more. And, beyond that, we see that all of these qualities of a pure heart stem from the fact that you are single-mindedly devoted to the glory of God.
That’s what it means to be “pure in heart” — and that’s what I pray for my daughter.
It means that the earth will be filled with Christians.
To see this, we need to go back to Genesis 1:26, where God gives his purpose in creating people:
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. (Genesis 1:26; see also vv. 27-28).
To be in the image of God means to reflect him and represent him. Reflecting God is at the essence of being in his image.
And reflecting God is the same thing as glorifying God. To glorify something means to make it look great (not, in this case, like a microscope, make something small look bigger than it is, but like a telescope — showing just how big something really is). So for God to say that he made us in his image is the same as to say that he made us to display his glory.
Further, when God gives dominion to humankind “over all the earth,” it shows that his purpose in creation was to fill the whole earth with his glory. That’s why God created humans — to fill the earth with his glory. This includes fellowship with him and one another, reflecting back to him the radiance of his worth in our character, actions, and delight in him.
Then the fall happened, and man sinned (Genesis 3). Theologians distinguish between the natural image of God and the moral image of God. We didn’t lose the natural image of God in the fall — for example, God reaffirms, after the fall, that man is in his image (Genesis 9:6). This is why all people still deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
But we did lose the moral image of God. This means we stopped reflecting God’s moral attributes; we became corrupted and sinful, reflecting the opposite of what God is like. This is why Paul can say that, in Christ, we are being restored in the image of God (Colossians 3:10).
Here’s what this means: The mere expansion of the human race over the whole earth no longer fulfills God’s purpose in creation. It fills the earth with people in his natural image — possessing intellect, emotion, and will — but who are out of fellowship with God and ultimately against him (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:10ff; etc.).
Yet, God prophesies that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14 and elsewhere). In other words, God’s original purpose to fill the earth with his glory — his glory reflected through human beings – will be fulfilled.
But how can that be, since we have sinned and no longer reflect the character of God? This is what redemption accomplished. By dying for us, Christ secured not only the forgiveness of our sins, but also our sanctification (and ultimately glorification). Through Christ, we are made new and come to reflect the moral image of God once again (Romans 8:29). And, this is only through Christ (Romans 8:1-8; John 14:6).
Which means, therefore, that the promise that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” is a promise that the earth will be filled with Christians. It is a promise that God’s plan of redemption will be successful in bringing people to faith in Christ in every people group in the entire world.
Since it is through people reflecting the glory of God that God’s glory fills the earth (Genesis 1:26), and since we only truly reflect his glory through the redemption that Christ won for us and gives to us (Romans 2:28-30; Colossians 3:10), the promise that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God’s glory is a promise that it will be filled with those who believe in Christ and glorify God in him.
One could even possibly say that it is a promise of the worldwide success of the gospel.
Or, it is at least an echo of that. One question could be: “does this promise refer to the new heavens and new earth, when all has been made new after Christ returns, or a time before he returns?” I don’t know for sure — I haven’t totally figured out the details of my eschatology! (Other than, of course, the most important things: Christ will return physically, the dead will be raised [believers and unbelievers], the final judgment will happen, and there will be a renewed heavens and earth for all the people of God.)
But we do know this: the gospel will reach all people groups before Christ returns (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9-12). So it seems likely that the promise of Habakkuk 2:14 and related passage will have a type of fulfillment in this age, before Christ returns, and that the ultimate fulfillment will be in the new heavens and new earth.
So whether the main emphasis of the passage is on the new heavens and new earth or this age, the promise is clear: God will accomplish his original purpose of filling the earth with his glory. And this means that he will fill the earth with the gospel and those who have come to him through it, such that they are more and more being renewed in his image and displaying his glory in all of life.
Great comments by John Piper from his latest sermon:
“But you do not believe, because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Notice three things. First, when the Father gives his sheep into the omnipotent hand of the Son, they are still in the Father’s hand. Verse 29: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Even though the Father has put them into the Son’s hand, they are in the Father’s hand. What does this imply?
Second, notice that Jesus explains this with the words of verse 30: “I and the Father are one.” His final answer about his identity is way beyond messiahship. It is oneness with God the Father.
And third, notice that Jesus takes us to this answer by showing how this oneness serves our salvation—our eternal safety and joy. The Father and I are one. No one can take you from me because I am stronger than all. And no one can take you from my Father, because my Father is stronger than all. When you are in my hand, you are in his hand, and when you are in his hand, you are in my hand. Our omnipotence, and our unity are your safety, your salvation.
Now there is a lesson here, and I want to drive it home. Jesus takes us to the heights of doctrinal truth about himself. He is one with the Father. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). But he does it by showing us the immediate implication for our lives: No one can snatch you from my hand. Or the Father’s hand. Which are one hand. In other words, doctrine, theology, biblical propositions (like “I and the Father are one”) are always related to their implications for human life. Don’t be afraid of doctrine. Just be afraid of disconnected doctrine. Doctrine that doesn’t make a difference for life and eternity.
From Mike Allen’s Playbook the other day:
TOP TALKER –Supply-chain leak on iPad 3 — WSJ.com (not in print edition!): “Apple … has ordered … display panels and chips for a new iPad it is aiming to launch in early 2012 … The next generation iPad is expected to feature a high resolution display – 2048 by 1536 compared with 1024 by 768 in the iPad 2 … One component supplier to Apple said the company has already placed orders for parts for about 1.5 million iPad 3s in the fourth quarter.”
This is great news. 2048 x 1536 is a huge improvement. This would make the iPad far more usable, in my view. And it’s great to know, if the WSJ is accurate here, that the iPad 3 will likely be coming in early 2012.
My friend, Matt Anderson, has a piece in Christianity Today on a theology of the body. You might not agree with everything, but I commend Matt for giving attention and hard thinking to a much overlooked doctrine. And, the article is extremely well written. In my opinion, Matt is one of the best writers in evangelicalism right now.
Here are two core quotes:
Evangelicals desperately need, then, an ordered account of how Scripture informs our understanding of the human body and its uses. But with few exceptions—like James K. A. Smith and Amos Yong—evangelical theology is still playing catch-up. As Westmont College theologian Telford Work recently pointed out in these pages, the theology of the body is one of evangelicalism’s least developed doctrines.
When Paul exhorts the church at Rome to “offer [their] bodies as living sacrifices,” he is commending to them a spiritual act of worship. Our bodies, and what we do with them, matter to God. They’ve been given as a gift—a gift meant to be returned to his service. As evangelicals, the pattern for our sacrifice must be the pattern of the Cross, and the power for our giving must be the power of the Resurrection. Otherwise, our ethics will be moralism and our spirituality will be disconnected from the unique revelation of God to man in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ.
Matt blogs at Mere Orthodoxy and is also the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, which I highly recommend.
John Piper Interviews Rick Warren on Doctrine — And Thoughts on the Significance of Their Relationship
The video of John Piper interviewing Rick Warren is now online. Here’s some of what John Piper had to say about it at the Desiring God blog:
The nature of the interview is mainly doctrinal. I read Rick’s The Purpose Driven Life with great care. I brought 20 pages of quotes and questions to the interview. You will hear me quote the book dozens of times. With these quotes as a starting point I dig into Rick’s mind and heart on all the issues listed below (with the times that they begin on the video).
My aim in this interview is to bring out and clarify what Rick Warren believes about these biblical doctrines. In doing this my hope is that the thousands of pastors and lay people who look to Rick for inspiration and wisdom will see the profound place that doctrine has in his mind and heart.
I had the privilege of being there when the video was shot out at Saddleback earlier this month. I was very impressed with Rick Warren’s answers. I think Piper is right: Doctrine plays a large role in Warren’s mind and heart, and he is doctrinally solid. Piper asked him about everything from repentance to the sovereignty of God to election to the gospel to total depravity to hell. Warren gave clear and thorough and biblical answers to all of Piper’s questions — answers that we would agree with here at Desiring God.
The one place he was a bit sketchy was on the new heavens and new earth, but I think that’s just because Piper’s question there may not have been clear and he wasn’t sure what was being asked.
Obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over Piper inviting Warren to the Desiring God National Conference last fall. One of the main reasons is that Warren’s methodology doesn’t seem to be doctrinal at all, but rather pragmatic. Here’s what Piper had to say about that in the post introducing the video:
Rick is not known for being a doctrinal preacher. One reason for this is his intention to be theologically sound and practically helpful without using doctrinal or theological terms in his public ministry. Inside of Saddleback there is a greater intentionality about building biblical and theological categories into the people’s minds and hearts.
Near the end of the interview, with great respect and appreciation for the stewardship of influence that Rick carries, I exhort him and pray for him that God will make the final chapter of his ministry a deepening one, that leaves a legacy of biblical and doctrinal truth more explicitly and firmly in the minds and hearts of the generations that will follow him.
Piper’s exhortation here is excellent, and points to, I think, the broader importance of Piper and Warren’s relationship. I would argue that not only do Warren and Saddleback perhaps have something to learn from Piper, but that Piper and our church have something to learn from Warren as well.
Here’s what I mean.
As Piper shows in the interview, there is a solid doctrinal foundation underneath Warren’s ministry. But, as Piper exhorts him at the end and summarizes in that quote above, he can perhaps do a better job in making this explicit and fleshing it out. The practical emphasis of Warren’s ministry, in fact, would be even better served by making the doctrinal foundations more explicit, because doctrine is the foundation of practice. (Piper shows very effectively how this works in his biography of William Wilberforce. Briefly, the connection is that doctrine fuels the joy that drives practice.)
This provides a wider lessen, perhaps, to all those in the evangelical church who care deeply about the practical while giving less emphasis to the theological. The message that doctrine grounds and fuels effective practice says: your emphasis on the practical is a great thing, and you don’t need to become less action-oriented; rather, let yourselves become more action-oriented by kindling a love for doctrine and allowing that doctrine to have its joyful, action-producing effect in your lives and churches.
(If I can, I will post a message I gave here last fall at a Desiring God staff devotional that talks about how this works out in more detail; the message is called “Why Sound Doctrine Grounds and Leads to Effective Action: What Rick Warren Should Have Said at the Desiring God Conference.” The title, by the way, is not a critique of Warren’s message — I found it very helpful; what I try to do in the message is show in more detail exactly how and why doctrine leads to practice, and the biblical texts that show this to be the case.)
So that’s what I think Warren and the highly practical and leadership-oriented segment of the evangelical church can perhaps learn from Piper.
Now, on the other side, I think that Piper, our church, and the more doctrinally-oriented segment of evangelicalism could learn something from Warren’s emphasis on the practical, and from the importance he gives to biblical leadership. I think the mistake we make is that sometimes we focus on the doctrinal to the expense of the practical. It’s not that we reject practice or don’t care about it — we do. But sometimes we don’t place as much importance on, for example, learning how to do it well. We can neglect learning about things like leadership and organizational effectiveness and other such things, and I think this hinders the growth of our people and fails to serve them as well as we perhaps could.
So to this segment of the evangelical church, I think people like Warren show us that we need to pay greater attention to letting these doctrines have their ultimate ends in the service of others and the glory of God. We don’t need to be less doctrinal. No way. But perhaps we need to be intentional in learning about the practical. And with the doctrinal foundations we already have in place, the practical side will be all the more effective because it will be built on top of a solid theological foundation. This, further, will serve doctrine because when people and organizations are well led and organized, more people will hear and come to the greater joy in God that comes from understanding the theology of the Bible in a deeper way.
In one sense, it is the purpose of this blog to bring both of these goals together by equipping Christians theologically and practically. Or, another way to put it is that the purpose of this blog is to equip Christians in good works. And to be effective in good works, we need to understand both the theological and practical dimensions of life.
That’s why I blog on things from how to set up your desk to why we should be creative and competent in fighting global poverty to the six things Christ accomplished by his death. Productivity and leadership are really about good works. As Christians, we are to abound and excel in good works (1 Corinthians 15:58; Ephesians 2:10), and to do this best we need to grow in our knowledge and understanding of how to be effective in all areas of life (including the mundane things like setting up your desk), and we need to do this on a solid, exciting, worship-fueling theological foundation.
The main point here is that we don’t have to choose between deep thinking and effective practical action. Instead, they drive one another: thinking hard about truth motivates and directs wise, effective practical action for good. We should think theologically about the practical for the sake of love. The Piper-Warren interview models this well, and gives both the more practically oriented and the more doctrinally oriented something to think about.
One final thought on the video: The best part of the video is the very end, where Warren talks about stewarding the influence that God has given him. His humility and concern for God’s glory and the good of God’s people really shines through at that point, in my view. If you don’t watch any other part of the video, I’d make sure to watch that. This section starts at 1:28:10.
Here’s the breakdown of the rest of the topics in the video and where they begin:
3:29 The glory of God.
7:16 David Wells and the weight of God’s reality.
9:00 Would you write the book the same today?
12:00 The sovereignty of God.
18:47 How do you speak of God’s sovereignty in the presence of tragedy?
22:01 How do all things work for bad for those who reject Christ?
24:14 Do you hedge on Larry King?
27:00 Unconditional election.
30:18 The importance of eternity.
34:42 How do you conceive of eternity: in heaven, on earth?
38:53 What is the Gospel?
42:00 What did Jesus achieve on the cross?
50:50 Why don’t you call yourself a Calvinist?
54:39 Prevenient grace.
1:00:01 Total depravity.
1:09:10 Eternal destiny of those who never heard.
1:12:40 The extent of the atonement.
1:17:00 Do unbelievers always do the devil’s bidding?
1:18:40 Your view of the Bible.
1:22:40 Expository preaching and doctrinal depth.
1:28:10 Rick Warren’s sacred trust.
Recently I’ve been thinking a bit more about Edwards teaching on heavenly rewards.
Briefly, Edwards teaches, as the Bible seems to (Luke 19:13-19; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; Ephesians 6:8), that there are degrees of rewards in the new heavens and new earth. But this will not be the cause of any unhappiness, for it doesn’t mean that those with less reward will be only two-thirds happy, while those with more reward will be fully happy.
Instead, everyone’s cup will be full; it’s just that not everyone will have the same size of cup. In this way, there can be greater degrees of happiness, while at the same time everyone is fully happy. There can be greater and lesser joy without implying that there is any sadness or dissatisfaction that goes along with the lesser degrees of joy.
Here’s how Edwards put it, using the analogy of a ship:
It will be no damp to the happiness of those who have lower degrees of happiness and glory, that there are others advanced in glory above them: for all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others; and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.
In fact, Edwards argues that degrees of happiness will actually increase everyone’s happiness, because everyone’s happiness is interconnected. In other words, when one person sees another person with a greater degree of happiness, because of their perfect love for others, the person with the lower degree of happiness will rejoice at the fact that his brother or sister in Christ has a higher degree of happiness. This principle from 1 Corinthians 12:22: “When one member is honored, they all rejoice.”
Here’s how Edwards puts it:
Those who are not so high in glory as others, will not envy those that are higher, but they will have so great, and strong, and pure love to them, that they will rejoice in their superior happiness; their love to them will be such that they will rejoice that they are happier than themselves; so that instead of having a damp to their own happiness, it will add to it…
I love Edwards’ teaching here and find it beautiful.
Now, there is also one thing I would add to it: Not only will everyone’s cup be “full” with greater and lesser degrees of happiness, but everyone will also be as happy as they want to be. In other words, someone with a smaller “cup” will feel that the size of their cup is just the right size for them. They won’t “want” a larger cup at that moment, but will see that they are actually happier (more satisfied) with less of a cup at that point than a larger cup.
I think Edwards would agree, because this actually seems to be an implication of what Edwards is saying. For if everyone’s cup is full, that implies zero discontent. Which, conversely, implies a preference for whatever level of happiness it is that you have.
Along with this — and Edwards also points this out — our happiness in the next world will not be static, but ever increasing. So if you start out with half the capacity for happiness as Martin Luther or Edwards himself, you aren’t going to stay that way but will continually grow in your capacity for happiness — forever.
One last thing here, which is an interesting connection with productivity. As I’ve talked about before, when we talk about being productivity, what we are really talking about is the doing of good works — the works which God created us in Christ to do, and which he prepared beforehand for us (Ephesians 2:10).
Understanding helpful productivity practices and tools, in other words, enables us to amplify our effectiveness in good works. And thus, perhaps, it helps us to in some sense lay up greater heavenly reward. (Which, of course, Edwards would also approve of, as his twenty-second resolution was “to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.” Wisely utilizing effective productivity practices would certainly fall within Edward’s aim here of using whatever might and vigor he can to lay up greater joy in heaven.)
Now, we need to be careful here, because I don’t want to imply that those with greater access to technology, for example, will have greater reward in heaven simply because they were born in a country where they could access these things. The Bible also talks about how “to whom much is given, much shall be required,” and that might be part of the solution — since we have been given much, if we don’t use these practices and opportunities to do more good, we are failing to be faithful with what God has given us; likewise, those without access to them (right now) are held to a different standard.
But I don’t think we should primarily cast this in the light of “you better do this, or else,” because I don’t think the Bible does (and, that’s not very motivating). Instead, the primary emphasis I think the Scriptures reveal to us is: “What a great opportunity we have here. God has blessed us with great knowledge and many technological tools that can increase our productivity, and as a result we can have the joy and privilege of doing more good for others and his glory than we otherwise might have been able to.”
The ability of productivity practices and tools to amplify our efforts in doing good is a wonderful and amazing thing, and is to be utilized to the full. And, perhaps, there is a connection here with laying up greater rewards in heaven.
Here’s a very brief summary of the six core things Christ accomplished in his death.
Expiation means the removal of our sin and guilt. Christ’s death removes — expiates — our sin and guilt. The guilt of our sin was taken away from us and placed on Christ, who discharged it by his death.
Thus, in John 1:29, John the Baptist calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus takes away, that is, expiates, our sins. Likewise, Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him,” and Hebrews 9:26 says “He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
Whereas expiation refers to the removal of our sins, propitiation refers to the removal of God’s wrath.
By dying in our place for our sins, Christ removed the wrath of God that we justly deserved. In fact, it goes even further: a propitiation is not simply a sacrifice that removes wrath, but a sacrifice that removes wrath and turns it into favor. (Note: a propitiation does not turn wrath into love — God already loved us fully, which is the reason he sent Christ to die; it turns his wrath into favor so that his love may realize its purpose of doing good to us every day, in all things, forever, without sacrificing his justice and holiness.)
Several passages speak of Christ’s death as a propitiation for our sins. Romans 3:25-26 says that God “displayed [Christ] publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration of his righteousness at the present time, that he might be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.”
Likewise, Hebrews 2:17 says that Christ made “propitiation for the sins of the people” and 1 John 4:10 says “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Whereas expiation refers to the removal of our sins, and propitiation refers to the removal of God’s wrath, reconciliation refers to the removal of our alienation from God.
Because of our sins, we were alienated – separated — from God. Christ’s death removed this alienation and thus reconciled us to God. We see this, for example, in Romans 5:10-11: “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
Our sins had put us in captivity from which we need to be delivered. The price that is paid to deliver someone from captivity is called a “ransom.” To say that Christ’s death accomplished redemption for us means that it accomplished deliverance from our captivity through the payment of a price.
There are three things we had to be released from: the curse of the law, the guilt of sin, and the power of sin. Christ redeemed us from each of these.
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13-14).
- Christ redeemed us from the guilt of our sin. We are “justified as a gift by his grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
- Christ redeemed us from the power of sin: “knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your fathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Note that we are not simply redeemed from the guilt of sin; to be redeemed from the power of sin means that our slavery to sin is broken. We are now free to live to righteousness. Our redemption from the power of sin is thus the basis of our ability to live holy lives: “You have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
5. Defeat of the Powers of Darkness
Christ’s death was a defeat of the power of Satan. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 3:15). Satan’s only weapon that can ultimately hurt people is unforgiven sin. Christ took this weapon away from him for all who would believe, defeating him and all the powers of darkness in his death by, as the verse right before this says, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
6. And he Did All of This By Dying As Our Substitute
The reality of substitution is at the heart of the atonement. Christ accomplished all of the above benefits for us by dying in our place – that is, by dying instead of us. We deserved to die, and he took our sin upon him and paid the penalty himself.
This is what it means that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8) and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20). As Isaiah says, “he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities . . . the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
You see the reality of substitution underlying all of the benefits discussed above, as the means by which Christ accomplished them. For example, substitution is the means by which we were ransomed: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Christ’s death was a ransom for us — that is, instead of us. Likewise, Paul writes that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
Substitution is the means by which we were reconciled: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). It is the means of expiation: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). And by dying in our place, taking the penalty for our sins upon himself, Christ’s death is also the means of propitiation.
To close: Two implications. First, this is very humbling.
Second, “Greater love has no one than this, than he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
As we look ahead to Easter on Sunday, it is worth remembering that there is good historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ. Here’s an article I wrote in college (since posted to the DG site) summarizing some of the best of that evidence.
The article looks at three facts that virtually all critical scholars accept, and argues that the resurrection is the best (and only, really!) plausible explanation for them. These three facts are:
- The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered empty by a group of women on the Sunday following the crucifixion.
- Jesus’ disciples had real experiences with one whom they believed was the risen Christ.
- As a result of the preaching of these disciples, which had the resurrection at its center, the Christian church was established and grew.
Here’s what I find stunning: These are not three marginal facts. They include the empty tomb and the post-resurrection appearances. It is remarkable that the evidence for these realities is so good that even most critical scholars accept them. And, as I show in the article, if you accept these two realities, the only solid explanation is that Christ actually rose from the dead.
For further resources on evidence for the resurrection and Christianity, I would recommend William Lane Craig’s book Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Craig is one of the best apologists out there and gives a much more complete look at these facts in his book.
Of course the ultimate ground for our faith is not historical evidence, but the self-authenticating testimony of Scripture. But since the Christian faith is a historical faith, such that if Christ was not resurrected there is no Christianity (1 Corinthians 15:14), we should look at and be aware of the testimony of history. It is very encouraging as believers to see the strong historical evidence, and also helpful to share with those who are investigating the claims of Christianity.
Just a good reminder:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28, NASB)
In other words: All things work together for good for those who follow Christ, but this does not happen automatically. God acts to make them work for our good. They do not of themselves come together for our good: God must intervene.
Which is a good reminder to be thankful. If you love God, all things are indeed working for your good. But don’t take this for granted — this happens because God is continually working on your behalf (and doing so joyfully: Jeremiah 32:41).
I wrote this several years ago in seminary, but it remains just as relevant today:
The Supremacy of God in Preaching is built upon the premise that “the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church, both in pastoral care and missionary outreach” and that, consequently, “our people need to hear God-entranced preaching” (p. 11). Since God is infinitely glorious, the linchpin of all life is that He be seen as infinitely glorious. Our lives will be out of sync with reality—and thus glory—unless what we see conforms to what is real. And when we do, God’s great aim in creation and redemption is fulfilled—He is glorified (shown to be glorious) and we are satisfied.
A few years ago I read an excellent book called Opposable Mind. The book asks “What distinguishes a brilliant leader from a conventional one?” And the answer of the book is: “Brilliant leaders are skilled at integrative thinking — the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds at once, and then reach a synthesis that contains elements of both but improves on each.”
What are “Integrative Thinking” and “The Opposable Mind”?
Central to integrative thinking is the subject of the book’s title, what the author calls “the opposable mind.” He argues that, just as having an opposable thumb enables us to do more (for example, it would be much harder to pick things up without an opposable thumb), so also being able to hold two opposing ideas in our minds at once enables us to see more and understand more.
These two “opposing” ideas, further, are not ultimately in contradiction. They are in tension — and many people end up concluding that they contradict and you can’t do both — but in reality the “either/or” is the easy way out. As one example: As a manager, do you give people lots of freedom and thus risk that they might do things that aren’t in alignment with the aims of the organization, or do you give people more direction and risk undermining their freedom? The answer is that you can do both. Give direction by making sure expectations and ultimate outcomes are clear, but allow the employee freedom in figuring out the best way to accomplish those outcomes (and a role in helping to identify what those outcomes should be). And as a result of affirming both, you gain a greater understanding of both freedom and direction. You learn that freedom actually thrives most in a framework, but that the framework needs to be relatively loose and at a high level, or else the framework itself will come apart because by squelching freedom, it will also squelch initiative and engagement.
As another example: Do you pursue the long-term growth of a company or do you pursue the short-term profitability that provides your cash flow? The company that built my house chose the later — short-term profitability. As a result, they cut a bunch of corners, got everyone ticked off at them, and eventually went out of business. They pursued the short-term at the expense of the long-term, not realizing they could do both.
The examples I’ve given here are pretty easy. The actual examples that he gives in the book from specific real-life situations that effective leaders have encountered are much more challenging. But the point is that there are many things in leadership and management where people typically take an either/or approach. But the best leaders refuse to give in to easy trade-offs, and instead leverage the tension to uncover greater understanding and take a more effective path.
How Does this Relate to Alleged Contradictions in the Bible?
What The Opposable Mind tells us about how effective leaders think is relevant to far more things than just leadership — as important as that is. It tells us something about thinking in general and, in fact, it tells us something about the recent discussion on alleged contradictions in the Bible.
As I discussed in my original post on the issue, tension and an initial appearance of contradiction will exist in any profound text because it’s part of what stimulates thought and because it is simply a feature of looking at any sophisticated subject from many angles. These tensions, however, are not real contradictions, but rather lead to greater insight as we seek to uncover how things fit together.
What we see from The Opposable Mind now, interestingly, is an example of the same thing from the discipline of leadership. The most effective leaders refuse to settle for simplistic stage-one trade-offs when they come across tensions in various decisions and among multiple priorities, and instead probe the tensions for greater insight that goes beyond what you would have discovered if you quit too soon and said “we cannot reconcile these things.”
In the same way, when reading the Bible, a great wealth of insight lies before us when we look at tensions as an opportunity for probing deeper and learning the subject from a deeper angle. And, when we do this, we aren’t giving special pleading to the Bible. We are acting just like we do — or ought to — in every area of life.
It is for this reason, in part, that the tensions are there on purpose – both in the Bible (by God’s inspiration) and in life (by God’s providence).
“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand . . . ” (2 Peter 3:15-17).
In a recent article called “Infographic of the Day: What the Bible Got Wrong,” Fast Company writes:
The Bible was wrong. For evidence look to, well, the Bible.
Such is the conclusion of this stunning, provocative infographic, which maps contradictions in the Bible, from whether thou shalt not commit adultery down to the color of Jesus’s robes. Career skeptic Sam Harris commissioned the chart for his nonprofit foundation Project Reason, with graphic design by Madrid-based Andy Marlow.
Here are a couple quick thoughts, as they come to mind:
1. My Experience with Contradictions in the Bible
When I first got to college, I had begun to take my faith seriously and yet was encountering much opposition to the Bible in my humanities classes. So the claim that the Bible contradicted itself bothered me, and I looked into it. I went to the library and found the best books I could documenting so-called contradictions in the Bible, looked through them for the most challenging claims of contradiction I could find, and discovered through study and my own reflection that every single one had an answer.
Someone might say “that doesn’t mean much.” Well, maybe not. But my point is that as a mere freshman in college, I looked deeply into the assertion that the Bible contradicts itself and was able to see the poor exegesis and method behind most of those claims. And even in the few challenging passages that weren’t so obvious on the surface, there were good answers.
The areas that skeptics tend to accuse of having the most contradictions are the four resurrection accounts in the gospels. Aside from the differences in the accounts actually being good evidence for their authenticity (as that is a mark of eyewitness testimony, and if the accounts were fabricated, their dissimilarities would have likely been ironed over), I even wrote a harmony of the resurrection accounts with my friend, Justin Taylor, showing that in no instance do any of the differences amount to actual contradiction. (You can also see a more narrative version that I did.)
My ultimate reason for accepting the inerrancy of the Scriptures, of course, is not the fact that I was able to find a resolution to every alleged contradiction. Rather, my ultimate reason for accepting the inerrancy of the Scriptures is that this is what Jesus taught, and Jesus can be trusted because he rose from the dead. I wrote an article on that as well. Here’s also an article I wrote on what inerrancy means.
2. On the Appearance of Contradictions in General
The next point worth making is that the appearance of contradictions is not a bad thing. Rather, it is a good thing because it stimulates thought.
I reject entirely the notion that “the contradiction is the hallmark of truth.” If two things really contradict one another, they cannot both be true.
But tension and the initial appearance of contradiction are something else altogether. They cause us to think harder about how the two truths fit together. They cause us to probe more deeply and come to an even greater understanding.
Which is why crying out “contradiction” when we see tension in the Bible is lazy and superficial. It leaves us with uncreative level one thinking, rather than bringing us deeper into a fuller understanding of the truth.
Here’s an example. One of the alleged contradictions the chart asserts is that the Bible teaches both that Abraham was justified by faith (Romans 4:2) and by works (James 2:21). The Bible does use that language:
Romans 4:2-4: For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
James 2:21: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?
So Paul actually calls Abraham ungodly here (amazing–really, really amazing if you think about it) and thus says that he was justified by believing rather than by works. “To the one who does not work but believes him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Incredible. That’s what I need, because like Abraham, I am no more righteous in myself than Abraham was.
But then James says “was not Abraham our father justified by works. . . ”
Looks like a problem. But if you look only at the words and stop there, you miss the really profound insight going on. A contradiction does not exist simply because Paul says “justified by faith” and James says “justified by works.” Rather, you need to look at what each author actually means. Their words look like a contradiction on the surface — which is what stimulates us to think. But they are only actually contradicting each other if Paul is intending to deny the very thing that James is seeking to affirm.
And that is not the case. If you look at it, James and Paul are both using the term “justification” differently. They don’t mean the same thing by “justified,” and therefore they are not contradicting one another when Paul says “justified by faith” and James says “justified by works.”
If you look closely at the text in James, for example, James is referring to a specific point in Abraham’s life: “when he offered up Isaac.” That happened in Genesis 22. But when Paul says “and Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness,” he is quoting Genesis 15:6 — many years earlier.
So James and Paul are both referring to different points in Abraham’s life — which points to some good clues not only in Romans 4 and James 2 themselves that they are each using the term “justification” differently, but also in the specific passages of Genesis that they are each alluding to. Paul — and Genesis 15 — are speaking about justification in the sense of becoming right with God. That must be by faith — and faith alone — because we are ungodly (like Abraham — which is really stunning for Paul to say, once again, as he is one of the most revered people in all of the Bible; and hence, if even Abraham was ungodly, then so are we). Because he was ungodly, he had no works by which he could be accepted by God. That’s what’s going on in Genesis 15.
But James is speaking about justification in the sense of the demonstration, or evidence, that we have become right with God. You see this in Genesis 22:1, where Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is referred to as a “test” and in James 2:14-26, where the issue is what the indications are that one’s faith is real. This could be drawn out in many ways, but perhaps most interesting is James 2:22: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” The phrase “was completed” is the same phrase Jesus used in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he said to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Did Jesus mean here “my power is made to be power” through weakness? No — his power exists all on its own and doesn’t need us to be fully powerful. Rather, the meaning is “my power is most shown to be powerful in weakness.” Christ’s power is demonstrated through our weakness. So also, when James says “and faith was completed by his works,” we see that his point in this passage is that works demonstrate faith.
Since he’s talking about the demonstration of faith — and since he’s talking about a point later in Abraham’s life, after he was declared right with God in Genesis 15 — we see that James is talking about justification in a different sense than Paul. James is talking about the demonstration of the fact that we are right with God — the “justification” of our justification, in a sense –, which happens through works. Our works are evidence that our faith is real, and thus function will function as evidence in the final judgment. But this does not mean we enter into a relationship with God through our works — that is impossible, since we are ungodly. Rather, the fact that we are right with God and have real faith is demonstrated by our works, as evidence.
And this is fully in line with the range of meaning of the word “justify.” Jesus, for example, uses the word “justify” in this sense when he says “wisdom is justified by her deeds (Matthew 11:19).” The meaning here cannot be “wisdom is made to be wise” through its effects. That would not make sense. Rather, the meaning is “wisdom is shown to be wisdom” through its effects. So Jesus is using “justify” here in the sense of “demonstrate.” Which is also how James is using it — he is talking about how we are shown to be righteous, whereas Paul is talking justification in the sense of how we are made righteous before God. The term itself can be used in either way, and you need to look at the specific context to know which one is in view.
The fact that our works function as evidence that we are right with God leads to an even deeper understanding of justification and the final judgment. It tells us that the kind of faith that justifies is not mere intellectual assent or a dead faith, but a living faith that entrusts oneself to Christ and will necessarily result in a life of good works. (And for some really, really profound insight on how works function as evidence, let me point you to John Piper’s excellent chapter on this in his book Future Grace – see chapter 29, “The Future Grace of Dying.”)
But the point here is: there are some really cool things about the doctrine of justification that we would have never seen if we just stopped at the mere words of James and Paul, declared “contradiction,” and left it at that. This is a small example of the mountains of profound insight that yield to us when we look at apparent contradictions as opportunities for learning rather than opportunities for sitting in judgment on the text.
3. Why God Inspired Hard Texts
The second point leads to my much briefer third point: These apparent contradictions are in the Bible on purpose. They are there on purpose in order to get us to think and thus in order to lead us to more profound insight.
The truths of God and the Bible are very great. Yet as humans we are continually tempted to settle for easy answers and stage one thinking. As some have said, “you rarely think until you’re confronted with a problem.” So God has deliberately made parts of the Bible hard, in order to lead us in to greater learning.
So when we see apparent contradictions in the Bible, the proper response is not to sit in judgment on the text. Rather, the proper response is to sit back in gratefulness and say “there is something amazing to be learned here.”
John Piper has an excellent sermon that goes in to much more detail on this, called Why God Inspired Hard Texts. I highly recommend checking it out.
John Piper is also simply a great example of what I’m talking about here in general. One of the great appeals of his writing is that he continually creates problems for us, and then solves them. For two of the best examples of how he does this, I would point you to Chapter 1 of Desiring God, “The Happiness of God: The Foundation of Christian Hedonism” (which can also be found online in sermon form) and Chapter 2 of The Pleasures of God, “The Pleasure of God in All that He Does” (which can also be found online in sermon form).
So, in conclusion, the assertion that the Bible contains contradictions matters a lot to me. As a result, I investigated it in great detail when I was first becoming more serious about my faith and, as a mere freshman in college, was able to see that no claim of contradiction ultimately holds.
However, the appearance of contradiction in many places in the Scriptures is there on purpose and by God’s design because this is the mark of any profound text and because it causes us to dig deeper, leading to far more profound insight.
Now, back to Fast Company’s article: I love Fast Company, and you see me link to them all the time on this blog. I don’t want to say to them: “stay away from religion — you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I don’t want to foster a dichotomy like that. But I do want to say: “before probing into matters of religion, make sure you get the facts right and think more deeply first.”
For more on this subject, see also Justin Holcomb’s helpful response over at the Resurgence.
That’s essentially the thesis of my upcoming book and it was the main point in my seminar at the Desiring God national conference last month.
There are lots of reasons we care about productivity — we might want to have less stress, we might want to get more done in less time, or we might simply find the subject interesting in itself. And those are all good reasons.
But there are deeper, better reasons to care about productivity. There are, in fact, some amazing and incredible reasons to care about productivity that I am seeing almost no one ever talk about.
Chief among these reasons to care about productivity is this: Productivity is really about good works.
That’s worth saying again: Productivity is really about good works — which we were created in Christ to do (Ephesians 2:10) and which we are to do eagerly and enthusiastically (Titus 2:14). That’s why productivity matters, and that’s why I write about productivity. My aim is to help Christians be effective in good works.
This changes how you think about everything.
It means that when you are getting your email inbox to zero, you aren’t just getting your email inbox to zero. You are doing good works. When you are going to a meeting, you aren’t just going to a meeting. You are doing good works. Everything that we do as Christians, in faith, is a good work.
And therefore we are doing good works all day long — and consequently need to learn how to be more effective in them so that we can be of greater service to others.
And that’s where understanding productivity and productivity practices comes in. By learning how to be more effective in our everyday lives — in all of the work and projects and initiatives and intentions that come our way — we are able to serve others more effectively.
Or, to put it another way: Everything we learn about productivity (and at all levels – work, life, organizations, and society), every productivity practice we might implement, and every productivity tool we might use, ultimately exists for the purpose of helping to amplify our effectiveness in good works, for the glory of God.
That’s the essence of the framework in which, as Christians, we need to think about productivity.
From Rod Rosenbladt’s chapter “Christ Died for the Sins of Christians, Too” in Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation:
I hear the reader asking, “Well then, is saving faith just a matter of knowing facts?” Hardly, and the Reformers knew that. They distinguished between historical faith and saving faith.
Historical faith has human speculations as its goal or end. It is an intellectual acceptance of facts concerning Jesus’ life, work, and death; nevertheless, it comes only from the human mind, acknowledging the facts, but remaining basically uninvolved with the One that caused the facts to happen. And the key phrase that Luther used was that the person who just has historical faith believes that none of this is pro me, or for me.
Once a person comes to accept that this whole action summed up in the Nicene Creed is for me, then, said Luther, we are talking about the kind of faith that saves. There we have an active embracing of the Son of God and his self-sacrifice.