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Archive for January, 2008

Having spent time in a number of different kinds of churches/denominations over the years, it has been my observation that in every group there are those with a healthy catholic attitude toward other Christians and also those with a proud and condescending attitude toward others who call themselves Christians.

If we are going to follow the Biblical admonition, we should consider the strengths of other kinds of Christians, and not only harp on our own. Since I live at present in the remnant of what was once Calvinism, let me look from a Calvinistic/Reformed/Presbyterian standpoint at the strengths of other kinds of Christians. We Calvinists can argue rather convincingly that our tradition provides the highest and most thoroughly Biblical understanding of God, the creation, and the God-man relationship. Thus far in Christian history, no one has provided a more consistently Biblical understanding of these matters than the Calvinist Cornelius Van Til.

But do Calvinists have good music? Not by Lutheran standards. To be sure, the Genevan Psalter began as a very powerful musical accomplishment, but by failing to allow for musical instruments (a Biblical must), the Calvinists by and large failed to mature musically. It was the Lutherans who developed congregational song, and though there have been ups and downs in that tradition over the years, they still have by far and away the best congregational music and liturgy.

Baptists are better at evangelism. It stands to reason, since they do not understand the covenant, and see “conversion” as the only way of salvation. Still, one finds large numbers of world missionaries and inner-city missions coming from Baptistic circles.

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I remember about two things out of Edersheim’s giant 63-million page The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. One of the two things I remember is that he says that a common saying that was abroad in the first century world was, “No one can hate like a Jew…” That seems to me to sum up the problem with first century Judaism. I am elect, I have grace, and I despise you because you do not share my inness.”

It has seemed to me for a long time that “no one can hate like a Calvinist.” The very people with the highest view of sovereign grace and unearned election can be the most exclusive and hateful people around. What was criminal about first-century Judaism wasn’t that they were medieval pelegians, it is that they were proud ingrates. If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we Calvinists are prone to wander on the same errant trail.

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The BHrethren might be interested in this post I wrote on my personal blog which disagrees with John Gerstner’s understanding on the Church.  Amid all the discussion of eschatology and hypercalvinism and how the visible church may properly be called the body of Christ, I completely overlooked how Gerstner’s reasoning actually condemns the Westminster definition of the invisible Church as the body of Christ.   He writes,

We will not deny that a person who sincerely and truly makes a sound profession of faith in Christ is a member of His true church, but how do we (or they) know that all who make the profession sincerely believe it? How can they be sure that they are not receiving hypocrites? So long as officers cannot search the hearts of professing believers, they cannot know whether such professors are sincere, true believers or not; nor can they prevent the admittance of some nominal (in name only) believers.

So the rule is: he or she who is not regenerate may not be counted a member of the Church. But by this reasoning, the members of the invisible church also cannot be counted as members of the true church.  After all, according to the Westminster Confession, the invisible church, which is Christ’s body, consists of everyone who will ever be called into final salvation, whether or not they are yet regenerate or even conceived into existence.

The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

So, by Gerstner’s standards, this definition is in error. Those who are not yet sincere believers must never be defined as members of the body of Christ.

We can rehabilitate Gerstner’s concern by pointing out that the invisible Church is an eschatalogical plan (which, when brought to completion, will be brilliantly visible).  But this goes back to the problem Gerstner seems to have with eschatology, wanting a present invisible realm as an alternative to the problems of the present, rather than a future glory that is realized through those trials.  Death and resurrection is everything.

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How does one become a true judge?

There are two trees in the Garden. One must first eat of the Tree of Life, which is purely a tree of grace, a gift.  This is a tree that one has done nothing to deserve, and one must eat perhaps for a long time to become mature and strong. This tree must be surrendered to, it must be trusted and received, and is the tree where obedience is learned. This is also the “Tree of Gratitude”, because thanksgiving, and worship are the only appropriate responses to being given the gift of life. But at some point, it becomes inescapably necessary to become a judge, and to begin to deal in the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  One at some point is invited to eat of the second tree, and one must (I Kings 3:9, 2 Chron. 1:10, Prov. 2:1-15, Heb. 5:14).  One must for example, at some point in late adolescence, begin to judge ones’ parents. This is inescapable. “What of all that I have received from my parents is good, and must be kept and strengthened, and what is not so good, and perhaps even bad, that must be jettisoned, modified, or exchanged?” This cannot be avoided. But, if one is not first grateful for all that has been received from one parents, and grateful for them, and thankful to God for them, one will become a false judge of what has been passed on.

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In a recent interview evangelical theologian Robert Saucy summarized his view of the primary theological differences between Catholics and Protestants in the following way:

Q. What are the differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants? A. They’re the same as they were at the Reformation. There are three significant ones. First is the question of final authority. Protestants hold to sola scriptura [Scripture as their final authority]. For Catholics, the final authority is Scripture as interpreted by the church, that is, the magisterium (the pope and bishops). That’s where Catholicism gets its teachings that can’t be found in Scripture, like veneration of Mary, indulgences and purgatory. Second, Catholics view the church as an extension of Christ’s incarnation. For them, the church is divine as Christ was divine. One result of this is the Catholic proclamation: “Come to the church for salvation, for faith in the church and faith in Christ are one act of faith.” That leads to the third difference: salvation. The Catholic catechism makes it very clear that you are born again and justified through baptism. That means faith plus a certain rite – which is administered by the church – is necessary for salvation. So, the church essentially grants salvation. Although this salvation is “by faith,” additional grace enables us “to work” to attain eternal life. And that’s the problem with saying we speak the same gospel. One of them is clear: Christ did it; we can’t add anything to that. The other one is: Christ did it, but to actually avail yourself of what Christ did you have to do this and this.

Unfortunately, this quote is just one example of the kinds of inaccurate and misleading characterizations of both Catholic and Protestant doctrines that are all too common in evangelical treatments of Catholic beliefs. Sadly, there are important differences that continue to divide Catholics and evangelical Protestants, but Saucy’s quote fails to get to the heart of the matter and winds up distorting both Catholic and Reformation teachings.

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Mr. Johnson,

In fact I wrote a long post trying to take your misgivings, and then it was lost because that Jeff Meyers guy had turned off comments! Well, c’est la vie. I’ll put this up there as a “new essay.”

I just put up that first essay (#29 in a series) because I’d made some math goofs in the version mailed out, and I thought some other people would be interested. If this kind of study does not interest you, that’s fine. The Kingdom is a big place. Also, as a postmil, I confess that we are still in the early days of the Great Conversation, so perhaps everything I mooted in that essay will prove inadequate. But that won’t happen unless people put stuff out there to be dealt with, which is what I’ve done.

I guess I can see that it might bug you to be told “go see what else I’ve written,” but surely you see that I can’t just put up on this blog several 20-30 page essays. At least the essays in Rite Reasons are fairly short and are on-line. For chiasms, see the books of Dorsey and Breck, and for that matter, anything done in Biblical studies in the last 20 years since literary analysis has found a place.

Chiastic literary analysis has completely destroyed liberal literary criticism. Liberalism is in tatters, bleeding and dying. Liberalism cannot survive Dorsey’s chiastic proof of the total unity of Isaiah, for instance.

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Psalms 23-29: Analysis

This is the donation thank-you essay for January 2008. Our studies in the Psalms go out month by month in response to donations. I’m putting this one up here as an example, and also because the version I actually mailed out contained several egregious arithmetical errors! So, here is the corrected version. 

We rendered the fourth set of seven psalms in Book 1 of the psalter, Psalms 23-29, during 2006. (That set is available for a donation of $25.00.) There again seems to be a cycle of seven here. As we progress through Book 1, we are attempting to uncover structures and patterns and progressions. Doubtless when we are finished, we shall have to go back and make some corrections. For now, however, I shall attempt to tease out what might be a fourth set of seven psalms. To begin with, the names of God in Pss. 23-29. (For some reason the apostrophes at the beginnings of ‘el and ‘elohim, etc., are sometimes reversed when this goes up on the website, just as they are reversed right here! I don’t know how to fix it.) We find a focus on the Name Yahweh:

              1-7                  8-15               16-22              23-29

Yahweh     yahweh 36     yahweh 35       yahweh 45       yahweh 60
God          ‘elohim 10       ‘elohim 8          ‘elohim 10        ‘elohim 3
Mighty One                     ‘el 2                  ‘el 10               ‘el 1
My Lord    ‘adonai 1         ‘adonai 2         ‘adonai 2
Most High   `elyon 1        `elyon 1           `elyon 2
Mighty Protector                                     ‘eloah 1

                    Total 48        Total 48         Total 70           Total 64

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. . . and the whole thing gets muddled. The words we traditionally use to translate Hebrew terms in the “sacrificial” system are confusing and often convey the wrong ideas. If we are going to understand Leviticus and the old world system of sacrifices and offerings, the first thing we have to do is get the words right.

This was brought home to me again this past week at the AAPC lectures. Peter Leithart spoke on the “purification offering.” But, in fact, it’s really not an “offering” at all. And I don’t believe”purification” really best translates the meaning of the Hebrew term. I highly recommend Peter’s lecture. But even he could not avoid talking about all of the rituals in Leviticus 1 as “offerings.” It’s ingrained in us. It’s very hard to overcome. Let’s talk about it.

We use English words to translate some of the Hebrew terms in Leviticus that are not helpful, but are in fact loaded with all sorts of unfortunate connotations. The book of Leviticus is a book of rituals (mostly) and the Hebrew terms used are extremely precise. I believe our Bible translations make these rituals obscure because of traditional, but inappropriate designations.

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New Biblical Horizons Store

Introducing the Biblical Horizons Store

For many years, the Biblical Horizons ministry has offered books, essays, and tapes on biblical theology, ecclesiology and liturgics, studies in biblical chronology, and more. Now these materials are available online in the new Biblical Horizons store. Here’s a sampling of items you’ll find:

* Tapes of Biblical Horizons conferences from 1991 through 2007

* Books by Jordan, Leithart, Meyers, and others. (Don’t forget to pick up Jordan’s new book “Handwriting on the Wall: a Commentary on the Book of Daniel.” Autographed copies available).

* Works by Christian philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

* Jordan’s Studies in Food and Faith

* Science fiction by Cordwainer Smith

* And much more. New items will be added from time to time, so be sure and check back occasionally.

Want to be on the Biblical Horizons mailing list? Jordan puts out a monthly newsletter with explorations in biblical theology and chronology and other topics; you can get a free six-month subscription if you e-mail him (jbjordan@biblicalhorizons.com) and request to be put on the list. After that, you’re asked to make a donation to continue receiving the mailings. A number of essays by Jordan and others are available free at the Biblical Horizons website.

Jordan is an insightful and engaging and speaker and writer, and his love for God’s word is always evident. Take advantage of these resources and learn to see the world through new eyes.

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One of the indications of the way in which a phrase from the Nicene Creed would have been ‘heard’ in the ancient Church is to look at other sources that speak to the same issues the Creed addresses. When it comes to ‘one baptism for the remission of sins’, consider the following inscription on a baptistry in the Lateran Basilica, dating from the mid-fifth century, in the time frame that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was formulated.

Here a people of godly race are born of heaven;
the Spirit gives them life in the fertile waters.
The Church-Mother in these waves bears her children
the virginal fruit she conceived by the Holy Spirit
Hope for the kingdom of heaven, you who are reborn in this spring,
for those who are born but once have no share in the life of blessedness.
Here is to be found the source of life, which washes the whole universe,
which gushed from the wound of Christ.

Sinner, plunge into the fountain to wash away your sin.
The water receives the old man, and in his place makes the new man rise.
You wish to become innocent, cleanse yourself in this bath,
whatever your burden may be, Adam’s sin or your own.

There is no difference between those who are reborn; they are one,
in a single baptism, a single Spirit, a single faith.
Let none be afraid of the number of the weight of their sins:
those who are born of this stream will be made holy.

That is a remarkable theology of baptism and new creation, forgiveness and union with Christ and his Church.

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