Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
God of Calvin and of me,
Cause me not to follow him
Who would follow only Thee.
Swallowing each word he penned,
Make of me a thinker, God,
As was he, Thy intimate friend!
Now, while yet in days of youth,
Delving from the Depths of Thine,
Sovereign, soul-exalting truth.
O God, Give me not a Calvin's ire,
But withhold from me the spark
For a new Servetus-fire.
Just as humble, just as brave,
Like a Calvin who refused
E'en a stone upon his grave.
Make of me no Barthian,
On some things he was quite wrong,
I don' t want to follow his lead,
Proper Calvinism's what I need.
Those tomes will make my fingers bleed,
I haven't time to read that stuff,
Dogmatics in Outline is quite enough.
Like John Calvin I'd rather be,
He taught electing grace so free,
For sound doctrine he's the one,
Calvin's the better theologian.
Make me like Calvin, Lord,
A man who loves your holy Word,
I offer my whole heart to you,
Give me grace your work to do.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
(Updated from Life in Vol 3 of Collected Writings)
2. Systematic Theology & Biblical Revelation
3. Systematic & Historical Theology
4. Provisionality and Progress in Systematic Theology
5. Systematic & Biblical Theology
6. On Sanctification
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Spirit of his Son,
God with God,
loving and loved,
wind, fire, dove,
One in being with the three,
you are life and light eternally.
You brooded over
the waters of a
waiting for the Word
to unleash your energy.
You acted with wisdom and skill,
all to do the Father's will.
Overshadowing the virgin,
you created from her the
humanity of the Son and
Word was made flesh.
By you, God and man became one.
Holy Spirit, you kept him true.
Through Jesus all will be made new.
Eternal Spirit, fire divine,
the spotless Lamb offered himself
to God through your power.
You sustained him on the cross
as he bore sin's weight for us.
The law's curse on him did rest,
that we with you might be blessed.
Spirit of life, you would not allow
the corpse of Christ to see decay.
You kept him fresh for the third day,
then justified the One made sin,
Last Adam raised to life again.
The Son of God with power appointed,
and then with oil of joy anointed.
As by the Father's promised word,
on the day of Pentecost you came,
to glorify the Son's great name.
Baptised with power from above,
the church went forth, constrained by love,
to preach the world's true King and Lord,
Jesus, by angels and men adored.
God the Father, shed your love
abroad in our hearts by your Spirit.
God the Son, may your Holy Spirit
produce in us the Christlike fruit.
God the Spirit, make our bodies
your living temple. Then,
raised by the Spirit we will see
our God in triune majesty.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
2. The Spirit came to replace Jesus' physical presence among his people. His task is to enlighten, teach, rebuke, sanctify and guide Christ's disciples.
3. The gift of tongues on the day of Pentecost was an indication that the language confusion of Babel will be overcome by the kingdom of God. The Spirit gives differing gifts to all believers for the building up of the body of Christ.
4. The Holy Spirit came as a witness to Christ and to enable the church to bear witness to him.
5. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies such as Joel 2:28-32. As Peter said, "This is that which is spoken by Joel". (Acts 2:16).
6. The Spirit has come to convict the world of sin so that people see their need of Jesus.
7. The Holy Spirit was active under the old covenant, but Pentecost represents an abundant intensification of his work.
8. Through the Holy Spirit, believers are given experiential assurance that they are God's children as the love of their Father is poured into their hearts.
9. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was a unique event that inaugurated the new age of spiritual blessing. But Pentecost is a model for all subsequent outpourings of the Spirit. The Acts of the Apostles shows that the early church was repeatedly filled with the Spirit subsequent to Pentecost. Believers today should pray for an outpouring of the Spirit that will revive the church and awaken the world.
10. The great task of the Spirit is to glorify Christ. It is by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is revealed as Saviour and Lord. The acid test of the presence of the Spirit is not unusual phenomenon, but the exaltation of Jesus by the ministry of the Word of God.
Friday, May 25, 2007
An example of Murray's exegetical approach to theology can be seen in his treatment of the doctrine of sanctification in Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 2: Systematic Theology. In standard works of Reformed dogmatics, sanctification is defined as the progressive transformation of the believer (Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, Banner of Truth Trust, 1984, p. 532 and A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert Reymond, Thomas Nelson, 1998, p. 767). But Murray noted that,
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
delighted to do
his Father's will.
His mind and heart
enraptured by every
For the joy set before him,
Calvary's shame he endured.
Now the oil of gladness pours
from him and anoints the heads of
his once sin-sad people.
The Man of sorrows
was acquainted with
His and ours.
Ours the grief of
His the pain of the
Father's momentary, infinite
absence. An eternity
of wrath propitiated
in due time by
the sacrifice of the Son.
The Man of peace
came to conquer
the serpent's seed.
His heel was wounded,
while the serpent's head
he mercilessly crushed.
Peace he gives,
by his blood-bought
The Man of love,
moved with compassion
at the sight of a lost
took the likeness of our
Greater love the world
has not seen.
Friend for friends,
Shepherd for sheep,
Sinless for sin.
But many waters could
not quench Love.
He rose to the Father's
loving embrace, lovingly
stirred to life by the gentle
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Monday, May 21, 2007
Meanwhile, Dr. Andreas Köstenberger of Biblical Foundations has published an appreciative, but critical review of Kevin Vanhoozer's The Drama of Doctrine to which KV has responded.AK's Review (here)
KV's Respsonce (here)
The relationship between systematic and Biblical theology is one of the defining issues that faces Reformed dogmatics at the moment. Some say that to breath new life into the discipline, systematics needs to integrate more closely with Biblical theology (ie. Don Carson & Kevin Vanhoozer). Others claim that such a reorientation would rob dogmatics of its distinctive value (ie. Paul Helm). John Murray was deeply influenced by Geerhardus Vos, the father of modern Reformed biblical theology. He has some very interesting things to say about this subject. Murray makes a careful distinction between the disciplines. Biblical theology deals with the process of the self-revelation of God in Scripture. Its task is to trace the progressive, historical development of revelation. Systematic theology reflects on Scripture as a finished product. Systematics is structured logically, while Biblical theology is structured historically. But, argues Murray "systematic theology must be concerned to be biblical not one whit less than biblical theology." (p. 9).
Murray discusses developments within the field of biblical theology. He insists that the discipline must focus on the revelatory acts and words of God. Attention given to the epochal character of revelation in biblical theology makes it "indispensable to the systematic theology that is faithful to the Bible." (p. 15). The professor was aware that, "Systematic theologies have too often betrayed a cold formalism that has been prejudicial to their proper aim and have not for that reason and to that extent promoted encounter with the living Word of the living God." (p. 15). Murray acknowledged that systematics sometimes has to deal with somewhat abstract subjects that can seem as dry as dust. But, he points out, "dust has its place, especially when it is gold dust." (p. 16). He also reminds us that Biblical studies is not exactly a dust free zone.
Kevin Vanhoozer voices a common complaint about the exegetical weakness of some systematic theology,
"One typically begins with a doctrinal confession and then sets off trawling through the Scriptures. One's exegetical 'catch' is then dumped indiscriminately into the parentheses irrespective of where these parts were found". (Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 12 (1994). p. 104, cited in The Gagging of God by D.A. Carson, Zondervan/Apollos, 1996, p. 543.)
That sounds familiar! There must be more to systematics than a summary of Reformed doctrine followed by a string of proof texts. Murray's emphasis on the indispensability of biblical theology to the task of dogmatics helps to avoid this tendency.
"In biblical theology deals with the history of revelation it must follow the progression which this history dictates. This is to say it must study the data of revelation given in each period in terms of the stage to which God's self-revelation progressed at that particular time. To be concrete, we may not import into one period of the data of revelation which belong to a later period....Thus biblical theology is regulative of exegesis". (p. 19).
For John Murray, biblical exegesis is not incidental to dogmatics,
"Systematics becomes lifeless and fails in its mandate just to the extent to which it has become detached from exegesis. And the guarantee against at stereotyped dogmatics is that systematic theology be constantly enriched, deepened and expanded by the treasures increasingly drawn from the Word of God. Exegesis keeps systematics not only in direct contact with the Word but it ever imparts to systematics the power which is derived from the Word. The Word is living and powerful". (p. 17)
"Systematic theology is tied to exegesis. It coordinates and synthesizes the whole witness of Scripture on the various topics with which it deals. But systematic theology will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed." (p. 19)
John Murray concurs with Vanhoozer's strictures on proof texting in systematics. Rooting systematics in Biblical theology will help to avoid this stultifying tendency,
"Revelation is seen to be an organism and the discrete parts, or preferably phases, are perceived to be not sporadic, unrelated and disjointed oracles, far less heterogeneous and contradictory elements, but the multiform aspects of God's intervention and self-disclosure, organically knit together and compacted, expressive not only of his marvellous grace but of the order which supreme wisdom designed. Thus the various passages drawn from the whole compass of Scripture and woven into the texture of systematic theology are not cited as mere proof texts or wrested from the scriptural and historical context to which they belong, but, understood in a way appropriate to the place they occupy in the unfolding process, are applied with that particular relevance to the topic under consideration." (p. 21)
It is only when systematic theology is based on the exegesis of Scripture and informed by biblical theology that it can truly fulfil its task. The aim in systematics is not simply to abstract and isolate the propositional content of Scripture. Murray proposed a much richer, almost theodramatic theological vision,
"Since the Bible us the principal source of revelation and since the Bible is the Word of God, systematics is the discipline which more than any other aims to confront us men with God's own witness so that in its totality it may make that impact upon our hearts and minds by which we shall be conformed to his image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness of the truth". (p. 21)
Unless otherwise stated, page references are to Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4: Studies in Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
his ever loving Son,
into the world you come,
Saviour and Light.
Bright with divinity,
God from eternity,
You took humanity
all for love's sake.
Blessed in the Trinity
posessed of infinity,
to bear our iniquity
you were made flesh.
You were exalted high,
Upon the cross to die,
Made sin for us you cry,
Oh my God, Why?
God raised you from the dead,
just as the Scripture said,
Last Adam, Church's head,
You reign on high.
We shall your image bear,
your divine nature share,
what glory we shall wear
when soon you come!
Thursday, May 17, 2007
by Donald Macleod, Christian Focus, 2002, 167 pp.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Monday, May 14, 2007
The new perspective on Paul has thrown into question the way in which Reformation theologians interpreted the writings of the apostle. It is argued that the Reformers misunderstood Paul's teaching on justification by faith and the role of the law. Although new perspective scholars do not agree on everything, they unite on the principle that Paul is best understood against the background of Second Temple Judaism. The 16th century debates over justification between the Reformers and Roman Catholicism are really besides the point.
The problem is that some new perspective advocates (who tend to be specialist New Testament scholars), do not always have a firm grasp of the Reformers' understanding of Paul. Venema writes as a systematic theologian. He is able to set his discussion of the new perspective against a broad theological backdrop. The writer begins by setting out exactly what the Reformers had to say about justification by faith. He gives us a clear picture of Reformation teaching, basing his account on the confessions of the period and examples of Reformed interpretation of Paul's writings. He concludes that the Reformers taught that justification is God's declaration that a sinner is right with him on the basis of the finished work of Christ. This righteous status is received by faith alone, apart from human effort.
New perspective scholars such as Tom Wright often point out that Paul was not combating Pelagianism in his letters. But neither were the Reformers combating a form of "pull yourself up by your own boot straps" Pelagianism in Roman Catholic doctrine. Rome teaches that we are justified by grace. But the initial justification has to be supplemented by works. The problem is semi-Pelagianism - a system of grace plus works. Pelagianism teaches that salvation may be achieved simply on the basis of works. In a helpful chapter, Can a Lonely Faith Save, Venema reflects of what the Epistle of James has to say on the subject of the relationship between faith and works in justification. Genuine faith is made manifest in good works.
Having set out the Reformation's perspective, the writer seeks to describe the work of three leading new perspective writers: E. P. Saunders, J. D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright. Venema gives a clear, concise and fair analysis of the distinctive contributions of these three representative scholars. Saunders argued that Paul was not fighting against legalistic Pelagianism in his doctrine of justification. Palestinian Judaism did not teach salvation by works. They advocated a form of "covenant nomism" that stressed that Israel was God's covenant people by gracious election. But their covenant status had to be maintained by obedience to the law. The "works of the law" that Paul complained about in Romans and Galatians were "boundary markers" like circumcision that excluded Gentiles for membership of the people of God. The issue was not salvation by works. Dunn and Wright disagree with some aspects of Saunder's reconstruction of justification and the law, but they accept that Second Temple Judaism was not a legalistic, Pelagian religion. But as Venema points out - if Saunders is right then first century Judaism was, like Roman Catholicism, semi-Pelagian. It taught that people get into the covenant by grace but stay in by works. Perhaps the Reformation understanding of Judaism as proto-Roman Catholicism was not too wide of the mark?
According to the new perspective emphasis, justification is not primarily about the sinner's status before a holy God. It concerns the question, "Who are the people of God?" Faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah is the boundary marker of the new covenant. Jewish nationalistic boasting in the works of the law was contrary to God's intention of gathering Jew and Gentile into one body in Christ. If the issue was nationalism as Saunders claims, then he may have absolved first century Jews of the charge of legalism, only to leave them saddled with the accusation of racist exclusivity.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
You greatly enrich it;
The river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
For so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers,
You bless its growth.
Like showers that water the earth.
In his days the righteous shall flourish,
And abundance of peace,
Until the moon is no more.
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.
Send them upon us, O Lord;
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come, and now honor Thy Word.
Oh, that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!
If we but trust and obey;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
If we let God have His way.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Valedicory speech (here)
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
According to John Murray, "we may not suppose that theological construction ever reaches definitive finality." Systematic theology is an ongoing project and we need to beware of "stagnant traditionalism". (p. 7). Murray commends John Calvin's innovatory teaching on the Person of Christ. The Reformer did not allow his deference for tradition to stifle fresh thinking on Christology. He was unhappy with the creedal formula that Christ was "very God of very God". To Calvin, this suggested that the Son derived his deity from the Father. This notion is unacceptable. According to Calvin, the Son is autotheos. With respect to his deity he is self-existent. With this improvisation, Calvin challenged the subordinationism that is latent in Nicence Christology. The creed's insight that the Son is homoousion with the Father is brought to full expression in Calvin's trinitarian teaching.
This suggests that even the Church's revered ancient creeds are not beyond revision in the light of Scripture. "As it is true that ecclesia reformata reformanda est so also it is true that theologia reformata reformanda est". Reformed theology must not simply live on the riches of the past. Theological traditionalism will not guarantee faithfulness to the truth. Indeed such stagnation will lead only to a decline into heresy.
"When any generation is itself content to rely on its theological heritage and refuses to explore for itself the riches of divine revelation, then declension is already under way and heterodoxy will be the lot of the succeeding generation. The powers of darkness are never idle and in combating error each generation must fight its own battle in exposing and correcting the same. It is light that dispels darkness and in this sphere light consists in the enrichment which each generation contributes to the stores of theological knowledge." (p. 8).
Here, Murray rallies Reformed Dogmatics to face the challenge of the contemporary world. Issues such as postmodernism, religious pluralism, Open Theism and the new perspective on Paul must be faced in works of Reformed systematic theology. Robert Reymond's New Systematic Theology was first published in 1998, yet his discussion of justification by faith does not interact at all with "new perspective" thinking. When that kind of thing happens, the argument is lost by default and theological darkness begins to encroach upon the church. In the previous post in this series, I reflected on Murray's emphasis on the value of historical theology. But he was no "head-in-the-sand" traditionalist,
"A theology that does not build upon the past ignores our debt to history and naively overlooks the fact that the present is conditioned by the past. A theology that relies upon the past evades the demands of the present." (p. 9).
John Murray made a number of key contributions to the field of systematic theology. For now I will focus on his refinement of the doctrine of justification. In Protestant teaching, justification is defined as as a God's forensic declaration that he accepts the believing sinner as righteous in his sight on the basis of Christ's finished work. Murray proposed that justification is not merely declarative, it is also constitutive. God "constitutes what he declares to be". (Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 2: Systematic Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977). God effects what he declares. The constitutive aspect of justification is carefully defined,
"It is to be noted, however, that the constitutive act that must be posited in this case is the constituting of a new judicial relation. In other words, it must be a constitutive act that will be consonant with the forensic character of justification, a constitutive act that will supply a proper and adequate ground for the pronouncement which justification involves, namely, the pronouncement or declaration that the person concerned is reckoned in God's sight as free from guilt and sustains to law and justice a relation or status whereby he is accepted as righteous." (Writings Vol 2, p. 207).
"It is, in a word, the constituting of the judicial relation which is declared to be and is such by the imputation to us of the righteousness and obedience of Christ". (Writings Vol 2, p. 215)
Murray's reformulation of justification as a constitutive declaration, may be helpful to Reformed theologians as they grapple with Roman Catholic and new perspective critiques of the older Protestant teaching. Justification is no legal fiction. When God declares a person justified, he also constitutes a new relationship with the believing sinner. This is just one example of the theologian's helpful contribution to Reformed systematics.
John Murray's proposals on provisionality and progress help to keep us from thinking that our theological systems have fully plumbed the depths of Scriptural revelation. There is no room for theological complacency or arrogance. Although we benefit from the wisdom of the past, much work still remains to be done,
"In the orthodox tradition me may never forget that there is yet much land to be possessed, and this is both the encouragement and challenge to students of the wonderful works of God and particularly of his inscripturated Word to understand that all should address themselves to a deeper understanding of these unsearchable treasures of revelation to the ends that God's glory may be made more fully manifest and his praises declared to all the earth". (p. 9)
Unless otherwise stated, page references are to Collected Writings of John Murray Volume 4: Studies in Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, 1982.