Friday, September 22, 2006

Infinity, eternal punishment and the cross

Chris Tilling has initiated a debate on hell. Amongst other things, he questions whether hell need be understood as the infinite, eternal punishment of the wicked. See here & here for the posts and to follow the discussion.

Jonathan Edwards taught the eternal, conscious punishment of the wicked on this basis:
God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honourable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honourable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him.
So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.- Nothing is more agreeable to the common sense of mankind, than that sins committed against any one, must be proportionably heinous to the dignity of the being offended and abused; as it is also agreeable to the word of God, I Samuel 2:25. "If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him;" (i.e. shall judge him, and inflict a finite punishment, such as finite judges can inflict;) "but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?" This was the aggravation of sin that made Joseph afraid of it. Genesis 39:9. "How shall I commit this great wickedness, and sin against God?" This was the aggravation of David's sin, in comparison of which he esteemed all others as nothing, because they were infinitely exceeded by it. Psalm 51:4. "Against thee, thee only have I sinned."-The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite: and it renders it no more than infinite; and therefore renders no more than proportionable to the heinousness of what they are guilty of.
See here for full text of Edwards on The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.
If sin does not deserve infinte and eternal punishment, why did the Son of God have to become flesh in order to atone for sin? Only he as an infinite Person could propitiate God's holy wrath aganist our sin. John Owen reflects on the infinite value and sufficiency of the death of Christ in the following quote:
The first thing that we shall lay down is concerning the dignity, worth, preciousness, and infinite value of the blood and death of Jesus Christ. The maintaining and declaring of this is doubtless especially to be considered; and every opinion that doth but seemingly clash against it is exceedingly prejudiced, at least deservedly suspected, yea, presently to be rejected by Christians, if upon search it be found to do so really and indeed, as that which is injurious and derogatory to the merit and honour of Jesus Christ. The Scripture, also, to this purpose is exceeding full and frequent in setting forth the excellency and dignity of his death and sacrifice, calling his blood, by reason of the unity of his person, “God’s own blood,” Acts xx. 28; exalting it infinitely above all other sacrifices, as having for its principle “the eternal Spirit,” and being itself “without spot,” Heb. ix. 14; transcendently more precious than silver, or gold, or corruptible things,1 Pet i:8; able to give justification from all things, from which by the law men could not be justified, Acts xiii. 28.
Now, such as was the sacrifice and offering of Christ in itself, such was it intended by his Father it should be. It was, then, the purpose and intention of God that his Son should offer a sacrifice of infinite worth, value, and dignity, sufficient in itself for the redeeming of all and every man, if it had pleased the Lord to employ it to that purpose; yea, and of other worlds also, if the Lord should freely make them, and would redeem them. Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins of all and every man in the world. This sufficiency of his sacrifice hath a twofold rise:— First, The dignity of the person that did offer and was offered. Secondly, The greatness of the pain he endured, by which he was able to bear, and did undergo, the whole curse of the law and wrath of God due to sin. And this sets out the innate, real, true worth and value of the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ.
See here for full text of Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Puritan Prayers and the Evangelical Revival

According to Andrew Davies in The Holy Spirit in Puritan Experience:

The Puritan era was undoubtedly a time of preparation, a significant stage in the unfolding of God's purposes for that remarkable age [the 18th Century Evangelical Revival] . As such it is an encouragement for us today, for who knows but that God may be preparing the Church now for something similar in days to come? It is an incentive to pray. We cannot measure the spiritual significance of the praying of the Puritans for revival. To what extent was the coming of the Spirit in 1735 God's answer to the cries of his children in the preceding decades? Let me close with the dying prayer of Henry Dorney as he cried to God for the prosperity of the Gospel in his age. May God set us to praying like this!

"Oh that the days of this darkness may be blown away; and let there be a mighty coming in of truth, holiness, sincerity, and spiritual light and manifestation, that there may be a mighty childlike spirit in all thy children...Let thy good Spirit come upon all thine: Oh glorify thyself now and ever...Oh let truth and power be given. Oh God fill the world with thy Spirit; that thy work may be done tidily, tidily. Oh let there be nearness between thee and the souls of thy people...Oh that thy people may judge of their love to thee by the very out goings of their souls to thee...Oh that I might see religion to be something!!"
From Faith and Ferment Westminster Conference paper 1982, p 32.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Winner of Best English Bible Translation Poll

The AV and its younger sibling the NKJV are joint winners!
1st Authorised Version 26%

1st New King James Version 26%

2nd English Standard Version 23%
3rd New American Standard Version 16%
4th New International Version 10%

Friday, September 08, 2006

Body image: some theological reflections

The Western world is suffering from something of a crisis on how we should view the body. The problems of obesity and anorexia are often discussed in the media here. Just this week, medical experts revealed that obesity can lead to blindness amongst other very nasty things. At the same time, we are bombarded with images of idealised male and female beauty. Is a man a man if he hasn't got a six-pack and a perfectly coiffured head of hair? Of what value is a woman if she does not conform to the skinny splendour of the likes of Keira Knightley?
Christians are not Teflon-coated. The thinking that shapes our society rubs off on us. We struggle to respond to James' exhortation to "keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Some believers battle with being overweight, others with an obsession with body image that leads to anorexia. Still others feel worthless because of their perception of their physical appearance. I do not write as a dietitian or psychologist. I don't propose to try and discuss, for example some of the physical causes of obesity. But I do understand that a person may be underweight or overweight due to underlying medical problems. What I would like to reflect on in this post is the way in which the Bible would have us view the human body. A truly Biblical theology of the body will help Christians to relate to their physicalness in a healthy and realistic way.
When God created human beings in his image as male and female, he created them with bodies as well as souls. We are, by divine constitution psychosomatic beings. Our physicalness is as fundamental to our humanity as our spirituality. When God looked at the created universe with embodied human life at its pinnacle, he declared all "very good". Adam and Eve would have been paragons of human perfection and beauty.
The first human beings were not otherworldly ascetics who stifled the pleasures of physical pleasure. They took great delight in the enjoyment of the earth that God had created. They ate freely of the food the God provided for them in the garden of Eden, food that was attractive to the eye, and delicious to the palate. They enjoyed the physical exercise that came from happily working in the garden. This is how God meant human beings to live, in grateful communion with him, their bountiful Creator. When we despise the body and seek to annihilate our physicalness as is the case with those who deny themselves food and other legitimate pleasures, that is a symptom a deep malaise in the human psyche. When we over-indulge our bodies to the point of being dangerously overweight, that too is an indication that the joyful innocence of Eden is no more.
The fall of human beings into sin did not destroy the image of God in mankind. But sin has distorted and ruined all human life. Not one person can now claim physical or spiritual perfection, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23.) Even the most attractive of human beings is marked by the ugliness of sin. But God does not loathe fallen people with all their spiritual and bodily imperfections. He affirmed the value of human life in this fallen world when he sent his Son, Jesus Christ into our world "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). Jesus embraced the ugliness of human life and was deformed so that "his appearance was marred more than any man" when he was crucified for our sins (Isaiah 52:14).
After death, Jesus did not abandon physical life to live on in some kind of disembodied, non-physical state. He was raised from the dead. His crucified body was reanimated and transformed by the Spirit of God. He now possesses a glorious body, resplendent with divine majesty. Jesus' resurrection life is the embodiment of human worthy, dignity and beauty. Christian believers, as God's new humanity will be made like their Lord when they are raised from the dead on the day of Jesus' appearing. We will share in his human perfection and enjoy the delights of God's new creation.
Christians are called to live in the light of this future hope. Our bodies are even now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Abuse of the body, in terms of sexual immorality or allowing ourselves to become dangerously ill because of too much / too little food is inappropriate. We are to honour God in our physical lives because we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, "therefore glorify God in your body". (1 Corinthians 6:20.) ..
A Biblical theology of the body will help us to embrace our physicalness as God's gift, to be used for his glory. Men and women have value and worth as human beings because they have been created in the image of God, not because they conform to the image of femininity or masculinity promoted in Hello magazine. The fact of sin will make believers realistic about the impossibility of physical perfection in this life. The resurrection hope holds before us the promise of Christlike beauty in the the age to come. In the light of the gospel, let us present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1)

Friday, September 01, 2006

The defence of Hodge at Helm's Deep continues....

Vahhoozer's canonical linguistic approach to Christian Theology vs Hodge's inductive theological method

In an earlier post, I drew attention to Paul Helm's defence of Charles Hodge against the criticisms of Kevin Vanhoozer here . Now those fair minded folks over at Reformation 21 have given Vanhoozer the right of reply.

See here for Vanhoozer's response as he joins the battle of Helm's Deep and here for Helm's rejoinder.