Thursday, November 30, 2006

The resurrection of Jesus in Reformed Dogmatics

John Calvin devoted two sections of The Institutes of the Christian Religion to the resurrection of Jesus - Book II:XVI:13 & 14. A whole chapter is given to the resurrection of the body, Book III:XXV. But many standard Reformed Systematic Theologies pay little attention to the meaning and significance of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. I've done a bit of statistical analysis:
Louis Berkhof gives 32 pages to discussing the atonement, but only 3 to the resurrection of Christ. (Systematic Theology, Banner of Truth Trust, p. 367-399 - atonement, p. 346-349 - resurrection). Robert Reymond (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Nelson, 1998) is a little more generous with 11 pages on the resurrection of the Son of God (p. 565-575). But Reymond is more concerned to defend the historicity of the resurrection event than to unpack its theological significance in these pages. By way of contrast, 79 pages are devoted specifically to Christ's cross work (623-702). To be fair to Reymond, we also should take into consideration that he engages in some in-depth exegesis of key resurrection texts - Romans 1:1&4 and 1 Timothy 3:16 under the heading of God as Trinity.
In terms of subject order, most Reformed Dogmatics move from a consideration of the atonement straight into a discussion of the application of the work of redemption. It is almost as if the resurrection of Christ has little theological value in its own right, or that redemption could be applied apart from Christ having been raised from the dead. Berkhof would deny this saying,
What is more important, the resurrection enters as a constitutive element into the very essence of the work of redemption, and therefore the gospel. It is one of the great foundation stones of the Church of God. The atoning work of Christ, if it was to be effective at all, had to terminate not in death, but in life. (p. 349.)
But the theologian does not develop his point any further.
This is not to say that Reformed Theology has altogether failed to give serious attention to the resurrection of Christ. Geerhardus Vos, the father of Reformed Biblical Theology, broke new ground in his The Pauline Eschatology (1930 available in P&R 1986 reprint). Vos' s key thesis is that eschatology is not just about the last things. The whole of Paul's theology is eschatologically orientated. Much of the book is devoted to unpacking the theological significance of Christ's resurrection, including ground-breaking exegesis of Romans 1:3&4. Of the book's 374 pages, 89 are directly related to discussion the resurrection of Christ.
Herman Ridderbos too gives full weight to the importance of Christ's resurrection saying, "Paul mentions the resurrection as the great central redemptive fact". He reflects further,
Christ's death, as that is developed by by apostle in a great variety of ways, is never for an instant detached from this eschatological gospel of the resurrection. (Paul - An Outline of his Theology, Eerdmans, 1997 reprint, p. 55)
Richard Gaffin acknowledges that he stands on the shoulders of Vos and Ridderbos, the twin giants of Reformed resurrection dogmatics in his study Resurrection and Redemption (P&R, 1987 second edition). Gaffin writes in his conclusion,
We have found that the resurrection is Christ is the pivotal factor in the whole of the apostle's soteriological teaching. Not only is the resurrection (as it is constitutive of the ascension and heavenly session) the climax of the redemptive history of Christ; it is also that from which the individual believer's experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness. (p. 135.)
The centrality of the cross is not displaced by this renewed appreciation of the importance of Jesus' resurrection. Both the death and resurrection of Christ take centre stage in the drama of redemption. Reformed Dogmatics needs to take this into account. The resurrection of Jesus is full of rich theological significance. The event contributes to our understanding of Christ as the Son of God, the Last Adam and the Lord of the universe. Believers are united to Christ in his death and resurrection. His resurrection as well as the cross is the basis of our justification and sanctification. Our future resurrection hope and the renewal of the cosmos are grounded in the fact that "the Lord is risen indeed!" Reformed Dogmatics should not continue to move from discussion of the cross directly to consideration of the application of redemption. I propose that a better and more Biblical ordering of subjects would be: The Cross of Jesus / The Resurrection of Jesus / The Application of Redemption. The resurrection of Christ is a key act in the theo-drama. It is not a minor scene that deserves but scant attention.
See the resurrection label below for other posts on this subject

Monday, November 27, 2006

The resurrection of the wicked

Human beings sin against God while “in the body”. As a result, we must give an account to him for “the things done in the body…whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10.) On this basis the Bible teaches that the wicked will be raised from the dead to face the eternal concequences of their actions. The first indication that the wicked are to be raised from the dead is Daniel 12:2, “And many of those who sleep I the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus confirmed this. All who are in the graves will hear his voice, “those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:29.) According to Luke, Paul also believed “that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15.) The apostle does not explicitly teach this in his epistles. But the focus of his letters is on the resurrection of believers, rather than the general resurrection.
John describes the judgement day, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works”. (Revelation 20:13.) Those not found written in the book of life were “cast into the lake of fire.” (20:15.)
The fate of the resurrected wicked will be to suffer eternally in the lake of fire for the sins they committed in the body against the holy God who made them. The Bible does not teach that the souls of the wicked will be annihilated at death. They will be resurrected to face their eternal conscious punishment. (See here for Jonathan Edwards on eternal punishment).
For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.(1 Thessalonians 1:9 & 10)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Intermediate State

The great focus of the believer’s personal eschatology is to be raised from the dead (see here & and here). But what happens in the mean time, between the point of a Christian’s death and the day of resurrection? “Going to heaven when we die” may be the focus of much popular Evangelical hope for the future. But there is surprisingly little material in the New Testament that addresses this subject directly.
Paul touches on what we might call the “intermediate state” in 2 Corinthians 5:1-8. In this passage, Paul contrasts the believer’s present “earthly house” that may be “destroyed” with “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”. It is likely that Paul is using the metaphor of housing to denote the difference between the believer’s present bodily state and the future resurrection body. Paul’s hope was “not to be found naked” or to be divested of the body, but “further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” In the present bodily state, believers “groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation from heaven.” Given the preference, Paul would much rather bypass death and pass immediately into the immortal, resurrected state. But what if he were to die before the day of resurrection? In that case, Paul says, “We are confident yes well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” The apostle is sure that death death will usher him into the immediate presence of Christ.
Because the New Testament often speaks of the death of believers as “sleep” (John 11:11-14, Acts 7:60, 1 Thessalonians 4:15) some have posited that the soul enters an unconscious state at death. But to enter an unconscious state would presumably mean that we would no longer be conscious of Christ. In that case, death would not be “a consummation devoutly to be wished”. For Paul to be without the conscious presence of Christ would not be “far better”, than life in this world. But to be consciously “with Christ” in heaven certainly would be,
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain....For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better. (Philippians 1:21 & 23.)
Elsewhere in the New Testament, the dead in Christ are described as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-24). They pray and worship God (Revelation 6:9-11 & 15:1-5). The intermediate state is characterised by active, joyful worship in the presence of Christ, as the saints await the day of resurrection glory. “Sleep” an appropriate word to describe the believer’s death, because on the day of resurrection we will awake from the grave and be glorified.
The Westminster Larger Catechism summarises the relationship between the intermediate state and the final resurrection hope in a most helpful way:
Question 86: What is the communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death ?
Answer: The communion in glory with Christ, which the members of the invisible church enjoy immediately after death, is, in that their souls are then made perfect in holiness, and received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies, which even in death continue united to Christ, and rest in their graves as in their beds, till at the last day they be again united to their souls. Whereas the souls of the wicked are at their death cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, and their bodies kept in their graves, as in their prisons, till the resurrection and judgment of the great day.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The dead in Christ shall rise

Christ is both the model and dynamic of the believers resurrection hope. Believers will be raised from the dead by Christ and be made like him. The believer’s lowly body, corrupted by sin and broken by the fall will be conformed to Christ’s glorious resurrection body,

The Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly body that it might be conformed to his glorious body (Philippians 3:20 & 21).

In addressing the Corinthian’s question “How are the dead raised up?” (1 Corinthians 15:35), Paul says that the body we now possess now is like a “seed” that is “sown in corruption, dishonour and weakness” (15:42 & 43). Christ is able to give us a body that is suitable for the glory of the age to come. Our bodies will be raised “in incorruption, glory and power (15:42 & 43). The antithesis is perfect; our humanity, broken by the ravages of sin and death will be made perfectly and gloriously whole in Christ.

The resurrection of the believer will not simply be a return to bodily life after death. As with the resurrection of Christ, resurrection means transformation. Those who hope in Christ will be made like the Lord from heaven, “As we have born the image of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man”. (15:49 cf. 1 John 3:1-3.)

The trigger-point of the day of resurrection will be the return of Christ in power and glory. The Church at Thessalonica was concerned that those who had died before Christ retuned would somehow miss out on resurrection glory. Paul wrote these words to reassure them: (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17.)

When the day of the Lord comes, the dead in Christ will rise from the grave first. Then believers who are alive on that day will be caught up with the resurrected saints to be forever with the Lord in the environs of the new creation.

Paul concludes his defence of the Christian hope of resurrection with an eloquent description on the day of the Lord: (1 Corinthians 15:51-54.)

Not all believers will “sleep” or experience death before the coming of Christ. But all will be changed when he comes. Then death will be defeated as believers exchange corruption and mortality for incorruption and immortality. Death will be completely destroyed, “swallowed up in victory”.

It is worth noting that it is only in connection with the final resurrected state that the Bible uses the term “immortality” of human beings. The idea of an inherently “immortal soul” belongs more to Plato than the Bible,
immortality of the soul…is often used in an unbiblical way to minimise the reality of death and to render almost superfluous any further hope of the resurrection of the body. (The Promise of the Future, Cornelius Venema, Baner of Truth Trust, 2000, p. 39-40.)
It is “our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). The final “immortal” state for believers is to be made like Christ in resurrection glory, not to “go to heaven when they die”. But this begs the question, "What happens to believers after death and before the resurrection?" I will attempt to provide an answer in a future post.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham

The Holy Trinity In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship
by Robert Letham, P&R, 2004, 551pp.

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the high mysteries of the Christian faith. The Christian God is love because he is one God in three Persons. Nothing could be more important than that we have a clear understanding of the Trinity. If we are in error on this point, we do not know God as he really is. The first centuries of Church history are testimony to the fact that this subject is beset with dangers and pitfalls. The Church struggled to find the right language to express the Biblical revelation of the oneness and threeness of God. The result of the struggle is the creedal legacy of the Church. The relationship between the One and the Three in God was clearly defined to enable the faithful to think clearly about, worship and serve their triune Lord. Dangerous and erroneous speculations such as Arianism and Sabellianism were excluded as sub-Christian.

Letham admits that “When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, evangelicals have underachieved.” The doctrine of the Trinity is often neglected in evangelical church life. The writer sets out to redress this lacuna. First he examines the Biblical foundations of the Trinity. He gives a helpful and thorough exposition of the Old Testament background to the doctrine. Then he focuses on the New Testament’s portrayal of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. Having established that the New Testament teaches that Jesus is to be worshipped as God alongside the Father, Letham gives attention to the Holy Spirit and triadic patterns. The Spirit is often placed besides the Father and the Son in New Testament formulae, indicating that he is included in the unity in diversity of the Godhead. He concludes,

“The problem of the trinity was being raised and answered in the New Testament. It arose because of Christian experience, worship and thought. It was based upon the life and ministry of Jesus, and his reception of the Holy Spirit, and then upon his resurrection and subsequent impartation of the Spirit to his church.” (p. 71).

Next, Letham traces the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity. He begins with Irenaeus and Tertullian and then discusses the Arian controversy. The result of that controversy was the Nicaean Creed, which, using the language of Athanasius confessed that God is one being (ousia) and three persons (hypostasis). Athanasius had found language to express accurately the oneness and threeness of God. Christ was confessed as homoousios - of the same essence as the Father

With great historical and theological acumen, Letham discusses the contribution of the Cappadocians, Augustine and John Calvin to the doctrine of the Trinity. One of his favourite theologians is Gregory of Nazianzen, one of whose orations on the Trinity is quoted or alluded to several times in the book. The writer is critical of Western triniratianism from Augustine onwards for so emphasising the oneness of God that the three Persons become problematic. He appreciates the Eastern focus on the three Persons dwelling perichoretically in the one God. But he suggests that the Eastern attempt to distinguish between the energies and essence of God undermines the reliability of divine self-revelation. Letham attempts to mediate in the dispute between East and West over the filioque controversy. His proposal is that the Spirit proceeds from the Father in the Son. Whether this formula will settle nearly a thousand years of theological argument only time will tell.

Calvin’s doctrine of the Trinity has been the subject of renewed attention in recent years. Writers such as Robert Reymond in his New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith have claimed that the Reformer seriously modified the Nicaean Christology. Letham disputes such claims, arguing that Calvin's differences were not with the fathers, but with speculative Scholastic formulations of the Trinity. Calvin insisted that the Son is autotheos – God in himself, and denounced the idea of the eternal generation of the Son as “an absurd fiction” (Institutes I:XIII:29). This is an advance on some Trinitarian formulations that describe the Father communicating the divine essence to the Son. But, Letham argues, rather than being the revolutionary that some say he was, Calvin simply preserved and developed traditional teaching on the Trinity. The Reformer certainly corrected the subordinationism that has characterised some Western thinking. He also re-emphasised the central importance of the Trinity. Calvin did not approach the doctrine indirectly after having discussed the being and attributes of the one God. For him, the doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of God.

Letham devotes several fascinating chapters to charting the course of modern discussion of the Trinity. He gives attention to the contributions of Barth, Rahner, Moltman, Pannernberg in the West and Bulgakov, Losky and Staniloae in the East. Letham deals with each writer’s views fairly, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of their approach. An appreciative, but not uncritical chapter is also devoted to T. F. Torrance’s trinitarianism.

The final part of the book concerns critical issues such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, Worship and Prayer, Creation and Mission and the Trinity and Persons. Letham avoids modalism by arguing that only the Son could have become Man. He movingly reminds us that the heart of God is truly revealed in the humiliation and exaltation of the incarnate Son. Our God is one who stoops to serve and die. When thinking of the Trinity, we should not focus on the oneness of God at the expense of the Persons - modalism, or the Persons at the expense of the oneness – tritheism. Both the one divine essence and the three Persons are equally ultimate.

"No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the Splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Them than I am carried back to the One." (Gregory of Nazianzus, here)

Under the heading of mission, Letham discusses the two great challenges to Christianity in the West: Postmodernism with its fragmentary emphasis on diversity without unity and Islam, exemplifying unity without diversity. Only a robustly Trinitarian faith is able to face these challenges to the gospel.

The whole book is shot through with worship, devotion and practical application. Letham has certainly not underachieved. He has helped to think clearly about our Triune God. He calls us to make the Trinity central to mission, worship and prayer. This book is an important contribition to trinitarian theology from an Evangelical and Reformed perspective.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
now and ever, unto the ages of ages, Amen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Evangelistic Booklets

The Protestant Truth Society has recently published a couple of evangelistic booklets:
Who is Jesus? and Christianity - Think About It!
They are 12 pages long in a handy A6 size. Scripture quotations are either AV or NKJV.
Cost: 10p each or £10 per hundred. Contact the PTS office to obtain free samples or place an order here.
The Christianity - Think About It! booklet is aimed specifically at the UK scene.
Who is Jesus? may be of more general use.
Both were originally written for distribution by the Churches I serve.
Here is an extract from Who is Jesus?
I suppose that most people would agree that Jesus Christ is the most famous and influential person in history. He lived on our planet for only 33 years, yet countless millions of people have been and are fascinated by him. The faith he founded - Christianity - has spread throughout the earth and is still changing people’s lives today.
But who is this man, who was born about 2000 years ago? He has been the subject of whole libraries full of books, yet his mysterious glory defies human analysis. Artists have been moved to honour him, but his greatness cannot be captured on canvas. Composers have written some of their greatest masterpieces in homage to Jesus but his majesty demands music the like of which we can never imagine. Poets have ransacked the whole range of human language yet their words have failed to fully express the elusive splendour of Jesus of Nazareth.
So, who is this Jesus? What can we know of a man who lived so long ago? Records of Jesus and his early followers exist in ancient Jewish and Roman texts. But the fullest and most accurate depiction of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus is found in the Bible.

Heaven is not the end of the world

According to his promise we look for a new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)

See here for Byron's excellent series on resurrection and the new creation at

Monday, November 20, 2006

Some interesting stuff

A couple of people I know have recently set up blogs, Gary Brady here and Gary Benfold here.

At Faith and Theology, Ben Myres highlights The question of pacifism here.

Chris Tilling is busy posting on Richard Bauckham’s forthcoming Jesus and the Eyewitnesses here . Not all of Bauckman's arguments may convince. But he makes a compelling case that the Gospel records were based on reliable eyewitness testimony. Chris responds to some criticism of his posts here.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review Part 6: The Drama of Doctrine

Some concluding reflections

Vanhoozer has given us a fresh way of looking at theology. His theo-dramatic approach reminds us that the purpose doctrine is to enable the church to perform the Scriptures. The work is both up to date and faithful to the Biblical principles of Reformed Theology. Vanhoozer enables us to grapple with the complexities of the postmodern situation with sensitivity and integrity. Here is a fine example of a multidisciplinary approach to theology as the writer draws on Biblical, Systematic and Historical Theology, literary theory and dramatics. He gives welcome emphasis to the church as a company of players directed by her pastors to play her part in the unfolding theo-drama.
On the negative side, although Scripture is quoted throughout book, there is little sustained exegesis of texts. For example, while reading Part 4, I expected that Vanhoozer would explain what it means for us to play our roles "in Christ" Biblically. My mind raced ahead to Romans 6 and I hoped for some sustained reflection on the passage. He did get there, but not to linger long.
The work sets out an new approach to doctrine rather than being a systematic theology in its own right. You will not find much on justification, the final resurrected state etc. Vanhoozer has criticised the cognitive-propositional theological method of Charles Hodge. He clearly regards such an approach as inadequate. But I am left thinking, what would a full-length canonical linguistic systematic theology look like? Perhaps now that the writer has has given us his theo-dramatic proposal we can eagerly await such a work from his pen.
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle [Greek, theatron] to the world, to angels, and to men. (1 Corinthians 4:9)
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Foundations Autumn 2006

The latest edition of Foundations carries a number of excellent articles.
Evangelicals and Public Theology by Daniel Strange helps us to avoid being seen as grumpy old men when we enter the public policy arena. He urges all Christians to "put their vocation and calling totally and utterly under the Lordship of Christ".
Moore Theology by Philip Eveson helpfully discusses some of the theological trends emanating from Moore Theological College, Sydney. In a friendly, constructive way he discusses the "Moore view" on the call to the ministry, worship and the law. Eveson writes warmly of Moore's evangelical credentials and stand for the authority of Scripture. But he suggests that Moore downplays Systematic Theology and has little room for the direct work of the Spirit in the life of the believer. These tendencies serve to undermine a theology of revival. In addition, little emphasis is given to the anointing of the Spirit in preaching. "For our gospel came to you not on word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance." (1 Thessalonians 1:5 emphasis added). This is a timely article in view of Moore's influence upon the UK's Proclamation Trust. (See my post on the Trust's Evangelical Ministry Assembly here).
What did Christ accomplish on the Cross? Mostyn Roberts gives a well considered theological exposition of the cross. Roberts discusses the controversy over penal substitution. He recognises that the New Testament gives a multifaceted presentation of the cross, but argues that 'penal substitution is the gospel'.
Review Article: Kevin Vanhoozer and the Drama of Doctrine. Bill Nikides reviews Vanhoozer's Is There Meaning in This Text?, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermenutics and of course The Drama of Doctrine. Nikides is impressed, saying, "Vanhoozer is the theologian's is not every day that I am able to find a place of worship in such a wilderness of words." The "wilderness of words" is a reference to some aspects of contemporary scholarship, not the book under review!
New Testament Survey (2004-2006). Alistair I. Wilson reviews recent contributions to New Testament scholarship. Many valuable works by the likes of I. H. Marshall, D. A. Carson, D. J. Moo, M. J. Harris, N. T. Wright and others are mentioned.
Foundations is published by Affinity £4.00 post free within the UK, £5.00 & postage overseas.

Review Part 5: The Drama of Doctrine

Now we come to the final section of Vanhoozer's book. Having set the scene with discussion of the drama, the script and the dramaturge, he turns in Part 4 to The Performance. "Biblical script without ecclesial performance is empty; ecclesial performance without biblical script is blind. Doctrine serves the church by unfolding the canonical logic of the theo-drama and by offering dramaturgical direction as to how Christians today may participate in and continue the evangelical action in a new situation". (p. 362).
With this in mind, the writer shows us the way in which doctrine prepares believers to play their roles "in Christ". Talk of role playing should not be construed as pretending. That would be hypocrisy. Doctrine enables Christians to be what they truly are as disciples of Christ. This is not about believers learning their lines by rote and acting in a mechanical way. Doctrine helps us to improvise - to act fittingly and wisely in any given situation.
Vanhoozer draws upon Constantin Stanislavski's system of method acting at this point. Stanislavski wanted actors to move beyond representing the external life of the character that they were playing. He insisted that they must pour themselves into the part in order to truly inhabit the character. Vanhoozer sees a parallel between Stanislavski's advice to actors, "yourself in the part and...the part in you" and the role and identity of a Christian disciple, "You in Christ...Christ in you." (p. 372). Christians have been called to act as saints. This involves spiritual formation and character transformation by the work of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, believers are enabled to be what they are in Christ.
Christians play out their roles not as isolated individuals, but as part of the church - the company of the gospel. The church is a community of "costumed interpreters", clothed with the righteousness of Christ. As such, the church is a theatre of martyrdom, a people who bear witness to and live out the cross of Christ. The cross is "the climax to a covenantal drama in which penal substitution and relational restoration are equally important and equally ultimate." (p. 387). One might better say that the penal substitutionary death of Christ is the means by which relational restoration is made possible.
Vanhoozer rightly insists that we must move from a right understanding to a fitting performance of Christ's death. Did not Jesus challenge his disciples to take up their cross and follow him? (Matthew 16:24.)
The church participates in and performs the doctrine of the atonement when it indicates what God was doing for the world in Christ and thus what we must now be doing if the world is what the gospel declares it to be...The church's theology is prophetic when doctrine directs the church in ways that attest being-toward-the cross and being-toward-resurrection (p. 433).
Given Vanhoozer's sensitivity to the postmodern context, he is admirably clear on the controversial matters of heresy and excommunication. Heresy is a distortion of the drama of redemption - "a different gospel than is not another" (Galatians 1:6). He defines heresy thus:
A heresy is thus a fateful error that compromises integrity of the theo-drama, either by misidentifying the divine dramatis personae, misunderstanding the action, or giving directions that lead away from one's fitting participation in the continuing action. (p. 424).
A heretic has removed himself from participation in the theo-dramatic action. Such a person must be excluded from the life of the church. Excommunication has a dual purpose: 1) To preserve the integrity of church's witness to the gospel. 2) To bring the offender to repentance so that he may be restored to the fellowship of the family of God.
If a theologian is the dramaturge, helping the pastor/director to understand the script that the company of the gospel is to perform. What of the pastor himself? He "helps the congregation become better actors by helping them learn the script and understand how it should be performed in the present cultural scene". (p. 449). The great creeds and confessions of the church are of great help to the pastor/director. The ancient creeds such as Nicea and Chalceldon are examples of "Masterpiece Theatre". They remind us that the local church is part of the catholic church. We can learn from centuries of debate how we may best understand and perform the Bible. Denominational Confessions such as the Westminster or 1689 Baptist Confession are compared to "Regional Theatre". These documents were attempts to remain faithful to the creedal inheritance while innovating to respond to specific issues of the day. The variety of regional theatres represent a rich ecclesial unity in diversity. Finally, we have the "Local Theatre" of the individual congregation. The local church must seeks perform her role as a concrete and contextualised part of the catholic church. Local churches are led not by management schemes, but by preaching pastors who help the people to understand and perform God's word in their given situation.
Thus, the theo-drama is enacted on a local level by vibrant, well taught congregations of visible saints who bear witness in word and deed to what God has done in Christ for the salvation of the world.
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Philip Eveson's The Great Exchange Online

In an earlier post, I referred readers to The Great Exchange by P. H. Eveson. The writer is Principal of the London Theological Seminary. The first time I heard of the 'New Perspective on Paul' was in his lectures on Galatians during my time at the Seminary (1988-90). His assessment of the NPP, is now available online here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ten historical Christians I would like to meet

Here's a list of ten people from the annals of post New Testament Church history that I would like to meet (given a breakdown in the space-time continuum). I only have 5 minutes to speak to each one. My opening gambit would be...

1. Athanasius - "Why is a truly Trinitarian Church always against the world?"

2. Augustine of Hippo - "If you had to make a choice between your doctrine of the church and your doctrine of grace - what would it be?

3. Martin Luther - "Did you really say 'Here I stand I can do no other?' at the Diet of Worms?"

4. John Calvin - "Do you agree with the teaching of this document, [The Canons of Dort] especially the 3rd point?"

5. William Tyndale - "Thanks for giving the Bible to the English speaking people."

6. John Owen - "You helped me to see something more of the glory of Christ."

7. Jonathan Edwards - "How would you describe the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching?"

8. Daniel Rowland - "How may a minister maintain a burning zeal for the glory of the Lord?"

9. George Whitefield - "What is preaching?"

10. William Wilberforce - "Do you know that they have made a film of your life?"

Who would you like to meet and what would you say?

Of course, one of the great things about the Christian hope is that we will get to meet our heroes in the faith in glory!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Drunkards for sale

Surprising at it may seem, the 1824 Holyhead Association of the Calvinistic Methodists was disturbed by bouts of drunkenness. John Elias (1774-1841), the great Welsh preacher of his day took it upon himself to to urge the people to behave soberly and decently. He began with general words of exhortation and then he started to preach....

John Elias preaching

'I feel within myself this minute,' he cried, 'to offer them [the drunkards] for sale, by auction, to whomsoever will take them, that they might not disturb us any more,' Then at the top of his voice, with his arm outstretched, as if he held them in the palm of his hand, he shouted, 'Who will take them? Who will take them? Churchmen will you take them?' 'We? We in our baptism have professed to renounce the devil and all his works. No; we cannot take them.' Then, after a moments silence, 'Independents, will you take them?' 'What? We? We, ages ago left the Church of England because of her corruption. No; we cannot take them.' Another inerval of silence. 'Baptists, will you take them?' 'We? Certainly not! We dip all our people in water as a sign that we take those who have been cleansed. No; we will not have them.' Silence again. 'Wesleyans, will you take them?' 'What? we? Good works is a matter of life for with us. We do not want them.'

Then he stretched forth his arm once again, as if holding the poor drunkards in his hand; and once again at the top of his voice he shouted. 'Who will take them? Who will take them?' Then suddenly, his whole nature became agitated, His eyes flashed as he turned his head aside, and in a low tone which could be heard by all, he said, 'Methinks I can hear the devil at my elbow saying, "Knock them down to me! I will take them."'

Then, after thirty seconds of dead silence, he cried, 'I was going to say, Satan, that you could have them, but' - looking upwards, he said in a loud, clear, yet gentle voice, 'I can hear Jesus saying, "I will take them! I will take them! Unclean to be washed; drunkards to be sobered; in all their filth and degradation, I will take them, and cleanse them in mine own blood."' The effect of this can be better imagined than described. The ministers, preachers and elders were stunned; and the huge congregation was stirred with a spirit of tumultuous joy and exultation.

From John Elias: Life and Letters by Edward Morgan, Banner of Truth Trust 1973, p 143-144.

Elias saw clearly that it is not moralising, but the gospel that changes lives: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Perhaps the old preacher knew a thing or two about the drama of doctrine too!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Critical Success for my New Perspective Poem

My poem (see next but one post below) has attracted a lot of discussion involving a surprising array of great theologians and Biblical scholars. See the comments to this post: here. The consensus seems to be that my effort is much better than Chris Tillings. How cool is that?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Review Part 4: The Drama of Doctrine

The next main section of The Drama of Doctrine, Part 3 is The Dramaturge. Here Vanhoozer discusses the task of the theologian in helping the church to play her role in the theo-drama. The theologian is to the church what a dramaturge is to a play. A dramaturge helps the director of a play to understand the text that is to be performed. He will try to ensure that the director enables the cast to play their roles in a way that is faithful to the play-script. In terms of the theo-drama, the theologian will assist the pastor-director to understand Scripture accurately. The pastor can then direct Christians to perform faithfully their Biblically scripted roles.
The dramaturge-theologian is concerned about scientia - the accurate exegesis of Scripture and sapientia - the faithful performance of Scripture. A faithful performance of Scripture involves the transposition of the Biblical message into the contemporary world. It is here that Vanhoozer's distinction (borrowed from Ricoeur) between idem and ipse identity comes into its own. Idem denotes something that remains the same, while ipse suggests "personal identity [that] allows for development" (p. 127). We must not try to re-stage the theo-drama as an exact copy of the New Testament church - idem identity. Our task is to perform the Scriptures in our own cultural linguistic setting - ipse identity. "Canonical linguistic theology aims at the contemporary realisation or performance of the same Christ-shaped wisdom that is the focus of the Scriptures." (p. 240.)
The Canonical linguistic approach to the scientia of theology is postpropositionalist, postconservative and postfoundationalist. Theology should not be reduced to "dedramatised propositions" (p. 269). Such a method is reductionistic, failing to recognise that God has spoken in various ways by the prophets (Hebrews 1:1). "God communicates to his people, both directly and indirectly, in and through Scripture, but it need not follow from this that communication consists of revealed propositions only." (p. 278). Postconservative theology takes into account the rich unity in diversity of God's communicative action in Scripture. This in no way implies that Biblical propositions are redundant. But propositions should not be privileged over other forms of communication in Scripture. "A 'biblical' theology, therefore, involves more than summarising the propositional content of the Scriptures. It involves acquiring cognitive skills and sensibilities, and hence the ability to see, feel, and taste the world as disclosed in the diverse biblical texts." (p. 285.)
According to Vanhoozer, the problem with foundationalism is that propositions are isolated from Scripture as the basis upon which elaborate theological systems are built. This abstracts theology from its Scriptural form. Systematic Theology must draw upon the rich variety of Biblical revelation.
Against both the foundationalist tendency to objectivise truth and the postmodern tendency toward epistemological scepticism, Vanhoozer proposes a theo-dramatic approach to knowledge. This is grounded in the four-fold pattern of Biblical revelation: Creation: Right Cognitive Functioning. We have a God-given cognitive powers that enable us have a reliable understanding of truth. Fall: Distorted Cognitive Functioning. Sin has distorted our cognitive powers of reason, memory and imagination. Our understanding is, therefore rendered fallible. Redemption: Restored Cognitive Functioning. By grace, our minds are renewed so that we cultivate intellectual virtues. "In the final analysis, knowledge in theo-dramatic perspective has less to do with becoming a scholar and more to do with becoming a saint." (p. 304.) Consummation: Perfiected Cognitive Functioning. Finally, we shall know God as we are known, face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12.) Our knowledge may not be perfect now, but through the Scriptures and by the work of the Spirit we are given an adequate understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus.
Theology must move from the scientia of an accurate understanding of Scripture into the sapiential task of preparing the Church to live wisely for the glory of God. The theologian's aim should be to help the Church to perform the Scriptures fittingly. This involves being faithful to the transcultural truth of the gospel and the contemporary setting. The Church needs the right theo-dramatic perspective to enable her "to make wise judgements about what is truly good and fittings in a given situation, given what God has done in Jesus Christ." (p. 335.) The Early Church exercised right theological judgement when the Council of Nicea used the improvisatory language of Jesus as homoousios with the Father in order to safegaurd his full deity. We too must learn to improvise if we are to bring the message of Scripture alive in our generation. Sapiential theology is sensitive to the present day setting, but it is also prophetic, confronting contemporary culture with Word of God. As a prophetic community, the Church will bear witness to the resurrection of Christ and live in the light of God's coming kingdom.
In this section, Vanhoozer offers us a vision of theology that is Biblical , practical and able to meet the challenges of the postmodern world. We need dramaturge-theologians who will enable the Church to both understand and live the Scriptures.
Click on the Drama of Doctrine label below for more review posts.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A New Perspective Poem

In response to Chris Tilling's Paul, Judaism and Methodology (a poem), here's my attempt at a poetic evaluation of the New Perspective on Paul.
N. T. Wright’s the doyen of New Perspective Theology.
He says, “It’s all about the exile, don’t you see.”
Paul wasn’t bothered by the introspective conscience of the West,
Palestinian Judaism liked grace best.

The Reformers thought that Judaism was into merit,
But they were as wrong as a blind ferret.
Best to follow Saunders E.P.
He’s the man to set your mind free.

But is faith really just a boundary mark?
Those NPP boys are in the wrong ball park.
Cos none can be saved by the works of the law.
By grace through faith, that’s what Paul saw.

If we get in by grace and stay in by law,
That still leaves us feeling sore.
We can’t stay in by what we do.
We need a covenant that’s, like totally new.

Don’t be taken in, don’t be a fool!
Maybe NPP isn’t so cool.
Wright’s a scholar, bishop and very nice man,
But he’s quite wrong on justification.

Maybe NPP is just a fad,
Like the kipper tie worn by your dad.
So think about it, proceed with caution,
And read The Great Exchange by P. H. Eveson.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Faith & Terror

This evening's Fireworks Display; Westbury, Wiltshire

Remember, remember
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
Yes, it's that time again when communities in the UK gather around bonfires and ooh and aah at the sights and sounds of fireworks displays. But behind the annual ritual of "Guy Fawkes Night" lies a foiled act of faith-motivated terror. Roman Catholic conspirators plotted to blow up Parliament: the King, the Lords, MP's and all. Their hope was that this would destabilise Protestant Britain and lead to the return of Catholic power in the country. It is a little ironic that the Pope's recent comments on the unreasonableness of violence in the name of religion were themselves the cause of faith-inspired violence.

The toxic alliance of faith and terrorism on 5th November 1605 has a strangely contemporary ring to it in the wake of 9/11 and 7/7. Now might be a good time to reflect on the link between religion and violence. One thing that puts many off religion is that people have often gone to war in the name of their faith. I write not as a defender of faith in general, but as a Christian. Honesty compels me to admit that Christians have sometimes used violence and conflict to further their ends. This is most regrettable. The New Testament clearly forbids Christians to use force to defend or spread the faith. When on trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews, but now my kingdom is not from here." (John 18:36.) Jesus' kingdom was to be established by his death on the cross for sinners, not by his followers fighting to defend him.

Because Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, it cannot be extended by the weapons of this world like bombs and bullets. The State may use force to protect its citizens. But the Church must use the spiritual weaponry of prayer, preaching and practical Christian love to further the cause of Christ. People can only enter the unworldly kingdom of Jesus by unworldly means. As Jesus once said, "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
A recent episode of the BBC TV drama Spooks depicted "born again Christians" murdering Islamic terror suspects. But contemporary Bible-believing Christians in the UK have not and I hope never will resort to voilence to defend or propagate the gospel of peace.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Top 20 books that have influenced me

Christianity Today recently published an interesting list of Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals. Ben Myres over at Faith and Theology has comprised his own compilation of Top 20 books that have influenced me. Ben's alternative list is comprised almost exclusively of heavyweight theological tomes. My selection includes a broader category of books that have influenced me as a Christian and a pastor. I have included only one book per author. I hope that I have been most influenced by the Bible, but here are some of the other books that have shaped my thinking. The order is a little random.

20. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology

19. B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

18. J. I. Packer, Knowing God

17. John Stott, The Cross of Christ

16. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross

15. Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Awakening in Wales

14. John Piper, Brothers, We are not Professionals

13. Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed

12. David Wells, God in the Wasteland

11. Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield (2 vols)

10. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

9. Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ

8. Philip Eveson, The Great Exchange

7. Iain H. Murray, 2 vols of Lloyd-Jones Biography

6. Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine

5. John Owen, On Communion with God

4. Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections

3. Don Carson, The Gagging of God

2. John Calvin, The Institues of the Christian Religion

1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers