Archives For Theology

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29 –

Phil 1;29This text, along with the rest of the New Testament (cf. John 16:33; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 4:12–16) establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that suffering inevitably comes to the true believer in Christ. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage, is a loud and clear statement that all who do not conform to the new (im)moral orthodoxy will not be tolerated in contemporary society. For those who submit to the authority of the Word of God, suffering, in one form or another, is sure to come.

But a question we need to ask is: Where does it come from? Does suffering originate merely in the hostility of the opponents themselves? Does it come from a random, chaotic, uncontrolled universe, so that we’ve simply drawn the short straw and need to make the best of things? Does it come from some impersonal governing force like fate, so that we just have to grin and bear it? Does suffering ultimately come from Satan or demons?

Ultimately, we have to answer, “No,” to all of those questions. Ultimately, suffering comes from God. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, for a couple reasons. One is that Scripture calls God the one “who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). “And we know,” Romans 8:28, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose.”

All things. Not just the good things. And not: “God turns all the bad things into good things for those who love Him.” God doesn’t just make the best of a bad hand He was dealt. He ordains all things for His purpose to glorify Himself. Joseph said that in Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Job says the same thing: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” from Him as well (Job 2:10)? And as Jeremiah stands in the rubble of the ravaged city of Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian invasion, he asks, Lamentations 3:37, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”

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AtonementThroughout church history, there have been various views and theories that conceptualize the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. Because the atonement runs to the very heart of the Gospel, it’s important for us to know how people throughout the history of the church have understood the work of Christ, and to be able to test each by Scripture. Today, I want to briefly survey and evaluate some of the main theories of the atonement.

The Ransom Theory

First, there is what is known as the ransom, or classic, theory of the atonement. Also termed Christus Victor, this theory regards Christ’s atonement as accomplishing a victory over the cosmic forces of sin, death, evil, and Satan. Proponents of the ransom view believe that in the cosmic struggle between good and evil and between God and Satan, Satan had held humanity captive to sin. Therefore, in order to rescue humanity, God had to ransom them from the power of Satan by delivering Jesus over to him as an exchange for the souls held captive. Proponents of the ransom theory often appeal to Jesus’ statement that He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45).

Though Christ did give His life as a ransom for many, and though His death did indeed disarm the powers of darkness (Col 2:15), rendering powerless the devil who had the power of death (Heb 2:14), this view of the atonement affords more power to Satan than he actually has. Satan has never been in any position to make demands of God. Instead of this, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus paid the price on behalf of sinners to ransom them from the just punishment of God’s holy wrath (Rom 5:9). In the deepest sense, Jesus saved us from God, not merely the power of sin and Satan.

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In case you’ve missed it, The Master’s Seminary has been doing an extended series of short videos outlining its key doctrinal distinctives and commitments. Topics have included commitments to the holiness and glory of God, 6-day creation, the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and the premillennial return of Christ. That series is continuing this week with key points of the doctrine of salvation, including man’s need, God’s plan of election, Christ’s atonement, and so on. You can find all of the videos (and more to come) at this link.

I had the privilege of giving voice to the Seminary’s commitment to the heart of the Gospel: redemption accomplished through the atonement of Christ. As an added bonus for the Cripplegate readers, I thought I’d publish the notes I prepared for the video. As can be expected, I had prepared more than made the final cut (my “gift” of long-windedness strikes again), so I thought this would be a good place to present the “excess fruit” of my preparation. I hope it’s a blessing to you.

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Redemption Acc&AppThe extent of the atonement continues to be one of those doctrinal discussions that tends to evoke more heat than light. I’ve always found it to be a shame that there is such widespread disagreement in the body of Christ concerning an aspect of theology that is so central to the Gospel itself: the atonement. While differences on the extent of the atonement may be less central than differences on the nature of the atonement, the question, “For whom did Christ atone?” is nevertheless a question that needs to be answered with biblical conviction.

Among the many texts that do get mentioned in these discussions, one text that I’ve very rarely seen discussed in personal conversation is Romans 8:28–39. And yet this text has very significant implications with respect to the particularity or universality of Christ’s redemption. Because, it seems, Romans 8 tends to get lost in the shuffle of exegetical and theological debate related to the L of TULIP, I thought I would reproduce a selection from John Murray’s classic, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, in which he demonstrates the role that Romans 8 plays in this discussion.

He asks the question, “Is there not also more direct evidence provided by the Scripture to show the definite or limited extent of the atonement?” and answers, “There are indeed many biblical arguments.” The first he addresses is Romans 8:31–39.

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When you think of seeing God’s hand at work in one’s life, we tend to always think of God working through miraculous/ostentatious activity, right?  I’m thinking of an example like a sick person being instantly healed against all odds, someone surviving a horrible traffic accident without a scratch, etc.  If we were being honest, we don’t tend to think of God’s hand in the common.  You know, the regular things of life that happen all the time: eating a sandwich, going to work, etc.  Yet, as Christians we understand (hypothetically) that God is sovereign; he rules over all creation including events both magnificent and microscopic.  Allow me to say that another way: God is in charge of all the common and miraculous occurrences in every life; he orchestrates both the miraculous and the common equally.  Although miraculous events are (by definition) hard to miss, I’d suggest that we often miss God’s providential orchestration of our lives to bring us to just the right place, at just the right time, with just the right thoughts in our head.

We see this in Jesus’ burial as recorded in Matthew 27:57-60.  The text reads:

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away.

Joseph of Arimathea was a very wealthy disciple of Jesus who owned a tomb.  When Jesus was dead, Joseph got the body and laid it in the tomb.  Amazing, right?

Well, not at first glance. Continue Reading…

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
– Philippians 3:20–21 –

In a word, the heavenly citizen’s prospect is glorification. Glorification is that final stage in the process of redemption when Christ (a) raises the bodies of all believers from the dead and reunites those bodies with their souls; and (b) instantly changes the bodies of believers alive at His coming into perfect, sin-free bodies, even like His own when He was resurrected.

Glorification

The Body of Our Humiliation

Earlier translations of this verse spoke of “our vile body” (KJV) or “the body of our humiliation” (ASV). But that could send the wrong message. Paul doesn’t intend to demean the body in any way, as if the physical body was evil in itself. That was the teaching of certain pagan religious philosophers of the day, but not of biblical Christianity. Remember, Adam and Eve were created perfectly by God, in His image, as a body-and-soul entity.

And so “the body of our humiliation” has nothing to do with some supposed inherent sinfulness of the body. Rather, it refers to our bodies, which are presently marked by the humiliation caused by sin—always characterized by weakness, by physical decay, by indignity, sickness and suffering, and of course the ultimate humiliation of death. And the body, though not inherently sinful in itself, is too often the instrument of our sinful acts—the vehicle through which we gratify our sinful desires. Knowing that that which should be set apart and consecrated as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19) is nevertheless presented to sin as an instrument of unrighteousness (Rom 6:13) causes it all the more to be regarded as “the body of our humiliation.” Indeed, in this body we groan (2 Cor 5:2; cf. Rom 8:23), calling out with the Apostle Paul, “Who will save me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).

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473725556This past weekend pope Francis canonized four new saints in a ceremony which received extra attention as two of the four were of Palestinian origin. One of the new Palestinian saints, Sister Mariam Baouardy (1846-1878), was a mystic and stigmatic also known as “Mary Jesus Crucified.” She was a Palestinian and foundress of the Discalced Carmelites of Bethlehem in the late 1800’s. The other new Palestinian saint, Sister Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas (1843-1927), was a co-founder of the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, who spent much of her life in Bethlehem founding schools and orphanages.

Despite the interesting politics of the situation, we will stick to commenting on the theological issues. What is a saint? How does one become a saint? And what is Rome doing when they canonize someone?

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God and the Gay ChristianAs the Supreme Court has recently heard arguments regarding a federal mandate that would legalize homosexual “marriage,” it’s important for the church to be equipped to defend their position from Scripture. True Christians are not against gay “marriage” because we are mean-spirited, bigoted misanthropes who love to force our opinions on others. We are against gay “marriage” because God Himself is against it, and He has told us so in His Word, the God-breathed Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16–17). Scripture tells us that to embrace homosexuality as spiritually permissible is to commit (or help others to commit) eternal suicide. And no one who truly loves homosexuals would ever be a part of that.

Because God has spoken on this issue, it falls to the church to herald His Word on the matter. Passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are clear:

  • 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Timothy 1:9–11 – realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.

However, those who would argue that homosexuality and Christianity are not mutually exclusive argue that these clear passages have been mistranslated. The word translated “homosexuals” in each of these verses is arsenokoitēs, and, the argument goes, that original Greek word doesn’t refer to “committed same-sex relationships” but “abusive male-male” relationships. Such an argument has been widely popularized by author John Boswell, whose arguments, though refuted by Robert A. J. Gagnon, are constantly marshaled by liberals as evidence of the compatibility between homosexuality and Christianity.

For example, I came across a post from Dr. Gagnon’s Facebook page (courtesy of James White) in which a commenter sought to advance this argument. (The following is lightly adapted for readability and accuracy, as the commenter misspelled numerous Greek words a number of times.)

“There is adequate evidence through exegesis of the Scripture and through transliteration of the words in question that supports the view contrary to your belief. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9–10 refer to abusive male-male relationships. As I’m sure you know, the former contains the Greek words malakoi and arsenokoitai and the latter contains only arsenokoitai. They each have, within certain translations, been falsely translated to the word homosexual, as these words are not a reference to homosexuality per se, and certainly not a reference to loving, committed, same-sex unions. Other Greek literature of the same period of time supports the view that arsenokoitai makes reference to a male-male relationship with an imbalance of power, for example a pederastic relationship.

Greek Manuscript“Generalising arsenokoitai to refer to all gay men and women is entirely incorrect. Its meaning is akin to that of men who abuse their power, economic or otherwise, to have sex with another (usually younger and weaker) male, or to humiliate another male. It may even be seen as an inadvertent reference to sodomites in the true sense of the word, being those who wanted to use male-male rape as an act of abuse, hence the term ‘homosexual offender’ in the NIV. The arsenokoitai often took advantage of younger male prostitutes; malakoi is translated to male prostitutes in the NRSV. The arsenokoites was the active male in the pair and, as I’m sure you know, such cult-temple prostitution was very common in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s time. This is what Paul was referring to.

“On a final note John Boswell suggests in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: ‘Perhaps the most extensive evidence that arsenokoitai did not connote “homosexual” or even “sodomite” in the time of Paul is offered by the amount of writing extant on the subject of homoerotic sexuality in Greek in which this term does not occur. It is extremely difficult to believe that if the word actually meant “homosexual” or “sodomite” no previous or contemporary author would have used it in a way clearly indicated with this connection’ (1980: 345).”

Here’s my question to all Christians who argue based on Scripture that homosexuality is a sin: How would you respond to this kind of argument?

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clouds_2Ask your average man-on-the-street what he thinks about “heaven,” and he’ll probably describe a place where just about everything people enjoy in this life is completely missing.

In the minds of most, things like vibrant color, good food, loud music, close friendships, and physical activity are all absent from heaven. They envision a place where everything is white, sterilized, and generally quiet—like a cosmic hospital or giant library in the sky. Heaven’s inhabitants float around like disembodied spirits with little halos, wearing white choir robes, sitting on clouds of cotton balls, and playing tiny harps for all of eternity. It’s like something out of a Precious Moments catalogue — the very opposite of anything exciting, enthralling, or eternally enjoyable. (No offense to those who collect small, winged, ceramic figurines.)

The sad reality is that too often, we as Christians can allow our own understanding of heaven to be tainted by the culture around us. But Hallmark must not define heaven forus. Hollywood must not define heaven for us. Centuries of monastic tradition must not define heaven for us.

Instead, only God’s Word can rightly inform our understanding of heaven. And when we go to the Scriptures, we find that our future home is anything but bland, boring, or quiet. Continue Reading…

“Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm. 1But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all.”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24–2:3 –

For Your Joy

Paul is elaborating on what he said in 2 Corinthians 1:23—that it was to spare the Corinthians that he postponed his second visit to them, because he didn’t want a repeat of a his painful visit. He didn’t want to come before they had time to repent, and then have to come with the rod and punish unrepentant sin. That, he says, would not have tended to their joy (cf. 2 Cor 1:24).

But in the first three verses of chapter 2, we learn that, though Paul’s change in travel plans was out of consideration for the Corinthians first of all, they weren’t the only ones he was trying to spare from sorrow. Notice the repeated emphasis in these three verses again: “But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice.”

Is Paul being selfish? He’s just repeating over and over again that his concern is that he would not be made sorrowful, and that he would not lose his means of gladness. Unless Paul has gone absolutely crazy, and has entirely forgotten what he’s trying to accomplish as he’s writing—namely, to convince the Corinthians of his love for them—and is now finally letting down his guard and showing his true colors that he’s just a self-seeking manipulator—unless that’s what’s happening here (and it’s not), what we learn from this passage is that there is a way to pursue your own joy and, at the same time, love people. And that is when you pursue your joy in their joy—when you seek the happiness of others as your happiness. True, biblical love consists in the sharing of mutual joy—of seeking one another’s joy as one’s own.

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