Sunday, 31 August 2008

Best commentaries!

STOP PRESS!
A website with comments on commentaries!
http://www.bestcommentaries.com/
YAHOO!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Article on Civil Disobedience & Rebellion

If I may tout myself for a moment: I've got an article in the latest issue of the CASE journal, Case 16. This issue is about God and creativity, and links in with the upcoming New College Lectures by Professor Trevor Hart. My article's about civil disobedience and revolution. How does that work? Guess I was disobeying, revolting against the trend...

Links to John Murray's lectures

By the way - the Wikepedia article on John Murray doesn't have much biog or anything, but it has several links to Murray's writings.

John Murray on the Adamic Administration

This continues my series on covenant theology.
* * * * *
John Murray was born in Scotland. He undertook undergraduate studies at the University of Glasgow. As a theological student of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he studied at Princeton Seminary under J. Gresham Machen and Geerhardus Vos, and at the University of Edinburgh. He taught at Princeton from 1929-30, then lectured in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1930-66.
Murray reframed the traditional doctrine of the Covenant of Works as what he termed the Adamic Administration. While he basically agreed with the content of the doctrine, he disliked terming it a “covenant of works”. This was because: (1) the “covenant of works” is itself an act of grace; contrasting it with the “covenant of grace” makes it sound unnecessarily legalistic; (2) it’s not termed a “covenant” in scripture.
Scripture always uses the term covenant, when applied to God’s administration to men, in reference to a provision that is redemptive or closely related to redemptive design. Covenant in Scripture denotes the oath-bound confirmation of promise and involves a security which the Adamic economy did not bestow.
Murray sees God’s relationship with Adam as truly good, but not ultimate. It falls short of the higher relationship that God intended in eschatological glory. This is because sin was possible. God’s relationship with Adam and Eve was real, and good, but contingent: there was always the possibility that this relationship would be severed, through sin – a possibility which, sadly for us all, eventuated. From the human perspective, that means our first parents lived under the shadow of the possible fall. From the divine perspective, this means God hadn’t yet given Adam and Eve the complete, full knowledge of him that by its very nature is permanent – the kind of knowledge of God that is connected with eternal life.
Murray does not try to justify his position only from Gen ch 2-3. It is patently obvious that God warned Adam that if Adam disobeyed him by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God would punish Adam with death. That is simply what the text says: Gen 2:17. But as I noted in a previous post, it is not at all clear from Gen 2-3 that God gave Adam a parallel promise of life for obedience. At best, we could infer that God promised Adam continuance of life as he had it then. Is there any promise of higher, glorified, eschatological, eternal life? Murray admits that such a promise is an “analogy”, an “inference” which is “natural, if not [strictly] necessary” from the Genesis itself. But it is a necessary retrospective inference from the way Paul draws parallels between Adam and Christ in Rom 5:12-21 and 1 Cor ch 15. It’s the only way we can make sense of how Paul understood Adam: like Christ, he was a representative head, whose actions impacted all those he stood for. The gracious challenge God laid down for Adam was for Adam to be devoted to God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength – a challenge which Adam failed, but Christ fulfils. The glory of redemption is that Christ not only fulfils it for himself, but on behalf of those chosen from Adam’s race – constituted sinners in Adam, but justified in Christ.
Murray summarises the practical, pastoral benefits of understanding the Adamic Administration as follows:

We are sinners and we come into the world as such. This situation demands explanation. It cannot stand as an empirical fact. It requires the question: Why or how? It is the Adamic administration with all its implications for racial solidarity that alone provides the answer. This is the biblical answer to the universality of sin and death.
We need salvation. How does salvation come to bear upon our need? Racial solidarity in Adam is the pattern according to which salvation is wrought and applied. By Adam sin-condemnation-death, by Christ righteousness-justification-life. A way of thinking that makes us aloof to solidarity with Adam makes us inhabile to the solidarity by which salvation comes. Thus the relevance of the Adamic administration to what is most basic, on the one hand, and most necessary, on the other, in our human situation.
Murray does not explain where he got the term “administration”. I wonder if he’s getting it from the Greek oikonomia, which is variously translated “stewardship”, “administration” or “dispensation” (Luke 16:2-4; 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2, 9; Col. 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:4). It’s the word from which we get the modern word “economics”. If so, Murray’s demonstrating the essential unity of God’s dealings with humanity. Christ came not to abolish the necessity of a whole-person response to God, but to fulfill it.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Andreas Kostenberger's top ten books of 2007

Andreas Kostenberger is on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He's put his pick of the top ten Biblical and Theological publications of 2007 at www.biblicalfoundations.org/?p=165.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

More about the Covenanters

A longer post by Mark Baddley on the Covenanters: baddelim: One for the Covenanter Fans
And you can find the website about the Covenanters at http://www.covenanter.org.uk/

Covenant in Scottish theology, ecclesiology & politics

This is a response to Jenny Baddley's excellent post on the Scottish Covenanters: Shackled Thoughts: Remembering the Brave.
* * * * *
Woo-hoo! Go the Scots! Good 'ole Presbyterians, telling the Anglicans where they can stick their bishops! :D
Seriously, though... the idea of "covenant" has been important in Scottish Presbyterian theology, ecclesiology and politics. The church is a covenant community; the nation a covenant nation; baptism is a sign of being in the covenant; Christ mediates the covenant of grace. Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex used "covenant" to argue against against absolute monarchy: in it, Rutherford argues that the monarch is in a covenantal relationship with the people; a covenant that binds the monarch to rule the people justly.
So, "covenant" is deeply woven into Presbyterian identity. As a denomination, Presbyterians have always been activists: they've been relatively quick to protest, even to revolt, against an "ungodly", "imposed" authority. The Covenanters are part of this; so was Rutherford's Lex Rex; so was the Disruption of 1843, when 450 ministers seceded from the church, and formed the Free Church of Scotland. At issue was the fact that wealthy local Lords could impose a minister of their own choosing upon a church. The Free Church held that the people of the congregation could call their own minister - a core principle of classic Presbyterian polity (see the First Book of Discipline, chapter IV, sections 1, 2 and 8). Covenant thinking gave Scots the conviction, the passion, to engage in this kind of counter-cultural action. "For Christ's crown and covenant"!

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Downloadable books

I was having a quiet evening browsing online bookshops for bargains (whaddya mean, that's really nerdy? Doesn't everybody do that?) and I thought I'd update you on two sites for downloadable e-books on theological & Biblical studies (th-e-ology...?).
Logos publishers make ancient and modern Biblical and theological works available on their Libronix platform. They have works by great Reformed theologians like John Owen, A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield (what is it with Princeton theologians and repeated initials?), and modern luminaries such as Don Carson, Millard Erickson, Thomas Schreiner and Kevin Vanhoozer. For their current pre-publication specials, see www.logos.com/prepub. Their blog's at blog.logos.com.
Ages Library provide ridiculously cheap downloads of classic authors, including Jonathan Edwards, Robert Louise Dabney, John Bunyan, Carl F. H. Henry, & others. They use a simple Acrobat PDF platform. Visit them at www.ageslibrary.com/.
Quick disclaimer: I have no financial or personal interest in either of these sites, I just want to help other people who like to spend a quiet evening browsing online bookshops for bargains.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Covenant theology: headship and reliability

I think there are two significant aspects to the idea of "covenant" in covenant theology: headship, and reliability.
As mentioned in my previous post, covenant theology revolves around two covenants: works with Adam, and grace in Christ. Both Adam and Christ are representative people. They represent all those associated with them. They are their "head". Whatever happens to the head, happens to those associated with them. Adam represents all humans: so when he failed, we all failed. Christ represents the elect: his death is therefore our death; his resurrection our resurrection. This is the federal headship aspect of covenant theology.
The other aspect is reliability. A covenant binds someone to perform certain actions. It is therefore a basis for faith. Faith only works if the person whom you trust is trustworthy. One way of demonstrating trustworthiness is to make a covenant, where you bind yourself to do something.
This aspect of covenant theology is both powerful and dangerous. It is powerful because it helps explain how God demonstrates he is reliable. Christ himself, in his death and resurrection, is the mediator of the covenant of grace. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
It is dangerous because it lends itself to the legalistic thinking that I acknowledged, in my previous post, was a danger in covenant theology. It's easy to think we "give" God something - faith in Jesus - to "make" him give us something in return - eternal life. Covenant theology has always disowned this neo-legalistic interpretation; but it's still a danger.
Is there a way of retaining the headship and reliability aspects of covenant theology, while getting rid of the danger of legalism? I dunno - what do you think?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Covenant theology: a summary and discussion

Covenant Theology - also called Federal Theology - is a way of summarising how God deals with humanity. As a system of doctrine, it comes mainly from the scholarly Calvinism of 17th century England, Scotland and northern Europe. But it was not "invented" then. It is a development of Calvin's thought [some people dispute this]; some Medieval theologians used covenant categories in their theology; and of course it tries to express what the Bible says about God's dealings with humanity.
Covenant theology summarises all of God's dealings with humanity in terms of two covenants: a covenant of works with Adam, and a covenant of grace in Christ. In Gen 2, God made a covenant with Adam: if he obeyed God and resisted the devil, God would reward him with eternal life in a glorified new creation. The tree of life in the garden of Eden represents this promise (Gen 2:9b). But as we know, Adam failed, and instead of life, brought the curse of death upon the whole human race.
Therefore, God made a second covenant with certain people - the elect - to redeem them from this mess that Adam has gotten us all into. This is the covenant of grace, and revolves around Christ. Christ, the Son of God, became incarnate, to both live the perfect obedient life that Adam failed to live, and to take the punishment, the curse, that Adam brought upon the human race. Christ Jesus died on the cross as a penal substitute for the elect, taking their punishment from the Father, offering himself, his whole obedient life, as an offering to the Father in their place.
The Holy Spirit applies this sacrifice to the elect. They hear the gospel message in some way: reading the Bible, evangelistic talk, chatting with a friend, reading a book, reading a website, whatever. As they do so, the Spirit moves secretly in their hearts to convict them of the truth of it, and moves them to respond to it by trusting Jesus, in his death & resurrection, to fix their relationship with God.
By trusting Jesus in this way, they are implicitly trusting him to live the perfect life before God that Adam failed to live, and to take the punishment that we, in Adam, all deserve. That is, they are trusting Jesus to provide both the positive and the negative righteousness required for a right standing before God. The positive righteousness is the obedient life that Adam should have lived, and Christ actually did live. The negative righteousness is the punishment of death that Adam brought upon us all, and that Christ suffered on behalf of the elect. In trusting Jesus, the believer is clothed with Christ's righteousness, and therefore perfectly acceptable to a holy God.
Covenant theology therefore presents salvation as a unified act of the Triune God, centered on Christ's death and resurrection. It provides a basis, in the covenant with Adam, for explaining how all people, everywhere, throughout all time, are accountable to God. It also, in the dual nature of Christ's righteousness - positive and negative, obedience and vicarious punishment - explains how the believer can be completely assured that God is pleased with them: not only has Jesus taken the punishment for all the wrong we have done and will do; he has provided the good that we should enact, but, even as regenerate Christians, still don't perfectly perform. So we need never feel guilty; in Christ, God has perfectly restored our relationship with him, forever.
There's some of the advantages of covenant theology. Now for some questions I have.
1. There's not much exegetical foundation for the covenant of works in Genesis ch 2. The existence of the tree of life in Gen 2:9b need not indicate the glorified eternal life of a new creation; it may simply represent continuity of Adam's life in the present creation. This would seem to be in line with God's warning in Gen 2:17: if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would forfeit his present life - which happened; Adam died at the age of 930 (Gen 5:5). Nor is Hosea 6:7 a good exegetical foundation - it may not read "like Adam, they transgressed the covenant"; it may read "as at Adam, they transgressed the covenant". The exegetical foundation for the two covenants comes much more from Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Cor 15.
Response 1A: If the exegetical basis is there in Romans and 1 Cor, then that should be enough, shouldn't it?
Response 1B: Isaiah 24:5 seems to point to a covenant of works (berit olam, eternal covenant), the breaking of which brings a curse upon all people of the earth (see the context).
Response 1C: Could God have intended to give Adam the glorified, new creation life as a surprise gift? Not strictly as a "reward" for obedience, but an additional act of grace - grace upon grace?
2. The language of a "covenant of works" sounds legalistic and impersonal. It makes God sound like an impersonal judge, not a personal, relational creator who loves all he has made, even if it rebels against him. Because of this, some [neo-orthodox] theologians reject the whole covenant-theology system, saying it necessarily has a heretical doctrine of God as a mere impersonal law-giver.
Response 2A: This isn't what the term "covenant of works" is meant to mean. It's meant to express how God graciously condescended to reveal his holy character to Adam. Furthermore, God graciously gave Adam the equipment, and the ability, to rightly respond to God's holy character. Adam didn't have to sin - he could have obeyed God. So God's wrath against Adam's sin is not an impersonal legal declaration; it is the personal anger of a good and gracious God, when his grace is used against him. I think that actually makes it more scary - don't you?
Response 2B: The covenant of works tries to express how all humans stand before God as responsible moral creatures. All three words are important. Responsible: we are accountable to God, we must answer to him. Moral: the nature of this responsibility has to do with right & wrong, which itself is based on God's holy, righteous character. Creatures: this moral responsibility is rooted in our being graciously created by God: he gave us life and existence; he deserves to dictate our purpose for existing. Our nature as responsible moral creatures underpins the whole Bible's view of sin, judgment and redemption.
Response 2C: There's no reason to keep the term "covenant of works". It's not itself a Biblical term; its a theological term, that tries to summarise Biblical themes. If it's more confusing than useful, we could replace it with something else. John Murray, of Westminster Theological Seminary, used the term Adamic Administration. I'll explore his ideas in a future post.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Trying to get on Facebook Blog Network

I'm trying to get my blog onto the Facebook blog network. So if you like this MMM of mine, hop on Facebook, go to my Blog Networks page - I think it's http://apps.new.facebook.com/blognetworks/blogpage.php?blogid=28546 - and confirm my blog!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Habits of Evangelically effective ministers?

I've tried to reframe those five habits of effective ministers in terms of evangelical effectiveness. In one sense it's just a change of words; but I'm trying to avoid mere pragmatism, and make the gospel - the message of Christ crucified and risen - more obviously central.
So, here's my five habits of Evangelically effective ministers:
1. All their life, they broaden and deepen their understanding of the gospel ("committed to lifelong learning");
2. They actively seek good examples of Christ-centered ministry, and seek to pass the gospel on to the next generation ("make leadership selection and mentoring a priority");
3. They regularly and deliberately analyse their life and ministry, to examine how effectively they are advancing the gospel ("have a dynamic ministry philosophy");
4. They deliberately evangelise themselves, realising that they are basically no different to those they minister to, but are themselves sinners, forgiven by Christ, and called to live under Christ ("repeatedly and regularly renew their personal life with God");
5. They see their life, ministry, indeed all of their being, is a unified testimony to, and service of, Christ. Ministry is not a "job", it's a state of being. Evangelically effective ministers see themselves, with all of their person, and in all of their relationships, as set apart wholly for Christ ("see their ministry in terms of their whole life").
What do you think?

Becoming a bit of a Pauline person

It just occured to me - I'm becoming a bit of a Pauline specialist.
Since April, I’ve preached exclusively from Paul. I did Romans ch 1-5; then one-off talks on Eph 2:11-22, Galatians 2:11-21, 1 Thess ch 1, and 2 Cor 5:11-21. I won't be changing any time soon: this month, I’m gonna be running some Bible studies on Galatians for SBM!
Well, I did the whole of Deuteronomy back in Tasmania in January. And I did Matthew ch 26-28 at St David's in March-April, as we approached Easter. And in our ACU Bible studies, we're looking at 1 Peter. So I'll have some input from the Old Testament, a Gospel, and a non-Pauline letter. But, I must admit, my mind is full of Paul.
I really should broaden my repertoire. It's probably not healthy to be too specialised so early.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Quotable quote from Clive Hamilton

I'm reading Clive Hamilton's brand new book The Freedom Paradox (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin 2008). It's very interesting. There's a lot of quotable quotes but so far this is my favourite:
There can be little doubt that in the marketing society of the modern West, the only idolatry that can compete with the sexual one is the worship of money. (Page 199)
For more on Clive Hamilton, check out www.clivehamilton.net.au.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Habits of effective ministers

A couple of weeks ago, our pastoral care group discussed the five habits of effective ministers. An effective minister is someone who remains in full-time, "professional" ministry until retirement (they don't burn out), has a sense of purposefulness in their ministry (they're not grumpy, miserable and constantly stressed), and has a balanced personal and family life (neither they nor their family are falling to pieces). Studies show that ministers who exhibit these characteristics tend to:
1. Be committed to lifelong learning – informally (personal research, personal projects etc); non-formally (workshops, seminars, conferences); and formally (higher degrees, continuing professional education etc);
2. Make leadership selection and mentoring is a priority – both being mentored, and mentoring emerging leaders;
3. Have a dynamic ministry philosophy, or personal mission statement, which normally emerges in their mid to late 30s;
4. Repeatedly and regularly renew their personal life with God, which overflows into the rest of their life and ministry;
5. See their ministry in terms of their whole life, and sense the providential hand of God upon them. They have a “growing awareness” of a “sense of destiny”.
This all intuitively makes sense. There seems to be a lot of wisdom in it.
But - is it a bit mechanical? That is, if I commit myself to practising these characteristics, does that necessarily mean I'll have a successful ministry?
Maybe that's not a fair question. "Effective" doesn't necessarily mean "successful". Someone could practice all these characteristics but not see much results - their church may be small, not many people become Christians, etc. But that's not the point. The point is - they've continued to be effective in ministry.
So I wonder if "faithful" is a better adjective than "effective"? That's what Jesus called for - see Matt 24:45-25:30 - and what Paul evaluated himself against - 1 Cor 4:1-5, 2 Tim 4:1-8. We have been entrusted with the gospel; we're called to be faithful in proclaiming it, passing it on (1 Cor 15:1-11; 2 Cor 5:11-6:2). And this means that a faithful minister isn't focused on techniques or checklists or processes, but on the gospel. It's an evangelical effectiveness.
Thoughts, anyone...?

100th post

This is my 100th post! WOO-HOO!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Bookshops

Just created another section to the links: bookshops. Down the bottom right of the page.
Bookfinder and Addall search various book seller sites - Amazon, Alibris, Abebooks, Barnes & Noble, etc. They also factor in exchange rates and shipping prices - so make sure you set "shipping destination" to "Australia", and "currency" to AUD. http://www.bookfinder.com/; http://www.addall.com/. Better World Books raise funds for third-world literacy, have quite good prices, and very cheap postage - $2 worldwide! I don't know how they do it! http://www.betterworld.com/
Then of course there's the local Christian book sellers: Koorong, Reformers, Moore, Word and Christian Books Australia.
Koorong is big and (usually) cheap - but wait for sales, and always check that you can't get the same price (sometimes cheaper!) at Reformers or Moore. Always check Koorong's markdowns - I've picked up quite a few unexpected bargains there. Quality theology doesn't sell well - a pity for everyone else, bonus for us! www.koorong.com.au
Speaking of of quality theology - Moore and Reformers have an excellent selection thereof. Moore has a broader range; Reformers is reliably Calvinist-Reformed (hence the name...). www.moorebooks.com.au; www.reformers.com.au. Word often has unexpected bargains - keep an eye on their catalogue. If you're in town and have a few minutes to spare, their city store is worth a visit. www.word.com.au
Christian Books Australia is the old Rockdale Christian Books. They have an outstanding selection of second-hand Christian books, both theological and devotional. Their shop is in Rockdale; but if you're in the southern highlands, drop into their book barn. I haven't yet - dunno if it's a good idea - I'll probably try to buy the whole barn... http://www.christianbooksaustralia.com/.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Still fashionable: young, restless, reformed

In 2006, I wrote a column for Southern Cross, the monthly Sydney Anglican Newspaper, called "Diary of a Novice Minister". One of my columns, titled "Hey - I'm fashionable", was about my surprise at discovering that Calvinism was making a comeback among young ministers. It was a response to an article by Collin Hansen in Christianity Today.
Hansen's now published a book: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). He investigates the new evangelicals in their teens, twenties, and thirties, who enthusiastically, passionately embrace Calvinist-Reformed theology. He traces the influence of teachers and their associated ministries: John Piper, Bethlehem Baptist Church and the Passion Conference; Al Mohler and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; C. J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris of Sovereign Grace Ministries; Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle; continuing interest in, and research on, Jonathan Edwards.
Basically, what I said in 2006 still stands. When I transferred from Anglicanism to Presbyterianism, I thought I was making a unique, bold, courageous stand for true Biblical, Protestant theology and ministry. Now I discover that - I'm not unique at all; everyone's doing it. (*Gloom*).
Oh well. I still stand by how I concluded my article: what I really want is to be Christian, whether it's fashionable or not.