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Preview: Against Heresies

Against Heresies



The anthem of heresy was best put by Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven". Hold on to them and they'll take you all the way there. This blog is a thinking post on the theology and morality of heresy, with a b



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Luminous Media - See things in a new light

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:04:00 +0000

I have just launched Luminous Media. We are a media agency specialising in words and design – digital and print, with offices in South Wales and the South West.You can take a look at our site and work hereAnd also a new blog hereWe make our clients more visible through PR, video and motion graphics, copywriting, websites, creative and print, social media and content, and advertising campaigns. The building blocks of marketing.We are a social enterprise. That simply means that we are making our business work for the good of others. Our prices are competitive, but we are not all about the profits that we can make. We also give our services for free to small charities, non-profit organisations, and community projects.You can read more about who we are and why we are making business work for the good of others hereAnd if we can help you, or someone you know, here's how to reach us[...]



5 words that sum up every biography

Sun, 29 Mar 2015 13:41:00 +0000


"Five words sum up every biography - 
Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor
I see and approve the good, but follow the bad" 
Aldous Huxley



You are what you love

Sun, 05 Oct 2014 13:52:00 +0000


Something to ponder from David Brooks of the The New York Times:
People don’t change because they decide to be better. If that happened, then New Year’s Resolutions would work. 
People decide to change because they elevate their loves. And as St. Augustine said, “You become what you love.” 
But if you can’t talk about the struggle of sin, if you can’t talk about why some loves are higher than other loves, and ordered versus disordered loves, you don’t have the moral vocabulary, the mental tool kit to think about how to be better. 
And the Christian tradition gives us that
...in spades.



'Japanese Maple' by Clive James

Sat, 20 Sep 2014 07:18:00 +0000

'Japanese Maple' is an achingly beautiful poem, worthy of reflection, by Clive James.I'm reminded of Martyn Lloyd-Jones' comment to his daughter Elizabeth on the beauty of Tennyson's 'Crossing the Bar' as literature, but it's failure when it came to giving hope. Or again, as C S Lewis said in criticism of Rudyard Kipling, what was lacking was a 'doctrine of Ends', and what was left, in place of it, was 'a reverent Pagan agnosticism about all ultimates'.Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.So slow a fading out brings no real pain.Breath growing shortIs just uncomfortable. You feel the drainOf energy, but thought and sight remain:Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever seeSo much sweet beauty as when fine rain fallsOn that small treeAnd saturates your brick back garden walls,So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?Ever more lavish as the dusk descendsThis glistening illuminates the air.It never ends.Whenever the rain comes it will be there,Beyond my time, but now I take my share.My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.What I must doIs live to see that. That will end the gameFor me, though life continues all the same:Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,A final flood of colors will live onAs my mind dies,Burned by my vision of a world that shoneSo brightly at the last, and then was gone.[...]



Luther on true and false theologians (and donkeys)

Mon, 23 Jun 2014 10:38:00 +0000


The inimitable Luther on true theologians:

For as soon as God's Word takes root and grows in you, the Devil will harry you and will make a real theologian of you, for by his assaults he will teach you to seek and love God's Word. I myself am deeply indebted to my critics, that through the Devil's raging they have beaten, oppressed, and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise.

And Luther on false theologians (and donkeys):

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it--if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, "See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well." That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the Devil and his angels. 



The Path to Wisdom: Luther, theology and Psalm 119

Mon, 23 Jun 2014 08:32:00 +0000


Packer wrote the following gem about Luther's approach to doing theology:
When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119.

There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian.

The first is prayer for light and understanding.

The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text.

The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word.

Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and fidelity to truth whatever the cost, became the path along which theological wisdom is found is surely one of the profoundest utterances that the Christian world has yet heard.



Eternal Generation

Tue, 10 Jun 2014 18:05:00 +0000

Here's some clear thinking to straighten out any wonky thoughts about the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God:Herman Bavinck:In using these terms we are of course speaking in a human and hence an imperfect language, a fact that makes us cautious.  Yet we have the right to speak this language.  For just as the Bible speaks analogically of God's ear, eye, and mouth, so human generation is an analogy and image of the divine deed by which the Father gives the Son "to have life in himself."But when we resort to this imagery, we must be careful to remove all associations with imperfection and sensuality from it.  The generation of a human being is imperfect and flawed.  A husband needs a wife to bring forth a son.  No man can ever fully impart his image, his whole nature, to a child or even to many children...But it is not so with God. (Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 2, p. 308)We must, accordingly, conceive that generation as being eternal in the true sense of the word.  It is not something that was completed and finished at some point in eternity, but an eternal unchanging act of God, at once always complete and eternally ongoing.  Just as it is natural for the sun to shine and for a spring to pour out water, so it is natural for the Father to generate the Son.  The Father is not and never was ungenerative; he begets everlastingly. (RD Vol 2, p. 310) Gregory of Nyssa spoke well and wisely on this very point:Again when it interprets to us the unspeakable and transcendent existence of the Only-begotten from the Father, as the poverty of human intellect is incapable of receiving doctrines which surpass all power of speech and thought, there too it borrows our language and terms him "Son,"--a name which our usage assigns to those who are born of matter and nature.But just as Scripture, when speaking of generation by creation, does not in the case of God imply that such generation took place by means of any material, affirming that the power of God's will served for material substance, place, time and all such circumstances, even so here too, when using the term Son, it rejects both all else that human nature remarks in generation here below,--I mean affections and dispositions and the co-operation of time, and the necessity of place,--and, above all, matter, without all which natural generation here below does not take place.But when all such material, temporal and local existence is excluded from the sense of the term "Son," community of nature alone is left, and for this reason by the title "Son" is declared, concerning the Only-begotten, the close affinity and genuineness of relationship which mark his manifestation from the Father. (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, Book II:9)[...]



Incredulity towards the atonement

Tue, 10 Jun 2014 08:13:00 +0000


I'm re-reading Mike Horton's tome The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (a mere 990 pages if one chops off the glossary and indices).  There is a fascinating footnote (p. 64, n.81, to be precise) with some representative extracts from Immanuel Kant.

Note the following from Religion and Rational Theology:

It is totally inconceivable, however, how a rational human being who knows himself to deserve punishment could seriously believe that he only has to believe the news of a satisfaction having been rendered for him, and (as the jurists say) accept itutiliter [for one's advantage], in order to regard his guilt as done away with...No thoughtful person can bring himself to this faith.
That is Enlightenment man showing incredulity toward the atonement.

What lays at the very heart of sophisticated unbelief?

An attempt to deny the claims of God.  The exclusion of God's assessment of our condition by nature and as a result of sin, the silencing of the voice from heaven in favour of our own meditations on our nature, identity and capacities.  The declaration that man and not the living God will have the final say as to what is right, true and good.

At the epistemic level Kant located himself on the side of the serpent.  The thoughtful and rational person, in Kant's vision, is too good to need saving, and certainly too thoughtful to flee to Christ and his cross for refuge, even if he is deserving of punishment.  Instead of bowing his head before the claims of the Heavenly King we are confronted with a resistance at every turn against the external pressure of God's revelation.

Horton sums it up perfectly:

Kant, therefore, saw with great clarity the correlation between one's presuppositions about the human predicament and religious epistemology.  None of the Enlightenment figures wanted knowledge for invoking the name of God (i.e., the gospel), because they did not believe they needed to be saved. (p. 110)



The Ending of Thomas Hardy

Sat, 07 Jun 2014 18:06:00 +0000


Here are some fascinating extracts from the closing chapters of Claire Tomalin's biography of Thomas Hardy:
On Boxing Day [1927] he asked for the Gospel account of the birth of Christ and the massacre of the innocents, and also the entries in the Encyclopedia Biblica, remarking when she [his wife Florence] had finished that there was not a grain of evidence that the Gospel was true.
On the final day of his life Tomalin notes the following incident:
Then he dictated to Florence two rough and rude epitaphs on disliked contemporaries.  One was George Moore, who had attacked him and was now accused of conceit.  The other, ungrammatical but clear in its intentions, went for G. K. Chesterton:

The literary contortionist
Who prove and never turn a hair
That Darwin's theories were a snare...
And if one with him could not see
He'd shout his choice word 'Blasphemy'.   
It was his final word against Church doctrine and in favour of rational thinking, exemplified by Darwin -- a magnificent blast from the sickbed.

One of the final comments in the book breathes an air of sadness:
He knew the past like a man who has lived more than one span of life, and he understood how difficult it is to cast aside the beliefs of his forebears.  At the same time he faced his own extinction with no wish to be comforted and no hope of immortality.
 The contrast between this ending and that of the seventy third psalm could not be more pronounced:
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.



There is no shallow end of the theological pool

Fri, 06 Jun 2014 05:52:00 +0000


Before I learned to swim I would always look for the shallow end of the pool.  When it comes to the doctrine of God there is no shallow end:

His judgements are unsearchable (Rom. 11:33)
His ways are inscrutable (Rom. 11:33)
No one has known his mind (Rom. 11:34)
No one has been his counsellor (Rom. 11:34)

His greatness is unsearchable (Psalm 145:3)

His understanding is unsearchable (Isa. 40:28)

Heaven, even the highest heaven cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27)

He inhabits eternity (Isa. 57:15)

From everlasting to everlasting he is God (Psalm 90:2)

The depths of God are searched by the Spirit, and the Spirit comprehends the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11)

No one has seen God, God the only begotten, who is at the Father's side, has made him known (John 1:18)

The love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:19)

Until and unless the weight of God's infinite being is straining your thoughts to breaking point, until and unless you have felt the finitude of your mental powers in contemplating the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you have not even begun to fathom the unfathomable depths of the One, Living, True, and Triune God.
When we say that Jesus existed "pre" his incarnation, we do not mean he preceded it by any finite amount of time.  The Son of God preexisted his incarnation the way that the Creator preexisted creation: infinitely.

Preexistence may be easy to say, but that one little syllable, pre-, is a quantum leap from Here to There, from time to eternity.  Before you have finished that syllable, you have left behind everything measurable and manageable.
Fred Sanders, Embracing the Trinity, p. 85



Speaking & Sending: Some textual trinitarian distinctions

Thu, 05 Jun 2014 17:59:00 +0000

A minimal framework for Trinitarian belief would include the following affirmations:A. There is only one GodB. There are three distinct persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son and the SpiritC. Each of these persons is fully GodWhat should we consider to be the necessary and sufficient evidence to affirm these points?1. That it can be shown from Scripture that there are distinctions between the persons, distinctions that show that the threeness of persons and oneness of essence are equally ultimate.2. That it can be shown from Scripture that the titles, works, and worship that belong properly to the one true and living God, are given to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.3. That we read and interpret the biblical data conscious that the lens through which we view the Trinity is that of the economy of salvation (the Father sending the Son, the Son humbling himself and becoming incarnate as the last Adam, the Spirit of God coming to glorify Christ and apply his saving work). This lens is itself part of the biblical data.On point (1) this evidence would include texts that speak of :1.1. The sending of one divine person by another (e.g. Exodus 23:20-21; Isaiah 48:16; Malachi 3:1-2; John 15:26)1.2. The work of one divine person in relation to another divine person (e.g. Isaiah 61:1-2; Hosea 1:7)1.3. The ascription of divine titles and works to more than one person within the same literary unit (e.g. Genesis 19:24; Zechariah 2:9-12; Psalm 110:1; Joshua 24:2-12 cf. Judges 2:1-4; Malachi 3:1-2; John 1:1, 18; Galatians 1:3; Revelation 1:8, 17; 22:12-13)1.4. Reference being made to more than one divine person within the same literary unit, to whom elsewhere in Scripture divine titles and works have been ascribed (e.g. Isaiah 48:16; 63:9-12)1.5. One divine person speaking of another divine person (e.g. Exodus 23:20-22; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 52:13, cf. Isaiah 6:1, 57:15, Hosea 1:6-7; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7; John 15:26)1.6. One divine person speaking to another divine person (e.g. Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 45:6-7; Psalm 110:1; John 17:5)Some of the texts and categories above are obviously interconnected. Exodus 23:20-21 fits into 1.1./1.3./ and 1.5. The selection of passages above is only representative. As there is a superabundance of NT passages I have chosen more from the OT.[...]



The Ascension of Christ

Thu, 29 May 2014 10:07:00 +0000

Enjoy the summary of the biblical teaching about the ascension of Christ in the Heidelberg Catechism:46. What do you understand by the words “He ascended into heaven?”That Christ, in the sight of His disciples, was taken up from the earth into heaven,1 and continues there in our behalf 2 until He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.31 Mt 26:64; Lk 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-11; 2 Rom 8:34; Eph 4:10; Heb 4:14, 7:23-25, 9:11, 24; 3 Mt 24:30; Acts 1:11, 3:20-2147. But is not Christ with us even unto the end of the world,1 as He has promised?Christ is true man and true God. According to His human nature He is now not on earth,2 but according to His Godhead, majesty, grace, and Spirit, He is at no time absent from us.31 Mt 28:20; 2 Mt 26:11; Jn 16:28, 17:11; Acts 3:19-21; Heb 8:4; 3Mt 28:18-20; Jn 14:16-19, 16:13; Eph 4:8; Heb 8:448. But are not, in this way, the two natures in Christ separated from one another, if the manhood is not wherever the Godhead is?Not at all, for since the Godhead is incomprehensible and everywhere present,1 it must follow that it is indeed beyond the bounds of the manhood which it has assumed, but is yet nonetheless in the same also, and remains personally united to it.21 Jer 23:23-24; Acts 7:48-49; 2 Mt 28:6; Jn 1:14, 48, 3:13, 11:15; Col 2:949. What benefit do we receive from Christ’s ascension into heaven?First, that He is our Advocate in the presence of His Father in heaven.1 Second, that we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge, that He as the Head, will also take us, His members, up to Himself.2 Third, that He sends us His Spirit as an earnest,3 by whose power we seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and not things on the earth.41 Rom 8:34; 1 Jn 2:1; 2 Jn 14:2, 17:24, 20:17; Eph 2:4-6; 3 Jn 14:16; Acts 2:33; 2 Cor 1:21-22, 5:5; 4 Jn 14:3; Col 3:1-4; Heb 9:24[...]



The Counsel of the Ungodly: Thomas Hardy & Horace Moule

Mon, 26 May 2014 18:36:00 +0000

As a teen the great English novelist Thomas Hardy was friendly with the Moule family and their seven impressive sons.  Mr Moule was vicar at Fordington, his son Charles became president of Corpus Christi in Cambridge, Handley became Lord Bishop of Durham, and two others went to China as missionaries.Thomas Hardy was a year older than Handley Moule but became close friends with Horace Moule, eight years Hardy's senior.  Horace became 'Tom's special friend', he was 'the charmer, handsome and gifted' but also 'a tender-hearted son to his mother, writing to her almost every year on the anniversary of the death of the baby brother who had died before he was two'.Horace had studied at Oxford and Cambridge but failed to gain a degree from either university.  Hardy's biographer, Claire Tomalin, describes the changes in Horace's thinking that put him at odds with his upbringing:Horace introduced Hardy to the newest and cleverest of the weekly magazines, the Saturday Review, London based naturally, in which social issues were discussed and religion treated with small respect.  He bought himself books on geology and science that alarmed his father, because they cast doubt on accepted religious ideas, and handed them on to Hardy.Horace's upbringing had been more robustly Christian than Tom's, but, making his way in metropolitan literary journalism, he could not miss the spread of scepticism, and he was too quick and intelligent to ignore it.Tomalin also notes the impact of all this on the young Hardy:Tom's situation was different and easier.  Christianity was something he had taken for granted as part of the fabric of everyday life, and Christian theory was never discussed in the family.  He read the Bible, he knew all the church services and most of the psalms by heart; indeed, the year was a sequence of church festivals quite as much as it was a sequence of the natural seasons for him.And he remained a fully practising Christian into the 1860s, but his mind was on the move, and with Horace he began to see that there were questions to be asked and lines of thought to be followed that eroded the old faith.  As their friendship ripened, they read the notorious Essays and Reviews of 1860, religious pieces that offended the orthodox by their attacks on doctrine and by their textual criticism of the Bible.Hardy also claimed to have been an early admirer of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, though it is not clear exactly when he read it, or how much it influenced his thinking at the time.  He could well have found his own way along the path towards free thought, but Horace was an encouraging companion on the journey, and with his access to books, guided his steps at many points.Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, pp. 54-55I don't think that it is necessary for me to spell out the implications here.  It seems to me self-evident that this was a form of discipleship, and that it possessed many of the elements that we associate with and encourage in that type of relationship.  Tragically, in the case of Horace Moule and Thomas Hardy, it was a path along which the younger man was led to follow the counsel of the ungodly.Concerning the impact of Essays and Reviews (1860), and the climate of plausibility that a new approach to Biblical scholarship brought in, Roger Beckwith made the following remarks:The ‘accepted results’ of critical study tend to be taken for granted as a basis for one’s own further study, and radical questions are rarely asked about them. When they are asked, and in a public manner, the presumption is against those who ask them, and any attempt the questioners make to tur[...]



Thomas Hardy and the doctrine of providence

Sun, 25 May 2014 08:05:00 +0000

"What has Providence done to Mr Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessexand shake his fist at his Creator?"Edmund Gosse (1896)As with all of his novels, Thomas Hardy's magisterial Tess of the D'Urbervilles is replete with allusions and references to the Bible.  The beauty of Hardy's prose only partially conceals the splinters in the text intended to wound traditional Christian belief in the public mind. Yet, for all his invectives against the doctrine of providence, invectives that lie in the text like sermons in miniature, for all his widening of the fissures in Victorian Christianity, for all his undermining of confidence in the God of the Bible, the name of the malevolent deity who causes Tess Durbeyfield to suffer so much at the hands of men is of course none other than Thomas Hardy.As the author of the tragedy, Hardy is both the primary cause of all the events and the determiner of how the secondary causes fall out.The following three examples from the novel bear this out:When Tess joins in with the laughter directed toward Car Darch, the Queen of Spades, Car singles her out for retribution.  Tess, says Hardy, "could not help joining in with the rest" but "It was a misfortune -- in more ways than one."  The confrontation is soon followed by the untimely arrival of the would-be rescuer Alec D'Urberville.  As they ride off Car's mother remarks that it is "Out of the frying pan into the fire!"  Tess will soon be "Maiden no more." As the narrative unfolds, Hardy's prose, laden with biblical imagery, presents us with a sermon in miniature against the doctrine of providence:Darkness and silence ruled everywhere around.  Above them rose the primeval yews and oaks of The Chase, in which there poised gentle roosting birds in their last nap; and about them stole the hopping rabbits and hares.  But, might some say, where was Tess's guardian angel? Where was the providence of her simple faith?  Perhaps, like that other god of whom the ironical Tishbite spoke, he was talking, or he was pursuing, or he was on a journey, or he was sleeping and not to be awaked.Later in the volume, Tess's attempt to reveal her past to Angel Clare, before their marriage, is thwarted by a trivial occurrence.  Having slipped her written confession underneath the door of his den at Talbothays she finds it unopened a few days later having "in her haste thrust it beneath the carpet as well as beneath the door."  With the revelation still sealed, Hardy comments that "The mountain had not yet been removed."Hardy's own explanation for invoking the "President of the Immortals" whose work of sporting with Tess ends with her execution, was that it was not uncommon in imaginative prose and poetry for "the forces opposed to the heroine" to be "allegorized as a personality."  The offering of the explanation was one thing, the plausibility of the explanation another.  Many of the principle characters suffer at the hands of the author.The observations of Hardy's critic Irving Howe are worth noting:Because Hardy remained enough of a Christian to believe that purpose courses through the universe but not enough of a Christian to believe that purpose is benevolent or the attribute of a particular Being, he had to make his plots convey the oppressiveness of fatality without positing an agency determining the course of fate...The result was that he often seems to be coercing  his plots...and sometimes...he seems to be plotting against his own characters.A similar assessment has been made by Claire Tomalin in her biography of Thomas Hardy:To suggest that readers should see that "the President of the Immortals" is meant only to symbol[...]



Let the reader understand: Theology, History & Literature

Wed, 21 May 2014 16:25:00 +0000


In his prodigious volume A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters, Andreas Kostenberger has the following helpful schema for biblical interpretation:
Interpreters of Scripture are faced with three inescapable realities they need to address in their interpretive practice:
(1) The reality of God and his revelation in Scripture (theology)(2) The existence of texts containing that revelation that require interpretation (language and literature)(3) The reality of history...the fact that God's revelation to humans...conveyed by the biblical texts, took place in human history.
In essence, therefore, the interpretive task consists of considering each of the three major elements of the "hermeneutical triad" in proper balance: history, language or literature, and theology, with the first two elements being foundational and theology occupying the apex. (p. 42-44)
Theology is mediated through history and literature, through the events of history recorded and interpreted in the text of Scripture. But that same theology is also communicated by, among other things, the specific genres, literary devices, word choice, and structure of each book in the canon. The implications of this are considerable for interpreters be they readers in the pew or preachers in the pulpit.

Let the reader understand.





Agnus Victor: Satan defeated through the substitution of the Lamb

Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:14:00 +0000


The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism views the atoning work of Christ as dealing with the satisfaction made for all our sins (penal substitution) and his redeeming us from all the power of the devil (Christus Victor).
What is your only comfort in life and in death? 

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live unto Him.
Thus the Catechism holds together what ought never to be separated. Here we have the God-ward dimension of the atonement (satisfaction) and the polemic dimension (conquest). The latter, however, is dependent on the former.

When Scripture explicates how Christ conquers the devil, the reality of which is anticipated in the proto-evangelium (Gen. 3:15), it views the power of the devil as the power of deception and accusation.

Our legal position before God, in view of Adam's breaking of the covenant of works (Gen. 2:15-17), and our own sins, has rendered us guilty, cursed, and under the sentence of death (Rom. 6:23).

How does Christ redeem us from the power of the devil?

By dying for us (1 Peter 3:18). By taking our curse and punishment (Gal. 3:13). By enduring the wrath of God (Rom. 3:25-26). By taking the full penalty of the law (Gal. 3:10).

The legal accusations of Satan are silenced by the blood of the Lamb that has brought us forgiveness for all our sins (Col. 2:13-15; Eph. 1:7; Rev. 12:10-11; Rom. 8:1, 33-34).

How has Christ conquered Satan?

By his active and passive obedience, by making atonement and justification. And now without God's law to condemn us, Satan has no power to accuse us (1 Cor. 15:56).

What truth then will he seek to overthrow with all his might? The truth that the blood of the Lamb saves, the doctrine of penal substitution.

The Lamb slain saves us.

The Lamb slain silences Satan's accusations.

Satan has been defeated through the substitution of the Lamb.

It is seeing this connection that will stop the pendulum from swinging from penal substitution to Christus Victor. As Henri Blocher argued, in a much neglected essay, these doctrines are seen in the biblical proportions and glory together. It is really Agnus Victor, not what is commonly understood as Christus Victor, that best explains the conquering of Satan.



The Condemned King: Penal substitution and the narrative of Mark 15

Fri, 18 Apr 2014 06:15:00 +0000

In order to establish the doctrine of penal substitution we are not dependent on a few isolated proof-texts here and there in Scripture. The doctrine is woven indelibly into the very fabric of the account of the crucifixion, with numerous threads drawn from the Old Testament.  Rather than instinctively looking to the gospels to provide the facts about the crucifixion, and to the letters to supply the meaning of those facts, we must turn to the Old Testament as the vantage point from which we are to survey the cross.  Antecedent Scripture provides us with all the categories we need to understand the cross.  This is the apostolic approach in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11.  The Apostle Paul records the Church's testimony about the gospel that was universally proclaimed and believed.  Paul states the facts. Christ died, was buried and was raised on the third day. He then gives the meaning of those facts. That Christ died for our sins.  Thirdly, he tells us where that meaning is to be found and authoritatively interpreted for us: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. In Mark's Gospel we find a compelling unity of fact and meaning, of event and interpretation.  The factual details of the crucifixion speak to us about the nature of Christ's death. They are much more than a bare description of the events, merely "bare" facts that are open to different interpretations. The historical details have been interpreted in advance for us.  Once we look below the surface, and specifically in terms of the Old Testament background, we will see that the details of the narrative in Mark 15 testify that Jesus is dying under the wrath of God, and that he is doing so as a substitute for sinners.  Mark shows us six signs that Jesus died under God's judgement. Some of these signs are well known to Bible readers, others less so.  Taken together they speak clearly and powerfully to us about the sin-bearing, wrath averting, substitutionary nature of Christ's death.1. He was handed over to the Gentiles Six times in Mark 15 we are told that Jesus is the King of the Jews (2, 9, 12, 18, 26, and King of Israel in 32). This King of the Jews has been handed over to the Gentiles. At one level this is the fulfillment of what Jesus said would happen. Consider his words in Mark 10:33-34:"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise."At another level being delivered over to the Gentiles is a traumatic sign of being under God's judgement. Psalm 106:40-41 speaks of God's people being handed over to the nations as a consequence of being under judgement:Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them.The same idea is expressed by Ezra as he acknowledges the guilt of the people of God that led to the exile. Ezra 9:7b reads:And for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plundering, and to utter shame, as it is today.In the OT being handed over to the nations was a sign of God's anger. This was happening to Jesus in Mark 15. 2. He was silent before his accusers We know that the charges brought against Jesus by the Jewish lead[...]



Why do they hate Aslan so? Polly Toynbee on the repugnant notion of substitutionary atonement

Wed, 16 Apr 2014 07:01:00 +0000

One from the archives:The columnist Polly Toynbee wrote an article in The Guardian on 5th December 2005 with the rather acerbic title “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion.” I will spare you the full extent of her invective against the Christian imagery found in C.S. Lewis' children's stories. The following extract exposes the thin veil between Aslan and the One he represents:Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion...Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves.But among her numerous thorny remarks this sentence stands out: Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?Perhaps the most obvious thing to say by way of explanation about her choice of adjective, is that it is indicative of a heart wedded to the wisdom of this passing age. It is as straightforward a statement of aversion and distaste at the very notion of a substitutionary atonement as one could wish to find. And yet, to those who hold to the presuppositions laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:8, it hardly comes as much of a surprise.It stands in marked contrast to the expression of the regenerate heart that sees in the cross both the wisdom and power of God. Of all the great confessions of faith perhaps it is the Belgic Confession (Q. 26) that best verbalizes the sentiments of the regenerate mind:If, then, we should seek for another mediator who would be favorably  inclined toward us, whom could we find who loved us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were His enemies? And what should we make of her question? Of course we did not ask Christ to die for us. None of us wanted him to. This is a point underlined, as it were in thick marker pen, time and again, on the pages of the Bible. From Isaiah's description of Christ as despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3) all the way to Paul's retrospective description of Christian believers as being ungodly and enemies toward God (Romans 5:6, 10). Take a further example of this antipathy we feel towards the God-who-comes-to-the-rescue from the pages of the Old Testament. In the book of Judges there is the pattern of apostasy, oppression from enemies, and cries to God for relief from this misery. In his grace, God raises up judges who save the people of God from the hands of their oppressors. Judges 13 seemingly opens with this same pattern. Israel has turned from God to their evil ways, and God has handed them over to the Philistines. But the pattern ends there. Just when we expect to hear a cry to God for relief and rescue there is nothing but silence. When the Angel of the Lord announces the birth of Samson, who will begin to save Israel from the Philistines, it is therefore clear that this is an act of sheer grace on God's part. God sent them a Saviour, even though they did not ask him to. The span of time between the book of Judges and that column in The Guardian may have spread over several millennia, but chronology does not cover up the similarities that exist. The very glory of the atonement is that Christ died for his enemies. We were not seeking after a Saviour from heaven, but running and hiding from our Maker. As Paul reminded the Colossians, it was for those who were hostile[...]



Making him known

Thu, 03 Apr 2014 12:59:00 +0000


Stunning parallelism in John's Gospel:

The Son at the Father's side/in the bosom of the Father, making him known John 1:18

The disciple-author at Jesus' side/leaning on his bosom, during the Supper in John 13:23, and making him known John 21:20, 24 




4th Century Wisdom for 21st Century People

Mon, 31 Mar 2014 21:41:00 +0000


Sanity and spirituality from Hilary of Poitier's De Trinitate.

First, some 4th Century wisdom for 21st Century people:
For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. 
Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.
Secondly, married to that, some 4th Century spirituality to sweeten and guide 21st Century exegetes:
We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Thy Prophets and Apostles, and we shall knock for entrance at every gate of hidden knowledge, but it is Thine to answer the prayer, to grant the thing we seek, to open the door on which we beat.
Our minds are born with dull and clouded vision, our feeble intellect is penned within the barriers of an impassable ignorance concerning things Divine; but the study of Thy revelation elevates our soul to the comprehension of sacred truth, and submission to the faith is the path to a certainty beyond the reach of unassisted reason. 
And therefore we look to Thy support for the first trembling steps of this undertaking, to Thy aid that it may gain strength and prosper. We look to Thee to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance.



Fides quaerens intellectum

Thu, 27 Mar 2014 08:37:00 +0000


Fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding) is a famous phrase of Anselm's.  It is a fitting expression for that central vein of faith's quest for intellectual understanding, as fleshed out here by Augustine:
No one believes anything unless one first thought it believable...Everything that is believed is believed after being preceded by thought...Not everyone who thinks believes, since many think in order not to believe; but everyone who believes thinks, thinks in believing and believes in thinking.
Augustine, The Predestination of the Saints, 44:962-3, cited in Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, p. xiii-xiv



The sanity of grace

Sun, 23 Mar 2014 08:11:00 +0000


"There is hardly a page of Scripture on which it is not clearly written that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble" 

Augustine, Reply to Faustus

Unless we understand the freeness and sheer magnitude of the grace of God in the gospel, and the workings of grace in the life of the believer by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we will be left with either a warped view of our own works or a distorted view of God's gracious work. In all likelihood, it will be both.

Grace restores our sanity and our sight.

We see our sin, in greater measure, from God's perspective.

We see his grace, the gift and the Giver, in true perspective too.

Unless we have this vision we will descend into the insanity of trusting in works righteousness, either from believing that our best works merit the favour of God, or in despair because in unbelief we lament our lack of them, as if the free gift of God were not what it is, the giving of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At root, to despair because of sin is still to be looking within for the cause of God's acceptance of us.

To look away from ourselves, to the Father's love in Christ, to the Son's death in our place and to his resurrection from the grace, to his finished work on our behalf, is to see things as they really are.
Woe even to those of praiseworthy life if you put their life under scrutiny and remove mercy.
If anyone lists his true merits to you, what is he enumerating before you but your gifts?
Augustine, Confessions, Book IX:xiii (34)



Fragments on Scripture and Subordinate Standards

Fri, 21 Mar 2014 14:18:00 +0000

Some fragments on Scripture and subordinate standards:Scripture is the norma normans (the norming norm, the rule that rules)Confessions are the norma normata (a norm that is normed/a rule that is ruled)Christian faith begins with a confession of faith by the individual (e.g. Rom. 10:9) and the reception of confessed truths by the Christian community (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:1-3)A Confession of faith is not an arbitrary, unnatural, or purely cerebral artefact, that is somehow foreign to normal Christian life and experience, but (as the texts above indicate) belongs to the very essence of Christian existenceA Confession is a corporate ecclesiastical statement of Christian belief and practiceA Confession of faith is a verbal affirmation of truth and implicitly, or explicitly, a verbal denial of errorA Confession is composed out of biblical and extra biblical language, the latter out of necessity in order to distinguish orthodox appeals to the teachings of Scripture from heterodox onesA Confession is a subordinate standardAs a subordinate standard a Confession is derived in whole and in part from ScriptureA Confession is accepted as authoritative insofar as it is in agreement with Scripture and faithfully represents the content of what the Scriptures teachWhen the teaching of a particular Confession is denied, by an appeal to Scripture, a new Confession (personal or corporate, written or unwritten) has been posited in place of the old one (in part or in whole)It is impossible to be Non-Confessional, even if a church body, or network of churches, has an aversion to written ConfessionsWithout a written, or unwritten, no fellowship, unity, or co-operation is possible within or between churchesConfessions can be maximal (think Westminster Confession) or minimal (think Apostles' Creed or parachurch statements of faith)Minimal confessions are implicitly maximal is their exposition as they rely on more comprehensive statements and definitions to clarify, explain, define and defend their brief propositionsAnd to round off, here is a helpful and thought provoking comment by R. A. Finlayson:A Confession is referred to as a Church's 'subordinate standard' because it is in very fact subordinate to the Scriptures, the fountainhead of all revealed truth. This subordination, however, does not affect its authority in matters of faith, but rather serves to emphasise the fact that it is derived from Scripture.When a Confession is accepted, therefore, it is accepted as in accordance with the truth of Scripture, and we profess that we have examined both the Scripture and the Confession and that we have found them in agreement.For that reason we cannot appeal from the Confession to Scripture in a way of repudiating the Confession, without thereby withdrawing our subscription to it as agreeable to the Scripture and the Confession of our Faith.To set aside its doctrine in favour of some other interpretation of Scripture is manifestly to abandon the Confession altogether."The Significance of the Westminster Confession" in Reformed Theological Writings, p. 231-2[...]



Against Heresies: Local and Global

Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:50:00 +0000


In tracing out Augustine's labours in responding to and refuting the Pelagian heresy, B. B. Warfield makes the following comment:
All heresies do not need an ecumenical synod for their condemnation; usually it is best to stamp them out locally, and not allow what may be confined to a corner to disturb the whole world.
From 'Augustine and the Pelagian Controversy', in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield Vol. IV: Studies in Tertullian and Augustine, p.381

In our day the distinction between global and local has been blurred both by the ubiquity of the internet as a means of communication and also by the re-sculpting of the in-scape of communicators and their expansive audiences by social media.  The size, nature, and location of the audience has altered permanently.

In our day it is hard to imagine that any contemporary error could be classified as strictly 'local'.  Perhaps it is even harder to imagine anything resembling an 'ecumenical synod' as the means of assessing and rejecting contemporary errors. Although historically speaking, error has been dealt with not only corporately, but also by the individual skills of brilliant theologians (e.g. an Athanasius or an Augustine).



Augustine on the alluring grace of God

Tue, 18 Mar 2014 08:18:00 +0000


God turns resistance to his will into delight. The fact of it is a great mystery, the reality no less so. As Augustine wrote:
Do not think that you are dragged to God against your will. The mind is drawn by love which is a source of inexpressible pleasure. There is a pleasure of the heart whose sweetness consists in the bread of heaven.
Give me a lover, he feels what I am talking about.
Give me a man in a state of desire, of hunger, a traveller thirsty on a desert road who is sighing for the spring at his eternal home.
Give me a man like that, he knows what I mean.
But if I address myself to a cold person, he has no notion what I am speaking of.
Tractatus in Johannis Evangelium, 26.4