Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Reformed Theology’

Have you ever considered how the idea of reformation is actually a very popular part of everyday life? Think about it. On the news, in the papers, and at school, we’re alway hearing about reforming this or reforming that.  Whether it’s education reform, tax reform, tort reform, healthcare reform, you name it. Reformation is a big deal. And it was the same way during the Protestant Reformation as well.

Toward the end of the middle ages, there was huge a push toward what can best be described as ‘moral reform.’ The fact is, people in those days (not so different from our own) were in the habit of misbehaving. And so Renaissance humanist leaders like Erasmus (d. 1536) led the cause for shaping people up. It was broadly understood that people’s main problem was that they were immoral and thus needed to be taught better manners. And although many of these humanist leaders were themselves part of the Catholic church, they didn’t want to focus on doctrine so much. Their great concern was to make sure people lived better, more upstanding, lives in society.

Cutting a sharply contrary line in the sand, the Protestant Reformation offered a radically different message.  The Reformers recognized that no matter how big man’s problems might be, no matter how messed up his social ills, no matter how bad his manners, indeed no matter how much social reformation may indeed have to be done, the greatest, most primary and acute problem for man in all the world is his sin before God.

This was as classic case of ‘cutting to the chase.’ Yes, man is a mess! But any and all attempts at fixing him are like putting a bandaid on a mortal wound. Before man can make any progress before God and with his neighbor, he must first deal with his guilt. His sin is a big deal — no, it is the big deal. And this was the storm center of the Protestant Reformation, the eye of the hurricane that would rock history. And it was forensic in character. Man needed righteousness before God his maker, and all he had was guilt.

Standing himself, with this question, too, before the face of God, the Calvinist was so impressed with the holiness of God that the consciousness of guilt immediately lacerated his soul, and the terrible nature of sin pressed on his heart as with an intolerable weight….

To the de profundis (Latin “out of the depths” from Ps. 130) with which, thirty centuries ago, the soul of David cried unto God, the troubled soul of every child of God in the sixteenth century still sounded a response with undiminished power. The conception of the corruption of sin as the source of all human misery was nowhere more profound than in Calvin’s environment. – Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, p. 55.

Guilt before man is bad enough. But guilt before God leaves no way of progress anywhere else. It is the cause of every evil and sinful thing. It is even the cause of our relative guilt before other men.  For, if we remember in the beginning (Gen. 3), after incurring guilt before God, Adam and Eve also felt shame between themselves.  Forensic, judicial, legal, guilt, therefore, is at the root of all other sin and the cause of every subsequent relational and social evil. If we have guilt before God, we cannot love our neighbor. And most importantly, if we have guilt before God, we cannot love and worship our Maker, who is to be forever praised. Amen!

And this, we see, is where the Protestant Reformation entered upon the scene proclaiming (with Paul and all those other faithful witnesses who had gone before) a righteousness that is from faith onto faith (cf. Rom. 1:17). A righteousness that is entirely a gift of God (Rom 5:16-18) by grace alone (Eph. 2:8), to be received through faith alone (Rom. 4:6), in Christ alone.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Reposted from an earlier entry. Here is an excerpt from a Ligonier interview with Michael Horton discussing the theology of N.T. Wright.

[Q] Considering Bishop N.T. Wright’s doctrine of justification, do you believe he is teaching another gospel?

[A] J.I. Packer has a great line: Tom Wright foregrounds what the Bible backgrounds, and backgrounds what the Bible foregrounds–but Wright does more than that; he denies a crucial component of justification, namely imputation. So, in answer to your question, yes–in denying imputation, Wright is preaching another gospel.

There’s a kind of fundamentalist approach to Scripture that Tom Wright seems to want to confront. And while he does a wonderful job of highlighting the fact that justification in Paul’s writings is understood within a broader redemptive-historical framework, something not all presentations and defenses of justification do, he is not confronting historic Reformed theology. Reformed theology always has understood justification within a broader redemptive-historical framework. If he were to read the Reformers and more recent Reformed writers, such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos, he would clearly see that justification is placed in its proper context with the believer’s union with Christ and within the whole history of redemption. Reformed writers speak of Paul’s treatment of justification being inseparable from the inclusion of the Gentiles. Then, when you read Tom Wright he makes it seem as if he’s the first person who saw these emphases of Paul, and that everyone else before him sort of taught the four spiritual laws. It’s an incredibly naïve view.

I know Tom Wright–not well, but we had a few conversations in my Oxford days; we’ve gone back and forth about these issues, and he simply doesn’t know historical theology. He’ll actually admit that when you catch him at a few points; he’ll say something along the lines of “well this really isn’t my area of expertise.” Well, if your thesis is that the Reformation fundamentally misunderstood Paul, it better be your area of expertise to at least know what the Reformers said–and he doesn’t. So, Wright creates a straw man. And the people who are swayed by him, who are enamored of him, are also in many cases ignorant of what the Reformers actually taught, what Reformed theology has taught on these matters. And let me offer an impassioned plea to folks: There are Reformed presentations of the doctrine of justification that include some of the very salient points that Tom Wright has raised and incorporated, without denying the very crucial component of imputation as Tom Wright does. Without imputation, justification isn’t good news. When he says that the Gospel is “Jesus is Lord,” I reply, there are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” isn’t good news. There are many passages that tell me “Jesus is Lord” means to a whole lot of people “the great Avenger on the white horse with a sword in His hand, bringing the last judgment.” “Jesus is Lord” means that He will be your judge. On Mars Hill in Athens, Paul said there is a judgment coming, a last judgment coming, and God has given proof of this to everyone by raising Jesus from the dead. So Jesus is Lord is not necessarily good news. Only when God assures me that I am in Christ by grace alone through faith alone and kept by grace is the announcement “Jesus is Lord” good news rather than the worst possible news.

– Michael Scott Horton, December 2009

Taken from Ligonier, here.

Read Full Post »

Reading through Michael Horton’s book, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship, I came across a section where he describes “The Benefits of the Supper.”

When received in faith, the Supper’s benefits are, in substance, the same as those communicated through preaching and baptism: Christ and all his benefits. The person and work of Christ are received and enjoyed.

I likely response to this might be, “Why do I need to receive Christ and all his benefits again and again? I accepted Christ once and that’s sufficient.” One might further wonder, “What if a believer doesn’t take the Supper on a given occasion. Is that person somehow less forgiven, less united to Christ?” These are great questions. But comparing the Supper to the preached Word is helpful here, as it was in considering baptism.

I have never heard anyone say, “Because I accepted Christ years ago, I have no need of hearing the gospel in a sermon.”

Saints and sinners at the same time, our faith is never so strong that it can stand without the supports God has given it. One can never reach a point in the Christian life where the gospel is sufficiently understood and embraced that the preaching of God’s good news is no longer required. Faith is not just a matter of having all our facts right but of being inwardly persuaded of their truth as the Holy Spirit witnesses to his Word. Even if we could amass sufficient information, our faith would be weak apart from God’s constantly persuasive rhetoric.

Precisely the same is true of the Supper. Although baptism is a sign and seal never to be repeated, the Supper is often repeated because it conveys the same gospel. If baptism is a means of initiating grace, the Supper is a means of persevering grace–not because it gives us an additional ingredient or a power not present in preaching or baptism but because it is a perpetual ratification of God’s peace treaty with his people. Faith is created by the preached gospel and confirmed and strengthened by the sacraments. God works supernaturally thought natural, created things. (p. 119)

Read Full Post »

As J. V. Fesko points out, understanding our “theology (proper) as it is realized in Christology, […] has a world of implications for our soteriology, especially the doctrine of justification.”

There are some who would argue that the concept of justification is just a metaphor. And since metaphors are merely meant to tell us something about how God relates to us, they are contextual and don’t necessarily signify an actual reality. And since justification is likewise a metaphor (they say), it is not essential nor necessary to our understanding of salvation and may be readily interchangeable with other metaphors — say theosis.

Fesko takes this idea to task in his book, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine:

Scholars have long noted that Christ’s resurrection was his justification. Geerhardus Vos explains that “Christ’s resurrection was the de facto declaration of God in regard to his being just. His quickening bears in itself the testimony of his justification.” There is nothing metaphorical about the resurrection of Christ. It was an event that occurred on the plane of history and is a prophetic declaration of the church’s own resurrection on the final day. As Multmann observes, “The raised body of Christ therefore acts as an embodied promise for the whole creation. It is the prototype of the glorified body.”

Because soteriology, and more specifically justification, is inextricably bound with Christology in the concrete reality of the incarnation, one cannot make the claim that justification is but one metaphor among many other legitimate images of redemption. One can easily see the problems with construing justification as a metaphor when it is compared with its theological antonym, condemnation.

There was nothing metaphorical about Christ’s condemnation by the Pharisees and his subsequent justification by his resurrection. Likewise, there is nothing metaphorical about the condemnation that lies over the unbeliever. For the one who places his faith in Christ and is justified, the condemnation is removed–he is transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ, and therefore Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Or, glossed in parallel fashion, “There is therefore now justification for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Prior to the believer’s justification, he is at enmity with God; after his justification, he is at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). If atonement and justification are merely metaphors that compete with other images such as union with Christ, then one must come to the conclusion that sin is also a metaphor: propitiation is God’s metaphorical way of dealing with a metaphorical problem. The glaring problems is, of course, that sin and death are not metaphorical, and neither is the wrath of God, which Christ placates by his crucifixion, which is a propitiation. To place justification, or any other element of the ordo salutis for that matter, into the category of the metaphor does violence to the message of Scripture and destroys the gospel. – Fesko, J. V., Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, (P&R Publishing, 2008), pp. 64-66.

Oh man!

Read Full Post »

Today, it seems many Christians think of the word “tradition” only in a negative light. It brings up a bad taste in their mouth which they’d rather do without. Tradition often connotes something merely “old-fashoned”, people set in their ways, or even “dead orthodoxy.”

This is unfortunate since, for one reason, this is not the attitude we get from Scripture. Surely, Christ rebuked the Pharisees for their “holding to traditions” of the elders as opposed to the revealed word of God (Mark  7 comes to mind). But note the fact that it isn’t tradition per se that is the problem but the fact that they are un-scriptural tradition:

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Mark 7.8

For many Christians, it probably comes as a surprise that this isn’t the only thing Scripture has to say about tradition. In fact, later on in the New Testament, we find the Holy Spirit inspiring Paul to admonish the saints to “hold to the traditions” handed down to them.

In 2 Thessolonians 2.15 the Apostle writes,

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Likewise in 3.6 he says,

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

In 1 Corrinthians, he says something similar:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. [11.2]

So we see then that, according to Scripture, not all tradition is bad. Certainly, all “traditions of men”, since they’re not founded upon Scripture, are to be avoided as worthless before God. However, on the other hand, the Apostolic tradition handed down from the Apostles themselves and established in God’s word is to be affirmed whole-hearteldy.  This tradition of the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” [Jude 3] is the one tradition different from all the rests. And we as Christians are called to remember, cherish, and defend this tradition with our very lives.

Michael Horton writes on this in his book A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of God-Centered Worship. The following is an excerpt:

In the past, people used to convert to other religions or even political parties with great inner turmoil. Even consumer products were marketed on the assumption of brand loyalty. But today, one is expected to morph many times within a given lifetime. Sociologist Peter Berger has appealed to the notion of heresy to describe this widespread phenomenon:

The English word “heresy” comes from the Greek verb hairein, which means “to choose.” A hairesis originally meant, quite simply, the taking of a choice…. Thus, in Galatians 5:20 the Apostle Paul lists “party spirit” (hairesis) along with such evils as strife, selfishness, envy, and drunkenness among the “works of the flesh.” … The heretic denied…authority, refused to accept the tradition in toto. Instead he picked and chose from the contents of the tradition, and from these pickings and choosings constructed his own deviant opinion.

The problems today,  says Berger, is that there is no sense of an overarching authority that would measure deviance. In this environment in which personal choice reigns, heresy–cutting one’s own path apart from everyone else–is now normal. Accepting the authority of someone else, even God, is abnormal. “Modernity creates a new situation in which picking and choosing becomes an imperative.” Everyone has to be eccentric, and every successful enterprise, including the church, must cater to each person’s (or at least generation’s) eccentricities. Why should we “postmoderns” be expected to think and worship in continuity with “premoderns”? A nation that gets its nose out of shape when someone suggests changing the rules of baseball (“It won’t be baseball anymore!”) takes it for granted that God must get over his own personal tastes in order to accommodate ours–and that his church must either surrender or be left for dead. (The only real apostasy is being left behind in the sweep of progress.) – Michael Horton “A Better Way” pp. 47-8.

Read Full Post »

Have you ever asked yourself that question? What does it mean to be Reformed?

Does it mean one believes in the ‘doctrines of grace’? Is predestination the common denominator, or bare essential?

What about the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement? Or even broader Evangelicalism? Can they fit under the rubric of ‘Reformed’?

Michael Horton tackles some pretty hard-hitting questions here.

Read Full Post »

I stumbled across these quotations today by Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary, Bruce McCormack:

We live in a time in which the churches of the Reformation are in doctrinal chaos. Many there are who, appalled by the gnosticism and even paganism of a good bit of the theology to be found on the left wing of their churches, have turned longing eyes towards Rome and Constantinople.

He then continues:

I think it is accurate to say that there are no hotter topics in Protestant theology today than the themes of theosis, union with Christ, the de Lubacian axiom “the Eucharist makes the church,” etc…. In the process, the churches are slowly coming under the influence of a concept of “participation” in Christ that owes a great deal to the ancient Greek ontologies of pure being…. In truth, forensicism (rightly understood!) provides the basis for an alternative theological ontology to the one presupposed in Roman and Eastern soteriology. Where this is not seen, the result has almost always been the abandonment of the Reformation doctrine of justification on the mistaken assumption that the charge of a “legal fiction” has a weight, which in truth, it does not.
Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates, 105-6.

Wow! Any thoughts?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »