Categories
Theology

Another Sola?

During the Reformation, there were five “solae” (sola is Latin for “alone”) that attempted to sum up the doctrine of salvation. To the reformers, salvation is:

by Grace alone
through Faith alone
in Christ alone
as revealed in Scripture alone
for the Glory of God alone

This is right and good. But is it enough?

Several years ago, a mentor posed the question to me: “I wonder how history would have changed had the reformers included another sola: for love alone.”

There should be another. After all, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

Think about it. How might church history, or even world history, be different if the reformers had been absolutely focused on ensuring their theology so transformed people it made them into the best lovers of God and neighbor the world had ever seen?

Reformed theology is a beautiful thing. I’ve benefited from it so much. But as I continue to grow older, I’m not so naïve to believe it alone (see what I did there?) has all the goods. Love, like we see it in the life of Jesus, simply was not emphasized by the reformers or their pupils as it should have been.

Reformed theology has too often trained many of its students, including me, to embrace and practice a faith that seeks to be right rather than get it right. Being right is nice when you’re having a debate with your buddy. Getting it right? Love is getting it (aka “life”) right.

And that’s the exact thing Jesus told us really matters to God. I want that to matter for you and me.

We need good theology. Obviously! But let’s be honest: knowing good theology without real, true, Spirit-empowered love makes us, as someone once put it, good for nothing.

Categories
Theology

An Interview with the Apostle Paul on Faith, Works, Law, and Gospel

Thanks for joining me this morning as I interview the one and only, Apostle Paul. Paul, thanks for joining me today and helping me understand Galatians 3 a bit better. What a wonderful section, by the way! Well, anyway, let’s get started. Can you tell me the audience you have in mind?
Those who have been bewitched and are deserting him who called them in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

Wow, strong language. Why is this such an important issue to you?
It was before their eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.

Interesting. Well, note-to-self: a “different” gospel lacks the grace of Christ and the cross of Christ. I’ll remember that. What was your central concern as you wrote this portion of the letter?
Let me ask you…do we receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?…Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit and works miracles do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

I see. Let me try to sum that up: your central concern seems to be that faith, not works, is the foundation for the Christian’s life in the Spirit and progress toward perfection. Why is this the case?
[It was this way for]…Abraham [who] believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.

What does Abraham have to do with this?
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.

Now Paul, I’m a Gentile (Polish, German, and Italian mainly, with a bit of Serbian). And the Galatians, they were Gentiles too. Why involve this Jewish patriarch?
[Because] the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Earlier, you mentioned that we do not receive the Spirit by works of the law. What would happen if I relied on works of the law?
All who rely on the law are under a curse.

Why?
It is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

But aren’t the most righteous people in the world those who live by the letter of the law? I mean, doesn’t their morality merit favor with God?
It is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

But isn’t the law of faith?
The law is not of faith, rather, “The one who does them shall live by them.”

This all seems like terrible news–no one can be perfect. How then can we be redeemed from this curse of the law?
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.

How did Christ become a curse for us?
[As] it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”

Of course! But going back to Abraham again: what then does this have to do with him and his children?
[This was] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Can you give an illustration or example to help me understand?
Even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified.

I’m not following you.
The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

I’m still lost, Paul. Can you explain further?
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Now I understand. So, just as a human covenant cannot be changed, so God’s promise (his covenant) to Abraham cannot be made void just because of the law–which came more than four centuries later anyway. In light of this, what is the purpose of the law?
It was added because of transgressions.

How long would the law be in effect?
Until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.

Paul, I get the Abraham tie-in. But, angels? What gives? 
An intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

Alright, so the law, given by angels, is not the fullest and final revelation of God. God’s ultimate revelation of himself comes from himself—in Christ—not from someone else. If all this is true, then wouldn’t it seem that the law is contrary to the promises of God?
Certainly not!

Why?
For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Why didn’t God establish a law that could give life and righteousness?
The Scriptures imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

So that brings it back to your central concern: faith is foundational in the Christian life. Those who trust in Christ receive the blessing promised to Abraham. You sure do tie up all your loose ends, Paul. But what about before Christ came and the possibility of faith in him?
Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Since we now know Christ and have faith in his finished work, does that change things with the law?
Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Does that change the way God views us?
In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

We are sons of God, baptized into Christ, and clothed with Christ. Awesome! What then are the implications of this for everyday life?
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Marvelous. Beautiful. To close, can you sum up your argument in 140 characters or less? (That’s a popular way people express themselves in the 21st century.)
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Thanks, Paul, for joining me! Again, Galatians 3 and this interview have proved beneficial to me, and I trust it will do the same for our readers. Praise God! 

Categories
Reviews

Science and God Review

Scott Petty. Little Black Books: Science and God. Kingsford, Australia: Matthias Media, 2011. 112 pp. $4.99.

Christians don’t have to choose between God and science. In fact, they are quite compatible. In his little book Science and God, Scott Petty succinctly, humorously, and helpfully makes just that point as he analyzes the modern tension between science and faith.

Science and God is a part of the Little Black Book series, authored by Petty, a youth minister in Australia. The series covers a wide range of topics for young people ages 15-20. The books are supposed to be fun and straight to the point, and Science and God is no exception. While it is simple, it is not simplistic or “dumbed-down.” I certainly learned a few things myself! The point of the book is simply to prove that science and God are not enemies. The book is not a complete resource on all things science, but it will certainly be a helpful resource for teens and even adults who are confused about the relationship of science and faith.

Petty gives three main reasons why we don’t need to choose between God or science. First, he says that science and God have historically been good friends. Second, he says that some of the world’s best scientists are professing Christians. Third, and most importantly, science and religion answer different questions. 

This third point is especially necessary for both Christians and skeptics to understand. Petty writes, “Can science tell me anything about the Fall of Rome, or World War II, or your summer holidays? Can I put the events of 11 September 2001 in a lab to examine them scientifically  No. Can I put the day I got married under a microscope so that I may thoroughly understand it. Not likely” (28). So is science unnecessary? Of course not! Science simply isn’t able to provide that sort of information; it cannot provide answers to every part of our existence. Simply put, science is not fit to answer questions of an ultimate kind, like those concerning purpose, meaning, beauty, and love.

So how do we reconcile science with theology? Petty proposes we adopt a layered approach. He gives the example of a book being created. A book came to exist because of the author’s know-how, expertise, and actually putting words on paper. But it also came to be through the invitation of the publisher, editing, and finally printing and binding, along with many other factors. These aspects work together, not against each other. In the same way, science explains some parts of our existence, and theology explains others. They are not opposed. They simply ask and answer different questions. Petty teases out this layered approach throughout the book. He also includes helpful sections on the Big Bang, Darwinian evolution, and evidence for God himself.

Are there any problems with the book? Some may criticize Petty for saying evolution is a scientific theory while ignoring the fact that it is an entire worldview that has become its own religion. Others may be upset that he does not clearly state his position on creation. These people miss the point of the book. This point is simply to show that science and God are not at odds. Regarding the first concern, Petty clearly understands that evolution is the lens through which some scientists interpret everything (chs. 1, 4), which is “a big mistake” (30).

Regarding the second, Petty clearly believes that God created the world from nothing (ch. 4). But is it necessary for him to say how he thinks that happened? No. He does admit that Bible-believing Christians differ on how to interpret Genesis 1. He notes that at least a dozen views have been proposed, and only one holds that God created everything in six literal 24-hour days. There is no way to be absolutely positive on how God created the world because Genesis 1 is not written as a science textbook for our 21st century questions (80). 

This is a solid book. Even if you don’t agree with everything, Petty will challenge your thinking, make you laugh, and put your mind at ease.

Categories
Life Theology

The Lord’s Table on Good Friday

For the Christian, the Lord’s Supper is about covenant renewal. When we partake of the Table together, we are dramatizing the gospel: Jesus body and blood given for us. It is a reminder of what Jesus has done for us–a means of grace to reinforce our faith in him.

Often times, before communion (another name for the Lord’s Supper) Christians try to “get right with God” and confess every known sin. We beat ourselves up, feeling that if we wash our conscience, then we will be “worthy” to approach the Table. We think that Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:27-24, when he says not partake in an “unworthy manner,” mean that we need to clean up before showing up. But Paul isn’t writing about cleaning ourselves up; he is writing to people who are making a mockery of the Supper. The Lord’s Super is about Christ’s humble, self-sacrifice for us. The Corinthians were cutting in line for more bread and getting drunk on the wine (vv.20-21). Put simply: the Corinthians were making the supper about them, instead of making it about what Jesus has done and using it as an opportunity to serve others in the church.

When Paul says each person should “examine himself” (v. 28) he is essentially saying, “Realize that this is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. If you get this, it changes your life. It makes you more humble, more serving, more loving, more others-oriented and less narcissistic. Come to the Table in this manner.”

Therefore, when you are ready to partake tonight, do not beat yourself up. Do not try to confess every known sin. Do not stay back until you “feel good” about your status with God. Do not try to “clean up” before showing up.

But wait! What about all the dirt left behind? Sure, we have idols. Brokenness. Wounds. But that is why we joyfully acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper is about the unselfish, atoning death of Jesus. He took all of our sin and shame on the cross and washed it away.  He removed the wrath of God and brought everlasting favor. Now daily he is washing us–because we are already washed.

Confess, yes. Repent, yes. Preach to your heart that Jesus has paid it all, yes. If you are entangled in grievous sin, pray with the elders (James 5:14-16). But you cannot get more right with God than you are in Christ. Hebrews 10:14 tells us, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Ephesians 2:6 says, “[God] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” You are already perfect in Christ. God can’t love you more than he already does if you are connected to him by faith in Jesus. Lay hold of God’s grace by faith and rejoice!

So how do we approach the Lord’s Supper? The same way we approach God daily: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). God has washed our consciences clean with the blood of his Son. We can’t get cleaner than we are now.

If you are not a Christian, and you attend a service tonight, then sit back and watch the live-action drama of the gospel. Watch people eat and drink and cherish the fact that Jesus gave up his very life so that they might never taste eternal death. If you partake of the Supper but are not connected to God by faith in Jesus, you will be guilty of eating and drinking in an unworthy manner because you would be doing something with your body that you don’t believe with your heart.

But you don’t have to be guilty. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:35, 37).

Christians and non-Christian need the same thing. Communion doesn’t save us; Jesus does. Christians must confess that Jesus is our only hope and he has washed us clean. Non-Christians must confess that Jesus is their only hope and only he can wash them clean. Feast on him as your supreme Treasure. Come with all your warts, all your wounds, all your dirt. Acknowledge that he paid it all on the cross and that you don’t need to clean up before you show up. Then partake of the Supper in order to proclaim and rejoice with all the saints that the Lord’s death is our only hope until he comes back (1 Cor. 11:26).

Categories
Theology

Christian Counseling and God’s Transcendence

Millard Erickson on how God’s transcendence changes the way we counsel people:

We will look for genuinely transcendent working by God. Thus we will not expect only those things that can be accomplished by natural means…We will not neglect prayer for his guidance or special intervention. Thus, for example, Christian counseling will not differ from other types of counseling (naturalistic or humanistic) only in being preceded by a brief prayer. There will be the anticipation that God, in response to faith and prayer, will work in ways not humanly predictable or achievable.

– Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 345; emphasis added.