Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

February 27, 2007

Ash Wednesday + 5

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Much less can human works which are done over and over again, with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end. [i.e. righteousness]

This is a polemic against the very common notion that "he was a good person. He does such good things for his fellow man. He is certainly approved by God."

Since the law of God, which is holy and unstained, true and just, is given to man by God as an aid beyond his natural powers to enlighten him and move him to do the good, and nevertheless the opposite takes place, namely, that he becomes more wicked, how can he left to his own power and without such aid be induced to do good?

Romans 3:10-18 None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."  "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips."  "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."  "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Paul pieces together this nice little string of pearls from Ps 14:1-3, Ps 51:1-3, and Eccl 7:20

The law is holy just and good. But it is not able to produce or induce what it demands.

Consider this quote: "I am obliged to forgive them their sins if I want the law fulfilled by them. I must also put away the law for I see that they are unable not to sin, especially when they are fighting, that is, when they are laboring to fulfill the law in their own."

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February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

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The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance humans on their way to righteousness, but rather hinders them.

Romans 3:21-22 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

Romans 8:1-4 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:3-9 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory.

In this vein I am here to announce that I am giving up giving up things for lent for lent.

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February 20, 2007

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

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I remember when I was about 12 years old and took piano lessons. I didn’t really like to practice much but oddly, one of the things I liked to do when it came to playing the piano was that I liked playing hymns. Especially the ones that had some nice chord changes.

Here is a hymn that has some really sweet chords that you can listen to here.

The reason for this post is to get some help. I have a friend who I excitedly went up to one day at church and said I found a hymn that I really liked. Keep in mind that the reason behind my liking the hymn was because of the music. I didn’t really pay that much attention to the words. Well, my friend said that, yeah, the music was fine but she said, "just listen to those words. They are terrible".

Here are the words:

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

There are two places in these words that I definitely have issues with. One is the end of the second stanza. "So seems my saviour’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven" has to be reworded to "a ladder down from heaven". There are no ladders up to heaven. And "Jacob’s ladder" was not for human use but for ministering angels who used it. I’m also not clear on what is implied by the "eternal grave" idea in the third stanza.

Beside that, what do you think of the words to this hymn? What didn’t my friend like about it, do you think?

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February 19, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part XI

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Sacramentology

This area is perhaps the clearest place where the lens of the covenant affords a powerful look into systematic theology. David VanDrunen states that both sacraments of the church are overtly covenantal rituals.1 The covenant of redemption itself was ratified by a bloody event. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.(Rev 13:8). That certainly sets a precedent for the ratification of the covenants that occur between God and man in history. In addition, the covenantal impetus demands a proper sorting out of the continuities and the discontinuities between the Old and New dispensations of the covenants. It is the covenant of grace for which God provided sacramental rites. The sacrament of initiation to the covenant, and the sacrament of the meal are both fundamental to the covenant of grace. The original publication under the Abrahamic administration and the re-publication under the administration of his seed, the Lord Jesus Christ then spell clearly what the covenantal continuities are with respect to the sacraments.

Most significantly for a discussion of the sacraments in the light of the covenants is the role that is played by the Lord’s Supper. Consider Revelation 22:13-14: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”2 A covenantal view gives the following interpretation of these verses: The tree of life as a representation of the consummated eternal life held out to Adam on condition of his perfect obedience to the covenant of works is now offered to believers in Christ due to Christ’s perfect obedience. Furthermore, Jesus Christ as the First and Last is telling us that the tree of life which was there at the very beginning and now makes another appearance at the end of the great drama of history is none other than Himself. So Jesus we see is the Lord as well as the Servant of the covenant.

Now consider John 6:48-54

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

In view of these passages, we see how the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is a sign and a seal of the life of Christ offered just as the tree of life was offered to Adam as a consummation reward for perfect obedience.

Conclusion

I have defended the assertion that covenant theology is a suitable if not an indispensable lens for doing systematic theology. Of course, this paper does not deeply flesh out any area specifically but I believe it does demonstrate that the covenants are a fruitful architectural framework that delivers on its promise. The lens of the covenants is therefore properly placed in the hands of pastors who need to proclaim, explain and apply the Scriptures for their congregations on a weekly basis. Those who are elders in the church and who are charged with teaching people will find that the covenants provide a safe way through the many difficulties that teachers of Scripture are sure to encounter. But most importantly for the believer who is neither pastor nor elder, but who finds the Bible simply too large or too inaccessible but sincerely wants to pick it up each day., the covenant concept will prove to be a reliable ally.

1David VanDrunen,“A System of Theology? The Centrality of Covenant,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine (ed. David VanDrunen:Phillipsburg:P&R Publishing, 2004), 218.

2See Stephen Goranson, “The Text of Revelation 22:14.” New Test. Studies 43 (1997):154-157. Goranson defends the primary alternate reading as “Blessed are those who do his commandments.” This alternate is traceable to the similarities between plunontej– “those who wash” and poiountej “those who do” along with stolaj – “robes” and entolaj– “laws”. Interestingly, both readings point to the imputed righteousness of Christ in my view.

February 18, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part X

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Soteriology

The soteriological aspect of covenant theology is tightly coupled to the exposition of the covenant of redemption. Any Arminian interpretation of salvation will constitute an attempt by individual man to barge his way into council chambers to which he has no invitation. The eternal covenant of redemption has no place for God’s election being according to “foreseen faith”.

At a deeper level, the covenant of redemption especially points to an understanding of the centrality of Christ in our salvation. By this I am referring to the description of the believing saints, those for whom Christ died, as belonging to Christ as his possession, as his inheritance. Distinguishing the application of our salvation from its accomplishment, Geerhardus Vos writes

But the covenant of redemption also has meaning for the application of salvation. It provides the guarantee that the glory of God’s works of redemption shall be impressed upon the consciousness of the elect and be actively expressed in their lives. . . .For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis, beginning with regeneration at its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by Him that does not elevate God’s glory through His bestowal. Now the basis for this order lies in none other than in the covenant of salvation with Christ. In this covenant those chosen by the father are given to Christ. . . The promise and oath-swearing, by which God gave himself to us as our God, and the adoption as children of God and heirs of eternal life, were made to Christ, who is the seed of Abraham, and to all those who are implanted into this seed.1

Not for our benefit but for the joy that was set before him did he despise the shame and mockery and chose to stay up on the cross that he might do the Father’s will and receive his inheritance. The more one meditates on the covenant of redemption, the more one realizes how one must decrease while Christ increases.

1Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation ,248-249.

February 17, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part IX

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Christology

The covenant of redemption is the strongest possible antidote to virtually all Christological heresies. Arianism, which teaches that Jesus Christ is an exalted being created by God (the Father) and then somehow adopted to be put into service, falls if the covenant of redemption is a “Scriptural” doctrine. The covenant of redemption stresses by definition that the parties of the covenant are equally pledging to perform their roles.1 It is incomprehensible then that this foundational pact would be devised by a “trinity” of unequals.

Appolinarianism, which teaches that Jesus did not have a human soul, but only a human body, falls. Any Christology which denies that Jesus was in all respects a human being is defeated by the teaching that the covenant of works must be successfully carried out by the man Jesus Christ. God’s honor was grossly offended at the fall and because of it “man will never again be able to work in a manner pleasing to God except a completed work of God be performed on his behalf. Earning eternal life has forever been taken out of his hands.”2 But this work must be performed by a human being as well. Any other solution would result in a meaningless trick, an ontological shell game.3 Consequently, the covenant of redemption takes out Sabellianism, Docetism and Nestorianism all of which deny the humanity of Jesus Christ in some way.

1Much could be said regarding the covenant of redemption that its truth comes to us analogically.

2Geerhardus Vos, Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1980), 246.

3See Hebrews 4:15.

Christian Mind Paper Part VIII

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Eschatology

The covenant of redemption contains a promise, however, that clearly ameliorates the depressing prospects for an unpleasant death on account of Adam’s failure. Here the covenant of redemption informs our theology of the last things, our hope for the future. God’s election of a people to himself has a marked forward looking character. The presence of God’s act of election in the covenant of redemption is strongly suggestive of the fact that even prior to the inauguration of the creation and of time itself, God has an eschatological end in view – a reward for covenant obedience ready to be offered to those who perfectly fulfill the works requirement. God the Father will not deny himself the pleasure of finally giving that which was held out as a (conditional) promise to Adam.

Writing about Geerhardus Vos’ view on the works principle, Jeong Koo Jeon states: “The fulcrum of the covenant of works lies in the fact that the goal of the covenant was eschatological heavenly life and justification, all ultimately looking up to the gloria Dei.”1

1 Jeong Koo Jeon, Covenant Theology (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1999), 99.

February 15, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part VII

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Covenant and Systematic Theology

The covenant, and specifically the covenant redemption, in my view, is the seed which germinates into a full blown biblical theology and a fully explicated systematic theology. If a discussion of Biblical theology is about the organic development through the Bible of the redemptive acts of God, the acorn to oak metaphor, then the covenant of redemption is the seed that gives birth to the acorn. Likewise, this same covenant contains within it the basis for those individual doctrines that form the basis for our reformed systematics. Therefore, the covenant of redemption is indispensable for doing theology. We express nearly all we know about the trinity in covenantal terms. It under girds the whole thesis of this paper by defending the assertion that God is a covenantal being. God’s covenantal nature, then, becomes the basis for God’s covenantal relationship with his creation. Further, God’s mode of revelation to his creatures is by means of a covenantal document administrating that relationship.

The following are a few of the areas where the covenants steer a clear path to a solid orthodox understanding of systematic theology.

Prolegomena

Before rolling their sleeves up to do real systematic theology, theologians like to get the preliminaries out of the way. They call this the prolegomena of theology. The boundaries for this discipline are somewhat subjective but generally they include discussion of the knowledge of God, an understanding of revelation (God’s special revelation and general revelation) and of scripture as well. Hear what Herman Bavinck has to say about the task of prolegomena in theology:

Normatively, theology should begin with revelation, proceed from faith, and articulate its own first principles (principia). By principia in general is usually meant the basic cause and ground of reality as well as the means by which we come to know them. Thus, Aristotle, for instance, distinguished principles of being, of existence and of knowing. Theologians also adapted this terminology. By way of revelation God makes himself known to us as the primary efficient cause of all things. Holy Scripture is the external efficient cause of theology, and divine revelation also requires the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. We thus identify three fundamental principles for theology: God is the essential foundation (principium essendi); Scripture is the external cognitive foundation (principium cognoscendi externum); and the Holy Spirit is the internal principle of knowing (principium cognoscendi internum). The foundations of theology are thus trinitarian: The Father, through the Son as Logos, imparts himself to his creatures through the Spirit.1

Strongly hinted at in that last sentence of Bavinck’s is how the covenant of redemption informs our view of just how the covenant is a verbal sort of thing. The Father speaks through the Son and that speech is made effective (does not return to him void – Is. 55:11) by the Spirit fulfilling his part of the pledge made in the covenant.

This leads to an understanding of what Scripture itself is. The covenantal model of speech hinted at above suggests that it is Jesus Christ who is the content of Scripture. And the Holy Spirit is the agent that both brings Scripture to light (inspires its writing) and causes it to not return void by effecting those who read it. But who are these two? They are the two covenant members who have pledged to work the covenant of redemption for the father. Scripture, then is documentation of the outworking covenant of redemption, which in history is formulated by the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

In this model, all the data we read prior to the introduction of Abraham, and the subsequent royal grant treaty made there, is prologue – historical background that explains how this covenant comes about. Major and minor prophets are conducting a covenant lawsuit against the party in the treaty who has defaulted on their obligations. The historical narratives that precede the lawsuit portions are essentially the documentation that is introduced as evidence of covenant unfaithfulness against the defaulting party. They also serve as a witness to the faithfulness of the God (Suzerain) whose laws they have failed to obey.

The law sections are self-described as covenantal documents.(See Exodus 24:7) The violation of the laws contained within these sections, then, are what is being adjudicated by the prophets in their covenant lawsuits with Israel.

The wisdom literature is not so easily categorized. The book of Job has been characterized as one written to goad the covenant breaking Israelites into covenant faithfulness by displaying the righteousness of Job and his attitude in the face of severe adversity. This is an even more plausible interpretation if one accepts the contention that Job himself is not a covenant Israelite. In any case, the book in my view clearly points to the one who is covenantally faithful, the suffering servant, Jesus Christ.

1Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Prolegomena (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 207.

February 11, 2007

Christian Mind Paper Part VI

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The Covenants in History

The essential feature of the two types of covenants that are worked out in history, is verbal. The covenant of works insofar as it involves man, once with Adam, and once with the entire nation of Israel has the verbal property of command or law, “do this and live”. The covenant of works insofar as it involves the man Jesus Christ is the same, “do this and you will be given the inheritance I promise”. The covenant of grace has the verbal property of pure promise. “I will”.1

So, the two types of covenants correspond to two types of speech – law and promise. In history, these two types of covenants are worked out as follows: The basis of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace in the modern handling of reformed theology is seen in ancient near Eastern treaties that predated Abraham and Moses. What reformed scholars and some non-Christian archaeological historians see is the suzerainty treaty form. In these treaties, the great king (the suzerain) would establish a covenant with a lesser king or ruler wherein the suzerain would promise to not destroy the lesser vassal king as long as the vassal adhered to stipulations (laws). This is exactly what the Mosaic covenant was modeled on2.
They also see a second kind of treaty in the ancient near East. This is what is called the royal grant treaty. In this kind of treaty the great king offers an unconditional grant of blessing to the lesser king. There are no stipulations with this kind of treaty. This kind of covenant is what we see in the Abrahamic covenant and also in the Davidic covenant and also in the new covenant. Interestingly and what is often confused, is that the new covenant abrogates the Mosaic covenant as the Israelite theocracy is terminated, but with respect to the Abrahamic covenant, it is intensified in Christ as it is extended to the whole world who, in Christ, are Abraham’s seed.

The key point however, is that God’s covenantal relationship here is a verbal one. And to relate rightly to this covenantal God is fundamentally a communicative relationship. God speaks and we respond. Scripture could not be more clear on this point. “We walk by faith and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7) and “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”(Rom 10:17)

1See Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:2,3, 2Samuel 7, Jeremiah 31:31ff

2And as was mentioned above, so was the Adamic treaty in creation. In reality of course, God providentially works through means, and the obvious conclusion is that suzerainty treaties are God’s common grace providence that have him only as its author and that no “modeling” is actually necessary.

 

So, believe it or not, the next entry (part 7) will actually start the defense of my thesis. All the previous was basically filler.

Review

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Before pressing on to the end, here is a quick summary of the 5 parts of the paper you have seen so far:

1) Intro and thesis statement – which was this: The best way to approach Scripture and more specifically systematic theology is through the lens of the covenant because God himself is a covenantal God.

2) Some definitions of the term covenant.

3) Introduction of the Covenant of redemption, which I assert is basically an intratrinitarian works covenant.

4) Showing the pledges (of work to be done) by each member of the trinity. Father – election of some individuals as a gift or inheritance to be given to the son. Son – fulfill the covenant of works. He promised to become a man, taking on his flesh and his nature. He promised to go to the cross as propitiation for the sins of those elect. Spirit – Bring the Son into existence as a man, anoint him with the result that Jesus has the Spirit without measure, inspires the writing of Scripture, affects regeneration and the sanctification of the elect, builds, guides and teaches the church.

5) A section from a Meredith Kline article on the covenant of redemption in Zechariah 6. Twenty-twenty hindsight says this should have been left out completely. When I put it in, I was trying to pad the paper. Ironically, in the end, I was trying to cull crap out

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