Category Archives: Theology

The Eventual Disappearance Of Christianity From Public View

blog-empty-churchThe early Church began as a small group of Disciples and Followers who pledged loyalty to the Lordship of Christ, their Savior and Lord.  It had no public face but the face of each Disciple as he or she lived their faith out day by day.  The Church grew exponentially because these followers of the Nazarene didn’t just talk about being Christians, they lived like they were.  Converts by the millions joined the movement and the ranks of the Church swelled until it filled Europe and North Africa.

The something terrible happened.  As the historian Adolf von Harnack puts it so eloquently- ‘the Church was meant to go into the world, and instead, the world came into the Church’.  The Church became filled with hangers-on and spiritual opportunists who had neither interest in nor loyalty to the Lord Christ.

That trend has continued down to the present.  The Church, as institution, is filled with persons whose discipleship to Christ is not only questionable, but imaginary.  But whilst our ancestors in Europe and North Africa and later the Americas viewed membership in the Church as an important ‘insurance policy’ against the torments of hell, modern Europeans and Americans no longer believe hell is real.  Or, if they do, they believe the heretical and nonsensical idea that everyone goes to heaven anyway, regardless of either what they believe or how they act.

Consequently, the Church has become and is becoming ever less important not only to the world (which sees ‘Christians’ as behaving no differently than the worldlings themselves) but to the nominal (in name only) people who call themselves Disciples of the glorious Risen Lord but who have neither time for nor interest in his Lordship or their own Discipleship.

Whilst the world has no use for the Church, which is naturally to be expected, what is rather shocking, from a Biblical perspective, is the lack of interest those calling themselves Christians have in it as well.  Across North America Churches are empty on Sunday evening and Wednesday evening as they have never been empty before.  Few can be bothered with attending regularly (3 or 4 times a month) on Sunday morning much less any other time (if churches even offer other services of Worship and Bible Study at all).

The youthful generation which will, within a decade or two, assume the reins of local Churches, scarcely appear to be interested in any Church function at all which doesn’t involve some sort of food or entertainment.  It’s not too hard to imagine that their interest in maintaining Sunday evening worship or Midweek Prayer Meeting will be nil.

Eventually, then, the Church will shrink from public view.  All of those generations of saints who invested their time and resources into Church buildings and structures and programs and literature and musical resources and all the rest of the material things it takes to make a Church run will see their work turn to dust.  Not because the Devil and his minions have prevailed against it, but because its own inhabitants will let it.

Real Christians will continue to live their faith and express that faith in prayer and scripture reading and study and communal worship and ministry.  But they will be only a tiny fraction of the population, unable as such to assemble the resources to construct actual structures for worship.

The church will survive because it is the Body of Christ and he can never die.  But it will be comprised of only those who really believe.  The rest will have long since gone their way, adopting some other system of belief.  The authentic Christians will not be of the world.  They will be in it.  But they will not be of it as so many are today.

The False Gospel of Obedient-less Faith

Any ‘gospel’ that promises salvation without obedience is a false gospel; and a denial of the Gospel.  Faith, where it lacks works, is no faith at all because it is dead.  And any promise of salvation based on such a dead faith is a lie.

God’s love truly is unmerited, but it is not unconditional.

International Day of Persons With Disabilities

This is the internationally recognized symbol ...

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The annual observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December was established by the International Year for Disabled Persons (1981). The Day aims to promote a better understanding of disability issues with a focus on the rights of persons with disabilities and gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of the political, social, economic and cultural life of their communities. The goal of full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in society and development was established by the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982.

It’s a day worth observing.  And our disabled friends and family are worth supporting.

Christosis

christosisAmid increasing interaction between Eastern and Western theologians, several recent biblical interpreters have characterized Paul’s soteriology as theosis, or deification, harking back to patristic interpretations of Paul. In this book Ben C. Blackwell critically evaluates that interpretation as he explores the anthropological dimension of Paul’s soteriology.

Blackwell first examines two major Greek patristic interpreters of Paul — Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria — to clarify what deification entails and to determine which Pauline texts they used to support their soteriological constructions. The book then focuses on Paul’s soteriology expressed in Romans 8 and 2 Corinthians 3-5 (with excursuses on other passages) and explores how believers embody Christ’s death and life, his suffering and glory, through the Spirit. Blackwell concludes by comparing the patristic view of deification with Paul’s soteriology arising from the biblical texts, noting both substantial overlap and key differences.

Eerdmans have sent a review copy.  Unfortunately, try as I might, I cannot truly recommend this volume for one overwhelming methodological reason: the author, after ‘setting the stage’ in his first chapter (in which he divulges the history of research of the question which occupies him; i.e., deification) moves not to investigate Paul’s understanding of the deification of Christ but rather how a few of the Church Fathers understood Paul’s understanding of deification.  He, naturally, has his reasons for doing so and he spends a good amount of time telling us why he’s following a sensible and coherent methodology to do it.  But he fails to convince.

The subtitle of the volume would lead potential readers to believe that the topic will be examined by first carefully ‘engaging Paul’s soteriology’ and only then, once that’s been done, ‘with his Patristic Interpreters’.  In point of fact, the subtitle more properly should be ‘Examining Paul’s Soteriology Primarily through the Lens of Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria’.

The volume’s error lies in the belief that Irenaeus and Cyril got Paul right.  Perhaps they did, or perhaps they didn’t, but in point of methodological fact one really has to give pride of place to Paul’s own works and only then turn to the Fathers to see how they have understood him rather than the other way around.

Mind you, Blackwell is a good, a very good writer.  Unpleasant as it is to admit, his writing lacks the power to persuade simply and primarily because the foundation of his argument is the roof of the structure.  In short, he has everything exactly turned on its head.

To his credit, he has persuaded at least a few notables of the rightness of his cause.  John Barclay literally glows in his praise of the work in his really informative Foreword.  But he also, intentionally or not, points out the premier flaw of the volume in the very first sentence of his effervescent look ahead:

Blackwell’s Christosis is a bold and highly successful experiment in the effort to read Paul not only with, but even through, his patristic interpreters (p. xvi).

Barclay’s right, it is bold and it is an experiment and it is an effort to read Paul through the lens of his patristic interpreters.  And that’s why it just doesn’t work as an examination of Paul’s thought.  The deck is stacked.  The outcome is predetermined.

To be sure, ‘Reception History’ is an amazingly fruitful field of investigation and this volume is precisely that.  But when reception history is the focus and the exposition of a theologian like Paul’s thought is seen through its eyeballs, then we don’t hear Paul.  We hear people talking about Paul.  It’s as though we’ve returned to 1919 and Karl Barth’s really idosyncratic reading of Romans where we get all Barth and no Paul.  It’s as if we have moved back in time to eisegetical impulses where the biblical authors are ignored and their words only used as springboards for the thought of the present ‘interpreter’.  Eisegesis, it seems, has returned and taken the field of battle in a coup against more reasonable methodological approaches.

Accordingly, Blackwell’s approach will please many.  It just didn’t and doesn’t me.  And when Blackwell does finally get around to talking about Paul (in chapter 5, 117 pages in), the well is already tainted.  The case is already closed.  Paul now serves as mere window dressing for the readings of Paul already predetermined by Irenaeus and Cyril.  Irenaeus and Cyril have told us what Paul thought and Paul has been, in essence, shouted down by them.

Finally, one last annoyance reared its ugly head at the end of the volume where Blackwell assembled his bibliographic material.  Under the first heading he lists what he calls ‘Primary Sources’ and then every item listed under this category is not a primary source but a translation in either English or French of ancient Greek and Latin sources.  Primary sources are sources in the language of the theologian or historian who wrote the material.  Translations are never, ever primary sources they are always and forever secondary sources.  If one called the Bible in English a primary source one would be wrong.  One is also wrong to call a translation of any of the Church Fathers a primary source too.

Luther once took a book Melanchthon had written and had it published without the latter’s permission.  In commending it to readers, Luther wrote

For this book itself will boast that Philip is truthful and wise, unless Christ whom he breathes and teaches is not the Truth and Wisdom. For he himself may choose to be, and be called, a fool along with Christ. And would that we, too, were such fools along with them, so that we might boast: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” [1 Cor. 1:25].

I wish with all my heart that I could write the same sort of thing of Blackwell’s book that Luther wrote in that first line of Melanchthon’s.   Alas…

Right Doctrine Leads to the Giving of Thanks

bullingerSincere doctrine directly leads us to Christ. Prayer invokes praise and the giving of thanks in the name of Christ. The sacraments do serve to seal and represent to us the mysteries of Christ. And the works of faith are done of duty, although also of free accord; because we are created for good works. Yes, through Christ alone they do please and are acceptable to God the Father; for he is the vine, we are the branches. So all glory is reserved untouched to Christ alone which is the surest way to know the true gospel. — Heinrich Bullinger

Where there is no right doctrine there is no prayer, no sacraments, no works, no Christ, no Gospel.  The Emergents and Seekers and their claims to the contrary Anathema sint.  Bullinger and the other Reformers knew more truth in two brain cells than the Emergents and Seekers and their Millennial toady ilk know in their entire collective consciousness.

Why is Infant Baptism Improper?

There’s one basic fact which eviscerates every claim to its propriety:  the New Covenant is not a covenant of the flesh (like circumcision) which can be imposed on a passive recipient without that recipient’s agreement; it is a covenant of the heart, demanding and requiring the heart’s full agreement.

Given that one simple truth, infant baptism is rendered illegitimate on its very face since it bypasses the active agreement of the heart of the infant.

Divine Sovereignty: An Observation

All the handwringing among Christians of late only means one thing: the notion of divine sovereignty is dead.