The following comes from an article posted by Dr. Dan Doriani. Dan's new column at Place for Truth draws from his experience as both a professor and a pastor. This column is titled "Faith at Work," because, as Dan puts it, "we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is never alone." The Reformers knew that the Gospel demands a response; Dan helps us revisit that truth today, particularly as it relates to the our roles in the workplace.
The leader of a major campus ministry recently said "If forty people approach a campus minister with an objection to Christianity, one worries about Bart Ehrman and his attacks on the authority and reliability of Scripture. The other thirty-nine have moral questions: Why does the Bible have a repressive sex ethic? Why is it silent about abuse of power? Why do evangelical churches support politicians who tolerate racism and misogyny? Why do so many pastors say "God wants you to be rich" and get rich pushing that message? In short, they ask, "Can I look to the church for moral direction?"
The Reformation era had similar questions and they fueled a desire for reform in an era when the church was society's dominant institution. Priests were everywhere and their flaws were clear. For example, Zurich had a population of 5,000 people and about 400 priests - over 20% of the adult male population. They lived beside the people, who saw that most of them had concubines and illegitimate children. At the time, popes like Alexander VI and Julius I had acknowledged children.
We rightly assent to the doctrinal elements of the Reformation, but it began as a moral movement and retained a moral flavor...
A few weeks ago, the editorial team at Ref21 asked me if I would be willing to write something regarding Fred Harrell (pastor of City Church, San Francisco) and his recent postings in which he attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In doing so, I made a connection between Harrell's prior shifts (first, adopting the ordination of women and, second, endorsing homosexual relations) and his most recent movement away from the clear teaching of God's Word. My conclusion was to posit this as evidence of a slippery slope, further noting that in our cultural moment the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of ordaining women to office in the church.
It would be an understatement to observe that this post touched a raw nerve for some readers.* Two responses, however, were somewhat surprising to me. First, in commenting on Harrell's trajectory, I found it necessary to provide some context. In doing so I noted some of his former ministry associations, drawing an accusation that I was smearing particular people and groups--as if to suggest that they too must hold similar views to Harrell. This criticism seems to me to arise from a most uncharitable reading of what I wrote. But I am happy to clarify that my point was simply to note that Harrell is a product of reputable ministries and not a wild-eyed liberal whose trajectory bears no relevance to his former denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America). I do not mean to suggest that his former associates inevitably share his views. Likewise, if someone was to draw conclusions from my career it would be necessary to note my association with James Boice and Tenth Presbyterian Church. To do so would not be to tar Boice with my failings but simply to provide necessary context.
A second response to my post was to deny that there is validity to the idea of slippery slopes. My initial response to this criticism is to marvel that people can take this position in light of recent church history. Cue the Santayana reference! Still, the topic is important enough that I think it good to defend the position I took earlier.
First, let me define what I mean in referring to the slippery slope. The slippery slope simply notes that those who remove the restraint against worldly conformity place themselves in peril of further and more damaging accommodations. The slope becomes slippery when the source of friction is removed. Far from the logical fallacy of which it is charged, there is a logical basis for the slippery slope argument: when the authority of Scripture is yielded to cultural demands, the loss of that authority renders us vulnerable to further cultural demands. Herein lies the wisdom of Scripture: "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Ps. 11:3). Indeed, the very first Psalm begins with a portrayal of the slippery slope, charting a progression from "the counsel of the wicked" to "the way of sinners" and ultimately (one thinks of the so-called Jesus Box) to "the seat of scoffers" (Ps. 1:1).
In making these observations, I do not mean that anyone who changes his or her view in the direction of cultural preferences is irrevocably bound to further concessions. It is blessedly true that people and churches have taken a perilous step to the left (or right) and later reconsidered, and to note examples of this happening does not prove that their previous action had not been imperilled. It is because the slippery slope can be escaped by recommitting to Scripture that warnings of peril are of value. Moreover, I do not mean to suggest that those who make any concessions to culture over Scripture have already abandoned the atonement of Christ. I am suggesting, however, that the slippery slope is...well, slippery. Those who remove traction from their feet may very well slide much further than they first thought possible. As Fred Harrell's progression illustrates (together with those of the PC(USA), CRC, RCA, Church of Scotland, and other denominations), the abandonment of clear biblical teaching at one cultural pressure-point (women's ordination), imperils us with further capitulations (homosexual acceptance), and if unchecked will find itself challenged to avoid "touching the Jesus Box."
Second, I noted that in our time, the slippery slope is usually entered at the point of women's ordination. This tendency is not surprising, since the assault of secular culture against the Bible is most tenaciously focused on gender and sexuality. To uphold biblical gender norms, including the Bible's clear teaching on male-only ordination (see the recent PCA study committee report), is the single most inflammatory position that Christians may hold in our culture. For this reason, it is hard to find an example in recent history when a Christian leader or church denomination moved from biblical conservatism to unbiblical cultural conformity when the slide did not begin with the ordination of women to church office. It stands to reason, then, that we should avoid thinking that we can conform to the worldly demands regarding gender and avoid further accommodations of greater significance.
This brings me to the topic of women deacons. Several critics accused me of asserting that to support the ordination of women to the office of deacon is to abandon the gospel. This response is noteworthy because I made no mention of women deacons in my post. I will admit, however, to being unpersuaded that the move to ordain women deacons is unrelated to a broader agenda of cultural accommodation. In saying this, I do not mean to question the sincerity of those individuals who advocate the position that women should hold the office of deacon. But I would note the growing tendency among these same persons to employ women in roles that are as associated with the office of elder. For example, in many churches pastored by ministers who are supportive of the ordination of women deacons, women are placed in the pulpit during worship services for the public reading of Scripture and to offer the congregational prayer. Women are assigned to distribute the elements of the Lord's Supper (an action historically associated with what the BCO calls "the admission of persons to sealing ordinances," i.e., church discipline). These are functions associated with the office of elders, not deacons. Moreover, it is a matter of record that increasing numbers of men are seeking exceptions from their presbyteries on the matter of women elders and pastors. Word has recently come that pressure is being exerted in one PCA presbytery to install a woman as its stated clerk, making her a member of a court composed exclusively of ruling and teaching elders. Where is the outcry against these tendencies from those who say that they are only wishing to ordain women as deacons?
In light of this growing body of evidence, and without wanting to question anyone's sincerity, I would suggest that unity and mutual trust are strengthened not only by assurances but by actions. The slippery slope runs in many directions, of course, depending on the cultural pressures. Everything I have noted about the gender pressures of the left, for instance, equally pertains to racist pressures on the right. If we are to have unity in the coming years, it behooves us all carefully to consider how our actions line up with our assurances. Moreover, since the sole restraint to all our sin and tendency to compromise is our obedience to the voice of the Spirit of Christ speaking in Holy Scripture, the counsel given by Jeremiah at another moment of cultural of peril seems urgent: "Stand by the crossroads, and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16). In this way alone will we navigate the perils of our times, fortifying both our fidelity to Christ and our mutual bonds of unity and trust.
*One well-known pastor wrote me privately to accuse me of being schismatic. It is a feature of our times, I am afraid, that to defend the consensus on which we have built unity is to be labeled as divisive.
In his helpful blog post "The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box" Rev. Rick Phillips explains that there is indeed a slippery slope about which we must be concerned in theology. I say indeed, because many will be aware that the slippery slope is typically considered a logical fallacy: one assumes that adoption of one position will lead to the adoption of another position, without showing causal relationship between the two. However, if you can demonstrate a causal relationship then the argument becomes plausible.
In theology, it does indeed seem to be the case there is a valid concern regarding a weak doctrine of Scripture as a plausible slippery slope. So Phillips writes: "It is the unstoppable descent into liberalism and unbelief that begins when the authority of Scripture is compromised out of cultural accommodation. The slope is slippery because without the friction of an inerrant, divinely authoritative Bible, faithfully interpreted, there is nothing left to restrain the downward gravitational pull of the world's demands."
I would suggest that we label this type of slippery slope the Hermeneutical Slippery Slope. The sin of our heart and the pressure of our culture place special tension upon those passages of Scripture that oppose them. Jesus says, "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). But that does not mean that the world, our flesh and the Devil won't try. As Phillips notes, in a culture hostile toward distinctions of roles based on gender, passages that restrict ordination to males will come under extreme pressure. At the personal level, a person struggling deeply with sexual temptation may find special tension upon passages forbidding extra-marital sexual gratification. When we are reading Scripture and feel this tension from without or from within we have three options before us:
(1) In faith, we can let Scripture push back against the culture and the sin of our hearts. Under the power of the Holy Spirit the living and active Word of God will wage war against the sin of our flesh and sustain us against the pressure of the culture.
(2) In unbelief, we can reject the Scriptures entirely. In some ways this is a position of integrity. Rather than twist the Scriptures, we own the reality that we no longer believe them. It is ultimately foolish because we are rejecting the word of God, but it is an honest kind of foolish.
(3) In self-deception, we could adopt hermeneutical strategies that allow us to yield to the flesh and the culture while attempting to hang on to our faith. Unfortunately, there are a number of strategies to assist in this effort. If one finds limits on women's ministry in Ephesus too restrictive (1st Tim. 2), emphasize the local and historical context in that city when Paul was writing while downplaying the normative aspects of Paul's argument which are intended to ground those restrictions in creation. If clear prohibitions against homosexual sex are offensive, then look for local and historical reasons in Rome, Corinth or even throughout the Roman Empire that you may use to relativize what, on first reading, would appear to be normative for all people in every age.
Option three above is a Hermeneutical Slippery Slope. It is valid to regard it a slippery slope because one cannot use one hermeneutic for one set of hard texts without applying the same method to other hard texts. So we observe the slip and the slide: a change in one's view of women's ordination precedes a change in one's view on homosexuality. The hermeneutical strategies employed to arrive at those positions are very similar; indeed, in some cases identical. The slippery slope does not always materialize, but if it does not it is against the force of logic not with the force of logic. This slip and slide won't stop at social issues either. Miracles, the doctrine of the Trinity, and God's holy demand for justice will all come under the scrutiny of the world, the flesh and the Devil. Indeed, we must be on guard against the Hermeneutical Slippery Slope.
But there is another type of slippery slope in theology and church life that is fallacious and spiritually dangerous. It is akin to the way that the Pharisees read certain commandments, being sure to put a hedge around certain laws so as to not get even close to violating them. We might call this slope the Slippery Slope of Fear. One may be tempted to react against a certain position for fear that it will lead to a more permissive position or action contrary to Scripture. It is not the immediate position in question that is the concern, but fear of some future position that may come later.
On the Slippery Slope of Fear, however, Scripture is still not being honored. Rather than breaking the Scripture, the one slipping down the Slope of Fear seeks to add to Scripture. Some comfortable distance is located between his actual practice and what Scripture allows or encourages. For example, one may choose to object to the Session appointing godly women to assist the deacons in ministry to the congregation not because it is unauthorized or unbiblical (it is authorized in BCO 9-7), but for fear that it will lead to women being ordained to the office of deacon or elder. "Won't they just want to be deacons next, then elders? Why get on that train?"
I have characterized this type of thinking to my own officers as the temptation to respond to error with its opposite. It may feel right, but it is not right. We don't respond to error by its opposite. When the culture goes left we don't go right. We go Biblical. The Biblical response may be the natural opposite in some cases, but it is not always. We must let Scripture guide us in responding to error or adopting policies and practices. We should always endeavor not to add to God's word by placing additional burdens on people that God has not made clear in Scripture.
Discerning the Slippery Slope of Fear can get a little more complicated, however. The reason is that for some people positions that are a matter or wisdom can become Slippery Slopes of Fear when made normative for all people. A common example is the consumption of alcohol. There are those who cannot consume alcohol because they know that they will be led down a destructive path of addiction. For them that position is a wise one to take. But to restrict all people from consuming alcohol because Scripture forbids drunkenness is to go down the Slope of Fear that any consumption of alcohol will lead to drunkenness. Ultimately when we fail to discern the difference between matters of wisdom for individuals and matter of law for all we end up in a place of legalism: forbidding what God allows. That distorts the gospel and creates an unhealthy church culture too.
Next time you are in a theological or pastoral discussion of whether an issue or decision is a slippery slope try to discern whether it is a Hermeneutical Slippery Slope or a Slippery Slope of Fear. In both cases the Scriptures are not given the clear and final word in matters of faith and practice.
Over twenty years ago, while in seminary, I was present during a hallway conversation with a professor who then seemed to be moving toward liberal theology. A student asked how this man's higher critical methods would enable him to remain a Christian. The professor gave quite the revealing answer: "I have a Jesus Box that I never touch." By this, he meant that he had drawn a line of piety around his faith in Jesus to keep out the implications of his liberal scholarship. I remember thinking at the time how vain was this hope. Method always gobbles up message, and no pietistic zeal will ever protect us from our actual lack of faith. That professor has long since moved on, and from his seat in a liberal college he has not surprisingly revised his former evangelical faith in Jesus.
This conversation came to mind yesterday when I learned of Fred Harrell's tweet endorsing a denial of Christ's propitiation on the cross.1 He commented: "As the living Word of God, Jesus regularly forgave sins without the need for retributive justice." The article to which Harrell linked, written by Derek Vreeland on Missio Alliance, asks: "Is the Cross Even Necessary?" Informed readers will recognize the argument made here, which amounts to a blend of Abelard's moral influence theory and the New Perspective on Paul.
More interesting than Vreeland's standard denial of penal substitutionary atonement is Fred Harrell's endorsement. Trained in ministry under Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Harrell planted a high-profile and well-funded PCA church in San Francisco in 1997. His career charted a path that progressive ministers in the PCA long to emulate: RUF campus minister; associate at progressive-leaning urban church; pioneering church plant in a progressive city. In 2006, Harrell led City Church out of the PCA and into the liberal RCA on account of a change of heart regarding the ordination of women (which the PCA does not permit). At the time, defenders chalked up the change to the pressures of charity in an uber-progressive setting. In 2015, however, Harrell announced that City Church had changed its view on homosexuality, so as to "no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation." Harrell insisted that City Church had not abandoned its high view of Scripture. Yet it was clear from Harrell's explanation that the shift resulted from factors other than more careful exegesis: LGBT men and women were coming to the church, wanting to be Christian while also enjoying homosexual marriage; Harrell lamented hearing "stories of harm" resulting from the church's rejection of homosexuality; and based on "pastoral conversations and social science research," he and his elders decided to change their view of Scripture's teaching. Those who defended Harrell argued, "What's the harm if they are trying to reach people for the gospel?" Yesterday's tweet supplies the answer: the method of cultural accommodation in theology and Bible interpretation eats up the gospel and demands that it, too, accommodate to the doctrines of the world.
What are some of the lessons of Fred Harrell's progression from the ordination of women to the acceptance of homosexuality and now, apparently, to the rejection of penal substitutionary atonement and the propitiation of Christ? I can think of at least three:
Having grown up in traditional Black churches, I have learned that being Reformed is more than simply assenting to a number of important doctrines (e.g. the doctrine of grace, the regulative principle of worship, covenant theology, etc.). By sitting under Reformed preaching and probing the mind of godly men, I have come to discover that the mode of Christian spirituality as expressed within the Reformed tradition is quite different than my own upbringing. In particular, I believe that wisdom theology has profoundly shaped the thinking of many of the fathers of the Reformed faith (especially John Calvin) and the temper of Reformed piety in general.
Calvin's greatest appreciation of biblical wisdom theology is discovered in his commentaries on the Johannine literature--in which Old Testament wisdom concepts are put into Christian form and developed into the Logos theology of the early church. According to Calvin's commentary on the Gospel of John, the Apostle calls the Son "the Word" because "He is the eternal wisdom and will of God, and secondly because He is the express image of His purpose." Throughout the remainder of his commentary on the prologue of John, the word "Wisdom" is used as a synonym of "Word". This is a crucial insight because (as Calvin understands it) when the apostle John was speaking about the Word, he had in mind the divine Wisdom.
In the first book of the Institutes where Calvin is developing his doctrine of the incarnation, Calvin calls attention to the logos theology of the prologue to the Gospel of John. Calvin states:
"Word' means the everlasting Wisdom, residing with God, from which both all oracles and prophesies go forth. For, as Peter testifies, the ancient prophets spoke by the Spirit of Christ just as must as the apostles did [1 Peter 1:10-11; 2 Peter 1:21], and all who thereafter ministered the heavenly doctrine... And Moses clearly teaches this in the creation of the universe, setting forth this Word as intermediary. For why does he expressly tell us that God in his individual acts of creation spoke, Let this or that be done [Genesis 1] unless so that the unsearchable glory of God may shine forth in his image?... And indeed, sane and modest men do not find obscure Solomon's statement, where he introduces wisdom as having been begotten of God before time [Ecclesiasticus 24:14], and presiding over the creation of things and all God's works [Proverbs 8:22]... But John spoke most clearly of all when He declared that that Word, God from the beginning with God, was at the same time the cause of all things, together with God the Father [John 1:1-3]. For John at once attributes to the Word a solid and abiding essence, and ascribes something uniquely His own, and clearly shows how God, by speaking, was Creator of the universe. Therefore, inasmuch as all divinely uttered revelations are correctly designated by the term 'Word of God,' so this substantial Word is properly placed at the highest level, as the wellspring of all oracles. Unchangeable, the Word abides everlastingly one and the same with God, and is God himself." Institutes of Christian Religion, I, xiii, 7.
In this excerpt, Calvin explicitly states that "Word" basically means Wisdom. What is even more interesting is that he draws this idea out of two very important passages of the wisdom literature - Proverbs 8 and Ecclesiasticus 24. At this point in the Institutes, the wisdom theology is primarily of interest to Calvin because it helps him understand John's Christology. According to Calvin, understanding Christ as the Wisdom of God aids in understanding how the Father has a priority to the Son while simultaneously being co-eternal with the Son (since there was never a time when God was without wisdom).
However, the chief point that Calvin emphasizes in his exposition of the prologue of John is that the Word of God is the source of life and light. It is the Word - the divine Wisdom of Proverbs 8 - who was with God from the beginning, whom the Gospel of John proclaims to be incarnate in the flesh of Jesus. This Jesus, as the only begotten Son of the Father, is Savior of the world. He is the divine Wisdom who empowers, enlightens, and animates those who receive Him by faith. Christ is the divine Wisdom who imparts wisdom; because of His Word - the Word of grace and truth - believers are brought from darkness to light. From Calvin's commentary on the prologue to the Gospel of John, we gather that Calvin understands in that crucial passage the main wisdom themes of the fourth Gospel.
A question that arises is how does this approach to the gospel of John affect one's view of Christian spirituality and discipleship? Because wisdom theology is characterized by its emphasis on the Word as divine wisdom, this sapiential approach to piety places a high value on teaching and preaching in the life of devotion. The Judaism in which Jesus was brought up gave a tremendous amount of time to the study of the sacred text, the scholarly exposition of the Scriptures, and the hearing of sermons which applied this scholarly work to the life of the community. The "School of Wisdom" produced a scholarly bent to piety and practiced a very devout type of scholarship. The same was true of the early Christian church. Studying Scripture, memorizing it, meditating on it, and interpreting it were regarded as the most sacred of tasks and the most essential devotional disciplines. Therefore, the study of Scripture was understood as worship in its most profound sense. Calvin's view of Christian faith and life is particularly clear in his commentary on the prologue to the Gospel of John when he says:
"For the knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings. Since, therefore, God reveals Himself to us by Christ alone, it follows that we should seek all things from Christ. This doctrinal sequence should be carefully observed. Nothing seems more obvious than that we each take what God offers us according to the measure of our faith. But only a few realize that the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God has to be brought to draw with."
From this passage it should be clear how important the knowledge of the truth is to our salvation. This saving knowledge, received by faith, is very different than being saved by mere knowledge. For Calvin (consistent with the Wisdom School), the divine Wisdom is a rich and comprehensive wisdom. The divine Wisdom is filled with every blessing, with power and vitality, and with all the holiness and righteousness for which we hunger and thirst. According to wisdom theology, as we find it in the Gospel of John and as we find it in Calvin, the imparting of the divine Wisdom - in all its power, all its illumination, and all its vitality - is of the essence of God's saving work in Christ.
This approach to religious devotion had a profound influence on Calvin and other 16th century Reformers. In many ways, it encapsulates the mode of religious devotion that characterizes the Reformed faith.
"Be known for what you're for rather than what you're against." This statement--in various forms--has become something of a Christian cliche over the past decade. Nearly every time I hear it, I wonder if those who so often state it understand the irony of the potential false dilemma that they have inadvertantly created for themselves. Insisting that we should want to be known for what we're for rather than for what we're against includes being known for being against being known for what we're against. You may actually be making a statement akin to that which almost every unbeliever makes when they, in opposition to the Bible's condemnation of sin, misuse the only verse in the Bible that they know, "Judge not..."--which, ironically, is a quite judgmental response.
To be fair, I strongly sympathize with the well intentioned sentiment behind the adage, "Be known for what you're for." I want to be known as a pastor who is for the gospel, for the church, for the Kingdom of God, for life, for marriage, and for a whole list of other God-ordained, and spiritually beautiful things. I'm also for gourmet food, all natural ingredients, and fancy restaurants. But for the good of humanity, I'm against kale chips and turkey bacon. Likewise, for the good of souls and for the good of the church, I'm against false gospels, false worship, false doctrine, and false teachers. Being for biblical things means that we must necessarily be against non-biblical ideas and practice.
Some people have made a career out of controversy. Watch blogs, conspiracy theory websites, and gossip media are all the rage. While the feel-good news stories get circulated around social media with comments such as, "THIS is real news," or "It's about time we see something positive," anyone looking at blog statistics can tell you the most read articles aren't filled with heartwarming testimonies or affirmations of true doctrine. Humans like drama, and even if we say we don't, our Netflix history proves otherwise. It's why the Bible warns us to, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths" (1 Timothy 4:7). Those who devote the better part of the life determining what everyone else is doing wrong and saying improperly are a danger to their own soul--and, I would add, aren't much help to others. More often than not, the controversies we allow into our hearts don't serve the great end of conforming us to the image of Christ.
However, in 2017 we celebrate 500 years of protest--something for which I and deeply thankful. The Protestant Reformation was perhaps the most important era of church history since the founding of the church, and it was an era of incredible opposition. Just as the Apostle Paul wrote, "If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9), it was good and right that men like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli took on the Roman Catholic Church with its false gospel and practice in order to recover the truth. Yet, the writings of the Reformers weren't entirely polemical. Today, the five Solas of the Reformation are positive affirmations of truth thrown against the background of falsehood. There were certainly times when Luther needed an editor (for instance, the time he wrote against some of his opponents with words like, "For he is an excellent man, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp"1) Nevertheless, the best the Church has offered throughout history has rightly balanced being for what we're for with being against what we're against--rather than to the exclusion of one or the other.
Those who believe that Christians too frequently voice opposition often make reference to the tone or manner in which certain matters are addressed. We cannot forget the biblical imperative to, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted..." (Ephesians 4:32) and to remember that our speech (and writing) should be, "Good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). We must speak "the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). I confess that I have hammered out emails, blog articles, and social media posts that--while even today I can say were true in content--were a far cry from living up to what Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4. This is the case not just in how I wrote what I wrote, but more grievously, in the intentions of my heart.
The Bible is filled with warnings and prohibitions, and sometimes the best way to understand what is true is to understand and reject what is false. The Church has solidified much of orthodoxy by standing against false teachers and their doctrine. While the Western world moves further down the road of insisting that tolerance (read: "as long as you agree with me") be our battle cry, the growing temptation for Christians is going to be to win friends and influence people by only stating what we're for. However, faithful, God-glorifying Christianity isn't frilly and soft, and our spokesmen aren't supposed to be motivational speakers pumping us full of positive sunshine. I love preaching peacetime sermons full of true, positive affirmations from God's Word. But sometimes the reality of war is present in the text, and if we don't get in the trench and fire back, we're going to die. Martin Luther, Luther's Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 219.
Good teaching begins with definitions. Effective schoolteachers tell their students what they are doing and why in order help students learn well. This often means defining terms specific to each subject. Math students need to learn what a hypotenuse is and students of physics need to understand what mass, acceleration, and velocity mean. The Bible also has its own vocabulary, which includes "preaching." Yet many Christians sit under sermons, and some even preach them, without a working definition of what preaching is in light of Scripture.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2, the Apostle Paul gave an implicit definition of preaching when he wrote,
"Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
The passage cited above implies that preaching is a public authoritative proclamation of the gospel, through ordained ambassadors of Christ, who plead with people to be reconciled to God on Christ's behalf, on the grounds of Christ's person and work. Understanding what preaching is helps us understand its purposes and what we should expect when listening to sermons. This is important because Christ designed preaching to be an ordinary part of evangelism and discipleship (Matt. 28:19-20).
This text teaches us what preaching is. Preaching is a public, authoritative proclamation of the gospel. Paul's preaching was public proclamation. He implored people and he pled with them. His self-description as an "ambassador" meant that his preaching carried authority. Whether referring to the twelve apostles (Matt. 10:5-15) or to the seventy-whom Christ sent (Lk. 10:1-12), Christ words apply: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matt. 10:40)." Preachers implore sinners and plead with them on Christ's behalf. This is how they "do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Preaching is "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18) through which Christ's pleads with and implores us through his messengers. When we receive the message of Christ's ambassadors then we receive Christ. When we reject their message then we reject the Christ whom they preach. This is true with respect to all faithful gospel preaching. Preaching comes with the authority of Christ through his ambassadors and we must submit to Christ through it.
We also learn here who preachers are. Preachers are ordained ambassadors of Christ. In 2 Corinthians, Paul defended his ministry at length against false apostles (2 Cor. 2:17, 11:5). In doing so, he not only defined the nature and purposes of his apostolic ministry, but he established the pattern of gospel ministry more broadly. Being an ambassador implies gifting, calling, and ordination. I will address the last link in this chain more fully in my next post in relation to Romans 10:14-17. Preaching is defined primarily in relation to office. Christ gifts church officers for their office and he gives officers as gifts to his church. Ephesians 4:11 teaches that the ascended Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers as gifts to his church. Some of these teaching offices were extraordinary and temporary while others are ordinary and permanent. Yet all of them instruct the church for its purity and unity, its maturity and growth in Christ, and its protection from false teaching (Eph. 4:12-16). Believers in general evangelized (euangelidzomai) as they were scattered abroad while Philip preached (keruso) Christ (Acts 8:4-5). All teaching offices come from Christ and revolve around proclaiming his person and work. Christ preached the kingdom of God (Mark 1:39). Christ cleansed a leper, warning him to tell no one (Mark 1:40-44). Yet the man preached (keruso) without being gifted, called, and ordained (v. 45). All Christians must evangelize, yet not all are permitted to preach. All Christians are Christ's servants, but not all Christians are Christ's ambassadors.
We learn next why Christ appointed preaching and preachers. Preachers plead with people on Christ's behalf to be reconciled to God. Preaching flows from the fear of the Lord in preparing people for the final judgment (2 Cor. 5:9-11). The love of Christ compels sound preaching (v. 12-15). Preaching aims to provide a true view of God's savings aims through his person and work (v. 16-19). Preaching is God's act of calling sinners to be reconciled to him through Christ (v. 20, 6:1-2). As we must define preaching in relation to office, so the Christ, who is the source of church offices, dominates the content of preaching.
Lastly, preaching is founded on Christ's person and work. Preaching is possible because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19). Preaching proclaims Christ's person and work for the salvation of all (v. 21). God reconciles sinners to himself in Christ because Christ is fully God, enabling him to match God's infinite majesty and the infinite weight of sin. He is fully man, enabling him to obey, suffer, die, and rise in his human nature for us. God becoming man alone could enable God to purchase the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Christ became sin for sinners, removing God's wrath and curse from them, so that sinners might become the righteousness of God in him, being justified freely through him (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:24). Christ gifts and calls preachers to be his ambassadors by virtue of his ascension (Eph. 4:8). He makes preaching possible through making himself the ground of the message preached. We must receive Christ by faith through preaching as he presents himself to us through his ambassadors.
This passage helps us understand what preaching is both negatively and positively. Negatively, not all gospel proclamation is preaching. Neither does all preaching have the right object. Preaching must impart the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) in a way that that demonstrates that all of the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Positively, preaching is the public, authoritative, proclamation of the gospel through ordained ambassadors of Christ. Preachers plead with people to be reconciled to God on the grounds of Christ's person and work. Preaching is Christ's ordinary means of seeking and saving the lost. This means that there is continuity in how preaching addresses believers as well as the unconverted. Paul implored Christians at Corinth "not to receive the grace of God in vain." Christ is set forth in preaching to believers and to unbelievers alike because the accepted day of salvation is a perpetual "now." All subsequent posts in this series will expand and explain the ideas presented here. We must understand what preaching is in order to understand how and why we should listen to sermons. Do we receive Christ through his ordained ambassadors as we press onward and upward towards the culmination of our salvation in Christ? (Phil. 3:14).
*This is the first in a series of posts on "Preaching Christology or Preaching Christ."
Dr. Ryan McGraw is Professor of Systematic theology, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He is the author of A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen's Theology (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014); The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), Christ's Glory, Your Good: Salvation Planned, Promised, Accomplished, and Applied (RHB 2013), and, By Good and Necessary Consequence (RHB 2012).
"Man already regenerated, having through faith recovered some portion of sincerity of heart, can by virtue of that portion be described as ready unto good works--according to that measure, of course, in which integrity and sincerity of heart has been recuperated. But the work of a regenerate man is good only according to its share of conformity to the law, and does not give all that is required to the Law of God, who is most holy and most perfect. Hence it does not, insofar as it possesses even the smallest degree of imperfection, satisfy God. For, then, a work to be satisfying to God and to conform to his own law and will, it must appear, as it were, before him--it must be led into his own light and view--cloaked in Christ's merit, which is apprehended by faith. Thus it is said in Rom. 14:23, "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." And similarly in Heb. 11:6, "without faith it is impossible to please him," which statement means not only that man's heart, by faith in Jesus Christ, is made clean and recovers some part of its sincerity and integrity, but also, in truth, that the imperfection of works proceeding from a heart only in part reborn are covered by that same faith. Therefore, faith accomplishes two things with regard to the good work of the regenerate man: first, it purifies the heart and fount of that good work (Acts 15:9); and second, it covers, as it were, the defects of that work which proceeds from a heart only partially reborn. The work of the man without faith, moreover, suffers a twofold loss: first, without faith there is clearly no beginning of regeneration, from whence that work should proceed; and second, without faith there is no veil for the impurity under which that work labors."The doctrine of justification of works, unlike that of justification by works, stands to provide sinners of sensitive conscience with much relief. It encourages us to broaden our appreciation for what Christ accomplishes for us; he has not merely justified our persons by his perfect obedience, he has also justified our efforts to conform our lives to God's law and Christ's perfect example. It also encourages us to make greater efforts at good works, confident that our works, however imperfect, are most perfect in God's estimation. It encourages us, in other words, to act in faith, not apart from it, but still to act -- contra the perennial claim that Protestant teaching on justification encourages indifference towards good works. Rollock develops the theme of the justification of believers' good works more fully in his treatise on the subject. That treatise, along with several other previously untranslated writings of Rollock, is now available in English translation in a short volume titled Some Questions and Answers about God's Covenant and the Sacrament That Is a Seal of God's Covenant: With Related Texts, published last month by Wipf and Stock's Pickwick Publications imprint. The principal work included in this volume is the titular catechism, which Rollock published in Latin in 1596. In addition to the treatise on good works noted above, the volume also includes treatises on the divine covenants and the sacraments which were likewise included in Rollock's Romans commentary. All the writings included in the volume make significant use of the doctrine of the covenant of works. That, indeed, was the logic of their inclusion. I've translated the texts myself, and have included an introductory essay which intends to shed new light on Rollock's role in the development of Reformed covenant theology. But, as hopefully indicated above, the treatises on good works and on the sacraments in particular are theologically interesting beyond the use they make of the doctrine of the covenant of works. The book is available from Amazon in hard copy or as an e-book, or directly from Wipf and Stock itself at a slightly reduced price. I dedicated the work to my dog Oakley for reasons explained in the acknowledgments, and all proceeds from the book will be devoted to his ongoing maintenance. So please, for his sake, consider purchasing a copy.
At the outset, I want to be clear that I stand firmly against those who teach that legal repentance and reformation is necessary in order for someone to come to Jesus--as if one needed to clean himself or herself up to make oneself acceptable to Christ. However, what Manning taught (from a disputed passage of Scripture, I would add) is not in keeping with the details of the text or the general manner of Christ's saving work in the lives of sinners. After telling the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you," Jesus says to her, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). Having forgiven this woman of disrepute, Jesus called her to live out a godly life in keeping with the redemption that she had experienced by His grace."I don't think that anyone reading this would have approved of throwing rocks at the poor woman in adultery, but we would have made darn sure she presented a detailed act of contrition and was firm in her purpose of amendment. Because if we let her off without saying she was sorry, wouldn't she be back in adultery before sunset?" (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 173).
Erasmus's defense of human free will -- his defense, that is, of man's innate ability to cooperate with God in his own salvation -- employed a well-worn Pelagian argument. The humanist scholar argued that biblical commandments imply an ability on (sinful) man's part to actually fulfill said commandments. So, for instance, appealing to Gen. 30:19 ("I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live"), Erasmus commented: "What could be put more plainly? God shows what is good, [and] what is evil, shows the different rewards of life and death, [and] leaves man free to choose. It would be ridiculous to say, 'Choose,' if the power of turning one way or the other were not present, as though one should say to a man standing at a crossroad: 'You see these two roads, take which you like' ... when only one was open to him!"
To be sure, Erasmus's argument has a certain logic to it. One would hardly excuse me as a parent if I ordered my three year old daughter Geneva to change the oil in the family car and then punished her when she failed to fulfill the required task(s). Commandments to fulfill impossible tasks, and subsequent consequences for failure to deliver, do seem cruel. Surely, then, God would not order man to "choose life" if such a choice genuinely lay beyond man's ability.
Luther's response in his 1525 Bondage of the Will takes cognizance of how high Scripture actually sets the bar for man's moral conduct ("You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect," Matt. 5.48) as well as rather clear biblical statements that reflect man's spiritual depravity and (hence) inability to clear that bar ("Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin," John 8.34). The Reformer's response also, however, employs a very careful explanation for why God apparently commands sinful man to do things that sinful man has no ability to do.
That explanation begins with recognition that one critical component of natural man's perverse disposition and enslavement to sin is natural man's deluded perception of his own freedom and, if not moral achievements, at least ability to produce such achievements should he put his mind and energies to the task. "Man," Luther notes, "is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, and dead, but in addition to his other miseries is afflicted, through the agency of Satan his prince, with this misery of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, able, well, and alive. [...] Accordingly, it is Satan's work to prevent men from recognizing their plight and to keep them presuming that they can do everything they are told."
In Luther's estimation man suffers from a spiritual version of Uncle Rico Syndrome. Uncle Rico, a character in the 2004 film Napoleon Dynamite, is a man utterly convinced of both his past and present abilities on the football field. In one memorable speech delivered in the film, Uncle Rico affirms his ability in earlier days to "throw a pigskin a quarter mile." After subsequently demonstrating his skills by hurling an overcooked steak at his bike-riding nephew Napoleon's head, Uncle Rico looks wistfully at the mountain range several miles distant and asks: "How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?"
Rico is seriously deluded about his own abilities. But how might one best go about disabusing Rico of his delusion? One could, of course, reason with him about the actual distance of those mountains, the average distance that even professional quarterbacks can throw a ball, etc. A much quicker solution, however, would be to simply hand Rico a football and issue him a command: "Do it."
This, according to Luther, is essentially how God deals with natural man's delusion regarding his freedom and abilities in Scripture. Faced with sinful man's persuasion that he can, at any time he chooses, perform the works necessary to merit eternal life, God essentially tells man: "Do it." Luther explains: "Human nature is so blind that it does not know its own powers, or rather diseases, and so proud as to imagine that it knows and can do everything; and for this pride and blindness God has no readier remedy than the propounding of his law." God's command to "choose life," then, implies no ability to do so. "By this and similar expressions man is warned of his impotence, which in his ignorance and pride, without these divine warnings, he would neither acknowledge nor be aware of."
Thus Luther undermines Erasmus's claim that commandments are somehow cruel if issued to persons incapable of fulfilling them. A commandment to Geneva to change the oil in the car, for instance, assumes a different character when one knows my daughter, a three year old possessed of more than her share of self-confidence. Geneva's favorite words at present are "I can do it myself." I have more than once in the last several weeks invited Geneva to do exactly what she claims herself capable of purely in the interest of disabusing her of her inflated confidence and guiding her towards the humble art of asking for (daddy's) help. I've not, to be sure, asked her to change the oil in the car. But on the off chance she tells me tomorrow that she's capable of doing so, I may very well invite her to do so, simply to rein in her perspective on her own innate abilities.
Similarly, divine commandments that are not actually matched by (fallen) man's ability reflect no cruelty on God's part. They are, rather, instances of divine kindness. It would be cruel for God to leave man in his state of delusion regarding his own freedom and abilities. It is kindness to lead man experientially to a knowledge of his inability and (hence) dire state, and so ultimately to lead man to seek salvation not in himself but in the work of Christ on his behalf. In Luther's words: "The work of Moses or a lawgiver is ... to make man's plight plain to him by means of the law and thus to break and confound him by self-knowledge, so as to prepare him for grace and send him to Christ that he may be saved." We're all born with spiritual Uncle Rico syndrome, and to varying degrees we suffer from it until the day we die. One function of God's law is to (kindly) disabuse us of our confidence in our ability to throw moral footballs over metaphorical mountains, and so to lead us to place our confidence and hope wholly in him who not only could but did meet God's standard of perfection, and that in our stead.
1.The cloud is free onlyto go with the wind.The rain is freeonly in falling.The water is free onlyin its gathering together,in its downward courses,in its rising into the air.2.In law is restif you love the law,if you enter, singing, into itas water in its descent.3.Or song is truest law,and you must enter singing;it has no other entrance.It is the great chorusof parts. The only outlawryis in division.4.Whatever is singingis found, awaiting the returnof whatever is lost.5.Meet us in the airover the water,sing the swallows.Meet me, meet me,the redbird sings,here here here here.
The law revives the soul.The law makes wise the mind.The law rejoices the heart.The law enlightens the eyes.
The law is more desirable than gold.The law is sweeter than honey.
God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on himself. He himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ.... More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet he has thought upon the children of men, he has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to himself again. Namely, the second Person in trinity takes man's nature upon him, and becomes the head of a second covenant, standing charged with man's sin, and to answer for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and for making satisfaction, and keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness he tenders up to the Father as a sweet savour of rest for the souls that are given to him. And now, this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this unto sinners for atonement for them, requiring them to believe in him, and upon believing promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of sons, that they shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and that they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, that the souls and bodies shall be raised to the height of glory that such creatures are capable of, that they shall live for ever enjoying the presence of God and Christ, in the fullness of all good.
It is not particularly surprising but it is disappointing.
Furthermore, it is dangerous. It is in some respects the typical
kneejerk reaction to current events (by which I mean events over the
last few months, even years, rather than merely weeks), and the typical
danger that you can never be entirely sure in which direction the knee
will jerk and the foot will strike. It is the continued assault on freedom in the name of freedom.
In the last week or so school inspectors in the UK gave an unseemly grilling to primary school pupils at Grindon Hall Christian School, where the impression was clearly given (even if not intended) of a real hostility - in the name of promoting "British values" - to the school's distinctive Christian ethos.
Quite apart from the inappropriateness and intrusiveness of some of the questions asked by almost-complete strangers to young children (questions which, in any other context, might have been taken in an altogether distasteful way), it rather opened a window into the attitudes of some of those who are appointed guardians of freedom.
But time marches on, and new challenges are already arising. The government is now rapidly pushing forward legislation that will preserve our "British values" and combat anti-extremism. Among the consequences of this legislation would be the opportunity - even the requirement - for university authorities to vet the addresses and materials of visiting speakers. That is the context in which I first saw the warning given, but the consultation document is pushing it across the public sector at the very least, with a variety of services and spheres impacted. Effectively, a proactive and preventative demand for censorship would be imposed in a variety of key public settings and environments.
I am sure that the opportunities for those who believe that "British values" demand, or provide the opportunity to pursue, a sort of amorphous atheistic amorality will not be slow to use the weapon put in their hands. As so often, the latest two-edged Excalibur, offered as the key to defending freedom, may become the very means by which freedoms are curtailed.
Naturally, the government provides all manner of assurances about how such things are enforced. With regard to school inspections, for example, Department for Education guidance makes very clear that in advancing our ill-defined "British values" schools are not required to promote "other beliefs" or "alternative lifestyles." However, this seems to be precisely the point at which pressure was applied to the school in question not only corporately but individually and inappropriately with regard to particular students. We can expect that the same will happen with these new powers, should they come into law.
So, while our politicians line up with their pens and pencils aloft to trumpet their allegiance to free speech, they are simultaneously - and in the name of freedom - preparing to crack down on freedom of speech. It is, it seems, OK to be Charlie Hebdo (not personally, one understands, that would be a little dangerous, but it's fine for other people to be Charlie Hebdo), and be able to poke fun at the fundies of all stripes. That must be defended. But I suggest that it must be made clear that such swipes and skewerings are not the only expressions of freedom of speech.
Generally speaking, and despite media attempts to push us into the first of the following categories, true Christians are neither violent extremists (dogmatic conviction need not translate into militant physical aggression) nor extravagant satirists (willing and able to undermine and offend for the mere sake of it, and call it wit and art - never having read Charlie Hebdo, I cannot comment on whether or not or to what extent they fall into this category). The Christian's only real offense should be the offense of the cross, though the rugged edges and sharp points of that cross have a habit of puncturing pride and pomposity wherever it is found, and pride is of the essence of fallen man's sense of himself. The weapons of our spiritual warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. The armoury of God's kingdom bears little relation to those of the kingdoms of the world. However, those without spiritual discernment are quite prepared to lump true Christians in with the violent extremists and deny them any of the privileges of the extravagant satirists. Indeed, the very nature of our message indicates that the gospel will be among the first and most aggressively pursued targets of those who - in the name of freedom - wish to silence dissent.
Only a fool would deny the difficulty of ensuring genuine freedom of speech and expression while at the same time preserving a measure of social order and cultural decency. But the response to terrorism, even Islam's militarised religious supremacism, should not be to diminish all freedoms. That will not halt the terrorists, not least those driven by religionised hatred. In some respects, it will simply simplify their task.
But watch this space, for this is the brave new world. As mentioned in a previous post, to the humanist unbeliever who denies that he or she exists in their own tightly woven cocoon of a certain kind of 'faith', the Christian is just one of a range of dangerously nutty voices in the gallery of the fruitcakes. Indeed, the offense of the cross means that our gospel words will prove the pre-eminent spiritual red rag to the bulls of mere human reason and religion. But, if we are true to our convictions, we know that we echo the one voice of true reason, the single declaration of spiritual sanity, the alone hope of salvation, in an otherwise unstable and disordered world, wrecked by sin and riddled with its consequences. Unbelieving humanism is one among the range of rotten systematised alternatives to the truth as it is in Jesus. To whom else should we go? Christ has the words of eternal life.
We should expect that our freedom to make known the hope of the world will be deliberately (whether incrementally or more abruptly) assaulted and where possible eroded and removed by the very world that needs to hear it. The patients will assault the envoys of the only doctor with a cure for their condition. We must therefore ensure that our declarations and their accompanying actions are entirely consistent, that we bring with us everywhere the savour of Christ. As citizens of earthly kingdoms, we are entitled graciously yet firmly to assert our rights as citizens. But as citizens of heaven, we do not expect to find the warmest of welcomes in a hostile world. So let us brace ourselves against the storm, hold fast to the Christ who holds fast to us, speak the truth in love, call sinners to repent and believe, love our enemies, serve our Redeemer, and press on toward glory.
The flood waters having receded, and Noah and family having disembarked from the ark, it was back to business as usual on earth in a number of discernable ways.
Thus we see, firstly, the restitution of the creation ordinance of marriage (Gen. 9.1), and, at least by Calvin's reckoning, a rather remarkable population boom in the first few centuries of post-flood human history. Noah's family was directed to "recover the lawful use of marriage," and so to rest assured that "the care of producing offspring" remained "pleasing to [God]." Accordingly, they returned to the pattern of marrying and procreating that characterized their pre-flood days; indeed, they did so with notable success, producing "within one hundred and fifty years" an "astonishing increase" of offspring, which "doubtless" resulted in "unbounded joy" for Noah, for it spoke clearly of "divine favor towards him."
We see, secondly, a return to work. "Noah, ...though now an old man, returned to the culture of the fields, and to his former labors." The resumption of his farming career must have felt rather anti-climactic to Noah, given the nature of his recent adventures. But work (along with rest/worship) is part of the normal pattern which God established for man even before the fall (Gen. 2.15). Calvin concedes that Noah may have added 'viticulturist' to his job description for the first time following the flood ("it is... uncertain whether he had been a vine-dresser or not") but he is not willing, being after all a good Frenchman, to concede that viticulture as such was strictly a post-flood pursuit. "It does not appear to me probable that the fruit of the vine, which excels all others, should have remained neglected and unprofitable [before the flood]."
We see, thirdly, a return to eating and drinking, a return to the enjoyment of the fruits of human work. Calvin refuses to see the permission to eat animals in Gen. 9.3 as something unique to the post-flood setting: "God here does not bestow upon men more than he had previously given." Men were, in other words, "permitted" from the very first "to kill wild beasts" for the very specific purposes of making "garments and tents" and padding their diet with protein. However, no license was given, before or after the flood, for superfluous shedding of "the innocent blood of cattle." As already indicated, Calvin believes God's "most precious gift" of wine was likewise entrusted to men from the very beginning, and so merely re-entrusted to men following the flood. Both gifts of God -- food and drink -- are, of course, susceptible to "shameful abuse." Neither gift should be despised on that or any other grounds.
We see, finally, a return to man doing what (fallen) man does, and God responding as God does. We see, in other words, man sinning (and sometimes, by God's grace, repenting), and God responding to man's sin in judgment, mercy, and promise. The flood was, of course, no ultimate resolution of sin. God's own post-flood observation that "every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood" (Gen. 8.21) quickly proves concretely true in a series of incidents. Noah, first of all, engages in the "filthy and detestable crime [of] drunkenness" and prostrates himself "naked on the ground, so as to become a laughing-stock to all." Then Ham, who "must have been of a wicked, perverse, and crooked disposition, ... not only took pleasure in his father's shame, but wished to expose him to his brethren." Calvin supposes a deeper motive than simple scorn to Ham's mockery of his father: "It is probable that he thus perversely insulted his father, for the purpose of acquiring for himself the license of sinning with impunity. We see many such at this day, who most studiously pry into the faults of holy and pious men, in order that without shame they may precipitate themselves into all iniquity."
In the face of such (continuing) human sin, God remains God, and responds as God responds. Indeed, God responds to human sin even before man perpetuates any (recorded) concrete sinful acts after the flood. He responds with his covenant -- that is, his promise not to destroy the earth with flood-waters again, even though man's sin be great. God's word of promise serves, Calvin notes, as a "thousand bolts and bars" restraining the waters of his wrath, "lest they should break forth to destroy us." For man's greater confidence in God's mercy, God assigns a "new office" to "the celestial arch which had before existed naturally;" the rainbow henceforth serves as a "sign and pledge" of God's promise to restrain his own anger at human impiety.
In more immediate response to the instances of sin just noted, God responds in judgment and promise. Judgment is leveled against Canaan and the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, for Ham's actions. Calvin restrains us from overmuch speculation about why Canaan bears the brunt of cursing for Ham's sin. God is never, he notes, "angry with the innocent, because even they themselves are found in fault." Beyond that we must "remember that the judgments of God are not in vain called 'a great deep,' and that it would be a degrading thing for God, before whose tribunal we all must one day stand, to be subjected to our judgment." And so "let every one of us, conscious of his own infirmity, learn rather to ascribe praise to God's justice, than plunge, with insane audacity, into the profound abyss."
Of course, more remarkable than God's sentence of condemnation, whatever its own peculiarities, is God's promise -- directly in the face of man's sin -- of a hope and salvation far greater than that which Noah and his family had recently enjoyed. In this post-flood setting where God is obviously keen to re-establish so much of what pertained to the original creation, he is most eager to repeat the promise of the Seed of the Woman who would one day come to reverse the consequences of that sin which wreaked such havoc on the original creation (Gen. 3:15).
That Seed and his saving work bear proleptic fruit, of course, in the free pardon granted Noah for his drunken escapade (a pardon which can be deduced, Calvin argues, from Noah's faith and the prophetic role granted Noah immediately after his recovery in Gen. 9.25). The concrete repetition of the promise as such occurs in Gen. 9.26-27, where Shem and Japheth are blessed. The blessing of Shem anticipates the eventual blessing of Abraham, through whom the Seed would come, and in whom all nations would themselves be blessed (Gen. 12). The blessing of Japheth points, in Calvin's judgment, to the gathering of "the Gentiles and the Jews... together in one faith," the joining together of "scattered sheep to join his flock" in the singular "covenant of life." "It is truly no common support of our faith," Calvin observes, "that the calling of the Gentiles is not only decreed in the eternal counsel of God, but is openly declared by the mouth of the Patriarch; lest we should think it to have happened suddenly, or by chance, that the inheritance of eternal life was offered generally to all."
It was, then, truly business as usual after the flood, for both good and ill. Sinful man returned to his ways of marrying and making babies, eating and drinking, working and (for some) worshiping, and, of course, sinning. God remained God, and so returned to the business of pursuing sinners with his "paternal love," sustaining them by the word of his promise in the hope of eternal life with him.Aaron Clay Denlinger is professor of church history and historical theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida.
My judgment is, that men go the wrong way to teach their children to pray, in going about so soon to teach them any set company of words, as is the common use of poor creatures to do.When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, I assure them that the Lord delights to hear such prayers from the hearts of truly convinced sinners, and is ready to forgive those who come to him through Christ Jesus. I assure them that age is no bar to salvation, and that the Lord Christ welcomed people of all sorts and ages. If they have come to him in repentance and faith, then he will forgive them, and he will help them to live in accordance with it. I explain the difference that salvation makes, and what I would expect to see in the heart of a Christian boy or girl, a love for God, his word, his people, his holiness, that is in keeping with their circumstances and relative maturity. If and when I see those things developing in the heart and life of my child, I rejoice in hope. At the same time, I recognise that - because of the very nature of a child - there may be a measure of willingness to please Dad and Mum, and that they are in an environment in which they are largely defended against and protected from some particular outward pressures and temptations. And so I seek to train them and equip them, trusting that I will in due course see the measure of tried and tested spiritual understanding, maturity and development that gives me and them confidence that a true work of the Spirit has taken place. As and when that comes to an appropriate and demonstrable fruition - a credible profession of faith, which, for me, necessitates a measure of mental and emotional development and maturity - I hope to see them baptized (and, as every honest Greek scholar will inform you, which doubtless includes my erudite chum, Mark, that means immersion) as a testimony of their having been united to Christ by faith, identifying with him in his death and resurrection.
For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God's wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes' eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God's promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.
Ah! Poor sweet babes, the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy Christians. Saith David, "Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Psa 34:11). He doth not say, I will muzzle you up in a form of prayer; but "I will teach you the fear of the Lord"; which is, to see their sad states by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, which doth through the Spirit beget prayer in every one that in truth learns it. And the more you teach them this, the more will their hearts run out to God in prayer. God never did account Paul a praying man, until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it be with any else (Acts 9:11). (John Bunyan, A Discourse Touching Prayer, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 635.)
Why should not the right answer be given, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved'? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God's gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God's express commandment (1Jn 3:23) to believe on Christ's name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ's ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving. (27-28)But we must also answer the question, "What does it look like to be saved?" And there we must answer, "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1Pt 1:13-16).
The gospel of Christ in general is this; It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ. More largely it is this: As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again. Namely, the second Person in the Trinity takes man's nature upon Himself, and becomes the head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction for keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness he tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him. And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and that they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.Gospel Conversation, 3-4.