Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mediate, Mediate, Mediate - If you say it fast, it sounds funny, right?

This is my paper on Calvin's view of Christ as Mediator for all time. What I am basically disagreeing with is that he says that the Old Testament fathers and godly KNEW Christ as Mediator. It is long, but hopefully not boring. And it goes to show that I don't agree with EVERYTHING that Calvin says. So there. And here we go...

If man is unable in any capacity of his own to come to the Heavenly Father by his own work and own righteousness, then there must be a Mediator between man and the Heavenly Father who has perfected, imputed and imparted righteousness. The view of God the Father that Calvin has presented in the Institutes of Christian Religion is a view that holds to a completely holy, completely other Deity. Man is incapable of even coming to a true knowledge of God unless He somehow acts in their lives to reveal Himself to them. God cannot and will not have anything to do with sin – He abhors and rejects it. In order then for a fallen world that is tainted and covered with sin to have a relationship with this holy, other God, He has to provide a way for a different covering; a holy, righteous covering that will not be tainted by sin. This covering has come through the life, death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus. His perfect, stainless righteousness now covers all who believe and trust in Him through faith. Jesus’ act came at a specific time in human history. God, who is outside of time, came into our time and as the Word of God tells us, at the “fullness of time… God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” This news is beyond anything we, who are in time after Christ, can imagine or believe to be possible; however, it does leave a question for what has happened to God’s chosen people, the faithful of the Old Testament, who were before the time of this redemptive act. If one is only able to be reckoned righteous under the righteousness of Jesus, then how are these who lived before Christ able to come to their Heavenly Father? Calvin answers this in several ways throughout 2.6-2.10 – that they had faith not in the acts of the Law, but in the future hope of a Redeemer, that God chose them and communicated completely with them, and that they knew Christ as Mediator. It is the third of Calvin’s assertions that I will hope to show has overstepped boundaries of interpretation and translation.

In the summary of his points on the law, Calvin writes, “There are two remaining points: that the Old Testament fathers (1) had Christ as pledge of their covenant, and (2) put in him all trust of future blessedness.” By the end of this four-chapter discussion, Calvin puts these last two points in to tie together all that he is holding to in concern with the salvation of the Old Testament fathers. It is interesting that Calvin has used the description of a pledge for Christ here, since up to this point, his words have been mingled with the idea of future hope and present knowledge and use of the word Mediator, not pledge. Calvin’s view of the law and interaction with God for the Old Testament fathers has quite a pendulum swing throughout these four chapters. By the end, he is more amiable towards the law as it points to Christ and sees the patriarchs as having “a real participation in God.” However, as Calvin begins to look at the law, he sees it through the lens of Paul, someone who is known for seeing the law as a curse, bringing with it the knowledge of sin. He states that, “In the precepts of the law, God is but the rewarder of perfect righteousness, which all of us lack, and conversely, the severe judge of evil deeds.” To even imagine that the offerings and sacrifices that the law required was a way for redemption to happen was laughable to Calvin. He writes, “In short, the whole cultus of the law, taken literally and not as shadows and figures corresponding to the truth, will be utterly ridiculous.”

The shortcomings of the law are seen because of the New Testament and the better work of Christ. However, I do not agree that this view of the law can be forced upon the Old Testament fathers and their own view of the law. While it may seem ridiculous to take the law as literal, the whole of Israel took the law very literally, and in that literalness it brought about a love for the law. This is why the writer of Psalm 119 can say that those “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD” are considered blessed. The sacrifices and offerings that the LORD provided to the people of Israel, as a way for redemption, was a delight to them. When the people of Israel returned from captivity, Ezra opened up the law of Moses to them and read from it for days. Their response was one of weeping, worship, and of thankfulness that despite their turning away from the law, the Lord is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Yet, at the same time the law was not only about an action of sacrifice and offering. At the end of the second giving of the law, Moses says, “For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statues that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” There is something in the law that will point the men and women of Israel to love God the Father with more than just mere actions, but with their entire being – heart, soul and mind. The psalmist expresses this when he says, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The law did not give the Old Testament fathers free reign to continue sinning, much as the Gospel of Christ does not give us this freedom either. Offerings made without a repentant heart are worthless; likewise our worship and offerings today are worthless if we are not repentant of the sin that is constantly in our lives.

Thus, when Calvin writes, “For what is more vain or absurd than for men to offer a loathsome stench from the fat of cattle in order to reconcile themselves to God? Or to have recourse to the sprinkling of water and blood to cleanse away their filth?” , I think that Calvin has grossly exaggerated the point. Do not we as Christians rely upon the spilling of the perfect blood of Christ now? I cannot imagine that the bruised, bloodied, stricken, smitten body of Christ smelled particularly aromatic while it hung on the cross for hours. In fact, our Savior had even partaken of a last meal hours before this torture that had to be moving through his intestinal system at some part during this time. Sweaty, bloody, beaten – and we believe that this will reconcile us to God? Yes, a resounding yes – because it would not be absurd to believe this, because this is how God has chosen to redeem His people. The law is the same. While it may sound ridiculous to slay animals, sprinkle blood and to find one perfect lamb among thousands every day and year, this is how God chose to reveal His redemption to His people.

In agreement with Calvin, it was not the acts of following the law that brought redemption, but the faith for the future, better Redeemer that was promised to them. Calvin, however, takes this future hope one step further and states that the Old Testament fathers “had and knew Christ as Mediator.” It is because they trusted “in their Mediator, they may freely dare to come forth into God’s presence.” I agree fully with this statement that the Old Testament fathers understood that drawing into the presence of God required a mediator, but I do not think that they held this view to be Christ, at least not the Christ that is revealed to us in the New Testament. When the people of Israel were at Mount Sinai, they feared the LORD and relied on Moses to intercede and mediate for them. The law provided that priests should mediate and make the offerings for the people after they consecrated and purified themselves. All of this was done so that the LORD could dwell in the midst of His people; “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.” The mediation by the priests was not something that was taken lightly. Somehow by offering an unauthorized fire to God, the priests, Nadab and Abihu, died before God because they were not permitted to offer this fire either because of lack of purity or incorrect timing. The priests took great care to enter into the presence of God. Flippancy, complacency and disrespect were not allowed in this setting. To offer anything before God took not just blood of an animal, but one’s whole heart bent towards God, one’s whole mind concentrated solely on God, one’s whole soul repenting from the sin it contains and turning to God.

Calvin would argue though that this system still required knowledge of Christ as Mediator. He supports this by saying that the godly of the Old Testament knew of Christ as can be seen through their prayers and writings. He states that,
“Hannah, the mother of Samuel, describing the happiness of the godly, already says in her song: ‘God will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his Messiah’ [1 Samuel 2:10]. By these words she means that God will bless his church. To this corresponds the prophecy that is added a little later: ‘The priest whom I shall raise up… will walk in the presence of my Christ’ [1 Samuel 2:35].”
This is an interesting translation that Calvin is giving to these verses. The ESV reads verse 10 as “he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.” In verse 35 the ESV reads, “he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.” , The Hebrew word, Messiah, has been translated as “anointed one” here instead. It holds the force of anointed as the “king of Israel, Saul, David and his descendents.” What is interesting is that Calvin, with his translation of Christ, is pointing ahead to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, not to any sort of earthly king for Israel, like David. Calvin has interpreted this passage through the lens of the New Testament in order to show that Hannah’s prophecy is not about a coming king for the present day Israel, but rather she was looking ahead, as all godly people of the Old Testament did, for a Mediator Redeemer that was promised.

Calvin’s translation is poor, but it is his interpretation and hermeneutic that forces this translation. He does not seek to know the original intent of the author of the book of 1 Samuel. He forgets about the context of the books of Samuel as a whole and their focus on the Kingdom of David. He sees only that the promise has come in our Savior Christ, and that this must be the same for all time. It is very hard to say that from these verses, Hannah had any knowledge of what Jesus would actually be and that in her present time as offerings and sacrifices were made, she knew that Jesus was mediating these for her.

It is not that we cannot say that Jesus was also mediating for the Old Testament fathers and godly by enacting his righteousness instead. It is that we cannot know that the people of Israel in the Old Testament knew Christ as Mediator. They had hope in the LORD and His steadfast love. They knew that the LORD God was their Redeemer and had hope for the LORD to redeem his people here on earth. However, from the reactions of the people of Israel when the Redeemer did come to this earth, one can see that they were not ones of expected anticipation. Peter said at Pentecost, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” The Old Testament fathers and godly people had faith in the future Redeemer, but when the fullness of time came, they did not know their Redeemer, their Mediator, their Christ.

Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), vol. I.

Koehler, Ludwig and Walter Baumgartner, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Brill, 2001), vol. I.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Apparently I'm NOT Generous in terms of Orthodoxy

For this Ethics class that I am taking down at Boston College, we must write a pretty hefty paper by the end of class in mid-December. Part of the work building up to this massive, looming paper that is hanging over my head along with a few more that are due for other classes in the next couple of weeks... back to the point, part of the work that we have to do to prepare writing this paper is to write a book review for one of the books that we are reading for said paper.

This class is entitled Ethics in an Ecumenical Perspective. For this paper, it is completely up to us on what we choose to write, as long as it has something to do with Ethics. Now, since this is not my only class, and since this is my first major encounter on a scholastic level with RCC scholars, I chose NOT to write a paper on Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and/or anything to do with that. I am enjoying my reading for class, preparation for discussion in said class, and constant bewilderment about casuistry; but I cannot say that I am prepared to write a paper on any of these things and have it make any sort of sense whatsoever in order to have a passing grade.

Instead, I decided to write on something that I have a little more familiarity with, and something I would actually enjoy learning more about. So, the paper I will be writing is on this whole emerging/emergent church/movement (yes, I do know there is a difference, but I choose to lump them all together, except for the RC, Johann Metz, that actually started the emergent church in the 1980s - he is different). I will be writing about them, what they believe, what their idea of ethics is or should be, and how that is affecting the rest of the followers of Jesus world. I must say, I am excited to write this paper. I am both excited, but also extremely nervous. The more that I read from these emerging men (and women? although I don't know of any women authors yet), the more confused and bewildered I end up becoming.

I usually begin reading these books and get excited about the ideas. I often think to myself, "Yes! We need to be doing more as Christians! Yes! Jesus went to the poor, the blind, the sick, the lost, the completely helpless! Man, we really need to be doing more with this! Sign me up!!!" Then, usually about 1/3 into the book, they begin to ask questions. Now, let me say this - I am NOT against asking questions. Please, let's ask questions. The only way that we can actually dialogue and move onward, upward, outward, whateverward is by asking questions and work on giving answers. But here is where I usually want to start throwing the books against the wall - they start asking questions and refuse to accept answers to the questions. And then, instead of saying that what Orthodoxy has given as answers and has tested and questioned and tested and questioned over and over, that these answers are good and by definition Orthodox, they decide that it's time for something new, because these are new times, new places, new situations, new knowledge (secret knowledge?), it's just NEW.

But will they say it's new? No, I doubt that. They will claim that it is something that has been said before. And in a way they are right. They are grasping at ideas from history, throughout history, and taking them for their own; then they change and twist those ideas to what they would like to say and claim it for themselves. To say the least, by this point, I get frustrated. Is this the point of the emerging movement? To frustrate? I think that some of them would say that THAT is exactly the point! They would whole heartedly like to frustrate you, but have that frustration be with the complacent little religious affiliation that you hold near and dear. This is not the frustration that I am experiencing. No, my frustration is with the authors, with their denial (or really lack of affirmation) of anything Absolute. It leaves me puzzled and questioning and not in a good way. If anything were to drive me to atheism, I am beginning to think that this movement could be it. And that, dear friends, is a frightening thought to me.

At the same time though, I'm getting a little sick of the bashing of each other on both sides. And I have tried VERY hard in this blog to not point my finger, make fun and belittle the opinions, thoughts and beliefs of these fellow followers of Jesus, because I do want to engage in this conversation, and there is no room for name-calling in this conversation - and it is there. It is rampant. And it hurts, offends, and has no part in what Jesus calls loving your neighbor or even your enemy.

I think then the only way that I can end this blog entry is with some ideas for both sides in how they should approach the next meeting. Since the ones in the past have gone so, well, um, let's just say that they haven't really gone at all.

1. Meet.

2. Emergent/ing leaders need to recognize that a refusal to answer serious questions does not look like they are constantly pondering or that the question is not one that even needs to be asked (because it does need to be asked, some people do find them serious enough to ask them, and that is the point), but that when they don't answer, this seems to affirm in the minds of the non-Emergent/ing a denial of these questions. And in turn, this means some more serious questions will be asked.

3. Non-Emergent/ing leaders need to take a step back from what they have always claimed to be truth and be willing to discuss WHY this is claimed, HOW this is claimed, and if indeed what is claimed as truth is truth for ALL time. I know that this part of it all EXCITES me. As someone who has been fed a TON of information and regurgitated it well and often for quizzes and tests, I get more excited when I read the Holy Scriptures and am able to articulate a particular truth from it because of what I read, not because of what a professor or author told me (not that those classes are bad, may it never be! Most of those classes have been my favorite classes and have taught me more than I can actually ever realize. But sometimes we need to reevaluate what we are doing and why. This is not a bad thing, even companies have to do this. And just because we stop and question does not mean that we do not come out with the same truth in the end, but we might come out with a better way of teaching?).

4. Meet again, because there will be a lot more questions after the first meeting, and continue this process.

The one thing that I can see happening from this, if done properly, is a better understanding of each other and oneself and maybe even a growth towards an understand of how to work together, despite differences. Another thing that I could see happening is that we discover that the differences are truly far too different, meaning that we are no longer even followers of the same Jesus. If that is the case, then at least clarity will be had and we can divide and learn how to coexist until whatever end comes, whenever and however that comes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

You May Ask Yourself, Where is That Large Automobile?

I am going to disclaim this blog that this will fall under the very recent times of Church History, as in the past few weeks, months and a years. But, I feel that this is appropriate, since it is something that I have been thinking through lately.

There is a particular Pastor, who lives in Texas, who has a perma-grin on his face and rather puffy hair, that has published a few books and made a tidy profit in this world that we call Religious Publishing. A couple of weeks ago, his latest book has come out about how to find wealth, health and a good life in these rough, poor economic times. I will say this, I have not read this book, nor any of his other writings. I saw a televised interview about this particular book, and I gathered from that interview and the book-flap what this book is about. So, please, take what I have to say with a grain of salt in that I am NOT the expert in this particular time of Church History; but also know that I do understand the basic gist of what he and others like him are saying.

Now, my question is should we expect that our time as Christians be filled with any sort of wealth, health, prosperity and/or general riches that accumulate in the world? If these books and their titles reflected that the best life that you can have starts now because Jesus is saving you from this world, the sin, the corruption, and the worldly riches, I might blog about something else. However, there is a misconception here that once you become a Christian, you can have some sort of better, worldly life. God is going to "bless" you with wealth, with a healthy body, with a basic desire to do better and better in this world.

Here is a list of just a few biblical passages of why I do not think that becoming a Christian means that we will have a better earthly life from the world's perspective:

John 15:18-25
Acts 7:54-60
Acts 14:19-23
2 Timothy 3:12
1 John 2:15-17

When we become a Christian, should we prepare ourselves to be blessed with earthly riches, wealth, healthy lives? Is that the peace and joy that God promises to us? I really don't think so. There is one story in history that I believe will shed some light on what a Christian should do to prepare. I once read this book by Noel Piper called Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. If you enjoy John Piper, then I assure you that you will LOVE Noel. This book is wonderfully beautiful in its storytelling, extremely humbling in its honesty by the author, and really a treasure as we discover more about faithful women throughout Church History.

One story from this book, which can also be found in several other books as well, is about Esther Ahn Kim. This Korean Christian woman spent six years in a Japanese prison during WWII. The amazing thing is that when she became a Christian, she did not start preparing for an abundance of wealth and health to come her way, but she began to prepare to become a martyr. Her mother and herself moved into tighter quarters to begin to prepare their bodies for the cramped space of the prison cells. They ate old, discarded food so that their bodies would become accustomed to eating the garbage that the prisoners were fed. They spent their time and energy memorizing whole portions of Scripture, great hymns of the faith, and other wonderful truths about their Savior.

So, when Esther Ahn Kim was imprisoned, she was prepared for this life. Her teeth fell out during this time. The guards thought it was fun to torture the prisoners by giving them old, mushy apples that were quite disgusting for a normal human to eat. But since she had prepared her stomach for this food, and since her teeth were already out - a mushy, old apple that had been discarded in the trash was all she could have eaten anyway! If the guards had really wanted to torture her, they should have given her fresh, hard fruit, but they didn't know! During her nights, she would often recite the Bible and sing hymns aloud to the other prisoners and the guards. While other prisoners were being driven mad by their own minds not knowing enough, she was able to express fully her faith and grow in this faith in the midst of persecution. I won't tell you all the rest, because I think that this whole story is really a wonderful thing to discover on one's own.

Here is my point though - we as American Christians will have a lot to answer for on the final day. We live in a place where religion can be freely expressed and conversed about, where one will not be arrested for expressing their beliefs. Sure, people will laugh, argue, and even slander you; but I really doubt one is going to be beaten for saying that they believe in Jesus. And if they are beaten, then maybe we should be thankful for the news coverage that story will get, because it will shed a light on Christianity that is not filled with sayings of hypocrisy.

Should we expect wealth? Should we expect health? Should we expect God to give us great riches of this world? I sure hope not. We should expect persecution. We should expect to be disliked. We should expect to one day face our Lord and Savior and to have Him say, "You answered the call, I sent you; well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

To the Holy Spirit

Something that I have always found delightfully challenging in my Christian journey is my theology of the Holy Spirit - some use the big term pneumatology here. I remember being challenged at Moody that I do not think through pneumatology enough in my life. I usually focus on other areas of theology - like Theology Proper (Study of God), Soteriology (Study of Salvation) and even Ecclesiology (Study of the Church). What is funny though is that the Spirit is working in all of these things, and I rarely pay enough attention to notice.

This week as I was reading Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, he spoke on faith, for quite some time - I believe something in the range of 150 pages would be accurate. Calvin gets into the nitty-gritty on what faith actually is and what the object of faith is (Belief in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, not just in God). He manages somehow near the end of this contemplation on faith to swing the focus to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in one's life and heart that one can have faith in the first place. So, if you are reading this today as a Christian, true follower of Christ, you have faith because the Holy Spirit worked in you to bring this about.

When I first became a Christian, there was a lot of doubt in my mind on several subjects. Questions like - is this really all true? What will really happen when I die? How can I truly know that I am saved? These plagued me for quite some time. Despite these questions though, my faith grew over the years. As I read more of the Word, my faith grew more assured. The questions that haunted me slowly faded away and I became more and more sure of the Truth in my life and in my faith.

Calvin writes in 3.2.36 and 37:

"The Spirit accordingly serves as a seal, to seal up in our hearts those very promises the certainty of which it has previously impressed upon our minds; and takes the place of a guarantee to confirm and establish them."

"Faith is tossed about by various doubts, so that the minds of the godly are rarely at peace - at least they do not always enjoy a peaceful state. But whatever siege engines may shake them, they either rise up out of the very gulf of temptations, or stand fast upon their watch. Indeed, this assurance alone nourishes and protects faith."

I am continually learning that the Holy Spirit's work in my life has always remained constant. From the time that faith was given to me, He has sealed it upon my heart. Throughout this time, I may have had my doubts and experienced temptations, but His seal has always remained the same! My faith grows because the Holy Spirit's assurance and seal is nourishing it and protecting it. Once again, Faith is ALL about God the Spirit! There is nothing that I can do in it - He imparts it, He protects it, He seals it, He nourishes it. If any part of myself were left to preserving it, I would have utterly failed years ago. Temptation would have overtaken me; doubt would have ceased me; death and destruction would be awaiting me. But Praise Be to the Holy Spirit, for He has protected me and sealed me, and death, doubt and temptation have no reign over me!