Archive | Theology/Bible

Marrying Creed and Conduct

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” -2 Timothy 3:16 

To say that scripture is “profitable” has nothing to do with money. It simply means that scripture is useful, beneficial, or advantageous toward a certain end. In this case, Paul says that scripture is beneficial for four things: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. John Stott suggests that these four are divided into two groups: creed and conduct.

Paul now goes on to show that the profit of Scripture relates to both creed and conduct (16b, 17). The false teachers divorced them; we must marry them. The NEB expresses the matter clearly. As for our creed, Scripture is profitable ‘for teaching the truth and refuting error’. As for our conduct, it is profitable ‘for reformation of manners and discipline in right living’. In each pair the negative and positive counterparts are combined. Do we hope, either in our own lives or in our teaching ministry, to overcome error and grow in truth, to overcome evil and grow in holiness? Then it is to Scripture that we must primarily turn, for Scripture is ‘profitable’ for these things.

John Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy, p. 103

Yes, marry them indeed. Every day. Every moment.

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Herman Bavinck on the Covenant of Redemption

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, III:214-15:

This doctrine of the pact of salvation… is rooted in a scriptural idea. For as Mediator, the Son is subordinate to the Father, calls him God…, is his servant… who has been assigned a task… and who receives a reward… for the obedience accomplished… Still, this relation between Father and Son, though most clearly manifest during Christ’s sojourn on earth, was not first initiated at the time of the incarnation, for the incarnation itself is already included in the execution of the work assigned to this the Son, but occurs in eternity and therefore also existed already during the time of the Old Testament… Scripture also clearly… sees Christ functioning officially already in the days of the Old Testament… The pact of salvation makes known to us the relationships and life of the three persons in the Divine Being as a covenantal life, a life of consummate self-consciousness and freedom… Continue Reading →

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My Take-Away’s from the Trinity Debate

Over the last two months, you might have noticed that there was quite a bit of online debate concerning the Trinity. These conversations are far from over, but the initial online surge does seem to have subsided at this point. For that reason, I have wanted to share some of my reflections on what has transpired. This isn’t all that can or should be said on the topic, and perhaps some readers may think it too much. So at the risk of saying both too little and too much, here are eight take-away’s from the recent Trinity debate.

1. On Nicaea: Before this debate started, I would have identified myself as a standard fourth century Nicene Trinitarian. I haven’t moved from that identification but own it all the more fervently (and with greater clarity) as a result of what has unfolded over the last two months. I believe in eternal generation, a single divine will, inseparable operations, and the whole Nicene package. I have probably done more reading on Nicene Trinitarianism in the last two months than I have ever done previously. It has been good for me, and I am thankful to God for it. There are certain elements of this controversy that have been quite unpleasant, but I wouldn’t trade the growth that’s come from it for anything in the world. Continue Reading →

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How to pray for God’s favor

This morning, I’ve been pondering and praying the words of Moses in Exodus 33:13:

“If I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight.” -Exodus 33:13

Notice three crucial things about this prayer, each of which illuminate how we ought to pray as well.

1. The Basis: Even though the sentence begins with “If I have found favor,” God’s favor toward Moses is not in question. We know that because God has already told Moses that his favor rests on him (v. 12), and God will tell him again “you have found favor in my sight” (v. 17). God’s gracious disposition toward Moses is not in question, and so the basis for Moses’ request is God’s free grace.

2. The Request: Moses asks to know God’s “ways.” God’s “ways” refer to God’s behavior and manner of conduct. It is God’s behavior and action revealed in history. Moses has been witness to God’s “ways” in this sense, and now he’s asking to know more of God’s ways. Why? Because knowing God’s ways equals knowing God. “Let me know Your ways that I may know You.” God’s works do not deceive us. They speak truthfully about who God really is. Moses wants to know more of God’s ways because Moses wants to know God.

3. The Purpose: Moses says the purpose of the prayer is to “find favor” with God. This is profound. Moses has already cited God’s gracious favor as the basis for his prayer. Now he’s citing it as the goal of his prayer as well. The logic goes like this. Grace leads to knowing God’s ways. Knowing God’s ways leads to knowing God. Knowing God leads to more grace. The entire enterprise is framed by grace.

What does all of this mean? What would it mean for us to pray a similar prayer? It means that we approach God on the basis of his gracious favor toward us. His drawing near to us precedes and grounds our drawing near to him (John 6:65; 1 John 4:19). 

Also, it means that when we seek to know God’s “ways,” we are seeking to know how God has revealed himself in history. That revelation is contained for us in scripture. To know God’s ways in scripture is to know God as he truly is. Scripture never lies to us on this account. On the contrary, it gives us everything we need for life and godlines (2 Peter 1:3). 

Finally, it means that God’s revelation is a means of grace for us. The purpose of seeing God is to experience his favor. His favor is both the basis and the goal of such prayer. And knowing God is the essence of experiencing God’s favor. 

Jesus said it this way, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). We pray from God’s favor  for God’s favor, and we can do this because of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners. “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

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Jonathan Edwards on the “Head of the Trinity”

Last week, I noted Scott Swain’s chapter about the Son’s willing submission to the Father within the covenant of redemption. I’ve been doing some further reading on this, and it turns out that intratrinitarian relations with respect to the pactum have been a perennial discussion among reformed divines.

For example, Jonathan Edwards has a fascinating essay in his “Miscellanies” about “The Economy of the Trinity and Covenant of Redemption.” The entire thing is about 6,300 words, but it is worth the effort to read it if you have the time.

Edwards argues that the Father is the “head of the Trinity.” He never cites 1 Corinthians 11:3 explicitly, but I assume that is the source for his “headship” language. In any case, Edwards contends that the Father’s headship within the Trinity is prior to the pactum. The Father’s headship in no way implies an inferiority of nature in the Son or Spirit. Rather, the Father’s headship is a part of the economy of relations within the Trinity in eternity past prior to the pactum. In Edwards’s own words: Continue Reading →

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The Son’s willing submission to the Father in the pactum salutis

Last month, I commended to you Michael Allen and Scott Swain’s article titled “The Obedience of the Eternal Son.” That essay was so helpful that I was eager to get my hands on their new book Christian Dogmatics (Baker, 2016) which came out earlier this year.

In this book, Swain has a really helpful chapter on the Trinity which is immediately followed by a chapter on the pactum salutis (a.k.a., the covenant of redemption). This is an edited work with multiple authors. But thankfully, Swain wrote both of these chapters, and they should be read together.

Among other things, Swain notes that the pactum salutis has been a fixture in reformed theology since the seventeenth century, and it refers to a pact or a covenant that the Father enters into with the pre-incarnate Son. The pactum refers to the Father’s “eternal appointment of the Son of God, by way of covenant, to become the incarnate redeemer and head of his adopted siblings” (p. 109). Continue Reading →

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Ware, Grudem, Sanders, Erickson, Giles to come together to talk about the Trinity

A draft of the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society has been released. As many of you know, the theme of this year’s conference is “The Trinity,” which is such a smiling providence given the heat of current controversy. I won’t summarize the whole program here, but I will say that it looks really good. Among the highlights, there will be a parallel session featuring Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Millard Erickson, and Kevin Giles:

  • Millard J. Erickson, “Language, Logic, and Trinity: An Analysis of Recent Subordination Arguments”
  • Bruce A Ware, “The Nature of the Priority of the Father within the Trinity: Biblical Basis and Importance”
  • Wayne Grudem, “Why a Denial of the Son’s Eternal Submission Threatens both the Trinity and the Bible”
  • Kevin Giles, “The Book, One God in Three Persons, a Critical Review”

The Plenary addresses will feature:

  • Fred Sanders, “Evangelical Trinitarianism and the Unity of the Theological Disciplines”
  • Gerald R. McDermott, “How the Trinity Should Govern Our Approach to World Religions”
  • Scott R. Swain, “The Bible and the Trinity in Recent Thought: Review, Analysis, and Constructive Proposal”

There will also be presentations on the Trinity by Kevin Vanhoozer, Richard Lints, Stephen Dempster among others. As I said, this is apparently a draft of the program, and it is not yet final. But it looks to be a pretty interesting meeting in San Antonio this November.

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