Friday, September 2, 2011

Just Sayin'

Here's another review of Dan Phillip's book, The World-Tilting Gospel. This one is by blogger Fred Butler. Looks like we had a similar take on the book.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Tilting Truth

A recently released book by Dan Phillips explores how the gospel turned the first-century world upside -down (Acts 17: 6) and how modern evangelicalism too often constructs barriers against its having the same effect today. The World-Tilting Gospel, published by Kregel Publications, is what Phillips refers to as a "whole-Bible" approach to the gospel, beginning not in John 3: 16 (as important as this verse is) but in Genesis 1: 1.

If you've ever visited Phillips' blog or the Pyromaniacs blog where he is one of the team-bloggers, then you probably already know he is an excellent wordsmith with a technical scribal talent that enables the reader to glide through his prose with remarkable facility. In The World-Tilting Gospel, he combines his considerable skill in the mechanics of the written word with a propensity for direct and unambiguous communication, tosses in the occasional proverb and the intermittent dash of wry humor, and sets forth his case for a whole-Bible, world-tilting worldview.

The book has more theology than you likely realize while you're reading it, even a few brief word-studies in Hebrew and Greek, and is instructive, doctrinal, evangelical, exhortative. It ministers to the curious seeker, the new convert, and the mature believer alike. It makes you a little uncomfortable. Sometimes a lot uncomfortable. Lots of the teaching comes straight at you but some of it has a little more nuance (he gets some predestination and unconditional election in there without being overt about it. He even makes a brief but compelling argument that regeneration precedes faith). It is a book that can be handed out as a tool for evangelism or taught chapter-by-chapter in a Bible Study group.

He starts with a definition of who man is and who God is. He exegetes from the first three chapters of Genesis with some insights from this text that you may not have considered before. He defines sin, and expounds on the doctrine of original sin. He sets forth a very complete Christology and detailed straightforward teaching on substitutionary atonement. He explains imputed forensic righteousness and salvation by grace alone through faith alone. He does these things in understandable language, and many readers probably won't realize how much doctrine and theology they're actually getting. He discusses sanctification, and deals effectively with three widespread errors in the Christian growth paradigm-- categories which he labels "Gutless Gracers" (easy-believism), "Crisis Upgraders"("carnal" vs. "spiritual" Christians) and "Muzzy Mysticism" (Inward rest/victorious walk). He provides one of the better definitions of the "flesh" I recall seeing, even in more formal works.

He talks about Gospel obedience, and exhorts the believer to "get on with" living and telling it. He doesn't attempt to finesse or sidestep on key doctrinal issues, and this will no doubt disturb the postmodern crowd. He takes a world-tilting approach to a world-tilting subject.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Out of Perspective

In the previous three posts I have discussed the issue of legalism in response to an article by Timothy Gombis in Christianity Today titled, "The Paul We Think We Know." Gombis endorses a New Perspectives view that seeks to minimize the pervasiveness of legalism in first-century Judaism and reinterpret Biblical passages that are clearly dealing with the issue of legalism.

Because of this effort to downplay the effect of the erroneous view that one could establish a works-based righteousness by works of the law, Gombis asserts, "First-century Judaism didn't have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem." Gombis holds that Jewish believers in Paul's day wanted to convert Gentiles professing faith in Christ to Judaism because they viewed Christianity as being inherently Jewish. Thus, Gombis refers to Romans 3: 20, which says,

"because by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight;for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (NASB)
This, says Gombis, is not to refute Jewish legalism, but refers to the fact that "God does not justify a person merely because he is ethnically Jewish." If this is his New Perspective on Romans 3: 20 then he needs a New New Perspective. Paul does often address the fact that the gospel is offered to both Jews and Gentiles, but in Romans 3: 20 he is making two points:

1) By the works of the law (Greek: ergown nomou) no flesh (sarch) will be justified, or declared righteous, before God;

2) through the law is the real knowledge (epignowsis) of sin.

The first point establishes that no human will be judged righteous because he earned his righteousness by keeping the law. It is a clear repudiation of legalism. The second point clarifies that, rather than having the achievement of a meritorious righteousness as its goal, the purpose of the law is to reveal to the sinner his sinful condition. This too refutes the legalistic notion that the purpose of the law is to earn a righteous standing. In Romans 3: 20 Paul emphasizes that the law does not justify and the law is not intended to justify, but rather to reveal sin. In Romans 3: 21-28 Paul explains that justification is a gift, by grace through faith, concluding in verse 28,

"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works ofthe Law." (NASB)
The idea that Paul is not making a carefully developed case against legalism, or the false notion of works-based righteousness, cannot be sustained by a close reading of the text. The apostle makes very clear in the first three chapters of Romans the manifold ways both Jews and Gentiles have transgressed the Law, concluding in Romans 3: 9-19 that all humanity is under sin, then begins in Romans 3:21 and following to explain that righteousness is not earned but is a gift through faith in Jesus Christ. Note the summary of his case in verses 23-24 of Romans 3 (NASB):

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;".
It is, no doubt, a direct doctrinal challenge for the legalists of Paul's day and also through the centuries since. We should be careful not to detract from Paul's clear teaching about the righteousness of Christ credited to the believer by grace through faith. In declaring the believer righteous, God did what the law could not do. That is the truth Paul preached.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What It Is

My previous two posts discuss legalism in the first century, both among the Pharisees and as a threat to the early church. I pointed out that it manifested itself in two forms: as an attempt to establish a works-based meritoriously achieved righteousness, and as a system of extrabiblical man-made rules and regulations which are used in addition to, in place of, or even in some cases, in contradiction to scriptural commands.

It may be helpful here to clarify what legalism is not. It is popular in some circles to respond to every exhortation to obey scriptural commandments with the misplaced accusation of legalism (sometimes the term "Pharisee" is even used). But legalism is not obedience to biblical standards of conduct. It is not moral behavior or holy living. These are requirements on the Christian, not as a means of earning salvation, but as a servant-heart response to the lorship of Christ. A new creation is expected to live like a new creation and a repentant sinner should behave like they are repentant. Obedience to God is not legalism and Christ said "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments."

Freedom from legalism is not an excuse to sin, as Paul makes emphatic and unambiguous:

"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" --Romans 6:15 (NASB)

The New Testament is filled with exhortations for obedience to God's commandments, thus it is not legalistic to enourage others to obey these commandments. So Paul tells the Galatians "For ye, brethren, were called for freedom; only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another (Gal. 5: 13)." The apostle James exhorts, "but be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves (James 1:22)." The apostle Peter commands, "But like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living (1 Peter 1: 16)." John says "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5: 3)." The writer of the letter to the Hebrews instructs, "Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Heb 13: 21)."

In fact, chapters 6-8 of the book of Romans make clear that it is precisely because believers are free from the law of sin and of death that we are also free to obey God. While the Christian will not achieve perfect obedience until meeting Christ and being made perfect, there should still be a pattern of sanctification, maturing, and growing obedience in the life of the Christian. There should be a desire to obey and an increasing fruit of obedience.

And that is not legalism.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Legalism Part II

In my previous post I discuss an article by Timothy Gombis in Christianity Today titled "The Paul We Think We Know". Specifically, I address Gombis' New Perspectives notion that Paul would not have considered Judaism legalistic and that the early church was not tempted toward legalistic works--based righteousness. In that post I covered some examples from Luke's and Matthew's gospels showing the grip legalism had on the Pharisees, who in turn were regarded as experts and teachers (John 3: 10) of the people of Israel.

In this post I want to discuss examples of the first-century church's struggle against legalism. While Paul's letter to the Galatians provides one prominent indication of this struggle, his letter to the Colossians is also instructive in this area. It highlights the syncretized nature of the legalistic attack on that particular church which came not only from a background of pharisaical law, but also mystical pre-gnostic ideas and attempts to achieve righteousness through a rigid asceticism. Paul deals with all these legalistic forms in his letter to the church there.

So he warns, "Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day, or a new moon, or a sabbath day (2: 16)." Then, "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, handle not, nor taste, nor touch...(2: 20,21)" He describes these things in verse 23 as having only a show, or appearance of wisdom and religiosity. Earlier in verse 8 he commanded the believers to "see to it" that they not be taken captive according to human tradition, human wisdom, and worldly tenets. It shows a concern on the apostle's part that there was danger and he wanted them on guard against legalistic tendencies.

It is interesting to note that at the end of the letter Paul sends greetings from Luke, who was obviously with him at the time. The emphasis in Luke's gospel on Christ's adamant rebuke of the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees shows that Paul's perspective was shaped by Christ.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Luke's Law Review

We have misconceptions. So states Timothy Gombis in his article in Christianity Today titled " The Paul We Think We Know". Basically, Gombis claims that Paul didn't stop being Jewish (agreed), first-century Judaism was not legalistic (disagree), the early church did not have a problem with legalism (disagree), and Paul was more into the salvation community while we tend to focus on individuals (false dichotomy--it's both/and). He also says Paul was not physically imposing (agree--but I don't think many have the misconception that he was), and that Paul was not particularly eloquent (disagree--he was not a smooth talker, but was very eloquent).

In this post I want to deal some with the legalism issue. Gombis presents his own nuance of the "New Perspective" view that Paul did not come from a legalistic background when he was introduced to Christianity. He asserts that "Paul would not have regarded Judaism as legalistic." Gombis also insists that "The problem in the early church , therefore, was not the temptation toward legalistic works righteousness."

Legalism comes in two forms, and both were prevalent in first--century Judaism and also a challenge for the early church. One form of legalistic thought is the false belief that salvation can be earned or that humans can be justified by their own works. The other type of legalistic teaching adds extra-biblical rules and regulations as behavorial requirements, in some cases even as exceptions or replacements to scriptural commands.

Paul himself in Philippians 3: 5 describes his former life in terms of his legalistic proclivity identifying himself "as touching the law, a Pharisee;" and " touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless." He is speaking here of an earthly "righteousness" and a blamelessness from the world's viewpoint, not God's. To see the formidable obstruction that legalism presented in the Jewish community, particularly within the sect of the Pharisees, one need only go to the insights recorded in the gospel of Luke, who was Paul's traveling companion and fellow-servant of the word of truth. At the beginning of chapter 6 he decribes a dispute between the Pharisees and Jesus over what is lawful on the Sabbath. They assert that the disciples aren't allowed to eat grain from the stalks while walking through the fields on the Sabbath; Jesus reminds them He is Lord of the Sabbath and He's okay with it. Later on, He healed a man's hand on the Sabbath knowing full well the Pharisees were watching because they wanted to claim he had violated the law.

In chapter 11 of Luke's gospel we see Jesus correcting the Pharisees over whether a ceremonial washing of dishes is required before a meal, and in verse 46 he accuses them of weighing men down with "burdens grievous to be borne" while not lifting a finger to help with the burden. In Luke 16: 15 Jesus tells the Pharisees, "Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God."

In Luke 18: 9-14 Jesus tells the famous parable of the Pharisee and the publican, for the express purpose, Luke says, of addressing those "who trusted in themselves, that they are righteous, and set all others at nought." The Pharisee in the parable relates how he is not a sinner, ticks off a list of sins he says he's not guilty of, points out how often he fasts and how completely he tithes, while the publican simply and humbly begs for mercy. The conclusion is the publican "went down to his house justified rather than the other..." having found the justification that comes by grace.

In Matthews's gospel, in the first nine verses of chapter 23 Jesus chastises the Pharisees for altering God's commandments with their own legalistic system, "teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men". And in the first 34 verses of Matthew 23 Jesus makes a comprehensive indictment of the legalism and hypocricy of the Pharisees, saying they "strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel."

The gospels demonstrate that the legalism of the Pharisees was a definite burden upon those under their influence and Jesus repeatedly rebuked them for it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Now You Tell Me

Campus Crusade for Christ is changing its name to Cru--or is it cru? The organization has its reasons. And in a list of frequently asked questions it seeks to provide an explanation for the change through its answers to these questions.

Some answers appear more direct and explanatory than others. For example, question #6 asks, "What does Vonette Bright (wife of the late Bill Bright, with whom she founded the organization in 1951) think about the new name?" We get a sort of non-answer for an answer. "...Vonette was involved throughout the process..." (that isn't the question) "...We sought her special counsel along the way..." (not asking if you sought her counsel or if you thought it was special...what does she think about the name change?) ..."She is excited about the outcome and the future of Cru." By "outcome" are you referring to the name change choice? Was "Cru" her choice? Did she vote in favor of it? Does she endorse the decision? Did she favor another choice over "Cru"?

Question #7 tries to explain why a brand consulting agency was hired. But question #10 is where the design emerges. It asks, Why did we take the name "Christ" out of our name? It is, in effect, a repeat of question #1, Why is Christ no longer in the name? But while the answer in question #1 is four paragraphs of that sort of non-answer thing, in question #10 the organization finally gets around to answering what is probably the primary question on everyone's mind.

And the answer is troubling. It begins with a repeat of the claim made in the answer to question #1 that they weren't trying to eliminate the word Christ from their name. But then they admit that, well, in fact, that is exactly what they were doing: "Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name."
Well, you probably couldn't get more overt than than the ministry's now former name, so if their objective was to turn on the ship's cloaking device they would seem to have succeeded.

Then again, maybe these sorts of shenanigans are why so many young people are choosing the YRR movement (see my previous post) over a more "seeker friendly", market--driven, and ultimately, watered-down approach.

It has been a long time since I was in high school, but I was heavily involved with Campus Crusade for Christ at the time. I received many blessings from that involvement. I once had the privilege of meeting Bill Bright. Although I was a believer, he did not take it for granted and made sure to confirm my relationship with Jesus Christ before our conversation concluded.

I wonder what he would think of the new name.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Check it Out if UR a YRR

John MacArthur posts the first in what looks to be an interesting series aimed at YRR ("young, restless Reformed") believers. While appreciating the trend in which many young people are choosing sound theology over postmodernism and emergent ambiguity, he exhorts these young Calvinists to keep reforming, press on toward maturity, and work on settling down that first "R" in the YRR designation a bit.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Do We Stay or Do We Go?

While attempting to revive an often-refuted case against the idea of an end-times rapture which is separated by a short duration from the Second Coming, Matthew Dickerson also employs a somewhat novel tactic of comparing pre-trib rapture adherents to Gnostics. In his article appearing in Christianity Today titled "Who Gets Left Behind" Dickerson warns of embracing Gnosticism and Plato and Socrates (oh my!) as what he sees as the potential outcome of holding to a pre-trib rapture construct.

Dickerson needn't worry, I'm definitely no Gnostic--and I don't think any of my amil friends have ever called me one because of my eschatological position. I'm also not buying his argument. While he reinterprets the classic pre-trib rapture passage in 1 Thess 4: 13-18, Dickerson neglects to cite 1 Cor 15: 50-56. At the rapture, we don't leave our physical bodies behind, they come with us, instantly transformed into eternal, imperishable, but physical bodies. Even the bodies of saints who died centuries before are taken and transformed into a glorified but still physical state. So let's please dispense with irrelevant comparisons to Gnosticism. The hope of the rapture includes the hope of the resurrection and a new eternal glorified physical body for each believer.

Dickerson also frets that folks who expect to depart the earth when raptured by the Lord Jesus one day will treat this world more like a hotel than a home and won't give enough attention to working as "redeeming and restoring influences in this world of space, time, and matter." To which I respond that if he means we won't be caught up in the latest environmental myth like global cooling, ozone depletion, global warming, climate change, and whatever the next fad that comes along masquerading as science might be, then he may be right. But since we pre-trib people tend to lean toward the literal in our hermeneutics, I think most understand, as I do, that Genesis chapters one and two are to be taken as a literal historical narrative. And therefore I think most have no problem understanding the earth is a gift from God which we should be good stewards of while we're here. We're just not seeking to get lured into every politically correct economic reorganization scheme disguised as environmental concern.

So if Dickerson would like to believe that 1 Thess 4: 13-18 describes an event in which believers are raptured into the air and then make an immediate U-turn so they can come back to earth and get back in line again with unbelievers to be re-separated in the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats described in Matt 25: 31-46, after having already been raptured, he is free to do so. And if he feels the unexpected surprise coming of the Lord depicted in Matt 24: 44 is a description of the same event as that in Rev 19: 11-21 which doesn't appear to surprise anyone, not even the birds...then he is free to do so. I tell my amil brothers and sisters that the Lord won't leave them behind just because they got their eschatology incorrect.

But that Gnostic argument just isn't going to fly. We believers will, though.