Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Wonderful Paradoxes of Scripture by L.M. Grant

I recently discovered a great little booklet by L.M. Grant (b. 1917) called "The Wonderful Paradoxes of Scripture." It beautifully encapsulates the thinking behind this blog and my other site, THEOparadox. Grant will surely earn one of our famous THEOparadox t-shirts for his work.

Without a proper understanding of the doctrine of incomprehensibility and the role of mystery and paradox (or "antinomy," if you want to call it that) in Reformed theology, we are prone to wander into all sorts of errors. These errors are sometimes difficult to detect because they get the stamp of approval from our human reason and logic. But logical consistency alone is not the guarantee of a truthful system. It can even be a hindrance (which is a paradox, indeed!). How often have we deceived ourselves by coming up with "logical" reasons for sinful behavior? One can easily arrive at a logical syllogism simply by removing the propositions that don't fit the conclusion one desires to reach. However, logical difficulties and complexities arise when we take all of the Truth we have and try to systematize it. While this is a worthwhile and beneficial endeavor, we should not think we will attain exhaustive knowledge of anything heavenly - or perfect logical consistency on every single point. Infinity is beyond our comprehension, but not beyond our reach. We can learn quite a lot about the ocean by sampling the water - yet its vastness is beyond our ability to contain. How much more the transcendent, holy, and eternal Godhead!

How tempting it is for us to discount Biblical truths that don't fit our system. But we must resist this temptation for the sake of holding and keeping the Truth. For a system to be perfectly coherent and perfectly (exhaustively) true, all of the true propositions that exist would have to be incorporated into it. Since some true propositions are unknowable to us, we can never arrive at such a system. We can systematize the major and minor points of divine revelation, form them into a generally consistent system, and identify the points at which they appear (to us) to contradict. However, without the missing pieces we may not be able to achieve perfect coherence. We can achieve a system that is exhaustively Biblically TRUE (that is, a system which includes all Biblical propositions, and is therefore without error). But because Biblical revelation does not include every  true proposition that exists, our system may still lack perfect coherence in some aspects. This is because the propositions which would make the system perfectly coherent are hidden in the mind of our great and wise God. He does not reveal them, but says, "Trust Me!"

Good theology takes pains to reach the outer edges of what man can reliably know, yet it eventually finds a limit. Bad theology lays concrete in places that are barely discoverable philosophically - places where God has intentionally left us uninformed. Bad theology also finds subtle and ingenious ways to obliterate rock solid truths that have been revealed but don't seem to "make sense" or "fit" the system. Good theology always applies as many Biblical propositions as possible and in this way it maintains balance. 

Some say they cannot believe what they cannot reconcile, or that unreconciled paradoxes are meaningless, or that we cannot know how to proceed practically if we don't reconcile all truths. These are utterances of unbelief. If God has revealed two truths that we cannot reconcile, far be it from us to tell HIM they are meaningless! Yet these statements are made often and rarely challenged. We maintain that unreconciled paradoxes are anything but meaningless. Rather, they are so meaningful that we cannot contain the fullness of their meaning. But how can we move forward, practically, without reconciling important theological facts? Here is an example: as we wrestle with the daily decisions of living, Scripture calls us to hold these two seemingly incompatible truths: God is sovereignly directing our steps, and we are responsible for our actions. This might make our head spin, but it doesn't leave us paralyzed. It liberates us to trust Him, to obey, to risk, and to hope - believing both are true.

As L.M. Grant advises, we must simply take the Word of God as true, even if it seems unbelievable. Should fallen dust expect to completely comprehend divine matters? No. On the other hand, should fallen dust ever distrust what God has revealed in His Word? Certainly not. Paradoxes remind us that we are fallen dust, and God is our all-wise and holy Creator who is both incomprehensible and trustworthy.

Click here to read L.M. Grant's noble work, The Wonderful Paradoxes of Scripture.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Preaching the Gospel is a High Privilege

Isaiah 49:3 He said to me, "You are My Servant, Israel, In Whom I will show My glory."

"At length, in the conclusion of the verse he shews . . . for what purpose, they who preach the Gospel are called by God; namely, that they may zealously display His glory, and may likewise promote it among others, which Christ also teaches us in the Gospel, "Father, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee." (John 17:1.) This is a very high honor conferred on poor, feeble men, when the Lord appoints them, though corrupt and depraved, to promote his glory; and therefore we ought to be the more encouraged to render to Him our service and obedience. Yet God intends to express something more, that, notwithstanding the efforts of Satan and all wicked men, the power of God will be victorious, so that Christ shall triumph gloriously, and the majesty of God shall shine forth in His Gospel."

John Calvin, Commentary on Isaiah 49:3

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

John Gerstner on "The Perfect Justice of Pure Grace."

"The full wrath of God deserved by the sinner was poured out in full on the sinner’s Substitute. And that punishment undergone by the sinner in his substitute was more than the sinner would have suffered by an eternity in hell, for the sinner’s Substitute was no less than the fulness of the Godhead dwelling bodily (Colossians 2:9). God cannot die in His own infinite, spiritual, unchangeable, eternal nature, but He could and did die in the real human nature to which He united Himself for the very purpose of suffering and dying so that His people need never suffer ever at the hand of a holy and just God. Surely mercy and truth kissed each other in perfect justice.

Thus, the sinner was punished. No sinner ever escapes the justice of God—least of all those for whom Jesus Christ suffered, bled, and died. Christ descended into hell on the cross. Because Christ descended into hell, those for whom He died ascend into heaven. They went to hell with Him and they will go to heaven with Him. That is the perfect justice of pure grace."

John Gerstner, Justification by Faith Alone

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Only Hope in the World

"In every great revival in church history, as in the Old Testament, there has been a coming back into the consciousness of being guilty, lost sinners, dependent on the shed blood of a Redeemer. If the world has gotten past being recalled to that blessed sinner-consciousness in the presence of a God of mercy at the cross - there is nothing left but judgment!"

William R. Newell, Romans Verse By Verse
This is the conclusion of Newell's discussion of Romans 3:25 and the concept of propitiation.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

J. Gresham Machen on the Gospel as History and Doctrine

"What is it that forms the content of that primitive teaching? Is it a general principle of the fatherliness of God or the brotherliness of man? Is it a vague admiration for the character of Jesus such as that which prevails in the modern Church? Nothing could be further from the fact. 'Christ died for our sins,' said the primitive disciples, 'according to the Scriptures; He was buried; He has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.' From the beginning, the Christian Gospel, as indeed the name 'gospel' or 'good news' implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. 'Christ died' - that is history; 'Christ died for our sins' - that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity."

- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdman's, 1923, pp. 26-27

The phrase "according to the Scriptures" is also noteworthy. Early Christians were totally committed to the inspiration and authority of Scripture. They believed that Gospel history, summed up in the words, "Christ died," took place under the sovereign direction of God in fulfillment of His Word. And they believed that Gospel doctrine, summed up in the words, "Christ died for our sins," was the clear and undeniable teaching of the Word of God. Stray from this Word and this Gospel, and you find only mush.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Maker of the Universe - A Song About The Cross

These lyrics by Phil Keaggy never fail to stir my heart with fresh appreciation for what Christ has done:

The Maker of the universe,
As Man, for man, was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost - He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.
He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.

The sky that darkened o'er His head,
By Him, above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him it's face
By His decree, was poised in space.
The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Christ-Centered Conquest of Spiritual Warfare

The following is quoted from Agonizomai

"Conquering . . . is enduring to the end. It is taking what has been given and trusting in it regardless of what circumstance or feelings might say. And what has been given is the Truth, the Spirit, the Son - which are all the same God, for God is truth and the Lord is One. Jesus is therefore rightly called, "Wonderful Counselor (a title often referring to the Spirit), Mighty God (though God is One), Everlasting Father (yet He is the Son), Prince of Peace." {Isa 9:6}

It is all about Him and not us. It is all about trusting in what He has done. It is about believing that He has done it all - that all things pertaining to life and godliness are (already) ours in Christ Jesus. It is about abiding in the truth in the face of the lie. It is holding fast to, defending and contending for the gospel in our own hearts and in the world wherever God puts or sends us. It is about tearing down strongholds that, by the propagation of the lie, oppose the truth.

The Spiritual Warfare Movement makes it all about "power encounters" with the forces of darkness. It is actually all about overcoming the darkness (lies) with truth, which is Christ and which is in Christ. . . . Holding fast to what we (already) have - a defensive posture - and not receiving false and deceptive teachings - a battle for the truth about God as revealed in Christ - is the "conquering" of which Christ Himself speaks. It is a conquering by Christ in and through us - an application of His finished work - that takes place defensively, but not standing still.

The armour of Christ is all protecting the front of the saint because he is expected not only to face the enemy, but to advance against him. It is the advance of the powerless against the fierceness of the roaring lion while trusting that Christ in us, the hope of glory, has overcome for us what we cannot, and will grant to us out of His glorious riches of character the attributes and the power of life necessary to overcome in the face of evil - after the same manner that He Himself did."

More than conquerors THROUGH HIM Who loved us . . .

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Adam, Second Adam - A Study in Contrasts

I Corinthians 15:21-22 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

I Corinthians 15:45-49 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

Following the line of thought in these Scripture verses, my friend Chris DeVidal offers some helpful comparison & contrast of the First Adam and the Second Adam. He gives us encouraging insights that spring from his continuous meditation and contemplation in the Gospel (I did a tiny bit of editing, but these are essentially his words) . . .

"Interesting parallels between the first Adam's test in Genesis 3 andthe second Adam's test in Matthew 4, aren't there? Eve in the garden, Jesus in the wilderness. Satan's twisting and questioning God's Word. Eve's response to Satan vs. Jesus' responses to Satan; Eve misquoting God, Jesus quoting God precisely. Eve falls on Satan's second sentence, Jesus pushes through all three temptations.

What's the application? Memorize God's Word, love the Father more than the world and be filled with the Spirit as Jesus was. I suppose that if Adam and Eve had done these things they would have never fallen. I wonder what would have happened if Jesus were there in the garden instead of Adam and Eve?

There is also a note of federal headship: The first Adam,who represents all of us, failed. The second Adam, through this and all other trials, proved His right to represent Christians and be honored forevermore.

Two more parallels between Adam and Jesus:
First, Adam and Jesus were the only two men who have ever existed with truly free wills.

Second, Adam was in a glorious garden with every pleasure available to him: good food, easy labor and an unclothed woman at his side - and yet he rejected it all, leading me to believe that he didn't know what good really was until he bit into the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good - why else would he have rejected God so easily? On the other hand, Jesus was hungry for FORTY DAYS in the desert, with no food, hard labor, no woman -- and yet He did not fall. The difference? Not free will, but the free Spirit!
I don't think the contrast between free-willed man without the Spirit and free-willed man with the Spirit could be greater."

Grace be with you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Heart of the Gospel - Romans 3:21-26

Some scholars believe Romans 3:21-26 is the most important portion of the most important chapter of the most important book of the New Testament (which happens to be the most important part of the most important book ever written). This assessment is probably correct. Nowhere is the crucial truth of the Gospel more clearly explained than in this paragraph, and this chapter, and this epistle. It is likely that there are more essential concepts packed into these few verses than any other written material existing anywhere. Let's take a quick look at some of the amazing conceptual paradoxes found in this pivotal passage from God's Word.

3:21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets

In the cross, the righteousness of God was shown apart from the Law - yet the Law and the Prophets testified to it ("the Law and the Prophets" is a Hebraism which represents the entire Old Testament. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of Christ's death on the cross, from the example of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar, to the symbolism of the various animal sacrifices, to the unambiguous predictions found in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53). So, while the Law was contained in the Old Testament, the entire Old Testament (including the Law itself) points to the necessity of a righteousness that can never be attained under the Law. It can only be attained through faith in Christ.

The hidden righteousness of the invisible God has been manifested. In this world of destructive sin, the justice of God is hidden and seems unreal. Mankind has shaken its collective fist at God because the world in which we dwell often makes Him appear unjust. Yet God's hidden righteousness was revealed through a sinful act - in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ at the hands of sinners! Just as the clouds which hide the sun do not disprove the sun's existence, so the injustices of a sin-saturated world do not disprove the justice of God. Rather, they reveal our desperate need for His justice, and the insufficiency of all purely human righteousness.

3:22-24 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 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;

For man, justice is a matter of deeds and has nothing at all to do with faith. In sharp contrast to this, God declares to all men that they are unjust sinners and incapable of doing what is necessary to create justice. He does the work Himself and calls us to trust Him on the basis of that work. Upon believing, we are justified, declared righteous, made right in His sight - all through what He has done.

Sinners are justified as a gift by His grace. Our condemnation is well earned, but our salvation is totally by grace. It is unearned, undeserved, unmerited, and unattainable apart from the free gift of God's grace.

3:25-26 Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

God rarely judges a person's sins immediately, although He could justly do so at any time (two sobering examples of swift judgment can be found in Numbers 16. These examples should make us very appreciative of the patience with which God has carried us). If God was not forbearing, there would be no possibility of salvation. All mankind would be under an eternal sentence of condemnation, separated from the life of God forever (exactly as the fallen angels are, perhaps). God's act of patience means we can be saved. Think of it! He temporarily held back the just sentence that could have been executed against sinners so that He could execute it upon His own beloved Son instead. He has granted us time to repent and believe the Good News of the Gospel. In the face of such patience, let us not delay to take hold of the hope found there!

The blood of Jesus Christ was a propitiation. It removed the holy wrath of God by satisfying the just demands of His holiness. If God were not infinitely merciful, the blood of His Son would have ignited a wrath so unimaginably intense that all sinners would have been instaneously sealed under the sentence of endless doom and torment. Yet He ironically chose to make the blood of His Son the atoning sacrifice to wipe out our guilt and secure our souls eternally within His redeeming love.

God is just. Therefore, sin is punished with the furious condemnation that it deserves. In the cross, God condemns sin, but at the very same time He justifies sinners for whom Christ died. Thank God for such wondrous grace! Shall we not serve, and worship, and love a Being so great and wonderful as this? What kind of hatred and hostility would prevent us from doing so? Whatever it may be, and however strongly you might sense that ungrateful depravity within yourself, He is able to conquer it. Ask Him, and He will do it! Actually, if you are truly trusting in Christ, He HAS DONE IT already at the cross, and by grace it is now becoming real to you in your heart. So, the believer's experience of suffering and struggling through this painful life is nonetheless a SURE and JOYFUL one that ultimately triumphs. In this regard, Jesus Himself is our example. He suffered the most, and suffered most unjustly, yet He conquered the most, and overcame sin without ever once sinning.

The goodness of God involves the perfect balance of MERCY and JUSTICE, grace and truth. Although the objectives of justice and mercy would seem to contradict, in the cross of Christ they are beautifully reconciled and powerfully demonstrated.

I am only scratching the surface of this amazing passage. We could study this every day for 100 years and never exhaust its riches. But God knew we would need more Bible than this, so He gave us the rest of Romans and 65 other books to drive the Gospel deep into our hearts.

Sola Fide. Sola Gratia. Soli Deo Gloria.