Browsing Category

Theology

Bible, Theology

A Missing Emphasis in the Doctrine of Election

June 29, 2019

There are few topics quite like the doctrine of election that will split Christians into differing tribes. Introduce the topics of predestination, foreknowledge, and election on social media and the comment section will be populated even before you hit refresh. Sadly, this doctrine has often been the great dividing marker between the two proposed camps—Calvinism and Arminianism. While the doctrine of election has caused division of the years, both historically in the church and personally in my life, I believe that there is a missing emphasis in both camps. Regardless of where you land on this topic, I believe we can both learn a great deal from one of the greatest, albeit, unknown to many Christians, 20th century theologians and missiologists of our day—Lesslie Newbigin.

Before we get to Newbigin, I want to touch briefly on the nature of doctrine and the disparity on how things are systematized and communicated outside of the Bible. My exposure to the doctrine of election was through R.C. Sproul, who I owe a great deal of my early theological acumen to. Sproul lead me to the many of the great works I have come to cherish over the years: the Westminster Confession, Reformed Dogmatics by Bavinck, various Systematic Theologies, and a handful of others. Reflecting back upon my introduction to this doctrine (and in my camp, the Reformed faith), I have now come to realize the way in which this doctrine (and many others) was presented to me was not incorrect doctrinally, but rather incorrect in mode. In other words, the way in which the doctrine was described was foreign from the way the Bible actually dealt with the doctrine.

The Communication Problem of Theology

Theology is often painted as being cold, heady, and merely intellectual; and if we were to crack open Hodge’s Systematic Theology, sadly, you may find the accusations warranted. This is not to say that there is not much to cherish there, it is simply to say that theology often done in a systematic way does not engage the doctrines as the Bible often does—through story, drama, and historical narrative. In this case, election was always presented to be in this cold manner: God chooses some and doesn’t choose others, based upon his sheer foreknowledge, grace, and sovereignty. As soon as one states their position, debates roar, heels get dug in, and rarely, if ever, does fruitful conversation follow. How can we avoid the traps of describing a doctrine, that is so beautiful, without getting into endless debates that seem to harden rather than soften positions?

Cue Lesslie Newbigin, who will have no problem demonstrating that the way Westerners often discuss the doctrine of election is through individualism and pragmatism, rather than through the biblical storyline. If you were to ask an aspiring theologian (someone like myself in college, who had merely read the popular level writings of Sproul and Packer) where they turn to defend their doctrine of election, many would either go to Romans 9 or Ephesians 1. Do these passages speak to election? Absolutely. But if we jump straight there, we miss one of the most crucial texts for understanding election and its purpose in the world: Genesis 12.

Genesis 12: A Missional Doctrine of Election

In this passage, God calls a man named Abram to flee his country to the land that the Lord will show him. This is the beginning of the election or the calling of a people, namely, the nation of Israel. God has selected one man and one family from all the face of the earth as his chosen vessel. Now, the way in which we discuss election, the conversation may lead to various rabbit trails. Why did he choose Abram and not another family in the Ancient Near East? Should they have not have the choice to respond? Is it fair?

While the questions are perhaps warranted, the biblical storyline is not interested in answering the questions. Rather, Genesis 12 is going to answer the question we aren’t asking: What is God’s purpose in electing Abram? The answer comes in verse 2—Abram was chosen not so the blessing of election may terminate on his family, but may extend to the whole world. In other words, to use the biblical langue, he was blessed in order to be a blessing. Election (and salvation for that matter) is often extracted from the purpose and the biblical storyline and is reduced to merely discussions about who God chooses and who he doesn’t. Here is where Newbigin is so helpful:

“Too often election is understood strictly in terms of its benefits and the blessings of God’s salvation. Election, in this misunderstanding, is only for privilege and not for responsibility; election is so that the people of God might enjoy salvation, not be a means of salvation for the world.” –

Newbigin, Household of God, 111, emphasis mine.

You see, for Newbigin, election is not merely for the individual/family, it is also for the purpose of bringing the blessing of God to the rest of the world. Election then is directly tied to mission. And what is this mission? Newbigin would describe the mission of God nothing less than the cosmic renewal of all creation (for Newbigin, renewal could also be interchanged with salvation):

“The only way of proceeding in reveling and accomplishing the cosmic and corporate salvation of the end is by choosing a community to be the nucleus of his renewing work. God begins with some community, knits them back together, and restores the creational relationships fractured in the fall. He begins with a reconciled community and then incorporates others from outside into this community. In short, God’s people have been chosen to be reconciled to God, to each other, and to the nonhuman creation and to draw others into that reconciliation.”

Goheen, The Church and its Vocation, 31.

Therefore, the doctrine of election is not some cold, static, and distant doctrine where God simply chooses some and leaves others. Election is about the reconciliation of a people that are now given a mission to invite and call others into that community, which has its final goal in the restoration of all things. Again, Goheen notes ,”A missionary doctrine of election understands that God’s choice of a people is not simply for the town sake but also for the sake of the world.” Therefore, to be one of the elect—to be a Christian—is to be incorporated into the mission of God and to “bear God’s reconciling purpose for his whole world.”

This is what I think Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Paul was able to endure hardships and suffering so that those outside the fold of God may be welcomed into the reconciliation offered by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, he may never have known who the elect were, but he knew that God would use his life (and the life of the church) to bring about the fulfillment of the cosmic salvation that he purposed.

Therefore, in this way, the biblical storyline informs and undergirds our doctrine of election. It is not merely about the choice of God—it is also about the purpose of God in election—bringing about the restoration, renewal, and shalom to the entire earth that the elect currently experience.

Bible, Theology

Why Sometimes a Literal Translation Is Not Sufficient

June 24, 2019

The preservation of the biblical text is a tenant of orthodox Christianity. Since the Bible was written not in English but in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, scholars have often wrestled with how to translate the biblical text in a way that is both faithful to the original while at the same time communicating relevantly to its audience. Regardless whether one is translating a biblical text or a non-biblical text, translation is an incredibly difficult task. We are all aware that certain languages have particular phrases, idioms, and word pictures that are simply hard to translate, despite the translators best attempts.

In the English language, we are privileged with several excellent translations, such as the English Standard Version (ESV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and several others. These translations are often considered literal translations, or, more specifically, formal-equivalence translations, by which translators attempt to translate each word in the original language to an equivalent word in the English language. A different translation method is called the dynamic-equivalence approach, which seeks to message/meaning of the original language into equivalent modern English. For conservative evangelicals, we tend to pride ourselves on choosing and reading translations that are deemed literal, implying the preservation of the very words of the original.

Yet, the reality is that while often we are forced to choose between the two translation methods—because of the complexity of translation work—both approaches are actually appropriate in certain circumstances. In other words, there are instances when a literal translation, while correct in theory, is not sufficient in actually communicating the original meaning.

Luke 22:31-32: A Case Study

An analysis of Luke 22:31-32 shows this premise in action. Consider the rendering that the King James Version (KJV) puts forth:

31 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Now, look at the way the ESV translate the verse, which is the translation I often use:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Now, a comparative reading of the two texts would seem that both are virtually identical, except for the updated language in the ESV; but there are some difficulties with the ESV’s rendering. You see, the King James was written in a time in which English speakers still used the second plural form (you) and a second singular form (thy/thine), which means that the KJV can actually translate the text in a more accurate manner. You will notice in the KJV’s translation, the you (ὑμᾶς) is plural in verse 31, whereas in verse 32, Jesus begins to address Peter specifically with thee, thy and thou (σοῦ). If you read again the ESV’s translation, you will notice that in English, both verse 31 and 32 simply read “you.” While this technically is the literal translation (since we don’t have a plural you in modern English, unless your from the South and you use “y’all”), it is not sufficient for the intended meaning of the text. In this way, the formal-equivalence method fails us.

Turning to a different translation, we notice that the NIV actually captures the original meaning of the text through the latter approach (the dynamic-equivalence method):

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

You will notice that the NIV appropriately captures the meaning of the text by translating the plural “you” in verse 31 with “all of you,” while translating the singular “you” in verse 32 with “you” and “your.” Proponents of literal translation may fault the NIV for adding words into the text since the words “all” are not in the text. Yet, the evidence suggests that the NIV is actually more faithful in rendering the intended meaning of the Greek. In this way, literal biblical translations, while helpful in many scenarios, are also unhelpful in other scenarios.

Theology

The Incommunicable Attributes

December 31, 2018

To utter the word theology will arouse various feelings, thoughts, and reactions from different people; some will absolutely love the study of theology, others will cringe at the thought of theology. At times, students of the Bible can elevate theology and in the end loose doxology (worship); at other times, students of the Bible can elevate doxology and loose theology (drifting into idolatry). In the end, theology is incredibly important for our worship in order that we may praise God correctly and appropriately.

For some time now, I have noticed that the average church-goer does not seem to have an interest in theology. It is seen to be an area of study for pastors, missionaries, seminary students, or perhaps even “serious Christians.” In reality, all Christians, regardless of vocation or maturity, would benefit from the study of theology, since within the subject itself elevates our view of God. Perhaps the problem is more with the term than the subject. Regardless of the issue, my hope is to expose Christians to more fundamental theological concepts in short articles. The following is my attempt to present salient theological topics in a digestible yet satisfactory manner.

THE INCOMMUNICABLE ATTRIBUTES

In theology proper (the doctrine of God, i.e. the study of God himself and his works), scholars spend significant space on the attributes of God, which are various properties in which God simply is. In other words, God does not have love, he is love. Within the attributes of God, theologians distinguish between the incommunicable and the communicable attributes; the former referring to the properties that belong to God alone (omniscience, transcendence, etc)—the latter referring to the properties that we possess, at least to some degree, vis-à-vis as a creature of God made in his image.1 For this article, we will discover what the incommunicable attributes are and how theologians categorize them.

When considering who God is, we have to recognize that we are completely unlike God. God is the first cause of all things, wholly self-sufficient in himself, is existent within himself, and is entirely unable to change or be changed. Herman Bavinck, writing in Reformed Dogmatics, notes, “God has a free, independent existence and life of his own that is distinct from all creatures.” 2

God alone bears his own names in which he shares with no one—YHWH being the supreme in this example.3. YHWH is the one who was, who is, and who will always be. In other words, God has no variation or change even in the slightest degree—he is wholly independent within himself. Again, Bavinck summarizes it well, “Thus, being all-sufficient in himself and not receiving anything from outside of himself, he is, by contrast, the only source of all existence and life, of all light and love, the overflowing fountain of all good.”4 After being redeemed out of Egypt, Moses sings, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?” The answer: no one!

If you were to open a systematic theology book, you will discover that scholars tend to present the incommunicable attributes under distinct headings:

The Self-Existence of God

God is self-existence in the sense that his existence is not tied to anyone or anything but rather in himself. Therefore, there has never been a time in which God has not been—he always was, is, and will be. “God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself.”5 God is the uncaused being—one who exists wholly by himself by no causation. “All that God is, he is of himself.”6

The Immutability of God

God is entirely consistent in his character, ways, actions, and purposes: “it is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His being, but also in his perfections, and in his purposes and promises.” 7 According to Bavinck, God can not and will not change: “If God were not immutable, he would not be God.” 8

The Infinity of God

The infinity of God is the perfection in which he is completely free from all limitations or hindrances. To say that God is infinite is another way of saying that God is eternal.9 God is also not confined to space, meaning that God is everywhere—no one can hide from him. The Lord alone is the creator, the possessor of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, in whom we all live and move and have our being, 10 as the Psalmist proclaims:

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

– Psalm 139:7-9


The Unity of God

The last incommunicable attribute theologians describe is the unity of God, which is often differentiated in the unity of singularity and the unity of simplicity. 11 When I say that God has unity (or oneness) in singularity, I mean that there is only one divine being, and having the virtue of divine nature, there cannot be more than one God. Therefore, every other being derives its existence from him, through him, and to him. In other words, God alone is unique and shares his divinity with no one.

The unity of simplicity argues that God is not collection of composite parts but is simple (or one). The simplicity of God “contends that the first cause of all being [God alone] must be simple for the straightforward reason that complex or compound things depend upon parts that are more fundamental in being than themselves. And nothing is more primary in being than God.”12 In other words, a Boeing 747 is a complex design, made up millions of composite parts that function together to create a powerful airplane. God is simple in the sense that he is not dependent on any other composite parts to function or to be—he simply is within himself. To conclude, Steven Charnock summarizes it well:

God is the most simple being; for that which is first in nature, having nothing beyond it, cannot by any means be thought to be compounded; for whatsoever is so, depends upon the parts whereof it is compounded, and so is not the first being: now God being infinitely simple, hath nothing in himself which is not himself, and therefore cannot will any change in himself, he being his own essence and existence. – Steven Charnock


Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted

April 27, 2017

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the eighth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted  was written by Thomas Kelly in 1805. Set to somber music, Kelly has written masterfully about the death of Christ. The hymn exposes the true nature of our sin and guilt by showing the only remedy appropriate: the death of the Son of God. Churches would do well to sit under the weight of this hymn, drawing us deeper into the wounds of Christ, the Son of Man and Son of God.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Ministry, Theology

Church—Sing Your Theology!

August 9, 2016

Worship can easily be one of the most divisive elements in church life, ranging from the preference of style, to the actual choice of songs and structure of a service. Rarely will you meet someone who has no opinion on worship in the church. In some respects, this is a good problem because God has called his people to be a worshiping people (evidenced by the numerous Psalms); the people should care about the manner in which they worship the Lord. All that to say, worship is a complicated issue, and this post is in no way intended to produce division regarding various styles, liturgical practices, or church decisions regarding worship. Rather, I want to call our churches to see the importance of worship, and furthermore—the importance of words in worship.

Words carry immense weight. We proclaim what we believe through words, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,” as the creed proclaims. In a lot of ways, words are how we commune with God, through his Holy Scriptures (albeit, not solely or independent of the Holy Spirit). The Gospel is promulgated through words, as the Apostle Paul says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28, emphasis mine). Therefore, if words carry immense weight, the selection of words in the context of congregational singing also carries immense weight.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: From Whence This Fear and Unbelief

August 3, 2016

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the eighth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn From Whence This Fear and Unbelief was written by Augustus Toplady (who also wrote famous hymn Rock of Ages) in the 18th century. Augustus beautifully writes of Jesus’ finished and complete work, calling upon the believer to rest in Jesus’ efficacious blood. Are you struggling and doubting God’s love and acceptance of you? Bask in the comfort of Toplady’s words, who invites you to trust and rest in the Gospel’s full and final pardon.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: He Will Hold Me Fast

May 2, 2016

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the seventh installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn He Will Hold Me Fast was written by Ada R. Habershon in 1906. Grounding the believer’s hope in God’s sovereign grip, this hymn encourages believers to rest their salvation and life wholly upon God.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

February 12, 2016

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the sixth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn And Can It Be That I Should Gain? was written by Charles Wesley in 1738. This hymn remains one of Wesley’s greatest works in all of the 6,000 hymns that he wrote.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: How Sweet and Awful is the Place

February 10, 2016

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the fifth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn How Sweet and Awful is the Place was written by Isaac Watts in 1707. This title may seem odd to many of you, therefore you must understand that the word awful conveyed the sense of “awe-inducing,” which a modern equivalent would be awesome. Therefore, many hymnals translate the title How Sweet and Awesome is the Place to avoid the confusion all together.

This hymn beautifully weaves sound theology and heart-felt affections throughout the lyrics. Watts poses an excellent question that every Christian should ask, “Why was I made to hear Thy voice, when thousands make a wretched choice, and rather starve than come?” Watts grounds his assurance not in man’s response but in God’s sovereign grace that drew him in. Sadly, I have yet to find a contemporary rendition of this hymn outside of Together for the Gospel’s conference rendition, which you can listen to here.

Continue Reading…

Featured, Hymns, Ministry, Seminary, Theology

Hymns We Should Sing More: Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven

February 8, 2016

I recently began a blog series entitled Hymns We Should Sing More, which seeks to edify the church with rich, biblical hymns. This is the fourth installment in this series. You can read the previous installments here.

All around the world, Christians gather for corporate worship and sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs as an act of worship to God. Specifically these hymns are full of rich biblical truths about God, mankind, salvation, the coming Kingdom and many other theological topics. Unfortunately, many Christians are unfamiliar with a vast number of theologically rich hymns.

When hymns are sung in a contemporary worship service, there is often a lack of repertoire of hymnology. This series, Hymns We Should Sing More, is a means of getting more Christians aware of the vast number of theologically rich hymns that we rarely, if ever, sing.

The hymn Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1834, which is drawn primarily from Psalm 103. To hear a modern rendition of this beautiful hymn, check out River Valley Music’s rendition here. To purchase the song, please visit their iTunes page here.

Continue Reading…