Grace that is not disruptive is not grace–a point that Flannery O’Connor well grasped alongside Karl Barth. Grace, strictly speaking, does not mean continuity but radical discontinuity, not reform but revolution, not violence but nonviolence, not the perfecting of virtues but the forgiveness of sins, not improvement but resurrection from the dead.

It means repentance, judgement, and death as the portal to life. It means negation and the negation of negation. The grace of God really comes to lost sinners, but in coming it disrupts them to the core. It slays to make alive and sets the captive free. Grace may of course work silently and secretly like a germinating seed as well as like a bolt from the blue. It is always wholly as incalculable as it is reliable, unmerited, and full of blessing. Yet it is necessarily unsettling as it is comforting.

It does not finally teach of its own sufficiency without appointing a thorn in the flesh. Grace is disruptive because God does not compromise with sin, nor ignore it, nor call it good. On the contrary, God removes it by submitting to the cross to show that love is stronger than death. Those whom God loves may be drawn to God through their and be privileged to share in his sufferings in the world, because grace in its radical disruption surpasses all that we image or think.

– George Hunsinger, Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 16-17.

Grace

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I am continually impressed by the Th.M. program we have at Western Seminary. The classes are mainly intensives and there is a lot of flexibility in terms of the classes and the schedule.

But the most important thing about our Th.M. is the quality of the seminars. We have our teachers at Western, but also bring in top-notch outside professors so that students get a variety of perspectives from experts in the field.

If you are thinking about continuing your education after your M.Div. or M.A., I would encourage you to look at the program Western Seminary provides.

For example look at the quality of classes we are offering this next year for Th.M. students.

Fall 2015

N.T. Wright and his Works – Patrick Schreiner 10/26-10/30

The History of Israel – Jan Verbruggen 11/2-11/6

Spring 2016

The Trinity – Ryan Lister

Pastoral Ministry and Cultural Engagement – Carl Trueman 3/14-3/17

Summer 2016

The Theology of the Reformers – Michael Lawrence

The Gospel and Other Religions – Todd Miles

Philosophy for Theologians – Marc Cortez 6/27-7/1

 

There are a few other options of courses to take, but what a great line up of courses. I love the breadth and the expertise that we are offering.

For more information see this page.

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I am reading R. Michael Allen’s book “Justification and the Gospel: Understanding the Contexts and the Controversies.” I like how he began the book with a push to “locate” doctrines within the gospel. We need to celebrate each doctrine in its particular place (and nowhere else).

Allen then goes onto argue that participation is the goal of the gospel, while justification is ground of the gospel. This is how he locates the doctrines. Yet I am not so sure it is that simple. I find elements of truth in both statements.

One cannot participate in Christ unless they are forensically justified.

One cannot be justified unless they are participating in Christ.

Allen is affirming the first but seems to be implicitly rejecting the second. But can one be justified without being in Christ, without having Christ as theirs. There is no justification if Christ is not ours. In a very real sense, participation (union with Christ) is the ground and goal of the gospel.

We are getting into ordo salutis questions here but I find it too difficult to locate these doctrines like Allen has done. Maybe the question comes down to how we define participation.

But I am just a lowly NT prof, so I am wondering if I am off base here. Systematic Theologians, what say you?

antique-dutch-door-and-mailbox-will-deni-mcintyreThe rule of faith is employed more in the early church writings than in modern times. The Rule of Faith is any shorthand summary of Christian faith, typically focused on the Trinity and the Gospel story.

Because modern users don’t regularly speak of this rule, there is some debate and confusion now about “how” to actually use this rule in interpretation.

For those in the Theological Interpretation of Scripture camp, I have heard it be used as a fence or a border in exploring different interpretive options rather than a knife to decide differing exegetical options.

But in a 2014 issue of Journal of Theological Interpretation on Romans 8:19-22, Steven Tyra has the following reflection on the use of the Rule of Faith.

Therefore, one tentative conclusion emerging from this study might be summarized by saying that the Rule of Faith functions far more effectively as door than as a wall. When the Rule offers a “sketch of our story,” as Billings has said, it invites the church to enter the Bible’s redemptive drama. On the other hand, when the Rule merely works to filter out heterodox interpretations of a given passage, it arguably accomplishes very little. In fact, acting as a “wall,” the Rule might ironically legitimize exegesis that— although technically within the bounds of orthodoxy—in retrospect impoverishes the community’s understanding. To reach for another image, perhaps the Rule of Faith makes a better compass for the church in via than a cudgel against its theological opponents.

This seems to be a helpful way to think of the Rule of Faith. Swain and Allen in their book on interpretation give the same advice arguing that the rule provides “a divinely authorized interpretive key for unlocking the treasures of God’s word, a blessed pathway into Holy Scripture.”

The Rule of Faith is thus the door, the compass, the pathway into reading a specific text in light of the whole. It thus does not muzzle the text but frees the text to be read in light of the canonical and divinely intended means.

water-waveThe age of baptizing young professing children can be a contentious issue for Baptists. It is personal for parents, delicate for pastors, and forming for believers.

Recently, a little dust storm has formed on the internet surrounding this issue and I was surprised to see how many are taking the “wait and warm” (w&w) stance. On this view, even if a child credibly professes to be a Christian it is prudent to delay baptism until there is more clarity or maturity in the individual. I do not claim to have the final word on this issue, nor am I set in my ways in what I am about to write, but I have a few arguments to present for why I think we should quickly baptize upon a credible profession of faith.

The division comes when we begin to parse out what makes a credible or mature profession. Jonathan Leeman is right to point out on this issue that we are all making decisions based on wisdom and not nice and neat checklists. So in one sense there is actually much common ground between the two camps. Wherever you land on this issue judiciousness needs to be practiced. We pray and lead our children in the wisdom God has given us.

But I find the w&w argument lacking for three reasons. It (1) lacks in biblical support, (2) causes more practical problems than it solves, and (3) is ultimately not prudent despite the followers claims.

Biblical Support

I think most would admit that the argument for waiting to baptize professing children is a prudential choice, not something explicit in the Scriptures. I have seen a few try to argue for this point from Scripture. But it seems that they are searching for their own hand in the dark.

So what can we say about baptism, conversion, and children from the Scriptures that might help us in this issue? Here are a few theses I think are fairly clear in Scripture.

Canonically, there is evidence of children having saving faith

Jesus says the kingdom belongs to children (Matt 19:14).

Baptism happens in the NT upon profession of faith.

There is no evidence of waiting for baptism in the NT once there is a believable profession.

Baptism marks the inception of Christian living and the beginning of membership in the church.

The NT knows nothing of an unbaptized Christian or church member.

It is true that we don’t have evidence of children being baptized in the New Testament, yet it is hard to imagine that children were not included in the “households” that were baptized (Acts 16:15, 31; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16) Therefore, although we don’t have explicit evidence there does seem to be implicit evidence for baptizing children.

In Matthew 19:14 Jesus welcomes the children to him declaring to such belong the kingdom of heaven. This is a favorite passage of Presbyterians, and a thorn to some Baptists. Baptists have been on the defensive concerning this passage for so long that the positive air has been deflated and it sits as a lifeless “this is what it doesn’t mean” point. But we cannot argue this passage away and say simply that it is “child-like” faith.

The children are not props for Jesus’s point. He welcomes them, the children. If one follows the logic of this section in Matthew there is a household theme woven throughout it. A number of scholars have seen 19:1-20:28 as a Haustefl, or ‘household code’, similar to Col 3:18-4:1. Earlier Jesus has defended the rights of the married and single people and now he defends the rights of children. And these are rights concerning the kingdom of heaven. If Jesus defends the rights of believing children in the kingdom, and baptism is a sign of entrance into the kingdom, then it seems that believing children should be baptized.

Another relevant text is when Simon Magnus is baptized when he had believed in Acts 8:13. What is interesting about this text is what happens after he is baptized. The text is actually unclear concerning whether Simon has truly been converted. Yet the apostles don’t seem to hesitate to baptism him upon his profession. Simon tries to offer them money asking for the power of the Holy Spirit and Peter replies “May your silver perish with you…you have neither part nor lot in this matter for your heart is not right with God” (8:20-21). Simon answers Peter by asking Peter to pray for him that these things might not come upon him.

A theology of baptism also informs one’s decision on this issue. Baptism marks the inception into Christian living, not the mid-point, or even mature step. As Vern Poythress argues, rigorism should be avoided. Rigorism makes the standards of admission to the church so high that only the spiritually mature can meet them. Baptism is an entrance ritual, an adoption ceremony, and maturity should follow through fellowship in the church, not precede.

Now We Got Problems, And I Don’t Think We Can Solve ThemCgcYU6I

Second, in terms of pragmatics, both positions have their own complications. What I mean by pragmatics is not what works, but rather the argument based on practicality. Waiting does not help solve things in terms of pragmatics, but actually raises more.

Let me tease out three pragmatic problems in terms of waiting. First, if one wants to wait, then how long do you wait and for whom do you wait? Sometimes criteria is created around the categories of those who deal directly with church and those who are no longer under their parents authority. But what does this mean for the handicapped, or those with mental illness? Also, what does under their parents authority mean? Many “children” still live under their parents authority well into college. Waiting becomes an argument that could be extended ad infinitum.

Second, if we are going to be consistent with waiting on children then we should probably wait for all sorts of people. For some, habits are so entrenched late in life that it is hard to tell whether their profession of faith is an emotional reaction in their mid-life crisis or if it is a true profession. Or maybe all their friends are becoming Christians and they are just going with the flow? How do we discern what is a credible and mature profession across the spectrum of ages? The waiting question to be consistent should not be applied only to children.

My point in raising these two issues is that the waiting argument can really be extended to any point and any person. But to jump to the first point again, we don’t see the apostles waiting for anyone. Not even for the many saved on start of the church. They did not wait to see who would fall off; they just baptized them all. It seems that if waiting was a practice or an option, then we would get a whiff of it in Scripture.

A final pragmatic concern is that by denying baptism one is also denying a regular means of grace in the Lord’s Supper to a potential believer. The Lord’s Supper is where one can be encouraged and reminded of their participation in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. I find it troubling that a believer would be forbidden participation in this sacrament.

My Problems

The w&w camp might respond by arguing that my position has its own problems. For example they might say that while the w&w camp inserts an artificial waiting period between profession and baptism, the “baptize quickly” camp inserts an artificial waiting period between baptism and full membership.

While some take this route, I find it inconsistent. There is a third option. Why not treat children as full members once they are baptized?

Two arguments are usually raised against this. First, “Should we have seven year-olds making decisions on discipline and similar issues?” Yet this individualizes a process that is bodyized in the Scripture. They will not be making these decisions on their own, but through the leadership of both their elders and their parents.

Although some may still seem uncomfortable with such a situation, I don’t think it is consistent to argue against “waiting on baptism” and then have a waiting period for full membership. Our larger culture may want to extend adolescence, but we should not cave into the pressure in the church.

Second, Joe Rigney argues baptized members, in a congregational polity, must be qualified to rule the church. But not all members are called into leadership. He must mean that the members of the church have final authority, but even with congregational polity it is the body making these decisions not individuals. Individuals are included in the body, but the Scripture speaks of the body making decisions not individuals. Rigney is right to say members must be able to judge and be judged. While this might sound scary, we all judge based on the leadership of our elders. A child can do this as well. In terms of judgment I do think a member should be liable to church discipline to be consistent (a topic for another day).

So from a pragmatic perspective it seems that both sides have their own issues to deal with. Thus the argument ammunition should not be unloaded in the pragmatic sphere for the w&w.

Prudence

So if the w&w camp is honest, the argument comes down to prudence. But even the prudence argument rests on weak beams. Is it prudent to not encourage our children to obey Jesus’ commands in terms of baptism? Is it prudent to wait until children have more mature faith when Jesus welcomes the children to him? Is it prudent to withhold the Lord’s Supper to believers? Is it prudent to have a church full of adult members as if children did not have something to teach us? Is it prudent to communicate to our children, even inadvertently, that faith is largely intellectual and that baptism is reserved only for the mature?

All these questions makes me think it is more prudent to follow the fairly clear logic of Scripture and baptize upon a credible profession of faith welcoming them into full membership in the church.

At what age should this be done? I don’t think we can have a Mishnah-type law on this. For different children and different families the age will vary. I think all agree the profession needs to be credible and not just some willy-nilly assent, but in the Scriptures there doesn’t seem to be a waiting period for this credibility to be verified. Therefore parents and pastors must pray for wisdom, but not willfully withhold baptism to children they have reasons to believe are regenerate.

Ancient-Wisdom-Naxos-Gate-880x300Conclusion

Lydia, my nearly five-year-old daughter is learning about Jesus now. This is not some abstract argument for me. People have strong opinions about this issue because it pertains to their children. I will continue to work through this issue as I teach her the gospel, and tell her about Jesus and his commands to follow him in his death and resurrection.

But for biblical, pragmatic, and prudential reasons I can’t see myself withholding baptism from her if she is credibly professing Christ and requesting to be baptized in obedience to his commands. Baptism is an adoption ritual, and when I see my child credibly adopted into the family of God I will not withhold water.

 

 

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The pressures of the higher education bubble continue to expand as administrative costs swell, and a new generation is wondering how practical overly expensive tuition is. Because of these reasons, and many more, seminaries are rethinking their curriculum and taking a critical look at certain subjects.

The critical eye aimed towards curriculum is a good thing. Not everything that was taught 10 or 100 years ago should continue to be taught. And the changing culture makes it necessary to address new topics.

So as the gazing eye roams over the curriculum it is natural for it to rest on Greek and Hebrew and begin to ask questions. Questions such as:

Do ministers really need to know how to translate Greek and Hebrew to be a faithful practitioner?

How many students are keeping their Greek and Hebrew?

Should we teach the languages through the use of Bible programs?

What is the benefit of knowing some Greek and Hebrew but not knowing enough to substantially interact with scholars?

This post is not intended to address all these questions. But I would like to tackle one of them head on. The argument is that we should stop teaching Greek and Hebrew the way we do because the vast majority of students “lose” their Greek and Hebrew. If students and pastors are not using this part of their education then why include it?

This is a fair question yet I think it is quite short-sighted and shoehorns education into one mold. So I want to answer this question by arguing for the benefit of Greek and Hebrew language education even if students lose it.

Now of course I don’t want them to lose it. As a Greek teacher, I give a portion of my last class to encourage students to work at keeping their languages. Yet the reality is that students do lose their languages.

So my argument spins the scenario and contends it is worth it for students to learn the languages even if they lose them for at least three reasons.

We Don’t Remember Everything That Forms Us

First, it is valuable to learn the languages even if one loses them because we don’t remember everything that forms us. This is where one’s view of education has massive importance for how one constructs curriculum. Education can be thought of in terms of what a student is able to “produce.” But this is stunted view of education. Much of what forms us we are not able to remember. Doug Wilson makes this point brilliantly in a little paragraph on reading (which happens to be my favorite quote from him of all time).

Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading, you will not be able to remember. The most formative years of my life were the first five, and if those years were to be evaluated on the basis of my ability to pass a test on them, the conclusion would be that nothing important happened then, which would be false. The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them.

What Doug Wilson says applies not only to reading but education in general. Education is not just about what one can remember, but how people are formed by the things they can’t even recall. Regurgitating information is one way of testing comprehension, but it is not the only way. When it becomes the sole way we are cutting education off at the hips.

So although some students lose their Greek and Hebrew, it does not follow that it did not form them. Even if pastors are not using their Greek and Hebrew in sermon prep they are influenced by what they studied at seminary, even if they are unconscious of it. So even if a pastor says to me, “My Greek and Hebrew has little effect on my ministry,” I just don’t believe them. What they mean is that Greek and Hebrew has little “visible” effect of their ministry. But we don’t know how they would preach or study the text without the rigorous study they put in.

There are Different Levels of Losing the Languages

Second, it is valuable to learn the languages even if one loses them because there are different levels of “losing” the languages. What most people mean when they say that they have “lost” the language is that they can no longer sight translate. But they have not lost them in the sense that they can interact with commentaries that reference the languages.

They still have some sense of what a genitive is, maybe even what a source genitive is. They have not completely lost this knowledge; it is stored somewhere in their brain; it just needs a little dusting off.

Therefore, to say that one has lost the languages does not mean that they have completely lost all knowledge of what happened in those few semesters. What they mean is that their knowledge is not where it was when they finished that sequence.

Language Training Teaches People to Think Textually

Third, language training teaches people to think textually. Although some claim that their languages are lost like a remote control in a living room, the training they received has still taught them to think carefully and look closely at the text. The language sequence not only teaches people to memorize certain grammatical concepts but to see that interpretation is a complex decision making process. Michael Kruger put this point well in a blog post on the same subject.

Even if a student forgets every single vocabulary word and every verb paradigm, the intensive study of the languages during seminary still plays an enormously significant role. Put simply, it helps students think textually.

Prior to learning the languages, most of us simply do not know how to think on a textual level when it comes to studying the Scripture. But after learning Greek or Hebrew (even if we forget it), we now understand grammar, syntax, logical flow, and sentence structure. Moreover, we understand the way words work, how their meaning is determined (or not determined), the importance of context, and the avoidance of certain exegetical fallacies.

To end this process in my mind would be detrimental and fatal for ministers whose job is to apply the Scripture to the needs of their congregational body.

Conclusion

This should not be seen as a license to lose the languages, but I think it does address the issue that many students are dropping them once they leave school. If schools do not require the language sequence they are ensuring that future ministers will no longer have people who are adept in them.

For every five students who lose the languages, there may be one or two who keep the languages. Maybe one of these people will be the one to respond to the next big controversy? Maybe one of these will the one to write the next ground-breaking Romans commentary? Maybe one of these will cultivate a deep love of Scripture in the next generation? Do we really want to take the chance to change the future like this?

I for one do not.