Monday, August 27, 2007
Some useful reading, either supplementary or preparatory, can be found at Theopedia, in their pages on "Lordship salvation" and "Free grace". Two notes: I use the name that the movement prefers, no matter my personal opinion of it; and for full disclosure, I wrote large chunks of the "free grace" article.The question is simple: is a necessary part of the response to the Gospel to be obedient to Christ as Lord? The controversy, which arose in the late 80s and early 90s, turned on exactly this question, although there were, naturally enough, other questions which arose and on which the parties differed. However, there were also differences within the camps, and it is on the "Lordship" side's internal discussion that I wish to focus. Given I was not only very young, but living in a hermetically-sealed, self-contained locale of Welsh Reformed evangelicalism at the time, I had no knowledge of this debate until a year or so ago, when I had to get up to speed on it for a number of reasons. And I found that one of the main movers on the Reformed side was John MacArthur, a man for whom I frankly have little time. Another of those main movers was Michael Horton, for whom I have a lot of time (have they fixed this week's White Horse Inn download yet?). So somehow it came as little surprise that while MacArthur and Horton agreed on the main substance of the attack, there was a clear disagreement between Horton (and the crew with whom he co-authored Christ the Lord) and MacArthur on quite how to define Biblical faith.The "free grace" lot were saying that faith is merely acquiescing to a bunch of historical facts, or at best, that all you had to do was acknowledge that Jesus was able to save sinners. Faith was little more than accepting a particular circumstance as potentially true, without actually trusting that it was going to happen. By contrast, MacArthur got so wound up with repentance, obedience and an acceptance of Christ's rightful Lordship over the life of the believer that he loaded all of this into his definition of faith, and came dangerously close to teaching legalism. Christ the Lord tackled the "free grace" group with gusto, but also sought to distance itself from MacArthur's views, which I think by the time of publication he had clarified in a retraction. The retraction can still be read on the Internet. (Incidentally, this was not the first retraction MacArthur has had to publish. He had previously retracted his denials of the eternal Sonship of Christ. Lady Bracknell would have words to say.)I'm not sure what Horton et al. said, but I can tell you what the main things that I'd say.Firstly, we may talk about obedience as a necessary condition of faith because, speaking logically, A implies B if and only if B is a necessary condition of A. But it's dangerous language because people don't understand logic that clearly.Secondly, though, I'd say that obedience flows out of faith in a way that makes it impossible for faith not to produce obedience. I'm not saying perfect obedience is produced any more than I'm saying perfect faith is exercised! But if we're convinced that faith is more than assent, that it is also trust, then the question arises, do we trust God when he gives commands? Which kind of settles, from the human end, the question. Of course, we recognise that just as faith is a gift, so is obedience; just as the Gospel is God's work, so are our opportunities for obedience. Faith, the empty hand which accepts with gratitude all the Father gives, is still faith when it accepts opportunities to serve, as much as when it accepts Christ and clings to him.EDIT: I was just reading this article, and came across a Warfield quote, which basically says what I was trying to say, but far more neatly. "We cannot be said to believe that which we distrust too much to commit ourselves to it."
Friday, August 24, 2007
Michael Spencer at the Boar's Head Tavern highlights a Christian Century article in which evangelical organisations which promote financial responsibility are studied and critiqued. They are, to translate into British terms, Christian versions of Alvin Hall, the no-nonsense, straight-talking personal finance adviser whom I respect greatly for the way he tells people what's what. A few different viewpoints are presented in the course of the article, which seems, insofar as it takes a position at all, to suggest, very politely and without rancour, that while these organisations are doing some good work, they aren't doing enough and what they do, they aren't doing properly.The phenomenon of consumer credit is one which exists in both the United States and the United Kingdom; indeed, I expect that the West as a whole is floating on a sea of credit. With the recent instabilities in the markets a result of America's fascination with spending money which doesn't really exist, I feel somewhat justified in saying that I take an extremely dim view of easy credit: economically, it is inherently inflationary; and morally, it is both the tool and occasion of greed. But I think I would take a very similar line to the article.Firstly, the existence of Bible-centred debt management strikes me as an interesting cultural phenomenon in itself. It wouldn't happen here in Europe, for a few reasons. We don't have enough Christians who take the Bible seriously, for a start. But I would hazard to guess that among UK evangelicals, there is a much lower incidence of unsecured indebtedness. Purely anecdotally, I recall in a church youth group, one of the group revealed that they had run up credit card debts and bank overdrafts in order to fund an acquisitive lifestyle; not only the leaders but also many of us in the group were horrified to think that someone could be so irresponsible with money (I almost wrote "their" money, but that's the point: it isn't theirs). So we don't need such help, so much.But going further, I think there is room for Christians and, indeed, churches to be offering help with managing finances. Just as churches in other ways function as "community centres" as a part of their outreach activity, so this can be a part of a church's attempts to reach into a community: if there are problems with debt, then as Christians, we want to help show people how to deal with such problems. That's not to say that we think that's what the church exists for, but it's something akin to the Western version of giving out food parcels and medical treatment. Finances are also a good stepping-stone to talking with people about self-control and their ability to resist temptation, as a precursor to presenting the One who resisted temptation on their behalf and who offers true riches for their real poverty.However, I don't think that we do the Bible any good by claiming that it teaches us how to manage our finances. I suspect that the reason why people quote verses (totally out of context) when talking about managing finances is because evangelicals (who need to hear about financial management too, and are the first audience for these organisations) will sit up and pay attention when someone "gives them chapter and verse". But in truth, financial management is one of these areas where we can plunder the Egyptians, taking advantage of the wisdom of the world. After all, money is a pretty worldly thing, so it would be little surprise to learn that there are worldly people who know how to handle it. Why can't we, to quote the Lord, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves on this matter?And finally, I think that the author's point is vey valid, where he asks "what if the church, with its claim that Jesus' resurrection inaugurates the end of history and with its view of people's worth as a function of their creation in the image of God, is actually an alternative to capitalism? What if the church should be forming people for more dramatic resistance to consumerism?" Although the Bible may not tell us how to manage our finances, it tells a story which affects the whole of life: not only our "relationship with God", nor only our "morality", but personal finance, and indeed economics, business and the whole of working life. Is Western-style capitalism, especially of the sort it has become over the last fifty years, really the most consistent with that Story of stories?It would be silly of me not close by mentioning a very useful website which deals with the financial issues raised here from a British perspective. The Motley Fool discussion boards, "Dealing with Debt" and "Living Below Your Means" are places where people discuss… well, I think you can guess by the names!
Thursday, August 23, 2007
This morning, John Humphrys was interviewing a Government minister about the GCSE pass rate, which is naturally of concern on the day that the results come out. And he was suggesting that the Government should do more to ensure that more children get 5 A*-C grades. But suppose that the necessary improvements to the system were delivered and, by some miracle, every child left school with at least 5 A*-C grades at GCSE. I can just hear John Humphrys' question: "What will the Government do to restore trust in the GCSE, given the grade inflation that has occurred over the last years?"
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I'm on a sort of hiatus, given I'm in East Asia and can't access a computer reliably (oh, and I'm looking at the Blogger interface in Thai, which is interesting). But part of my holiday reading included a book with these words.
This heresy [dualism of matter and spirit–Ed.] has appeared in a very subtle form in connection with the subject of glorification. The direction it has taken in this case is to play on the chord of the immortality of the soul. This seems a very innocent and proper emphasis and, of course, there is some truth in the contention that the soul is immortal. … The biblical doctrine of "immortality," if we may use that term, is the doctrine of glorification. And glorification is resurrection. Without resurrection of the body from the grave and the restoration of human nature to its completeness after the pattern of Christ's resurrection on the third day and according to the likeness of the glorified human nature in which he will appear on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory there is no glorification. It is not the vague sentimentality and idealism so characteristic of those whose is merely the immortality of the soul.So go on, have a guess. Who is this, so concerned to defend the doctrine of bodily resurrection against the "heaven as final destination" view so prevalent nowadays?POSTLUDE: It was John Murray, in Redemption: Accomplished & Applied. Why so interesting? Because in our modern day, Tom Wright has said much the same thing, if somewhat less opaquely. The contemporary problem in which evangelicals hope for "heaven" so much that they lose sight of the resurrection body and the new earth was contemporary in 1955, and I would suggest (John H will kill me for this!) that it is something which comes across in Bach's cantatas, pointing up that it was contemporary even in the eighteenth century.