Devotional or Scholarly?

I read the following quote on a Mike Higton’s blog recently. Mike is a Lecturer in Theology at Exeter University. I identified so strongly with what he wrote that I thought I should post it here. It reminded me also of a post I wrote some time back titled Personal Devotions.

On the other hand, I realised that a dividing wall in my mind had, over time, softly and silently vanished away, and that there was in principle no longer any gap for me between devotional and academic exploration of biblical texts. I found that, without having deliberately set off towards it, I had reached a point where it seemed obvious that a careful reading of a biblical text which was as academically rigorous as I could make it could and should also be deeply ‘self-involving’, personally and communally challenging – and that these two aspects were not in conflict, were not even independent, but could and should feed each other. In other words, I was no longer in a position of thinking that I needed to forge connections between the results of acedmic biblical study and a devotional and ecclesial use of the Bible: I no longer saw a gap that might need connections to be built across it.

Brueggeman Quote

As I mentioned just recently, it is sort of a hobby of mine to collect quotes from mainstream Christian authors that reflect what I consider to be a proper perspective on the First Testament and/or the Torah.  Joel sent me a great one this evening from Walter Brueggeman.

When Israel arrives at Mt. Sinai, a new extended, complex tradition begins, featuring [a] the making of covenant between YHWH and Israel and [b] the issuance of the commands of YHWH that become the condition and substance of the covenant…In all its complexity, the Sinai tradition extends through the book of Leviticus and through Numbers 10:10, when Israel departs the mountain.  The reason the material is so complex is that over time the tradition of commands sought to extend the rule and will of YHWH to every aspect of life, personal and public, civic and cultic…This tradition is at the core of Judaism that is constituted by obedience to YHWH’s Torah.  Conversely, in Christian tradition this material has been largely downplayed, precisely because it has been erroneously understood as “law” that provides a way to “earn” God’s grace.  A reconsideration of the role and function of the commandments in their rich interpretive complexity is now of immense importance for Christians, precisely to be delivered from wrongly informed and distorting caricatures of the tradition of commandment.

[Brueggeman, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. pg. 61]

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Brueggeman’s writings. Sometimes he leaves me cheering, and sometimes he absolutely drives me nuts.

Something Real

In a 2005 article about Jonny Cash, Russel D. Moore said something I really like:

Perhaps if Christian churches modeled themselves more after Johnny Cash, and less after perky Christian celebrities… we might find ourselves resonating more with the MTV generation. Maybe if we stopped trying to be “cool,” and stopped hiring youth ministers who are little more than goateed game-show hosts, we might find a way to connect with a generation that understands pain and death more than we think.

People from 12 to 35 are aching for reality. Hollywood proffers reality TV, which only highlights the desperate situation we’re in. But inside, people are dying (often literally) for something true, something serious, something worth holding on to, worth living for.

Too often the version of the “Gospel” that we talk about is to the Gospel of the Bible what grape Kool-Aid is to a robust Cabernet Sauvignon. It goes down sweet, but there’s no sustenance. Whereas Cabernet can be an acquired taste, but it provides heart-strengthening polyphenols. Sure, it can also send you reeling into walls, but so can the Gospel.

I want to encounter the Gospel in all of its life-altering potential. Otherwise, what is the point?

The Way of Salvation

Well. I began reading a new book a few days ago titled, The Way of Salvation: The Role of Christian Obedience in Justification, by Paul A. Rainbow and published in 2005 by Paternoster Press. (By the way, these guys are publishing some seriously interesting books! There’s another book coming down the pike from them that is a review of the wide spectrum of Messianic theology–I can’t wait to read that.)

Anyway, Dr. Rainbow is a man of significant intestinal fortitude, because he is daring to challenge an idea (sola fide) that has been cherished for centuries. In fact, not just cherished, but waved as the primal evidence of Protestant orthodoxy.

Read his description of his core idea:

“My thesis in a nutshell is that, though the Reformers had Paul on their side in decrying merit before conversion and rightly emphasized that God freely imputes Christ’s righteousness to a believing sinner apart from prior moral efforts, nevertheless they were wrong to exclude ‘evangelical obedience’ (as the Puritans called deeds produced by divine grace in the lives of the redeemed) from having a secondary role in the way of salvation which we tread thereafter. Paul and James alike point to good works as the pathway to God’s approval at the last judgment, and they consider this future moment an integral part of justification itself. For persons to be justified in the full sense, God’s present imputation of righteousness to those who are incorporate in Christ by faith must be legitimized in the end by his approbation of an actual righteousness which he brings about in them during the meantime. While faith is the ultimate condition for both events, deeds are proximately conditional in their own right for the culminating event. My understanding of the grammar and of the implied metaphysics of Scripture requires me to engage sharply with the Reformers over the issue of how Christian obedience relates to justification in eschatalogical perspective. Sola fide is true when it describes how we first enter into a new standing with God, but it oversimplifies the nature of the Christian journey into the coming age, with potentially disastrous effects.” (xvi)

“A fresh look at the doctrine of sola fide is needed for at least three further reasons. Its method violates the rule of the scriptural canon. In substance, stress on faith alone severs justification too cleanly from sanctification. And with regard to its effects in history, the doctrine is dangerous. Since the 1520s, it has proven powerless to check repeated outbreaks of antinomianism (opposition to the teaching of moral law) in churches indebted to the Reformation, resulting in large fringes of congregants today imbued with the heresy that without mortifying sins they can nevertheless rest assured of reaching heaven.” (xvii)

It’s too early for me to be able to evaluate whether I think his over all analysis is correct or not. However, his reading of the effects of antinomianism is dead on. I’m looking forward to finishing this book.

My Calvinism

Charles Simeon, the father of Anglican evangelicalism, was called a Calvinist, but disliked the name and referred to himself, as  “a moderate Calvinist” or “a Bible Christian.” He was born in 1759 and died in 1836. Appointed vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge at age 23, he also became a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. His remarkable perseverance at Holy Trinity Cambridge is a story worth reading, and I have often valued the example of his determination to let Christ continue to revise his character–even into old age.

You can read more about Charles Simeon in a biography written by H.C.G. Moule, himself an Anglican of repute, at googlebooks .

The following dialogue recorded between Simeon and well-known Arminian John Wesley is one of my favorite commentaries on Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

[Simeon:] Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

[Wesley:] Yes, I do indeed.

[S:] And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

[W:] Yes, solely through Christ.

[S:] But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

[W:] No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

[S:] Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?

[W:] No.

[S:] What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

[W:] Yes, altogether.

[S:] And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

[W:] Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

[S:] Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (from H.C.G. Moule. Charles Simeon: Biography of a Sane Saint. London: InterVarsity Press, 1948, pp. 79-80.)

We would do well to likewise find common ground rather than entrenching ourselves in foxholes of peripheral issues.

I should also mention that the 21-volume lifework by Simeon titled Horae Homileticae is available at a fraction of the cost you would pay for the hard copy edition–that is if you can even find it–over at Logos.com.

The Present Role of the Law (Torah)

Even the Apostle Peter said that St. Paul’s writings were difficult to understand, and throughout history Christian men (and women) have often found them difficult to align congruently with the rest of Scripture.

In the past 150 years it has become fashionable to act—and even believe—that the Law was done away with by Messiah’s sacrifice. In a certain and specific sense that is true; but the way in which it has commonly come to be understood is blatantly and grievously erroneous.

Dispensationalism was largely responsible for spreading this unfortunate idea; an idea that is in many ways responsible for the present deplorable state of Christian morals in America (see Barna’s recent report). What I find so astounding, however, is the degree to which the dispensational approach to Paul’s writings have so profoundly influenced those who would vigorously protest any suggestion that they are dispensationalists.

But more to the point, or at least to my point, is this assertion: it has been the predominant, historic, and orthodox Christian belief that every believer is beholden to keep God’s commandments as they exist in both the Old and New Testaments.  Attempts to figure out how to walk out that obligation vary widely, and I have my own opinion. The point, however, is that varying applications aside, we must agree that, as Article 7 of the Articles of Religion state:

…no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Granted, that begs the question, “Which commandments are moral?” But I leave that for another discussion.

Allow me, finally, to arrive at the quote which I originally set out to blog upon.

The following was written between 1832 and 1863 by Charles Simeon, the father of Anglican evangelicals, fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge.

He begins with stating the objection urged against the Gospel; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” And then he answers it at large; and affirms, that the covenant of grace, so far from invalidating our obligation to good works, absolutely secures the performance of thema….[1]

[Christ, our incarnate Lord, has fulfilled every part of God’s law; enduring its penalties, as well as executing its commands: and this he has done, as our Surety: so that, if we believe in him, we may plead his obedience unto death in bar of all the punishment it denounces against us; and may even plead it also as having procured for us a title to all its promised blessings. Our blessed Lord, in fulfilling the law, has abrogated it as a covenant; and has obtained for us a new and better covenant, of which he himself is the Suretyb. As a rule of conduct, the law does, and ever must, continue in force; because it is the transcript of the mind and will of God, and contains a perfect rule for the conduct of his creaturesc: but as a, covenant it is dissolved; and is, in respect of us, dead; so that we have no more connexion with it than a woman has with her deceased husband: our obligations to it, and our expectations from it, have ceased for everd.[2]


a Rom. 6:14–16.

[1]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans(London, 1832-63). 165.

b Heb. 8:6, 8, 13.

c 1 Cor. 9:21.

d Gal. 2:19.

[2]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans (London, 1832-63). 166.

To Give Dignity to a Man

For years there has been a particular picture of a Native American Indian hanging in my study. It was given to me as a gift so long ago, I’m embarrassed to say, that I no longer remember who gave it to me. From the moment I saw it the picture and its caption captivated me. May this acknowledgement serve as a long overdue thank you to whomever was my benefactor.

The caption reads:

To give dignity to a man is above all things.

                                                                     – Indian Proverb

That immediately struck a chord with something deep inside me. A value that has always guided me, but which I’d never previously had words to express. I’ve often pondered the aphorism over the years, but an entirely new aspect of its truth hit me recently.

It is safe to say that our society is woefully lacking in the bestowing of dignity one to another. But I have finally noticed an erosion of my own dignity over the last several years; an erosion that has ebbed in concert with the gradual loosening of self-discipline.

I’m just beginning to grasp the profundity of this connection between self-control and personal dignity. It is clear to me, however, that a society which devalues self-control and bitterly resents any efforts at external control will suffer from a woeful deficit of dignity. And anyone lacking personal dignity is practically incapable of giving it to another.

Because I’m committed to extending dignity to all I meet, I hereby resolve to renew the self-disciplines which I have let lapse over the preceding 12 years.

The concept of dignity and its connection to the image of God merits further exploration, so I will revisit this topic in the future.