Author: Paul Henebury

If You Don’t Have It Already…Some Book Selections for Christmas and After

Thought I would write a quick post on some of the books I think are important acquisitions for a Christian’s library.  If you don’t yet have them (and in some cases, if you can get them), you should try to acquire them.  The list is somewhat eclectic and does not pander to what’s new, although some new titles were deliberately included.

This is not a Top Ten list, but all the books are, in my opinion, must haves.

1. Systematic Theology by John Frame

Although Frame said (in Salvation Belongs to the Lord) that he probably wouldn’t write a full scale Systematics, this book lives up to its promise.  It does not bother to interact with the never-ending swell of scholars’ opinions.  Instead, Frame quotes whom he must and concentrates on theological exposition.  He does not argue his covenant theology, but simply assumes it.  Nevertheless, this is a great book.

2. Systematic Theology: The Beauty of Christ by Douglas F. Kelly

The second and much anticipated volume of Kelly’s magnum opus (I was starting to wonder if we would see this volume).  Kelly’s handling of the material and his catholic appreciation of Christianity, while remaining Reformed, is noteworthy.  So too is his use of patristic and classic resources.

3. The Works of Hugh Binning

From the age of the Puritans comes this terrific big book of Binning’s theological sermons and writings.  The style is analytical and precise but clear and spiritual.  They evince a maturity which men three times his age never achieved.  Just as well, since Binning died young.  I love these sermons!

4. The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires

This book certainly deserves to be called a classic.  It remains one of the best internal critiques of the way evangelical Christianity has sacrificed the place of the mind in its self-understanding (far better than Mark Noll).  He wrote two follow-ups: Recovering the Christian Mind and The Post-Christian Mind.  They are both worthy.  The latter one does a very good job of showing how words are disconnected from their meanings and misused nowadays (which is ironic in an age of deconstructionism).  Two other hard to find but fine works are The Secularist Heresy and The Will and the Way.

5. The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer

A brilliant piece of exegetical and theological scholarship which has not been given the attention it deserves.  No easy ride, but worth the effort to get through.  His chapters on covenant and on Jesus in the OT are superb correctives to much of the misguided Biblical Theology being produced by evangelical scholars today.

6. Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer

Now with a chapter responding to his critics, this book and its excellent precursor, Signature in the Cell, inform us about the wonderful intricacies of life while clearly showing up the haplessness of evolutionary efforts to explain what is being discovered.  Another book worth mentioning is Cornelius Hunter’s very helpful Science’s Blind Spot.  The author shows how bad [natural] theology contributed to the push for methodological naturalism.

7. C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table ed. by James Como

A selection of pieces written by those who either knew or studied with Lewis, or else have been followers of his work.  This book really helps to set Lewis in his context as well as to show his patience and humility.  Only two chapters are disappointing.

8. Miracles by Craig Keener

Keener is one of the clearest scholarly writers around.  His (profuse} use of sources is a model for any writer.  This two volume book demonstrates the same careful balance as his previous and outstanding Historical Jesus of the Gospels, of which it is a kind of sequel.  Keener gives the reader exposure to lots of useful background on miracles in ancient sources.  He then shows how Hume’s arguments are in fact question-begging and how (he thinks) the tide is turning on the question.  His cumulative documenting of many cases of healings, etc. is difficult to ignore.  While not always convincing, this is a powerful resource which brings the question of miracles before us more than any other work.

9. Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen

Bahnsen’s knowledge of Van Til’s presuppositional method was encyclopedic.  His sympathy with Van Til and improvement of aspects of his thought make this the book on the subject.  Bahnsen’s Always Ready is still the best introduction to presuppositionalism.

10. Do You Know Jesus? by Adolf Schlatter

Writing approximately between the end of the 19th century and the period just before WW2, Schlatter was one of the top NT scholars of his era.  These meditations are short but engage the mind as much as the heart.  They follow the career of Jesus.  As such they provide spiritual food for thought on the only human being who really matters.

Honorary mention: Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling by Jay Adams

This books concerns itself with the first session, the “turning point”, and the end session of counseling. The advice is mature and sage from the doyen of the Biblical Counseling movement (although some of them seem to have forgotten it).  A very helpful book.

The Divine Logos (Pt.3)

Part Two

Jesus as the Word

Even though the teaching of the “Word” or “Logos” appears prominently and explicitly in the prologue to John’s Gospel, the theme runs through the whole of the Gospel.[1]

John stresses the words of Jesus as having special significance as words:

Rhemata is used nine times for His words (5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20;10:21; 12:47, 48; 14:10; 15:7), and three times for the words of God spoken by Jesus (3:34; 8:47; 17:8).

John employs logos three times in the plural for Jesus words (7:40; 10:19; 14:24).

But it is used eighteen times in the singular (2;22; 4:41, 50; 5:24; 6:60; 7:36; 8:31, 37, 43, 51,52; 12:48; 14:23; 15:3, 20; 18:9, 32). Six times for God’s word and twice for the word of God which Jesus speaks (14:24; 17:14).

According to Gundry[2], John goes out of his way to “multiply references to Jesus” words qua words”, using more than twice as many of these terms as all the synoptics put together (nearly three times if one considers that many of the synoptic instances are repetitions). To these words one should also consider the usage of entole in 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12 with the use of logos as a synonym in 8:51, 52; 14:23, 24; 15:20; 17:6.

Then also we should look at martureo and maturia which occur sixteen times for the witness of Jesus (3:11, 32, 33; 4:44; 5:31; 7:7; 8:13, 14, 18; 13:21; 18:37. See also Rev. 19:13 and Rev. 1:2, 9; 20:4). Again John “calls attention to the voice (phone) of Jesus 9 times” (3:29; 5:25, 28; 10:3, 4, 16, 27; 11:43; 18:37). John records Jesus as saying “Amen, Amen” twenty-five times before important assertions. Fifty out of the sixty-one occurrences of laleo; lalo; and lalia (speak) have to do with Jesus speaking, compared with only nine occurrences in the synoptics (see esp. 8:43).

John refers to believing Jesus’ word or words (2:22; 4:50; 5:47; cf. 3:12; 10:25; 12:38), and abiding in His word (or it abiding in us) in 5:38 and 15:7. In 8:51, 52; 14:15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 20 John refers to keeping Jesus’ commands, word or words in a way not duplicated in the synoptics.Finally, (in this study) see 4:26 (cf. 4:10) and Jesus’ emphasis upon Jesus own words.

Jesus, the Logos of God as the Ground of Meaning.

Even a superficial reading of John’s opening verses sets before the reader the absoluteness of his Logos concept.[3] To summarize, the Logos is part of the Godhead (vv1-2); and as a member of the Godhead He is the instrument of creation and providence (v.3). Since all things were made by Him it is scarcely surprising that John tells us that the Logos is the light and life of men (v. 4). He reveals God not through natural revelation alone, or even by the law and the prophets, through whom He spoke – but supremely by means of His own incarnation (vv. 14-18).

Furthermore, it is by the Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, that salvation is offered to sinners and hope shines brightly on our horizon. There can be little doubt that what John is doing at the beginning of his Gospel is putting forth a Christian weltanshauung or worldview. MacLeod has nicely summarized our point.

Today…a wide variety of worldviews exist, and John’s prologue is an antidote to all of them. The Gospel of John presents a true understanding of who Jesus is, so that readers may have the proper framework with which to interpret life and reality – that they may know God and walk in the light of His truth.[4]

As the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14, 18; 1 Jn. 1:1), Jesus Christ is the “Great Explanation”, both of man’s world and of man’s future (Jn.1:10-13; 17-18). As Carl Henry explains,

“In a day when modern wisdom considers the cosmos devoid of teleology and derives man from purposeless nature, the reality of the self-revealed Logos towers anew as the only intelligible ground and sustaining source of meaning, value and purpose.”[5]

This is what we must insist upon as followers of the risen Lord. We are what we are and this world is what it is because of His grace.Therefore, to pass by the Logos doctrine of John’s Gospel when searching for final explanations is to overlook the source and strength of Reality – a faux-pas which leaves men floundering in metaphysical darkness (Jn. 1:9-10). Rebel man attempts to construct world and life views in this darkness; a darkness that one writer has aptly described as,

“[Not] blindness as such, but instead …a darkness that is willed, that is, …a kind of blindness that does not understand itself to be blind, but on the contrary believes that it sees and that it comprehends reality in its entirety.”[6]

For all its ingenuity, the world of men and women is without a center. It is this way because of rebellious hearts (Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 1:25). John, the last of the Apostles, points us again to the eternal Logos-Son who, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The world has to borrow bits and pieces of the biblical worldview in order to live in this Logos-structured environment.[7] Men forget the very center of their existence by neglecting Jesus Christ. It is as Wells says,

In the Word, then, we are met by the personal and eternal God who has joined himself to our flesh. In Jesus, the permanent and final unveiling of God has taken place, and the center of this truth is coincidental with the life of this man. Jesus is the means through which and in conjunction with whom God has made known his character, his will, and his ways (cf. John 14:6).[8]

Man’s wisdom fails as an interpreter of life when he misses the significance of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos (Lk. 2:8-15; Rom. 1:22; 1 Cor. 1:20). Therefore, we may repeat Henry’s opinion that,

“Taken long-range, the only options are either nihilism or the Nazarene. The Logos of supernatural revelation towers as the only effective barricade against meaninglessness of the world and human life.”[9]

A Christo-Doxological Grand Theme

Theology is not a subject like math or science. It is, under the Holy Spirit, the grand orchestration of worship to God. But theology is bound to Scripture and Scripture is bound to Christ. This world was made not only through Him but for Him (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). And though rejected, He is to be the Judge of it (Rev. 19:11f.).[10] Theology stems from revelation, and so its springs are in the revealing Son (Jn. 1:18). “Since God communicated himself to the Logos, the Logos could communicate himself to us. (more…)

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Review: ‘The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel’

Review of The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014, 349 pages.

The book under review is the result of a conference that was held in New York in support of the special place of Israel in the Scriptures.  Seventeen contributors put forth various articles under the headings of New Testament, Old Testament, Hermeneutics, Theology & Church History, and Practical Theology.  A Forward is provided by popular writer Joel Rosenberg. The Introduction is by Glaser, and a short Conclusion is by Bock.

The purpose of the book is to bring together studies advocating the place of “Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God’ as the subtitle has it.  The presenters come from the broadly premillennial camp; many are dispensationalists.

On the whole the articles are brief – about 12 to 15 pages on average, but for the most part each author has made good use of their allotted space.  It may be helpful to give a few general remarks about the contributions rather than choosing one or two pieces for extended comment.

In the first place I found Rosenberg’s Forward to be off-putting.  It is written in a journalistic parlance which is at odds with the tenor of most of the articles. It also focuses on biblical prophecies being fulfilled in our time, which seems a questionable assertion.  That said, I agree with the statement that the existence of the State of Israel today is testimony to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (17).  Nevertheless, I think the book could have done with a less popular opening.

Eugene Merrill’s survey of the Torah is not as good as I expected from such an author.  His advocacy of a ‘Creation covenant’ is unpersuasive, omitting mention of the crucial covenant-oath.  He surprisingly holds that the land grant, nationhood, and blessing “were fulfilled in biblical times” (35).  Although saying this does not mean that there is no future for national Israel, the references he uses (e.g. Gen. 15:18 & 22:17) do not really find fulfillment until the kingdom age.

Walter Kaiser’s chapter on “Israel according to the Writings” is well done and includes helpful treatments of the Davidic covenant, prophecies in Daniel, and providence in Esther.  Robert Chisholm’s chapter on the Prophets spends a lot of time arguing for “essential fulfillment which allows for human freedom” (54).  Chisholm refers to the prophecy to Ahab about the dogs licking his blood “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth” (1 Kings 21:19).  He observes that the dogs licked Ahab’s blood at Samaria, not Jezreel where Naboth was killed (59).  He believes the discrepancy shows that “God makes room for human freedom in the outworking of even irrevocable prophecy.” (60). In other words, he holds that prophecy can be fulfilled somewhat differently than written.  I found this article perhaps the least satisfactory of all the chapters in the book.  It sows doubt where there ought to be confidence.

In response to the Ahab prophecy it should be noted that Ahab’s repentance did seem to impact the pronouncement; the doom being transferred over to his son (1 Kings 21:29 with 2 Kings 9:25-26).  Further, 1 Kings 22:38 says the dogs licked Ahab’s blood “according to the word of the LORD”, which was true.  It does not mention the place where Naboth’s blood was licked up, most likely because of the change in Ahab’s outlook.  But this incident should not be used, as Chisholm uses it, as paradigmatic of long-term prophecy.  Chisholm states, “When fulfillment transcends the prophet’s time and context, the language takes on archetypal status and one should expect essential or generic, not exact or literal, fulfillment of prophecy.” (61).  There then follows examples of such “contextualized” “partial fulfillment.” Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices are one such example (65).  In my opinion this chapter hardly helps the aims of the book.

The next chapter, by Michael Brown, discusses Jewish traditional interpretations.  Since these are often speculative and sometimes wacky (a 150 foot tall ‘shrunken’ Adam on p. 81!), Dr. Brown’s talents might have been utilized better on another subject.

If the OT contributions are uneven, the NT contributions are much better.  The pieces by M. Wilkins (Matthew), and D. Bock (Luke-Acts), are both valuable.  Not far behind is M. Vanlaningham’s coverage of Romans, although strangely he doesn’t attend to the Olive Tree figure in Romans 11.  Craig Evans on the General Epistles spends too much time discussing authorship.  He even inserts the idea that Paul begrudged calling James one of the pillars of the early church (135).  His chapter is too generic to offer much solid help.

Craig Blaising on “Israel and Hermeneutics” is one of the best chapters in the book.  One gets the impression that he would have liked more space to really bring out his points.  But he does succeed in showing why supercessionism fails in regard to being comprehensive, congruent, and (too briefly) consistent and coherent.  His use of the argument from performative language hits home (160-162). Next follow two strong chapters from M. Saucy and J. Feinberg.  This part of the book is the best in my opinion.

The last part of The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel includes M. Vlach on “Israel in Church History” – a solid treatment.  There is also a fine chapter about Israel as an evidence for the truth of Scripture from M. Rydelnik.  Another interesting chapter, the last of the book, is a study of the positions on Israel taken by theological schools.  The survey is by Gregory Hagg.  As no school or denomination is mentioned the chapter lacks decisiveness, but is still worth reading.

The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel is a mixed bag.  The highlights are the chapters by Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, Vanlaningham, Blaising, Saucy, Feinberg, Vlach, and Rydelnik.  The impression left by most of these authors is that they would have benefited from more space.  Chisholm’s chapter was most disappointing.  I could have done without the piece by Brown, and Evans didn’t do much for me.  The other chapters are quite good, but not great.  The decision to use endnotes instead of footnotes was unfortunate.

Despite some bright moments, all in all the work falls behind similar works such as David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles, and the Church; Barry Horner’s Future Israel, and Israel, the Land and the People, ed. by H. Wayne House.

This book was provided free of charge by the publisher.

The Divine Logos (Pt. 2)

Part One

The Roles of the Logos

Although the wording is brilliantly simple, an examination of the Prologue furnishes for us a great deal of help concerning what might be called the “roles” of the Logos. To begin with, the prologue places in front of us these facts:

The Logos is a Person (1:3, 4, 14).

Ÿ There are three relations of Christ the Logos recorded in these opening verses. First, there is His relation with the Father “In the beginning” (1:1-2). Second is His relation to the world (1:3, 10). The third relationship of the Logos is that which He bears to humankind (1:11-14).

Ÿ The Logos was active with (Gk. pros) God (the Father). Ridderbos says that this designation “is intended as an indication not only of place but also of disposition and orientation.”[1] Thus, in all respects the Eternal Logos was and is to be identified with God (1:1-2), though not the Father but the Son (1:18).

Ÿ This means that God, in the Person of the revealing incarnate Son (1:14, 18), is the Subject of John’s Gospel.

In addition to the above, three readily identifiable roles can be located within the Prologue. They center upon the great schemes of creation, revelation, and redemption.

Creation[2]

The link with creation is established right off with the very first words of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word” The Apostle is taking the reader back to the creation account in Genesis 1:1ff., and showing that the Logos was directly involved in the creative process. To those who assert that John’s stress is not upon creation as such, but upon the pre-existence of the Logos prior to the creation, we do not think we are forced into a choice between the two. The Genesis narrative implies a creatio ex nihilo doctrine which would necessitate a complimentary doctrine of Divine pre-existence and perlocutory action. John is telling us that the Logos is this same creative God (1:1-2).

Then in the third verse comes a clear statement about the creative role of the Logos: “All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (1:3). The Logos is a Person (N.B., “by Him…without Him”), not an organizing principle or a personified divine utterance. He is the cause of the ontological status of everything, and nothing which came into existence in the creative week owes its being to anything else.[3]

Along with His work as Creator, the Logos is also the Upholder of that creation. The necessary imposition of the curse after the fall meant that God’s providential care of the world was mitigated by the consequential out-workings of sin in history. The world-system (kosmos) in its pride and rebellion does not recognize its Creator, even when He stands before them (1:10). Mankind may not want to acknowledge its Maker (Rom. 1:18-22), but it remains true that without the power of the Logos, there would be no light or life (Jn. 1:4), for as Gerhaardus Vos stated, “By universal consent the furnishing of life and light to the world belongs to the very essence of the Logos’ task.”[4]

Hence, John is restating a function that had already been confirmed before he wrote (cf. Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). The power behind the vast spiraling galaxies, the fiercely burning stars in their motions, and the numberless operations of our planet – including all life, is not Matter, it is the Word! This world was created by Him and is sustained by Him (1:3-10). He is thus both what Vos termed the “organ of omnipotence”[5] and the Framer of Reality (and, therefore, of Meaning).[6] We shall let Vos sum it up for us:

“The normal relation to the world by Him who acted as the Mediator of creation, was such that thereafter the world and mankind were dependent for their life and light on Him. He was the Logos in providence, just as He had been the Logos in creation.”[7]

Revelation

The Prologue also calls our attention to the Logos as revelation. As the Author of the life and light of men (Jn. 1:4, 10), He has fashioned them in the image of God, and in so doing has constituted men and women in such a way that man himself reveals his Maker. Perhaps nobody has pointed this out better than Cornelius Van Til. He paints a striking picture in order to get his point across:

“Even when man, as it were, takes out his own eyes, this act itself turns revelational in his wicked hands, testifying to him that his sin is a sin against the light that lighteth every man coming into the world…Creatures have no private chambers.”[8]

Because mankind is in spiritual and therefore epistemological darkness, they do not acknowledge the Logos of God (Jn. 1:4-5; 9-11). Unless men realize this there will always be a chasm between man’s own self-identification and a right understanding of his true significance and purpose. The great lexicographer Cremer makes the point that Christ is “Him in whom had been hidden from eternity, and specially from the beginning of the world, what God had to say to man.”[9] The Logos is “the true Light” because He is the one who has placed the sense of creatureliness inside of us; the realization of which we seek to suppress and to run from (Jn. 1:5, 10-11; Cf. Acts 17:28; Rom. 1:18-20).[10] This is why Van Til can write:

By the idea of revelation, then, we are to mean not merely what comes to man through the facts surrounding him in his environment, but also that which comes to him by means of his own constitution as a covenant personality. The revelation that comes to man by way of his own rational and moral nature is no less objective to him than that which comes to him through the voice of trees and animals. Man’s own psychological activity is no less revelational than the laws of physics about him. All created reality is inherently revelational of the nature and will of God.Even man’s ethical reaction to God’s revelation is still revelational.[11]

One of the transformations wrought by the new birth is that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13); so that we who were partakers of darkness, are now “light in the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8; cf. 1 Thess. 5:5). Thus, as the Psalmist has it, “In Thy light we shall see light” (Psa. 36:9). This brings us to the third aspect of the Prologue’s description of the Logos, the redemptive function.

Redemption

The revelation of God is not given for the purpose of condemnation only (cf. Jn. 3:17). The most astounding truth in the Prologue is that the eternal Logos, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14), and that He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29). Vos expressed it well:

“The unique feature of the Prologue consists in this, that it views the cosmical function of the pre-existent Christ as a revealing function and places it in direct continuity with His revealing work in the sphere of redemption.”[12]

This is an important point as it emphasizes the fact that Christ as the Logos was active in revelation prior to His incarnation, but that His assuming human form (en morfh) was “in direct continuity” with that prior activity.[13]

(more…)

The Divine Logos (Pt. 1)

With your indulgence, I’m going to repost a set of three studies on Jesus Christ as the Logos of God.  They are a bit long, but hopefully useful.  

It may sound somewhat unseemly for anyone to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Logos of God,” but to conceive of Him (momentarily) in this abstract way opens up new lines of inquiry that are harder to see under His personal name. And, after all, the Apostle John was the first to do it.

If one comes to the term “Logos” with the mindset of the ancient Greek philosophers, the best thing that could be extracted from the prologue to John’s Gospel would be a personification but not a Person. But clearly John is not content with a personification. He has something extremely profound in mind; something that I believe provides a helpful fillip for a fully Christo-doxological motif.

Before we can expound a motif we must clear away the mound of misunderstandings that has been built up over the meaning of John’s Logos.

  1. Meaning of the Term

The basic meaning of the word logos in Greek may be summarized as, “the expression of thought – not the mere name of an object – (a) as embodying a conception or idea, (b) a saying or statement, (c) discourse, speech, of instruction etc.”[i] Thus, the idea of rationality, of a reasoned message of some sort, is central to the term.[ii] Yet, at first glance it seems far from clear why the Apostle chose this designation.

It is clear that the concept of the Divine Logos that one encounters in the opening verses of John’s Gospel is of great importance to his doctrine of Christ. The main verses are given below:

 

In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word [Logos] was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. (John 1:10).

And the Word [Logos] was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld Him… (John 1:14a).

No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten Son,[iii] which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. (John 1:18).

 

I have isolated these verses, not because the other verses in the Prologue (vv. 1-18) are unimportant, but solely for the purpose of definition. These are the essential verses for the Logos teaching. We see a connection between the Word and God, the created order, and man.[iv] Clearly, in these passages John is very deliberately linking the Logos who became Christ in the flesh with the Creator God. We know that the Christ was named “Jesus” at the time of His birth (Lk. 2:21). But John is reaching far back before the creation to the relationship of the Logos/Son with God the Father from everlasting (Jn. 1:1-2, 18; cf. 17:5). Therefore, John is facing us with the implication that He who was to be known as Jesus of Nazareth in “the days of His flesh,” is the eternal Logos or Word of God. It is made clear that three great pillars of the Christian world and life view, Creation (1:1, 3), Revelation (1:4, 9, 14, 17-18), and Redemption (1:12-13), are bound to His Person. But we must turn to the question of ancient parallels before exploring these things further.

 

  1. The Uses of Logos in the Ancient World

The use of the word Logos – rendered “Word” in our better translations[v], naturally brings up the question of why the Apostle, under the Spirit’s direction, employed it. To our modern ears it sounds strange, if not a bit abstruse. In fact, the sense of enigma only increases once we begin to study the word and its ancient usages. The different ways logos was used as a technical term has given rise to much speculation as to just whom John was influenced by when he penned the Prologue to his Gospel.

 

The Greeks

From about the 6th Century B.C. the Greeks, beginning with Heraclitus, started to give logos a special philosophical nuance in their descriptions of reality. For example, Heraclitus made it function as “the stabilizing, directing principle of the universe.”[vi] The Logos was conceived of as the explanatory concept of the universe; “the rational power of calculation in virtue of which man can see himself and his place in the cosmos.”[vii] That is, it functioned as the final principle of intelligibility. Stoicism would later teach that it stood for that which gives the cosmos its shape and substance. In other words, keeping in mind the fundamental connection with rationality, the Greek philosophers found Logos most suitable to describe the organizing power of the phenomenal world.[viii] With the Stoics one finds a differentiation between the logos principle which interpenetrated even non-rational matter to give it form, also imparting the power of reason to humans: the so-called logos spermatikos or seminal reason, and the source of all morality and reason in living in the world: the orthos logos.[ix] Furthermore, this idea of the organizing Logos was still current at the time the Apostle John wrote his Gospel[x], although it had undergone some transformation by then.[xi]

 

Wisdom

Other scholars point to the grand eulogy of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31, a passage which still has advocates who see in it a prediction of Christ.[xii] But this connection has its problems. For one thing, the figure of Wisdom in Proverbs is feminine. And for another, the Septuagint, which has been followed by most modern versions, says, “The Lord made me [in] the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time was in the beginning, before he made the earth.” (Prov. 8:22-23, LXX); a translation which was used by Arius to prove that Christ was a created being![xiii] When passages like this are joined with those from wisdom writings of intertestamental times, some see a possible association with the Prologue.[xiv]

But the association should be treated with caution due to the fact that “Wisdom” (a feminine noun), though personified, is never actually personalized. What is more, as Boice notes, “any serious personalization would be radically alien to the prevailing Jewish perspective which saw Wisdom as inseparable from the Torah (1 Baruch 4:1, 2; cf. Sirach 19: 20-22).”[xv] Besides, the picture in the apocrypha of Wisdom as a “stern warrior” leaping down from heaven (Wisdom of Solomon 18:15; cf. 9:1; 16:12), hardly encourages one to tie this in with the Apostle’s themes.[xvi] Finally, in Sirach 24:9 Wisdom is said to be created, thus echoing (or influencing) the LXX of Proverbs 8:22-23.

Philo

Still others equate the Logos of John with a strong Platonic[xvii] influence, though mediated through Philo – a contemporary of John. Philo’s interpretation of Plato involved the bridging of the platonic separation of the real spiritual realm – the realm of pure ideas, or forms, from the physical realm in which we live. Although he used the term logos in a variety of ways, the two most important were combined in the role of intermediary. Dennis Johnson tells us that “[a]t times in Philo, logos stands for the word by which God created the world (Op. Mund. 20-25). At other times it refers to a mediator between the ideal and the phenomenal.”[xviii]

As mediator, the Logos was, “the means by which the mind apprehends God.”[xix] Philo placed so much emphasis upon God’s transcendence that the concept of the Logos was necessary to bridge the gap between God (in the Ideal realm) and men (in the phenomenal world).[xx] Guthrie notices five things in connection with Philo’s logos doctrine:

 

  1. Philo’s logos was impersonal. While all admit that Philo personified the logos (see below); it was not his intention to lend it the status of actual personhood.
  2. The logos was protogonos huios, God’s “first-born son,” and, “the eldest and most akin to God.” As such the logos was pre-existent, yet no more than a “power” of God.
  3. Philo does not link light and life to his logos.
  4. Philo’s logos belonged completely to the world of Ideas, and could not become incarnated in this lower material realm.[xxi]
  5. Nevertheless, the logos performed, “a mediatorial function to bridge the gap between the transcendent God and the world.”[xxii]

 

These facts make it unlikely that John concerned himself overmuch with his Alexandrian contemporary. It should also be borne in mind that Philo’s logos represented the faculty of reason in humans as well as in God.[xxiii] When one considers the way in which the later Alexandrians, especially Clement, used Philo to develop their logos doctrine, it seems highly unlikely that John would have used him as his starting-point. Of that logos-theory Herman Dooyeweerd wrote,

 

It conceived of the divine creating Word (Logos) as a lower divine being which mediates between the divine unity and impure matter. The Alexandrian school thereby actually transformed the Christian religion into a high ethical theory, into a moralistically tinged theological and philosophic system, which as a higher gnosis was placed above the faith of the Church.[xxiv]

There is too much in John which contravenes Philo, and too much in Philo to derail the Christian community.[xxv] We therefore believe that at best John gave the celebrated Jew a nod of acquaintance and thought little more about it. (more…)

The Struggle of Prayer (Pt.9)

Haven’t posted one of these for a while, bur few things are more important:

PART 8

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.  Amen. – Matt.6:13b

This last refrain from the model prayer given by our Lord should not be bypassed.  Modern Bible translations omit it in line with the textual practices used to produce them.  I am not in the business right now of debating the rights and wrongs of the issue.  My only concern is with this passage as a confession of faith and hope; and as such, it is both apropos and biblical.

We have seen that the first petition of ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ after the salutation: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your Name” concerns the coming of the kingdom.  As I stated in Part Four of this series,

“In its setting in the early ministry of Jesus (see for example Matt. 10: 5-7), the kingdom would mean only one thing to the disciples and the people in general.  It would mean the Messianic Golden Age promised by the Prophets in Isaiah 2, 11, 62, and Micah 4 (cf. Acts 1:6).  Therefore, in its proper context, this petition looks forward to the return of Christ and His righteous reign over the earth. “

Now this ending statement closes with the same hopeful thought.  But it couples it with the attributes of God’s power and glory.  These two attributes are possibly the central ones in consideration of the coming reign of Christ the King.  His power will ensure that His righteous will is done, and also that the created earth is kept in check by its Lord.  God’s glory is, in large part, what the kingdom age is all about.  After the Fall, in no other epoch of human history has creation reflected God’s glory, and human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, have not exhibited that image and likeness.

This being true, God has scarcely seen His glory reflected back at Him by us or by this created realm.  But this realm was created for His glory!  He could not have created it for something else’s glory.  If He were to do so He would have to deny Himself; which God cannot do (2 Tim. 2:13c).

Furthermore, this statement is doxological.  It ascribes praise and glory to God.  Prayer that does not praise is hardly prayer at all.  Prayer without praise is not locked in on God as its target.  The writer of Hebrews explains, “he who comes to God must believe that He is…” (Heb.11:6).  This means that we must believe that God is really there and He is Who He says He is.  Now, that being so, we can hardly think of thinking about god as He really is and not offering up praise and worship to Him.

The great Methodist Bible commentator Adam Clarke (d. 1832) wrote:

“Prayer is the language of dependence; he who prays not is endeavoring to live independently of God; this was the first curse, and continues to be the great curse of mankind.”

A prayer that includes a doxology like the one at the end of ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ tells God of our earnest wish not to be left to ourselves and our own devices.  Independence from God is indeed what Adam Clarke called it, “the great curse of mankind.”  Therefore we should all want to take full part in a kingdom on earth that is God’s!

 

The Cursing of the Earth

This is a snippet from the book I’m writing:

To Adam God said,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. 18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; 19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:17-19

There are several things of moment in this passage.  Firstly, the Lord tells Adam that he has listened to Eve in preference to God.  The problem stems from the authority of words.[1]  Let me say here as forcibly as I can that in the end everything boils down to the interpretation of words and the authority we lend them.  Adam gave less weight to God’s words than to those of Eve.  What were God’s words?  Let us remind ourselves what God said in Genesis 2:

 …from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die. – Genesis 2:17

This is summarized in the middle of 3:17

…have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it.’

Hopefully you see that the Lord conflated the original prohibition but repeated it word for word?  If God had been taken at face value and His words were given the gravity they ought to have had all would have been well.  So we should never take our eyes off of what God is saying!

Another thing our passage reveals is that the “good earth” is cursed.  It is not just the dirt of the garden of Eden which is cursed, but the whole planet.  Again, this seems to give the lie to the theory of the world beyond the garden being a wilderness of lurking evil.  Such a view almost makes this curse on the ground superfluous; more especially if one goes along with the view that “thorns and thistles” already existed outside Eden.

But bypassing this question, I am more interested in the deeper issue of the curse on the ground.  By cursing the ground, from where everything grows and from which animals and men eat, the effects of the curse are inevitably transferred.  Not that sin is transferred that way, but the curse on the earth is.  And because our physiology often affects our emotional and bodily health, the cycle of detritus will continue until God acts to countermand it.

Moreover the passage is clear that the Lord cursed the ground because of (abur – ‘on account of’) the man.  This is fitting as the earth was made for man.  If man was to become the godless, lawless wretch that history portrays him to be, it would be quite strange if God had permitted him to live in a world unaffected by his sin and its consequences.  Just like the Resurrection of Jesus Christ seems out of context within this world[2], so sinners running around in an otherwise unspoiled tranquil earthly paradise would be decidedly non-contextual.

[1] One is reminded of the way Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24-27.

[2] What I mean by saying this is not of course that the Resurrection never took place.  Only that the reversal and then some of the human form to transcendent perfection befits another, higher, and better world than this one.

Further Thoughts on The Call to the Ministry

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

Again, what is the “Desire”?

We are looking into the subject of the Call to the Ministry.  Last time we considered the “desire” of 1 Timothy 3:1, and we saw that whichever way you cut it, this desire must be qualified in order to exclude carnal and fleshly impulses, overly romanticized fleeting impressions, the cocksure preenings of proud self-assuredness, or the recognition of persons in breach of biblical morality.  Thus, a true “desire” to preach and pastor boils down to something that is produced in a man by the influence of God Himself.

We are saying that the desire to be an overseer/elder/pastor (it’s the same office. Cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-3), must be placed there by the One who calls and sends.  If that assertion is right, then this kind of call to the ministry must be subject to testing over a sustained period of time to see if it is the right thing or not, and to mature the one involved. That is what John Newton and C. H. Spurgeon and many others held to be almost axiomatic in order for the wheat, as it were, to be separated from the chaff. And that is why Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote that whenever anyone told him he thought he was called to preach, he (MLJ) would see it as his duty to try to talk him out of it!

This understanding of the ministerial call was very decided in Lloyd-Jones.  In his lectures at Westminster Seminary in the late 1960’s he spoke thus:

“A preacher is not a Christian who decides to preach …he does not even decide to take up preaching as a calling… preaching is never something one decides to do.  What happens rather is that he becomes conscious of a ‘call.’ There must …be a sense of constraint.  This is surely the most crucial test….I would say that the only man who is called to preach is the man who cannot do anything else, in the sense that he is not satisfied with anything else.” – D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 103-105.

C. H. Spurgeon, of course, said something very similar.

Romans 10:14-15: Preachers Are Sent

Another important text which must be studied in this connection is in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 10.  In verse 14 and 15a of this chapter, the Apostle wrote:

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they be sent?

There are a number of matters to be settled in relation to this text.  First, what does it mean to “be sent” and who does the sending?  Second, what rubric, if any, is Paul drawing on?  Finally, what alternatives are there to the common interpretation?

In answer to the first question, Douglas Moo observes,

“By repeating the verb from the end of one question at the beginning of the next, Paul creates a connected chain of steps that must be followed if a person is to be saved.”The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT, 663.

Further, the quotation of Isaiah 52:7 after the fourth and final question in v.15 fortifies the importance of God Himself sending out His heralds.  There is then something of an official air to this section.  It is worth reproducing a longish passage from F.F. Bruce in support of this:

“Men and women are urged to call on the name of the Lord and be saved; but they will not call on his name unless they have been moved to believe in him, they cannot believe in him unless they hear about him, they cannot hear about him unless someone brings them the news, and no-one can bring them the news unless he is commissioned to do so.  The preacher is an ‘apostle’ in the primary sense of the word: he is a herald or ambassador conveying from someone who has commissioned him to deliver it.”Romans, TNTC, 193-194.

The second question is also answered by the Apostle’s inclusion of the Isaiah passage.  The original context is clearly kingdom-oriented and eschatological.  Paul takes advantage of this context in his larger argument in chapters 9 through 11; which is that Israel still has a future in God’s plans.  Thus, the heralds are appointed by God to proclaim the good news to Israel too, in line with their future expectation. (more…)

The Call to the Ministry: A Crucial Subject

I have been wanting to repost this and another piece for some time, and now seems as good a time as any.  While I am aware that good people disagree with the view set out below, I am content to stand with many names from the past on this issue.  

Giving attention to the Call

I would like to say something about what is called “the call to the ministry” or “the call to preach.”  In my opinion this is a crucial subject which has very often been misunderstood or else ignored.  Indeed, this matter ought to be constantly before us in these days of declension.  I believe there is much important truth to the old saying, “As the pulpit goes so goes the church. As the church goes so goes the community…” In looking out upon the state of the evangelical churches in America today, it is my personal view that we really are suffering from the effects of a lack of attention to the call to the ministry.

Definition

Before going on I need to define what I am talking about.  By the “call” I here mean “the particular effects of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of some men to equip and to bring about in them an undying desire to preach and teach the Word of God to those to whom God would send them.”

This definition is more theological than textual.  That is, we might equally refer to it as a “sending” or a “longing”.  But the point is, it is a “calling” to a particular function within the Body of Christ.  This does not mean that there are not other “callings” – only that there is such a thing as a special call from God upon certain men whom He chooses to teach His Word.

In some quarters there has always been either a superficial view of this “call” into Christian ministry.  In some others, the whole concept of this call has been considered unbiblical.  There is no such thing as “the call to preach” so we are told.  Some men just have the ability and, if they choose to begin preaching and the churches support their desires that is really all there is to it.

Test All Things

Dealing with both of these opinions together we can say that there is one thing which they both pay little or no heed to: that one thing is the nature or source of the “desire” to preach.  Those holding a superficial view will not give much emphasis to the testing of the call or the maturity of the one professing to be under it.  They will often view the call in isolation from the person’s aptitude and, sadly, his spirituality.  The “desire” may well be seen as coming from God but it is still treated as if it could not arise from another, more carnal source.  Thus, the “call” is taken at face value without regard to personal pride, ambition, self-deception, or other forces acting on the will.  Often in such cases the native abilities of the person are seen as conclusive proof of a call.  And this is a snare which, time and again, the Church has fallen into.

An example of this superficial view is the case of Charles Templeton, an evangelist of the 1940’s and 50’s who was often compared with Billy Graham.  Templeton deserted the faith and became an ardent atheist.  He had the ability to speak, but his “calling” was shown to be a false one, not of God at all.  Similarly I can recall a well known preacher in Cambridge, England whom everyone thought was a great man of God.  This individual could certainly expound Scripture from the pulpit.  The present writer can testify to his ability.  But in 1999 this man shamefully left his wife and kids to enter into a homosexual relationship.  He continues to promote gay christianity via the Gay Christian Network today.  His abilities are beyond all doubt.  But was He ever really “called”?

It is easy to multiply such examples.  One thinks of the now atheist former pastors John Loftus and Dan Barker for instance.  What needs to be pondered by us is the credibility of their calling into Christian ministry in the first place.  Did God call these men to teach His Word knowing that they would abandon the faith they once preached?  Either we acknowledge such a situation or we conclude that grave mistakes were made in putting these men into pastorates.  The fault lies either with God and man or with man alone.  In the first case we bring a charge against God Himself!  In the second the fault lies much closer to home.  We, the Church, have thrust uncalled and unsent men into our pulpits.

This gives encouragement to those who deny any special call to the ministry, but it surely chastens those of us who believe such a call to exist!  On the one hand, if there is, in fact, no calling upon certain men to preach and/or pastor churches, it is hard to see how the Church can prevent the wrong sorts from getting churches and poisoning them from the inside.  On the other hand, if there is a true call to preach it must be both identifiable and verifiable.  We might add that it will also be falsifiable if it is an imposture.  In the case of the Cambridge preacher mentioned above, he has said himself that he confessed his homosexual tendencies before and while he was a missionary and before he became a pastor. (more…)