A Lovely Morning Prayer

I was doing some research the other day on monasticism and ran across the Prayer Foundation. They have an order of lay monks, the Knights of Prayer, except these monks are evangelical Protestants who use terms like “born again” and “Sinner’s Prayer” without blushing. So that’s cool. But anyway, I only bring them up to point out something lovely I got from their website. Apparently many of the monks of their order pray a particular prayer in the morning. I found it, read it, loved it, and now include it in my own morning devotions. Here’s the full thing, actually a hymn called “I Bind unto Myself Today,” which was adapted from a prayer attributed to St. Patrick.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet “well done” in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The God of Bad Interpreters

Is God the God of the good Bible interpreters only? Is He not also the God of the bad ones? Yes, He is the God of the bad ones, too.

This little opening, which you might notice alludes to Romans 3:29, summarizes something that has dawned on me recently. As I read more Scripture and study it more deeply, I often feel like there’s a serious problem with clarity for the average reader. In some passages or verses, it seems like study reveals meanings and depths which are not only inaccessible to someone without certain outside resources, but in fact may contradict or at least relativize the the meaning the same text might appear to have from a surface reading. In some cases obscure allusions, strange cultural thought patterns, or difficult to detect uses of irony may even completely reverse what you think a verse says on its own.

Yet in tension with this seeming reality is, it seems, the doctrine I have always been taught of the clarity (or perspicuity) of Scripture. By most accounts I’ve ever heard, at least in the Protestant world, the meaning of any given part of Scripture is supposed to be more or less plain to whoever reads it with attention and care. You’re not supposed to need a bunch of outside help to get what a passage means. But given the radically different feel I get from in depth study, what gives? Is Scripture essentially clear, with scholars and theologians just complicating things, or is its meaning far from clear unless you are greatly learned?

I think the answer is, in some way, both yes and no. The Westminster Confession of Faith, a defining classic in the Reformed world, says this of the clarity of Scripture:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

I think this understanding of the clarity of Scripture works. On the one hand, there are things which are not equally clear to everyone. The meaning of every part of Scripture is not necessarily plain as day, or for that matter even as clear as mud. However, the WCF does specify that what we must know and believe in respect to salvation is clear enough that anyone, educated or not, who does basically proper reading.

I would in fact go a bit further than this to identify what exactly is plain. The one clarity that I believe shines forth from Scripture is the image of Christ Himself, the Savior who died and rose for us in self-sacrificing love, inviting us into His grace. Even if you find everything else called into question by lack of knowledge, or by bad teachings, or by cultural blindness, or by sin, the crucified Lord who loved us to His death and beckons us to follow that kind of life is plainly obvious to anyone who would crack open a Bible. If you know nothing else about the Bible, you know Jesus appears through its pages. Therefore what is clear in Scripture, Jesus Himself, is enough to be saved, as the WCF says.

Beyond this point, though, I do not think it is necessary to insist that the specific meanings of various parts of the Bible are all that clear. Sure, many of them are, and probably many of them are clearer that some scholars would make them out to be, but a great many of them may not be. Some passages may turn out to be so odd, obscure, or unique that the majority of people get them wrong, even the majority of well-educated people. Many passages will not be that bad, but will still need a decent amount of study, both of what the text says and of behind-the-scenes details, to properly get.

Is this a problem? Does it render much of the Bible basically unusable to normal Christians? Does it take the Bible out of their hands and return us to a day when only trained people could teach or interpret Scripture? I don’t think so. See, we must remember that there is more to the Bible that the words written in a particular context by a particular author to a particular audience. Its fullness is not exhausted by the precise original intentions, what exactly the authors were trying to say. While this is all an important part, a very important one, we must also recall that Scripture was inspired under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and now is read by believers with the same Spirit dwelling in them. Cultures and languages may pass away, but the Spirit who breathes the life of the Scriptures never passes away.

This link, the indwelling Spirit of God, makes it possible for the Bible to do things that it couldn’t rightly do as a purely natural book. For the authoring Spirit is still here to speak to us as we read it. So when we dig into Scripture, even if we lack a great deal of information that would shed light on the “original meaning,” He is more than able to speak to us through what we are reading, and to illuminate for us truth about Jesus Christ, even if it’s not the same truth the particular text was written to communicate! The same Spirit who oversaw the creation of Scripture now lives in us and oversees the intake of Scripture, so that no matter how educated or uneducated we are we can still hear the very voice of God speaking to us, telling us what He wants us to know, as we read the inspired words.

I’m not suggesting, I should add, that the Spirit will just lead us willy-nilly to make whatever we will out of the Bible. God is not the God of relativism, or of confusion. He is, however, the God of fresh life and revelation. Even when the words of, say, John were penned nearly 2000 years ago, God’s Spirit knew all the possible uses He might make for this book, and all of our needs today. From the beginning, He was able to breathe a kind of life into Scripture that adapts itself to the hearer, not to change the message to make things easier on us, but to break down the walls of culture and context which might otherwise separate us from what God wants to tell us. In the very same text He may be saying multiple things to multiple people in multiple times and places, the Spirit working in each reader to show him the Word of the Lord.

If I could sum this rambling up, I would simply say this: the “original meaning” of many texts in the Bible is far from clear. Jesus Himself, on the other hand, is very clear in the Bible. And as for everything else in Scripture, the Holy Spirit makes it possible for God to speak to us personally with an inspired message even when we can’t or don’t nail down exactly what the original author was trying to say. Therefore God is not only the God of good Bible interpreters, but of bad as well. Praise be to Him for His self-revealing kindness!

More Jokes. They’re Not Even All About Calvinism!

…But the first one is:

The 12 Days of Calvinism

On the first day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, the fallen nature of man.

On the second day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the third day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, John chapter six, called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the fourth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, Synod of Dordt, John chapter six, called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the fifth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt, John chapter six, called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the sixth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the seventh day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the eighth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me belief is a work, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the ninth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, errors of middle knowledge, belief is a work, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the tenth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to, Arminian heresy, errors of middle knowledge, belief is a work, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me, Romans 8-9; Arminian heresy, errors of middle knowledge, belief is a work, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my Calvin explained to me that I’m really a Calvin, Romans 8-9; Arminian heresy, errors of middle knowledge, belief is a work, predestination, world isn’t world, 5 GOLDEN POINTS! Synod of Dordt; John chapter six; called and chosen, and the fallen nature of man.

The Baptists

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: “Stop. Don’t do it.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he asked.

“Well, there’s so much to live for!”

“Like what?”

“Are you religious?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?”

“Christian.”

“Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

“Protestant.”

“Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”

“Baptist.”

“Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”

He said: “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915.”

I said: “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

More Light Bulb Jokes

How many of these guys does it take to change a light bulb?

  • Church of Christ: Light bulbs aren’t in the Bible, so we don’t use them.
  • Catholics: None; they use candles. (However, they will consider commissioning an expensive stained glass window.)
  • Amish: What’s a light bulb?
  • Mormons: Just one man, with his 10 wives.
  • Baptists: 16. 5 for a committee to nominate people to the oversee the new light bulb committee, 5 for the light bulb committee, 1 to change the bulb, and 5 to cook fried chicken for the whole ordeal.
  • Pentecostals: Who needs light bulbs when the Holy Spirit is burning so brightly?
  • Lutherans: The bulb need not be changed, for God has declared it bright though it is simultaneously dark.

Kid Jokes

A Sunday school teacher asked her children, “Why is it necessary to be quiet in church?” A little girl replied, “Because so many people are sleeping!”

A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her young charges. After explaining the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother,” she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill!”

At Sunday School the teacher was explaining how God created everything, including human beings. Little Johnny seemed especially intent when she described how Eve was created out of one of Adam’s ribs. Later in the week his mother noticed him lying down as if he were ill, and she asked, “Johnny, what’s the matter?” Little Johnny responded, “I have pain in my side. I think I’m going to have a wife!”

A Sunday School teacher said to her children, “We have been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times.  But there is an even higher power.  Who can tell me what it is?” George blurted out, “I know, Aces!”

Heaven Jokes

A priest and a bus driver both died and went to Heaven at the same time. They get to the pearly gates where Pope St. Peter greets them. He motions to the priest, and they both hop in a jeep and go out the back door. There are about 50 acres of rolling hills with a little cottage on the knoll.

St. Peter turns to the priest and says “This will be yours for eternity. A perfect little cottage, right next to lovely pond, a lush little garden, and a library full of books.”

The priest says, “Thank you so much. This I shall enjoy!” St. Peter drops off the priest, goes back to the pearly gates and motions to the bus driver.

They hop in a stretch limo and go out the front door. There are about 500 acres of land, with mountains and lakes and rivers. There is a huge 200-room castle on one of the mountains, and a wishing well that makes wishes come true. St. Peter says “This will be yours for eternity. You can live in that castle with servants to wait on you hand and foot, and you can have everything you want.”

The bus driver looks and St. Peter and says “Well, now, don’t think I’m not grateful, but why am I getting so much more than the priest?”

St. Peter just laughs and says “You brought more souls to Heaven! When the priest preached, everyone fell asleep. When you drove your bus, people prayed!”


Three men have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.

The first man is an old mystic, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face. He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”

The second man is an evangelical pastor. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he’s shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled. He says to himself as he leaves: “I can’t believe I was so foolish!”

The third man is called in. He is a fundamentalist, and he goes into the room with an old Bible – the King James Version – that is dog eared and has bookmarks all over. He’s in there for days. Finally, the doors open and Jesus comes out saying, “I can’t believe it! I was wrong about everything!”


Three men were standing in line to get into heaven one day. Apparently it had been a pretty busy day, though, so Peter had to tell the first one, “Heaven’s getting pretty close to full today, and I’ve been asked to admit only people who have had particularly horrible deaths. So what’s your story?”

So the first man replies: “Well, for a while I’ve suspected my wife has been cheating on me, so today I came home early to try to catch her red-handed. As I came into my 25th floor apartment, I could tell something was wrong, but all my searching around didn’t reveal where this other guy could have been hiding. Finally, I went out to the balcony, and sure enough, there was this man hanging off the railing, 25 floors above ground! By now I was really mad, so I started beating on him and kicking him, but wouldn’t you know it, he wouldn’t fall off. So finally I went back into my apartment and got a hammer and starting hammering on his fingers. Of course, he couldn’t stand that for long, so he let go and fell—but even after 25 stories, he fell into the bushes, stunned but okay. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I ran into the kitchen, grabbed the fridge and threw it over the edge where it landed on him, killing him instantly. But all the stress and anger got to me, and I had a heart attack and died there on the balcony.”

“That sounds like a pretty bad day to me,” said Peter, and let the man in.

The second man comes up and Peter explains to him about heaven being full, and again asks for his story.

“It’s been a very strange day. You see, I live on the 26th floor of my apartment building, and every morning I do my exercises out on my balcony. Well, this morning I must have slipped or something, because I fell over the edge. But I got lucky, and caught the railing of the balcony on the floor below me. I knew I couldn’t hang on for very long, when suddenly this man burst out onto the balcony. I thought for sure I was saved, when he started beating on me and kicking me. I held on the best I could until he ran into the apartment and grabbed a hammer and started pounding on my hands. Finally I just let go, but again I got lucky and fell into the bushes below, stunned but all right. Just when I was thinking I was going to be okay, this refrigerator comes falling out of the sky and crushes me instantly, and now I’m here.”

Once again, Peter had to concede that that sounded like a pretty horrible death.

The third man came to the front of the line, and again Peter explained that heaven was full and asked for his story. “Picture this,” says the third man, “I’m hiding inside a refrigerator…”


Augustine dies and in heaven he gets some time to talk with God. When he comes out he says, “Now I understand the beauty of the Trinity!”

John Calvin dies and goes in to see God. When he comes out he says, “Now I understand predestination!”

Karl Barth dies and goes in to see God. Some time later God comes out and says, “I have no idea what he is talking about!”


A forester and a lawyer were in car accident and showed up at the pearly gates together. St. Peter greets them at the pearly gates and takes them to the homes where they will spend all of eternity. They get into St. Peter’s holy vehicle and head on down a gold road, which turns into a platinum road, which turns onto an even grander road paved with diamonds, to a huge mansion where St. Peter turns to the lawyer and says, “Here is your home for the rest of eternity. Enjoy! And if there is anything you need, just let me know.”

Then St. Peter took the forester to his home, back down the diamond studded boulevard, down the platinum highway, down the street of gold, down an avenue of silver, along a stone alley and down an unpaved footpath to a shack. St Peter says “Here you go” and goes to leave when the forester says “Hey, how come the lawyer gets the big mansion and I get this shack?”

St. Peter says: “Well, foresters are a dime a dozen here, but we have never had a lawyer before.”


Three men were killed in a plane crash. An American, a Scotsman, and a Canadian. When they got up to the gates, they started whining that their lives had been taken too early. The gatekeeper agreed, but they had to pay forty bucks to go back down to earth.

When the American got down there, people asked him where the other two were. “Well, I just payed the $40. The Scottish guy’s haggling, and the Canadian is waiting for the government to pay it for him.”

A Couple Random Jokes with No Better Category

A woman and her nagging, grumpy husband went on vacation to Jerusalem. While they were there, the husband died. The undertaker told the wife “I could ship your husband’s body back home to be buried, but it will cost you $10,000. Instead, I could just bury him right here in the Holy Land and it will only cost you $100.”The wife thought about it for awhile, and then told him to just ship him back home. The undertaker was perplexed. “But it will cost you $10,000 to ship him back, why not just do it here?”

The wife replied: “I heard that a man died here once, was buried, and after three days, he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.”


How do you get a professional theological blogger/author off your porch?
Pay him for your pizza

Chicken Crossing Jokes

Theologians (and not-really-theologians) answer: “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Greg Boyd: It was always an open possibility that the chicken would cross the road. Not even God knew ahead of time what it would do.

Rick Warren: It was a purpose-driven chicken.

Rachel Held Evans: The chicken was commanded by God to stay on this side of the road, but it failed the test, and maybe that’s okay, because a God who says things like that might not be the real God.

John Piper: God decreed that the chicken would cross the road to maximize His glory.

Irenaeus: By crossing the road, the chicken undid all of the sin of its ancestors in refusing to cross the road, and by its obedience canceled their disobedience.

C. S. Lewis: If a chicken finds itself with a desire that nothing on this side can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that it was created for the other side.

Fred Phelps:  God hates chickens.

Martin Luther: The chicken was leaving Rome because the Pope is an excellent person, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp.

Tim LaHaye: The chicken was afraid of being left behind.

Joel Osteen: The chicken wanted to live his best life now, and he had to find that fulfillment on the other side of the road.

Mark Driscoll: The chicken crossed the road to be a man! But wait. Hey! That [expletive deleted] chicken stole my beer!

N. T. Wright: This act of the chicken, which would be unthinkable in British barnyards, reeks of that American individualism that is destructive to community.

Karl Barth: The chicken crossed the road because it found itself in encounter with the God of the Gospel who appears in Jesus Christ, and in midst of that act of revelation found himself freed, freed for faith, faith to cross the road.

John Calvin: The chicken was predestined to cross the road.


BY WORKS?!?!?!?

 

In Other Words: An Alternative Dictionary of Election

I’ve written in the last several months on occasion about my move away from classical Calvinism into something which, when I feel the need to name it (and I often don’t), I’d call Evangelical Calvinism. And while I have provided a couple of posts giving some details about this transition, I’ve heard people say to me since then that as they read Scripture it seems harder and harder to get around election, predestination, God’s choosing, and the like. So doesn’t that support the classical Calvinist view of things?

Alas, I suspect this is mostly the result of a vicious cycle of reinforcement by assumption, an implicit question-begging. I tend to think that the prominence of Calvinistic thinking in the Protestant tradition has created widespread assumption about words like “election,” “predestination,” and “chosen” actually mean. So when people see them in Scripture, it registers in a Calvinistic way, regardless of whether the author would have been using them in a way that matches up with or even basically agrees with modern Reformed systematic theology textbooks.

My goal here is to offer a basic alternative dictionary, or glossary, for the terms associated with election that show up in Scripture. These are not entirely original; they will follow on thoughts which have been thought and presented many times by many people before me. Nor will I flesh out a defense of this alternative dictionary here, but hopefully it will become clear in reading Scripture with this list in mind how these definitions can plausibly work. Basically, these are for “test driving”: you take the definitions, read the Bible, and see if the interpretive results are a smooth ride or end in a crash. Without further ado, here they are:

  • Predestine — The Greek word, proorizo, literally means to “arrange/limit/set/order/appoint beforehand.” At simplest this only requires setting something up or making an arrangement in advance, not anything in particular about God assigning an overriding destiny1. As an alternative, I would suggest the more broad meaning of simply making a decision or plan beforehand. In the particular theological usage in reference to believers, the specific pre-arrangement would be God’s intention from the start to redeem the human race and conform us to the image of Christ. This is what God has prepared for us in Christ through His Cross, which He also arranged beforehand. Predestination is thus not God choosing individuals X or Y to end up saved, but God’s gracious choice before and apart from all human response to provide salvation from sin and glorified existence in Christ. It is not something fundamentally about you or me as individuals, but fundamentally about Christ and all who are found in Him.
    Verse references with “predestine/predestined”: Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11.
  • Elect — The Greek word translated “elect” is eklektos, which literally means “select” or “choose.” Many times that it shows up, it should really not be taken as any more than that. Just like in the real world, there are many kinds of choosing. It can not be assumed that this refers specifically to choosing an individual to end up saved, or to get saved. Christ Himself is called the Elect One/Chosen One on multiple occasions2. This word is applied also to King Cyrus of Persia3, the nation of Israel, and Christians. Obviously, there is a possible range in meaning. I suggest with many others that when used of believers, the meaning is essentially corporate, that is, it is about the body of Christ as a whole, in Christ the Chosen One, instead of about specific people picked out to be saved over other people. (Basically, I think it’s all about Jesus instead of all about man!) In fact, I would add several layers: God freely chose the world He created, He chose humanity as the ones to bear His image and represent His authority over creation, He chose Israel within humanity as the people in whom He would reveal Himself, He chose Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, and we are chosen because we are a part of all of those layers, being created human beings united to Jesus Christ.
    Verses which speak of believers as “elect”: Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:27, Luke 13:7, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12
  • Call — A word frequently used by Calvinists in support of irresistible grace is “call,” which they relate to the doctrine of the “effectual call,” the way that God’s inner invitation through the Spirit infallibly brings the elect to faith and salvation. Paul uses it apparently exclusively of believers, implying that believers were somehow “called” by God in a way that unbelievers have not been, and more significantly this call seems strongly associated with conversion4. So is salvation the result of some kind of call God only gives to a certain group of people?
    I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I rather think this call is indeed a supernatural invitation given through the Spirit to participate in the life of Christ by faith, but that Scripture does not clearly teach this call to be something only given to those who become believers. Rather, I suggest that the Spirit can and does give out this call frequently along with the Gospel to whomever He pleases, and that it can and often is rejected and denied (for an inexplicable reason). The reason Paul only ever mentions believers as having this call is simply because they are his audience, they have experienced and obeyed this call, and now are bound to live up to it. As a side note, I add that this call is not merely to get saved, but to participate in Jesus’ own life of self-sacrificing, martyr-oriented love, which accords with a number of Paul’s uses of the word.
    Verses which refer to the “call”: Romans 1:6, 8:28-30, 9:11, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 7:17-24, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 1:18, 4:4, Philippians 3:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 2 Timothy 1:8-9

There are probably some other words that I could address, but these three seem the most important. Obviously, this short post isn’t enough to make my case in full detail, or answer any objections that might be brought against my suggestions. But I do think test driving these definitions in Scripture will yield a mostly smooth ride, and that they will be found to work at least as well as the Calvinistic versions. More detail on these may come later, but for now I hope this is useful.

Karl and Me: What Life is Like as a Theologian

One of my favorite books, which I discovered last year, is Evangelical Theology: An Introduction by Karl Barth (pronounced “Bart,” by the way). I got the book because I expected it to be an introduction to the theology of Barth, which is altogether interesting. That’s not what it was, as I found out, but I suppose that what it turned out to be was far better. Evangelical Theology is not so much a book of theology but a book about theology, specifically about the nature and doing of theology. It’s an introduction not to specific theological ideas, but to the project of theology itself.

I found this to be surprisingly refreshing. While I would like to (and at some point maybe will) cover a great deal of what this book has to say, I want to write briefly today about the second major section of the book, which is about “theological existence” (life as a theologian). Barth breaks down each major topic with four simple terms, and this one is possibly my favorite. What does it mean to be a theologian? What is it like? What should it be like? These are the questions Barth addresses in these four chapters.

In these chapters, Barth characterizes the theologian using four words, four traits. All I’ll really do in this post is give a summary of his presentation on these elements and explain how I can identify with them. So here are Barth’s four characterizing elements of theological life (and before I get into these, I should briefly note that Barth sees every Christian as at least something of a theologian):

  1. Wonder: To Barth, the first driving characteristic of the theologian is wonder. The theologian encounters the God of the Gospel, finds himself addressed by the Divine Word, and can only be astonished and amazed in return. He learns of God and finds that every new discovery is one more compelling. He is driven back again and again to see this wonder who is the God revealed in Christ.
  2. Concern: The next characteristic of the theologian for Barth is concern. The theologian is preeminently concerned with what he finds in his theological studies about the God of the Gospel and His ways and acts. They press on his mind day after day, questions and potential answers, and impose themselves upon every experience. He cannot escape constant concern for divine truth, no matter what is going on around him.
  3. Commitment: Barth also makes the point that the theologian is fundamentally committed to God and His Gospel, to the theological work of understanding through questions and answers. He yields his thoughts to God alone, and refuses to back down or give up from the fight to know divine truth. Most importantly, He seeks to know this truth on the basis of God’s personal revelation of Himself in Christ alone.
  4. Faith: Finally, and rather naturally, Barth points out the role of faith for the theologian. Faith for Barth is not just a leap into the dark. It’s not following the evidence, and then going one extra step. It’s neither blind fancy, nor the result of reason, not an existential decision. For Barth, faith is what happens when God shows up and encounters us personally in Jesus Christ through the Spirit, calling us and freeing us to become for Him and trust Him in this new opportunity. Faith consists constantly in this living in the God-created freedom to follow whatever He reveals of Himself in Christ. This is the rule of faith for all theology, and for every theologian, in Barth’s conception.

If it isn’t obvious, I can identify with these characteristics like nobody’s business. His chapter on concern in particular resonates with me deeply. Nothing I see or hear or experience can escape the wrath of theological concern in my mind. Truly, Barth’s description is my life.

If none of this makes sense to you, then I suppose you’re not a theologian. But if you are, you should see just how right and true this is. I plan to post more on this topic, and hopefully it will be beneficial to someone.

Using Psalms: Psalm 2 and the Sovereign Son

Why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the LORD and His Anointed One:
“Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.”
The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them.
Then He speaks to them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath:
“I have consecrated My King on Zion, My holy mountain.”
I will declare the LORD’s decree: He said to Me, “You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.
Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your inheritance and the ends of the earth Your possession.
You will break them with a rod of iron; You will shatter them like pottery.”
So now, kings, be wise; receive instruction, you judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with reverential awe and rejoice with trembling.
Pay homage to the Son or He will be angry and you will perish in your rebellion, for His anger may ignite at any moment. All those who take refuge in Him are happy.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is relatively well-known, and I think it will be very fun to go over, because it has some cool layers. So let’s get right into it.

The first question I want to look at is: “Who is this psalm about?” Historically, this psalm was written about the king of Israel, which is specified most clearly in verse 6. There is a temptation to assume, based on terms like “son,” that this psalm was written about Jesus, but this is unlikely. There are no obvious reasons to assume the author (presumably David or a member of David’s court) had a prophetic vision about Christ, and everything the psalm says is understandable in the language of divinely chosen kings. Kings were considered “anointed” (v. 2) by God1, and the imagery of the king as God’s “son” was also common2.

So this psalm was written about the king of Israel (probably David), possibly to celebrate his coronation. It starts off with a challenge to the surrounding pagan world. They are fighting and striving, especially against Israel and its king (and thus also against its God!), but it is vain. God laughs at them because they cannot succeed against Him and His anointed king.

Then the psalm moves on to God’s support and exaltation of His chosen king. God announces that He has set up His king in Jerusalem, and even says of him, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” This was, as I’ve mentioned, not unusual language for the relationship between God and His appointed king, the king being imagined as adopted into the royal divine family to share in an inheritance of power and blessing. In verses 8-9, God blesses His king and promises Him power, dominion, and victory over enemies.

Finally, in 10-12 God issues a warning to all of Israel’s enemies: submit to God and His king, or else you will be in danger of judgment. But those who trust in God will be protected.

Several important themes can be seen here, some working in the background and some in the foreground. One important concept is the role of the king to Israel and to God. To Israel, the king represents God. He stands in God’s place of authority and must be obeyed in order to obey God. Yet to God, the king represents Israel. He stands in the place of His people before God and must be held responsible for the entire nation. This double-sided representation makes the king function as a unique mediator-like figure.

Understanding this representative layer helps see some of the broader ideas in this psalm. God’s choosing of His king in Israel parallels His choosing of the nation Israel within the world. God’s promises to bless and protect His king, exalting him above his enemies, also parallel His promises to Israel as a whole3. The fate of Israel is bound up with the fate of the king, and the fate of the king is bound up with the fate of Israel, and God has by electing them both bound His own name and purposes up with their fate. God’s glory is now to be achieved not by itself, but by exalting and blessing His elected people and king.

Of course, we know what happens after this psalm. God did indeed grant these prayers, exalting King David and the whole nation of Israel under his reign. He gave military victory and great glory to His people, and by this means made quite a name for Himself as well. But soon things changed. David was not an entirely faithful king, and introduced a break between Israel and their God. Soon he was judged, and indeed the entire nation was split in half two generations later because of his sin. David failed, and the promise appeared to be voided.

Yet God is relentlessly faithful. Years later, a descendant, an heir, of King David was born. He had a rightful claim to His ancestor’s throne, and unlike David remained faithful unto death. He was Himself the representative of Israel, and as their representative suffered but was raised and vindicated. He has been given authority over all nations, and the ends of the earth are His possession. God is putting and has put all of His enemies under His feet. Jesus Christ, the King of Israel, now reigns on high in fulfillment of this promise. Being unswervingly faithful Himself, the promise will never lapse again, but will expand and work until fulfilled completely.

Moreover, even we Gentiles now can share in this blessing, because we “take refuge in” and “pay homage to” Jesus, the King of Israel and Son of God. The blessings promised to Israel are now for all who believe in Him, whether Jew or Greek. Jesus has replaced David as the hope of God’s people, and represents God to His people in a way that David never could, for He is the image of the invisible God, the exact expression of His nature.

This now for us reorients the psalm. If we pray this or sing this, Jesus is the King whom we exalt. The world around us still rages and plots in vain to overthrow Him, but God has pledged to vidicate and bless Jesus and His people no matter what, up to and including raising us from the dead! Therefore we need have no fear, for we are secure if we trust in the King Jesus. But the world must be told to repent and submit to the Son, if they wish to escape the judgment coming on His enemies. Therefore let us pray this psalm in honor of King Jesus, confident in God’s promise that no matter what our enemies do and say, He will vindicate and resurrect us just like He has done to His Anointed One.