Tag Archive | doctrine

The Work of the Spirit | pt. 6

You can see the previous post in the series here.

There is no exegetical reason for believing the gifts have ceased. Ninth, despite what many believe, there is no convincing exegetical argument for the cessation of the grace gifts.[1] 1 Corinthians 13:10 plays a prominent role in many cessationists’ arguments. It did for me when I was taught as a kid. There is another hermeneutical issue, however. Thomas R. Schreiner says,

To see ‘the perfect’ as referring to the New Testament canon is an example of anachronism…

Instead of referring to spiritual maturity or to the canon of the New Testament, ‘the perfect’ most likely refers to the second coming of Christ, the end of the age. The perfect is equivalent with seeing God face to face (1 Cor. 13:12).[2]

John MacArthur says although many “scholars [e.g. B.B. Warfield, Richard Gaffin, Robert Thomas, Thomas Edgar, Simon J. Kistemaker] disagree on the identification of the ‘perfect,’ they all reach the same conclusion—namely, that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased.”[3] He goes on to say that “we must look elsewhere than 1 Corinthians 13:10, to passages like Ephesians 2:20, where Paul indicated that both the apostolic and prophetic offices were only for the foundational age of the church.”[4] 

Many, such as John MacArthur, Richard B. Gaffin, along with Schreiner, end up making the argument that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased because they claim, otherwise, the canon of Scripture would be in jeopardy.[5] That, however, is rather a different issue than if the gifts of the Spirit continue or not. For one, the canon of Scripture, as well as the very existence of the Church, has been in jeopardy since the outset. The way to defend Scripture, as well as the church, is a more robust understanding of what Scripture teaches, not fear.

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 5

You can see the previous post in this series here.

Gifts of the Spirit confirm the gospel. Fourth, the gifts of the Spirit serve to authenticate the gospel message (e.g. Rom 15:18-19[1]) and that is still necessary especially in certain contexts but that is not the exclusive reason that God gave the gifts of the Spirit. D.A. Carson correctly points out that just “because miraculous signs have a distinctively attesting role in some instances, it does not follow that this is the only role they play.”[2] Although some assert that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the canon they make that claim without biblical warrant. As Carson says, “There is no exegetical warrant for thinking certain classes of the Spirit’s manifestations cease once the crucial points of redemptive history have passed.”[3]

Gifts of the Spirit are poured out in the last days. Fifth, the gifts of the Spirit are part of what it means to be in the last days and we are in the last days.[4]

Cessationists who claim that the healings of Jesus and the apostles where merely authenticating signs of their status as bearers of canonical revelation misunderstand Jesus’ own explanation of them. For Jesus, they are rather expressions of the liberating reign of God, bursting into history, and it is as such that they attest the message of the kingdom.[5]

The gifts of the Spirit are to be expected because they indicate the presence of the Kingdom in the last days. The presence of the Holy Spirit is a sign of the new covenant.

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The Work of the Spirit | pt. 2

God the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit

God the Spirit. Since we are considering the work of the Spirit within the church, it is important that we consider God the Spirit, who He is and what He does. First, without going into any detail, the Holy Spirit is the third person of Trinity. The Spirit is fully God.[1] The Holy Spirit also has personhood; He is not an impersonal force.[2] That is who the Spirit is.

Second,[3] it is important that we briefly consider what it is that the Spirit does. The Old Testament teaches us various things about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit molds creation into shape and gives life to created beings (Gen 1:2; 2:7; Ps 33:6; Job 26:13; 33:4). The Spirit controls the course of nature and history (Ps 104:29-30; Isa 34:16). The Spirit teaches and reveals God’s truth and will to His messengers.[4] The Spirit elicits personal response to God.[5] The Spirit equips individuals for leadership.[6] We also see that the Spirit equips individuals with skill and strength (Exod 31:1-11; 1 Kgs 7:14; Hag 2:5; Zech 4:6).

The Spirit is given as our Helper (John 14:24). He takes what belongs to the Son and shares it with those who believe (John 16:14), beginning with the new birth (John 3:6), teaching and guiding (John 16:14), and transforming (2 Cor 3:5-18) in ways that surpass human capacity (1 Cor 2:10-14). He empowers believers to be Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8) and to the end of the age (Matt 28:20). By indwelling believers (Rom 8:9; 1 John 2:27), the Spirit washes and renews (Titus 3:5), pours out divine love in our hearts (Rom 5:5), reproduces the divine virtues (Gal 5:22-23; Rom 14:17), enables us to resist sin (Rom 8:13) and pursue holiness (2 Thess 2:13), and build unity among the church (Eph 2:22; 4:3, 13; Phil 2:1-2).[7] The Spirit hears, speaks, witnesses, convinces, shows, leads, guides, teaches, commands, forbids, desires, gives speeches, helps, and intercedes with groans.[8] It is vital that we not leave out the most miraculous work that the Spirit works within people; He makes them new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17; 3:3, 6, 18; Titus 3:5-6; Ezek 36:25-28; Rom 2:28-29).

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Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? That is the all-important question. That is the hinge on which history hangs.

That question has been a question for centuries. John the baptizer even said, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). Islam says Jesus is a prophet. Jehovah’s Witnesses say Jesus is a mighty being, even a god. But not God. They do not believe in the Trinity.[1]

So, who is Jesus?

For us to answer that question, it’s important that we consider what Jesus Himself said. So, who did Jesus Himself say He was? Jesus is asked about His identity in the Gospel of John. People asked Jesus, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48).

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Proof of God’s Grace #3: Overcoming Grace

Scripture teaches that it is the Spirit that overcomes people’s hardness of heart and gives spiritual life. So, John 6:36 says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (see also Ezek. 11:19-21; 36:25-27).[1] Notice it says, “the flesh is no help at all.” The Apostle Paul also says it is “the Spirit that gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). Thus, salvation does not come from “human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). So Paul says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

James 1:18 says, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Whose will was it? It was “His will.” Of course, God uses means to accomplish His will. People are brought to new life through “the word of truth” (cf. Rom. 10:14; 1 Pet. 1:23).[2]

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). That is because, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (v. 6). It is the supernatural work of God that makes a person a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). That is why we “must be born again” (Jn. 3:7). And of course, no one can make himself or herself be born, let alone born again. It is the Spirit’s prerogative; the Spirit works the way He works (Jn. 3:8). We also see that even faith is a gift from God (1 Chron. 29:14; Jn. 3:27; 1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). No one would believe without God first giving the gift of faith. Therefore, Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16 cf. v. 19).

So, we say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.”

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Proof of God’s Grace #1: Planned Grace

The Bible shows us over and over again proof of God’s abundant grace. Here we are going to look at the acronym PROOF[1] to look at God’s grace. We are going to look at: Planned grace, Resurrecting grace, Outrageous grace, Overcoming grace, and Forever grace.

Why is it important that we consider the proof of grace? First, because when we understand all the proof of God’s grace we praise and glorify God for His abundant grace. Second, anything that is the teaching of Scripture is important and profitable for us to understand (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Third, when we understand the extent of God’s grace it humbles us. Fourth, when we understand more of the extent of our desperation we will (or should) love God more (Lk. 7:47). 

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Church Discipline

Introduction

The subject of church discipline is a difficult but important one. Many things must be understood regarding church discipline if we are going to faithfully carry out the task that Jesus has given to His Church.

Is church discipline culturally acceptable? Many people may say that church discipline is not acceptable now; however, that is not the question. There are many things that are not acceptable to our cultural but that does not make them right or wrong. The cross is not acceptable, it is foolishness! Yet we must never deny it. The question is rather: “Is it biblical?”

So, is church discipline biblical? 

Yes. Although, if you search for “church discipline” in your Bible it won’t return any results. But the teaching is there. It is found in both Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. 

Church Discipline in Matthew 18

In Matthew 18, we see the fourfold process of church discipline. It has been said that this passage is “severely practical as well as ruthlessly idealistic,” and so it is. So, this process, though used in formal church discipline, has practical insight for more common issues within the church as well.

If there is unrepentant sin, we are to first go to the offending party one on one and try to work things out on that level (Matt. 18:15-16). If we have not resolved the problem at that point, second, we are to go with one or two others (v. 16). Third, we see if the person does not listen, we are to tell it to the church (v. 17a) but if he or she is still impenitent then, fourth, he or she is to be treated like those outside of the church, i.e. excluded from communion (v. 17b). The next couple of verses talk about the authority that God has entrusted to the church, His representatives on earth.

Church Discipline in 1 Corinthians 5

Paul is adamant that he does not want the “so-called brother” to have community with the church (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5, 11, 13). Perhaps the three other steps of the church discipline process happened or perhaps they did not for whatever reason, that we cannot tell, but we do know that there certainly are times when it is appropriate to exclude people from church fellowship. The case in Corinth was clearly one of those times. Thus we see that the passage is not necessarilyprescriptive, unlike the principals laid down in Matthew 18, but descriptive. That is, Paul is writing a letter to tell the Corinthians what to do in that context at that time.

Putting Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 Together

I conclude from the two passages briefly looked at that pastor/shepherds and the church as a whole are to use biblical loving wisdom in each church discipline case. There is in fact no “cookie cutter mold” for each case but simply overarching principals to be applied to each different situation.

For instance, there are many passages that seem to reference church discipline besides Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 but some of them look quite different (Acts 8:17-24; Gal. 6:1; Eph. 5:11; Titus 3:10; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 Jn. 9-10). Many of Paul’s letters deal with discipline and correction yet they look very different depending on the situation. Paul was always pastoral and wise in the way that he handled each situation (cf. Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:4-7; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Tim. 4:2).

Look, for example, at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter… have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” Paul says, “Have nothing to do with him” yet “warn him as a brother.” It is unclear what exactly this looked like in practice but it seems to me that it is a different approach to that in 1 Corinthians 5.

What I conclude then, is that church discipline is an important and clear teaching from Scripture. It, however, is not always as clear exactly how it should look in the local body in each specific case. So after we boil down all we have seen in these passages what are some overarching principals to keep in mind? (1) Keep the matter as private as you can. (2) Church discipline is done as an act of love to keep the individual from damning sin. (3) Church discipline should always be done with gentleness and love though that is not to say without boldly calling the erring person to repentance. (4) If unrepentance continues the person must be removed from the church. (5) Church discipline is ultimately done for the glory of God. We desire that Jesus’ bride be pure and holy (cf. 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-27).

I believe we see from the collective passages that reference church discipline, that there is no exact formal that most always be followed. There are, however, principals laid down and a clear call to practice church discipline whatever each individual case might entail. Thus, in evaluating church discipline cases we do not simply have a list of sins, some warranting discipline and others not. Rather, we look at the witness that the person has before a lost world. We ask, Are they defacing the name of Jesus?

Jonathan Leeman talks about “A Gospel Framework for Understanding Discipline.” I think he gives a very helpful approach. The Church, as God’s representatives on earth, have been given the “keys to the kingdom.” The local church and the leaders within that church have been given the serious task of administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things give credibility to the genuineness of one’s faith. In the same token, church discipline is the church removing that affirmation. It is the church formally denouncing the person’s faith. Thus, as Jonathan Leeman rightly says, church discipline is “driven by a single question: does the church still believe an erring member is really a Christian, such that it’s willing to continue declaring so publicly?”

The Manner and Motivation of Church Discipline

How should we approach church discipline? We must do so with much gentleness and humility (1 Thess. 2:6-7; 2 Cor. 10:1; Col. 3:12-14; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; Phil. 4:5). We must remember that we too are sinners, we are not above the very same sin they are being disciplined for. That is why Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” And then he says, “Keep watch on yourself.” Why Paul? (we ask), “Lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). We, you and I, are not above sin, any sin, and we should not act as if we are. As Paul says elsewhere, let the person that thinks they stand take heed lest they fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

We must remember that the goal in church discipline is restoration. We want those living in sin to repent and once again join the fellowship. If they do repent then we, as the church, must cheerfully welcome them back (I think of the prodigal son here). Notice, that after Jesus teaches on church discipline in Matthew’s Gospel he teaches on forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35).

Conclusion

We may not have an exhaustive how-to-book on church discipline but we are given principals that can and indeed need to be applied in each individual case. We, as the church, are God’s representatives on earth and so we must seek to have His church be holy and filled with true followers of Christ. Therefore, as is warranted by the situation, we must practice the steps outlined in Matthew 18, though of course with appropriate Christian sensitivity.

Suggested Resources

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A Brief Theology of Emotions

We all have emotions. How often do we consider emotions from a biblical perspective though?… Yet, what better place to turn than God’s word! So, what does the Bible say about emotions?

Emotions are part of God’s good design

First, it is important to realize that “Our emotional capacities are part of our nature as personal beings created in the image and likeness of God.”[1] Second, Emotions are part of God’s good design.[2] Third, We often don’t think about it but we are actually commanded to be emotional. For example, Psalm 2:11 says “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” And there’s a bunch of other examples (Deut. 28:47-48; Ps. 51:17; 97:10; 100:2; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 12:9, 15; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:15).

So, Jay Adams says:

“The fact is that there are no damaging or destructive emotions per se. Our emotional makeup is totally from God. All emotions of which He made us capable are constructive when used properly (i.e., in accordance with biblical principles)… All emotions, however, can become destructive when we fail to express them in harmony with biblical limitations and structures.”[3]

You may have heard: “Don’t follow your emotions” or “don’t let your feelings get the best of you,” or “use your head.” But emotions are not bad in themselves. God created us with emotions.

Even our negative emotions are not always wrong. It’s not always bad to feel bad. Sometimes feeling sad and angry is good and right. It’s important to realize that in the Psalms the genre of lament is most common.[4] It is also important to remember that there is no book of Joys but there is a book of Lamentations.[5] We don’t always have just “good” feelings and that’s okay. On the other hand, God made us at least in part to experience profound joy and to experience this forever, Psalm 16:11 says. So, our first take away is for us to realize that emotions are not bad in themselves.

But what’s wrong with emotions? Or, why is it that sometimes we can’t or shouldn’t trust our emotions? Because…

Emotions are broken by sin

A lot of us remember the (true) story of Adam and Eve. John Frame has said, “the fall… was rebellion of the whole person—intellect as much as emotions, perception, and will—against God.”[6] After looking at Genesis 3:1-6 (notice the highlighting) we can agree with what Frame says:

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Art through the Eyes of Faith

Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?

These are big questions and questions that have been answered by many better minds than my own. However, I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer them.[1]

Let’s consider seven things from the storyline of Scripture.

Consider the Creator

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God makes flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.

God created the wild crash of hydrogen and oxygen known as water; crystal clear and falls from the sky, and gives life. It’s like miraculous manna from heaven that we completely take for granted.

The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity—in technique, in originality, in knowledge, of the past and future, in versatility, in having perfect content to express as well as perfect expression of content, in communicating perfectly the wonders of all that exists as well as something about Himself, is of course God—the God who is Personal.[2]

God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity.“God is the Great Maker, the unique Creator. And all other creative activity derives from him.”[3]

God the Creator is the great Artist. He set the dome of the heavens and fashioned the universe. He created the music of the stars and set the heavenly bodies whirling in a great cosmic dance. He paints the sky of man’s earth with clouds and sunsets, and the ground with flowers and streams. He fashioned man out of dust of the earth. He tells the greatest love story of time and eternity, and unfolds it in a drama unlike any that man has ever created. He uses every art and every medium.[4]

Observation: Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator.[5] God is the great Creator and we merely reflect Him with our creations, as we will see.

Consider Creation

We see in the beginning that when God saw all He had made He pronounced, “very good” (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems. Man had perfect fellowship with God (cf. Gen. 3:8) and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation.

God’s creation shows us what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy and take part in the creation that He has made very good. It shows us our intended design: fellowship with God and each other and the correct enjoyment and creative oversight of creation.

The heavens declare and shout forth the glory and beauty of God (Ps. 19:1-6). “Our God is beautiful in all his way; it is part of his perfection. This divine beauty has been woven into the fabric of creation, in the massive stars, inside the submicroscopic balance of the atom.”[6]

Observation: As we take in and enjoy beauty, whether Mozart, Norman Rockwell, or a brook basking in the sun, it points us back to our Creator for which we truly yearn. Even “photography is a longing for eternity, a desire for a lasting impact. When we blast our memories far and wide, we are hoping they will linger when we’re not present and maybe even when we’re gone. How odd that something seemingly instant can be rooted in a hunger for eternity.”[7]

Consider that we are Creative Creatures

What is man? A complex animal, more advanced through Darwinian Evolution? Are humans merely matter in motion?

We see the doctrine of the image of God,[8] the imago Dei, in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9). The most prominent is Genesis 1:27 that says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[9] “The ‘image (likeness) of God’ refers to a permanent aspect of our created nature, which was not affected by the fall. It is the special characteristic of the human race, which distinguishes us from other creatures.”[10]

So, “We are created in the likeness of the Creator… So we are, on a finite level, people who can create.”[11] 

We were made, in part, to create. We were made to work unhindered at the creative care of the creation. However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through man’s fall we see the crash and curse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer good and why our creative care is constrained.

Observation: We are creative creatures; that is part of what we do and how we reflect the image of our Creator. We see that because that is what we were created to do we thrive as individuals and as societies as we create.

Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative, because this is what was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create—on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created—but he is still the creature of a Creator.[12]

We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).

Realize there are all sorts of types of creativity, one person creates cars, another creates music, and still another manages his restaurant in thoughtful ways.[13] The important observation here is not so much what we do but how we approach our tasks.

We should approach all we do with intentionality and skill. As Timothy Keller says, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and… undermines society itself.”[14]

Consider the Crash

Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news that we all live in.

In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.”[15] Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.”[16] Sin opens Pandora’s box and unleashes a horde of evil.

We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous.

To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons, the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa.

Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine.

We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece, then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.

Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.

The crash happened in Genesis 3, man disobeyed God and chaos and curse ensued. In the crash, we see what went wrong with us and the world.

Observation: The image we bare is tainted and marred. It’s like one of Winslow Homer’s famous watercolor paintings had a pail of acid poured on it. We can still trace the image but it’s faded. We need a master painter to repaint us.

It is important to observe that “The arts, which speak so subjectively and so very personally regarding who and what we are in relation to our Maker are very vulnerable to the distortion that sin has brought in the world.”[17] Even in the Bible art can be used to idolatrous ends. We, after the crash, often use creativity to de-create and desecrate the good world God has made.

We see that we often desire heaven and make hell. We want back in Eden and sometimes we express that, but sometimes we express the crash. We, in the words of Makoto Fujimura, “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.”[18] Michael Card has said, “A thousand examples speak of a deep, inner hunger for beauty that, at its heart, is a hunger for God. We hunger for beauty because it is a beautiful God whom we serve.”[19] Yet, we are stuck on the outside of Eden.[20] We are stuck yearning.

Much art reflects on this theme, from superhero movies to angsty art, we know there was a fall. We know we live after the crash. We desire the new creation but many don’t know the answer. They don’t know Christ the Promised One.

Consider Christ

After the crash of creation, after the curse was introduced, there was a promise of a deliverer that would set all right again. At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) was vague; in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught because Cain was the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother.

However, later on, we see Him who even the prophets longed to see (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Messiah (2 Cor. 1:20). The one that will crush the curse and bring in the new creation.

The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God—Jesus—comes that this process is broken. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.

Through Christ we see what God has done to put things right. Christ hung, outstretched on the tree, and bore the curse and will come again to bring His eternal reign when peace will be pervasive and joy will be tangible.

Jesus is the hero of the story. He takes upon Himself the curse and brings the new creation and friendship with God that we all yearn for.

The Cosmic Creator that flung the stars in place and knows them all by name cares to the point of crucifixion. He is the author that writes Himself into the story. He makes, He comes, He dies, and He rises again. And He’s coming back to recreate the world.

Observation: In Christ, first we see our Savior, but we see also see a profound example. Christ’s character as seen in the Gospels is one of creativity and compassion. He is expressive and real. He is harsh and gentle. 

Christ was honest to the reality of our current condition. He didn’t lighten the realities of the crash and the catastrophes that it created. However, He wasn’t hopeless either. He brought the world the solution they needed: Himself.

We too must understand our current condition and honestly and creatively communicate truth to the world.

Consider our Current Condition

It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still wheeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.

Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.”[21] It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.”

We must position ourselves after the Creator, the creation of all things, and the crash and curse of the cosmos, and we must remember that we were created as creative creatures to reflect our Creator. We must remember Christ, the hope of all the world. We must hope in Him and the new creation that He will bring at the consummation of His Kingdom.

We must not get stuck hopelessly on the crash and curse of the world, though to be in the world is to reflect realistically on its realities. Yet, we must not forget Christ and His coming Kingdom and the fact that we are not the center of the universe. So, “The Christian artist will often be an irritant, disturbing the anthropocentric view of the world that fallen nature naturally gravitates toward.”[22]

Observation: It is when we remember our current condition, all that has laid behind us and all that lays before us, that we can most profoundly and prophetically speak into our cultures. It is then that we can bring compassion and truth to bear and see God’s truth take root and change people and society.

So, David Skeel says, “The most beautiful and memorable art will reflect the tensions and complexity that only Christianity can fully explain.”[23]

Consider the coming Consummation

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally live with Him in paradise in the end.

Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The Lord will bring heaven down and establish His Kingdom that will not be shaken but will last forever and ever in perfect beauty and joy. 

Observation: Time is working itself down to a consummation; to a renewal of the creation, in fact, a new creation. Ever since Eden, this is what we have longed for and it is made available through Christ. However, many miss it. They look to the creature rather than to the Creator to find satisfaction, life, and joy.

As we carry out various creative tasks we can thoughtfully point people to what they need and why they need it. We can address the issue of the crash, our current condition, and Christ and the coming consummation. 

We can also know that art occupies a type of middle ground. In one way pointing backward (to creation) while planted firmly (in the current condition) and also pointing ahead (to the consummation). 

Conclusion: So, how should we think about art? 

As we carry out our creative tasks (whether or not it is typically labeled art or not) we reflect our Maker. We point to the reason and rhyme of the universe, especially when we reflect on and cause others to reflect on why, at times, there seems to be no reason and rhyme to the universe. 

Lastly, as we seek to be faithful and reflect God’s image we must look to Jesus. He is the Master. He is “painting” us in His image. The brushstrokes that stand out the most are “love the LORD your God with all you are” and “your neighbor as yourself.” It is through the application of those two brushstrokes that we look more and more as we were always supposed to look.

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[1] My word is very fallible but God’s Word is truth. This is important because, as William Dyrness, has said: ““Artistic issues are, according to the biblical perspective, profoundly theological from the beginning to end” (William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, 70).

[2] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 14-15.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 72.

[4] W. S. LaSor, “Art” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 302.

[5] “Only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. In this sense, he is the only One who deserves the title of Creator. We are merely creative” (Harold M. Best in Michael Care, Scribbling in the Sand, 122).

[6] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[7] Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, 189.

[8] “That man by creation uniquely bears the divine image is a fundamental biblical doctrine—as also that this image is sullied by sin and that it is restored by divine salvation” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Man” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 338).

[9] “The declaration that humanity bears God’s likeness is startling, awesome, and almost incredible, but what exactly does it mean?… Two primary, and not necessarily contradictory views are: (1) the substantive view, according to which humans share some aspects of the nature of God (intelligence, emotions, etc.); and (2) the functional view, according to which humans act like God in their divinely given role to rule the earth. The immediate context, with the language of dominion and subjugation, suggests that the functional interpretation is primary” (Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 29). I personally believe in a hybrid view. I believed in a functional view that implies the substantive view. That is, if we as humans are to function as vice-regents we must be endowed with the abilities to carry it out (e.g. intelligence, creativity, etc.).

[10] G. L. Bray, “Image of God” in NDBT, 576.

[11] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[12] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[13] I think for example of Chic-fil-a.

[14] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 19. He also says “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever” (29).

[15] Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).

[16] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466).

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 75.

[18] Makoto Fujimura, Refractions.

[19] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[20] “Christianity explains our inability to sustain transcendence as evidence that creation, and the creation, have been corrupted” (David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 88).

[21] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 86. “To portray the world as a rose garden can be as misleading as portraying it as a cesspool” (Ibid., 58).

[22] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 22.

[23] David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 82.

The Practical Importance of Doctrine

What is doctrine and what is theology and why are they important? Theos is Greek for God so theology is the study of God and divine things. Doctrine is a teaching or belief from Scripture. John Frame writes, “The purpose of teaching is not merely to state the objective truth, but to bring the people to a state of spiritual health.”[1] He defines theology as “the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.[2] So we see that theology applies to every area of life.

All theology, all doctrine, is to be practical. That is, any truth rightly understood will move us to something. That is precisely what we see in Scripture; take the book of Ephesians for example. Paul laid out God’s amazing work in salvation: we were dead in our sins but God made us alive through Christ. After teaching on weighty truths for 3 chapters he then says “I therefore [because of the truth of the doctrines I have just shared] … urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). He then proceeds from the doctrine to give application of that teaching for the remaining 3 chapters (for example he calls the Ephesians to unity in 4:1-6 and to sacrificial love in 5:1-2). If we are going to seek to live as the Lord has called us to live it is absolutely vital that we pray and seek to understand the incomprehensible love and glory of Christ (i.e. doctrine/theology; although, that does not mean that you will have to read theologies but it will at least include pouring over the Scripture). 

F. F. Bruce has said,

“Doctrine is never taught in the Bible simply that it may be known; it is taught in order that it may be translated into practice: ‘if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them’ (Jn. 13:17). Hence Paul repeatedly follows up an exposition of doctrine with an ethical exhortation, the latter being linked to the former… often …with the particle ‘therefore’ (cf. Eph. 4:1; Col. 3:5).”[3]

The scripture and its teachings are not senseless banter but truth that must be understood and lived out. And if we understand the truths rightly they will not be drudgery but rather delight. For instance, we know that we are to love others, but why? Because the Scripture teaches us that God loves us (doctrine) therefore we love others (application). First John 4:19 concurs, “We love because He first loved us.” Both the doctrine (understanding God’s love) and the application (loving others) are vital and should never be divided.

So, for example, if we want to give more money to missions we must first not merely give but understand why we give. If we want to do good things (at least effectively and God glorifyingly) it is important that we understand the grounds for what we do, for when doctrine comes before duty our duty is less duty and more delight. I am confident that Paul himself could not have endured all he did without his soul-satisfying doctrine. He endured persecution, but it was merely “a light momentary affliction” compared with the doctrine of heaven, a place where he knew he would receive unimaginable joy.

As Christians, our living is wrong if not influenced by doctrine, and our doctrine is wrong if it doesn’t influence our living. Both doctrine and living are to be inseparable; they are to complement and intensify each other. J.D. Payne has rightly said, “Orthodoxy (right belief) results in orthopraxy (right action); if not, then our orthodoxy is to be questioned.”[4]

A deep understanding of doctrine, as well as an understanding of the God we serve, will, or should, reciprocate a radical living out of that doctrine; this is found throughout scripture. Doctrine in scripture is given for that very purpose: to change us. As J.I. Packer has said, “Theology is for doxology and devotion—that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness.”[5]

A prime example that comes to mind is found in Second Corinthians 8:9 where it talks about the radical impact the doctrine of the atonement had on the Macedonians. So beware, I am saying that the awesome truths of Scripture do not leave us unscathed. Rather, they call us to awesome, even drastic change; from darkness to light; from sons and daughters of Satan to sons and daughters of God; from being dead in Adam to being alive in Christ; from following Satan to being like Jesus who is God the Son.

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[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2010), 275.

[2] Ibid., 276. Italics his. “Teaching… is the use of God’s revelation to meet the spiritual needs of people, to promote godliness and spiritual health” (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 81).

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries.  (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 212.  

[4] J.D. Payne, Evangelism: A Biblical Guide to Today’s Questions (Colorado, CO: Biblica Publishing, 2011), XIII.

[5] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1993), xii.

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