Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dr Michael Bird on Justification

The latest Pauline Theology lectures at HTC have thrown up Dr Michael Bird's Four Essential Points on Justification, together with a definition. These also appear (in expanded form) in Dr Bird's new book 'A Bird's Eye View of Paul', which I have had the pleasure of delving into already. Anyway...


  1. Justification is forensic: it is the opposite of being condemned; it is God's declaration; it is our status, not our state.
  2. Justification is covenantal: it means belonging to the family of Abraham; there are no other conditions of membership.
  3. Justification is effective: sanctification cannot be subsumed into justification but they cannot be totally separated; whilst we may treat them distinctly in conceptual terms, we cannot do this logically; for Paul, justification is sometimes transformative.
  4. Justification is eschatological: the verdict of final judgement is declared in the present; the verdict is declared in Christ's atonement and resurrection.
Justification, then is:
the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wired to God III: phone, sweet phone

The third article in the Wired to God series for Free, the Free Church's youth magazine, is carried in the latest edition. It's the dodgiest title yet. But, despite the dodgy title, hopefully it's a Christian perspective that's helpful for teenagers checking out the issues around the ownership and use of mobiles:
  • phones, consumerism and image
  • phones and interpersonal relationships
  • using phones for good
Cultural change has been so rapid since the war that many churches have struggled to adjust, carrying social and cultural baggage long after it has proved a huge hindrance to engaging young people and unchurched people with the message of Jesus. The Wired to God series (which I write with the help of Aled Elias) aims to bring Christian ethics into the world of young people, specifically through looking at personal technology, especially communications and entertainment technology, from a Christian perspective. The articles also attempts to incarnate the message in a form that's recognisable to teenagers.
Phones are becoming more and more a feature of modern life and also more and more useful as they take on functionality from traditional PDAs and therefore lend themselves to assisting the organisation of busy schedules - like in, say, ministry for example!
.
Try Handheld Ministry to find out more about Using Handhelds to Build the Kingdom of God!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dr Dan McCartney on Servant Leadership

I've just listened to a sermon on Servant Leadership delivered by Dr Dan McCartney at chapel at WTS. Many thanks to Jonathan Kirk, my brother, and Daniel Kirk at Sibboleth for pointing me to it. As Daniel says 'it's a must-listen' if you're in leadership yourself. If that's not enough to grab you for the whole 22 minutes of the sermon, then listen from 19:30 in and you get a good 2 minutes that's a powerful conclusion to the message. Find it here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Jonathan Sacks on Genesis 1

In the Times on Saturday last (5 April), Jonathan Sacks wrote the Credo article in the Faith section, entitled: Genesis tells us we have a duty to protect the planet. It's a good read - here's a quote from it...
So Genesis 1 is not a proto-scientific account of the birth of the Universe and the Big Bang. Its purpose is clear. The Universe is good: hence world-denying nihilism is ruled out. It is the result of a single creative will, so myth is eliminated. The Universe is a place of structure and order, so the text is an invitation to science, by implying that the world is not irrational and ruled by capricious powers.

Why then is Genesis 1 there? We are puzzled by that question because we forget that the Hebrew Bible is called, in Judaism, Torah, meaning teaching, guidance, or more specifically, law. Genesis 1 is best understood not as pseudo-science, still less as myth, but as jurisprudence; that is to say, as the foundation of the moral law. God created the world; therefore God owns the world. We are His guests — strangers and temporary residents, as the Bible puts it. God has the right to specify the conditions of our tenancy on Earth. The radical message of Genesis 1 is that divine sovereignty is constitutional. God rules not by might but by right, and so must we.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Biblical Criticism and Peter Enns

I've been on holiday in Edinburgh and, whilst I was away, news has appeared on the WTS site about Peter Enns' suspension from his position in the WTS Faculty (effective from May). This is sad news. The faculty voted 12-8 in December last year to back Enns. Now the Board of Trustees has acted. Did someone say Norman Shepherd? My last post now seems somewhat ironic. Daniel Kirk has posted on this: audio of a Q and A from WTS (quality not great - try headphones) and also the minority report of those who voted against the suspension of Enns.
.
Mike Bird has a good post on this entitled The Enns of Biblical Studies in Reformed Circles - it's definitely worth reading. He also has a good follow up on Biblical Criticism and Confessionalism. I too am deeply disturbed about the seeming inability of some in the Reformed Church to deal with scripture from a historical point of view. The associated distrust of biblical theology depresses me. The news about Enns depresses me. The advice is, if you're exploring the doctrine of Scipture, keep your head down.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Shepherd on The Vine and Covenant

One of the most helpful things I've read on how John 15 is approached paradigmatically is in Norman Shepherd's The Call of Grace, in the chapter on Covenant and Election. Shepherd recognises that often the first reaction to the Vine imagery is, 'How can this passage be squared with the doctrines of election and the perseverance of the saints?' The answer often given (as we've seen) is of inward branches and outward branches. However, as Shepherd points out, if inward branches are inevitably going to bear fruit and outward branches are inevitably unable to, then what is the point of Jesus' warning? Shepherd then writes this...

The words inward and outward are often used in Reformed theology to resolve problems that arise because biblical texts are approached from the perspective of election. Indeed the seeming indispensability of this formula indicates that the covenant is commonly viewed from the perspective of election, rather than election from the perspective of covenant. The distinction is necessary to account for the fact that the covenant community appears to include both elect and nonelect. The nonelect are then said to be only outwardly in the covenant. The elect are inwardly in the covenant. Covenant is virtually dissolved into the idea of election.

I wholeheartedly agree with Shepherd's analysis of covenantal theology being remoulded as dictated by ideas of election and reprobation. This is a similar thought to that in my systematics essay last year on the doctrine of perseverance...

It is my view that Reformed dogmatics has struggled to reflect the biblical data in failing to maintain the distinction between the experience of the believer and (i) the secret elements of the divine counsel; (ii) the salvific state of the soul. If these distinctions are maintained, the possibility of ‘falling away’ causes fewer doctrinal problems.

Attempts at systematising soteriology have falsely sanctioned the intrusion of the secret elements of the divine counsel into the experience of the individual. It is as a result of this that the division of assurance and faith has occurred in Reformed theology.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

And with the Harp

I've just returned from the Edinburgh International Harp Festival - my daughter was taking lessons and we took in a concert of Celtic music too. There was a workshop there that caught my eye, although I wasn't able to get along to it. It was entitled and described like this:

The Joy of the Jewish Sabbath: the Jewish faith and song are inseparable. For thousands of years, Jewish families have celebrated the Sabbath with songs of praise. There is a rich treasury of melodies sung around the Friday evening dining table to welcome the Sabbath. Learn more about the history and customs surrounding this spiritual day of rest.

This got me googling and you can watch a Shabbat chant played on a lyre here and tunes played on a kinnor lyre here and here.