Archive for August, 2013


Continuity of Righteous Standard–an excerpt from The Cross: the heart of New Covenant Theology

I believe the following is the section Stuart Brogden was referring to in his e-mail response to my question. This post should be read in conjunction with my earlier post “Baptist Covenant Theology.”

God has only one standard of righteousness. The principles of righteousness that provide the foundation for every administration of God’s sovereign purpose arise from the character of the law-giver Himself, not from the epochal, cultural, and geographical situations in which those principles are articulated. The law-giver demands that His creatures love Him supremely and reflect that love in their love for and just treatment of their neighbors. New Covenant believers are no longer expected to obey, in meticulous detail, all of the laws of the Old Covenant. Does this suggest that the character of the law-giver has changed in some way? Of course not! Such a thing is impossible.

Not every commandment of the Old Covenant was “moral” in the sense that it reflected the holy character of God. Some were ceremonial in nature; others were civil laws. Yet, there is a sense in which every commandment of that covenant was “moral.” These injunctions were “moral” simply by virtue of the fact that it was God who gave them. In this sense, they were not merely cultural and national mandates; they were the commandments of the Holy One. Failure to obey these commandments reflected a lack of love for the law-giver.

The Old Covenant measured holiness in terms of law-keeping. Prior to the advent of the Messiah, the Israelite’s love for God and neighbor was expressed in his obedience to every point of the law, not just the Decalogue. It was unholy to commit adultery. It was unholy to gather sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36). It was unholy to reap an entire field (Lev 19:9-10). It was unholy to eat certain kinds of food (Deut 14:7-8). It was not possible to omit any duty prescribed by the law or commit any transgression forbidden by the law and still be considered holy. How, then, can it be that New Covenant believers can walk in holiness and yet be free from all obligation to obey many of the commandments of the Old Covenant? Because they are under a New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, every truly “moral” principle (I would prefer to call them righteous principles) of the Old Covenant is repeated and becomes the “binding authority”, under the Lord Christ, for the believer. Through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit, the “righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us” (Rom 8:4). Though the character of the law-giver does not change, the specific requirements of the Old and New Covenants are different. God demands that all his creatures love Him. Yet, He does not command people under different covenants to demonstrate that love in the same ways.

Under the Old Covenant, Sabbath-breakers were to be put to death. Why was the punishment for this sin so severe? What was so horrible about picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Was this an immoral act? Was the Sabbath rest a reflection of the holy character of God, so that Sabbath breaking rendered one ungodly (unlike God)? No! The fact that God rests from His labor does not tell us what God is; it tells us what God does. It was an immoral act, however, in the sense that it disregarded a commandment that God had given. In fact, it disregarded the entire covenant. Sabbath-breaking was treated so harshly under the Old Covenant because the sabbath was the sign of that covenant (Exo 31:13-17). To break the Sabbath was to break covenant with God. It was not only an insult to God; it was a clear demonstration of the perpetrator’s lack of love for God.

There is discontinuity in standards of behavior between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Yet, the standard of righteousness remains the same. Daniel and his companions refused to eat food from a pagan king’s table (Dan 1:8), because to have eaten such fare, under the Old Covenant, would have been an act of unfaithfulness to God. A New Covenant believer may now eat such a meal without fear of “being defiled” (Rom 14:3,17). What has changed? Does God expect less from believers under the New Covenant than He did from Israel? Of course not! In fact, the standard of behavior for New Covenant believers is higher than the standard imposed on Israel under the Old Covenant. The standard of behavior has changed because the covenant under which God demanded such behavior has been abrogated. God’s standard of righteousness is summarily comprehended in Jesus’ words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40). This is the standard of righteousness required under every covenant. The way in which love to God and neighbor is to be exhibited (the standard of behavior) depends on the demands of the particular covenant that is in force at the time. It is the New Testament Scriptures that define sanctified behavior for the New Covenant believer (1 Thess 4:1-3), not the Old Covenant written in tables of stone (the Ten Commandments). The New Covenant believer is under the covenantal authority of the New, not the Old Covenant.

I urge you to comment on these issues.


Baptist Covenant Theology–Stuart L. Brogden

The following is a link to a lecture Stuart Brogden delivered on Baptist Covenant Theology.

It may differ slightly with my view of New Covenant Theology in that it may see all humanity under the old covenant, the Law, whereas I would see that covenant as one made exclusively with Israel treated paradigmatically as a microcosm of the human race. Israel’s response to that covenant stood representatively as the response of all in Adam. God’s elect [spiritual] receive the blessings of that works covenant, not because we were under it, but because we are in him who was born under it and fulfilled its every last requirement as our substitute.

The following is Stuart’s response to my question [by email] in regard to the differences he sees between his position and NCT:

From what I’ve read about NCT, I do not agree that God’s moral law is defined by what the NT re-published thereof. This is put forth as a NCT tenet in “The Cross – The Heart of NCT”; which sees the Decalogue as God’s moral law in so much as it is republished in the NT.

I see that moral law as pre-dating the Decalogue and being partially displayed in the Decalogue, which is no more than God’s testimony of His covenant with Israel. I do see categories of law with the Mosaic Covenant, but not in the same way as the WCF crowd does. Their view of the church = Israel distorts the Scripture, making a complex issue neat and easy to reduce to a catechism.

My answer is that, though I wrote the booklet to which he refers, “The Cross: The Heart of New Covenant Theology” years ago, I must have failed to make my position clear. Whatever I stated in that booklet that gave the impression that we believe the law of God is defined by what is republished in the New Testament, my position at this point is that God’s moral law [as I have stated in other places I prefer the term “righteous standard”] never changes. It antedates the Decalogue and survives its abrogation. The two commandments that embody that righteous standard, love to God and neighbor, are to be obeyed in different ways under different covenants. Love to God under the old covenant was expressed in obedience to so-called ceremonial commandments as well as through obedience to so-called moral commandments. The commandments that are published in the New Testament Scriptures are not so published to define “moral law” but to describe what obedience to that eternal, righteous standard looks like for a new covenant believer.

Regarding different aspects of the Mosaic covenant (moral, civil/judicial, and ceremonial), I do not disagree that such a character exists with individual commandments. There is clearly a distinction between the covenant itself, the Ten Words, and the commands God gave for the implementation of that covenant. My point is that it was not two parts of the Mosaic covenant that waxed old and was ready to vanish but the entire covenant. The biblical writers consistently refer to “LAW,” not “Moral law,””ceremonial law,” and “civil law.” It was the covenant that passed away, not parts of it. The only reason the Sabbath commandment is not repeated in the N. T. Scriptures is that it was the ceremonial sign of the old covenant that has now been fulfilled in Christ.

We are still required to keep and are now enabled to keep the righteous requirements of the law in terms of the principles set forth in the intricate legal system that was necessary to implement the old covenant. Yet, since we do not live in a Theocracy, and in my view are not intended to live in a Theocracy until the King returns, the laws regarding capital punishment, etc. no longer obtain. My view is that if any part of that covenant has been fulfilled and has therefore vanished, the covenant as a whole has vanished.

At any rate, whatever differences may remain between Stuart and me on these issues, I believe you will find the above referenced lecture helpful.


The Sovereignty of “Free Will”

I recently visited another blog that seems to be dedicated to bashing Calvinists and what these people perceive to be “spiritual abuse.” Please understand I am not suggesting that abuse does not occur in churches,even in Calvinistic churches, or that such abuse should not be addressed and remedied. I would suggest that the way to deal with the problem is not to deny truth, but to examine the ways in which truth is being applied improperly.

The young lady to whose blog I am referring and those who comment there, by and large, do not understand this method of problem solving. Their ultimate M.O. is to deny the God who has revealed himself in Scripture, then to elevate “free will” to a position of sovereignty. By “free will,” they seem to mean [It is virtually impossible to get any of them to define “free will.”] not merely that people act freely and voluntarily, but that sinners are autonomous. They reject any God who impinges on man’s autonomy.

The owner of the blog recently posted an article explaining why she would have trouble believing in and loving John Calvin’s God. The following is a portion of that post. It concerns two young ladies who were abused as children and their commiseration over that abuse. The premise of the post was that a person who has been abused by an earthly father has greater difficulty trusting God than a person who had the privilege of being nourished by a loving father. It is not my purpose here to talk about the degree to which our life experiences will affect our trust level. Instead, my purpose is to declare that human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist. If one insists that the human will is deterministic and autonomous, then one must be an atheist. Human autonomy and divine sovereignty cannot coexist.

She wrote:

Please imagine being in the shoes of someone abused. Imagine the picture of a God who chooses whom He elects – there is no rhyme or reason. The dad who raised me chose which children he liked. He didn’t choose me. He said in words that he loved me. He showed me off as his trophy prize when I played the piano well for company. But when the company left, I could have been beaten for a “wrong look.” It sure sounds like my father was playing favorites to me. Did God also choose to let me get abused and not my siblings?

I’m sorry, I cannot allow my brain to go back to that. That is hell – – – every day coming home from school wondering if this would be the day that he’d explode. What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.

Do you sense both the physical and heavenly father chaos I have experienced? It’s hell. Do you see why hell might seem preferable than heaven – – if I have to acknowledge that this God, the One who sent Jesus to die for me, actually chose for me to be abandoned, rejected, and beaten by both of my earthly fathers? I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?

Finally, Oasis’ words articulated so powerfully what I have felt. She speaks so well for me here:

It is IMPOSSIBLE for me believe that God loves me, if he was the man behind the curtain the entire time. I have cried so many tears over the concept. If any part of him, on any level, wanted those abusers to destroy me in the way they did, then I conclude that GOD DOES NOT LOVE ME. And if this is true, then my sorrow will never end, because my God is no more.

Please understand I do not in any way wish to depreciate the pain these young ladies have felt or the psychological scars that have been left by the abuse they have suffered. I am simply asserting that the answer is not to deny plainly revealed biblical truth. In reality, my problem is probably not so much with these young ladies’ blasphemous comments as with others who see nothing wrong with what they have written and in fact applaud them for their statements. Perhaps the rational ability of these young ladies has been so twisted and clouded by their emotional pain they can no longer reason properly. Those who have failed to correct them should be ashamed of themselves for becoming complicit in their blasphemy.

Virtually every statement in this post is a denial of some biblically revealed truth about God.

1. It assumes God is an arbitrary tyrant like her father who “flies off the handle” without provocation and whose choices are random “there is no rhyme or reason.”

2. It assumes God can’t be trusted when he tells us he loves us. If God allows us to be treated in a way we feel is “unfair,” then it is inconceivable that he could love us. Thus, it denies both God’s love and his faithfulness to fulfill his clearly revealed promises.

3. It makes our experience, not the revealed Word, the arbiter of what is good and evil, right and wrong. If it feels bad to me, it can’t be right. It must not have felt right to Joseph to have been sold into slavery by his brothers, but he said to them later on, “I am in the place God wants me to be”. It must not have felt good to Job to lose, in a single day, everything he owned , except for his nagging wife and three so called friends, yet he said, “The LORD has given, The Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the LORD.” “Shall we receive good from the LORD’S hand and shall we not receive evil?” Lest we think Job was mistaken in his assessment of the reality, the LORD says to Satan, “you have moved ME against him.” The kind of thinking reflected in this post assumes if God allows [much less ordains] such adversities to occur, he must not be a good God and he must not love us.

4. It denies both God’s omniscience and his sovereign plan. She writes: “I’m now supposed to be okay with the fact that God foresaw the abuse I would endure and it was in His glorious plan?” Perhaps I have misunderstand the point of her question, but it seems to me the answer she expects from her readers is “No, of course not!” Of course, the alternative is that those events took God completely by surprise and he is blundering through with no plan as to how human events will unfold.

5. Her words give the impression that God has not made clear to us what he requires of us and what will please him. “What is it like every day wondering if I measure up to God, if I got the doctrine right if He’s going to elect me – even if I have already believed in my heart He has saved me? Sometimes my feelings waver. It’s déja vu, but now with a spiritual Father.” Even after she has “believed in her heart,” she can’t trust God to be true to his promises.

6. It fails to take into account that the “man” she would rather have had standing behind the curtain [her description of God] and would have delivered her had he not been the God Calvin believed in, did nothing to give her relief. Neither the “god” she imagines, nor the God Calvin believed in stopped the abuse. Since no God intervened to stop the abuse, and any God deserving of our love would not have allowed it to continue, the only conclusion at which she can arrive is that God does not exist. What she is really saying is that the only God who would be deserving of her love is a God who is impotent, blind, and groping about to find his way, since he has no plan. Or if he does have a plan, it is a plan that can change with the circumstances and may be thwarted by the sovereign will of man. Yet, even this impotent, blind and groping God did not come from behind the curtain to help her. Perhaps he was so blind he could not see what was occurring. Does she really mean she could only love a God who couldn’t see the abuse coming? How could one trust a god who was clueless about what would occur in the future, in this case her abuse, and had no plan to bring good out of evil, could not have done anything about it if he wanted to because he didn’t want to violate the sinners autonomous will, or alternately, could have done something to stop the abuse but, for some unexplained reason, did nothing.

What she needs to understand is that the God Calvin believed in, the one who has revealed himself in the Word of God, hates the abuse she suffered even more than she does. That he has ordained all that occurs in our lives does not mean he has caused it to occur or that he calls it good.

Additionally, the God she seems to have rejected is a God who controls all things for the good of his people and is able to bring ultimate good to his people out of the most horrendous and painful circumstances of life.

As well-meaning as he may be, her “god” is an impotent bystander whose heart grieves over the fallen creation but has no ability to bring sinners to salvation or bring abusers like those who abused her to judgment. This “god” of hers wanted to help, but he just couldn’t intervene because he has no control in the universe. In her world, “free will” is sovereign.


The Gospel of Limited Atonement

I have been listening to a number of messages on YouTube about limited atonement. I only use that term because it is so common in the parlance of our time. I perfer the term “effectual redemption” to refer to Jesus’ redeeming work. I have become more convinced than ever before that differing views on this subject represent two different gospels. One is a false gospel and the other is the true gospel. The controversy is not unimportant and a matter for discussion among “ivory tower theologians.” It is a controversy that concerns the souls of men and women.

I would like to recommend for your consideration one of the best messages I have ever heard on this subject. It is a message by Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson.

Among other things, he shows that the issue is not over the number of those for whom Jesus died, but over the effectiveness of his redeeming work.

Faith does not complete the work of redemption. Jesus “sealed my pardon with his blood, Halelujah, what a Savior!”


How to Argue Against the Wicked Heresy of Calvinism


1. Misrepresent its teachings so badly that no Calvinist would recognize them.

2. Quote a handful of proof-texts, out of context, that have nothing at all to do with the issues.

3. Never exegete and try to explain biblical texts that actually teach that God is the sovereign Lord over his own universe. Ignore all texts that explain that if sinners ever make proper and God glorifying choices, they do so through divine enabling.

4. State a part of the truth as if it were the whole truth, and then pretend these wretched Calvinists don’t believe in the part you have stated. For example, cite verses that show God invites sinners to choose life and reject death as proof that God has nothing to do with that choice. Then boldly assert that Calvinists don’t believe sinners have a will.

5 Find areas in which most Calvinists would disagree with Calvin, and make those issues the most salient points in the discussion.

6 Never, ever quote a Calvinist in the context in which his remarks actually occurred. You must always take his comments out of context so that it will appear he is saying something completely different from what he said or wrote.

7. When all else fails, resort to name calling.


God is Not a Respecter of Persons

Several times in Scripture we encounter the phrase, “God is not a respecter of persons” or “God does not show partiality.” On the basis of this phrase, some have argued that the doctrine of unconditional election could not be true since if he chose one and passed over another he would be showing favoritism. In considering this question, it is helpful to remember, first of all, what God has revealed about his actions in this regard. Then, it is important to consider this phrase in the contexts in which it occurs.

First, consider what the Bible reveals about God’s treatment of men and nations. In Deut. 7:6-8, God speaks about his choice of Israel as a nation and as a special people. This is what the text reveals,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

The text clearly reveals that “God loved Israel and chose Israel to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples of the earth” simply because he loved them and was keeping the oath he swore to their fathers. He clearly treated this nation better than any other nation on earth. He showed favoritism toward them.

Additionally, contrary to the natural order, he loved Jacob and hated Esau. Though this applies to the nations that descended from these two individuals, it applies none the less to two unborn children. Paul wrote,

‘For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad-in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls- she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’ (Rom. 9:9-13).

These verses reveal to us that God declared, while these two individuals were still unborn and before they had done anything good or evil, that he was going to treat them differently. According to the ordinary order, the younger would serve the older, but God reversed the order and promised to love and bless one above the other. In other words, God sovereignly determined that he would show greater favor to one child than he did to the other.

As the passage continues, it becomes clear that God chose to treat Moses better than he treated the Pharaoh. God answered Moses’ request to show him his glory, but he made it clear that the revelation of his glory was a matter of mercy and not of merit (Exo. 33:19). Moses did not deserve God’s blessing any more than the Pharaoh did. Both deserved the wrath and curse of God, yet God chose to treat Moses differently from the Pharaoh.

Consider Jesus’ rebuke of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum in Matthew 11:20-27:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’ At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

He clearly tells them they had received a greater revelation from God than he had given Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. If these others had received equal revelation from God, Jesus says they would have repented. What is clear is that God did not treat all these people equally. When Jesus addresses the reason behind this unequal treatment of these people groups, his answer is “yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The Scriptures are filled with examples of God treating people unequally. He sends the gospel to some and forbids his messengers to preach the gospel to others. He heals some and passes by others, leaving them in their sickness. And we could go on and on. “God is no respecter of persons,” or “God does not show partiality” cannot mean God treats everyone equally, and it certainly cannot mean God has not chosen some and passed over others because it was his good pleasure to do so.

What, then, does this phrase mean in those contexts in which it occurs in the Scriptures? Let me just list some of the passages in which we encounter this phrase or words similar to it:

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deut.10:17).

“He appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city, and said to the judges, “Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. Now then, let the fear of the LORD be upon you. Be careful what you do, for there is no injustice with the LORD our God, or partiality or taking bribes” (2 Chronicles 19:5-7).

“. . . who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands”(Job 34:19)?

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts:10:34-35).

“And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:8-9).

“There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:9-11).

“And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)-those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me” (Gal. 2:6).

“. . .knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him”(Eph. 6:8-9).

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality”(Col. 3:23-25).

“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,. . . .”(1 Pet. 1:17).

Now, permit me to make several observations concerning these verses.

1. None of these verses occurs in a context in which the issue is remotely concerned with God’s purpose of grace. These contexts have absolutely nothing to do with whether God chose certain sinners and passed over others.

2. Most of these verses are concerned with judges and judgment. Judges are to judge justly and not take bribes because they are to pattern themselves after the Lord who is a righteous judge. The entire context in Romans concerns God’s righteous standard of judgment. God does not judge on the basis of race, religion, respectability, or ritual. His judgment is based on righteousness as defined by his law. “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds” (1 Pet. 1:17).

3. Some of these verses have to do with God accepting Gentiles as well as Jews, e.g., Acts 10:34-35. “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

4. The point of all these passages is that God does not show partiality to any person based on race, rank (Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:8-9), or riches. He will not give a pass to anyone based on any of these criteria.

The only conclusion we can draw is that “God does not show partiality,” has absolutely nothing to do with the issue of divine election.


“Normative Behavior?”

How should we determine what is “normative” for the life, order, and worship of the Christian church? Many would suggest that Christian practice in the early church provides a norm for modern worship, but is this true?

I happen to be among those who like the home atmosphere for study and worship. I believe there are many who would come to a home to study the Bible who would never think of attending an established church. I also believe the format of the first Christian assemblies provided much more opportunity for discussion, questions, objections, etc., than the format in our modern “churches.” People grow better when they have opportunity to express their views, even when those views are erroneous. Many sit in the pews for years with such views undetected. Besides all this, someone has remarked that the back of another person’s head is not a very edifying spectacle. In fact,if I had my way, mega-churches would not exist. My view has always been that when an assembly reaches a certain size, it should voluntarily divide and establish another assembly. The question is, is that the “biblical norm”?

When I preach or teach, I do so from a Bible app on my iPad. Early teachers and preachers didn’t have iPads. In fact, they didn’t even have Bibles in codex form. The scrolls they used were made of papyrus and were hand written. Am I violating the “biblical norm” by reading Scripture from my iPad? If I am, then someone who reads from a Bible bound in codex form is also violating the biblical “norm.” Does it violate the “biblical norm” to meet in some structure other than a home simply because the early Christians met in homes? Could it be they met in homes merely as a matter of necessity or perhaps to avoid persecution? What about meeting in the open air if a group gets too large for anyone’s home? Do you suppose they passed offering plates? If they washed one another’s feet as part of their cultural norm, does that establish a norm for every culture, for all of time?

For quite some time the almost universal answer concerning the establishment of biblical norms has been that historical passages do not prescribe normative behavior; they are merely descriptive in nature. Our teachings and our standard of practice and polity must be drawn from didactic passages, not from historical passages.


Alister Begg-Feeling or Knowing in Worship?


The Death of Reason

There is a series of Direct TV commercials that are deliberately based on logical blunders called “Non sequiturs.” A non sequitur is an inference that does not necessarily follow from the premises that have been stated. You can view all of these on you on YouTube, Direct TV-Get rid of cable commercials. The following is the text from one of them.

When you have cable and can’t find something good to watch, you get depressed. When you get depressed, you attend seminars. When you attend seminars, you feel like a winner. When you feel like a winner, you go to Vegas. When you go to Vegas you lose everything. And when you lose everything, you sell your hair to a wig shop. Don’t sell your hair to a wig shop. Get rid of cable and upgrade to Direct TV.

Every time I visit blogs like Paul’s Passing Thoughts,, or, I feel as if I have been trapped in one of these commercials. What is humorous in a TV commercial, is tragic in theological discussion. The difference between these commercials and the above mentioned blogs is that the commercials at least begin with valid premises and then “reason” to illogical conclusions. In the case of these blogs and others like them, even the premises are usually flawed.


Thoughts on Romans 9-11

1. One should understand everything in the entire section in terms of the issue Paul is addressing and not import other issues that are not mentioned.

The issue is the spiritual salvation of Israelites and whether God’s promises to them have fallen to the ground without fulfillment. Paul begins the section by expressing that his prayer to God and his heart’s desire is that Israel might be “saved.” There is no justification for the assumption that the Israelites for whom he expresses concern are on a separate and different trajectory from Gentile believers. There is nothing in the entire context about Israel being restored as a nation, the establishment of an earthly, Jewish kingdom, the nation’s restoration to the land etc.

2. One should understand “Israel” in the entire passage according to Paul’s definition caveat in 9:6-7, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” There is an “Israel” that is not Israel and Paul refers to this group of unbelievers in this section, but it is to the true Israel God’s ultimate spiritual promises were made, not to the natural offspring of Jacob.

3. The entire issue hinges on God’s sovereign decree. God will have mercy on those he will save not because of debt but because of grace (9:10-25). Not even all who are of the promised seed, Isaac, are heirs of the promise.

4. Paul further narrows the focus of God’s saving grace to that remnant within Jacob’s (Israel’s) offspring who are called. Here we must understand “called” not as an invitation but as an effectual divine action that unites the called ones to Christ (9:23-29). Those “called” are the vessels which he “prepared beforehand for glory.” This agrees with Paul’s previous statement in chapter eight that “those he predestined for future glory [being conformed to the image of Christ or glorified], he also called. (8: 29-30).”

5. Paul lays the burden of responsibility directly at the feet of Jacob’s offspring who had rejected “God’s righteousness” [I understand the term “God’s righteousness” in Romans to refer to his method of putting sinners right with himself in faithfulness to his covenant promises] and insisted on going about to establish their own method of self-justification (9:30-10:21). God presents himself as an ever willing and able Savior for all who will call on his name.

6. When Paul answers the question “Has God cast away his people?” (11:1), his answer is conditioned and delineated by the definition he has already given of “his people.” There is no question he refers to those who are the physical descendants of Abraham, but the reality is God has cast many of them away. The burden of his question at this point seems to be whether God has completely abandoned all Abraham’s physical descendants because of the unbelief of the majority of them. Paul’s answer is that though God has cast away unbelieving Israel, he has not cast away those whom he “foreknew” (according to the law of first mention, “foreknew” should be interpreted in light of Romans 8:29). Paul himself is an ethnic Hebrew of the tribe of Benjamin yet he has not been cast off. Even now there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (See 11:5-7).

7. The blessings God will grant restored Israelites are the same as those now enjoyed by believing Gentiles. Paul’s concern is to “save some of them,” not to see a Davidic dynasty established under Christ’s Messianic rule and a fulfillment of land promises (see–10:1, 13; 11:14, 26-27, 30-32). Note: the mercy now granted to the Gentiles is parallel to the mercy God may show to believing Israelites. The mercy he has shown us is the forgiveness of our sins and in parallel must refer to the same kind of mercy granted to believing Israelites.

8. The blessings Gentile believers now enjoy result from Israel’s unbelief. The inclusion of the Gentiles was to have the effect of making the Israelites jealous so that some of them might be saved. Verses 11 through 15 of chapter eleven give us important insight into the way the New Testament writers used the word translated “world.” It should be obvious that “world” in these verses does not refer to every person without exception since every unbelieving ethnic Israelite is excluded from it. Their exclusion has resulted in the reconciliation of the “world,” i.e., believing Jews and Gentiles.

9. It seems clear the root of the “good olive tree” refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham. The good olive tree grows out of that root. It is important that we remember there were natural branches of that tree that should have produced good fruit but did not. Ishmael and his descendants were branches of the tree as were Isaac and his descendants. Isaac was the heir produced by faith, the child of promise; Ishmael was the child of the flesh, a child of unbelief. Still, both benefited physically and materially from their paternal relationship with Abraham.

The family tree on Isaac’s side of the family continued to branch until the ultimate offspring to whom the promises were made was born. He was the true offspring who was the ultimate heir of the Abrahamic promise. All the promises of God find their fulfillment in him. None of the branches of the olive tree were fruitful as the mere natural offspring of Abraham. Abraham was “the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (Rom. 4: 12). What Paul was saying is that physical descent from Abraham is of no value at all in terms of the spiritual inheritance. To be a son of Abraham in the spiritual sense, one must walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham.

Natural birth is no advantage in the spiritual realm. The reason the natural branches were broken off was unbelief–rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. They thought they could receive the inheritance apart from the heir, merely because they were Abraham’s natural offspring. Gentile believers have become “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), because, through faith, we have been united to the Christ, the seed of Abraham. Assuming God intends to graft believing Israelites back into the good olive tree, it will be a grafting into Christ, a natural branch of the tree, by faith. It is in him that God has made believing Israelites and believing Gentiles one. He has made us one with the true Israel by grafting us into Jesus who is the true Israel. Jesus and those united to him by faith are the true seed of Abraham. We are not a replacement for Israel; we are the fulfillment of Israel and the promises made to them.

10. This passage does not necessarily teach a future salvation of ethnic Israelites, though I would lean toward that position. It is possible Paul is stating that the full number of the elect remnant within ethnic Israel will come to faith before the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. “In this way, all Israel will be saved” (11:26). There are several considerations that might lead one to this conclusion:

A. Throughout the entire section, Paul has focused on passages that speak of the salvation of a “remnant.”

B. He speaks about God grafting them in again more as a possibility than as a certainty, “And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (v. 23).

C. He writes, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25). It is possible he means this hardness will never come to an end. In 1 Sam 15:35 we read, “And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” This does not mean that Samuel came to see Saul on the day of his death, but that he never came to see him again. In the same way, Paul could be saying that this partial blindness will never come to an end until the full number of the elect from among the Gentiles have been saved and the full number of the remnant of ethnic Israel and the full number of elect Gentiles will occur at the same time.

D. The focus of verses 26-27 is on the redeemer coming to or out of Zion to establish the new covenant by his redemptive work, not on the redeemer coming out of heaven to apply that accomplishment. That is, he is speaking about the basis on which this salvation about which he speaks has been accomplished, not about the time at which it will be applied. It is the certainty that all of these who have been redeemed from sin will be saved that is in view, not the occasion on which it will be accomplished.

I have mentioned these issues not to argue for them but to show that in such areas as this, dogmatism is probably unwarranted. What is clear is that there is not a word in the entire text about restoring Israel as a nation. One must read this idea into the passage since the passage says absolutely nothing about it.

11. The part of the olive tree into which members of ethnic Israel will be grafted is not merely a natural branch but also the spiritual branch, namely,Christ. Paul’s concern is not with those promises that granted the natural seed of Abraham physical, material, and nationalistic blessings, but with spiritual and eternal blessings. They will not be grafted into Jacob; they will be grafted into Christ and thus become the “true Israel.”
12. In 11:28-32, Paul’s focus is on God granting mercy to sinners, not on God granting nationhood to Israel. In other words, Paul clearly saw the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in their spiritual salvation “But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for. . .” (9:6) “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).