Archives For Definitions

This past Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I used it as a day of learning. Throughout the day I listened to a number of podcast interviews related to the different aspects of the issue of race. I encourage you to listen and learn as well.

What White Christians Need to Know About Black Churches (about 35 minutes, January 15, 2017): Leith Anderson interviews Claude Alexander and they discuss the history of the black church, leaders in the movement, and distinctions between white and black theology.

Leith Anderson serves as president of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2006, and was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for 35 years before retiring in 2011.

Claude Alexander is the senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he has been for over 25 years, the immediate past president of the Hampton University Ministers Conference, and currently serves on the boards of Christianity Today, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Wycliffe Bible Translators. He has degrees from Morehouse College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

In this podcast, you’ll hear Bishop Alexander, a leader in the African American church, share:

  • How African American Christians think about racism;
  • What prevents black Christians from attending predominately white churches;
  • How the black church can teach the white church; and
  • What excites him about the future of the black church.

Theology of Race (about 30 minutes, March 15, 2016): Leith Anderson interviews Walter Kim about race and the Bible.

Leith Anderson serves as president of the National Association of Evangelicals since 2006, and was the senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, for 35 years before retiring in 2011.

Walter Kim is associate minister of Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, and serves on the board of the National Association of Evangelicals. Prior to Park Street Church, he served in extensive ministry in Asian American and Asian Canadian contexts and in a chaplaincy at Yale University. Kim has taught at Boston College and Harvard University and has been published in the area of biblical studies and Hebrew language. He received a B.A. from Northwestern University, an M.Div. from Regent College, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University.

We talk about race a lot in the United States. Whether it’s the growing population of Asian Americans, trends in Latino immigration, or racial unrest in metropolitan cities, race plays a major role in the American experience. As evangelicals, we want to start with the Bible. In this podcast, you’ll hear from a respected pastor and theologian on:

  • What — if anything — the Bible says about race;
  • How the Tower of Babel and Pentecost relate to diversity;
  • The racial situation among first century Christians; and
  • How Christians today ought to respond to racism and racialization.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Power of Unearned Pain (about 30 minutes, January 13, 2017): Collin Hansen interviews Mika Edmondson on King’s Theology of Redemptive Suffering.

Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition.

Mika Edmondson serves as pastor of New City Fellowship OPC, a church plant in southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. He recently earned a PhD in systematic theology from Calvin Seminary, where he wrote a dissertation on King’s theology of suffering, recently published as The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theodicy, the first volume in the Religion and Race series from Lexington Books.

Probably no religious leader in American history is so closely identified with suffering as Martin Luther King Jr. Even before his assassination nearly 49 years ago, he pushed for civil rights through demonstrative suffering on the streets of Montgomery, in the jails of Birmingham, and the bridges of Selma. As a pastor and theologian, then, how did King account for this suffering that he pursued but did not deserve?

Finally, I reread King’s powerful, profound and prophetic Letter from Birmingham Jail (April 16, 1963), and the two letters that preceded and prompted this response, The White Ministers’ Law and Order Statement (January 16, 1963) and The White Ministers’ Good Friday Statement (April 12, 1963).

I thank the Lord it was a fruitful day of learning!

One of my commitments is to read and study the biblical and theological truths associated with the celebrations of the Christian year. Having just celebrated and worshiped as we focused on the arrival of Jesus Christ, the birth of the God-man, the incarnation, I read a few excellent books about this wonderful truth. One of them, as I noted, was Tim Keller’s, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ.

I share a couple of pertinent and challenging quotes.

The God of Christmas

In an interview about this book, Keller was asked the following question: “Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?” He replied,

Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.

Neither moralism nor relativism are the answer, and both leave us completely helpless and hopeless.

Keller addresses this further in the book. If “God who was only holy,” he would not have done anything for us and expected us to do it ourselves. We would have died in our sins, and justly so. If he was a “deity that was an “all-accepting God of love,” he would not have had to do anything either, since he would have simply overlooked sin. God, the God of the Scriptures, the one and only true God, is both “infinitely holy” and “infinitely loving,” so he did for us what we could not do, sending his Son to address our sin and to secure our salvation. Keller writes (46-47),

The claim that Jesus is God also gives us the greatest possible hope. This means that our world is not all there is, that there is life and love after death, and that evil and suffering will one day end. And it means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our ending failings. A God who was only holy would not have come down to us in Jesus Christ. He would have simply demanded that we pull ourselves together, that we be moral and holy enough to merit a relationship with him. A deity that was an ‘all‐accepting God of love’ would not have needed to come to Earth either. This God of the modern imagination would have just overlooked sin and evil and embraced us. Neither the God of moralism nor the God of relativism would have bothered with Christmas. The biblical God, however, is infinitely holy, so our sin could not be shrugged off. It had to be dealt with. He is also infinitely loving. He knows we could never climb up to him, so he has come down to us. God had to come himself and do what we couldn’t do. He doesn’t send someone; he doesn’t send a committee report or a preacher to tell you how to save yourself. He comes to fetch us. Christmas means, then, that for you and me there is all the hope in the world.

The Doctrine of the Incarnation

Often we get caught up in the sentimentalism of Christmas. We like the feelings, emotions and memories it elicits and creates. We do not want to be weighed down with the doctrine or dogma of Christmas. For those who conclude feelings are more important than beliefs, experience trumps truth, Jesus unites and doctrine divides, that doctrine just does not matter, they often do not realize all of those statements reveal a great deal about a person’s beliefs, their doctrine. For most of them, it is doctrine without substance. More specifically, it is a doctrine of salvation by works. In contrast, Christmas is about the doctrine of salvation by grace. According to Keller (131),

When you say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter; what matters is that you live a good life,’ that is a doctrine. It is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace. It assumes that you are not so bad that you need a Savior, that you are not so weak that you can’t pull yourself together and live as you should. You are actually espousing a whole set of doctrines about the nature of God, humanity, and sin. And the message of Christmas is that they are all wrong.

We give thanks to the God of Christmas for the God-man sent at Christmas! We are also thankful that the doctrine of salvation by grace, the message of Christmas, has been experienced, which is reflected in worship and a life lived joyfully hoping and trusting in God.

As the calendar turned this year, I was reminded of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. By signing this Proclamation, the legal status of more than three-million slaves in the Confederate states in the south (those states which seceded from the American states during the Civil War, from 1861-1865), changed from slave to free. In conjunction with this historic signing, churches in the north held candlelight vigils honoring and commemorating this event.

Four brief matters to note.

First, a Presidential proclamation, an executive order, was issued to overturn an evil against human beings. As Christians, we recognize governments are put into place by God and are “God’s servant for your good,” that is the good of all, not a few. We are thankful when human laws reflect key truths about human dignity and worth revealed in God’s law.

Second, even though a law was signed stating these slaves were free, the immediate effect of this law did not result in the freedom for all these slaves. We also know that even if a law is in effect, as important as that is, it does not mean a person will be looked at or treated equally, as a fellow image-bearer of God. History is replete with examples of this, which continues to this day.

Third, the churches in the north set aside time, both purposefully and intentionally, to thank the Lord for the passing of this law, for they believed this human Presidential proclamation upheld God’s law about the worth and dignity, the equality of all, that all humanity is created in the imago Dei, and this ought to be upheld and celebrated. It is also true that churches ought to engage in vigils of sorrow and grief and repentance when God’s laws and commands are not reflected in human laws, and when the imago Dei is undermined or not acknowledged in the life of the other.

Fourth, and to move into the present day, the last couple of years have reflected increased racial tensions, indicating the issue is not ultimately the law. Rather, the problem is with the human heart. In a posture of prayer, trusting in the kind providence of God, may this be the year that the church of Jesus Christ reflects the reality of the new heavens and new earth in the realm of race relations, and may we in the EFCA, by his grace and for his glory, humbly and courageously, dependently on God and interdependently on one another, lead the way in our orthodoxy and our orthopraxy, in our belief and our behavior, in our teaching and our living.

The Incarnation

Greg Strand – December 30, 2016 2 Comments

At this time of year, we celebrate the incarnation: “the act whereby the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, without ceasing  to be what he is, God the Son, took into union with himself what he before that act did not possess, a human nature, ‘and so [He] was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person, forever.’”

Many of have been taught about the incarnation through reading the historical accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And there are other biblical texts that also address the incarnation, e.g.. John 1:1, 14; Romans 1:3; 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 1 John 4:2 , along with some early Christological hymns such as Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18-22; and Hebrews 1:2b-4. Added to this are the recollections of the Christmas story being reenacted as part of the annual church children’s Christmas program. And added to this are the hymns and choruses associated with the truths we celebrate at Christmas, including the heart of Christmas: the incarnation.

I remember well when many of these teachings of the person and work of Christ crystallized for me in the fall of my first semester at TEDS. One of my first courses was God, Man and Christ. It was an incredible learning and worshipful experience. We would begin each class with singing and prayer, and then the professor would begin the lecture. It wedded together theology and doxology, biblical truth and worship.

At the conclusion of the semester, my wife and I traveled home to visit family for the Christmas holidays. It was a lengthy trip, so we listened to Christmas music. As I was driving, Charles Wesley’s classic Hark the Herald Angels Sing came on the radio. Having learned this song as a child, I sang along. Now on the other side of this course at TEDS, I sang with a new, different and deeper meaning. In verse 1, the expression “God and sinners reconciled”  had new significance. When we got to verse 2 and I sang the phrase “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity” I was overcome with the importance and reality of the incarnation and I wept.

Since that course, and many others, and since that experience, and many others, I have been drawn to know God in all his fullness. Although I confess sometimes it can be knowing for the sake of knowledge, in my more sanctified moments it is theological knowledge for the sake of knowing God for the purpose of the worship of God.

Any understanding of the incarnation begins with the text of Scripture, as noted above. Then those texts must be understood within the canon of the Scriptures, so that there is an engagement with the theology of the texts of Scripture, a theological theology, which begins in God and ends with God. Furthermore, we consider how the church has understood these issues and articulated them throughout the history of the church.

This methodological format has been followed in the recent book written by Steve Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ. In light of the remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, which we remember and celebrate at Christmas, Steve highlighted 10 Things You Should Know about the Incarnation. He has focused on texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries. I include only the summary statements, so I encourage you to read the whole essay as an aid to the worship of God in all his fullness, particularly as we focus on the incarnation.

  1. The person or active subject of the incarnation is the eternal Son.
  2. As the eternal Son, the second person of the triune Godhead, he is the full image and expression of the Father and is thus fully God.
  3. As God the Son, he has always existed in an eternally-ordered relation to the Father and Spirit, which now is gloriously displayed in the incarnation.
  4. The incarnation is an act of addition, not subtraction.
  5. The human nature assumed by the divine Son is fully human and completely sinless.
  6. The virgin conception was the glorious means by which the incarnation took place.
  7. From conception, the Son limited his divine life in such a way that he did not override the limitations of his human nature.
  8. But the Son was not limited to his human nature alone since he continued to act in and through his divine nature.
  9. By taking on our human nature, the Son became the first man of the new creation, our great mediator and new covenant head.
  10. God the Son incarnate is utterly unique and alone Lord and Savior.

Steve will be joining us for our EFCA Theology Conference. He is one of a line-up of excellent speakers we have to address key biblical, theological, historical and pastoral issues related to the Reformation, as we celebrate the 500th anniversary Luther’s posting of his 95 theses, along with its legacy in in the EFCA.

You can register here. Plan to join us!

Contrasts of Christmas

Greg Strand – December 24, 2016 Leave a comment

When we ponder the incarnation we are confronted with numerous contrasts. These contrasts get to the heart of the miraculous work of God. In many ways, Paul’s brief “but God” (Eph. 2:4) summarizes these twin contrastive truths, which help us to understand the gravity and glory of the incarnation.

As you read these statements, please pause to read, ponder and pray through the Scripture texts. Use these texts of Scripture summarized in the theological summaries as an aid to worship of God in all his fullness, who is the one who, in the fullness of time, “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).

Jesus experienced a human birth (Lk. 2:11), that through him we might have heavenly birth (Jn. 1:12).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Jesus’ resting place was a lowly manger in a stable (Lk. 2:7), so that we might have heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:2-3). 

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14:2-3

Jesus became a member of the human family (Matt. 2:11), so that we might become members of the family of God (Gal. 3:26). 

“And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

“for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26

Jesus was made (made himself) subject to others, i.e., he obeyed them (Lk. 2:51), so that we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, might be made free (Gal. 5:1).

“And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” Luke 2:51

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Jesus’ glory was concealed (Phil. 2:6-7; cf. Jn. 17:1-5), so that we might receive glory (1 Pet. 5:4).

“who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:6-7

“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” 1 Peter 5:4

Jesus became poor (Matt. 8:20), so we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

 Jesus’ birth was welcomed and celebrated by the lowly and despised shepherds (Lk. 2:8-9), while our new birth is welcomed and celebrated by angels (Lk. 15:10).

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” Luke 2:8-9

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Herod sought to destroy Jesus through death (Matt. 2:13), but Jesus destroyed Satan and death through his death (Heb. 2:14-15).

“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’” Matthew 2:13

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15

These eight contrastive truths are thoughts from Donald Grey Barnhouse, who served as a faithful minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ for many years at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1927-1960). James Montgomery Boice, who also served at Tenth Presbyterian Church (1968-2000), summarizes these great contrasts in the following way (The Christ of Christmas [Minneapolis: Grason, 1983], 59):

When we put these texts together we see a great pattern. We see that Jesus endured a human birth to give us a new spiritual birth. He occupied a stable that we might occupy a mansion. He had an earthly mother so that we might have a heavenly Father. He became subject that we might be free. He left his glory to give us glory. He was poor that we might become rich. He was welcomed by shepherds at his birth whereas we at our birth are welcomed by angels. He was hunted by Herod that we might be delivered from the grasp of Satan. That is the great paradox of the Christmas story. It is that which makes it irresistibly attractive. It is the reversal of roles at God’s cost for our benefit.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!