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Guest Post: The Doctrine of the Atonement in the Early Greek Fathers

The following post is a contribution to an ongoing conversation on the subject of the doctrine of the atonement. The goal of this conversation is not that of arguing for one single doctrine of atonement, but of having the chance to listen to a number of different sources and voices. Lord-willing, participation in this conversation will help us grow in appreciation and understanding of theological positions that we have not previously had the same opportunity to engage with. My role here is that of hosting a conversation. The substance of the posts in this conversation do not necessarily reflect my own convictions (except, of course, when I am the author!). The contributors do not write as my proxies, but as my guests. Discussion in the comments is encouraged. If you strongly disagree or dislike something that has been said, please leave a comment to say why; if you have found something helpful, please give some reasons why you have found it to be so.

The author of the following post is Andrew Wallace. Andrew was born and bred and lives in New Zealand. He was brought up Baptist, but has a general interest in academic theology and thinks that all denominations have something to learn from each other, so he would no longer really identify himself with any particular denomination. For the past year he has been co-authoring a book about the atonement theologies of the New Testament writers and Early Greek Fathers.

St. Athanasius

Introduction
One of the reasons that I as a Protestant see great value in studying Eastern Orthodox thinking and writing is because their tradition has been so isolated from our own heritage due to historical and linguistic reasons. Due to the independence of their tradition from our own they tend to have very different ways of looking at things, and I find these can provide helpful insights which are useful in critically evaluating our own tradition. On the subject of the atonement, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has some quite different ideas to the Protestant tradition, and the whole paradigm of salvation tends to be very different. Many of the essential protestant concepts such as original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and salvation by faith are not present, and instead other very different ideas tend to be utilized. The Eastern Orthodox church traces its tradition and teachings very strongly to the writings of the church fathers of the first millennia.

These church fathers are worth studying for other reasons. The Church Fathers that the Eastern Orthodox church originated out of were the Greek speaking ones, whereas our Western Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions historically were Latin-speaking. The New Testament was written in Greek and that was the main language spoken within the early Church. The subsequent generations of Greek speaking Christians both read the New Testament in their native language and were taught Christianity by the previous generation. It seems reasonable to think that the people who were in an ideal position to understand the writings of the apostles as clearly as possible were those who spoke the same language and lived around the same time and in the same culture and empire as the writers. Therefore, the early Greek Christians’ comments about New Testament passages and verses are valuable for exegetical reasons. But more than that, learning their theology itself is valuable. It is reasonable to presume that Christianity was not instantaneously forgotten worldwide the moment the New Testament was completed. Rather it seems reasonable to assume that the apostolic generation passed the essential truths of their faith onto the next generation, and that the variety of texts written around the world by different Greek-speaking Christians in the early church ought to contain theology substantially in agreement with apostolic Christianity. Therefore studying the writings of the Greek Christians in the period 100-400AD (these dates are relatively arbitrary, and altering them makes no difference) is worthwhile in order to gain an insight into their theology, given that in all probability their theology is going to be substantially similar to the theology of the apostles.

The Theology of the Greek Fathers 100-400AD
The theology of these Christian writers is substantially different to Protestant thought, so it can require some effort to wrap your head around. The ideas of atonement held by these writers can get complicated, so for simplicity’s sake let us start with the basic idea of salvation that is common to all the Fathers of this period. The basic paradigm of salvation universally held by these writers is as follows:

1. Humans have free will to engage in either vice or virtue, and the ability to become more or less virtuous over time.
2. God is virtuous and desires humans to be also. He is pleased with virtue and displeased by vice.
3. Christ taught virtue to mankind.
4. By following Christ’s teachings, and by the help of the Spirit, we can progress and improve in virtue if we make the effort.
5. All men have the ability to achieve a standard of virtue acceptable to God.
6. The Final Judgment will be decided based on our level of virtue.

Each of those points, and the paradigm as a whole, are common to all the Greek writers from the period 100-400AD. In addition to these common points, two main different theories about the work of Christ are reasonably common but not universally held:

1. Ransom From Satan & Christus Victor
Satan was seen as having some form of power over the world, precisely what power varies from writer to writer. In some cases he is seen as attempting to influence men towards vice, just as the serpent in Eden had. In other conceptions he is seen as ruling over the world like a lord, and having a deliberately evil influence on events in the world. Sometimes he is seen as having power in the afterlife over the souls of men, either due to him being the natural lord of sinners or due to him unjustly seizing human souls.

In these models of atonement, Christ is seen as performing some action appropriate to defeat or remove the power of the devil. This can vary depending on how the devil’s power and influence is conceived. Christ can be seen as overthrowing the devil as lord of the world, removing the devil’s power in a real battle in the spiritual realms. He can be seen as entering into Hades and by his spiritual power defeating and vanquishing the powers holding human souls captive. He can be seen as defeating the devil’s influence in this world by virtue of the explusion of evil spirits from people in his own ministry, and the power he gave to Christians to do the same in his name. Sometime he is depicted as offering his own soul to Satan as a ransom payment in return for Satan setting free all the souls of humanity - Satan accepts and takes Jesus’ soul in exchange, and then God resurrects Jesus back to life and Satan is left with nothing. The reasons given about why and how Satan has power over humanity, the world, or the souls of humans vary, as does the methods Jesus uses to defeat, trick or overthrow Satan.

2. Recapitulation
This, rather different, view of the atonement is concerned with the danger of the created order passing into non-existence. God in the act of creation infused his creation with existence. Created beings and substances do not possess self-existence but are dependent upon God for it. Humanity (or Satan and his angels) as rulers of the created order, in sinning broke away from God, and in doing so severed the flow of existence from God. Corruption set in and began to decay toward non-existence. Humans began dying physically, a symptom of the metaphysical decay that was taking place spiritually. The real problem was not that humans were merely dying physically, but rather their actual souls were decaying as well, so God simply creating new human bodies and stuffing the souls back in would not help as the entire creation would eventually decay completely and humanity with it.

The necessary solution was to recreate the connection between God and the created order, restoring the continual flow of existence from God into creation. To do this, the Word through which the creation had been made joined itself to the creation by becoming human. God himself in the person of Jesus Christ by living a fully human life from birth to death reunited God metaphysically with humanity and creation. Jesus’ resurrection appearances were to demonstrate the success of this endevour, showing that metaphysical death had been destroyed and the decay and ultimate annihilation of the created order averted.

Further Reflections
These concepts of the prevention of annihilation and the defeat of Satan vary immensely between authors. They can be both present at once, or neither present, or multiple forms of the defeat of Satan thinking can be present in a given author. What is worth noting is that neither of these ideas relate to whether humans pass the Final Judgment. The prevention of non-existence, and the freeing of souls from the control of Satan both make it possible for there to be an afterlife and a final judgment from God on individual human souls. But neither has any effect whatsoever on the outcome of that final judgment for individual souls. In Protestantism our focus of atonement on how we can achieve a positive final judgment. Noting that, we can make a conceptual distinction between “things Christ did that were worthwhile” and “things that cause us to pass God’s final judgment” and see that the two do not have to overlap. Recapitulation and Defeat-Of-Satan concepts apply only to the first category and not the second, whereas Penal Substitution links both. With that in mind, it can be observed that the connection that Greek Christians of this period make between Christ’s actions and us gaining a positive final judgment on the last day is solely one of Christ teaching virtue and bringing knowledge of holy living to the world and setting an example of holy conduct and a virtuous life pleasing to God. That is the system of salvation that I outlined earlier which is common to all the Greek Christians of this period and which is extremely well-attested in their writings.

So when it comes to answering the question of what the Greek Christians in this period thought about the “atonement”, some reflection is required about what we actually mean by “atonement”. If we are thinking of things that cause indirectly or directly the passing of the Final Judgment of God, then the answer is that they thought human virtue to be the deciding factor and that they saw human virtue as being brought about primarily through the teaching of God to the world, first in the Law, then in the Prophets and most clearly of all through the teachings and example of Jesus’ Christ, and that they believed in the influence and importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of humans to reveal virtue and knowledge of God and strengthen humans in righteousness. But if the question is about the work of Christ and what they saw Christ as achieving, then the answer is they saw him primarily as a teacher of righteousness, but also had a wide variety of other ideas which tended to center around the ideas of Christ defeating the power of Satan and/or saving the created order from death and destruction.

Penal Substitution
Given where and why I am writing this, I feel I must add some comments on the relationship between Penal Substitution and the theology of these Christians. Penal Substitution as a systematic theological paradigm of salvation is not present in the writings of the Greek Christians of this period. A penal substitutionary paradigm conflicts fundamentally with two of the Greek Christian ideas - their views that (i) our virtue of character is what we are judged on at the final judgment, and (ii) that humans can be virtuous enough to please God. Thus the Greek Christians do not hold the two ideas of (a) human inability and (b) a final judgment based on our belief/acceptance of Christ’s work on our behalf, which are part of the penal substitutionary paradigm as we know it.

However the Greek Christians do occasionally make some usages of some penal substitutionary ideas in ways which do not relate to the deciding criteria for final judgment. For example when trying to answer the question of why Christians no longer perform sacrifices like the Jews did, Eusebius suggests Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice, and hence did away with the need for sacrificial practices. Jesus in this context is treated as a penal substitute, but this is not seen as part of any system of eternal salvation: Sacrifices are assumed by him as having this-worldly purposes; and no belief in or acceptance of Christ’s work is needed to obtain God’s positive verdict, only virtue. In this way, penal and substitutionary ideas can occur on occasion within the Greek Fathers but the paradigm of penal substitutionary atonement as we know it is never present, and is fundamentally inconsistent with their paradigm.

Guest Post: The Doctrine of the Atonement in Reformed History 1

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be devoting much of my summer blogging to the subject of the atonement and that if people were interested in participating they should contact me with their suggested contributions. That offer still stands, if anyone would like to take part. The following is the first contribution from Mark Jones. Mark is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, currently working on his doctoral thesis on the Christology of Thomas Goodwin. He blogs at thomasgoodwin.wordpress.com.

John Calvin

Alastair and I go back many years as partners in crime on the Sermonaudio debate boards. Since then he has become somewhat of an authority on N.T. Wright (among others), for good or for bad depending on one’s theological proclivities, whereas I have remained firmly entrenched in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where I have tried to understand our rich theological heritage, for good or for bad depending …

The topic under discussion is the atonement, a subject that, to use Calvin’s phrase, “cannot be put into words” (ineffabili quodam modo). Yet, the importance of the subject at hand forces me to speak, despite my own trepidation. At Alastair’s suggestion, I have decided to use my knowledge in historical theology to give a descriptive-historical study of the atonement as it was understood by theological luminaries such as Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Goodwin. Tentatively, I will seek to show in two separate posts that the aforementioned men pioneered the doctrine we call penal substitution. While Calvin and Owen, for example, both held to penal substitution, the latter’s writings on the subject were no mere duplication of the former. Moreover, to the surprise of some perhaps, I will seek to show that the Christus Victor motif (Aulen would not call it a theory), is very much an integral part of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century atonement formulations. As sports enthusiasts can appreciate, when something is wrong with the team, a substitution is made in the hope that the substitute will facilitate a victory. Our Reformed forefathers have shown that in Christ we have the substitute par excellence who has brought about the victory over sin, a victory that only a penal substitutionary atonement could make possible.

Between Calvin and Owen stood the Unitarian Pelagian, Faustus Socinus, whose work De Jesu Christo Servatore, “Of Jesus Christ the Savior” (1578), gives us important clues into the content of Calvin’s and Owen’s writings. In this first post I want to spend the majority of my time in the sixteenth century looking at both Calvin and Luther whose writings led to Socinus’ hostile reaction. Socinus referred to the idea of Christ’s undergoing of vicarious punishment on behalf of sinners (i.e. as their substitute) as irrational, incoherent, immoral and impossible. What was it about the Reformation doctrine of the atonement that caused Socinus to respond so negatively? That question will be central to our discussion. Moreover, towards the end I hope to contextualize Owen in order to provide a more significant treatment of his doctrine of the atonement in my second post.

It should be noted that Socinus was not alone in rejecting Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement. With him were the Remonstrants who posited what has become known as the governmental theory (i.e. that Christ suffered for all men). What, then, were they rejecting? This point will serve to contextualize Owen in his seventeenth-century context as an opponent of both Socinianism and Arminianism. But before we discuss Owen’s response to those two groups it seems prudent to give a brief distillation of what fueled Socinian and Arminian polemics.

Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement might be understood as a refinement of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? To be sure, Anselm understood the atonement in satisfaction terms, but Calvin emphasized the vicarious punishment (poena) aspect of the atonement (space constraints limit me from detailing further differences between the two). “The priestly office belongs to Christ alone because by the sacrifice of his death he blotted out our guilt and made satisfaction for our sins [Heb. 9:22]” (Institutes. II.15.6). Furthermore, in his catechism (section 20, iv) he writes: “For because God was provoked to wrath by man’s disobedience, by Christ’s own obedience he wiped out ours, showing himself obedient to his Father, even unto death. And by his death he offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father, in order that his justice might once for all be appeased for all time, in order that believers might be eternally sanctified, in order that eternal satisfaction might be fulfilled. He poured out his sacred blood in payment for our redemption, in order that God’s anger, kindled against us, might be extinguished, and our iniquity might be cleansed.” Elsewhere, “[a]t every point he substituted himself in our place (in vicem nostram ubique se supposuerit) to pay the price of redemption” (Institutes. II.16.7).

The above only gives half the story however. T.H.L. Parker locates several different motifs in Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement. They are: 1) sacrifice; 2) satisfaction; 3) obedience; 4) expiation; and 5) victory. The fifth is, of course, crucial to my stated intention; namely, that the doctrine of penal substitution cannot be divorced from that of Christus Victor. John F. Jansen speaks of the prominent place of the Christus Victor motif in Calvin’s theology: “the regal conquest of Christ over the devil, death, and sin … is Calvin’s most recurrent theme”. This is certainly true if we are speaking in terms of Christ as King. But as priest he is also the substitute, the one who expiates sin and satisfies the Father. The two elements of Christus Victor and penal substitution are well described in the following: “Our common nature with Christ is the pledge of our fellowship with the Son of God; and clothed with our flesh he vanquished sin and death together that the victory and triumph might be ours. He offered as a sacrifice the flesh he received from us, that he might wipe out our guilt by his act of expiation and appease the Father’s righteous wrath” (emphasis mine) (Institutes. II.12.3; cf. II.12.2; II.16.7). I have purposely refrained from dealing with the much-vexed issue of particular redemption, especially in relation to Calvin. For my own part, it was not an issue that Calvin, unlike Owen, saw the need to address.

Aulen’s famous study on the atonement has several shortcomings, especially with reference to Luther. He places Luther in the Christus Victor camp and there is some merit to this. But, he ignores the obvious presence of penal substitution. Luther’s comments on Gal. 3:13 will prove especially helpful in highlighting both penal substitution and Christus Victor. “[Christ] sustained the person of a sinner … [he] took our sins upon Himself …. This, no doubt, all the prophets foresaw in spirit, that Christ should be accounted the greatest transgressor that could be, having all sins imputed to Him …. The schoolmen spoil us of this knowledge of Christ, namely, that Christ was made a curse that he might deliver us from the curse of the law, when they separate Him from sins and sinners, and only set Him out to us as an example to be followed …” But mixed with the penal element is Christ the victor. “So in Christ all sin is vanquished, killed, and buried, and righteousness remains a conqueror and reigns forever …. The victory of Christ is most certain …” Pannenburg was therefore correct to say that “Luther was probably the first since Paul and his school to have seen with full clarity that Jesus’ death in its genuine sense is to be understood as vicarious penal suffering.”

As I have mentioned, Socinus saw these treatments as irrational, incoherent, immoral and impossible. Three of his criticisms are worthy of attention: 1) Transferring the sins from the guilty to the guiltless (Christ) is not consistent with justice; 2) Christ’s temporary death is not a true substitute for the eternal death of many; and 3) a perfect substitutionary satisfaction would result in an unlimited permission to sin. The result led Socinus to promulgate a doctrine of the atonement that allowed God to forgive – based upon repentance - without requiring satisfaction. This element in Socinus’ thought played a significant role in Owen’s polemics on the necessity of Christ’s death. J I Packer was correct to suggest that Socinus’ work led Owen to adopt a defensive approach rather than doxological and kerygmatic. This approach is one I hope to lay out in more detail in the coming weeks.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 38 - You Have Said It

Alastair has asked me to blog about something Jesus said during His earthly ministry. This being Lent, I thought it might be good to focus on something he repeats three times during the Passion week. Thrice Jesus answers a question by su eipas “you have said (it),” or su legeis “you say (it)”. With this reply, He is answering momentous questions: “Is it I [who am to betray you], Lord?” by Judas (Mt. 26:25); “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” by the High Priest (Mt. 26:64); and “You are the king of the Jews?” by Pilate (Mt. 27:11, Mk. 15:2, Lk. 23:3, Jn. 18:37). The reply to all three is mistranslated by many Bibles as “It is as you say,” i.e. a direct affirmation of the proposition put in the question. It is amusing to look at the NKJV and find “It is as you say” – the italics indicating the translators’ supplements.

David Daube, in an article on Judas, traces Jesus’ utterance to the Hebrew ‘amarta, which Strack-Billerbeck equate with wie du sagst, so ist es: “as you say, so it is.” But this is not the true meaning of the phrase. Daube cites an episode from t. B. K. Kelim 1:6, which concerns a dispute over whether a certain entrance to the Temple had required a washing of hands and feet. After the war with Rome, Rabbi Simon the Modest, in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, professed that he used to enter that particular gate without washing. “Whereupon Eliezer, a giant in learning and piety yet rudely domineering, asked him which was more esteemed, he or the High Priest. Simon kept silent. Eliezer: “You are ashamed to admit that the High Priest’s dog was more esteemed than you.” Simon: “Rabbi, you have said it.” Eliezer: “By the Temple service, they would break even the High Priest’s head with their clubs [were he to enter unwashed]; what would you do that the guard might not find you?”

R. Simon’s use of ‘amarta is a reply to Eliezer’s rude comparison of himself with the High Priest’s dog. It is a mistake to read it as “Yes, you’re absolutely right.” It is far more subtle than that: something more like, “I take no responsibility for the proposition you have just put. It came out of your mouth, not mine. To say more would be to cross a line into impropriety.”

Consider: a straight “Yep” would be absolutely inappropriate in Judas’ case. “One of you is going to betray me.” Judas: “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus: “Bingo.” This would be mere fatalism, not Biblical prophecy. Judas becomes a sort of Oedipus, betraying the Messiah malgré lui. But Jesus’ answer is a non-denial, not a straight affirmation. Judas will betray, but not because Jesus has compelled him.

The answers given on the witness stand before the Sanhedrin and Pilate would be less troublesome if they were reduced to “yes.” But there, too, Jesus has His reasons for evasion. Of course, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. And the reaction of His opponents to his use of su eipas is to treat it as a “yes.” But this is because in their eyes only a denial of His Messiahship would do. As for Pilate, N.T. Wright points out that his question is in the form of a statement: “You are the king of the Jews” – su ei ho basileus twn Ioudaiwn. The answer “Thou sayest” has a further nuance to it: You think you are asking, but you are in fact declaring. Pilate will end by writing Jesus’ title on a sign over His head.

Jesus’ answer before the Sanhedrin and Pilate is of a piece with the rest of His earthly ministry. He never denies His messiahship, but He seldom asserts it verbally. Rather, by His actions, He lets the Father and Spirit testify of Him, while He testifies of Them. Of course, He is the king of the Jews. But recall to what lengths he had gone to avoid oral professions of it. When John’s disciples asked him if He was the Coming One, “or do we wait for another”, Jesus directed them to “Tell John what you have seen and heard,” and adverted to His miracles and His preaching of the kingdom. When confronted by the Pharisees about the crowds who were hailing Him as Messiah, He replies that if they do not do it, the stones will cry out. He tells the Jews that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true…There is one who testifies.” What wonder then that when on the witness stand, Jesus still refuses to testify? “You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and sitting at the right hand of God.” The Father will vindicate Him. He does not need to argue His way to a “not guilty” verdict.

Klaas Schilder likes to point out that though Jesus is in the dock, it is really the Sanhedrin and Pilate who are on trial. Jesus is pronouncing sentence on them. He has come to Israel and done the works of His Father. All Israel is on trial to see what she thinks of God’s anointed. Peter passed the same test with his profession: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” and Jesus congratulated him. But then He immediately commanded his disciples to tell no one (Mt. 16:20).

The Jews of Jesus’ day took His reticience for a “yes”: “What further need of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.” But many modern Jews take it as a “no.” A. Kolatch, The Second Jewish Book of Why, p. 71:

Many Jewish scholars believe that Jesus considered himself a prophet only. They reject the contention of Christian scholars that when Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” in his preaching (first mentioned in Daniel 7:13, where the Aramaic phrase bar enash is used), he was referring to himself as the Messiah. The phrase “Son of Man,” in the Jewish view, is used in the third person, and more likely than not, when Jesus used the phrase he was referring to someone other than himself. Jewish scholars also point to the fact that there is little evidence in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) – the earliest account of the life of Jesus – that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.

“Little evidence”?? What kind of evidence did Kolatch want? Miracles?

The trial continues to this day. Who do you say that He is?

Matt Colvin holds a PhD in Classics from Cornell University, and has published articles in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy and the Classical Quarterly. He has worked as a quarry truck driver, and a teacher at Mars Hill Academy in Cincinnati, OH (to which he will return this fall). He blogs at Fragmenta.

Lenten Guest Post - Guilt

Isaiah 53:5

It’s amazing how often you can listen to a verse, and yet completely miss the point. I have a problem with OCD which makes me feel incredibly guilty for things I’ve done in the past. Whether what I worry about was sin or not, the point is that if we have repented, Jesus has taken the pain of our sin.

Peter is Alastair’s brother

Lenten Guest Post - Day 24 - Transfiguration

It was a whisper that woke them, a summons as dusky and fleeting as the blue dawn wind. “Come,” said the Christ, and Peter woke first to follow. Stumbled to his feet and nudged his closest friends. “The Master has something to show us,” he mumbled, clapping a wakeful hand onto John’s shoulder. James rose too and the three of them shivered in the cool, dim light, and stumbled after their Lord as he, without further ceremony, beckoned them to follow. Down through the sleep dim streets, their feet slapping the cobbled stones until their way led up the waiting mountain.

Not a word did Jesus say as he led them, not a glance to betray the goal of their climb. Only a smile, and the old call to follow, again, with no hint of their journey’s end. And they followed, with feet, and even with hearts, for he walked within the reach of their stumbling, always waiting for them when they lagged even a small way behind.

John, pensive as always, and James in his usual stolidity, walked with heads down in thought. But Peter walked with face turned upward, with eyes fixed just ahead on the form of his master. And in his mind the thought was stirring that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was taking them to show them something really glorious. After all, it had been he, Peter, who just a few days before had so steadfastly proclaimed his faith that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Peter felt rather gratified by this memory. He felt that he had proven the strength of his faith.

And so he walked eagerly, up, up into the limpid light of the new morning as it fell on the quiet mountain. With their steady climbing, they reached the top quickly, and Jesus stopped. He stood and closed his eyes to feel the rush of the dawn wind blowing up from the valleys below them. The three men beside him gulped in the fresh air and tried hard to enjoy the moment, but it was with eagerness that they met the opening of their lord’s eyes. Jesus stepped toward them.

“I have come to show you something, and yes Peter,” he turned and looked him full in the face, “you will see a bit of glory”.

Jesus smiled, and Peter leaned barely forward with a sudden puzzlement. For once again, he had caught that look in Jesus’ eyes, that knowing compassion, as if Peter were unaware of what was awaiting him. Peter did not particularly like that look. He did not want pity, and besides, what grief could there be in a vision of glory? He cast his doubt aside as, without a word more, Jesus stepped back.

And then there was light.

As sudden and blinding as new creation, the brightness swirled around them and they could no longer see the mountain, or even Jesus, for in an incomprehensible blaze of glory, God stood before them. Of course, they had always known Jesus to be the son of God, but it was different now. Heaven was right in front of them, the whirling beauty of the invisible world suddenly present to their flesh and blood sight. Song there was, and a constant quiver of movement for the air was alive with lyrical voices and the rush of a living light that touched every fiber of their being. In that instant, they saw the truth of all that Jesus had spoken in the long past months, for he became all He said He was before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared on his left and right, as heavenly witnesses to this unheard of revelation.

Peter especially was in ecstasy, his heart pounding with the thrill of his surety, his joy in seeing the truth of what he had chosen to follow. Surging with his usual zeal, he stepped bravely forward and spoke to the magnificent figure he knew to be his lord, offering to build a tabernacle for him. But even as his eager voice disturbed the faint music, there was a sudden crack as of lightning fire, and he was stopped mid-sentence. There was a quickening rush, and the advent of a new glory as brooding and fearsome as a mighty storm. It came like the untamed wind, thrumming through the air round him, challenging his desire to build walls around the beauty before him.

This glory was fearful, a blue and crimson magnificence that sent Peter to his knees. Peter forgot about building as the presence of the Holy One of Israel surrounded him. The voice of God the Father cracked down in a thunder of holiness and the earth trembled before Him. The light became brighter, the voices and music not louder but deeper and the men felt as if new dimensions of sound were opened to them, throbbing through regions within them that had never before been touched.

God, the Father, present in His awful goodness, spoke through the whirl of the storm and His words were simple:

“This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!”

The majesty was so great, the sense of holiness so overwhelming, the three men could no longer bear to look. They cried out and covered their faces, bowing down, huddled against the friendly earth. But Peter wept. For the glory he had so desired to see was a devastating glory, an impossible beauty that filled him with an unexpected dread. He had presumed to understand God, supposed himself wise because of his bravado of faith. But in that moment, he was suddenly terrified, as the dark faces of his many sins crowded suddenly round him.

The delightful beauty of Christ had thrilled him, the terrible beauty of the Father convinced him that he would surely die. And he knew with a final knowing, that no work of his, no proclamation of belief, no offer of honor would ever assuage the depth of his unworthiness. He crouched lower, his fingers dug into the earth and simply wept.

But in that instant, at the very inception of those fearing thoughts, a hand was laid on his shoulders. A still voice, a quiet voice said, “don’t be afraid”. Peter fought the anguish in his breast, wanting to grovel, unwilling to lift his face. But the words of the Holy One still echoed in his ears, “listen”. And he did. Summoning all the grit he possessed, he pushed away the fear and obeyed. He lifted his eyes and saw…only Jesus.

Only the earthy, flesh and blood face of his lord, suffused with the the rising sun. The earth shattering glory was gone. Jesus, man again, stood alone and reached down with a sun browned hand that gripped Peter’s shoulder with a pounding strength. Peter and his companions reached out with grateful tears to be lifted to their feet by this human, touchable God. And he took them to his heart like the little children they really were. Held them as they ached with the glory and the truth of what they had seen.

They had been given their desire. They had seen the reality of heaven behind Jesus’ words. They could never doubt now. But as they trudged back down the mountain that day, they realized that beyond even the divine glory they had desired, they had been given a glimpse of a great mystery; the glory of God as man, holding them, comforting them. For the vision had ended, not in a blast of trumpets or a crash of lightning. Their once in a lifetime glimpse of heaven’s most magnificent reality had not finished with choirs of angels or the crash of God’s splendor. It had ended with the face of Jesus; human before them, the heavenly glory compacted into a single man with a beating heart.

The miracle was not the splendor, it was the man who had left the splendor behind for the sake of the children he loved.

As Peter walked, he felt a love that he had never known surging through his spirit. It was nothing like his previous love; that had been a love more like an admiration combined with a healthy dose of pride in his own choice. This was pure adoration, of the God who clothed his glory in flesh and lifted his children up from the dust.

Every time he prayed for the rest of his life, Peter remembered the glory, so different from what he had expected. For with each whispered prayer he approached the throne of glory where light and justice blazed and trembled. But when he reached the foot, it was always Jesus who met him, Jesus who emerged from the crashing beauty to take him by his shaking, human hands and give him the strength to carry on.

As he does to all who love Him.

Sarah Clarkson lives in Monument, Colorado and is quite simply, a lover of words and the God who made them. This love expresses itself in her writing and her hope to study English Literature at a yet-undecided university this fall. She muses on life, books and beauty at her blog Take Joy.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 23 - Beginning with Forgiveness

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me.” — Matt 18:26

The man who just prostrated himself before me and confessed himself a sinner is back on his feet and embracing me. He has squatted and bowed before dozens of other sinners in this little candlelit cathedral, as have I, and both of us have worked up a sweat. Tomorrow our legs will ache. This is one strenuous way to get ready for Easter.

The “Forgiveness Vespers” service is how Orthodox churches embark upon Lent. Western Christians begin with ashes on their foreheads. Orthodox Christians begin with their foreheads on the floor.

The service marks a high point on the Orthodox calendar. Worshippers step reverently into the cathedral, knowing that tonight their church will “change keys” and enter a period whose mood they often describe as bright sadness. Prayers are rising before dusk, but sunlight has left the church by the time the old archbishop invites his people to draw near for a heart-to-heart. He begins to talk of forgiveness.

Their Lord, he tells them, pursued their reconciliation unto death. His sacrifice should move them to go about forgiving with urgency, outside the church as well as within. The archbishop’s counsel: If you aren’t willing to forgive, don’t bother with Lenten fasting. It would be pointless.

Finally, he makes a general confession himself. He admits, for example, that he has often been guilty of impatience. For that and other failings, he is sorry. “My brothers and sisters,” he says before prostrating himself, “forgive me.”

And so begins the rite of forgiveness. Starting with the archbishop, the people form a receiving line that slowly winds around the church. Everyone prostrates himself or herself before every other person present, even strangers.

“Forgive me, a sinner,” each one says, and then bends low. The person opposite makes the same confession, the same gesture. Rising, they embrace and kiss. “God forgives, and I forgive,” each one says, or other words to that effect.

Because everyone participates, all inevitably stand face to face with those who know them best. Young fathers bow before their young children. Boyfriends and girlfriends ask one another’s forgiveness. A mother seeks pardon from her son. Husbands prostrate themselves before their wives, and vice versa. A few people, choked by emotion, cannot get the words out every time. Tears say what their tongues cannot.

Cynics may doubt the genuineness of all this; some doubt its necessity. One visitor a few years ago was bemused to see all those faces down and bottoms up. Keeping her seat, and her distance, at the back of the church, she quietly wondered aloud, “Do they really need that much forgiveness?”

A Christian answers yes, they really do – and not just for more or less public offenses in word and deed, but even for offenses committed in secret or in the heart. No sin, in Orthodox and other Christian thought, is absolutely private. Each represents a breaking of faith with the whole church, the whole human race. No one who believes such a thing means to deny that sin offends God above all. The idea is simply to affirm that sin also offends those made in the image of that God.

But shouldn’t people who think that way seek and extend forgiveness all the time, and not just one Sunday night in late winter? Any church that prays “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” week in and week out, knows the unanimous Christian answer. In the words of St. Paul, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian martyred by the Nazis, envisioned Saturday as a time when laypeople might regularly pursue reconciliation with one another before sharing Holy Communion the next day. “Nobody who avoids this approach to his brother,” he wrote, “can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord.”

The Orthodox are exhorted, just before they sing the creed, “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Right thinking without right relating, to paraphrase St. James, is dead. As the Orthodox see it, a simple rite of forgiveness at the end of evening prayer underlines that point and puts it in boldface. “Let us embrace one another,” they will sing in the wee hours of Easter morning. “Let us speak also, O brethren, to those that hate us, and in the resurrection let us forgive all things, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead!”

A resurrection gospel puts those who believe it on their knees before God. Sooner or later, it puts them on their knees before one another.

Paul Buckley is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA, and has been called an Eastern Rite Presbyterian.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 18 - His Grace is Sufficient


I grew up in a Christian family, with all its blessings and curses. To me, the greatest blessing I think has been to be ‘clothed’ with lots of scripture: in memory, through singing of psalms and hymns, in attitudes taught at an age at which one is still very receptive of correction. A curse is — if I may call it so — that the transition from the confines of a Christian home to becoming a Christian in the secular world is a great challenge. Children can and may rely in a sense on the faith (-fulness) of their parents and teachers, as they grow up they then do have to grow and mature in their ‘own’ faith. On some, leaving this context suddenly has the effect of stripping those hard-wrought clothes from them, in their first years of, for instance, entering university, and leaving them naked and exposed. It is one of the stronger reasons I believe every Christian needs to live in the context of a church. It is a dangerous venture to rely on however much effort in reading the bible and the practise of faith, while being isolated from any church.

At the time I went to university, and consequently had to leave the home of my parents, I was also faced with this challenge. I became a member of a local church and had to make friends with brothers and sisters there. At that time, being a member of a Christian students association was of crucial importance for me. However much I was blessed with support and friendship, it was a time my faith was tested and I underwent a great transition. I was a believer and a follower of Christ before, during and after, but it was a time during which I had to become so in a manner no longer dependent upon my parents. Not to become independent, but rather more dependent on God and on those through whom He blessed and continues to bless me. I discovered that my strengths were my greatest weakness; because when I needed them most I could not rely on them. During those times, my great weakness threw me back on God and that became my greatest source of strength.

As I moved out of the context of the place I grew up, my interest in its roots grew as well. Among all the ‘dis-coverings’ I made thus far, I think the trilogy of Klaas Schilder on Christ has been the greatest blessing. He opened up the gospels to me in a fresh way, about 70 years after he wrote it. The past couple of years I read one of the three volumes as Lent-activity, although this year circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with it. I highly recommend reading them; they are very poetic (at least in the original Dutch, which has made translation to English very difficult). I also read in an interview that they have been a great blessing to James Jordan, to my surprise.

This morning a sermon given by Alastair’s dad reminded me of a number of chapters of the first part, “Christ in His Suffering” (surprisingly, he had not read them yet himself). Often when we think of the suffering of Christ, we think of the cross, the physical suffering of pain and having to bear the guilt of others. But certainly Matthew for instance, stresses that great suffering came from those whom were the closest to Him. It is a painful contrast, to read in Matthew 26:

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. But not during the Feast, they said, or there may be a riot among the people. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Jesus was preparing to fulfil all that the Passover feast pointed towards. His closest friends, in denial of what Jesus tells his disciples in the opening of the chapter, think Mary’s act is a waste. This is only one of many instances where the disciples betray Jesus, where they deny his ministry and more than often are worried about themselves (e.g. about who would be the most well-off with what Jesus was going to accomplish as the Messiah they thought Him to be). I wonder if there is greater agony known to mankind, than to be betrayed by those whom you love best. Nevertheless, Jesus loved them and in his love rebuked them and taught them, and loved them until the end.

Nevertheless also, the disciples did love their master. Peter being first among them… repeatedly grieved his Master deeply. What the writers of the gospel portray to us in the way Jesus was treated by those around him, friends and enemies, is a portrait of someone who was lonely in the highest degree possible, but amazingly unceasing in His love. It casts a light on what prayer to His Father meant. It casts a light on our own love for Jesus. Our love is always a love of response to Him, who loves us even though we have betrayed Him and are still capable to do so despite of our love for Him.

My strength is certainly not my love for Him, in the sense that I would be able to rely on it. But I receive my strength from Him, because when I have betrayed Him in my weakness and am discouraged in being his servant, He said: Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, follow Me!

Elbert Baas currently lives in Stoke-on-‘sunny’-Trent and is a member of Hartshill Bible Church, where Alastair’s father is a pastor. That is where he found a great friend in Alastair, when first visiting Stoke for a placement during his studies for 4 months. He is married with Annewieke, but not with their son Aron, who is now 5 months. He grew up in the Netherlands, but not in ‘Holland’. He obtained a bachelor degree in applied physics and is finishing a PhD thesis in biomedical engineering, in which he presents a methodology to study how growing bone tissue responds to local strain in a test tube. Later this year they hope to move back to the Netherlands so Elbert can set one year apart to study the ‘Calvinist’ legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd in depth, by taking part of the Master course ‘Christian Studies of Science and Society’ at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He enjoys cycling, photography, playing guitar, knitting (yes, real men knit), juggling, origami, reading philosophy, theology and Alastair’s blog. smoking his pipe or acigar (the latter preferably with whisky or cognac, and most important, in good company), programming. Elbert also blogs infrequently at http://www.theelepel.blogspot.com, http://www.engelandvaarders.blogspot.com (Dutch) and has blogged at http://www.thecomposition.blogspot.com. Prayer is valued that he may receive further vision how to grow in love and understanding in life as father of a family and as a follower of Christ, and how to daily give shape to that in all of life, especially in being a sincere, honest, concerned and most of all humble scientist. And how to keep short and concise!

Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 16 - Unplugged

And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” — Mark 6:31

I log off my phone and turn off my computer.
I take off my headset.
I pull free from my cubicle.
I go through the security door.
I ride the elevator down two floors.
I pass the front desk in the lobby.
I walk out of my office building.
I squint at the sun; it is noon.
I don my shades.
I am in my usual race to get through the parking lot
To my car,
Away from the building,
Away from my job
As quickly as possible.

I unlock my car.
It is oppressive inside.
I wait for a second and get in.
My AC does not work.
I start the car and back out.
I maneuver toward the exit.
I pass through the security gate.
I pull into the right lane of the driveway.
I pause.
I have been on autopilot for four hours.
What am I doing?
Where am I going?
Why, home, of course,
Right after I stop by Taco Bell.
Not today.

I turn left out of the right hand lane.
Good thing no one else was using the driveway.
I have an idea,
But it is not very clear.
I flip on the radio.
“I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I have become comfortably numb.”
Now I’m scared.
I close in on Old Canton Rd and realize where I am going.
I turn both the steering wheel and the radio knob left.
I’m not going the best way.
A circuitous route may be best right now.
I put the window down.
My hair gets messed up.
I start sweating.
Surprise, it’s hot in Jackson, MS.

I head up the Natchez Trace.
I kind of know for what I am looking.
I kind of don’t.
I pull off the road at a spot with which I am unfamiliar.
I have lived here for over five years.
How is it that I have not spent time exploring the Trace?
Too much time plugged in.
I pull off my button down and toss it in the passenger seat.
I put my hands on my hips and lean back.
The sun does its work.
I bend over.
My back cracks.
Aaaahhh.
Where to now?

The woods beckon.
Is it the woods?
Is it someone waiting for me in the woods?
Whoever or whatever, I move.
I reach out both arms and feel bark, rough.
Gravel under my feet.
Leaves over my head.
No fluorescents, no tile.
I have only my car keys.
I feel light without all my stuff.
Wind pushes through my sanctuary.
I breathe in down to my nethers.
Exhaling fully, I become lightheaded.
When was the last time I breathed in all the way?

A clearing appears.
The sun is unobstructed.
Grass spreads in a circle close to trees.
I know others have been here before.
A couple stealing a few moments.
An artist with his canvas or camera or sketchpad.
A Confederate soldier advancing or retreating.
A deer doing whatever a deer does.
I am not the first to occupy this space.
How many have come before?
How many will come after?
It is my spot for now.
I will gladly yield it to others.
When it is their turn.

I stride to the center of the patch.
I kneel down slightly off-center.
I lay down on my stomach.
I do not care about grass stains on my clothes.
I put my face in the grass and smell.
I run my fingers through it.
I embrace the ground from whence I was taken.
I am made of dirt.
I am rooted in the earth.
It is my home.
I am here.
I am nowhere else.
The world is spread beneath me.
The sky expands above me.

Wind
Grass
Trees
Sun
Dirt
Me
We are still.
We are present.
My breathing slows.
Savor the moment.
Savor the presence of the Other.
Close your eyes.
Open them again.
Murmur praise.
Then be quiet once more.

I hear a car’s horn.
I feel hot.
My arms are itchy.
Ouch.
A red ant bites me on the cheek.
That’s gonna look nice.
Lyrics from X&Y play in my head.
I need to check my email.
I haven’t had lunch.
I need to check my voicemail.
I don’t like to be quiet.
I am trying.
It is hard to be
Unplugged.

Jason Kranzusch lives in Jackson, MS, attends St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church, and blogs at axegrinder

. This fall he begins his PhD program.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 13 - Won and distributed, "for us"


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 11 - The Jesus Diet

John 4:31-34

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

If more of America embraced Jesus’ teaching in John 4, perhaps we as a nation would not have the problem of rampant obesity that we do. In fact, it’s surprising that someone in Christendom hasn’t tried to capitalize on this as a weight-loss gimmick yet. Imagine: “The Jesus Diet: Serve God and Lose Weight…or Your Money Back!”

Why does Jesus compare food to the work of God in John 4? Probably because there are few other things in life as consistent a part of my daily routine as food. In comparing the two, Jesus is not saying that I should never need to eat (in other words, the will of God should be physically enough for me); rather, He urges me to compare my desire to eat to that of my desire to accomplish God’s work. Which is consistently greater? And why?

I eat – usually three meals a day – because I want to, and because I realize I need to in order to live. But do I have the same desire and realization as to the importance of doing the will of God and accomplishing His work? Why does the intake of food seem so automatic to me, but doing the will of God seems so optional at times?

Probably because of the varying visibility of the results of each. Because I am too often blinded by the physical nature (i.e that which I can see and feel), I am more aware of when I don’t eat (or don’t eat the right things): my body reacts by losing strength, I don’t feel all that good, and (most telling of all), I get hungry. The physical nature of my being takes over, and I become affected and motivated to do something about it.

However, if I don’t do what God asks, the physical repercussions often are not as evident. While my conscience might rage within me, I usually am able to still function physically; thus, my motivation to obey is diminished as the spiritual need for obedience often does not register in my world so consumed with the practical and tangible. Sadly, I must admit that my desire for food is at times greater than my desire for sanctification, all because my stomach becomes more of a god than God is. This sounds vaguely familiar to what Paul says in the New Testament: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

In considering all this, I arrive at the conclusion that I need to go on “The Jesus Diet.” I need to fast (for at least a couple of days) to make sure that I still do (and should) have control over my physical cravings. I need to read my Bible in the morning before I eat so as to not fool myself into thinking that just because I address my physical hunger, my spiritual hunger has been addressed as well. Finally, I need to take as much pleasure in obeying God as in observing dinner in order that, truly, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Help me in all this, Lord, and enable me to only be a glutton in matters of serving You.

Craig Dunham is a husband, father, author, and seminarian (Covenant Theological Seminary) who lives in St. Louis. He is a member of Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) and blogs at Second Drafts.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 9 - Juxtaposition

And when He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.” And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, entreating Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. “For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very hour. And when Jesus had come to Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and waited on Him. And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.” — Matthew 8:1-17

There are two healing stories in this passage. One is of a leper, and the other a centurion’s servant. Most pastors, in preaching these healing narratives, will not notice a key theological point that is made by such a juxtaposition, which is that no social class is excluded from Christ’s kingdom.

Lepers, of course, were ceremonially unclean, and as such could not participate in the normal festivals of Jewish life and faith. This is why Jesus says to the (now healed) man, “Go, show yourself to the priest.” The now-healed leper was about to re-enter Jewish life. However, more importantly, he had entered into the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, since the leper displayed an obvious faith in Christ’s healing powers (vs. 2).

Secondly, a centurion came to Jesus. He was the equivalent of a lower-ranking officer in one of today’s armies. Furthermore, this centurion was one of Herod’s officers, probably not a Roman officer. (I owe these insights to I.H. Marshall, in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). But he would have enjoyed some prestige in society. Certainly he was no outcast, as the leper was.

His faith was so strong that Jesus remarked, “I have not found such faith in Israel” (vs. 10). Then, for our purposes, a striking summary of Gentile inclusion is given in verses 11-12:

I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.

After this miracle of healing, Peter’s mother-in-law, a Jewish woman, received healing from Jesus. Since she is in the presence of the One who opens the way to the Most Holy Place for us, we have here an indication that women will be allowed into the Most Holy Place, by the blood of Jesus.

Outcasts, societally elite, Jewish women, all are welcomed into the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, when they come to faith in Jesus. Our attitude towards those who are different (class, race, gender) ought to be the same as that of Christ Jesus. We ought to spread the Gospel to all and sundry, loving all and sundry, especially as we remember what our Lord suffered for our sake.

Lane Keister is a PCA pastor in North Dakota and is married with two children. His mind-boggling blogging output can be witnessed at Green Baggins and Green Baggins 2.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 8 - Lord Teach Us To Pray

‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’. And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins,
For we forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.’ (Luke 11:2-4)

Jesus invites his disciples to address themselves to God as sons; to pray ‘Father…’ There is security and comfort in the assurance that every word which follows reposes in his goodwill to us as children. God is a father to us at all times. Not even our daily sinning puts this relationship into question, such that we would need to be readopted each morning by new confession and faith. We are welcomed as sons, and are permitted to turn our minds to God’s glory and our daily needs before asking for forgiveness.

That said, while assuring us that we are the household of God, Jesus insists that daily confession is necessary and that pardon is conditional — ‘for we forgive everyone who…’. How can this be? Has not God already remembered our sin no more — Jeremiah 31:34?

But confessing sins to God as sons is a very different thing to pleading in court with God the accuser or begging for mercy before God the vengeful warrior. Our sins are visible to God, but the context has dramatically transformed itself: God has forgotten our sins before the court-room and on the battlefield and he now addresses them in the family home. When we sin, he restores us to himself; when he punishes us, it is not in vengeance but for our good (as when Nathan said to David ‘The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord the child who is born to you shall die’ — 1 Samuel 12:13-14).

Our Father’s forgiveness is liberal and gracious. This should put us, his sons, to shame when we consider our miserly, calculating version. And all the more, because while ‘forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems’ (Carnegie Simpson — quoted by John Stott in The Cross of Christ). Quite rightly, Jesus does not expect us to ask for forgiveness from God while with-holding it from others. So let’s confess our sins with assurance to God, forgiving each other liberally, because God is our Father.

John Aldis is Alastair’s cousin. This is his greatest achievement. He works in Paris for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. After studying theology he is hoping to work in West-Africa as a pastor or Bible teacher.

In Which Alastair Goes Out Into the Highways and Hedges and Compels All That He Can To Guest Post


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 7 - No Beauty or Majesty


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Early research showed that people would wait until poor risks loans to overnight stopped ringing before picking it up.

words loan

[30] words loan study only covered analog words loan usage up through 1995, and subjects who started words loan usage after 1995 were counted as non-users in the study.

checks no credit loan with

Boston, Massachusetts has investigated such usage in their tunnels, although there is checks no credit loan with of usage etiquette and also how to fairly award contracts to carriers.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 6 - A Discouraging Word

“A lot of people won’t take no for an answer. I just wanted you to know that I’m not one of them. I can be easily discouraged. I will take no for an answer.” — spoken by the character Josh Neff in The Last Days of Disco.

What exactly happens when you “share the gospel” with someone? What is it that you hope will happen? I imagine that most christians hope that the other will say, “yes, you are right, I DO need to repent of my sins and turn exclusively to Jesus for my salvation and guidance. How soon can I be baptized and join your church?”

I had the good fortune a number of years ago to hear Os Guinness speaking on evangelism, and he shared an idea, or rather a vivid picture, of an alternative way to think about this issue. He said we could picture people as being somewhere along a one dimensional meaure where -100 would be as opposed to the gospel as possible, 100 would be a fully matured believer, and 0 the point of acceptance of the gospel. He then added that most works on evangelism focus exclusively on dealing with people who are at -1 or -2 and getting them across that threshold. He suggested, instead, that perhaps we should be content, in some or many cases, to move people from -60 to -50. Our work is not to “save” people, but merely to announce the Word to them, and anything bring them closer to understanding and receiving is a good work.

How do we go about this? Guinness suggested, I think wisely, that much of this can be done by asking people challenging questions. Jesus does this quite often in the gospel stories. However, I don’t want this simply to be a recapitulation of Mr Guinness’s lecture, so I will point toward another method employed by Jesus.

In John chapter 1, verses 35 through 38 we have the following:

The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God.” And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi”—which means Teacher—“where do you live?”—NJB

I hope I’m not badly misinterpreting this passage, but it strikes me that Jesus sees these people who obviously WANT to follow him and asks them, “Exactly what do you think you are doing?” This is known in the sales technique world as the “take away”. The idea is that one can build interest and/or curiosity by suggesting that the prospect wouldn’t really be the right person for what you have to offer. The works by triggering the prospect to think “I need to show him that I AM good enough/qualified enough for this thing.”

Perhaps this might also be familiar to you from watching old martial arts films. When the young man in the film needs to pursue his vengence on the evil warlord, he seeks out a great martial arts teacher who can instruct him on the proper techniques for kicking, umm, well sometimes just kicking. The teacher sends the youth away. The youth is persistent enough to be accepted by the teacher, only to be put under a strenuous regime which seems to have little to do with fighting skills. This serves to build up the strength and will of the young man so that he can achieve excellence in kung-fu, or whatever.

I’m not sure I have ever seen this method proposed as an evangelistic strategy, but I’m enough of a contrarian to think it might be worth pursuing. I would certainly love to hear from anyone who either has ideas on how such a strategy could work or from someone who has actually tried it. Two situations occur to me where such a strategy might possibly be appropriate.

First, the use of curiosity to build interest. This needs to be done VERY carefully. One simple application is as an intro to some sort of evangelistic event (this could include something as simple as a small group Bible study). The way it works is by inviting someone with the opening, “I don’t know if this would be your sort of thing . . .” or “I don’t even know if this would interest you, but . . .” This has to be followed by something which might generate some interest, but you should NOT go into great detail about what to expect. The less you say, the more the other is free to imagine. A simple statement to get interest might be, “my wife and I have really enjoyed/expect to enjoy this and we though you (and your wife if applicable) might like it as well.” Perhaps a bit more than that, but again, shorter is better.

Second would be the sort of situation Jesus was in. Folks seem to show some sort of interest in Jesus, and what do we normally do? We pounce, invite them to everything under the sun, treat them like a tiny bit of tinder which might go out at any moment. Perhaps we really should go the opposite direction. Rather than trying to answer all their questions, whatever those might be, we should challenge them to develop their own reasons. The only ideas people ever really believe, it is said, are those they develop on their own. Again, as Jesus did, focus on questions. Asking questions does two things. It helps you get a better sense of where the other person really is, and it helps them to think through things for themselves.

Again, I would love to know how these things have worked, or will work for you. Feel free to comment here or drop me an email at paulthepianoman @ yahoo dot com.

God’s blessings on all of you as you strive to follow Jesus.

Paul is a father, husband and piano technician living in Mebane, North Carolina. He also is a member of Church of the Good Shepherd (PCA) in Durham where he helps with music and with youth ministry.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 5 - Giving Something Up

I wonder if any of Alastair’s readers engage in Lent disciplines. Probably you’re all very reformed and if you do anything, it’s probably reading through the whole bible (or Calvin’s Institutes) in six weeks. But for the average man on the Clapham omnibus, the most common Lent discipline is still ‘giving something up.’

I’ve done this in the past, and it’s hard. Whether it’s chocolate or the internet, those six weeks can feel like a very long time when you’re always thinking of the thing you’re missing. But at least you know it’s only for a limited time and you can gorge yourself come Easter Day. It’s infinitely harder to give things up permanently. Try asking anyone who’s ever stopped smoking.

Jesus calls his followers to give up much more than the occasional treat, or favourite pastime. He calls us to give up everything most dear to us - even our own most dearly loved families and homes. That’s scary. But, as always with the Lord, the promise offered to those who take up the call is so great as to overwhelm the hardship we may suffer.

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

(Mark 10:28-30)

However generously we give of what we have to follow the Lord, he is more generous in what he gives back to us.

These words of Jesus have been close to my heart for the last couple of years as I have been thinking about the decision to move to America and they have been a great comfort to me now that I am here. I’m not a natural traveller, I have no curiosity about life on the other side of the world and moving here has felt like a big sacrifice in terms of relationships with the people and places I know and love.

But Jesus’ promise has proved itself true. There are people here who are to me as brother and sister, mother and father. There are places that are becoming important to me as I build a history with them. For everything that I have given up, he has given me back manifold.

From here:




to here:




and from these dear friends:




to these:




Hard as it has been to make this move, still Peter’s words are a rebuke to me. I have not ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. Neither in my sinful heart, nor in my material life do I feel anything like this sense of full abandonment. So I pray that this Lent season will be one of learning to leave everything behind to follow him.

…and in the age to come, eternal life.

For now, the blessings Jesus promises are mingled with the hardships and persecutions he also warns of. Part of what Peter expresses is that we remember, and in our hearts hold onto, what we have given up. Like those who have given up chocolate for Lent eyeing the Crème Egg with longing, we let our minds linger on the job, the home, the family, the car, whatever might-have-beens we hold most dear. And these loom largest when the life of following Christ is hardest, when the promised persecutions hurt deepest.

So it’s wonderful that this promise doesn’t end with the fulfilment in this age. There is an age to come which won’t be marked by persecution or by wistful longing. There will be no homesickness then, for we will be at home with the Lord, forever. There will be no one to wrest us away from our families or our lands. There will be no sickness, nor mourning, nor crying nor pain.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Ros Clarke is an OT PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary and Scholar in Residence at Cresheim Valley Church. All of which cuts down on time for sewing, knitting and watching American Idol. You can find out more about her thoughts on the bible, life and the weirdness of America at http://ihaveaquestion.blog.co.uk.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 2 - Living the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” is, in my estimation, the most intriguing and fascinating of texts. I’ll leave aside the dicey issue of the historicity of the “Sermon” and simply address its significance for modern Christians, pilgrims in this world, passing through to the next, and struggling both to make it through and make a difference.

And that, in my estimation, is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: both making it through this life as a disciple of the Risen Lord and leaving the world, when death claims us, a bit of a better place.

The ethic of the Sermon is the ethic of love for God bound together with love for one another. “You have heard it said… but I say to you”; “Blessed are the pure in heart”; “But I say to you, do not be angry…”; “Do not condemn…”; “Our Father, in heaven…”. These, and so many of the other segments of the Sermon, urge us, as His disciples, on to a better sort of life than what we normally settle for.

The Sermon, after all, is a challenge to be different; to act differently and think differently and live differently than the world acts and thinks and lives. If we believers, we folk who call ourselves His people, took the Sermon to heart, the world really would be a better, different place. Better because different. And different because better. This is, after all, not the best of all possible worlds. The world where the Sermon on the Mount is practiced by all the people of God is.

Perhaps, then, Lent is the perfect time to evaluate our own willingness to adhere to this Sermon, putatively spoken on a Mountain. Which, if lived, would raise the low places to the heights.

Dr. Jim West is the pastor of Petros Baptist Church and a biblioblogger extraordinaire. He blogs at http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/ and runs the Biblical Studies Resources website. Regular topics of conversation on his blog include developments in biblical scholarship, scandals within the Church, the superiority of all things Swiss (especially Zwingli), and the evil that is Chris Tilling.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 1 - Building Bigger Barns

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:13-21

Christ said that it is foolish simply to build bigger barns in this world. I work in one of the richest areas in the whole of Europe, possibly the world - the City of London. People here are building huge, gigantic, massive ‘barns’ out of their recent bonuses right now: over 4000 people in The City are said to have earned over £1,000,000 just in bonuses this last year. And yet happiness and contentment are not noticeably on the increase because of it, as even secular economists like Richard Layard (see his recent book Happiness: Lesons from a new science) have noted. If anything, people are more miserable because someone else is obviously earning more than them! And there are still too few who have any idea about the coming Final Audit when their souls will be required of them.

God said to the rich man in the parable: “You fool!” A more poetic reflection on this is provided by 17th century poet Thomas Traherne in his masterpiece The Apostacy:



Guest Post: The Doctrine of the Atonement in the Early Greek Fathers

The following post is a contribution to an ongoing conversation on the subject of the doctrine of the atonement. The goal of this conversation is not that of arguing for one single doctrine of atonement, but of having the chance to listen to a number of different sources and voices. Lord-willing, participation in this conversation will help us grow in appreciation and understanding of theological positions that we have not previously had the same opportunity to engage with. My role here is that of hosting a conversation. The substance of the posts in this conversation do not necessarily reflect my own convictions (except, of course, when I am the author!). The contributors do not write as my proxies, but as my guests. Discussion in the comments is encouraged. If you strongly disagree or dislike something that has been said, please leave a comment to say why; if you have found something helpful, please give some reasons why you have found it to be so.

The author of the following post is Andrew Wallace. Andrew was born and bred and lives in New Zealand. He was brought up Baptist, but has a general interest in academic theology and thinks that all denominations have something to learn from each other, so he would no longer really identify himself with any particular denomination. For the past year he has been co-authoring a book about the atonement theologies of the New Testament writers and Early Greek Fathers.

St. Athanasius

Introduction
One of the reasons that I as a Protestant see great value in studying Eastern Orthodox thinking and writing is because their tradition has been so isolated from our own heritage due to historical and linguistic reasons. Due to the independence of their tradition from our own they tend to have very different ways of looking at things, and I find these can provide helpful insights which are useful in critically evaluating our own tradition. On the subject of the atonement, the Eastern Orthodox tradition has some quite different ideas to the Protestant tradition, and the whole paradigm of salvation tends to be very different. Many of the essential protestant concepts such as original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, and salvation by faith are not present, and instead other very different ideas tend to be utilized. The Eastern Orthodox church traces its tradition and teachings very strongly to the writings of the church fathers of the first millennia.

These church fathers are worth studying for other reasons. The Church Fathers that the Eastern Orthodox church originated out of were the Greek speaking ones, whereas our Western Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions historically were Latin-speaking. The New Testament was written in Greek and that was the main language spoken within the early Church. The subsequent generations of Greek speaking Christians both read the New Testament in their native language and were taught Christianity by the previous generation. It seems reasonable to think that the people who were in an ideal position to understand the writings of the apostles as clearly as possible were those who spoke the same language and lived around the same time and in the same culture and empire as the writers. Therefore, the early Greek Christians’ comments about New Testament passages and verses are valuable for exegetical reasons. But more than that, learning their theology itself is valuable. It is reasonable to presume that Christianity was not instantaneously forgotten worldwide the moment the New Testament was completed. Rather it seems reasonable to assume that the apostolic generation passed the essential truths of their faith onto the next generation, and that the variety of texts written around the world by different Greek-speaking Christians in the early church ought to contain theology substantially in agreement with apostolic Christianity. Therefore studying the writings of the Greek Christians in the period 100-400AD (these dates are relatively arbitrary, and altering them makes no difference) is worthwhile in order to gain an insight into their theology, given that in all probability their theology is going to be substantially similar to the theology of the apostles.

The Theology of the Greek Fathers 100-400AD
The theology of these Christian writers is substantially different to Protestant thought, so it can require some effort to wrap your head around. The ideas of atonement held by these writers can get complicated, so for simplicity’s sake let us start with the basic idea of salvation that is common to all the Fathers of this period. The basic paradigm of salvation universally held by these writers is as follows:

1. Humans have free will to engage in either vice or virtue, and the ability to become more or less virtuous over time.
2. God is virtuous and desires humans to be also. He is pleased with virtue and displeased by vice.
3. Christ taught virtue to mankind.
4. By following Christ’s teachings, and by the help of the Spirit, we can progress and improve in virtue if we make the effort.
5. All men have the ability to achieve a standard of virtue acceptable to God.
6. The Final Judgment will be decided based on our level of virtue.

Each of those points, and the paradigm as a whole, are common to all the Greek writers from the period 100-400AD. In addition to these common points, two main different theories about the work of Christ are reasonably common but not universally held:

1. Ransom From Satan & Christus Victor
Satan was seen as having some form of power over the world, precisely what power varies from writer to writer. In some cases he is seen as attempting to influence men towards vice, just as the serpent in Eden had. In other conceptions he is seen as ruling over the world like a lord, and having a deliberately evil influence on events in the world. Sometimes he is seen as having power in the afterlife over the souls of men, either due to him being the natural lord of sinners or due to him unjustly seizing human souls.

In these models of atonement, Christ is seen as performing some action appropriate to defeat or remove the power of the devil. This can vary depending on how the devil’s power and influence is conceived. Christ can be seen as overthrowing the devil as lord of the world, removing the devil’s power in a real battle in the spiritual realms. He can be seen as entering into Hades and by his spiritual power defeating and vanquishing the powers holding human souls captive. He can be seen as defeating the devil’s influence in this world by virtue of the explusion of evil spirits from people in his own ministry, and the power he gave to Christians to do the same in his name. Sometime he is depicted as offering his own soul to Satan as a ransom payment in return for Satan setting free all the souls of humanity - Satan accepts and takes Jesus’ soul in exchange, and then God resurrects Jesus back to life and Satan is left with nothing. The reasons given about why and how Satan has power over humanity, the world, or the souls of humans vary, as does the methods Jesus uses to defeat, trick or overthrow Satan.

2. Recapitulation
This, rather different, view of the atonement is concerned with the danger of the created order passing into non-existence. God in the act of creation infused his creation with existence. Created beings and substances do not possess self-existence but are dependent upon God for it. Humanity (or Satan and his angels) as rulers of the created order, in sinning broke away from God, and in doing so severed the flow of existence from God. Corruption set in and began to decay toward non-existence. Humans began dying physically, a symptom of the metaphysical decay that was taking place spiritually. The real problem was not that humans were merely dying physically, but rather their actual souls were decaying as well, so God simply creating new human bodies and stuffing the souls back in would not help as the entire creation would eventually decay completely and humanity with it.

The necessary solution was to recreate the connection between God and the created order, restoring the continual flow of existence from God into creation. To do this, the Word through which the creation had been made joined itself to the creation by becoming human. God himself in the person of Jesus Christ by living a fully human life from birth to death reunited God metaphysically with humanity and creation. Jesus’ resurrection appearances were to demonstrate the success of this endevour, showing that metaphysical death had been destroyed and the decay and ultimate annihilation of the created order averted.

Further Reflections
These concepts of the prevention of annihilation and the defeat of Satan vary immensely between authors. They can be both present at once, or neither present, or multiple forms of the defeat of Satan thinking can be present in a given author. What is worth noting is that neither of these ideas relate to whether humans pass the Final Judgment. The prevention of non-existence, and the freeing of souls from the control of Satan both make it possible for there to be an afterlife and a final judgment from God on individual human souls. But neither has any effect whatsoever on the outcome of that final judgment for individual souls. In Protestantism our focus of atonement on how we can achieve a positive final judgment. Noting that, we can make a conceptual distinction between “things Christ did that were worthwhile” and “things that cause us to pass God’s final judgment” and see that the two do not have to overlap. Recapitulation and Defeat-Of-Satan concepts apply only to the first category and not the second, whereas Penal Substitution links both. With that in mind, it can be observed that the connection that Greek Christians of this period make between Christ’s actions and us gaining a positive final judgment on the last day is solely one of Christ teaching virtue and bringing knowledge of holy living to the world and setting an example of holy conduct and a virtuous life pleasing to God. That is the system of salvation that I outlined earlier which is common to all the Greek Christians of this period and which is extremely well-attested in their writings.

So when it comes to answering the question of what the Greek Christians in this period thought about the “atonement”, some reflection is required about what we actually mean by “atonement”. If we are thinking of things that cause indirectly or directly the passing of the Final Judgment of God, then the answer is that they thought human virtue to be the deciding factor and that they saw human virtue as being brought about primarily through the teaching of God to the world, first in the Law, then in the Prophets and most clearly of all through the teachings and example of Jesus’ Christ, and that they believed in the influence and importance of the Holy Spirit in the lives of humans to reveal virtue and knowledge of God and strengthen humans in righteousness. But if the question is about the work of Christ and what they saw Christ as achieving, then the answer is they saw him primarily as a teacher of righteousness, but also had a wide variety of other ideas which tended to center around the ideas of Christ defeating the power of Satan and/or saving the created order from death and destruction.

Penal Substitution
Given where and why I am writing this, I feel I must add some comments on the relationship between Penal Substitution and the theology of these Christians. Penal Substitution as a systematic theological paradigm of salvation is not present in the writings of the Greek Christians of this period. A penal substitutionary paradigm conflicts fundamentally with two of the Greek Christian ideas - their views that (i) our virtue of character is what we are judged on at the final judgment, and (ii) that humans can be virtuous enough to please God. Thus the Greek Christians do not hold the two ideas of (a) human inability and (b) a final judgment based on our belief/acceptance of Christ’s work on our behalf, which are part of the penal substitutionary paradigm as we know it.

However the Greek Christians do occasionally make some usages of some penal substitutionary ideas in ways which do not relate to the deciding criteria for final judgment. For example when trying to answer the question of why Christians no longer perform sacrifices like the Jews did, Eusebius suggests Christ was a substitutionary sacrifice, and hence did away with the need for sacrificial practices. Jesus in this context is treated as a penal substitute, but this is not seen as part of any system of eternal salvation: Sacrifices are assumed by him as having this-worldly purposes; and no belief in or acceptance of Christ’s work is needed to obtain God’s positive verdict, only virtue. In this way, penal and substitutionary ideas can occur on occasion within the Greek Fathers but the paradigm of penal substitutionary atonement as we know it is never present, and is fundamentally inconsistent with their paradigm.

Guest Post: The Doctrine of the Atonement in Reformed History 1

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I would be devoting much of my summer blogging to the subject of the atonement and that if people were interested in participating they should contact me with their suggested contributions. That offer still stands, if anyone would like to take part. The following is the first contribution from Mark Jones. Mark is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, currently working on his doctoral thesis on the Christology of Thomas Goodwin. He blogs at thomasgoodwin.wordpress.com.

John Calvin

Alastair and I go back many years as partners in crime on the Sermonaudio debate boards. Since then he has become somewhat of an authority on N.T. Wright (among others), for good or for bad depending on one’s theological proclivities, whereas I have remained firmly entrenched in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where I have tried to understand our rich theological heritage, for good or for bad depending …

The topic under discussion is the atonement, a subject that, to use Calvin’s phrase, “cannot be put into words” (ineffabili quodam modo). Yet, the importance of the subject at hand forces me to speak, despite my own trepidation. At Alastair’s suggestion, I have decided to use my knowledge in historical theology to give a descriptive-historical study of the atonement as it was understood by theological luminaries such as Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Goodwin. Tentatively, I will seek to show in two separate posts that the aforementioned men pioneered the doctrine we call penal substitution. While Calvin and Owen, for example, both held to penal substitution, the latter’s writings on the subject were no mere duplication of the former. Moreover, to the surprise of some perhaps, I will seek to show that the Christus Victor motif (Aulen would not call it a theory), is very much an integral part of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century atonement formulations. As sports enthusiasts can appreciate, when something is wrong with the team, a substitution is made in the hope that the substitute will facilitate a victory. Our Reformed forefathers have shown that in Christ we have the substitute par excellence who has brought about the victory over sin, a victory that only a penal substitutionary atonement could make possible.

Between Calvin and Owen stood the Unitarian Pelagian, Faustus Socinus, whose work De Jesu Christo Servatore, “Of Jesus Christ the Savior” (1578), gives us important clues into the content of Calvin’s and Owen’s writings. In this first post I want to spend the majority of my time in the sixteenth century looking at both Calvin and Luther whose writings led to Socinus’ hostile reaction. Socinus referred to the idea of Christ’s undergoing of vicarious punishment on behalf of sinners (i.e. as their substitute) as irrational, incoherent, immoral and impossible. What was it about the Reformation doctrine of the atonement that caused Socinus to respond so negatively? That question will be central to our discussion. Moreover, towards the end I hope to contextualize Owen in order to provide a more significant treatment of his doctrine of the atonement in my second post.

It should be noted that Socinus was not alone in rejecting Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement. With him were the Remonstrants who posited what has become known as the governmental theory (i.e. that Christ suffered for all men). What, then, were they rejecting? This point will serve to contextualize Owen in his seventeenth-century context as an opponent of both Socinianism and Arminianism. But before we discuss Owen’s response to those two groups it seems prudent to give a brief distillation of what fueled Socinian and Arminian polemics.

Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement might be understood as a refinement of Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? To be sure, Anselm understood the atonement in satisfaction terms, but Calvin emphasized the vicarious punishment (poena) aspect of the atonement (space constraints limit me from detailing further differences between the two). “The priestly office belongs to Christ alone because by the sacrifice of his death he blotted out our guilt and made satisfaction for our sins [Heb. 9:22]” (Institutes. II.15.6). Furthermore, in his catechism (section 20, iv) he writes: “For because God was provoked to wrath by man’s disobedience, by Christ’s own obedience he wiped out ours, showing himself obedient to his Father, even unto death. And by his death he offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father, in order that his justice might once for all be appeased for all time, in order that believers might be eternally sanctified, in order that eternal satisfaction might be fulfilled. He poured out his sacred blood in payment for our redemption, in order that God’s anger, kindled against us, might be extinguished, and our iniquity might be cleansed.” Elsewhere, “[a]t every point he substituted himself in our place (in vicem nostram ubique se supposuerit) to pay the price of redemption” (Institutes. II.16.7).

The above only gives half the story however. T.H.L. Parker locates several different motifs in Calvin’s doctrine of the atonement. They are: 1) sacrifice; 2) satisfaction; 3) obedience; 4) expiation; and 5) victory. The fifth is, of course, crucial to my stated intention; namely, that the doctrine of penal substitution cannot be divorced from that of Christus Victor. John F. Jansen speaks of the prominent place of the Christus Victor motif in Calvin’s theology: “the regal conquest of Christ over the devil, death, and sin … is Calvin’s most recurrent theme”. This is certainly true if we are speaking in terms of Christ as King. But as priest he is also the substitute, the one who expiates sin and satisfies the Father. The two elements of Christus Victor and penal substitution are well described in the following: “Our common nature with Christ is the pledge of our fellowship with the Son of God; and clothed with our flesh he vanquished sin and death together that the victory and triumph might be ours. He offered as a sacrifice the flesh he received from us, that he might wipe out our guilt by his act of expiation and appease the Father’s righteous wrath” (emphasis mine) (Institutes. II.12.3; cf. II.12.2; II.16.7). I have purposely refrained from dealing with the much-vexed issue of particular redemption, especially in relation to Calvin. For my own part, it was not an issue that Calvin, unlike Owen, saw the need to address.

Aulen’s famous study on the atonement has several shortcomings, especially with reference to Luther. He places Luther in the Christus Victor camp and there is some merit to this. But, he ignores the obvious presence of penal substitution. Luther’s comments on Gal. 3:13 will prove especially helpful in highlighting both penal substitution and Christus Victor. “[Christ] sustained the person of a sinner … [he] took our sins upon Himself …. This, no doubt, all the prophets foresaw in spirit, that Christ should be accounted the greatest transgressor that could be, having all sins imputed to Him …. The schoolmen spoil us of this knowledge of Christ, namely, that Christ was made a curse that he might deliver us from the curse of the law, when they separate Him from sins and sinners, and only set Him out to us as an example to be followed …” But mixed with the penal element is Christ the victor. “So in Christ all sin is vanquished, killed, and buried, and righteousness remains a conqueror and reigns forever …. The victory of Christ is most certain …” Pannenburg was therefore correct to say that “Luther was probably the first since Paul and his school to have seen with full clarity that Jesus’ death in its genuine sense is to be understood as vicarious penal suffering.”

As I have mentioned, Socinus saw these treatments as irrational, incoherent, immoral and impossible. Three of his criticisms are worthy of attention: 1) Transferring the sins from the guilty to the guiltless (Christ) is not consistent with justice; 2) Christ’s temporary death is not a true substitute for the eternal death of many; and 3) a perfect substitutionary satisfaction would result in an unlimited permission to sin. The result led Socinus to promulgate a doctrine of the atonement that allowed God to forgive – based upon repentance - without requiring satisfaction. This element in Socinus’ thought played a significant role in Owen’s polemics on the necessity of Christ’s death. J I Packer was correct to suggest that Socinus’ work led Owen to adopt a defensive approach rather than doxological and kerygmatic. This approach is one I hope to lay out in more detail in the coming weeks.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 38 - You Have Said It

Alastair has asked me to blog about something Jesus said during His earthly ministry. This being Lent, I thought it might be good to focus on something he repeats three times during the Passion week. Thrice Jesus answers a question by su eipas “you have said (it),” or su legeis “you say (it)”. With this reply, He is answering momentous questions: “Is it I [who am to betray you], Lord?” by Judas (Mt. 26:25); “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” by the High Priest (Mt. 26:64); and “You are the king of the Jews?” by Pilate (Mt. 27:11, Mk. 15:2, Lk. 23:3, Jn. 18:37). The reply to all three is mistranslated by many Bibles as “It is as you say,” i.e. a direct affirmation of the proposition put in the question. It is amusing to look at the NKJV and find “It is as you say” – the italics indicating the translators’ supplements.

David Daube, in an article on Judas, traces Jesus’ utterance to the Hebrew ‘amarta, which Strack-Billerbeck equate with wie du sagst, so ist es: “as you say, so it is.” But this is not the true meaning of the phrase. Daube cites an episode from t. B. K. Kelim 1:6, which concerns a dispute over whether a certain entrance to the Temple had required a washing of hands and feet. After the war with Rome, Rabbi Simon the Modest, in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, professed that he used to enter that particular gate without washing. “Whereupon Eliezer, a giant in learning and piety yet rudely domineering, asked him which was more esteemed, he or the High Priest. Simon kept silent. Eliezer: “You are ashamed to admit that the High Priest’s dog was more esteemed than you.” Simon: “Rabbi, you have said it.” Eliezer: “By the Temple service, they would break even the High Priest’s head with their clubs [were he to enter unwashed]; what would you do that the guard might not find you?”

R. Simon’s use of ‘amarta is a reply to Eliezer’s rude comparison of himself with the High Priest’s dog. It is a mistake to read it as “Yes, you’re absolutely right.” It is far more subtle than that: something more like, “I take no responsibility for the proposition you have just put. It came out of your mouth, not mine. To say more would be to cross a line into impropriety.”

Consider: a straight “Yep” would be absolutely inappropriate in Judas’ case. “One of you is going to betray me.” Judas: “Is it I, Rabbi?” Jesus: “Bingo.” This would be mere fatalism, not Biblical prophecy. Judas becomes a sort of Oedipus, betraying the Messiah malgré lui. But Jesus’ answer is a non-denial, not a straight affirmation. Judas will betray, but not because Jesus has compelled him.

The answers given on the witness stand before the Sanhedrin and Pilate would be less troublesome if they were reduced to “yes.” But there, too, Jesus has His reasons for evasion. Of course, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One. And the reaction of His opponents to his use of su eipas is to treat it as a “yes.” But this is because in their eyes only a denial of His Messiahship would do. As for Pilate, N.T. Wright points out that his question is in the form of a statement: “You are the king of the Jews” – su ei ho basileus twn Ioudaiwn. The answer “Thou sayest” has a further nuance to it: You think you are asking, but you are in fact declaring. Pilate will end by writing Jesus’ title on a sign over His head.

Jesus’ answer before the Sanhedrin and Pilate is of a piece with the rest of His earthly ministry. He never denies His messiahship, but He seldom asserts it verbally. Rather, by His actions, He lets the Father and Spirit testify of Him, while He testifies of Them. Of course, He is the king of the Jews. But recall to what lengths he had gone to avoid oral professions of it. When John’s disciples asked him if He was the Coming One, “or do we wait for another”, Jesus directed them to “Tell John what you have seen and heard,” and adverted to His miracles and His preaching of the kingdom. When confronted by the Pharisees about the crowds who were hailing Him as Messiah, He replies that if they do not do it, the stones will cry out. He tells the Jews that “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true…There is one who testifies.” What wonder then that when on the witness stand, Jesus still refuses to testify? “You will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds, and sitting at the right hand of God.” The Father will vindicate Him. He does not need to argue His way to a “not guilty” verdict.

Klaas Schilder likes to point out that though Jesus is in the dock, it is really the Sanhedrin and Pilate who are on trial. Jesus is pronouncing sentence on them. He has come to Israel and done the works of His Father. All Israel is on trial to see what she thinks of God’s anointed. Peter passed the same test with his profession: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” and Jesus congratulated him. But then He immediately commanded his disciples to tell no one (Mt. 16:20).

The Jews of Jesus’ day took His reticience for a “yes”: “What further need of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.” But many modern Jews take it as a “no.” A. Kolatch, The Second Jewish Book of Why, p. 71:

Many Jewish scholars believe that Jesus considered himself a prophet only. They reject the contention of Christian scholars that when Jesus used the phrase “Son of Man” in his preaching (first mentioned in Daniel 7:13, where the Aramaic phrase bar enash is used), he was referring to himself as the Messiah. The phrase “Son of Man,” in the Jewish view, is used in the third person, and more likely than not, when Jesus used the phrase he was referring to someone other than himself. Jewish scholars also point to the fact that there is little evidence in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) – the earliest account of the life of Jesus – that Jesus regarded himself as the Messiah.

“Little evidence”?? What kind of evidence did Kolatch want? Miracles?

The trial continues to this day. Who do you say that He is?

Matt Colvin holds a PhD in Classics from Cornell University, and has published articles in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy and the Classical Quarterly. He has worked as a quarry truck driver, and a teacher at Mars Hill Academy in Cincinnati, OH (to which he will return this fall). He blogs at Fragmenta.

Lenten Guest Post - Guilt

Isaiah 53:5

It’s amazing how often you can listen to a verse, and yet completely miss the point. I have a problem with OCD which makes me feel incredibly guilty for things I’ve done in the past. Whether what I worry about was sin or not, the point is that if we have repented, Jesus has taken the pain of our sin.

Peter is Alastair’s brother

Lenten Guest Post - Day 24 - Transfiguration

It was a whisper that woke them, a summons as dusky and fleeting as the blue dawn wind. “Come,” said the Christ, and Peter woke first to follow. Stumbled to his feet and nudged his closest friends. “The Master has something to show us,” he mumbled, clapping a wakeful hand onto John’s shoulder. James rose too and the three of them shivered in the cool, dim light, and stumbled after their Lord as he, without further ceremony, beckoned them to follow. Down through the sleep dim streets, their feet slapping the cobbled stones until their way led up the waiting mountain.

Not a word did Jesus say as he led them, not a glance to betray the goal of their climb. Only a smile, and the old call to follow, again, with no hint of their journey’s end. And they followed, with feet, and even with hearts, for he walked within the reach of their stumbling, always waiting for them when they lagged even a small way behind.

John, pensive as always, and James in his usual stolidity, walked with heads down in thought. But Peter walked with face turned upward, with eyes fixed just ahead on the form of his master. And in his mind the thought was stirring that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was taking them to show them something really glorious. After all, it had been he, Peter, who just a few days before had so steadfastly proclaimed his faith that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Peter felt rather gratified by this memory. He felt that he had proven the strength of his faith.

And so he walked eagerly, up, up into the limpid light of the new morning as it fell on the quiet mountain. With their steady climbing, they reached the top quickly, and Jesus stopped. He stood and closed his eyes to feel the rush of the dawn wind blowing up from the valleys below them. The three men beside him gulped in the fresh air and tried hard to enjoy the moment, but it was with eagerness that they met the opening of their lord’s eyes. Jesus stepped toward them.

“I have come to show you something, and yes Peter,” he turned and looked him full in the face, “you will see a bit of glory”.

Jesus smiled, and Peter leaned barely forward with a sudden puzzlement. For once again, he had caught that look in Jesus’ eyes, that knowing compassion, as if Peter were unaware of what was awaiting him. Peter did not particularly like that look. He did not want pity, and besides, what grief could there be in a vision of glory? He cast his doubt aside as, without a word more, Jesus stepped back.

And then there was light.

As sudden and blinding as new creation, the brightness swirled around them and they could no longer see the mountain, or even Jesus, for in an incomprehensible blaze of glory, God stood before them. Of course, they had always known Jesus to be the son of God, but it was different now. Heaven was right in front of them, the whirling beauty of the invisible world suddenly present to their flesh and blood sight. Song there was, and a constant quiver of movement for the air was alive with lyrical voices and the rush of a living light that touched every fiber of their being. In that instant, they saw the truth of all that Jesus had spoken in the long past months, for he became all He said He was before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared on his left and right, as heavenly witnesses to this unheard of revelation.

Peter especially was in ecstasy, his heart pounding with the thrill of his surety, his joy in seeing the truth of what he had chosen to follow. Surging with his usual zeal, he stepped bravely forward and spoke to the magnificent figure he knew to be his lord, offering to build a tabernacle for him. But even as his eager voice disturbed the faint music, there was a sudden crack as of lightning fire, and he was stopped mid-sentence. There was a quickening rush, and the advent of a new glory as brooding and fearsome as a mighty storm. It came like the untamed wind, thrumming through the air round him, challenging his desire to build walls around the beauty before him.

This glory was fearful, a blue and crimson magnificence that sent Peter to his knees. Peter forgot about building as the presence of the Holy One of Israel surrounded him. The voice of God the Father cracked down in a thunder of holiness and the earth trembled before Him. The light became brighter, the voices and music not louder but deeper and the men felt as if new dimensions of sound were opened to them, throbbing through regions within them that had never before been touched.

God, the Father, present in His awful goodness, spoke through the whirl of the storm and His words were simple:

“This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!”

The majesty was so great, the sense of holiness so overwhelming, the three men could no longer bear to look. They cried out and covered their faces, bowing down, huddled against the friendly earth. But Peter wept. For the glory he had so desired to see was a devastating glory, an impossible beauty that filled him with an unexpected dread. He had presumed to understand God, supposed himself wise because of his bravado of faith. But in that moment, he was suddenly terrified, as the dark faces of his many sins crowded suddenly round him.

The delightful beauty of Christ had thrilled him, the terrible beauty of the Father convinced him that he would surely die. And he knew with a final knowing, that no work of his, no proclamation of belief, no offer of honor would ever assuage the depth of his unworthiness. He crouched lower, his fingers dug into the earth and simply wept.

But in that instant, at the very inception of those fearing thoughts, a hand was laid on his shoulders. A still voice, a quiet voice said, “don’t be afraid”. Peter fought the anguish in his breast, wanting to grovel, unwilling to lift his face. But the words of the Holy One still echoed in his ears, “listen”. And he did. Summoning all the grit he possessed, he pushed away the fear and obeyed. He lifted his eyes and saw…only Jesus.

Only the earthy, flesh and blood face of his lord, suffused with the the rising sun. The earth shattering glory was gone. Jesus, man again, stood alone and reached down with a sun browned hand that gripped Peter’s shoulder with a pounding strength. Peter and his companions reached out with grateful tears to be lifted to their feet by this human, touchable God. And he took them to his heart like the little children they really were. Held them as they ached with the glory and the truth of what they had seen.

They had been given their desire. They had seen the reality of heaven behind Jesus’ words. They could never doubt now. But as they trudged back down the mountain that day, they realized that beyond even the divine glory they had desired, they had been given a glimpse of a great mystery; the glory of God as man, holding them, comforting them. For the vision had ended, not in a blast of trumpets or a crash of lightning. Their once in a lifetime glimpse of heaven’s most magnificent reality had not finished with choirs of angels or the crash of God’s splendor. It had ended with the face of Jesus; human before them, the heavenly glory compacted into a single man with a beating heart.

The miracle was not the splendor, it was the man who had left the splendor behind for the sake of the children he loved.

As Peter walked, he felt a love that he had never known surging through his spirit. It was nothing like his previous love; that had been a love more like an admiration combined with a healthy dose of pride in his own choice. This was pure adoration, of the God who clothed his glory in flesh and lifted his children up from the dust.

Every time he prayed for the rest of his life, Peter remembered the glory, so different from what he had expected. For with each whispered prayer he approached the throne of glory where light and justice blazed and trembled. But when he reached the foot, it was always Jesus who met him, Jesus who emerged from the crashing beauty to take him by his shaking, human hands and give him the strength to carry on.

As he does to all who love Him.

Sarah Clarkson lives in Monument, Colorado and is quite simply, a lover of words and the God who made them. This love expresses itself in her writing and her hope to study English Literature at a yet-undecided university this fall. She muses on life, books and beauty at her blog Take Joy.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 23 - Beginning with Forgiveness

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me.” — Matt 18:26

The man who just prostrated himself before me and confessed himself a sinner is back on his feet and embracing me. He has squatted and bowed before dozens of other sinners in this little candlelit cathedral, as have I, and both of us have worked up a sweat. Tomorrow our legs will ache. This is one strenuous way to get ready for Easter.

The “Forgiveness Vespers” service is how Orthodox churches embark upon Lent. Western Christians begin with ashes on their foreheads. Orthodox Christians begin with their foreheads on the floor.

The service marks a high point on the Orthodox calendar. Worshippers step reverently into the cathedral, knowing that tonight their church will “change keys” and enter a period whose mood they often describe as bright sadness. Prayers are rising before dusk, but sunlight has left the church by the time the old archbishop invites his people to draw near for a heart-to-heart. He begins to talk of forgiveness.

Their Lord, he tells them, pursued their reconciliation unto death. His sacrifice should move them to go about forgiving with urgency, outside the church as well as within. The archbishop’s counsel: If you aren’t willing to forgive, don’t bother with Lenten fasting. It would be pointless.

Finally, he makes a general confession himself. He admits, for example, that he has often been guilty of impatience. For that and other failings, he is sorry. “My brothers and sisters,” he says before prostrating himself, “forgive me.”

And so begins the rite of forgiveness. Starting with the archbishop, the people form a receiving line that slowly winds around the church. Everyone prostrates himself or herself before every other person present, even strangers.

“Forgive me, a sinner,” each one says, and then bends low. The person opposite makes the same confession, the same gesture. Rising, they embrace and kiss. “God forgives, and I forgive,” each one says, or other words to that effect.

Because everyone participates, all inevitably stand face to face with those who know them best. Young fathers bow before their young children. Boyfriends and girlfriends ask one another’s forgiveness. A mother seeks pardon from her son. Husbands prostrate themselves before their wives, and vice versa. A few people, choked by emotion, cannot get the words out every time. Tears say what their tongues cannot.

Cynics may doubt the genuineness of all this; some doubt its necessity. One visitor a few years ago was bemused to see all those faces down and bottoms up. Keeping her seat, and her distance, at the back of the church, she quietly wondered aloud, “Do they really need that much forgiveness?”

A Christian answers yes, they really do – and not just for more or less public offenses in word and deed, but even for offenses committed in secret or in the heart. No sin, in Orthodox and other Christian thought, is absolutely private. Each represents a breaking of faith with the whole church, the whole human race. No one who believes such a thing means to deny that sin offends God above all. The idea is simply to affirm that sin also offends those made in the image of that God.

But shouldn’t people who think that way seek and extend forgiveness all the time, and not just one Sunday night in late winter? Any church that prays “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” week in and week out, knows the unanimous Christian answer. In the words of St. Paul, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German theologian martyred by the Nazis, envisioned Saturday as a time when laypeople might regularly pursue reconciliation with one another before sharing Holy Communion the next day. “Nobody who avoids this approach to his brother,” he wrote, “can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord.”

The Orthodox are exhorted, just before they sing the creed, “Let us love one another, that with one accord we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Right thinking without right relating, to paraphrase St. James, is dead. As the Orthodox see it, a simple rite of forgiveness at the end of evening prayer underlines that point and puts it in boldface. “Let us embrace one another,” they will sing in the wee hours of Easter morning. “Let us speak also, O brethren, to those that hate us, and in the resurrection let us forgive all things, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead!”

A resurrection gospel puts those who believe it on their knees before God. Sooner or later, it puts them on their knees before one another.

Paul Buckley is a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, USA, and has been called an Eastern Rite Presbyterian.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 18 - His Grace is Sufficient


I grew up in a Christian family, with all its blessings and curses. To me, the greatest blessing I think has been to be ‘clothed’ with lots of scripture: in memory, through singing of psalms and hymns, in attitudes taught at an age at which one is still very receptive of correction. A curse is — if I may call it so — that the transition from the confines of a Christian home to becoming a Christian in the secular world is a great challenge. Children can and may rely in a sense on the faith (-fulness) of their parents and teachers, as they grow up they then do have to grow and mature in their ‘own’ faith. On some, leaving this context suddenly has the effect of stripping those hard-wrought clothes from them, in their first years of, for instance, entering university, and leaving them naked and exposed. It is one of the stronger reasons I believe every Christian needs to live in the context of a church. It is a dangerous venture to rely on however much effort in reading the bible and the practise of faith, while being isolated from any church.

At the time I went to university, and consequently had to leave the home of my parents, I was also faced with this challenge. I became a member of a local church and had to make friends with brothers and sisters there. At that time, being a member of a Christian students association was of crucial importance for me. However much I was blessed with support and friendship, it was a time my faith was tested and I underwent a great transition. I was a believer and a follower of Christ before, during and after, but it was a time during which I had to become so in a manner no longer dependent upon my parents. Not to become independent, but rather more dependent on God and on those through whom He blessed and continues to bless me. I discovered that my strengths were my greatest weakness; because when I needed them most I could not rely on them. During those times, my great weakness threw me back on God and that became my greatest source of strength.

As I moved out of the context of the place I grew up, my interest in its roots grew as well. Among all the ‘dis-coverings’ I made thus far, I think the trilogy of Klaas Schilder on Christ has been the greatest blessing. He opened up the gospels to me in a fresh way, about 70 years after he wrote it. The past couple of years I read one of the three volumes as Lent-activity, although this year circumstances have made it difficult to keep up with it. I highly recommend reading them; they are very poetic (at least in the original Dutch, which has made translation to English very difficult). I also read in an interview that they have been a great blessing to James Jordan, to my surprise.

This morning a sermon given by Alastair’s dad reminded me of a number of chapters of the first part, “Christ in His Suffering” (surprisingly, he had not read them yet himself). Often when we think of the suffering of Christ, we think of the cross, the physical suffering of pain and having to bear the guilt of others. But certainly Matthew for instance, stresses that great suffering came from those whom were the closest to Him. It is a painful contrast, to read in Matthew 26:

“When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him. But not during the Feast, they said, or there may be a riot among the people. While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Jesus was preparing to fulfil all that the Passover feast pointed towards. His closest friends, in denial of what Jesus tells his disciples in the opening of the chapter, think Mary’s act is a waste. This is only one of many instances where the disciples betray Jesus, where they deny his ministry and more than often are worried about themselves (e.g. about who would be the most well-off with what Jesus was going to accomplish as the Messiah they thought Him to be). I wonder if there is greater agony known to mankind, than to be betrayed by those whom you love best. Nevertheless, Jesus loved them and in his love rebuked them and taught them, and loved them until the end.

Nevertheless also, the disciples did love their master. Peter being first among them… repeatedly grieved his Master deeply. What the writers of the gospel portray to us in the way Jesus was treated by those around him, friends and enemies, is a portrait of someone who was lonely in the highest degree possible, but amazingly unceasing in His love. It casts a light on what prayer to His Father meant. It casts a light on our own love for Jesus. Our love is always a love of response to Him, who loves us even though we have betrayed Him and are still capable to do so despite of our love for Him.

My strength is certainly not my love for Him, in the sense that I would be able to rely on it. But I receive my strength from Him, because when I have betrayed Him in my weakness and am discouraged in being his servant, He said: Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, follow Me!

Elbert Baas currently lives in Stoke-on-‘sunny’-Trent and is a member of Hartshill Bible Church, where Alastair’s father is a pastor. That is where he found a great friend in Alastair, when first visiting Stoke for a placement during his studies for 4 months. He is married with Annewieke, but not with their son Aron, who is now 5 months. He grew up in the Netherlands, but not in ‘Holland’. He obtained a bachelor degree in applied physics and is finishing a PhD thesis in biomedical engineering, in which he presents a methodology to study how growing bone tissue responds to local strain in a test tube. Later this year they hope to move back to the Netherlands so Elbert can set one year apart to study the ‘Calvinist’ legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd in depth, by taking part of the Master course ‘Christian Studies of Science and Society’ at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. He enjoys cycling, photography, playing guitar, knitting (yes, real men knit), juggling, origami, reading philosophy, theology and Alastair’s blog. smoking his pipe or acigar (the latter preferably with whisky or cognac, and most important, in good company), programming. Elbert also blogs infrequently at http://www.theelepel.blogspot.com, http://www.engelandvaarders.blogspot.com (Dutch) and has blogged at http://www.thecomposition.blogspot.com. Prayer is valued that he may receive further vision how to grow in love and understanding in life as father of a family and as a follower of Christ, and how to daily give shape to that in all of life, especially in being a sincere, honest, concerned and most of all humble scientist. And how to keep short and concise!

Lenten Guest Post - Day 17 -


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 16 - Unplugged

And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” — Mark 6:31

I log off my phone and turn off my computer.
I take off my headset.
I pull free from my cubicle.
I go through the security door.
I ride the elevator down two floors.
I pass the front desk in the lobby.
I walk out of my office building.
I squint at the sun; it is noon.
I don my shades.
I am in my usual race to get through the parking lot
To my car,
Away from the building,
Away from my job
As quickly as possible.

I unlock my car.
It is oppressive inside.
I wait for a second and get in.
My AC does not work.
I start the car and back out.
I maneuver toward the exit.
I pass through the security gate.
I pull into the right lane of the driveway.
I pause.
I have been on autopilot for four hours.
What am I doing?
Where am I going?
Why, home, of course,
Right after I stop by Taco Bell.
Not today.

I turn left out of the right hand lane.
Good thing no one else was using the driveway.
I have an idea,
But it is not very clear.
I flip on the radio.
“I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I have become comfortably numb.”
Now I’m scared.
I close in on Old Canton Rd and realize where I am going.
I turn both the steering wheel and the radio knob left.
I’m not going the best way.
A circuitous route may be best right now.
I put the window down.
My hair gets messed up.
I start sweating.
Surprise, it’s hot in Jackson, MS.

I head up the Natchez Trace.
I kind of know for what I am looking.
I kind of don’t.
I pull off the road at a spot with which I am unfamiliar.
I have lived here for over five years.
How is it that I have not spent time exploring the Trace?
Too much time plugged in.
I pull off my button down and toss it in the passenger seat.
I put my hands on my hips and lean back.
The sun does its work.
I bend over.
My back cracks.
Aaaahhh.
Where to now?

The woods beckon.
Is it the woods?
Is it someone waiting for me in the woods?
Whoever or whatever, I move.
I reach out both arms and feel bark, rough.
Gravel under my feet.
Leaves over my head.
No fluorescents, no tile.
I have only my car keys.
I feel light without all my stuff.
Wind pushes through my sanctuary.
I breathe in down to my nethers.
Exhaling fully, I become lightheaded.
When was the last time I breathed in all the way?

A clearing appears.
The sun is unobstructed.
Grass spreads in a circle close to trees.
I know others have been here before.
A couple stealing a few moments.
An artist with his canvas or camera or sketchpad.
A Confederate soldier advancing or retreating.
A deer doing whatever a deer does.
I am not the first to occupy this space.
How many have come before?
How many will come after?
It is my spot for now.
I will gladly yield it to others.
When it is their turn.

I stride to the center of the patch.
I kneel down slightly off-center.
I lay down on my stomach.
I do not care about grass stains on my clothes.
I put my face in the grass and smell.
I run my fingers through it.
I embrace the ground from whence I was taken.
I am made of dirt.
I am rooted in the earth.
It is my home.
I am here.
I am nowhere else.
The world is spread beneath me.
The sky expands above me.

Wind
Grass
Trees
Sun
Dirt
Me
We are still.
We are present.
My breathing slows.
Savor the moment.
Savor the presence of the Other.
Close your eyes.
Open them again.
Murmur praise.
Then be quiet once more.

I hear a car’s horn.
I feel hot.
My arms are itchy.
Ouch.
A red ant bites me on the cheek.
That’s gonna look nice.
Lyrics from X&Y play in my head.
I need to check my email.
I haven’t had lunch.
I need to check my voicemail.
I don’t like to be quiet.
I am trying.
It is hard to be
Unplugged.

Jason Kranzusch lives in Jackson, MS, attends St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church, and blogs at axegrinder. This fall he begins his PhD program.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 13 - Won and distributed, "for us"


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 11 - The Jesus Diet

John 4:31-34

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34).

If more of America embraced Jesus’ teaching in John 4, perhaps we as a nation would not have the problem of rampant obesity that we do. In fact, it’s surprising that someone in Christendom hasn’t tried to capitalize on this as a weight-loss gimmick yet. Imagine: “The Jesus Diet: Serve God and Lose Weight…or Your Money Back!”

Why does Jesus compare food to the work of God in John 4? Probably because there are few other things in life as consistent a part of my daily routine as food. In comparing the two, Jesus is not saying that I should never need to eat (in other words, the will of God should be physically enough for me); rather, He urges me to compare my desire to eat to that of my desire to accomplish God’s work. Which is consistently greater? And why?

I eat – usually three meals a day – because I want to, and because I realize I need to in order to live. But do I have the same desire and realization as to the importance of doing the will of God and accomplishing His work? Why does the intake of food seem so automatic to me, but doing the will of God seems so optional at times?

Probably because of the varying visibility of the results of each. Because I am too often blinded by the physical nature (i.e that which I can see and feel), I am more aware of when I don’t eat (or don’t eat the right things): my body reacts by losing strength, I don’t feel all that good, and (most telling of all), I get hungry. The physical nature of my being takes over, and I become affected and motivated to do something about it.

However, if I don’t do what God asks, the physical repercussions often are not as evident. While my conscience might rage within me, I usually am able to still function physically; thus, my motivation to obey is diminished as the spiritual need for obedience often does not register in my world so consumed with the practical and tangible. Sadly, I must admit that my desire for food is at times greater than my desire for sanctification, all because my stomach becomes more of a god than God is. This sounds vaguely familiar to what Paul says in the New Testament: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

In considering all this, I arrive at the conclusion that I need to go on “The Jesus Diet.” I need to fast (for at least a couple of days) to make sure that I still do (and should) have control over my physical cravings. I need to read my Bible in the morning before I eat so as to not fool myself into thinking that just because I address my physical hunger, my spiritual hunger has been addressed as well. Finally, I need to take as much pleasure in obeying God as in observing dinner in order that, truly, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.”

Help me in all this, Lord, and enable me to only be a glutton in matters of serving You.

Craig Dunham is a husband, father, author, and seminarian (Covenant Theological Seminary) who lives in St. Louis. He is a member of Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA) and blogs at Second Drafts.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 9 - Juxtaposition

And when He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came to Him, and bowed down to Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” And He stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering that Moses commanded, for a testimony to them.” And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, entreating Him, and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. “For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled, and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very hour. And when Jesus had come to Peter’s home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. And He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she arose, and waited on Him. And when evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were ill in order that what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “He Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases.” — Matthew 8:1-17

There are two healing stories in this passage. One is of a leper, and the other a centurion’s servant. Most pastors, in preaching these healing narratives, will not notice a key theological point that is made by such a juxtaposition, which is that no social class is excluded from Christ’s kingdom.

Lepers, of course, were ceremonially unclean, and as such could not participate in the normal festivals of Jewish life and faith. This is why Jesus says to the (now healed) man, “Go, show yourself to the priest.” The now-healed leper was about to re-enter Jewish life. However, more importantly, he had entered into the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, since the leper displayed an obvious faith in Christ’s healing powers (vs. 2).

Secondly, a centurion came to Jesus. He was the equivalent of a lower-ranking officer in one of today’s armies. Furthermore, this centurion was one of Herod’s officers, probably not a Roman officer. (I owe these insights to I.H. Marshall, in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels). But he would have enjoyed some prestige in society. Certainly he was no outcast, as the leper was.

His faith was so strong that Jesus remarked, “I have not found such faith in Israel” (vs. 10). Then, for our purposes, a striking summary of Gentile inclusion is given in verses 11-12:

I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.

After this miracle of healing, Peter’s mother-in-law, a Jewish woman, received healing from Jesus. Since she is in the presence of the One who opens the way to the Most Holy Place for us, we have here an indication that women will be allowed into the Most Holy Place, by the blood of Jesus.

Outcasts, societally elite, Jewish women, all are welcomed into the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus, when they come to faith in Jesus. Our attitude towards those who are different (class, race, gender) ought to be the same as that of Christ Jesus. We ought to spread the Gospel to all and sundry, loving all and sundry, especially as we remember what our Lord suffered for our sake.

Lane Keister is a PCA pastor in North Dakota and is married with two children. His mind-boggling blogging output can be witnessed at Green Baggins and Green Baggins 2.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 8 - Lord Teach Us To Pray

‘Lord teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples’. And he said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins,
For we forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.’ (Luke 11:2-4)

Jesus invites his disciples to address themselves to God as sons; to pray ‘Father…’ There is security and comfort in the assurance that every word which follows reposes in his goodwill to us as children. God is a father to us at all times. Not even our daily sinning puts this relationship into question, such that we would need to be readopted each morning by new confession and faith. We are welcomed as sons, and are permitted to turn our minds to God’s glory and our daily needs before asking for forgiveness.

That said, while assuring us that we are the household of God, Jesus insists that daily confession is necessary and that pardon is conditional — ‘for we forgive everyone who…’. How can this be? Has not God already remembered our sin no more — Jeremiah 31:34?

But confessing sins to God as sons is a very different thing to pleading in court with God the accuser or begging for mercy before God the vengeful warrior. Our sins are visible to God, but the context has dramatically transformed itself: God has forgotten our sins before the court-room and on the battlefield and he now addresses them in the family home. When we sin, he restores us to himself; when he punishes us, it is not in vengeance but for our good (as when Nathan said to David ‘The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord the child who is born to you shall die’ — 1 Samuel 12:13-14).

Our Father’s forgiveness is liberal and gracious. This should put us, his sons, to shame when we consider our miserly, calculating version. And all the more, because while ‘forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems’ (Carnegie Simpson — quoted by John Stott in The Cross of Christ). Quite rightly, Jesus does not expect us to ask for forgiveness from God while with-holding it from others. So let’s confess our sins with assurance to God, forgiving each other liberally, because God is our Father.

John Aldis is Alastair’s cousin. This is his greatest achievement. He works in Paris for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. After studying theology he is hoping to work in West-Africa as a pastor or Bible teacher.

In Which Alastair Goes Out Into the Highways and Hedges and Compels All That He Can To Guest Post


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 7 - No Beauty or Majesty


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Lenten Guest Post - Day 6 - A Discouraging Word

“A lot of people won’t take no for an answer. I just wanted you to know that I’m not one of them. I can be easily discouraged. I will take no for an answer.” — spoken by the character Josh Neff in The Last Days of Disco.

What exactly happens when you “share the gospel” with someone? What is it that you hope will happen? I imagine that most christians hope that the other will say, “yes, you are right, I DO need to repent of my sins and turn exclusively to Jesus for my salvation and guidance. How soon can I be baptized and join your church?”

I had the good fortune a number of years ago to hear Os Guinness speaking on evangelism, and he shared an idea, or rather a vivid picture, of an alternative way to think about this issue. He said we could picture people as being somewhere along a one dimensional meaure where -100 would be as opposed to the gospel as possible, 100 would be a fully matured believer, and 0 the point of acceptance of the gospel. He then added that most works on evangelism focus exclusively on dealing with people who are at -1 or -2 and getting them across that threshold. He suggested, instead, that perhaps we should be content, in some or many cases, to move people from -60 to -50. Our work is not to “save” people, but merely to announce the Word to them, and anything bring them closer to understanding and receiving is a good work.

How do we go about this? Guinness suggested, I think wisely, that much of this can be done by asking people challenging questions. Jesus does this quite often in the gospel stories. However, I don’t want this simply to be a recapitulation of Mr Guinness’s lecture, so I will point toward another method employed by Jesus.

In John chapter 1, verses 35 through 38 we have the following:

The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, “Look, there is the lamb of God.” And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, “What do you want?” They answered, “Rabbi”—which means Teacher—“where do you live?”—NJB

I hope I’m not badly misinterpreting this passage, but it strikes me that Jesus sees these people who obviously WANT to follow him and asks them, “Exactly what do you think you are doing?” This is known in the sales technique world as the “take away”. The idea is that one can build interest and/or curiosity by suggesting that the prospect wouldn’t really be the right person for what you have to offer. The works by triggering the prospect to think “I need to show him that I AM good enough/qualified enough for this thing.”

Perhaps this might also be familiar to you from watching old martial arts films. When the young man in the film needs to pursue his vengence on the evil warlord, he seeks out a great martial arts teacher who can instruct him on the proper techniques for kicking, umm, well sometimes just kicking. The teacher sends the youth away. The youth is persistent enough to be accepted by the teacher, only to be put under a strenuous regime which seems to have little to do with fighting skills. This serves to build up the strength and will of the young man so that he can achieve excellence in kung-fu, or whatever.

I’m not sure I have ever seen this method proposed as an evangelistic strategy, but I’m enough of a contrarian to think it might be worth pursuing. I would certainly love to hear from anyone who either has ideas on how such a strategy could work or from someone who has actually tried it. Two situations occur to me where such a strategy might possibly be appropriate.

First, the use of curiosity to build interest. This needs to be done VERY carefully. One simple application is as an intro to some sort of evangelistic event (this could include something as simple as a small group Bible study). The way it works is by inviting someone with the opening, “I don’t know if this would be your sort of thing . . .” or “I don’t even know if this would interest you, but . . .” This has to be followed by something which might generate some interest, but you should NOT go into great detail about what to expect. The less you say, the more the other is free to imagine. A simple statement to get interest might be, “my wife and I have really enjoyed/expect to enjoy this and we though you (and your wife if applicable) might like it as well.” Perhaps a bit more than that, but again, shorter is better.

Second would be the sort of situation Jesus was in. Folks seem to show some sort of interest in Jesus, and what do we normally do? We pounce, invite them to everything under the sun, treat them like a tiny bit of tinder which might go out at any moment. Perhaps we really should go the opposite direction. Rather than trying to answer all their questions, whatever those might be, we should challenge them to develop their own reasons. The only ideas people ever really believe, it is said, are those they develop on their own. Again, as Jesus did, focus on questions. Asking questions does two things. It helps you get a better sense of where the other person really is, and it helps them to think through things for themselves.

Again, I would love to know how these things have worked, or will work for you. Feel free to comment here or drop me an email at paulthepianoman @ yahoo dot com.

God’s blessings on all of you as you strive to follow Jesus.

Paul is a father, husband and piano technician living in Mebane, North Carolina. He also is a member of Church of the Good Shepherd (PCA) in Durham where he helps with music and with youth ministry.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 5 - Giving Something Up

I wonder if any of Alastair’s readers engage in Lent disciplines. Probably you’re all very reformed and if you do anything, it’s probably reading through the whole bible (or Calvin’s Institutes) in six weeks. But for the average man on the Clapham omnibus, the most common Lent discipline is still ‘giving something up.’

I’ve done this in the past, and it’s hard. Whether it’s chocolate or the internet, those six weeks can feel like a very long time when you’re always thinking of the thing you’re missing. But at least you know it’s only for a limited time and you can gorge yourself come Easter Day. It’s infinitely harder to give things up permanently. Try asking anyone who’s ever stopped smoking.

Jesus calls his followers to give up much more than the occasional treat, or favourite pastime. He calls us to give up everything most dear to us - even our own most dearly loved families and homes. That’s scary. But, as always with the Lord, the promise offered to those who take up the call is so great as to overwhelm the hardship we may suffer.

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”

Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

(Mark 10:28-30)

However generously we give of what we have to follow the Lord, he is more generous in what he gives back to us.

These words of Jesus have been close to my heart for the last couple of years as I have been thinking about the decision to move to America and they have been a great comfort to me now that I am here. I’m not a natural traveller, I have no curiosity about life on the other side of the world and moving here has felt like a big sacrifice in terms of relationships with the people and places I know and love.

But Jesus’ promise has proved itself true. There are people here who are to me as brother and sister, mother and father. There are places that are becoming important to me as I build a history with them. For everything that I have given up, he has given me back manifold.

From here:




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and from these dear friends:




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Hard as it has been to make this move, still Peter’s words are a rebuke to me. I have not ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. Neither in my sinful heart, nor in my material life do I feel anything like this sense of full abandonment. So I pray that this Lent season will be one of learning to leave everything behind to follow him.

…and in the age to come, eternal life.

For now, the blessings Jesus promises are mingled with the hardships and persecutions he also warns of. Part of what Peter expresses is that we remember, and in our hearts hold onto, what we have given up. Like those who have given up chocolate for Lent eyeing the Crème Egg with longing, we let our minds linger on the job, the home, the family, the car, whatever might-have-beens we hold most dear. And these loom largest when the life of following Christ is hardest, when the promised persecutions hurt deepest.

So it’s wonderful that this promise doesn’t end with the fulfilment in this age. There is an age to come which won’t be marked by persecution or by wistful longing. There will be no homesickness then, for we will be at home with the Lord, forever. There will be no one to wrest us away from our families or our lands. There will be no sickness, nor mourning, nor crying nor pain.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Ros Clarke is an OT PhD student at Westminster Theological Seminary and Scholar in Residence at Cresheim Valley Church. All of which cuts down on time for sewing, knitting and watching American Idol. You can find out more about her thoughts on the bible, life and the weirdness of America at http://ihaveaquestion.blog.co.uk.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 2 - Living the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” is, in my estimation, the most intriguing and fascinating of texts. I’ll leave aside the dicey issue of the historicity of the “Sermon” and simply address its significance for modern Christians, pilgrims in this world, passing through to the next, and struggling both to make it through and make a difference.

And that, in my estimation, is exactly what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: both making it through this life as a disciple of the Risen Lord and leaving the world, when death claims us, a bit of a better place.

The ethic of the Sermon is the ethic of love for God bound together with love for one another. “You have heard it said… but I say to you”; “Blessed are the pure in heart”; “But I say to you, do not be angry…”; “Do not condemn…”; “Our Father, in heaven…”. These, and so many of the other segments of the Sermon, urge us, as His disciples, on to a better sort of life than what we normally settle for.

The Sermon, after all, is a challenge to be different; to act differently and think differently and live differently than the world acts and thinks and lives. If we believers, we folk who call ourselves His people, took the Sermon to heart, the world really would be a better, different place. Better because different. And different because better. This is, after all, not the best of all possible worlds. The world where the Sermon on the Mount is practiced by all the people of God is.

Perhaps, then, Lent is the perfect time to evaluate our own willingness to adhere to this Sermon, putatively spoken on a Mountain. Which, if lived, would raise the low places to the heights.

Dr. Jim West is the pastor of Petros Baptist Church and a biblioblogger extraordinaire. He blogs at http://drjimwest.wordpress.com/ and runs the Biblical Studies Resources website. Regular topics of conversation on his blog include developments in biblical scholarship, scandals within the Church, the superiority of all things Swiss (especially Zwingli), and the evil that is Chris Tilling.

Lenten Guest Post - Day 1 - Building Bigger Barns

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” — Luke 12:13-21

Christ said that it is foolish simply to build bigger barns in this world. I work in one of the richest areas in the whole of Europe, possibly the world - the City of London. People here are building huge, gigantic, massive ‘barns’ out of their recent bonuses right now: over 4000 people in The City are said to have earned over £1,000,000 just in bonuses this last year. And yet happiness and contentment are not noticeably on the increase because of it, as even secular economists like Richard Layard (see his recent book Happiness: Lesons from a new science) have noted. If anything, people are more miserable because someone else is obviously earning more than them! And there are still too few who have any idea about the coming Final Audit when their souls will be required of them.

God said to the rich man in the parable: “You fool!” A more poetic reflection on this is provided by 17th century poet Thomas Traherne in his masterpiece The Apostacy: