John Frame: “The gospel is not limited to justification by faith. It is focused on God and his coming.”

The gospel is good news about the coming of a King. This is plain in Isaiah, where the prophet gives us important background for understanding “gospel”: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns'” (Isa. 52:7). In Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus quotes in the synagogue at Capernaum, we hear a similar gospel:

“The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”

Isaiah goes on to mention other things. But here, too, the gospel is about the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King, and all the things the King will do: bind up the brokenhearted, set captives free (who but a king can do that?), proclaim both God’s favor and his vengeance.

At the beginning of their ministries, both John the Baptist and Jesus proclaimed as gospel, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17). Again, the gospel is the coming a great King. The gospel is not just about us. It is not limited to justification by faith. It is focused on God and his coming. It is almost political in its force. To the Romans, the “gospel,” or good news, was that a new emperor had come into power. They proclaimed kyrios Caesar, “Caesar is Lord.” The Christians proclaimed kyrios Iesous, “Jesus is Lord.” You can understand why the Roman rulers became nervous. Of course, they misunderstood to some degree what kind of King Jesus was. But they were not wrong to feel threatened. King Jesus claims sovereignty over them. (Think of Ps. 2, where God calls the rulers of the world to kiss the anointed Son.)

Never forget that Jesus is Lord and King of all, and he will not accept any lesser position. He demands that we do all things to his glory, everything in accord with his will. His gospel contains law, we may say. But service to this King is wonderful freedom. To trust this King is to trust a Priest who gives us full forgiveness from God and constant intercession. And to trust this King is to trust a Prophet whose word is completely true and trustworthy.

John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 157-158

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John Frame on the interdependence of the intellect, will, and emotions

The intellect, or reason, is our capacity to think. The will is our ability to choose and act. The emotions are our feelings. Greek philosophers taught that the will and emotions should be subject to the intellect, and Reformed theologians have also sometimes advocated the “primacy of the intellect.” But the Bible does not teach that, nor does it exalt the will or the emotions over the others. In Scripture there is no inequality among these. All are fallen, all are equally in need of redemption, and all, as redeemed, are essential to a godly human life. The important thing is not to make them all subordinate to the intellect or another faculty but make intellect, will, and emotions all subject to the Word of God.

The three capacities are mutually dependent. For example, our intellect, our thinking, depends on our choices, our will. We can choose to suppress God’s truth or to embrace it (Rom. 1). If we will fully repress the truth, our thinking will be distorted. Reasoning also depends on emotions, for we would not choose to believe any conclusion did not appear attractive in some way. Similarly, will and emotions depend on intellect and on one another.

To look at the issue more deeply, Scripture does not ascribe human thought and action to three “faculties” bouncing around in our heads, jostling for supremacy. Rather, it is the whole person who thinks, wills, and feels. Intellectwill, and emotion are just words that we use to analyze these activities of the person, but they are not independent of one another. They are three perspectives on a whole person, as he thinks, acts, and feels. These correspond to the three perspectives I discussed in chapter six: thinking is normative, acting situational, and feeling existential.

Different theological traditions tend to focus on one of these more than the others. In the Reformed tradition, the intellect seems often to be valued above the will and the emotions. Although I am part of the Reformed tradition, that emphasis, in my judgment, is not scriptural. Scripture emphasizes joy, peace, delight, in God’s presence, not being anxious, and so on. These emotions, the “religious affections” as Jonathan Edwards called them, are essential to a healthy spiritual life.

John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 93-94

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Gordon Wenham: “Genesis 1 provides the intellectual underpinning of the scientific enterprise.”

From Gordon Wenham’s (lecturer at Trinity College, Bristol) commentary on Genesis 1:1-2:3,

Genesis 1 formed the basis of the first article of the Christian creed, “I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.” In more recent times Genesis 1 provides an intellectual underpinning of the scientific enterprise. The scientific enterprise’s assumption of unity and order underlying the manifold and seemingly capricious phenomena of experience rests on Genesis 1’s assertion of the one almighty God who created and controls the world according to a coherent plan. Only such an assumption can justify the experimental method. Were this world controlled by a multitude of capricious deities, or subject to mere chance, no consistency could be expected in experimental results and no scientific laws could be discovered…

Genesis 1’s proclamation of the God of grace and power who undergirds the world and gives it purpose justifies the scientific approach to nature. Genesis 1, by further affirming the unique status of man, his place in the divine program, and God’s care for him, gives a hope to mankind that atheistic philosophies can never legitimately supply.

Gordon Wenham, World Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, “Genesis 1-15,” (39, 40)

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John Frame: Knowledge of God, self, and the world are all interrelated; and “Reformed theology needs to give more attention to the subjective side of theology.”

 

I’ve mentioned that our knowledge of God is under his control and under his authority; that means that we have to seek knowledge in God’s way. The third lordship attribute, God’s presence, is also relevant to our knowledge of God. As we seek knowledge of God, remember always that we are seeking a deep relationship with him, one very much like marriage (Hos. 1-3; Eph. 5:22-33), sonship (John 1:12; Rom. 8:14-17), or friendship (John 15:13-15).

The same principles apply to knowing God’s world. After all, the world is God’s creation. So, knowing the world is knowing God. To know the world is to know God’s intentions, his tastes, his desires, and in some cases his sense of humor (think of the camel and the okapi).

John Calvin wrote on the first page of his Institutes that knowing God and knowing the self are interrelated. You can’t know God with out knowing yourself, and you can’t know yourself without knowing God. And Calvin added that he didn’t know which is first. I think Calvin would say the same thing about knowing the world: to know the world you must know God, and vice versa. So, we have three terms here: Godthe world, and the self, and we can’t understand one of these without the others. We know God through his Word, so let’s replace God with his Word in his scheme: the Word of God, the world, and the self.

This triad ties in with the lordship attributes. The world is the course of nature and history under God’s control. The Word is the authoritative revelation of God. And the self is where God dwells with us in his temple-presence. You can’t know God without knowing these three things, and you can’t know any one of them without the others.

Let me define three perspectives, which I think are very important to theology. When you ask directly what God’s revelation says, you are using the normative perspective. Of course, you can’t understand God’s revelation apart from the world and the self. The world and the self are revelation, as we saw in chapter 4. As I said there, you cannot fully understand special revelation, general revelation, and existential revelation apart from the others. So, the normative perspective focuses on God’s revelation, applying it to the world and to the self.

When you ask about God’s world, trying to understand the situations we get into, I call that the situational perspective. Of course, you can’t understand your situation without understanding God’s revelation or without understanding yourself.

Then when you ask about yourself, when you seek to know yourself, you are seeking to know from what I will call the existential perspective. In this perspective, you focus on yourself. Of course, you can’t understand apart from the Word and the world. You can’t understand yourself apart from God’s revelation, and you can’t understand yourself apart from the situation, your environment.

I call these perspectives because each of them covers the whole field of knowledge from a particular angle, a perspective. It’s not that the normative covers some things, the situational others, and the existential still others; rather, each perspective covers everything. The normative focuses on God’s revelation, but it looks both at the world and the self, for everything is revelation. The situational focuses on the world, but it also looks at the Word and the self, which are parts of the world. The same is true for the existential. It focuses on the self, but it is through the self (our thoughts and perceptions) that we know everything else. Each of the three perspectives deals with the whole world but does so from a peculiar, well, perspective.

The situational correlates with the lordship attribute of control, for in studying the world we are studying God’s mighty works of creation and providence. The normative correlates with the lordship attribute of authority, for his revelation is authoritative. And the existential correlates with the lordship attribute of presence, as God can always be found in and with the individual self…

Reformed theologians generally have been averse to talking about inner subjectivity, about feelings and inner thought processes. But I think Reformed theology needs to give more attention to the subjective side of theology. Theology, after all, is an inward process, a process of thinking. It isn’t just feelings, as Schleiermacher thought, but it takes account of feelings, for thoughts and feelings influence one another all the time.

The Bible itself tells us that we should apply its truth to our own experience, our questions, our feelings, our thought processes. The Pharisees thought they were experts in the Bible, but they made one huge mistake. Although they thought they understood the biblical text, they did not apply it to their own lives and to their experience of the very Son of God living in their midst (Matt. 16:1-4; 22:29; John 5:39-40). So, they missed out on the whole meaning of Scripture. You can’t understand the Bible unless you use it, apply it. and the Pharisees couldn’t do this. They thought they understood the normative perspective without the situational, but that is impossible. Even disciples of Jesus could make the same mistake (Luke 24:25).

John Frame, Salvation belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 76-78, 80

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C.E.B. Cranfield’s one-sentence summary of Romans 3:24-26

C.E.B Cranfield, professor of theology at Durham University for much of the second half of the 20th century:

We take it that what Paul’s statement that God purposed Christ as a propitiatory victim means is that God, because in His mercy He willed to forgive sinful men and, being truly merciful, willed to forgive them righteously, that is, without in any way condoning their sin, purposed to direct against His own very Self in the person of His Son the full weight of that righteous wrath which they deserved.

C.E.B. Cranfiled, The Epistle to the Romans 1-8 (Vol. 1) (International Critical Commentary Series), p. 217

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“In the West, we’ve lost the practice of lamenting. In contrast, the ancient Hebrews were constantly in God’s face.” Paul Miller

In Ruth chapter 1, upon the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons, her daughters-in-law request to continue living with her. But Naomi urges them not, saying, “No, my daughters, for it is more bitter for me than you that the hand of Yahweh has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). In light of this scene, Paul Miller comments:

Naomi makes us, with our Western cultural roots, a little nervous with her seeming disrespect of God. Yes, her life is hard, but should she blame God? Her open passion sends shivers down our stoic-tuned religious sensibilities, and we instinctively clamp down with our theology and say, “Naomi, God is orchestrating this. He’s in control. Don’t blame him.” Her grief and anger unsettle us and open doors to unbelief in our own lives. We’d rather quiet her with good theology. We think we’re comforting her, but maybe we’re trying to keep our own demons in place.

How does God respond to her accusations? In the context of the whole book of Ruth, Ruth’s love is God’s response to Naomi’s lament. God often uses human agents to show his love. So God weeps with her: “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again” (Ruth 1:14).

I remember many years ago at a pastors’ conference, a pastor opened up his heart and shared his struggles with cynicism and unbelief. He lamented, “What about me? What do I do with my heart?” The other pastors began offering advice—all except one missionary. He was so troubled, he interrupted them and said, “Our brother doesn’t need advice; he needs someone to weep with him.” Then he burst into tears and prayed for the struggling pastor. It transformed the conference.

What can we say to Naomi’s lament? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. We just weep with her. That is good theology, to weep with those that weep. God does not lecture Naomi. Nor should we lecture those who are grieving. It is a striking example of Jesus’ command to “judge not” (Matt. 7:1). Oddly enough, good theology drives Naomi’s frustration with God. She feels anguish precisely because she believes God is in control. In contrast, paganism resigns itself to the hand that fate deals us.

It is easy to have the wrong kind of resignation to suffering. Years ago, our daughter Kim would pace in the early morning because of her autism. My wife, Jill, would yell at Kim to go back to bed, and I would ignore Kim, just trying to get some sleep. On the surface, Jill’s yelling seems less spiritual than my silence, but the opposite is true. Jill was passionately engaged with something that wasn’t working. I shut it out. God can work with the former, not the latter. He can work with something that is moving, but not when our head is (literally) under the pillow. In fact, it was only because Jill yelled that I finally began to pray with Kim regularly.

In the West, we’ve lost the practice of lamenting. In contrast, the ancient Hebrews were constantly in God’s face. About one third of the Psalms are laments:

“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Ps. 10:1)

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Ps. 22:1)

“How long, O Lord, will you look on?” (Ps. 35:17)

“O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?” (Isaiah 63:17)

Such honesty seldom characterizes our praying. Our inability to lament is primarily due to the influence of the Greek mind on the early church. Greek Stoicism believed that the emotions—anything that interrupted the goal of a calm and balanced life—were bad. The passionate person was the immature person. Balance was everything. Naomi’s brokenness feels unbalanced, so instinctively we want to correct her tilt.

A lament grieves that the world is unbalanced. It grieves at the gap between reality and God’s promise. It believes in a God who is there, who can act in time and space. It doesn’t drift into cynicism or unbelief, but engages God passionately with what’s wrong.

Several pages later, Miller writes about Naomi’s complaint to God found in Ruth 1:20-21, where Naomi says, “Do not call me Pleasant; call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and Yahweh has brought me back empty. Why call me Pleasant, when Yahweh has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

In each stanza Naomi uses a different picture to convey her grief. In the first she compares herself to a clay jar; she left full and came back empty. In the second she uses the image of the law court, saying, “Yahweh has testified against me.” Not only is the Almighty her Judge, but he also witnesses against her. What recourse does she have when the court is stacked against her?

How do we sort this out? First, Naomi is being real, authentic. If she puts on a spiritual mask with God, she will be a hypocrite. God would no longer be accessible because the real Naomi would no longer be encountering the real God. Second, her faith in God drives her frustration with God. Because she believes that he is both good and powerful, she is in agony…

The church has not been particularly good at hearing laments from its broken people. Personally, I don’t like listening to laments. They are disorderly, unnerving. I like things tidy. Laments break the pattern of seemingly appropriate politeness to God. They feel out of balance.

When Jill and I were first married (we were eighteen and nineteen), she realized within six months that something was wrong with me. She wasn’t sure I was a Christian. Neither was I. I remember her lying in bed pouring her heart out in a desperate prayer for me. I hated her prayer. I recoiled from her outpouring of passion. Two years later God quietly changed my heart. God heard Jill’s lament.

Jill responded to my poverty of spirit with her own poverty of spirit. That’s what a lament does. That’s why I recoiled from it. The very thing I needed, poverty of spirit, was the shape of Jill’s lament. A lament puts us in an openly dependent position, where our brokenness reflects the brokenness of the world. It’s pure authenticity. Holding it in, not giving voice to the lament, can be a way of putting a good face on it. But to not lament puts God at arm’s length and has the potential splitting us. We appear okay, but we are really brokenhearted.

A lament functions like a mirror of the world. What is broken or out of balance is not the lament but the world. Motivated by clear seeing, a lament reacts to the mismatch between hope and reality, between heaven and earth…

Listening to a lament is a powerful way of loving someone who is suffering. By being present, by not correcting them or even offering our own unique brand of Christian encouragement (“It’s going to be all right–God’s in control.”), we give those who are grieving space to be themselves.

That doesn’t mean that Naomi’s judgment of God is correct. God is good and just. He will answer her frustration with more goodness. Naomi was interpreting God through the lens of her experience. She stopped in the middle of the story and measured God. A deeper faith waits until the end of the story and interprets experience through the lens of God’s faithfulness. Is this something we tell Naomi? No. It is what we tell ourselves. Good theology lets us endure quietly with someone else’s pain when all the pieces aren’t together. It acts like invisible faith-glue.

A lament fits God’s heart perfectly. God’s loves an open, honest heart, no matter how broken by life, even if theologically incorrect. How else could Jesus invite everyone who was weary and heavy laden to come to him for rest? He invites us to come as we are–all messed up–with our grief and our emotions. God not only did not condemn Moses’s and Elijah’s laments, but recorded them as part of Scripture (Ex. 5:22; 1 Kings 17:20).

Paul Miller, A Loving Life, (29-31, 47-9)

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Søren Kierkegaard on the “tragic misuse of biblical scholarship,” how it can drive God’s Word infinitely further from us than if we had never read it

Kierkegaard has just finished a section where he’s argued for the necessity of being alone with God’s Word in order to truly read God’s Word, and yet how so very few are willing to do so.

But, asserting defiantly that one certainly does dare to be alone with God’s Word, which nevertheless is not true, one can also defend oneself against God’s Word in a quite different way. Take Holy Scripture, lock your door–but then take ten dictionaries, twenty-five commentaries, then you can read it, just as calmly and coolly as you read a newspaper advertising. If, as you sit there reading a passage, you happen, curiously enough, to get the idea: Have I done this? Do I act according to this (of course, you can hit upon such ideas only in distraction, in an absentminded moment when you are not concentrating with your usual seriousness), then the danger is still not very great. Look, perhaps there are several variations, and perhaps a new manuscript has just been found–good Lord!–and the prospect of new variations, and perhaps there are five interpreters with one opinion and seven with another and two with a  strange opinion and three who are wavering or have no opinion, and “I myself am not absolutely sure about the meaning of this passage, or to, speak my mind, I agree with the three wavering interpreters who have no opinion” etc. Such a person does not get into the awkward position I am in: either to have to comply with the Word immediately or at least to be obliged to make a humbling confession. No, he is calm and says, “There is no problem as far as I am concerned; I certainly intend to comply–as soon as the discrepancies are ironed out and the interpreters agree fairly well.” Aha! That certainly will not be for a long time yet. The man succeeded, however, in obscuring the fact that the error is in him, that it is he who has no desire to deny flesh and blood and to comply with God’s Word. What a tragic misuse of scholarship, that it is made so easy for people to deceive themselves!

If there were not so many illusions and self-deceptions, certainly everyone would admit as I do: I hardly dare to be alone with God’s Word.

Alone with God’s Word–this must be, just as the lover wanted to be alone with the letter, for otherwise it would not be reading the letter from the beloved–and otherwise it is not reading God’s Word or seeing oneself in the mirror. That is indeed what we should do and the first thing we should do if we are to look at ourselves with blessing in the mirror of the Word–we should not look at the mirror but see ourselves in the mirror. If you are a scholar, remember that if you do not read God’s Word in another way, it will turn out that after a lifetime of reading God’s Word many hours every day, you nevertheless have never read–God’s Word. Then make the distinction (in addition to the scholarly reading), so that you will also really begin to read God’s Word or at least will confess to yourself that you, despite daily scholarly reading of it, are not reading God’s Word, that you do not want anything to do with it at all. If you are not a scholar, there is less occasion to be mistaken; so straightaway to the task, no delay in observing the mirror, but straightaway to looking at yourself in the mirror…

But nevertheless it is not human to give the matter a totally different turn: that I cunningly shove in, one layer after another, interpretation and scholarly research, and more scholarly research (much in the way a boy puts a napkin or more under his pants when he is going to get a licking), that I shove all this between the Word and myself and then give this interpreting and scholarliness the name of earnestness and zeal for the truth, and then allow this preoccupation to swell to such prolixity that I never come to receive the impression of God’s Word, never come to look at myself in the mirror. It seems as if all this research and pondering and scrutinizing would draw God’s Word very close to me; the truth is that this the very way, this is the most cunning way, to remove God’s Word as far as possible from me, infinitely further than it is from one who never saw God’s Word, infinitely further than it is from one who became so anxious and afraid of God’s Word that he cast it as far away as possible.

Søren Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination, 132-3, 5

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