canon sense

"every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Month: December, 2012

What happens when you eat bread and wine?

According to Calvin in Ronald Wallace’s Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Spirit, at the Supper God is:

“taking up into his activity an earthly action or event and uniting with himself for a moment, a human element.”

In other words, God spiritually takes residence in something earthly and imparts his life to feed us.  We often hear that God loves us, but this teaches us that God actually likes us, and is willing to use created stuff to communicate himself to us.


Torrance on Mediation

Reading Thomas Torrance’s The Mediation of Christ late last night it came upon me even more clearly that because Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, salvation means that I know the Father because Jesus has brought me into his relationship with the Father.  As Torrance says,

“the Sonship embodied in Jesus Christ belongs to the inner relations of God’s own being, so that when Jesus Christ reveals God the Father to us through himself the only begotten Son, he gives us access to knowledge of God in some measure as he is in himself.”

The foundation of our relationship with the Father is Jesus’ relationship with the Father.   He carries us into the world that he has always known and lets us know it as he knows it.


After listening to Bruce McCormack’s Kantzer lectures from 2011 my interest in him as a constructive evangelical Barthian has piqued. I am not sure what to do with him.

Post-metaphysical theology (PMT) is paradigm shifting to say the least, especially after having studied under Douglas Kelly, Sinclair Ferguson, and John Frame at Westminster and RTS.

The PMT argument I can follow.   One has to see the history that transformed the classic cosmological worldview (Copernicus to Galileo to Kepler) to the anthropological (Hume to Kant), then the shift from substance to subject and the rise of German Idealism (Hegel).  This gives rise to modern theologies obsession with the anthropos, the subjective, the experience, the historical and disdain for all metaphysical talk.  Lessings ditch is a b****. The basic argument as I see it is that post-metaphysical theologians do not want to be funded by resources from the world of Aristotle as mediated through Aquinas and all subsequent classical thought, especially scholastic theologians and the Westminster tradition.  These traditions they argue utilize tools from a world that is not commensurate with the biblical world.  In fact, they are an imposition on the God of the bible.  The trinitarian life of God (ad intra) they argue gets reduced to a metaphysical construal (simplicity, impassibility, etc.).

Part of me is like okay, but then again, I cannot help but wonder if there is a genetic fallacy at work here.  While the same tools of classical theology (think concepts, language) may be employed by theologians today, their present meanings and substance cannot be judged according to their past use.  They have to be understood according to their present context.  Bavinck for example, who was 32 when Barth was born, is someone who is fully in dialogue with classical thought (Justin, Augustine, Aquinas, etc.), yet is entirely biblical when it comes to funding these classical concepts.  While seeking to be truly catholic he is also truly Reformed and seeks to invest the classical language with the richest biblical content.  Bavinck, a man of retrieval, is also judicious man.

After reading Fred Sanders chapter on the The Trinity in Mapping Modern Theology, I noticed he tipped his hat to Bavinck, a book edited surprisingly by McCormack.  All this to say, the sensibility that has characterized the best theologians of the past is a catholic sensibility, one which Bavinck embodied.  Reformed Theology is at its best when it seeks to be catholic.  Post-metaphysial talk unfortunately makes me think that everyone has had it wrong until so and so came along, and this ain’t no catholic spirit.

Is science religiously neutral?

Philosophers of science like Kuhn and Polanyi have demonstrated that science, like most disciplines, operate within specific paradigms that are accepted by communities.  These communities work within that paradigm, collectively agreeing on specific theories, applications and instruments. In other words, science has its own set of rules, language, criteria, presuppositions and commitments. No duh, right.

Well the problem is, scientific communities often assume that their paradigm is “the paradigm.”  Sound familiar? Religious communities have been hearing this sort of stuff for centuries.  One communities dogma that differs from another communities dogma, it is the stuff of religion.

As well, as Hume and G.E. Moore pointed out long ago, there are certain things we cannot get out of observation (e.g. deriving ought from is), which therefore makes science a limited discipline.  So there are certain types of knowledge it can provide and certain types of knowledge it cannot provide.

In the end, if scientist and perhaps religious fanatics could self-consciously acknowledge the insights from Kuhn, Polanyi and Hume they could both help foster a much more amicable dialogue between religion and science.  Of course, as a Christian, I do think the Bible tells the truth.  Does it depend on a community?  Well that depends on which community.  One is human and the other is Trinitarian.

covenantal nostalgia

I hate taking pictures, but I do love the power of pictures.  Many of us keep pictures so that we can rehearse the past and retell old stories.  It’s a way to let the past invade the present and even steer the future; it’s where nostalgia comes from.

In the bible God uses pictures as signs to signify what he has done for us and for our salvation. From circumcision and the Passover under the Old Covenant to baptism and the Lord’s Supper under the New Covenant, God takes these pictures and tells us his story.

With the Noahic covenant God gives us the sign of the bow, which reminds us that God will preserve his creation, the stage where redemption is worked out. In a similar and more luminous way, Ps. 89 reminds us that God aligns the Davidic covenant with the sun and moon.

Both covenants have faithful witnesses and both covenants say, look up! Ps. 89 points to the sun and moon, and asks, are they still shining?  Are they still hanging high?  Have they ever moved?  As certain as these realities are, so is the throne of David and the so is the Son who sits on the throne.

In the same way, whenever we participate in baptism and eat the Lord’s Supper we are seeing water, bread, and wine as pictures.  And pictures as we know have power; power that renews us, strengthens us and gives us reason to continue living. This is holy nostalgia. And it’s nostalgia that will one day give way to permanence. In the act of having water move over our head, bread through our fingers and wine on our palate, we are bridging the past, present and future. And as Paul says with the Supper, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again.

God in the dark

We are often suspicious of God. At some level we are afraid that he is going to let us down, or already has.  At some level we think that God does not look like Jesus and therefore we do not believe Jesus has come from God.

Underlying this of course is the problem of sin; the dark world where we imagine God is absent .  In this maze of sin, we see hedges forming pathways with no way out. And in that maze we believe the lie that says we are all alone in an impersonal world with no one to trust and no way out.

But the gospel says the opposite.  It says, this world is not impersonal, but personal.  It says, you were created not to be suspicious of me, but to trust to me.

The gospel reminds us that despite our efforts to imagine a Godless world, Jesus has entered into our lostness and brought us out.  We are no longer in Egypt but headed over Jordan. But we are still in the wilderness.

on human persons

Scripture sees the human person within two situations; either under blessing or under curse.  In each the human person is corporately and covenantally situated.  Individuals are always understood in relation to a covenant head and therefore a community, whether that be in relation to Adam, Abraham, Moses, David or ultimately Jesus.

The modern human person is seen as autonomous, isolated and confident.

The postmodern human person while still seen as autonomous and isolated, has a radical loss of confidence.

Each has an impoverished view of the human person; isolated, separated and lacking a narrative.

To share the gospel is to share the gospel narrative of creation, fall, redemption and consummation.   While laughable to many, the Christian understanding of human persons is really the only narrative that takes human persons seriously.  It is a narrative that says isolation is sub-human. It is narrative that stands over autonomous human reason.  It is a narrative that says life is not about exile but about return.  It is a narrative of hope.

on suffering

Currently I am studying the book of Job for my Hebrew Poets class and we have been looking at various perspectives on the book, asking, what kind of book is it? Is it a lawsuit, a wisdom debate, a dramatized lament, or something like proto-apocalyptic?

While an important question for hermeneutics, the bigger question is the existential one; why did Job suffer?  Well we know one thing; he did not suffer because of personal sin.  This was the problem of his friends, as they operated within a mechanical deed-consequence nexus.  They were those miserable comforters.

In Job 9:32-33 (LXX), Job laments the fact that ” he (God) is not a man (ἄνθρωπος), as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter (μεσίτης) between us (Job and God), who might lay his hand on us both.” And in Job 28:20, Job asks, “From where, then, does wisdom (σοφία) come?”

Interestingly, in the LXX, the Greek word in 9:33 is the same word that Paul uses in I Tim. 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator (μεσίτης) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” And who is that stands in, a man, like Job and like Paul. And in Job 28:20, the wisdom (σοφία) that Job was looking for is the wisdom Paul found, for “Christ is the wisdom (σοφίαν) of God (I Cor. 1:24).

Job could not see in his day what we see today, but his groaning looked to that day. If there were one thing that Job could have wanted during his suffering, what would it be? Well, it is the one thing we do have.  Not miserable comforters, but a wise mediator.  Not a semi-divine figure, or a mystical sage, but one in whom the mystery of they hypostatic union takes place. The God-man.  And like Job, he is one that intercedes for his friends and offers the ultimate sacrifice; for he is our sympathetic high priest.