Thursday, September 27, 2012

Podcast now on itunes

My podcast is now available on itunes. Please subscribe.

Is the God of the Bible immoral?

I have been listening to many atheist/Christian debates recently, and one thing I continue to find striking is the continual atheist insistence upon the immorality of the Triune God.

Atheists consistently point to the "immorality" of the Old Testament God. They will point to the conquering of Canaan and the allowance of evil in the world, etc. They also continue to point the immoral acts that Christians have committed in history such as the crusades, the inquisition, etc. (Which doesn't prove anything about the truth or falsehood of the Christian faith; rather it confirms the reality of human sin which the Scriptures testify to).

But in reality, if either the Christian position is correct or the atheist position is correct, the God of the Bible cannot possibly be immoral. Let me explain.

First, take the Christian position. If God exists, he is by nature the standard of moral absolutes. The moral law is a reflection of God's own nature. Since God is by definition the standard of good, anything God does or says is by definition good. Therefore, by definition, God cannot be immoral or do anything wrong or evil.

Second, take the atheist position. According to a purely materialist approach to reality, there is no absolute standard of morality. There are several attempts to identify some type of standard of morality such as the consensus of a certain social group, a utilitarian approach that the greatest good for the greatest number is a moral standard, etc. However one wants to slice it, there is no objective standard of morality inherent in the nature of reality. This being the case, there is no purely objective moral grounds to judge the God of Scripture as immoral. When one argues in such a way, they are arguing with the assumption of an objective moral standard, which is a human presupposition rather than something derived out of the atheistic system.

The only way that one can possibly argue that the God of the Bible is immoral is by admitting that there is another, higher, objective moral standard by which He might be judged. Thus it is possible for someone from another theistic system to argue for the immorality of the Biblical God (much like a Christian would argue for the immorality of the portrayal of Allah in the Quran), but not for the atheist. Of course this would lead to a whole separate discussion of the reliability of the respective authoritative books, etc.

The fact is that an atheist cannot argue for the immorality of the Biblical God without first presupposing an objective moral system, thus acknowledging some form of transcendence and absolute truth regarding morality. Thus one is inconsistent with their own system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Just and Sinner Podcast

I have been thinking for a while about doing a podcast. I finally decided to do it, so I bought a microphone and began recording. Here is my first episode: Episode 1

I asked what topic should be discussed on my first program, and the overwhelming response I received was for the doctrine of predestination; thus I did my first podcast on the topic. I hope to have a show out once a week. The second program is recorded and will be up next Wednesday. I want this to be primarily based on listener questions, and so if you have any theological questions you would like me to answer, or articles and videos you would like me to respond to, please ask.

The podcast will be on itunes within the next couple of days, and so you will be able to subscribe. All past shows will be on

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Upcoming Book

I just received word from Wipf & Stock that an edited version of my Masters Thesis will be published. The title of the work is The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul. I will keep you updated when I get a date for publication.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Priority of Justification over Sanctification

The following is a section from my chapter "New Life in Christ: Sanctification and Vocation" in my upcoming book on Reformed and Lutheran theology,

The primary reason why justification assumes a theological priority over sanctification is that it is a completed act. The work of justification establishes God's eschatological verdict of “righteous” placed upon the sinner. As Romans 4:5 states, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” As was discussed in the previous chapter, this text has specific reference to Abraham. In Genesis 12 Abraham was made an heir of the covenant, given the promise of being the forefather of the future messiah and the nation of Israel. Thus Abraham's journey of faith began earlier than the text Paul utilizes from chapter 15 wherein Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness. Paul explicitly labels Abraham as one who “does not work” and even calls him “ungodly.” This does not refer merely to the beginning of Abraham's life of faith, in which he would become godly and righteous by his own strength, but to the Abraham who had already left his pagan idolatry in order to serve God. Thus even after Abraham had some level of sanctification and displayed that through his good works, he is still labeled by Paul as ungodly, and is righteous apart from works. This demonstrates that justification is primary, not only in the beginning of the Christian life, but in one's continual journey in faith. Even after one is sanctified to an extent one can still be labeled as “ungodly” and “without works.”

There is a prominent pastoral concern in this discussion as well. As one progresses in the Christian life, rather than seeing victory over sin, one often struggles with the fact that the sins which should be done away with keep returning. The old Adam continually reasserts himself, bringing God's children back into the sin which previously enslaved them. If I as a pastor were to emphasize the work of sanctification and progress in the Christian life, one's state of mind would likely become that of despair. The progress that we hope to find in our spiritual journeys simply isn't there. Rather than pointing to that work of God which is still incomplete, that work by which God would still only be able to call his people “ungodly”, I as a pastor have a duty to point to that work of God which is complete, that work by which alone one will be received into God's kingdom and participate in the resurrection unto life. Alien righteousness is full and complete, and is the only thing which one can cling to in assurance that eternal life is a present possession, not the incomplete work of renewal which will only lead to the Christian's realization of their failure to progress as far as they should.

Paul demonstrates this principle in a pastoral manner in the first epistle to the Corinthians. Of all his letters, this is the one in which Paul deals with the broadest moral problems. The Corinthian congregation is struggling with sectarianism, sexual immorality, a lack of concern for the sins of others, and a tendency to take other Christians to court. Amidst this group of people, seemingly lacking the fruits of sanctification, Paul is willing to address them as “saints.” Even though they are full of obvious sin that Paul addresses throughout this epistle, they are righteous and holy people. After chastising the Corinthians for their tendency to desire taking others to a law court in order to settle church disputes, Paul warns them that those who practice wickedness will not inherit the kingdom of God. Rather than pointing them, then, to the sinfulness of their own lives, and the lack of fruit that they demonstrate, he reminds them of something which is a past reality. He states, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He reminds the Corinthians that even though they demonstrate all sorts of sin and wickedness within their congregation, these sins do not define who they are in Christ. Though previously slaves to sin, the Corinthians have now been baptized into Christ, they have been set apart, they have been declared righteous and their sins have been forgiven. Even in the midst of a situation of profound sin, Paul is willing to assure the Corinthian believers of their status before God by their baptisms and their justification.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Thoughts on Mercersburg Theology

I have recently been reading a lot on the "Mercersburg Theology" which arose from conservative Presbyterian theology in Pennsylvania in the mid 19th century. The two primary proponents were John Williamson Nevin, and the noted church historian Philip Schaff. The main thrust of Mercersburg theology was the quest for a reformed Catholicity. This was promoted through the use of historic liturgical practices and a recovery of the sacramental theology of John Calvin.

The most important book written by Nevin titled "the Mystical Presence" defends a view of the Lord's Supper which proposes that their is a real partaking of Christ mystically through faith in the Eucharist. Though negating the Roman Catholic and Lutheran insistence on the local presence of Christ's human nature, Nevin argues against the popular Zwinglian Princeton approach to the sacraments that one partakes of the whole person of Christ through the sacrament. This partaking involves the mediating work of the Holy Spirit, wherein mystically the Christian is raised through faith to partake of Christ's whole person. This act offers and brings forgiveness to the recipient.

Nevin's view of the Eucharist is heavily dependent upon his insistence that salvation is both legal and ontological. Integral to salvation is mystical union with Christ. This goes beyond the legal/covenantal union that many propose, and approaches the real-ontic union idea of Mannermaa. For Nevin, the benefits of Christ cannot be separated from his person. Thus, the benefits of redemption involve mystical union and participation in Christ which is exemplified in the Eucharist.

Another emphasis of the Mercersburg theologians was the insistence that salvation comes through the church. The strict visible/invisible church distinction of Hodge personalizes faith to such an extent that participation in the external church becomes almost a matter of preference, being separated from an individual act of faith which occurs apart from the ecclesiastical community.

There was a lengthy debate between Hodge and the Mercersburg theologians which would ultimately determine the future of the Presbyterian tradition in America. Hodge viewed Christianity as essentially adherence to specific doctrines, thus the purity of the church depended upon its acceptance of correct doctrine. Nevin and Schaff argued for a more organic view of the church, wherein the Christian faith is not centered in doctrine but life. This does not mean life as in moral transformation as in Ritschl, but the life of Christ and the eschatological life that he communicates through his person. Thus the church as an organic institution continually grows and becomes more sanctified. In the minds of the Mercersburg theologians, this would hopefully eventually result in the reunification of the church: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Reformed.

Ultimately, of course, the Mercersburg theologians were on the losing side of the debate. While Nevin's historical work regarding the Eucharist far outweighed Hodge's for a purely symbolic understanding, it was ultimately the Princeton tradition which would define Reformed theology in America.

I find it fascinating that there was (and remains) a movement toward catholicity within the Reformed tradition. I find this encouraging, but ultimately I don't believe that Reformed theology can solve the desire for catholicity. Nevin's emphasis on the incarnation as the paradigm for church life is correct, but ultimately cannot be sustained on Reformed principles. The Zwinglian principle that "the finite is not capable of the infinite" negates the possibility of a true Reformed catholicity. An incarnation-centric theology like that of Nevin and Schaff ultimately cannot stand within the Reformed tradition. To do so is to deny the central principle which divided the Lutheran and Reformed branches against one another. If you deny this principle, can you still be said to remain Reformed? I don't think so. It is not surprising to me that the Puritanical/ Princeton type of Reformed theology has been predominant. Attempts such as the Mercersburg movement and the Federal Vision movement to strike a balance between the two positions is impossible. Consistency ultimately must lean one toward Lutheranism or Princeton & Puritan theology. Either the finite is capable of the infinite or it isn't. There is no middle ground on this essential issue.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Review of "The Baptized Body" by Peter Leithart

Peter J Leithart's "The Baptized Body" is a fascinating read. Coming from the controversial "Federal Vision" movement, Leithart seeks to infuse a high sacramental theology into Reformed Christianity. His argument comes primarily through exegesis, though with a strong dose of Calvin references. Leithart argues that contemporary Reformed Christianity has deviated from both the Biblical and Calvin's understanding of baptism.

There are three main points that Leithart attempts to demonstrate in this text: "Baptism" is Baptism, "The Body of Christ" is the Body of Christ, and Apostasy Happens.

Leithart argues that all of the references to baptism in the New Testament are references to actual water baptism. Arguments to the contrary are groundless. They necessitate an arbitrary distinction between "water baptism" and "spirit baptism" which is absent from the text. Others argue for such a union between sign and signified that one can refer to the "sign" while intending that which is signified as the referent. As Leithart rightly points out, this approach is unwarranted and becomes an easy escape for any who deny sacramental efficacy to argue that any text about the effect of baptism is just playing word games and doesn't mean what it says. Especially illuminating and provocative is Leithart's argument that baptism is not a sign, nor is it a means of grace. Rather, it is a rite.

The second argument of Leithart is that the "body of Christ" is the body of Christ. In this chapter, Leithart proposes that the internal/external approach to the New Covenant and the visible/invisible church distinction are not valid Biblical categories. The phrase "body of Christ" is a reference to all who are in the corporate social community of the church. Thus, Leithart proposes that a better distinction would be between the historical and eschatological church. Though all in the visible community partake of Christ in some manner, not all of these people will share in the eschatological kingdom due to lack of faith.

Finally, Leithart argues that apostasy happens. In contradiction to the commonly understood definition of the Perseverance of the Saints, Leithart argues that one can have a true relationship with Christ and subsequently be cut off. He convincingly demonstrates that typical Calvinistic interpretations of falling away passages are unconvincing. Leithart does not, however, abandon the concept of predestination. According to Leithart, God does predestine the elect unto salvation and even predestines the apostasy of those who fall away.

Being a Lutheran myself, I had minor disagreements with Leithart's presentation; namely his insistence on double predestination and adoption of certain New Perspective on Paul views that I find unpersuasive. That being said, this is one of the best presentations of the doctrine of baptism I have read. Even if one disagrees, this book will cause one to think further through the issues and challenge common assumptions.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Lutheran Doctrine of Holy Communion

Here is another article I have written giving a historical overview of the 16th century Eucharistic debates and a defense of Luther's position. The Medicine of Immortality: The Lutheran Doctrine of Holy Communion

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Book on the Differences Between Lutheran and Reformed Theology

Once I compile that which I have written on my blog into articles dealing with different issues, I am hoping to get a book published. This will be a book dealing with the theological differences between the Reformed and Lutheran churches on numerous issues, and giving an exegetical and theological defense of Lutheranism.

The chapters I have done work on thus far are dealing with the following topics:

Part 1: Election and Free Will

The Extent of the Atonement
Apostasy and Perseverance
Distinguishing Mild and Strict Augustinianism

Part 2: Worship

The Eucharist
The Worship Service

Part 3: Soteriology


Is there anything else I should be dealing with that I have neglected? I would appreciate advice and recommendations.