Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hosting a Guest Blogger Next Week

by Doug Smith Have you ever considered making solid Christian books available in your local church? I greatly profited from the "bookstall" at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C. when I was there for the Weekender in September 2006 (you can see Noah Braymen, the current intern who just wrote about the September 2007 Weekender, looking at a book on the right side). I picked up some excellent books (including a couple of hard-to-find works) that have served as good resources. We use our Child's Story Bible quite frequently with our children. While in D.C., my friend John Beeler and I had the privilege of staying with the deacon of the bookstall. J. A. ("Jack") Ingold and his wife graciously hosted us in my first time ever living on Capitol Hill for several days. It was a delight to meet this brother and sister in the Lord, and we certainly were blessed by their hospitality. Jack loves books. You can tell that from his blog, Bookpress. You can tell that he cares about the content too, from this recent book review he did. He has some practical tips concerning the spread of good literature in the local church, and he will be sharing those ideas in a series of 6 posts next week. Please check back for some very helpful material in beginning what could be a valuable aspect of your church's ministry for years to come - one which has the potential to touch lives far and wide for decades or longer. I appreciate Jack's willingness to serve through writing these posts, and look forward to reading them next week. May the Lord use them to bring Him glory through the spread of His Gospel! Here's a photo (from left to right) of myself, John Beeler, and Jack.

A Tale of Two Churches

To take a little liberty with Dickens, "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times." At least that's how it seems in some ways when I consider this situation I am writing about in this article. Recently, I have become acquainted with two churches in two different cities that present a sobering lesson simply by their contrast. Also, this coming Lord's Day, September 30, is an important milestone for them both, as one ends and another celebrates a new beginning. I will not refer to their names or locations, but simply call them "church x" and "church y" here. Church x is disbanding. Their final service is this weekend. The work began a few decades ago. It is a doctrinally sound ministry with a faithful pastor who has labored 20 years among a congregation that has dwindled to a handful. They did not reach their decision overnight. They sought the Lord about this and their concerns were shared with others for prayer. It is a day in which they still wish to rejoice in the Lord, although in the midst of sorrow. Church y is dedicating its new building. This congregation has a history of about a century. Their historic meeting house was burned by arsonists some time back. They met in a community center in the interim time. They have been without a pastor for some time, although they are looking and praying. They are grateful to be in their new facilities and for God's provision in this matter. This church desires to exalt the Lord and be faithful to the Bible. They want to be a light to their community and reach people with the Gospel. Why does church x disband and church y dedicate a new building? Why cannot they both continue and go forward for the Gospel? We do not know all the answers. We sorrow with the one (church x) and rejoice with the other (church y). Yet for another reason we rejoice with both - and it is a reason that transcends us and the people we know in our time. Our reason for joy is a promise. The Son of God, the Messiah, the promised one of God who is the Word and our Sovereign King, the One who destroyed the work of the devil by dying on the cross for our sins and rising from the dead, guaranteed that He would build His church and the gates of hades would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). This is true even when a local church disbands. God's purpose still stands. We hate to see a lighthouse removed from a community. But we should rejoice in regard to church x that it has not brought reproach on the name of Christ through false doctrine or moral scandal. We should rejoice at the years of faithful labor. We should rejoice at what has been evidence of God's work and we should rejoice that there is work that has been done there that we will only know about in eternity. We should pray for the members that they will be quickly joined to another local assembly where they can faithfully serve and hear the Word faithfully preached. We should pray for the pastor that the Lord will encourage his heart and continue to use him. His labor has not been in vain. For church y, let us pray that God will bless them and that they will remain faithful to Him. May He bless them with a faithful undershepherd. May they grow much in His grace. In all these things, praise God that whatever happens with any local church, Christ will continue to build His church, the one He purchased with His own blood, and nothing will stop our omnipotent Lord. Things seem to be uncertain to us in times like these - times that seem the worst for some and the best for others - but the promise of Christ is guaranteed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Convention Time

I am in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a convention for Christian school teachers. I am looking forward to our general sessions, as Dr. Sam Horn will be preaching in two of them and Dr. Charles Keen in the other. I have heard recordings of Dr. Horn from the Mid-America Conference on Preaching at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Keen delivered a very God-centered message at a convention several years ago, applying the point of the David and Goliath narrative to show that our motivation for missions should be the glory of God and love for Him. These men represent the best in fundamentalism, and I am grateful for their commitment to the Lord and His Word, and I am very pleased that they have been selected and agreed to address us. May He use them greatly in preaching to us teachers! In the various workshops, I am planning to attend 3 of Dr. Horn's, another on music, and will be presenting two myself. I will be talking about the use of the do-re-mi's tomorrow and on Friday, I will share lessons for Christian school teachers from Isaiah 6. I would appreciate your prayers for a profitable convention for myself and the others who attend!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prayer Request for a Brother and His Family

I am finishing up a class this week, and so I am not planning to write for another week or so. I have had to put my weekly J. C. Ryle summary/interaction on hold until I get this class done, although I look forward to picking back up (hopefully soon).
However, if you came across my blog looking for something to read, let me point you to http://justinbuchanan.blogspot.com
Justin is a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a student pastor in North Carolina. I went to high school with him. He got to address his senior class and glorified Christ openly in his speech. He has a family, and recently underwent surgery to donate part of his liver to his young son. Please pray for his wife and other children and the recovery of Justin's son and Justin, and if you have time, check out his God-glorifying writing about this experience. He writes about how God knows all, and how God uses suffering in our lives to make us more like Christ.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Four Crucial Concepts for Understanding the Centrality of the Cross

by Doug Smith

The cross is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. It is what separates Christianity from other religions, and it is the hub from which our understanding of God, ourselves, salvation, and the Christian life originate. The cross is so essential that the apostle Paul wrote, “I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2) and that this Christ is “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

If Christ's death on the cross is so essential, then one should labor to understand it. To understand the cross, one needs to understand several key concepts in the Bible. These ideas include redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, and substitution.

Redemption

The language of redemption is the language of the marketplace. To redeem something is to purchase it as one's possession. The words translated as the words for redemption in the Bible are also frequently translated as the words for buying. When speaking of redemption, there is a purchaser, a price paid, and a thing purchased. Furthermore, the Biblical concept of redemption also has reference to the circumstances from which one is redeemed (the penalty of sin, its guilt, power, and presence, and the bondage of Satan).

By his own blood, Christ has purchased to God individuals from every people group of the earth: "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Revelation 5:9). Christ said he came "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). The word ransom means a redemption price. So, he laid down his life and bought a people with his blood (Acts 20:28, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14, Hebrews 9:12, 1 Peter 1:18-19).

But why were people in need of redemption? They needed redemption because they were subject to the consequences of sin, the curse of the law, and the bondage of Satan.

Christ came to redeem his people from sin. His name Jesus indicated this: "thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). He "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

Christ came to redeem his people from the curse of the law, God's righteous requirements rooted in his holy character. The curse of the law is the opposite of its blessing. Blessing was promised for obedience, but a curse for disobedience (Deuteronomy 11:26-28). "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). He came to fulfill the obedience we had failed to render and to suffer the penalty for our disobedience. He came to "redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:5). Christ also came to deliver us from the ceremonial system that foreshadowed his coming, and into the full liberty of God's children.

Christ came to redeem his people from the bondage of Satan. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). But does this imply that Christ paid a ransom to Satan? C. S. Lewis' book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe portrays Aslan, a Christ-figure, dying at the hands of the White Witch, who shares many parallels with Satan. Some leaders even in ancient church history have taught that Christ paid a ransom to Satan, but this concept has no ground in Scripture. John Murray writes, "The early fathers of the Christian church gave a prominent place to this phase of redemption and construed it in terms of ransom paid to the devil. Such a construction became fanciful and ludicrous. Its falsity was effectively exposed by Anselm in his epochal work, Cur Deus Homo" [Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 49].

Although Christ did not pay a ransom to Satan, it does not follow that the redemption Jesus purchased had no effect on the Devil. The first promise of a Savior in the Bible spelled doom for the Devil: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). Christ pronounced judgment on Satan on the way to the cross: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). When the people of Israel were said to be redeemed from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 15:13), there is no implication that Pharoah was paid a price. Egypt lost – its gods and king were put to shame; its army was destroyed; a huge slave labor force was no longer theirs; they even gave the Israelites goods as they left! Likewise, when God redeemed people from the bondage of Satan, he gave nothing to the Devil. Jesus was hardly subject to Satan in his work of redemption, but rather, destroyed him: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14).

This language of redemption should cause Christians to see themselves as the property of God and live accordingly, pleasing him in their conduct. "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Corinthians 6:20; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:23). "And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:30). The language of redemption should cause pastors to take special care to lead and feed the people of God. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

Reconciliation

The word reconciliation refers to the restoration of a relationship between God and sinners. It implies that there was an offense between two parties and that the cause of the change in relationship has been repaired, or made right.

Sin is what caused a breach in the relationship between God and men. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve welcomed God's presence and voice. After they sinned, they hid from God (Genesis 3:8). Isaiah describes the consequences of sin upon man's relationship with God in this way: "But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isaiah 59:2).

The Bible speaks not only of this problem of alienation between men and God, but of its solution: the cross. God reconciled sinners from being his enemies through the death of his Son. Furthermore, he reconciled sinners from his opposition to their sin by removing it from them through the blood of Christ. Reconciliation in the death of Christ has reference to the offending party (the sinner) and the one offended (God).

In regard to sinners as God's enemies, Colossians 1:20-21 speaks of Christ "having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled." Instead of being at "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7), those who are "justified by faith" are the ones who "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Romans 5:10-11 sets forth the death of Christ as that which reconciles God's enemies to himself: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement." The word translated as atonement in Romans 5:11 in the King James Version is translated elsewhere in the New Testament as reconciliation and is closely related to the word translated reconciled in Romans 5:10, and probably should be taken as reconciliation in Romans 5:11 as well.

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 speaks of God as having "reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." This God "made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Having done what was necessary to bring reconciliation between sinners and himself, God now has the message proclaimed through ambassadors for Christ: "be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Since God has done what was needed to make the relationship right between himself and sinners, Christians need to boldly proclaim the message of the Gospel and urge upon sinners the necessity to receive this reconciliation, to be reconciled to God.

Propitiation

Propitiation is hardly a common word among speakers of English today. At one time it was better known. Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary of American English offers these definitions of propitiation:

1. The act of appeasing wrath and conciliating the favor of an offended person; the act of making propitious.

2. In theology, the atonement or atoning sacrifice offered to God to assuage his wrath and render him propitious to sinners. Christ is the propitiation for the sins of men. Rom 3. 1 John 2.

If Webster's 1828 definition is correct, and the word propitiation accurately reflects the original word in the Biblical text, when one says that Christ is the propitiation for sinners, one is stating that God's wrath against sinners was satisfied with the death of Christ, as it was transferred to Jesus instead of sinners. But some are appalled at the idea of Christ's death satisfying the wrath of God.

Citing Harry Emerson Fosdick's sermon, Shall the Fundamentalists Win?, J. Gresham Machen wrote concerning liberal theologians, "They speak with disgust of those who believe "'that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.'"

C. H. Dodd argued that the word translated propitiation should be rendered as expiation, which means that Christ's death puts away sin and grants forgiveness, but says nothing about the wrath of God, which Dodd considered to be a paganistic concept foreign to the Christian God [J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 164].

Surprisingly, even some conservatives seem to have a problem with God's wrath. Some adopt Dodd's preference of expiation, while others attempt to redefine propitiation contrary to its Biblical and historical meaning. Kenneth S. Wuest plainly declares, "In its biblical usage, hilasmos [one of the words rendered as propitiation] means 'an expiation,'" and later states, "the thought is not that of placating the anger of a vengeful God, but that of satisfying the righteous demands of His justice so that His government might be maintained, and that mercy might be shown on the basis of justice duly satisfied" [Kenneth S. Wuest, Studies in the Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1945), 38-39, reprinted in Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Volume III (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973)]. Wuest also writes on page 39, "There is no thought here of God placating Himself, or of rendering Himself conciliatory to Himself, or of appeasing His own anger. The thought would be ridiculous." Warren Wiersbe wrote, "Propitiation does not mean appeasing God's anger; propitiation does not mean turning God's wrath into love" [Warren W. Wiersbe, Key Words of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1982), 48].

On the other hand, conservative scholar Wayne Grudem defines propitiation as "a sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in so doing changes God's wrath toward us into favor" [Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 575]. "The turning away of wrath by an offering," is the definition of propitiation given by Leon Morris, who argues that Dodd and others who argue for the word to be translated as expiation fail "to give sufficient attention to the biblical teaching" with its abundant evidence through the OT & NT for the wrath of God against sin [Leon Morris, "Propitiation," in Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 888]. Manford George Gutzke wrote, "Propitiation…has to do with turning away wrath by use of an offering" [Plain Talk About Christian Words, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1964), 65]. According to John Murray, "To propitiate means to 'placate,' 'pacify,' 'appease,' 'conciliate' … Propitiation presupposes the wrath and displeasure of God, and the purpose of propitiation is the removal of this displeasure. Very simply stated the doctrine of propitiation means that Christ propitiated the wrath of God and rendered God propitious to his people" [Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 30]. However, Murray argues that "propitiation is not a turning of the wrath of God into love. The propitiation of the divine wrath, effected in the expiatory work of Christ, is the provision of God's eternal and unchangeable love, so that through the propitiation of his own wrath that love may realize its purpose in a way that is consonant with and to the glory of the dictates of his holiness" [Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 31].

Even without the views of liberal theologians, there is enough significant disagreement among conservative teachers on the meaning of propitiation to remind us that we should search the Scriptures for the meaning of this word. So what exactly does the Bible teach about propitiation?

There are two Greek words that have historically been rendered as propitiation in English translations of the Bible. Hilasmos is found only in 1 John, translated as propitiation in 2:2 and 4:10. Hilastērion occurs twice in the New Testament, translated as propitiation in Romans 3:25 and rendered as mercy seat in Hebrews 9:5. A related word, hilaskomai, appears in Hebrews 2:17 as "make reconciliation for" and in Luke 18:13 as "be merciful," the prayer of the publican to the Lord.

The apostle John demonstrates that those who have fellowship with God will walk in the light, that is, in obedience (1 John 1:6-7). Those walking in the light will have their sin cleansed, but they must be honest and confess those sins, which God is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:7-10). He reminds his readers that they should not sin, but if they do, they have an advocate (paraklētos, the Greek word translated in John 14:16, 15:26, and 16:7 as comforter, that is, one who comes alongside to help) with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1-2). The forgiveness of sin and the help of Jesus Christ is based upon the truth in 1 John 2:2: "he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." One who is trusting Christ does not have to fear being separated from God. Though separated from God by sins, Christ was the propitiation for those sins. Because the righteous Christ became a propitiation for sinners, children of God have someone to help them, to grant forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9, 2:2). Since God promised the forgiveness of sin through the death of his Son, he is faithful to forgive sin. He is true to his word. Since those sins were punished on Christ, God is just, or righteous, in forgiving them. He is right to do so and not "crooked." So, propitiation has reference to the faithfulness and justice of God in putting away sins through Christ.

The same word for propitiation is found in 1 John 4:10: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 John 4:9 says, "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him." So, propitiation has definite reference to God's love. Christ became our propitiation because God loved us. He was sent into the world so "that we might live through him." Evidently the propitiation he accomplished enabled us to live by removing from us the penalty of death that we deserved for our sins. God removed this death from us so that we might live through the propitiation of his Son.

The occurrence of propitiation in Romans has clear reference to the wrath of God. But one must follow Paul's argument to see this. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul declares that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [or, suppress] the truth in unrighteousness" (Romans 1:18).

Furthermore, he goes on to demonstrate that "both Jews and Gentiles…are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:9-10). He argues that God revealed the holy demand so his law "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" since "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Romans 3:19-20). He explicitly states that a righteousness of God apart from the law is needed, because "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:21-23). Therefore God, freely (without any obligation on his part) declares people righteous as a gift (something that cannot be earned, bought, or deserved) "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24).

At this point the word propitiation appears. Christ is he "whom God hath set forth [as a public display] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:25-26).

God revealed his wrath against sinners. All people were in this category. It was impossible to be declared righteous by God through obedience to the law. Mankind was helpless, left to himself. But God provided someone else who could give mankind the righteousness needed. This was accomplished through Jesus Christ. He died as a propitiation so that if people would believe in him, their sins would be forgiven and they would be declared righteous. In accomplishing salvation this way, God is but righteous, doing no damage to his holy demands and character, and he is the one who declares righteous those who needed his righteousness but could not attain it except by receiving it through faith in Jesus Christ. The propitiation of Christ turned away God's wrath so that believing sinners would not be subject to the just punishment for their sin.

It is very telling that the same word translated propitiation in Romans 3:25 is translated as mercy seat in Hebrews 9:5, which speaks of "the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat." The mercy seat was the lid covering the ark of the covenant (or ark of the testimony); it was located between the wings of the cherubim (angelic creatures). The ark of the covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments and other reminders of God's witness and work among the people (as well as a reminder of their sin), was kept in the holy of holies, a place in the tabernacle (and later the temple), where God would manifest his presence, communicate with the priest, and receive a sacrifice for the sins of the people (Exodus 25:22, Numbers 7:89). Evidently, the propitiation of Christ is directly related to the mercy seat. But whereas access to the mercy seat was hidden, private, and restricted, the veil has now been torn asunder through Christ's sacrifice (Matthew 27:51), which was made publicly and openly, and the benefits of which are freely offered to all who will believe in him.

Related words to those translated as propitiation in the New Testament are used to translate terms relating to the atonement and mercy seat in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) [Notes on Romans 3:25 in Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent's Word Studies (1886)]. Leviticus 16, which describes in detail the Day of Atonement, has numerous occurrences of the word atonement and mercy seat. The reader is told in Leviticus 16 that the priest had to enter the holy of holies with a sacrifice for his own sins as well as for the sins of the people. Sweet-smelling incense was burned as an offering to God. Two goats would be chosen and lots cast to determine which one would be slaughtered and which one sent away as the scapegoat into the wilderness, symbolizing the carrying away of the sins of the people. The blood of a slain bull and the other goat would be sprinkled upon the mercy seat to make atonement, or a covering, for sin.

The wrath of God is the backdrop of the instructions for the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:1 mentions that "the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died." Nadab and Abihu, Aaron's sons, attempted to offer "strange fire" before God. He was not pleased, but killed them on the spot. They were not closely following his commands. In Leviticus 16, he gives specific commands concerning the timing and circumstances of entering the holy of holies to Aaron "that he die not."

In Hebrews 2:17, hilaskomai is translated as "make reconciliation for": "Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people." This word occurs again in Luke 18:13 in the publican's prayer: "And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."

It would appear that the concepts of atonement, making reconciliation for the sins of the people, and God showing his mercy to sinners, are all bound up in the concept of propitiation. The Biblical data supports the definition of propitiation as a sacrifice which satisfies the holy and just demands of God and which removes his wrath from sinners who trust in Christ. Men like Fosdick and Dodd plainly ignore or hate the clear teaching of the Bible in this area. They certainly do not do justice to its teaching. Perhaps writers such as Wiersbe and Wuest manifest a misguided effort to avoid making God seem like a pagan deity (arguing that he is not angry at sinners), but to accomplish this goal, they ignore plain Scriptural teaching (such as Psalm 7:11, where God is said to be angry with the wicked every day), make God's law something external to himself, and misrepresent what the word propitiation actually means in its biblical usage.

While some argue that different language might be useful instead of the word propitiation, it is difficult to find another English equivalent. Mark Dever writes:

Douglas Moo of Wheaton College Graduate School affirmed that "sacrifice of atonement" is a good rendering—neither too restrictive, nor too vague. Thomas Schreiner of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary prefers "propitiation" in order to retain a clear reference to God's wrath, which is alluded to in the preceding chapters of Paul's argument" ["Nothing But the Blood," Christianity Today (May 2006, Vol. 50, No. 5), 29. Available online at <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/may/9.29.html>]

Propitiation should not be watered down to only mean expiation, but should include the full idea of its Godward nature – God was propitiated, or appeased, by his own loving design (not by our works), through the sacrifice of Christ which absorbed his righteous wrath against sinners. It is both a display of his love and wrath which accomplished the removal of our sin and satisfied him completely.

Since God, in his great love, has put away his wrath against sinners in Christ, the Scripture teaches the necessity of accepting this propitiation through faith in Christ (Romans 3:25), and teaches Christians "to love one another" (1 John 4:11).

Substitution

The concepts of redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation in the death of Christ are connected by the idea of substitution, a key component of the Christian gospel. Yet some deny this. In their book, The Lost Message of Jesus, Steve Chalke and Alan Mann deny that Christ died as the substitute for sinners with these words: "The fact is that the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse--a vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed" [Cited in R. Albert Mohler, "Has the Message of Jesus Been Lost?" Commentary for Wednesday, April 27, 2005 <http://www.albertmohler.com/commentary_read.php?cdate=2005-04-27>; cf. Mark Dever, "Nothing But the Blood," Christianity Today (May 2006, Vol. 50, No. 5), 29. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/may/9.29.html>].

Erroneous views on the doctrine of substitution are not new. This teaching has been neglected, misunderstood, or denied for centuries. But sometimes error appeared in surprising places. Puritan Richard Baxter held an alternative view of the atonement that omitted substitution. "[Baxter] explained Christ's death as an act of universal redemption (penal and vicarious, but not substitutionary), in virtue of which God has made a new law offering pardon and amnesty to the penitent. Repentance and faith, being obedience to this law, are the believer's personal saving righteousness" [J. I. Packer, "Introduction," in Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, ed. William Brown (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 10.], and the famous evangelist Charles Finney, often touted as a stalwart of the faith, flatly denied that Christ's death actually atoned for sinners [Phillip R. Johnson, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: How Charles Finney’s Theology Ravaged the Evangelical Movement” <http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/finney.htm>].

The Scriptures give such clear teaching about substitution that there can be no denial of this doctrine without doing violence to the Gospel message, and there can be no neglect of it if one is to do justice to the truth of the Gospel.

As early as Genesis 3, an innocent animal was killed because of the sin of Adam and Eve. The innocent animal (or animals) suffered death to give coats of skin to the guilty pair. The whole concept of substitution was fundamental to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. When an animal was given as an offering to God and killed, that animal suffered in the place of the person who gave it. The innocent animal died for the guilty sinner, getting what the human deserved.

One of the clearest pictures of substitution is that of the scapegoat. On the Day of Atonement, two goats were taken in this ceremony of atonement for the sins of the people. The lot was cast to choose one goat as the sacrifice and the other to be sent away into the wilderness, symbolically carrying away the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:7-22). The ceremony is described this way:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22)

Christ's death was foretold in terms that teach substitution. Isaiah 53 reverberates with the language of substitution. The suffering servant is the one who has "borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (verse 4), and who was "wounded for our transgressions," "bruised for our iniquities," and had upon him "the chastisement of our peace" (verse 5). "The LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (verse 6); "for the transgression of my people was he stricken" (verse 8). Isaiah makes it clear that this suffering servant is not suffering for his own sin, "because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth" (verse 9). The "righteous servant" would "justify man; for he shall bear their iniquities" (verse 11). He was "numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many" (verse 12).

The concept of substitution underlies the idea of redemption. For example, Galatians 3:13 says that "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." The plain meaning is that Jesus bore our curse as a substitute. Christ "gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

Substitution is fundamental to reconciliation. The reason Paul can beg people to be "reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20) is because God has made Christ "to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The concept of substitution is inseparable from Christ's death being the "propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:2). It is he who put away God's wrath in our place to secure his favor for us.

Other passages indicate the substitutionary nature of Christ's death. Jesus said that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15). Paul indicated that substitution is part of the Gospel message: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). This same apostle wrote that Christ was the one "who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Peter wrote that "Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).

The Passover ritual in the Old Testament required a lamb without blemish (Exodus 12:5). This sacrifice was innocent and without blame, and died in the place of the firstborn child, when Israel was about to leave Egypt. 1 Corinthians 5:7 says that "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." Christ is truly the "lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). He was innocent and blameless, without any sin. Hebrews 7:26-27 describes the kind of substitute sinners actually needed to take away their sin. They needed one who is both priest and sacrifice, who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself."

The truth of substitution is good news for the world. It means that someone has taken the punishment for their sin if they will believe in him. It means they do not have to try to get God's favor based on their performance, but can receive it as a gift based on what Jesus Christ did on their behalf. It means their only hope is in one who fulfilled all that sinful man had failed in and who suffered the wrath of God that sinful man deserved.

Conclusion

The cross is the centerpiece of the Christian faith. Christ's death on the cross accomplished what no amount of human effort could do. Christ suffered in the place of sinners to purchase them for God, to restore the relationship between them and God, and to satisfy the wrath of God on their behalf. These doctrines of redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, and substitution should be defended and proclaimed and believed. The death of Christ is at the heart the Christian faith and must be kept central if one is to be faithful to God. To deny them is to deny God and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and abandon truth that distinguishes Christianity from false teaching.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Resources for Study On the Canon of Scripture

compiled by Doug Smith

I have been working on a project for my hermeneutics class on the canon of Scripture. Here are some links to resources that have helpful material about this subject. This is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully someone will find this to be a good place to start. Most of the links are for ordering the items, but a few resources are downloadable for free.

Books and Articles

· “Bible Formation and Canon” in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Edited by Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2003. pp. 200-202.

· Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988. (Standard Reference on this topic)

· Carson, D. A. and Douglas Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. pp. 726-743.

· Dockery, David S. and David P. Nelson, "Special Revelation," in Daniel L. Akin, ed. A Theology for the Church. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007. pp. 164-171.

· Edwards, Brian. Why Twenty-Seven? – How Can We Be Sure That We Have the Right Books in the New Testament? New York: Evangelical Press USA, 2007. (EXCELLENT)

· Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Revised and Expanded. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986. pp. 203-320.

· Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. pp. 57-72.

· Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000. pp. 388-396.

· House, H. Wayne. Chronological and Background Charts of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. pp. 16-24 (16-17 gives NT dates written, 22 gives canon in 1st 4 centuries, 23 gives Patristic quotations).

· McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999. pp. 17-32.

· Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988. (Standard reference on this topic)

· Ryrie, Charles C. Basic Theology: a Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1988. pp. 105-109.

· Trueman, Carl. “The Marcions Have Landed! A Warning for Evangelicals.” Evangelicals Now, March 2003. Online: <http://www.e-n.org.uk/2105-The-Marcions-have-landed.htm>

· Walton, John H. Chronological and Background Charts of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994. p. 12 (gives chronology of books).

· Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations: the Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999. pp. 100-164. (GREAT REFERENCE)

· White, James R. Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible’s Accuracy, Authority, and Authenticity. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004. (very helpful, especially on Gnostic gospels)

Websites

Resources for conforming our lives to the canon of Scripture

Please remember that the inclusion of a resource in this list is not a blanket endorsement of all its contents or all other writings of these authors. Let us always be Bereans (Acts 17:11).

From Justin Taylor's Blog: Explaining the Imprecatory Psalms to a Child

From <http://theologica.blogspot.com/2007/09/explaining-imprecatory-psalms-to-child.html >: How would you explain the imprecatory psalms to a child? Here is F. G. Hibbard's account:

I happened to be reading one of the one imprecatory psalms [in family worship], and as I paused to remark, my little boy, a lad of ten years, asked with some earnestness: "Father, do you think it right for a good man to pray for the destruction of his enemies like that?" and at the same time referred me to Christ as praying for his enemies. I paused a moment to know how to shape the reply so as to fully meet and satisfy his enquiry, and then said, "My son, if an assassin should enter the house by night, and murder your mother, and then escape, and the sheriff and citizens were all out in pursuit, trying to catch him, would you not pray to God that they might succeed and arrest him, and that he might be brought to justice?" "Oh yes!" said he, "but I never saw it so before. I did not know that that was the meaning of these Psalms." "Yes," said I, "my son, the men against whom David prayers were bloody men, men of falsehood and crime, enemies to the peace of society, seeking his own life, and unless they were arrested and their wicked devices defeated, many innocent persons must suffer." The explanation perfectly satisfied his mind.

F. G. Hibbard, The Psalms Chronologically Arranged, with Historical Introductions; and a General Introduction to the Whole Book , 5th ed. (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1856), 120. Cited in John N. Day, Crying for Justice: What the Psalms Teach Us About Mercy and Vengeance in an Age of Terrorism.

More on the Weekender at CHBC

I thought I had done a pretty comprehensive article on the Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church that I attended a year ago. At least, it was a profitable way for me to revisit and encapsulate what I had learned. Well, Noah Braymen, who is presently an intern and was at the Weekender with me last year, has far exceeded my article for comprehensive coverage, detailing the events of this past weekend. I have not had time to read them all yet, but am looking forward to doing so: Noah, thank you for this helpful service! This is a great event for present/future church leaders to attend.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Second Life, Disembodied Evangelism, and Other Considerations in Sharing the Gospel of Christ

Our church just held its third monthly men's theology discussion meeting. We gather on a Saturday morning to consider a topic and its application to us. In July, we discussed the Christian Sabbath. In August, we began a discussion of evangelism and concluded it this past weekend. Involved in this profitable discussion were visitors, other pastors, and a staff member of Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship. They contributed a good deal to the conversation in addition to what men from our church brought to the table. What follows is an unofficial distillation and summary of that conversation mixed with some expanded thoughts of my own mixed in.
What Is the Gospel?
We discussed the need to know what the Gospel actually is. It is good news. It is about someone who actually did something. The first promise of the Gospel, Genesis 3:15, reveals that it is fundamentally about One who would actually accomplish the crushing of the serpent's head. Jesus Christ, the God-man, died and rose again so that our sins could be forgiven and we could receive eternal life. But there are other things we need to share for this to be understood as good news. People need to know who they are as sinners, and who God is. God created all things for His pleasure, and made man in His image, to reflect His glory. We must set before people the holiness, perfection, and majesty of God and show them the stark contrast of it with their sin.
By sin, man misrepresents God. Instead of communicating that God is good, wise, trustworthy, and has authority over us, sin sends the message that God is not good since He denies us something that we want, that God is not wise, that we can't trust God, and that we don't have to obey God but can do our own thing. It is slander and treason against the King of the universe and worthy of eternal death. Sin cannot be seen as "no big deal" or something to simply be overlooked when we consider it in this light. And this pertains to those who outwardly appear as moral persons as well. They are not "being good" for God's glory, but are living for themselves. They desire to avoid negative consequences, to live longer, to be more successful, to gain a good reputation for themselves, instead of living to make God known and show Him as supremely valuable and worthy of worship.
The law shows us how these things personally apply to us. When we look at the commandments and at Jesus' explanation of them in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, we should realize that we do not measure up to God's perfect standard and that we are guilty in His sight. There is no way that we can make amends and fulfill His demands upon our lives. That's bad news. But that's why the Gospel is good news.
The Gospel is also a call to commitment. It is not a mere intellectual decision that amounts to what the demons have (James 2:19). It is a call to repent of our sin and trust in Jesus. This call is both an invitation and a command. In regard to the invitation aspect, we should not see it as an invitation to a pancake breakfast by a social club, but as an invitation to appear before the President, only much more commanding of our attention!
In sharing this message, it is appropriate and even necessary to clarify that this is not an additive or something to make our lives more comfortable. It is not "ask Jesus into your heart" and then go your merry way. It is about having God's wrath against our sin dealt with. It is a call to die. It is a call to forsake our sin and embrace Christ. It is a summons to cease our rebellion and become followers of Jesus. We must not spread the false idea that discipleship is a later option for a believer. If we come to Christ, believing, we are to follow Christ. This is the inevitable fruit of a changed heart. It doesn't mean that we do a meritorious work to get God's favor or that we are perfect in thought and deed in all ways immediately after trusting Christ, but it does mean that we actually are relying on Jesus Christ as our righteousness and the One who came to deliver us from sin.
The Centrality of the Local Church in Equipping the Saints
Christ died for the church. We should see it as important, and such a view takes concrete expression when we are committed to our local church. In this context we should get equipped to share the Gospel. Parachurch ministries can be helpful, but they should not be allowed to usurp the place of the local church. There is an accountability and opportunity for further growth and involvement in one anothers' lives that an evangelistic crusade or parachurch ministry cannot fulfill. In connection with local churches, some good can come of parachurch ministries in evangelism. God can certainly use any means He likes! But the mess left by some evangelistic events or the concept that evangelism is something we go and do somewhere else (on a special trip, for instance) is not helpful in building up the bride for which Christ died.
Thinking about Our Hearts and Our Responsibility
This responsibility is for pastors and the people of the church (Acts 8:1-4). We should be motivated to share because, as Piper argued in Let the Nations Be Glad, the reason missions and evangelism exist is because there are people who are not worshiping God - He deserves worship, and they need Him.
We must not only be motivated, but we must also be prepared (1 Peter 3:15) to share the Gospel. This involves making sure we are cultivating our relationship with the Lord and have right relationships with others. It is easy to clam up when we are not spending time with God in the Word and prayer as we ought or when there is discord between us and others. For me, I know of nothing that has cooled my love and boldness more than neglect of spiritual disciplines. We ought to share when we have opportunity. But we ought to cultivate hearts that are prepared and eager to tell this good news. In addition, we ought to regularly pray for particular persons and be looking for appropriate avenues to meet them, build relationships with them, and share the Gospel with them.
Thinking about Methodology
How are we to share the Gospel? As we discussed this, we concluded that some methods are inappropriate, but that we do need to be sharing. We also concluded that some methods may not be best for everyone. Some may be better geared for "in-your-face" kind of evangelism, whereas others may better serve by having a serious talk with someone over a cup of coffee.
Going to something along the lines of Mardi Gras, for instance, would probably be quite unhelpful. We have no example of the apostles going to places of orgiastic, pagan worship. This would also relate to setting up displays at conventions where the purpose is to promote the industry of pornography. One could easily be placed into a compromising situation in these contexts. We tended to agree that crashing someone else's party is not the best approach to evangelism.
We discussed some things that might not be for everyone. I don't think any of us would be comfortable with "beach evangelism" but perhaps that's something that some people could do and still maintain their purity (but I doubt it would be a group of teenage boys!). We discussed David Platt's practice of setting up a "We will tell your fortune for free" booth next to a fortune teller. Is this a deceptive peddling of the Gospel, or a legitimate approach? It sounded like they were simply using this as an inroad to get to the Gospel, like Jesus talking about water with the Samaritan woman. His goal was not merely to talk about water and trick her into spiritual things. Instead, He was using a time-tested method of communication of starting where people are and explaining the unknown by the known or the unfamiliar by the familiar. Is there a direct parallel here? I don't know. Does setting up such a booth cheapen the Gospel, like pathetic piggy-back slogans taken from the advertising of the world, such as "This blood's for you" (replacing the brand name of a beer with the word blood)? I'm not sure. But it may be something that those who have a good conscience can engage in and others of us may take another route.
Let us be sure we are taking a route to share the Gospel. Let us not deserve the answer to critiques of others' methods that they like the way they do evangelism better than the way we don't do it. The important thing is that we actually do communicate the Gospel faithfully and clearly.
Paul went to places with a variety of ideas. Mars Hill - the contemporary counterpart of which may be National Public Radio, according to some - was a place for the hearing of ideas. They were looking for new and novel things. They might be false ideas, but it was a sort of open forum for all kinds of thought. Paul presented the Gospel in this context with clarity, and not as one option among many. Thankfully, others have done similar things - such as the faithfulness of John MacArthur in presenting the truth clearly on Larry King Live, for example.
Another idea was that of going into liberal churches. A place where the gospel is not preached faithfully might provide a ripe field for evangelism for a prepared evangelist who attended the Sunday School gatherings there with the purpose of challenging false teaching and disseminating the Gospel, and possibly stirring up some major changes. Jim Renihan calls this "synagogue splitting," and this certainly appears to have precedent in the book of Acts!
Although we see connections with the past (confronting ideas in public forums and telling the truth to the religious), there are also modern, contemporary challenges to the philosophy and practice of evangelism. I posed a hypothetical situation that others have actually discussed in reality. What if a converted teenage boy asked his pastor about the legitimacy of sharing the Gospel via a virtual reality program like Second Life? The sage counsel our elders would give amounts to the following:
The incarnation is the answer to this question. Christ came in the flesh, not as an avatar [the term for the virtual persona]. We have been given a real life, and many of us don't have enough time in the day to live it, much less a second, third, or fourth life. This is disembodied evangelism.
We also talked about the matter of a "virtual" conversion. If your avatar shares the Gospel with someone else's avatar and that avatar becomes a believer, then the person controlling it could say that his avatar was saved but he was still on his way to hell! Personally, I think this is a way to justify an addiction to electronic media, one of the idols of our day. It simply legitimizes and "sanctifies" a pastime that no one really has time for if he or she is accomplishing anything significant in life and maintaining meaningful relationships with real people.
Our pastor emphasized the need for us to be deliberate in evangelism. We should be ready to share the Gospel, but we won't do it without intentionally making an effort. And when we do share it faithfully, we can leave the people with God. It is not a failure if we have been clear in telling the truth. We cannot force people into conversion. We don't have to feel guilty for not leading them in a prayer, but at the same time, we should make clear that the good news of Christ calls for a response. It is not mere knowledge to be added to the things we already know. It is an an announcement of fact, but it is also a summons to act and commit ourselves to Him.
A personal testimony can be a useful way of sharing the Gospel. Paul did this on multiple occasions (such as Acts 22). This is not something that requires a lot of training! It is not wrong to involve our own experience here, although we should explain that these things are true in themselves, and counter the response of "well, that worked for you."
We need to remember that there are basic truths and terms people do not understand. Avoid theological jargon unless you can carefully explain it. Make sure that you are actually communicating and not talking past people.
Let us not live as though we believe in the power of total depravity more than in the power of the Gospel to save. Let us seek to take the good news to the lost. As for results, we must trust God to use His Word. We must be patient, not expecting microwave results, but remembering how many of us heard the Gospel repeatedly before trusting Christ. We must believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16-17).
Resources
Some resources that some of us have found useful in understanding evangelism include:
In the conclusion of our time, we asked for prayer that we would be delivered from the fear of what others think and from a lack of love for God and others that stifles the faithful sharing of the good news of Christ.
I am grateful for this ministry of our church, and look forward to next month as we look at the Biblical basis and practical implications of the doctrine of the Trinity.