Monday, February 26, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 2)

If there's one thing that the "post-liberals" are good for, it's getting sound-bites from them. I mean, they know how to take difficult topics and condense them into poetic paragraphs that conjure up image after image after image. Consider these words by Walter Brueggemann from his book The Land:

"Place is space that has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and that provide continuity and identity across generations. Place is space in which important words have been spoken that have established identity, defined vocation, and envisioned destiny. Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against the unpromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detactment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom" (The Land, p. 4).

Part 1 of this post dealt with one verse in Paul (Romans 4:13) and the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Why, then, Part 2 you might ask? Foolish Sage posted a comment on Part 1 that forced me to further consider the issue (especially in light of the gnostic sentiment of one Reformed systematics professor). Foolish Sage's comment is as follows:

"I spoke with a seminary student just yesterday who was quite upset that her Reformed systematics teacher told her nothing we do for this present world counts for anything, since it is going to be completely destroyed and God is going to create a whole new world."

Again, the understanding beneath this systematics professor's comment is nothing less than gnosticism--that the earth and everything in it is useless (and meaningless) and all that counts are the ahistorical abstract ideas that float above the created realm.

First, the earth is the place where our Lord Jesus Christ was born, died and was raised to new life. It is also the place where YHWH made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (generation, after generation, after generation, etc.). Thus, Brueggemann's first statement finds support in this very fact: if the earth is good enough for God to live in, it's surely good enough for us as well, and it's surely good enough for Him to redeem. That's good incarnational theology! Second, followers of Jesus are told to go out into the world, making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! This lends support to Brueggemann's second point: Christians have a vocation in this world! Lastly, YHWH has said to his people, "I will be your God and you will be my people"...that's a promise! And Jesus said,"I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." Moreover, God's people have been asked to live in a certain way. You know, indicative-imperative stuff. Thus, the statement, "Place is space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made, and demands have been issued," is also a true statement about this place called earth.

So, does Christian-gnosticism win out? Not a chance!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Speaking Out of Both Sides of Your Mouth!
(or, Two-Faced!)

According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Idioms, the term, "to speak out of both side of one's mouth" means, "to say different things about the same subject when you are with different people in order to always please the people you are with." Then, the example that follows the definition is: "How can we trust any politicians when we know they're speaking out of both sides of their mouths?" What I found interesting was the relationship that the dictionary drew between the "untrustworthy" and the "politian." It's funny how the dictionary applied the term "speaking out of both sides of your mouth" to a politician and then labeled such a one, "untrustworthy."

What forced me to look up this particular idiom was what I believed the following statement was saying--a statement posted on the Westminster Theological Seminary homepage:

"Dr. Samuel Logan left the Westminster community at the end of January 2007. In appreciation and acknowledgment of Dr. Logan’s 27 years of devoted service to Westminster, we are honored to name him President and Professor of Church History Emeritus" (my italics).

A "President and Professor of Church History Emeritus" who's "[not part of] the community?" Hmmm? Interesting...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Promises, Promises! (Part 1)

A comparison reading of Romans 4:13 and Genesis 12:7 show us the eschatological mind of Paul's understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (And when I use the term "the gospel," I mean by it, "the good news about just what the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah of Israel affects/renews--individually, corporately, and as we'll soon see, cosmically.)

Romans 4:13 reads, "For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (NRSV).


Genesis 12:7 reads, "Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land'" (NRSV).

All that YHWH promised Abram in Gensis 12 was the "land of Canaan." Now, I don't know of a scholar who would say that the use of ha erats (the land) in the book of Genesis (particularly this verse in Gen 12) should be understood as "the entire earth," (cf. Walter Breuggemann's, The Land). What makes reading ha erats "globally" in Genesis 12:4 more difficult is that Abram is standing on the threshold of Canaan--a single plot of land in the Ancient Near East.

But of course Paul blows the doors off what all ancient commentators (both Jewish and Christian) believed about this passage. Paul's use of ho cosmos (the world) in Romans 4 goes far beyond the literal, physical earth. Moreover, it goes far, far beyond the promise given to Abram in Genesis 12. Paul now sees the gospel as an affectual and renewing means of "the entire cosmos!" Furthermore, Paul sees the gift as something far beyond Canaan, which is far beyond the original garden-gift to Adam. Paul would have said that Abram, Moses, David and every Jewish commentator (especailly Rabbinic) thereafter were extremely short-sighted! Why? Paul coundn't help but recognize the eschatological implications of the gospel. In Paul's mind, the gospel was nothing less than cosmic in it's scope (cf. Colossian 1).

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy President's Day!

I thought I'd celebrate "President's Day" this year by highlighting the current work of one president that I consider a friend, Dr. Samuel T. Logan. Sam is the former president and chancellor of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where he also taught church history for more than 25 years. He now serves as president of the World Reformed Fellowship (WRF), a free association of evangelical and Reformed churches from around the world. "WRF was formed to encourage understanding and cooperation among evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed denominations and institutions, and to link those institutions having ministry resources with those possessing vision but few resources. The fellowship promotes Reformed thinking, a Reformed world and life view, fosters evangelism and strategies on missions, church planting and theological education, and promotes international communication for the further advancement of the Gospel." WRF hopes

-to promote Reformed thinking and a Reformed world and life view;
-to inform and encourage churches and people who embrace the Reformed faith;
-to provide a forum for dialogue on current issues;
-to be able to offer direction to the evangelical Reformed community;
-to promote evangelization in the Reformed tradition;
-to maintain, strengthen, and defend the sound doctrines and
Biblical-theological tenets that distinguish us as Reformed Christians.

I became a member of WRF a few months ago for one simple reason: To get out of the American-Reformed plastic bubble and associate myself with Christians from around the world who are unlike myself (although, most everyone--according to Doug Green--are "unlike myself"). If, as Reformed Christians, we feel that we have something to offer the broader Christian world, then we should make it available. And that's what WRF is doing--sharing resources with and listening to the wider World-Christian voice, a voice that is becoming exceedingly louder with the expansion of the church in Africa and South America.

Sam, thank you for all your kingdom-work! Oh, and happy President's Day! (And, see you in San Paolo, Brazil in March!)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reformed Sacerdotalism (in Practice)?

Despite the fact that Christians of the Reformed (and broadly Protestant) persuasion insist that they (we) are non- or anti-sacerdotal, a closer look into Reformed (and Protestant) practices will reveal otherwise.

Since the time of the Reformation, most Protestant churches have shifted the aesthetics of their sanctuaries. Roman Catholic churches have always placed the Eucharist at the visual center of the sanctuary. Since the Reformation, however, most Protestants replaced the Eucharist with the pulpit. This had the effect of elevating (both spatially and psychologically) the preaching of the Word over the sacraments. Peter Leithart refers to this as making the sacraments "appendixes" to the preaching of the Word. This has, according to Leithart, forced Protestants to view the Sacraments as "expendable." In Against Christianity Leithart explains:

"So long as baptism and the Supper are seen as "appendixes," they will be seen as expendable. Characterizing baptism and the Supper as "appendixes" to the Word, further, is part and parcel of a Protestant tendency toward the "primacy of the intellect." It is rationalism, in that it reduces baptism and the Supper to a means of communicating information. But that is not what rituals are for."

Generally I agree with Leithart. Protestant churches (including Reformed churches) have not walked away from the Reformation unaffected by Enlightenment categories: The material realm is unnecessary, while the immaterial realm is all we need. "Faith" is all that matters; the ancient practices of the church mean little, if nothing at all. The "noumenal" and the "phenomenal" (to use Kantian terms) cannot interact on any level. (The Apostle Paul was diametrically opposed to this Kantian/Enlightenment/(even) Reformed reality! He saw that the truth of the gospel dispelled this Hellenistic heresy.) But the truth is, Protestant practices reveal something a little different (especially Reformed Protestants!).

While most Protestants will allow their center-stage pulpits to be filled by any Tom, Dick or Harry preacher (even if just once), they WILL NOT allow anyone except a duly ordained minister to preside over the sacraments! In other words, Protestants are sacerdotal in practice as opposed to their rhetoric. Therefore, it's safe to say that Protestant churches (especially Reformed ones) may need to rethink the place (and effect) of their sacramental theology (and the ministers who administer them) in the life of the church based on the fact that we don't preach what we practice!