Author Archives: pgroach

Jonathan Edwards: Distinguished Marker of Works (Spiritual and otherwise)

[This is a guest post by Pat Roach. Pat is a Th.M. student at Western Seminary and pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR. Pat is participating in this summer’sTh.M. seminar on Jonathan Edwards.]

We are just on the other side of the of the annual posting of college commencement speeches, but if you find yourself still needing to scratch that itch, then friends I give to you Jonathan Edwards.  In particular, his commencement address at Yale College in 1741 entitled The Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God (hereafter TDM). And in case you were wondering, the graduation speaker at Yale in the year of our Lord 2011 was Tom Hanks. Moving on…

In TDM, Edwards sets out to give a rational and Biblical defense of the revivals that had recently occurred throughout New England. He begins with an explanation of nine things that can not necessarily disqualify (or qualify for that matter) an event as a work of God’s Spirit. For example, he writes, “What we have been used to, or what the church of God has been used to, is not a rule by which we are to judge whether a work be the work of God, because there may be new and extraordinary works of God.”  Edwards is saying that it is not enough to point out “we’ve never done it like that before,” and then consider the issue closed.  God is free and not always “traditional” in the way He operates. Likewise, and these follow from his first point, just because a congregation gets emotionally worked up, has “great impressions on their imagination,” and copy one another’s behavior, doesn’t mean that the Holy Spirit is not working.  He might very well be producing those exact effects.  You have to explore deeper to discern Spiritual substance.  I have to say this portion of the address was a pleasure to read, if for no other reason than seeing Edwards mind work on paper through the issues and counterarguments he anticipates. Edwards’ writing weaves together pastoral wisdom, Scriptural reasoning, and starchy Puritan tendentiousness.

He then goes on to outline positive markers of the Spirit’s work in reviving His people.  The people’s esteem of Jesus is raised, they experience revulsion against personal sin, give greater attention to Scriptural teaching, and they have deeper love for others.  On this last positive marker of love, Edwards addresses a false kind of affinity that is possible in revivals, and he perceptively writes, “There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasms a kind of union and affection that appears in them one towards another, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing with one another in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and for which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind; which naturally will cause them so much the more to prize the esteem they observe in each other, …”  This kind of love, he concludes, is not Christian love and “no true benevolence, any more than the union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates that are at war with all the rest of the world.”  Edwards has not mindlessly drunk the Kool-Aid. He recognizes the abuses and false signifiers of spiritual renewal that can emerge, and wants to uproot them and cast them off.

Yet, one thing does he lack…a sense of mystery about history.  In TDM Edwards categorizes the New England revivals as redemptive-historical works, and as precursors to Christ’s Second Advent. Describing the unusual features of the recent revivals, he says, “we have reason from Scripture prophecy to suppose, that at the commencement of that last and great outpouring of the Spirit of God…the manner of the work will be very extraordinary.” In short, “Our revivals have weird stuff. Weird stuff will be happening at the end of the age. This must be the end of the age.” From there, he goes on to warn those who oppose revivals that in so doing they hinder the work of the Spirit.  He compares them to the first-century Jews who opposed Christ, and finally warns dissenters that they are in danger of being guilty of the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit. He is that sure that the revivals are heaven sent.

And this is where Edwards’ overreaches. Or, he should at least be willing for the revivals to be measured by the same stick as the redemptive-historical events of the 1st century, to which he links them. Did the revivals produce long-term righteousness in the lives of the participants? Edwards himself despaired of this, as time wore on.  Did the Spirit cobble together thriving (renewed) ecclesial communities as a result of the revivals, as at Pentecost? Sadly, Unitarianism soon weakened the churches in New England. Did Edwards Himself attribute to the Holy Spirit works that were not His?  That would be claiming too much.  That would be too Edwardsean.

In TDM Edwards apparently had no reservations about seeing in the current events of history – and his congregation’s collective life – the immediate, and discernible activities of a very busy, and present God. Yet today, for the most part, similar claims by Christians would be viewed with no small amount of suspicion. Are we are too conditioned to understanding history, and our the events daily lives, materially? Or is this reluctance to “interpret” actually a function of faith, not presuming to give definitive readings of the Spirit’s sovereign moving? What do you think?

[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]


Book Giveaway – Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey

Recently I received in the mail a free copy of Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey.  According to the author, her book is an examination of the worldview of secularism, and she offers resources for helping Christians to “resist the secular assault on mind, morals, and meaning.”  You might find this book helpful personally or in your ministry.  You might find it to be a good example of the wrong kind of approach to worldview thinking.  Either way, it can be yours by the end of the week.  I’d like to offer to one reader of this blog an opportunity to take this book home for free.

Here is all you have to do to win: write a one paragraph (4-5 sentence) response to the question: What does it mean to have a Christian worldview?  Your answers should be given in the “response” section below.  No more than one entry per person. The last day to enter your answer is 5 p.m. PST, Friday April 29th.  The answer I like best will be the winner – and it doesn’t mean the one I necessarily agree with, either.

Here’s the trailer for the book:

Discipleship test – Can your church produce apostates?

Could apostasy actually be a sign of a healthy church?

Lauren Winner of Duke Divinity School recently considered the situation of writer/director Paul Haggis’ defection from his faith. Haggis bitterly – and publicly – left the Church of Scientology because of his disagreement with them over gay marriage (turns out Scientology is not a fan).  Haggis now counts as an “apostate” from Scientology because he has renounced them and their teachings.  So why does Winner care at all about any of this?  Because it helps her think about her own church (Episcopalian) and the rigor (or lack, thereof) it takes to be a part of it.  She writes,

So while I appreciate that my church makes room for patchwork, for doubt, for moving in and out, some days I think: Would that America’s Protestant mainline could produce an apostate. For one might say that a group that lacks the necessary preconditions for making apostates can’t make disciples either.

Now this is a fascinating angle to get at thinking about discipleship – a group isn’t really much good, or good for you spiritually unless it is demanding enough of you that you might leave (or even be pushed out).  So…is she on to something?  Or is she really romanticizing a certain “rugged” view of Christian community that in fact is coercive and harmful?  What do you think?

Not everything liberal grows in Oregon soil

Wheaton professor Alan Jacobs writes, “the future of liberal Protestantism is even dicier than we have realized. In a region where liberal churches should be thriving, they are dying, and where evangelicals should be relegated to the margins, they are taking center stage.”  What is this region he is referring to?  Our own Pacific Northwest.  His comments come in response to reading James Wellman’s Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest. To read more of Jacob’s post click here.

For another good discussion, see Matthew Sutton’s article in Books & Culture.

Torrance on the Incarnation pt. 2

Recently, I read Stanley Hauerwas’ memoir Hannah’s Child. In it he talks about growing up Methodist in Texas.  One of the things he was aware of was that there were primarily two kinds of Methodists – “Liberals” and “Conservatives.”  A key point of theology that divided them was the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.  Liberals, as you might have guessed, didn’t buy it.  Conservatives did.  Hauerwas did believe it – still does, it turns out – but the question he asked himself at the time was, “Why is the Virgin Birth so important?”  He wasn’t asking, “Is something like this miracle possible?”  It was a given that the God of the Bible could do anything He wanted to do.  What Hauerwas was asking was, “What theological importance does the event of the Virgin Birth hold in God’s dealings with humanity?”

Often, the answer provided to the “why?” of the Virgin Birth is to address the problem of how could Christ be free of original sin, and therefore be fit to be our redeemer.  Herman Bavinck nicely illustrates the point when he writes: “The exclusion of the man from His [Jesus’] conception…had the effect that Christ, as one not included in the covenant of works, remained exempt from original sin and could therefore also be preserved in terms of His human nature, both before and after His birth, from all pollution of sin.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics – vol. III, 294). This obviously assumes that both the guilt and pollution of original sin is passed on from Adam to the rest of us “by natural generation” (cf. WLC 26).  And indeed, within the architectonic of classical Reformed theology, this answer “works.”  But for all of its usefulness, this answer about the Virgin Birth seems to miss something of the larger sweep of the good news.  And here is where T.F. Torrance is nothing short of brilliant in his clarity, profundity, and pastoral sensibilities.

First, the Virgin Birth is a disqualification of human capabilities. Torrance writes, “The virgin birth is the doctrine that the movement of the Son of God to become man is one directional, from God to man: it cannot be reversed.” (99) Quite simply, it bears witness to God’s divine initiative in coming to man.  It is an act of pure freedom on God’s part.

Second, the Virgin birth is the setting aside of human autonomy. In the birth of Jesus, God not only acts first, He acts alone so as to exclude any assertion of human will.  For Torrance, the significance of Joseph’s non-involvement in the generation of Jesus lies in its value of showing that “man in the person of Joseph is set aside – he has no say in the matter, he exercises no act of self-will or of the flesh in order to bring about this act of God.” (100) It is an act of pure grace on God’s part.

Third, the Virgin Birth is the pattern of grace, and model of faith. God takes the initiative and approaches Mary through the word of His angel – “the word proclaimed to Mary is the word of election or grace: she is chosen and told of God’s choice.  She has nothing to do in this matter except what is done in her by the Spirit.  What Mary does is simply to receive the word, to believe, which she does not in her own strength, but in the strength given her by the Lord, and she is blessed because of that, not her virginity.” (101)  What we see in God’s particular encounter with Mary is paradigmatic of His gracious action in the gospel for us as well.  Torrance goes on to write, “As in the annunciation of the word to Mary, Christ the Word Himself became flesh, so in the enunciation of the gospel, we surrender in like manner to Christ the Word now made flesh, and there takes place in us the birth of Christ, or rather, we are in a remarkable way given to share in the grace of his birth and to share in the new creation in him.” (101)  Just as there is no human activity in Christ’s birth to Mary, there is no prior human activity in our being brought to Christ either.   It is an act of pure gospel on God’s part.

Divine initiative. Grace. Gospel.  THAT is what the Virgin Birth is about, and what it teaches us.  It not only “sets the stage” for Christ’s gracious acts on our behalf.  It IS a gracious act of God on our behalf.  It is the good news.

Torrance on the Incarnation – Part 1

Recently, I have begun reading through T.F. Torrance’s collection of lectures on the incarnation, called, well… Incarnation. I won’t be going through the entire book, but only want to give some highlights that will hopefully whet your appetites for further reading on your own (I have been excited thinking about Advent as I have been reading).  But by way of introduction, I wanted to answer maybe the most pressing question you have at this point, “Who is T.F. Torrance?”
Thomas Forsyth Torrance was a Scottish theologian who taught theology at the University of Edinburgh (pronounced Edinboro) for almost three decades (1952-1979).  If you have read Karl Barth, you may have seen Torrance’s name on the spine of  your copy of Church Dogmatics. He was one of the editors of the English translation of all thirteen volumes.  He was well suited to the task, having himself studied under Barth at Basel.  Barth’s influence shaped Torrance and his work throughout his career, beginning with his consideration of the role of grace in the early church fathers, and leading him to a robust emphasis on the importance of the Trinity for Christian theology.

However, he was recognized as a significant theologian in his own right. He was especially noted for his work on the relationship of science and religion for which he was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1978 (other notable winners were Bill Bright (yes, that one), Mother Theresa, and Aleksander Solzhenitsyn).

Perhaps most importantly, Torrance was a churchman and pastor.  He was a MK (“missionary kid”), born in China while his parents labored as missionaries there in the early 20th century.  He served as a parish minister for a decade in the Church of Scotland, and eventually served as the moderator of the General Assembly in 1976 (this is a big deal for Presbyterians).  And, not least, he was involved in hearty ecumenical dialogue, especially with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Finally, if theology can be in your DNA, then it is without question in the Torrance blood.   His son Iain is also a New Testament scholar, currently serving as president of Princeton Theological Seminary.  T.F.’s brother James Torrance also taught systematic theology at Aberdeen, and his nephew Alan is currently professor  of systematics at St. Andrews (note: Alan was Marc Cortez’s doctoral supervisor for his dissertation).

Now that I have “fleshed out” Torrance for you a bit, we’ll get to how he understands the “fleshing out” of the Son of God in the next post.

BioLogos Workshop at Redeemer/papers

This past fall Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian co-hosted a workshop with Francis Collins’ BioLogos organization that focused on the faith/science discussions (particularly regarding evolution) that have been so prominent recently.  There are a number of interesting and helpful papers by folks such as Mark Noll, Bruce Waltke, Tim Keller, etc.  You can find them here.

Hauerwas on Christian witness

Several years ago, when the issue of gays in the military first started to come up,  Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas wrote a typically provocative article.  I had my college students (back in the day) read it to challenge them to think about how we “fit” into our surrounding culture/sub-cultures as Christians.  Love to get some feed back from y’all.

(Note: the link is to google books, and the article [very brief] is Chapter 8 of the book.

Merry Xmas,


Best Resource(s) on Believer’s Baptism

imagesI am reviewing the different arguments that Baptists make for believer’s baptism and figured I’d go to the font…er, the source.  What do you all recommend?  I checked out from the library the Schreiner/Wright volume Believer’s Baptism; I own Kurt Aland’s little book…others?

The Problem of the Hiddenness of God in Luther’s Theology [abstract]

Luther - not hiding from God

Luther - not hiding from God

One of the most important contributions to Christian thought made by Martin Luther is his theology of the cross.  In this theology we learn that God hides Himself in His revelation, for the purpose of drawing out faith in the person.  The living and true God has most powerfully made Himself known to humanity in an unlikely way and in an unlikely place – the cross of Jesus Christ.  The scandal of this revelation is that this is not where we would reasonably expect to find God.  The all-powerful maker of heaven and earth has not made Himself most fully known by categories of reason, or by a display of raw force.  Instead, God has revealed Himself in the opposite of these things, in the weakness of His crucified Son.

But for Luther there is a second way in which He speaks of God’s self-concealment.  The Lord not only hides Himself in the revelation of Christ crucified, but He hides Himself outside of His revelation as well.  This second hiddenness is God hiding behind and beyond revelation in the mystery that forms His work of saving some and damning others.  It is in this mysterious, inaccessible realm of hiddenness where “God himself” exists, beyond His word, and not in it.

There is an apparent tension between these two kinds of hiddenness. If the concealed God of the second hiddenness is the real God, free and unbound in His will, and unknowable as He truly is, this seems like an altogether different God than the one revealed/hidden in the cross, i.e. the first hiddenness.  The God revealed in hiddenness in revelation is gracious, calling all to know Him in the His crucified Son, for it is there that salvation and mercy is found for humankind, unexpected as it might be.  But the God who hides Himself outside of revelation, seems altogether different.  He is the one who in power and incomprehensibility chooses some to be His elect, and reprobates others to damnation – and for reasons that are unknowable, inscrutable, and apparently unrelated to His self-revelation in the cross.

In my paper , I examine the key sources for understanding Luther’s theology of God’s hiddenness, The Heidelberg Disputations (1518), The Bondage of the Will (1525), and The Commentary on Genesis (1535-1545), to show how the doctrine unfolds and develops throughout his ministry. After considering these primary sources, I will look at how this tension in Luther’s theology has been addressed, along with their strengths and weaknesses.  Then I will give my own attempt at providing an answer for how the first hiddenness relates to the second hiddenness, by looking at Luther’s view of the role and function of faith in the Christian life.