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Why is the Old Testament shut out of church?

I recently read this interesting article by Dale Ralph Davies and thought it fitted in well with where we are in the Institutes regarding the value and place of the Old Testament.  Thanks to Reformation21 for posting it on their website: http://www.reformation21.org/articles/why-is-the-old-testament-shut-out-of-church.php

“I don’t want to begin this lecture by spiritualizing a text but…the Old Testament is good bit like Jephthah the Gileadite in Judges 11:1-3.  His brothers so much as booted him out of their father’s household because of his illegitimate birth.  That’s the way it is with the Old Testament in much of the contemporary church.  The church seems to feel that it’s okay if the Old Testaments stays in the land of Tob with Jephthah, but let’s not even give it the status of step-testament in the household of faith.  In short, there are certain barriers that keep–and have kept–the Old Testament from being heard in the church and I want us to understand what some of them are; it should help us understand the problem.

I.  Scholarly Barrenness

I don’t care if many beg to differ, professional study and teaching of the Old Testament has largely killed the Old Testament for the church and wrecked it for hundreds of theological students.  I speak especially of the so-called higher critical position regarding the OT.  (Now don’t accuse me of being anti-intellectual; in fact, I think that any MDiv grad from an evangelical seminary should know the critical position(s) regarding especially the Pentateuch, should know–and be able to refute–the criteria scholars have used to carve up the canonical text.  A little time with Kenneth Kitchen or R. K. Harrison is time well-spent).  We have had about 150 years of this anti-supernaturalist scholarly study of the OT and it has produced results as cold as concrete and as appetizing as stewed okra.  Let me give examples.  

Here’s a commentary on Exodus 14:5–the first part of the verse speaks of ‘the king of Egypt,’ while the 2nd part refers to him as ‘Pharaoh’ and so ‘there can be no doubt’ that the verse is ‘composed of two different sources.’  Naturally, we find that very moving.  Or go to Exodus 34:6-7; this commentary says that Yahweh’s self-proclamation here (‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God compassionate and gracious…’) is ‘out of place’ and is ‘an addition which is made up of customary, stereotyped phrases.’  Here is the crucial, climactic, consoling self-revelation of Yahweh, brimming with theological profundity and devotional power–and Martin Noth never heard it.  The Fountain of living waters overflows and Noth spends eight lines of critical hogwash on him.  

Or here is a commentator on 1-2 Kings.  At 2 Kings 2:23 we read of Elisha going up to Bethel, where apparently the incident of the bears tearing up 42 lads occurs.  But this commentator says there is nothing in the narrative itself to suggest that this happened at Bethel except that introductory comment that Elisha had gone up to Bethel.  This amounts to saying that the text says this occurred in Bethel but we can’t be sure because the next two and a half verses don’t mention Bethel–no landmarks like the Bethel Moose Lodge, I suppose–so we really can’t be sure it happened in Bethel.  One could forgive such nonsense were it not for worse stuff.  The same commentator, writing on 1 Kings 8:27 (where Solomon prays, ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!’), tells us this verse must be deleted as ‘secondary’ and that it looks like a ‘marginal comment which later found its way into the text.’  Leave aside the critical issue.  Even if he were right on that (and he’s not), how can he ignore, how can he pass by without any comment the massive, head-throbbing theology of that verse?  

On and on it can go.  You can find out, for example, that 1 Samuel 3 may not be a prophetic call but an ‘auditory message dream theophany,’ and then like Lucy in Peanuts you think:  Now that I know that, what do I do?

And so theologs tend to give up on the Old Testament.  If it involves such complex, intricate analysis by the high priests of whatever the reigning German-geschichte is, then surely it is ‘too complicated for me for bother with.’  Use a psalm or two for funerals and a quote from Amos for Social Justice Awareness Sunday, but otherwise forget the OT.  Mainstream critics may mock evangelical use of the OT, but they have not given us any help.  Unbelieving biblical interpretation cannot nurture life–it cannot even arouse interest.  It is worse than lethal–it is boring.  


II.  Evangelical Sloppiness

 We have our own boners, of course.  We may ring the changes and make the jump from Rahab’s scarlet cord (Josh. 2:18) to the cross; there’s a proper way of doing that in Joshua 2 but not by hanging from Rahab’s cord–it won’t bear the weight.  Someone may make Jael’s hammering Sisera in Judges 4 a picture of the mortification of sin.  One should never dispute with Spurgeon, I suppose, but one might be excused for thinking that the writer of Judges would be surprised to know that that was what he was suggesting.  That ‘take’, however, is preferable to the one that sees in Jael a true picture of the Christian evangelist, for she ‘went softly to him’ and we ought to be gentle in the work of evangelism.  (One may as well see in Sisera’s drinking Jael’s yogurt a foreshadowing of the Lord’s supper!)  Or, does the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter for baby Moses (Exod. 2:5-6) point to the need we should all feel to exercise empathy with people?  

This sort of thing does not come from the sterile biblical critics but from our own camp, the Bible-thumpers.  Naturally, we would distance ourselves from most of the samples just cited (though some might want to hold on to one or two of them!).  Still, evangelical-types have their own problems with tone-deafness to Scripture.  How easy it is for a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching interpreter to take up Genesis 39 and zero in on verses 7-12 and start pressing home ‘principles for overcoming temptation.’  Now it doesn’t matter whether Potiphar’s wife was an old bag or a real doll, this approach will likely miss the main point.  The whole narrative of Genesis 39 is framed with these notices that ‘Yahweh was with Joseph’ (vv. 2, 3, 21, 23).  These notes do not eliminate the temptation theme, but don’t they say that the presence of God is more primary than the temptation?  The testimony of the whole chapter is then that Joseph had Yahweh’s presence in his forsakenness (vv. 1-6), in his temptation (vv. 7-18), and in his probable disillusionment (vv. 19-23).  The accent falls not on principles we follow but on the presence of the God who keeps us.  It’s almost a case in point contrasting man-centered and God-directed hermeneutics.

I know we want to show how ‘applicable’ Scripture is to our people’s needs and some apparently fear that having a God-focused approach to Scripture will sabotage that.  On the contrary!  It’s when you keep seeing the splendor of God in Scripture that you will address the needs of your people.  Ah, but here I have left lecturing and gone to meddling.  

I simply want to note that not even the Bible-packers have done the OT right.  We often need to be cleansed of our hermeneutical leprosy.  Having a right view of inspiration does not guarantee a proper practice of interpretation.  I think Walt Kaiser said something like that.  So you know it’s true.  

III.  Superficial Assumptions

One morning when we were in Baltimore, my wife called me on the manse-to-study intercom.  I had left a note for her about the repair of our washing machine.  She told me that she could not ‘make out one word’ of that note.  Then she had to gall to proceed to read the note to me over the phone.  My anger began to ignite over the paradox:  she had just said she could not make out one word of my note and here she was reading it off perfectly easily to me!  Then she stumbled on a word–it was the one word she could not make out.  I had assumed when she had said she could not make out one word that she was making a snide remark about left-handed handwriting and that she meant ‘not any word’ instead of ‘just one word.’  I thought she was speaking extensively, whereas she was speaking literally.  It was one of those quick but mistaken assumptions.

I think assumptions like that are made about the Old Testament.  We may make such assumptions because pastors or teachers have passed on their attitudes about how dull or uninspiring many sections of the OT are.  Or we may get that attitude by our own superficial reading of it–there is nothing useful here, we say, or, the writer of Judges 1 must’ve been an unemployed geography teacher angry over the demise of his subject in the public school system and so taking out his vengeance on generations of Bible readers.  I can only say that this attitude keeps you from hearing the OT.  I can only say that I find the apparently dullest and deadest texts to be brimming with vitality and excitement.  I think our real problem is that we don’t want to sit before the Lord’s word and think.  

Take Genesis 25:12-18.  It begins, ‘These are the generations of Ishmael…’, and you say, ‘Ugh, this looks like a downer.’  No sparkling narratives in this section; after all, you’re never going name your kids Mibsam or Mishma.  Twelve sons of Ishmael and so on.  Then what?  Then ‘the generations of Isaac’ (v 19).  Here is the promise line.  Did I say line?  Well, not quite.  Isaac’s praying because Rebekah, like Sarah (see 11:30), is barren (v. 21).  Do you catch the contrast?  Here is the non-promise line, here is the kingdom of this age, Ishmael’s line, and it is going to town with furious fertility (vv 12-18), and here is the promise line, the kingdom people, who can’t even get out of the starting gate.  Isn’t this the way it often is?  The kingdom of God is there but in such mustard-seed form, in such hidden and obscure and fragile fashion, that it doesn’t seem to hold a candle to the virility and vitality of the kingdom of this age.  You still will not likely feel a wave of devotional warmth come over you, but you should see that the biblical writer was making a point when he placed the dull list of Ishmael’s fertility side-by-side with Isaac’s sterility.             

Or take Genesis 23.  Interesting but seemingly not very vital.  Sarah has just died and Abraham is under the gun to get a place to bury her.  He doesn’t want to borrow a grave from the locals but to obtain his own burial plot.  Any mortician with a marketing heart would tell you that you shouldn’t wait till then–arrangements should be pre-planned.  Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the Hittites and you know they will put the screws to you.  But there’s more here than the last rites for Sarah and Ephron’s deposit in First National of Kiriath-arba.  The story brackets itself as occurring in ‘the land of Canaan’ (vv. 2, 19), which might seem trivial except that it was the land Yahweh promised Abraham in 12:7 (‘to your seed I will give this land’).  And four times we read that what Abraham wanted was a ‘possession’ (one time the Hebrew word varies but this does not affect the idea; vv. 4, 9, 18, 20).  And that’s what he got.  Do you see what happened the moment that wry smile wrinkled crafty old Ephron’s face as he felt the 400 weight of Abraham’s silver?  Yahweh had begun to fulfill his promise of a home to Abraham and his seed.  True, it wasn’t much.  But more than he had asked for–Ephron insisted he buy not only the cave but the field it was in!  It was only a cemetery plot, but it was a part of Canaan that now belonged to Abraham.  Yahweh was being faithful to his promise of 12:7!  Sometimes that is the way Yahweh shows himself–as the God who is faithful in little.  And note when he does that–at the death of Sarah.  You can say what you want about a ‘redemptive-historical hermeneutic’ but don’t leave the flesh and blood out of it.  Verses 1-2 (Sarah’s death and Abraham’s mourning) show that covenant people meet common sorrows, and it is interesting that it is precisely in this time of grief and trouble that Yahweh gives Abraham this tiny token of his firm faithfulness.  

Sometimes it’s the commentators who are superficial.  Take the axe-head story in 2 Kings 6:1-7.  One writer says this story illustrates how trivial some of the OT miracles are; another dismisses the whole episode in less than six lines and says it has ‘no particular merit or significance’ apart from showing the power the man of God possesses.  But think a little and put this ‘rinky-dink’ episode in its context.  Before it is the ‘Naaman’ chapter, with all its high-powered political tension.  Well, ask the king of Israel:  the Syrian king sends this high-profile military man to Israel and is obviously trying to foment an ‘international incident.’  And then, post-axe, in 6:8ff. there are these military conflicts between Syria and Israel.  And in the middle of anguished diplomatic maneuverings and military conflicts the God of Israel cares about a dirt-prophet who has lost a borrowed axe-head.  That may be trivial and without merit or significance to some; others, however, will see flashes of glory in it.  They will say, “That’s just vintage Yahweh!  Having his eye on his most obscure servant amid all the stuff that steals headlines in the evening news!”  There is much more in this text but we can’t take the time this morning to–shall we say?–sharpen the axe.

IV.  Hermeneutical Intimidation

Another barrier to the use of the OT in the church is what I call hermeneutical intimidation.  I’m thinking of those OT passages that depict events so racy or so appalling that we wonder whether we dare sully the sermon space with such material.  Or there are texts where God seems to act with such harshness or abruptness that we fear we cannot ‘explain’ them adequately.  The laws of uncleanness in Leviticus 11-15 suddenly seem more preachable than Genesis 38 or Judges 19 or 1 Samuel 15.  Even explaining the ‘sin unto death’ in 1 John 5:16 seems like a piece of cake beside trying to handle a story of a concubine who has been gang-raped and whose corpse has been hacked up into 12 pieces and parcel posted throughout Israel.  Even safer is a nice exposition from Philippians 1.  Now Philippians needs to be preached (and I have done so) but why are we so wary of these wild and unruly OT texts?  I think we are intimidated by them, and wrongly so, for I hold that these terrible texts hold tremendous treasure.  

Take 2 Samuel 6, for instance.  David wants to bring the ark of Yahweh out of obscurity into the city of David.  The celebration begins by transporting the ark, Philistine-like, on a new cart.  Somewhere on the trek the oxen get clumsy and Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark.  Next thing we know, Uzzah is writhing on the ground, the music fades, the gasps begin.  The EMTs arrive but can do nothing.  And the text won’t allow you to say, ‘Well, Uzzah had always had trouble with angina,’ for verse 7 is clear:  ‘The anger of Yahweh burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there.’  Of course, questions pile up.  Well, Uzzah was in the wrong, but why didn’t Yahweh cut him some slack?  Why was he so abrupt?  So severe?  Now you can explain some items.  You can say that Yahweh had spelled out how the ark was to be moved and apparently no one thought Numbers 4 was that important.  You can probably say that this was not a final but a temporal judgment on Uzzah, i.e., it did not involve his salvation but was a temporal punishment for his error.  In one way, however, that is little help:  how can you say he ‘only’ lost his life?  When all is said and explained, the story leaves you with the impression that Yahweh is a scary God.  I think that’s the point the story wants you to get:  you don’t mess with a God who is both real and holy; you can be angry like David if you want (v 8), but you will do better to join his later response and tremble (v. 9).  Maybe there’s a message for the church here.  We’re always hearing that we should have more emotion and feeling in our worship.  Okay, so how about fear?  That’s emotional.  How about trembling?  How about some God-induced terror?

Then note what the narrative does.  The presence of the ark seems to bring blessing to Obed-edom, its interim caretaker (vv 11-12a), and someone had apparently read the Pentateuch, and so they bring up the ark with joy and celebration.  In the second half of the story, note the emphasis on joy, dancing, and shouting (vv. 12-16).  And there’s another tragedy; this time not Uzzah but Michal–she does not delight in God.  Second Samuel 6 may be a troubling text.  But do you see the theology of the chapter when you put both halves together?  To rightly respond to Yahweh you should both shudder and dance.  Our God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24) but he should also be our exceeding joy (Ps. 43:4).  This holy and happy God wants us to reject both irreverence and coldness.  Have you ever wondered what Psalm 2:11 means when it says to ‘rejoice with trembling’?  Don’t we see a narrative incarnation of it in 2 Samuel 6, that leprous text we may have wanted to ignore?  Where can you get a better balance of truth than that?

But let’s face it.  A lot of this ‘hermeneutical intimidation’ comes not from difficulty in understanding the OT text but rather from the way the text will grate on the sensibilities of contemporary culture.  The text is not unclear; it’s the sovereign God of Israel who aggravates the daylights out of proud post-moderns.  Take the first hunk of 2 Kings 1.  King Ahaziah takes a tumble out of an upper storey and is pretty mashed up apparently–enough to be concerned whether he will survive.  So he sends messengers to ask Baal-zebub god of Ekron if he will recover.  Yahweh sends Elijah to intercept his lackeys.  Elijah tells them:  ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire from Baal-zebub god of Ekron?  Now therefore, here’s what Yahweh says:  “The bed to which you have gone up–you will not come down from it, but you will surely die”‘ (vv. 3-4).  But folks are offended at such virile biblical theism.  It’s okay for Yahweh to put the first commandment on the books but no need for him to take it so all-fired seriously.  Here is a man in anguish at the most critical hour of his life and is seeking to ‘re-discover some spiritual roots’–and he’s sentenced to death for it.  Just because he prefers a ‘different meta-narrative’ he is doomed.  Why does Yahweh have to love truth that much?  Why is the heat of his holiness always turned up so high?  Why won’t he allow us to shape him in our image?  This not only offends crass pagans but tends to embarrass soft-around-the-edges evangelicals as well.  Sometimes our problem is that the text is all too clear.  

V.  Spiritual Deficiency

I thought I might end on a little piece of heresy–or at least some might think it so.   
Let me do this through the back door.

I remember preaching in one of our Mississippi churches one Sunday evening while I was serving at this fine institution.  After the service a faithful member of that congregation, a lady around 80 years of age who had almost lost her eyesight (but carefully listened) gave me her reaction to the Old Testament text that had been preached:  ‘Isn’t God dear?,’ she said.  She did not mean that in a schmaltzy or mushy sense.  She meant:  Isn’t God delightful?  Isn’t he marvelous?  Doesn’t he act in such ways toward us that stir up our love for him?  She may have been nearly blind but she saw something with keen clarity–if you keep your eyes on God himself you will be thrilled, or at least immensely satisfied.  

Maybe this is why the OT is shut out of the church.  We do not have the right approach.  I am not convinced that there is a ‘problem’ with the OT.  I do not think the ‘strangeness’ or ‘distance’ or the language of the OT is much of a problem; nor is our difficulty with the OT mainly a matter of techniques.  Rather we get off track in our interpretation of the OT because our eyes are fastened on the wrong ‘object.’   I do not mean that we cannot consider methods and genre and criticism and problems, but for crying out loud there is a living God waiting to reveal himself in the OT and we so easily take our eyes off of him!  If he is my exceeding joy (Ps. 43:4) then I should delight in seeing him in the OT.  If he is the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13), I should be thirsting and craving for him as I read its texts.  

So much depends on this.  Don’t tell me, ‘But Leviticus is so dull.’  I know the provisions for the sin offering in Leviticus 4-5 aren’t nearly as racy as Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38), but when, for example, you read that if the offender can’t afford a lamb, he can bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, and that if he can’t afford those, he can bring a tenth of an ephah of fine flour–Yahweh is telling you something about himself.  He is saying that he will never let anything get in the way of his finding an atonement for your sins.  For the present he’ll do it with two quarts of flour if he has to.  What kind of a God is that?  Who’s ever heard of such massive, world-moving, guilt-drowning grace?  

Well, we mustn’t get sucked into giving more examples here.  I simply wonder if a good bit of our ‘problem’ with the OT might be a heart problem.  Maybe our problem is a spiritual one–maybe we are not salivating for the triune God as we read our Bibles.  Maybe we’re focused on sermons rather than worship.  If once you have found God fascinating…that goes a long way towards curing the ‘problem’ of the OT. 

_____________________________________________________________________________
Incessantly interesting God, your character is our rest, your ways our relish;
you have left your fingerprints all over your word–you tempt us to come find you in it!  Oh, grant that we will faithfully yield to this temptation, and in and through these pages come to you, to ‘God our exceeding joy.’  Amen.

Ralph Davis is the Pastor at Woodland Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburgh, MS, former professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and the author of several commentaries published by Christian Focus.”   

http://www.reformation21.org/articles/why-is-the-old-testament-shut-out-of-church.php

Reflections on reading Book I

Well I’ve finally finished the first of the four books – the knowledge of God and ourselves. I’m taking a quick break from the regular posts to share some of my thoughts after reading Book I of Calvin’s Institutes over the last two months. Four things have struck me:

1. He doesn’t try to square the circle. I have been impressed with how far Calvin will go to grapple with complex issues such as the trinity and providence. He uses many different approaches to try and understand these truths and interacts with many controversial views. But he is also more than willing to stop when human intellect can go no further. He is content to submit himself to the Word as the final authority on these doctrines, not human reason.

2. More apologetics than I expected. I expected lots of teaching on the doctrine of God, but there has been much more apologetical reasoning on the credibility of the scriptures, how we know truth, understanding atheists and assessing false religion. It has been great to see how someone of Calvin’s ability writing in the 16th century approached these issues. The truth is that there were many of the same issues back then as there are now… nevertheless, Calvin was…

3. A man of his time. Living and teaching in the 16th century Calvin had no idea the challenges that were to assail the church from evolution and higher criticism (to name just two). For him it was self-evident that even the non-church goer would acknowledge the divine craftsmanship within the universe. While Calvin does spend time arguing for a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, some of his arguments need to be supplemented with modern evangelical scholarship.

4. More devotional than academic. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Calvin’s warmth and devotion during these chapters. He was a man of deep passion for God’s truth. It is clear he loved his Saviour intensely. Calvin sometimes gets a bad press as cold and calculating, but reading his work for yourself its clear these are more characterures than reality.

So onto Book II – the knowledge of God the redeemer. I’m just about managing to keep up with the blogging and reading, lets see how this next book goes, the plan says I’ll be finished on 21st April… God willing.

Images of the invisible God

invisible-man4Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter XI Section 1-16)

In this chapter Calvin addresses the issue of idolatry and, interestingly, includes in the discussion his thoughts on the appropriate use of images in the worship of the church. Calvin begins by considering God’s opposition to any representation of Himself in Exodus 20.4 and how God “makes no comparison between images, as if one were more, and another less befitting; he rejects, without exception, all shapes and pictures, and other symbols by which the superstitious imagine they can bring him near to them”.

Following this, Calvin exclaims how absurd it is when mankind tries to represent the invisible, omnipresent Spirit by a visible, inanimate piece of wood or stone. God Himself is at liberty to manifest His presence by signs – but each of these point to His “incomprehensible essence”. For example the cloud, smoke and flame on Mount Sinai and the Shekhinah glory over the ark of the covenant, both illustrate His unapproachable and awesome nature. Other manifestations of God in the bible include the figure who had a form of a man walking in the fiery furnace (which may be a theophany – or pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God) and the dove at Jesus’ baptism.

For the remainder of the chapter Calvin addresses the issue of images and pictures in the church. He traverses many topics, including statues, crosses and pictures (either historical or pictoral). He concludes that only the historical pictures, which “give a representation of events” are of some use “for instruction and admonition”. In fact he is in favour of having no representations of any kind within the church, pointing to the success of the early church in its first 500 years when there were no images in the churches. Moreover, he points out that the church already has two “living symbols, which the Lord has consecrated by His word”, ie baptism and the Lord’s supper.

Response:

It is sad to think that while God was manifesting His presence at Mt Sinai, Aaron was leading the people in the worship of a golden idol. Moreover, even the ark of the covenant, which represented God’s presence among the people, became something of a lucky charm to the people. They believed that it would lead them to victory irrespective of their covenantal backsliding.

Although I may draw the line on what images and pictures are acceptable in the worship of the church in a slightly different place to Calvin, I agree with his principles on imagery. In driving the Reformation away from the intense pageantry that had been associated with the worship of God he called for a clearer statement of what was essential. In examining the two images that are essential we find that they are also are most instructive. We ourselves become part of the living illustration of Jesus’ death and resurrection (baptism) and His coming again (communion). Let us not neglect these symbols that have been given to us as divinely appointed reminders of God’s redeeming work.

“To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens; who created all these?” Isaiah 40.25+26

Father, grant us to make use of the symbols you have given us to illustrate your great love and forgiveness. Help us to remember and be thankful for the opportunity to demonstrate our obedience and love for you in our act of baptism and fellowship around the Lord’s table. Amen.

The relational God

labyrinth2Calvin’s Institutes (Book I Chapter X Section 1-3)

In Chapter 10 Calvin returns to the theme of the knowledge of the Creator God as found in the scriptures. By now we appreciate how hard it is to come to a real understanding of who God is. Indeed in Chapter 6 Calvin is honest enough to recognise how hard it is for anyone to come to a true understanding of the Living God. He says “we should consider that the brightness of the Divine countenance, which even the apostle declares to be inaccessible, is a kind of labyrinth, – a labyrinth to us inextricable, if the Word does not serve as a thread to guide our path: and that it is better to limp in the way, than run with the greatest swiftness out of it.” (I.VI.3).

But now Calvin is ready to introduce us to God as he reveals himself in His interactions with mankind.  This enables us to more fully understand and appreciate his attributes as He relates to us as our Creator. The three foundational attributes that God reveals about himself are His:

  1. Loving-kindness – His loving care for His children
  2. Judgment– His disciplining work as a just Sovereign
  3. Righteousness – His saving and preservation of the righteous

His other attributes of truth, power, holiness and goodness are encompassed by these three.

Response:

How true it is that so many today are lost in this labyrinth, dashing headlong towards another dead-end. If, by the Grace of God, we have been shone upon by a shaft of divine light illuminating His character, let us give thanks rather than pretend it was any wisdom or virtue of ours.

God reveals Himself as the relational God, but no one ever said that a relationship with God would be easy. We can’t pick and choose the attributes we would like God to have. We may wish he only had certain attributes that we are comfortable with, but if we are to have a true and meaningful relationship with Him then we must come to Him as He is, not how our culturally moulded sensitivities dictate.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103.13+14

Father thank you for revealing something of Your character to us, we confess our limited understanding and corrupt minds. Help us to love and adore you as you are and not try to make you fit into our finite minds. We embrace your Fatherhood today and your right to govern this world by Your wisdom and truth, Amen.

Happy birthday Calvin!

Most people only know the name Calvin as the cheeky young boy with the pet tiger called Hobbes, however the first Calvin is one of the most important fathers of the Christian faith. Over the last few months of 2008 I became increasingly convicted to dust off my copy of Calvin’s Institutes from my shelf. It has been sitting there for a good few years looking at me every time I passed by the bookshelf. I initially did some digging and found some free lectures on the web: http://www.worldwide-classroom.com/courses/info/ch523/ that I have started listening to… and I even found a daily reading plan to help me read it in a year that I am going to work through starting in January.

At first I managed to put the still small voice to the back of my mind that was telling me to spread the net wider and see if there is anyone out there who would join me in the challenge of reading the whole of Calvin’s Institutes during 2009…however, it seems that Calvin is everywhere I look at the moment! Just the other day I saw that the editors of Reformation21 are doing a blog on the Institutes every week day during 2009 (http://www.reformation21.org/calvin/) and they have written a couple of short articles, notably “10 Reasons to Read the Institutes”, including:

“1. Because it the most important book written in the last 500 years.

2. Because it is foundational for every Reformed systematic theology ever since.

3. Because Calvin was the best exegete in the history of Christianity.

4. Because Calvin is one of the five greatest theologians in Christian history.

5. Because he wrote it as a “sum of piety” not as an arid, speculative dogmatic treatise.

6. Because it gave J.I. Packer the idea for “Knowing God.”

7. Because you will know God better, if you read it prayerfully and believingly.

8. Because it’s the 500th anniversary year of Calvin’s birthday. Don’t be a party pooper.”

The writer concludes with this challenge: “Now, did you ever read the Institutes carefully from beginning to end? It is one of the most important theological texts ever written and has been the source of immense help to Christians for four and a half centuries.”

So, after realising 2009 is the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth in 1509, I knew it was all over and I had to submit…it would be now or never.  So, I’m giving in to the challenge and asking you if you want to join me to read through the Institutes in 2009.

I’m only looking for one or two others to join me in reading it and/or discussing the issues and topics that arise. For those of you who have already read it and are familiar with it, then feel free to feed into the discussions.