Posts Tagged ‘First Things’

“Christ the bridegroom takes a wretched harlot and confers upon her all the riches that are His”

August 30, 2017

This past Sunday, to begin our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, I preached the first part of a new series on the Reformation’s five core convictions, often called the “Five Solas.” Part One was on Sola Fide, justification by faith alone. While I didn’t use the word “imputation,” I described it. But here’s a nice description of it from one of my favorite Christian thinkers (and pastors), Paul Zahl, from a 1991 article in First Things.

Moreover, the atonement has to be substitutionary, to use the classic language, or I fail to see how it can ensure the being forgiven. We need God’s substituting Himself into our frail, contingent world of judged living. We require a substitute, the deepest form of empathy, the “I’ll go in your place” quality of advocacy. The metaphor of God’s substitution is the only one of the familiar theories of atonement that provides for the full failed weight of human aspiration.

Moreover, substitutionary atonement has to be imputed. Imputation means the regarding as righteous of one who is not intrinsically righteous at all. It covers over the conflicted ambivalent character of human personality with a seamless robe, and gives us authentic security in the encounter with God.

Imputation is described tersely and truly by an English historian of the Reformation, Patrick Collinson: “[It is] a transaction somewhat like a marriage, in which Christ the bridegroom takes to himself an impoverished and wretched harlot and confers upon her all the riches that are His . . . . Therefore, the justified Christian man, in himself and of his own nature a sinner but not seen as a sinner by God, brings forth those good works which consist in the love of God and neighbor, not slavishly to win any reward but gladly, that service which is perfect freedom.” Imputation as an experienced principle is poignantly needful for a striving world.

Does “inclusiveness” include unrepentant tax collectors?

March 17, 2015

Over at First Things, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Robert Gagnon, a mainline New Testament scholar and ordained PC(USA) minister who has done more than anyone to reaffirm the Bible’s case against homosexual practice, wrote an excellent piece about San Francisco’s City Church, a large evangelical church that no longer requires gays and lesbians to be celibate, at least within the bonds of redefined marriage.

I recommend the whole piece, in part because he briefly reviews the (unambiguous) biblical case, but also because he makes a point that theological liberals, especially, ought to appreciate but don’t: that Jesus’ love for first-century tax collectors demanded that they change their behavior. Who would have it any other way? Who would argue that repentance in that case should be a matter of theological indifference? Why a double standard when it comes to sexual sin?

Although the City Church letter appeals to Jesus’ mission to outcasts as a basis for jettisoning a male-female requirement for marriage, it is difficult to claim that the Jesus we encounter in Scripture would have countenanced homosexual sex in the context of a “marriage.” Jesus appealed to the two-sexes requirement for marriage (and thus for all sexual activity) given in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as the foundation upon which all sexual ethics must be based, including the limitation of two persons to a sexual union. Just as Jesus did not reach out to exploitative tax-collectors in order to justify their exploitation of the poor, so too Jesus did not reach out to sexual sinners in order to provide a platform for impenitent sexuality. He reached out to both groups in order to call them to repentance so that they might inherit the very Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming. That is true love, not the impersonation of love now being peddled by City Church leadership.

Is the Church wrong?

May 19, 2014

Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker don’t waste a single sentence in this excellent First Things piece, “The Church Is Wrong,” an assessment of gay Christian advocate Matthew Vines’s new book. 

Vines’s argument is nothing new. In fact, I’d say it’s the most popular one, especially among my many United Methodist colleagues working to change our church’s traditional stance on sexuality. When Paul and the other biblical authors (not to mention every Christian thinker who lived prior to around 1970) condemn homosexual practice, they couldn’t have imagined two men, or two women, in a consensual, monogamous lifelong partnership (a blindly optimistic goal of today’s Christian revisionists, given how seldom gay men practice monogamy, even in “marriage”). These authors weren’t condemning homosexual practice, per se, only the non-consensual, idolatrous, and pederastic forms of it.

As you probably know, I’ve argued at length on this blog against this stance.

A few times I’ve asked revisionist clergy colleagues this question: Could the Bible say anything to make you change your mind about your understanding of homosexual behavior?

I guess they think I’m being a smart-alec, but I’m not. If the answer is no, then let’s not bother arguing scripture at all. Right? There’s no sense telling me that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to do with homosexual behavior, that Leviticus equates homosexual practice with eating shellfish, or that Paul was only talking about pederasty, temple prostitution, and sex slaves in Romans 1:26-27. Appeals to scripture are irrelevant if the biblical writers couldn’t have imagined homosexuality as we know it today. The Bible is always ever silent on the issue: because no matter what the Bible says, it’s talking about something else entirely, not what we understand as homosexual practice today.

Do you see the problem?

Suppose the Holy Spirit intended to inspire the biblical authors to make clear that homosexual practice was sinful—which seemed sufficiently clear to the Church for nearly two millennia. How could he have done it, except using these words that we find in the Bible?

If the revisionists were right, however, then I’d worry about trusting the Bible at all: it is, after all, a very obscure book whose ancient words rarely mean what they seem to mean. Why take for granted that we understand the meaning of  “love,” “grace,” “forgiveness,” and all those other words and concepts that we happen to like? Does anyone apply the same exegetical scrutiny to them?

Regardless, here’s much of Strachan and Walker’s post:

Let us be clear, according to Vines, the tradition and reliability of the Church’s teaching throughout the ages on sexuality are both wrong. Not only are the Scriptures and the historic interpretation wrong, they are both active purveyors of injustice meted out towards homosexuals.

As one of us wrote in our review of Vines’s book,

It’s rather appalling that Vines’ organization is called “The Reformation Project,” a title synonymous with the movement of Martin Luther, because there’s a simple, yet glaring error in how he understands the reference to “Reformation.” Luther never believed the church had been in error from its beginning. He wasn’t calling for the rejection of long-held beliefs; instead, Luther was reaffirming the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.”

Vines, in contrast, is calling for Revolution, the type consistent with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Vines believes the church has been wrong for 2,000 years. The early Church Fathers—wrong. Augustine—wrong. The Roman Catholic Church—wrong. Luther, Calvin—all wrong. But I wonder if Vines is willing to accept the alternative—that he’s wrong?

We ask because if Matthew Vines is correct, Jesus is wrong, because Jesus—the Incarnate and Risen Lord—is not aware of his own patriarchal biases in Matthew 19:4-6. One would think that a member of the Trinity who saved sinful humanity would possess sufficient foresight and divine wisdom, but apparently not.

It is a key plank in Vinesian exegesis that the writers of the New Testament lacked a modern comprehension of individuals with a same-sex orientation. But this approach to interpretation defies how the Scripture understands itself and distorts any credible doctrine of inspiration. If the Church—a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim: 3:15)—has been wrong on homosexuality, what else has she been wrong on?…

Yet it is not the theology of the progressive Millennial Protestants that most take our breath away. It is the hubris. Matthew Vines, a young twenty-something with no formal theological training, believes with all starry-eyed optimism that he has the authority to correct the apostle Paul in his doctrinal particulars…

Put it this way: If we’re faced with a choice between a precocious twenty-something with lots of neat new ideas about sexuality and gender untested by the scholarly community on the one hand, and an apostle gored by a Roman sword because the Holy Spirit spoke through him in tones ancient authorities considered hostile to imperial rule on the other, we’re banking on the latter.