Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Psalm 32:8 - God's Training Program

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

Although the text does not indicate who is speaking, it seems that this is God's answer to David. Note the three verbs: INSTRUCT, TEACH, COUNSEL

Instruct - Heb. SAKAL – to make wise, intelligent, skillful; to give insight, understanding. The word is used in Genesis 3:6, where the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “desirable for gaining [SAKAL].” It “never concerns abstract prudence, but acting prudently.” (Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, OT, “To Understand”)
Teach - Heb. YARAH – to shoot or throw; to point; to teach
Counsel - Heb. YA'ATS – to advise, counsel

All three words are stated in the imperfect mood, indicating there is a process at work. In response to our repentance, God forgives, He protects - and He puts us in His training program for godliness. He knows we need to change, but He does not expect this to happen apart from His own direct involvement. He teaches us with His eye upon us. He is not placing us under scrutiny with some sort of probation. He is watching over us to guarantee the effectiveness of our training.

Why does God teach us in this way? Did we sin for lack of teaching? Was it for want of information? Do we simply need to know more theology? Is “education” the answer to our sin problem? Certainly it is a lack of wisdom that led us into our sins, but it is not primarily for our education that God places us in His training program. Nor is it about “behavior modification.” Rather, this is our opportunity to know Him better. Developing an intimate and dependent relationship with Christ is the great remedy for our sinful ways. The more closely we walk with God, the less we practice sin. The more we incline our ear to His Words, the less we pay heed to the voices of temptation. The more we gaze into His burning eyes of grace, the less we are drawn by this world's glitter. It is not a matter of learning more facts – it's a matter of learning Christ.

Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

The Holy Spirit is the divine Counselor Who helps us learn Christ. We desperately need His help. There is no other way to change. Consider the glorious promise in these words: “Walk by the Spirit, and you WILL NOT CARRY OUT the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). No wonder David cried out in Psalm 51, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me!” Speaking of this sin-conquering Counselor who dwells in us, Jesus said

John 16:14-15 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

"The mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit is that such a life is continually and ever more and more occupied with Christ, that Christ is becoming greater and greater as time goes on. The effect of the Holy Spirit's work in us is to bring us to the shore of a mighty ocean which reaches far, far beyond our range, and concerning which we feel - oh, the depths, the fullness, of Christ! If we live as long as ever man lived, we shall still be only on the fringe of this vast fullness that Christ is. Now, that at once becomes a challenge to us before we go any further. These are not just words. This is not just rhetoric; this is truth. Let us ask our hearts at once, Is this true in our case? Is this the kind of life that we know? Are we coming to despair on this matter? That is to say, that we are glimpsing so much as signified by Christ that we know we are beaten, that we are out of our depth, and will never range all this. It is beyond us, far beyond us, and yet we are drawn on and ever on. Is that true in your experience? That is the mark of a life governed by the Holy Spirit. Christ becomes greater and greater as we go on. If that is true, well, that is the way of life. If ever you and I should come to a place where we think we know, we have it all, we have attained, and from that point things become static, we may take it that the Holy Spirit has ceased operations and that life has become stultified. . . . So God, right at the beginning, brings Christ forth, presents Him, attests Him, and in effect says, This is that to which I will conform you, to this image!" (T. Austin-Sparks, The School of Christ)

More of the Spirit's teaching is found in the next verse of Psalm 32 . . .

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Radio Broadcast

Today I was interviewed on the internet radio program, "Gospel, Gifts & Grace." We were able to discuss Biblical paradoxes in some depth. May God be glorified through this. Here's a link if you'd like to listen (the interview starts about 20 minutes into the hour-long broadcast).

The show is hosted by Jeff Fuller and Chris DeVidal from

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Psalm 32:7 - Hidden

You are my hiding place;
You preserve me from trouble;
You surround me with songs of deliverance.

David takes us a step further into God’s boundless mercy, showing us that God not only forgives repentant sinners, but actually receives them into His protection. He does not merely cover our sin with His grace – He covers US with HIMSELF. Dear friends, needy ones such as you and I will find no better refuge than the Lord.

David expands the idea of a hiding place in two ways: as that which preserves us, and as that which surrounds us.

GOD PRESERVES US. A notable characteristic of sin is that it destroys, decays and deteriorates what God has made. Apart from grace, we would be literally consumed by sin. Sin always brings trouble with it. But God preserves those who trust in Him. This word “trouble” can also be translated “adversary” or “foe.” Sin always fights us, opposes us, deceives us, pursues us, flatters us, lies to us, accuses us, harms us, binds us and tries to destroy us (see Romans 7 for a detailed description of this). Sin is indeed our greatest enemy, but God has become our Great Friend. He has become our Protector, our Advocate, our Defender and Savior from the very sins we formerly chose and cherished. He has taken sin’s destruction off of us and placed it on a substitute Who suffered in our place.

GOD SURROUNDS US. Every saint who has fought the daily battle with sin knows that it comes at us from every side, it appears unexpectedly, it reinvents itself, it snipes at us and it intimidates like a hell-bent terrorist – all in an attempt to make us its slave again. God is prepared for our struggle, and responds by surrounding us with loud cries of deliverance. What comfort we feel as we are encompassed not only by the enemy, but also by the truth of divine grace! What joy and hope as we hear the songs of the Lord! What encouragement as we are filled with the knowledge of His delivering power! Intimidating and enticing voices call out to us from every side, but our ears also hear TRUTH.

Who sings these songs? Is it God Himself? Is He singing over us in “Surround Sound?” Is it the angels? Are they telling of the wondrous deeds of the Lord, even as they marvel at God’s redeeming grace at work in us? Is it other believers? Are they all around us, testifying to the mercy they have received? Are they telling about their sinful ways and God’s redeeming love? Is it perhaps all three – God, angels, and our brothers and sisters in Christ? Who is telling YOU that God is able to save?

If you are a repentant sinner, you are preserved and surrounded by a God Who is a Hiding Place for all who come to Him in faith. And there are only two kinds of people in the world: repentant sinners who live by amazing grace, and unrepentant sinners who abide in their chosen condemnation.

Psalm 37:39-40 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble. The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

These Lutheran Liturgists Put Many of Today's Evangelicals to Shame

I'm in Houston this week, and I was privileged to attend church with a business associate. Lutheranism was the faith of my youth, but I never saw a Lutheran church as big or as orthodox as Trinity Lutheran Church in Klein, TX. It brought back memories to see the altar rails, the acolytes, the robed ministers and the gigantic pipe organ. My father often tells the story about the pastor of the Lutheran church we used to attend holding up a Bible. "You can't believe half of what's written here," he said, "it's full of mistakes. You have to pick and choose." Trinity Lutheran Church is evidently not of that persuasion. For me, this is a shockingly different kind of Lutheranism.

The first shock came when Zephaniah 1:7-18 was posted on the video projection screen and read aloud by the pastor. The passage includes these words:

Verses 14-18 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there. A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements. I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the LORD; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.

How many of today's Evangelical churches would unflinchingly present this to their "emergent" or "seeker" congregations? My shock deepened as I listened to the pastor preach a solid 30-minute message in which the righteous judgment and wrath of God against sinners was expounded clearly. The Gospel was explained as the remedy for this, and Christ's work on the cross was preached without compromise. I kept waiting for it to be watered down, but all I heard was straightforward truth from God's Word.
Here's an excerpt from the bulletin: "Today's Old Testament reading presents us with one of the most frightening passages of Scripture dealing with the wrath of the Lord on Judgment Day. God will not long tolerate the unbelief, immorality, false religions and selfishness of any society. History is replete with examples of the fall of powerful and advanced empires and cultures. And, ultimately even our world will be destroyed with fire. . . . But what is to be the fate of the believer? Need we live in fear? NO! For we are Sons and Daughters of the Day. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . . (I Thessalonians 5:10-11)"

During the service, three extended passages of Scripture were read. The prayer time included a responsive reading with these words said by the entire congregation: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.

Imagine a room full of well-dressed and respectable people uttering these words. All in all, I was impressed an edified by what I experienced at Trinity Lutheran Church. What amazed me the most was the boldness and clarity of the message - something many of today's Evangelical churches have left in the dust. Oh, and did I mention the Hymn of the Day? "The Clouds of Judgment Gather." I don't think that one's on the latest WOW Worship CD.

What a joy to find Lutherans who have not strayed from the spirit of the great reformer!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Compatibilism - a Term for Biblical Balance and Paradox

It's always encouraging to find examples of thoughtful Christians humbly embracing paradox in a way that gives honor to God and holds to His Word in an uncompromising way. Recently, Barry Wallace did this on his blog, Who Am I?

Check out this post on Barry's site for a great discussion of "COMPATIBILISM" - a Biblical approach to the dilemma of human responsibility and divine sovereignty.

Compatibilism differs strongly from Neo-orthodoxy's dialectical theology and the Hegelian concept of THESIS-ANTITHESIS-SYNTHESIS. If we take the Scriptures seriously, the dialectic method of producing a "synthesis" becomes unacceptable. Dialectical theology requires us to take something away from each side in order to find a working alternative somewhere in the middle. This forces us to deny some of the things God has said in His Word. Such an approach should never be called paradox. It would be better described as reducing Biblical truth to the lowest common denominator (a.k.a. "liberalism"). Compatibilism, on the other hand, assumes that everything taught in the Word of God is completely true. It refuses to reduce any of God's revelation. It resists the temptation to rip pages from the Bible to make our own paper-mache truth. Instead, it declares the human mind incapable of reconciling all that God has said. This conclusion exalts God, and in this way theological paradox becomes the best friend of orthodoxy - not a path to liberalism.
God is TRUE, and every man IS a liar until he surrenders to the Truth of God.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Psalm 32:6 - The Prayer of the Godly Man

Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him.

The wording of this verse seems confusing at first. “Therefore” refers us back to what David has already said: bring your sins to God and He will forgive you. It's a call for sinners to confess their sins. So, what's the connection between this and the idea that a “godly” person should pray while the Lord “may be found”? And what does it mean that there is a time when He may be found? Is there a time when He cannot be found? I was under the impression that He finds us, so what is this saying, anyway? The confusion partly stems from a misunderstanding of the word "godly," and our sense of this verse hinges on the meaning of that word.

In Hebrew, "godly" is the word HASID (ever heard of a Hasidic Jew?). This word is related to the Hebrew word HESED, which some scholars consider to be the most important word in the Old Testament. HESED is usually translated as mercy, lovingkindness, kindness, merciful kindness, steadfast love or loyalty. It is a rich Hebrew word that calls for prayerful study. Don't assume a mere lexicon or Hebrew dictionary can teach you the depths of its meaning, but seek this word out in the text of the Bible and find its usage according to the Holy Spirit. Having said that, let's look at a few helpful observations from the scholars and have a brief Hebrew lesson about this word, HESED:

“. . . [It is] one of the most important words in the Old Testament . . . the basic idea is that of an act of kindness, love or mercy shown to someone. The quality of the kindness shown is usually that reserved for close friends and family members, but [it] can be shown to anyone. . . . [It] is central to God's character. It is closely tied to His covenant with His chosen people; in fact the covenant may be thought of as the relationship from which [HESED] flows.” (Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Old Testament, Lexical Aids article for Strong's number 2617)

“The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. . . . In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: “Strength,” “steadfastness,” and “love.” Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. . . . The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship. But HESED is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also of mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay absolute claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. HESED implied personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. . . . It is one of [God's] most central characteristics. . . . The entire history of Yahweh's covenant relationship with Israel can be summarized in terms of HESED.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Old Testament section edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White, Jr., article on Loving-Kindness)

“The nearest New Testament equivalent to the Heb. HESED is CHARIS (grace q.v.), as Luther realized. . . . God's loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel's persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Heb. word which is translated loving-kindness. . . . The story of God's people throughout the centuries is that her waywardness has been so persistent that, if even a remnant is to be preserved, God has had to show mercy more than anything else.” (A Theological Wordbook of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, article on Loving-Kindness)

The word HASID is usually translated with words like “godly” or “saint,” but it actually means “one who trusts in God's HESED mercy."

“The adjective HASID, derived from HESED, is often used to describe the faithful Israelite. God's HESED provides the pattern, model, and strength by which the life of the Hasid is to be directed.” (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words)

The truly godly people are those who live by God's mercy. So the verse might read, "Therefore, let everyone who trusts in Your mercy pray to You . . ." Ah, that makes more sense, doesn't it?

When should these mercy-dependent people pray? David's answer is, "In a time when He may be found." The phrase could also be translated "in a time of finding out." David's sin was "found out" rather embarrassingly when Nathan said "You are the man" and revealed that David's hidden sin was not hidden at all. The time when God may be found IS the time of finding out. In fact, God will only allow Himself to be found by sinners. Jesus said "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." When you find out you are a much worse sinner than you ever thought possible, when you find out your flesh is still warring against God, when you find out your heart is indeed sinful and unbelieving - then you must pray! This is also the time of finding out about God, that He is more merciful, kind, patient and generous than you ever imagined. That He is indeed nothing like you. If you find yourself without finding Him, you will collapse under the weight of your sin.

What is the result of this discovery, this "finding out"? The HASID who finds his own weakness and prays to the Great Giver of Mercy is protected from harm. The toxic sea of self-knowledge does not overwhelm him. The great flood of condemnation doesn't even touch him. He is set on higher ground and kept by the power of grace.

In Psalm 117, we find these words "His HESED prevails over us." Prevailing - isn't that the very same thing the waters of Noah's flood did to the earth? Prevailed over it? Now that's some kind of mercy! Instead of sin flooding over us, grace prevails.

It's no wonder David cannot contain his jubilation through the next verses. I'll bet he danced before he ever finished writing this love poem to his Lord. And so shall we . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Neo-Orthodoxy, Paradox, The Bible, and Bonhoeffer

Here's a little diversion from our study on Psalm 32 . . .

I just listened to Curt Daniel's lecture on Neo-Orthodoxy, found here:

Lectures on the History and Theology of Calvinism (

Concerning Neo-Orthodoxy, Dr. Daniel states, "It is not paradox, it is simply unbiblical contradiction. It is also theological fiction. It simply does not match the facts of Scripture." Although his criticism of supposed paradox in Neo-Orthodoxy is harsh, in other lectures I have found Dr. Daniel to be fond of theological paradox within the framework of true orthodoxy.

I once believed the Neo-Orthodox idea of paradox was quite in line with what I write here at THEOparadox. Now, I am horrified by that thought. Let me officially state for the record: THEOparadox has no relation whatsoever to Neo-Orthodoxy. If Neo-Orthodoxy is even half as bad as Dr. Daniel makes it out to be, I am forced to disavow it completely.

Many things in Scripture strike us as contradictory, or at least illogical to a certain degree. These things are not errors or mistakes, they are signs which call us to dig into the text and discover God's brilliant logic. His logic is above ours, so it sometimes leaves us in mystery and wonder. But it is NEVER NEVER NEVER in error. God's Word is THE TRUTH. The point of THEOparadox is precisely opposite to that of Neo-Orthodoxy. It is the weakness of man and man's logic that leaves us sometimes in a place of paradox. To God, everything makes perfect sense and there are no real contradictions in His self-revelation, the Bible. How could there be, if God is its source?

I'm still a big fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings, especially The Cost of Discipleship. In Christ the Center, I find him speaking the language of liberalism, but shredding its foundational premises at the very same time. Life Together is simply a masterpiece. Whatever Bonhoeffer may have learned from Karl Barth, I have not yet encountered Barth's more obvious errors in his writings. I now know better what to look for, however. Perhaps if Bonhoeffer had survived the concentration camp, we would know more of his thoughts. But those he left us have great value as far as I'm concerned, even if he proved himself to be comfortable with liberals and a friend of the Neo-Orthodox. In any case, he was a better disciple of Christ than I am, by at least a hundred times.

So let us find inspiration in many places, but ultimate TRUTH in God's Word alone. And let all things - including our lifestyles (especially our lifestyles) - be tested by the Word, lest we ourselves go astray.