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!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dr. Andreas Kostenberger will be at my church this Sunday!

Dr. Andreas Kostenberger will be doing a Q & A session in our Sunday School this week, and he will preach in our Sunday worship gathering. We're just finishing a sermon series on John's Gospel, which will be the subject of both meetings. Dr. Kostenberger has written numerous scholarly volumes on the Gospel of John. 

We have been given the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time, and I just sent mine in. Here it is:

Please discuss the meaning of the word "world" (KOSMOS) in the writings of John. Does the word have a consistent meaning? Is there a basic definition that fits in every case? Or does the word have a range of possible meanings, and if so how should we determine which meaning applies to particular texts? To what extent can we use John's epistles to define the word in John's Gospel?

I guess that's actually 5 or 6 questions, but who's counting?

My current understanding is that KOSMOS almost always means "the order of mankind as sinners, on (or near) the earth, in active opposition to God, under the domain and influence of Satan." I'll be very interested to see how this compares to Dr. Kostenberger's answer, which I will report here next week. 

If you're in the Jacksonville area this Sunday, you may hear the answer for yourself at Lakeside Community Church.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 12 - A.W. Pink

A.W. Pink (1886-1952) gets one of our famous t-shirts. Although Pink is regarded as the consummate "ultra-high" Calvinist, and although he is considered by some to have been an actual hyper-Calvinist during at least a period of his life, it is clear from the excerpt below that Pink became a firm believer in theological balance and paradox. He is well known for denying that God has any love for the non-elect. On that matter, he was certainly expressing a hyper-Calvinistic tendency, and was at odds with Calvin and every other mainstream Reformed theologian in history. If Pink had applied some paradoxical thinking to the topic, he would have moved into a more balanced position. But we all have our blind spots.

The excerpt below is from an article written by Pink in 1936, in which he tenaciously argues against the hyper-Calvinist's denial of "duty faith" (duty faith refers to the fact that God commands every person to repent and believe the Gospel, and therefore it is everyone's "duty" to do so). It is important to note that Pink is not denying the validity and usefulness of reason or logic, as such. Rather, he is showing how "human" reasoning stands opposed to divine, inerrant Truth. Human logic is good as far as it goes, but in dealing with divine matters there is a need for revelation, which exceeds the capacities and categories of mere human logic. In other words, God's ways cannot be mapped out mathematically by the human brain.

Pink also wrote a book about the attributes of God, in which he made some very strong statements in favor of the doctrine of incomprehensibility. Perhaps he will win another t-shirt for that. But for now, enjoy A.W. Pink's bold attack on theological imbalance - complete with a strong appeal to the concept of paradox.

"Now if we resort to human reasoning it will logically follow that it is quite useless to exhort the unregenerate to turn unto God or come unto Christ; yea, to exhort those who are utterly incompetent to respond, will appear to be most inconsistent and the height of absurdity. But, my reader, the things of God cannot be encompassed by human reason, and the moment we attempt to measure them by the line of our "logic," we open the door for Satan to deceive by his subtleties. He will tell us that if the Lord our God be one Lord then He cannot be a plurality of Persons, and that if we hold to three Divine Persons we are most "inconsistent" in affirming the unity of God. Satan will tell us that if God be Love then He will never banish any of His creatures to everlasting woe, and that if we hold to eternal punishment of the wicked we are altogether "inconsistent" in believing in the Divine benevolence.
What, then are we to do? This: repudiate all reasoning upon spiritual things as utterly worthless, and believe with the simplicity of a child whatever God's Word teaches. The Apostles held firmly the revealed truth of a glorious and victorious Messiah, and they could not "harmonize" with that fact a humiliated Messiah that would be crucified: the two things appeared to be altogether "inconsistent" and contradictory. But to them Christ said, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25).That, my reader, should be a lasting warning to us of the utter inadequacy of human logic and philosophizing upon Divine things! We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Unitarian, and while holding fast to the Unity of the Divine nature, we must also believe there are three co-equal Persons in the Godhead. We must turn from the vain reasonings of the Universalist, and while holding fast to the love of God, we must also believe in the eternal punishment of His enemies. And why? Because Holy Scripture teaches both!
In like manner, we must turn from the vain reasonings . . . of the hyper-Calvinist, and while holding fast to the total depravity and the spiritual inability of the natural man, we must also believe in his moral responsibility and accountability to God."

(Note: I have emboldened some text for emphasis, but the italics are all Pink's)

HT: Phil Johnson

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Isaiah 53:2a - Tender Shoot and Rugged Root

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, 
And like a root out of parched ground . . .

Isaiah paints a striking picture of ruggedness and tenderness as he begins to describe the character of the Messiah. Using the illustration of a desert plant he contrasts a fresh, green sprout with a tough, gnarled root. They are part of the same organism, yet they are opposite in their characteristics. The ironies here illustrate the majestic humility of the God-Man. 
Rev. Fred Klett, a specialist in ministry to the Jewish people, notes that the seemingly contradictory Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah led some Jewish Rabbis to predict that there would be two Messiahs rather than just one. 
When one studies rabbinic views of the Messiah one finds something very interesting. Many ancient rabbis spoke of two Messiahs, one who was the "Son of David" and another who was the "Son of Joseph." Though one can find the sufferings of Messiah attributed to the sufferings of the Davidic Messiah in many rabbinic writings, often a second Messiah is posited, the "Son of Joseph" or "Son of Ephraim," who is the one who suffers while the Davidic Messiah conquers. The rabbis struggled with Biblical portraits of a suffering Messiah, as found in Isaiah 53 and other places, and portraits of a conquering Messiah, also found in the Hebrew Bible. They posited two Messiahs, but could it not also be reasonable to believe there is just one Messiah but two aspects of his mission, a suffering aspect and a conquering aspect? 
There is only one Messiah, but there are two comings and two aspects of his ministry. The Messiah came the first time to provide atonement for sin. He is now expanding his kingdom and conquering the Gentiles, not by the sword, but by preaching. . . . One day he will return to judge the earth and to bring in his Kingdom in all its fullness. (Source:, The Two-Messiah Theory. CHAIM is a Reformed ministry to the Jewish people, led by Rev. Fred Klett) 
Fittingly, Isaiah presents this one Messiah in the paradox of a fragile, new plant springing from very old and sturdy roots. The plant appeared defenseless, but there was a hidden strength underneath it.  
The soft shoot that wouldn't threaten a caterpillar is fed by a root that can break through concrete. There is weakness and fragility, but there is also strength and durability. A plant that has been cut down, but not uprooted, can resurrect itself and produce new shoots again. Though Christ's human weakness made Him mortal, His divine strength made Him invincible. He died and rose again.
Rising Up To God 
 "Grew Up" = עלה Heb. ALAH (900 occurrences in the OT) = This is a common verb meaning "to go up, to ascend, to climb." 
Christ always moved upward, toward the Father, just as plants grow toward their sources of sustenance: water and light. As God pre-incarnate, Christ was rooted eternally and immutably in the Father's love. As God incarnate, He was ever reaching up toward the light of that love. As the God-Man resurrected and ascended, He is forever enthroned in it. Consider what a great yearning He always had for His Father . . . 
Hebrews 5:7 In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety.
Luke 5:16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.
Luke 6:12 It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.
Matthew 14:23 After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.
Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
Think of it . . . God was praying! Our Lord led the way for us in pure devotion to the Father. He was perfectly faithful in prayer because it was a necessity of His humanity - and He was a perfect example for us. Every saint knows he falls far short in matters of prayer, but we need only look to the cross where Christ's perfect righteousness was applied to our account. In Christ's perfect life we see a righteousness sufficient to cover us, and we find a righteousness that inspires us to perseverance and growing devotion. So we fix our eyes on Jesus and press on in faith, trusting His grace to cover all our sin and trusting His Spirit to supply what is needed for our ongoing sanctification.
Drawing Life From the Roots
."Tender Shoot" = יוֹנֵק Heb. YOWNEQ (this is the only occurrence of this word in the OT) = The word properly means "sucking," and pictures the way a young animal draws life from its mother's milk (cf. Gesenius' note here).
The defenseless sprout endures because it is connected to a firm root. The rugged root pictures the divinity of Christ, in communion with the Father. Yet it is a root out of parched ground because life on earth offered Him nothing. Surely David was predicting the thoughts of Christ Himself when he uttered these words . . .
 Psalm 63:1 O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water. 
This is the beginning of His sufferings in behalf of a sinful world. In the incarnation, He already feels some separation from the Father. The pre-incarnate Son basked in the Father's love; in this state He still basks in it, but time and matter have become a barrier. In the pre-incarnate state, He enjoyed an omniscient knowledge of the Father's love; now a knowledge gap stands between. He has become a physically separate Being walking on a spiritually barren planet amidst the perishing wreckage of multiplied human sin - sin He will soon carry on His own shoulders. The sufferings of the incarnation are only the first steps on a long journey, at the end of which He will experience spiritual separation from the Father because He bears every sin. On the cross He will cry with the most absolute realism possible: "I thirst!"