Wednesday, January 23, 2008

God saves sinners

In a few weeks' time I'll begin my first (and hopefully not only) seminary class, Introduction to Pastoral and Theological Studies (a.k.a. Reformed boot camp) at Reformed Theological Seminary. One of the course's themes is that God saves sinners. That is, that the Trinity wholly begins, achieves, and completes the deliverance and glorification of a hopelessly corrupt and wickedly vile people lovingly and freely chosen to exist by God, for God.

The first reading for our class is J. I. Packer's introductory essay to John Owen's
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1648). Owen's treatise is considered one of the most complete works ever on the saving work of Christ and fully promotes the truth and excellency of what has unfortunately been called "limited atonement." I've been very on-again, off-again regarding this notion--that Jesus only effectively died for a finite and fixed number of people whom God has, in his ineffable wisdom, marked out for glory before the universe even began. But consider this paragraph from Packer's preface:

Calvinism that insists on taking seriously the biblical assertions that God saves, and that He saves those whom He has chosen to save, and that He saves them by grace without works, so that no man may boast, and that Christ is given to them as a perfect Saviour, and that their whole salvation flows to them from the Cross, and that the work of redeeming them was finished on the Cross. It is Calvinism that gives due honour to the Cross. When the Calvinist sings:

“There is a green hill far away, Without a city wall, Where the dear Lord was crucified, Who died to save us all; He died the we might be forgiven, He died to make us good; That we might go at last to Heaven, Saved by His precious blood.”

—he means it. He will not gloss the italicised statements by saying that God’s saving purpose in the death of His Son was a mere ineffectual wish, depending for its fulfilment on man’s willingness to believe, so that for all God could do Christ might have died and none been saved at all. He insists that the Bible sees the Cross as revealing God’s power to save, not His impotence. Christ did not win a hypothetical salvation for hypothetical believers, a mere possibility of salvation for any who might possibly believe, but a real salvation for His own chosen people. His precious blood really does “save us all”; the intended effects of His self-offering do in fact follow, just because the Cross was what it was. Its saving power does not depend on faith being added to it; its saving power is such that faith flows from it. The Cross secured the full salvation of all for whom Christ died. “God forbid,” therefore, “that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Emphasis added)

Amazing to think, eh? Not easy--but amazing grace indeed.


Ted M. Gossard said...

I'm wondering if you're Calvinist or Lutheran in your basic theological orientation.

Andrew said...

I would say I'm "Calvinist with Lutheran sympathies." Not much help, is it? No, I'd say that where the two differ, I generally have a Calvinist orientation.

I was raised in the LCMS, but after acknowledging Jesus' authority in 2002 I was fed a diet of Campus Crusade (which has no particular theology) and seeker-friendly, Emergent, Baptistic teaching for a couple years. Through reading and Bible study, I grew dissatisfied with the anthrocentrism and subjectivism of it all, but I was drawn to John Piper and Reformed theology. This was further cemented when I was "adopted" by a great family and started attending their Reformed church.

In 2006 I started looking into Lutheranism again after some good friends began pastoral studies at Concordia-St. Louis, and I have been rethinking and reevaluating a lot since then. My pendulum is currently swung to the Reformed side of things, and probably increasingly so, now that I call a PCA church my home.

Ted M. Gossard said...

PCA is a great denomination. And I have alot of respect for both good, solid, true Calvinist or Lutheran theology.

I also think John Piper has alot of good for us, especially as a present day disciple of Jonathan Edwards. I'm not sure that I track with Piper in that I think from what I've picked up from him that his theology is not sufficiently community-oriented. Community is rooted in God as Trinity, in the union of Father, Son and Spirit. And in Christ, we're taken up into that community in a participatory sense, beginning of course, by grace now. I know you know that. Just stating what I believe. But what Piper does teach really fits in well with that, and he certainly is a good, humble servant.

Calvin and Luther both had Augustinian roots. Interesting where they went from there, and how they differ, though in the essential, I'd say they're essentially one and the same.

Now I'm rusty on historical theology. Had a great prof in seminary, now with the Lord, over here in GR, Dr. Joe Crawford. He had a passion for theology. Made me want to pick up Henry Crouzel's book on Origen and devour it. Such was his gift. (And we had a prof, now at Dallas Seminary, believe it or not, Dr. Stephen Spencer, whose favorite theologian was (and I assume still is) Calvin, and who sported a teeshirt with a portrait of Calvin on it. Of course I live in Calvinist country, and much good in that.

I think the best followers of the Reformed tradition are open to the belief that we must be ever open to reforming, in the light of Scripture and the help of the Spirit. Not in the basics, but in our understanding of it all. Those who want to live as if back in the 1500's are going to have alot of good to say- e.g., God-centered versus man-centered so evident the latter among us evangelicals as seen in our bookstores. But they must beware, because through people like Barth and Moltmann, etc., God is helping us see more clearly, the message in the Story we have in Scripture, I believe.

Good thoughts, Andrew. I can imagine you as a prof someday yourself!