Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Reformation Day!

It's finally here: this year's annual Reformation Day post! (You can all exhale now.) In case you haven't been reading this blog for years, every October 31st I celebrate the nailing of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg on All Souls' Eve in 1517, ultimately spurring many within the church to return to Scripture and to celebrate Jesus Christ alone as our All in All. This year's quote comes from a sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled "Justification as the Last Word" (c. 1940).* It's a bit lengthy, but well worth the patience.

All Christian living has its origin and existnece in one single happening which the Reformation called "justification by grace alone." It is not what the individual is in himself or herself, but what he or she has become by this happening which defines a Christian life. Here we have the length and breadth of human life in a nutshell, gathered together at one point; the whole of life is contained in this event. What happens here? An ultimate act of suffering which cannot be grasped by any human being. The darkness, which from within and without takes human life into the abyss of hopelessness is bound, conquered, and destroyed by the power of the Word of God; in the light of this deliverance, we see God and our neighbor for the first time. The bewildering labyrinth of the life we have lived so far is shattered. We are free for God and our neighbor. We begin to know in our heart that there is a God who loves us, accepts us, and that by our side is a brother or sister, whom God loves as he loves us. Also, we know now that there is a future with the triune God, who is present among his people. Now, the human being has faith, love, and hope. Past and future become as one in the presence of God. The whole of the past is gathered up in the word "forgiveness"; the whole of the future is in the safekeeping of the true God. The sins of the past are sunk into the abyss of the love of God in Christ Jesus and overcome. The future will be a life with God, without sin (see 1 John 3:9). Life, then, is revealed as detached from teh temporal and held fast by the eternal, choosing the way of eternal salvation ratherthan the ways of the termporal world, as a member of a community and of creation, which sings praises to the triune God. All this happens with theencounter of Christ with the human soul. All this is truth and reality in Christ. Because it is no dream, it is a dtruly human life, which is lived in the presence of Christ. From now on, it is no longer a lost life, but a justified life, justified by grace alone.

But not only "by grace alone," also "by faith alone." That is what both the Scriptures and the Reformation teach. Not love nor hope, but only faith justifies a life. Faith alone, indeed, sets life upon a new foundation and it is this new foundation alone that justifies it, so that I can live before God. The foundation, however, is the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this foundation a life cannot be justified before God. It is left to the mercy of death and damnation. Only by living a life by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can we be justified before God. But faith means finding and standing firm upon this foundation, to be anchored in it and thereby to be held firm by it. Faith means establishing one's life upon a foundation outside one's own self, upon and eternal and holy foundation, which is Christ. Faith means to be captivated by the glance of Jesus Christ, to see nothing other than him, to be torn out of imprisonment in one's own ego, to be set free by Jesus Christ. Faith is letting this action take place, which is an action in itself, but these two are not enough to explain the mystery. Only faith is certain, all else is doubt. Jesus Christ himself is the certainly of faith. I believe that my life is justified in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way to the justification of my life than by faith alone. . . .


*Bonhoeffer, Werke, Vol. 15, pp. 492-98; as found in Edwin Robertson, ed., tr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 160-162.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Triumphs and Tears

I know this is outside the scope or intent of this blog's normal content--if and when I even post anything anymore--but some of you who read this know that I have been a high school track and cross country coach. This year I'm at a new high school and no longer coaching track because it's such a time-sucking vortex, but I had the opportunity to serve as the boys' cross country coach. I ended up being the de facto girls' coach too, however, because Julie (the girls' coach) and I pretty much decided to blend the teams this year.

Yesterday was the day we were all eagerly awaiting: the Capital District Championship. On paper the girls were ranked fourth, and the boys were fifth or sixth out of eight teams in the district. The top four teams advance to Regionals. Despite slow, spongy course conditions due to the storms and tornadoes one day earlier (which forced the meet to be postponed one day), the girls ran really well. As the girls streamed across the finish, I frantically tried running my own scoring of the meet. What I calculated on paper was confirmed later by the official scoring: The girls placed fourth and moved on to Regionals! An added plus was that our top freshman, Katie Sperry, finished 9th to take All-District honors.

Sadly for the boys, our number-five runner and last scorer selfishly quit the team yesterday, leaving us a hole to fill. ("Welcome to the world of coaching," another veteran coach told me.) But our sixth guy stepped it up. We knocked off one of our rival schools that had narrowly defeated us all season long -- except this time we crushed 'em. However, we only ended up fifth place in the district, so our season is over. But I was pretty glad to see that, of all teams in fourth, it was Henrico (where I previously coached) who had defeated us. After all, their top five were all guys I had coached in track last year and recruited to run XC this season. Several other coaches congratulated Julie and I on getting the team off to a good start. It felt good.

Today was an easy, fun day for the kids: the "rainbow run." (Props to Tim Hoshal for that one.) It was a crisp, sunny fall day, with the red maples donned in their characteristic scarlet and the willow oaks and sweetgums in golds and yellows. The kids were in good spirits, and their laughter and smiles added to the bliss brought to me by a beautiful fall day and the joy of cross country. I know that I really need the extra time at school and home afforded by not coaching the rest of the year. I really do. But I'm really quite sad that the season is over for the boys and will soon wrap up for the girls, too. Just like track last year, cross' has been a huge blessing from God in my life, something I'm really thankful for.
Next up: Central Region Championship. . . . And dare I run the Richmond Half-Marathon?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

KDY - The Crust and the Core

Kevin DeYoung has re-posted an old post of his, "The Crust and the Core," which ended up becoming the final chapter in his book about the Heidelberg Catechism. He argues for why doctrine must be studied and alive within a church and our hearts (our "core"), but that it should not become a barrier which prevents unity in the church and keeps others from seeing the glory of Christ (a "crust"). Highly recommended.

On that note, too, I'd like to retag an old post of mine which hopefully embodies the same spirit: "Whose orthodoxy is it?"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thanks for the Dawn

As I've been working my way through the book of Isaiah for this year's BSF study, I've been met time and again with the reality of most people's spiritual stupor before the living God, the Holy One. On one hand, I too feel provoked by visions of the Lord "sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up" (6:1); I don't see Christ much this way, nor tremble under him in reverent awe.

But I am also filled with a deep sense of gratitude to this same Lord, this reigning and ruling King. Millions of others may spend their whole lives either openly dismissing the gospel, or more likely, going about aloof or ignorant of his resurrection and judgment to come (Rev. 20:11-15). But in his kindness I have been given his Spirit, my sight of him has been restored, and in my deepest being I know that he is true. In fact, the very first time I believe I saw Christ for who he really is, it was an inescapable mental image of what is known as Christos Pantokrator, "the Messiah All-Powerful," who is coming again to judge the living and the dead. But he did not terrify me; he also showed me that he gave up his life in agony upon a deserted cross to remove my sins and to become my own Savior.

Every time I think of those around me who have never seen his Light or who have fallen away from faith in him, I thank God that for whatever reason unknown to me, he has lovingly brought me to faith and has kept me faithful. The words of Augustine come to mind: "Yet if any man makes a list of his deserts [merits], what would it be but a list of your gifts?" (Confessions IX.13). Each day I cannot boast that I have deeper spiritual insight or godliness or purity of will than anyone else. All I can do is boast in the Savior who gives me these things in his time and measure. "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On Inerrancy

There is (still) a lot of debate within the evangelical world about the inerrancy of Scripture, the belief that the Bible, in its original manuscripts (autographs), is flawless and completely truthful in all its propositions, claims, and all that it affirms. Now, I don't doubt this. "All Scripture is breathed out by God" (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16) and has the Holy Spirit as its ultimate author, though it was penned in culturally conditioned ways through fallible human authors. In reality what looks like error to us is simply the result of three main phenomena: (1) It was authored by the Spirit of God, and only the Spirit within us knows and interprets and unveils to us God's thoughts. "For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11). Because we are not completely ruled and renewed by the Spirit yet, in many ways Scripture seems opaque, foggy. "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14).

(2) God's revelation of himself remains under his lordship and at his discretion. Because he must breathe his Spirit into us to comprehend his breathed-out Word, we are at his mercy in all true wisdom we may gain. The fact remains that all Scripture comes from a perfect Mind which is infinitely beyond the reach of our finite, creaturely minds. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9). Only as God chooses to enable our minds to grasp the truth of his Word can we grow in grace and knowledge. The Word is God's self-disclosure, self-revelation; and as such we can never wrap our minds around it fully to make judgments upon it any more than we can scrutinize and judge our Creator. It is as if a paper doll were to lay claim to the child who cut it! The real question for us is, under God's lordship, will we be faithfully submissive to what we do understand, while praying all the while for deeper knowledge of his mysteries? "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29, emphasis mine).

(3) There is the obvious difficulty of our cultural differences and historical distance from the times and places where the Bible was written, and this will always occlude our view of its message. For example, many (though not all) inerrantists claim that you must believe in a single, uniquely-created Adam who was the very first of all humans, if you are to accept an unerring Bible. But that opens up many other difficulties with the Genesis account which they would need to reconcile, if they accept Adam as the original progenitor of the human race. (I am simply using this as an example, not to say what I believe about Adam.) But what if the narrative about Adam's creation wasn't meant so much as to answer the hows or whens of creation, as it was to give Adam and mankind his purpose within the world--ultimately a purpose which Israel was supposed to embody. The Genesis creation accounts could've been penned (carved?) by Moses to point Israel to her identity as the divine image-bearers of God exercising dominion over the world and bringing blessing to it. This example obviously leaves out a lot of details, but I'm simply using it to point out the gaps created by cultural distance.

* * *

Ultimately, though, while I accept inerrancy a la B. B. Warfield and the Chicago Statement, it doesn't matter that much to me. Why not? To put it simply, I don't trust the Scriptures because I believe they're inerrant. (Though because they are inerrant and infallible, we need to accept and live by all that God reveals to us therein, because they are the instrument of his rule in our lives, his words which soar above the puny "wisdom" of man.) I believe them because they revealed to me my risen Savior Jesus Christ. I came to know and believe in Jesus long before I ever knew about the doctrine of inerrancy. And because the Bible pointed me to Jesus, I kept on reading it and found living words that read me, and I found life for my soul. No other book does that. That is why I trust the Bible and rely on it: not because it fits some sort of definition of inerrancy, but because it has brought me to a knowledge of my sin and, more so, of a redeeming God of love who bore my sin on Calvary. I believe it because only its message makes sense of my life and of the world. That is why I trust it. And because I know in my heart that the risen Jesus is living and true, and that I cannot turn away from the inescapable grip his reality has on me, I take his word as trustworthy and true. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).