Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Helpful Romans Commentaries

J. Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP) - Concise and informative, very helpful on purpose and structure, great introductory commentary with that little bit more meat.
F. F. Bruce, Romans (Tyndale, No. 6) - Don't do it. He has some helpful things to say, but often ignores whole verses or misses key systematic issues. Much more helpful on introductory issues. Not one of his best.
M. Luther, Romans (Kregel Classics) - Strange little book (being only 223 pages long), more of a pulling together of various thoughts and materials than a working commentary. Yet is a surprisingly helpful and edifying read. Luther does tend to go a little overboard at times, and again skips comment on some verses.
N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone - Again, not brilliant, sometimes helpful on breaking down a passage, but often misses verses, it seems, to fit his theological agenda. Wright is a fine exegete, but certainly not at his best here.
N.T. Wright & S. K. Soderlund (eds.) Romans and the People of God - Very helpful collection of essays in honour of Gorden Fee. These essays cover ground all over Romans and its modern application, some of them much better than others, has proved to be very insightful. Authors include, Wright, Packer, Marshall, France, Longenecker, Dunn, et al.
J. Dunn, Romans (Word Biblical Commentary, 2 Vols.) - Dunn gives us an exceptionally detailed and thoughtful piece of work, often helpful, full of detailed text work, however it does seem quite strongly that Saunders is too often drifting through the pages.
C. Cranfield Romans (T & T Clark, ICC, 2 Vols.)- Brilliant 2 volume commentary, very helpful exegetical work, very very dense. I would strongly recommend his abridged version as a way into this not particularly accessible work. N.b. Although I don't always agree with what Cranfield concludes, his text work allows the reader to use what he says and form his own opinion. I.e. The exegesis is not as pressupossionally drawn as some authors.
J. Calvin, Romans - Very helpful in parts, amazingly clear text work for such an ancient commentary, fun read (not always for the reasons Calvin would have appreciated), but conclusions often driven by a theological agenda. Though still competes with contemporary commentaries.
D. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT) - Probably the most comprehensive and clear commentary currently on the market, very helpful, well structured, and engages multilaterally with the key issues. Moo also deals quite extensively with the New Perspective(s) on Paul.
J. Philip The Power of God - Fantastic introductory commentary, lots of fresh insight, v-helpful!

Friday, September 22, 2006

More thoughts on translating -theon- in v. 22 (see earlier post)

Do note that this is neither an exhaustive list of translations or interpretations ... far from it. Just a couple that at the moment I feel most plausible. I will expand in later blogs on supporting context and verses for some of the interpretations.

Possible Translations:

What if God, although he desired to show his wrath and make known his power, endured with much patience, vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, whom he made beforehand for glory.

What if God, because he desired to show his wrath and make known his power, endured with much patience, vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, whom he made beforehand for glory

Possible Interpretations from translation 1 (concessive):

1.1 God wants to show his wrath and his power but , by patiently enduring with vessels of wrath he could instead show his glory to vessels of mercy. Or...he didn't just destroy the vessels of wrath after the fall, but instead let his plan continue so that he could show his mercy by saving the vessels of mercy through his redemptive plan with Christ at the center, - therefore two sets of vessels, some have been prepared for destruction, some prepared for mercy. Elect and reprobate.

1.2 God wanted to show his wrath and his but instead gives the vessels of wrath chance to repent and become vessels of mercy. So ... vessels of mercy come out of vessels of wrath. All were 'made' for destruction as all fall short of the glory of God, but some were made beforehand for glory, those who God foreknew would repent, those whom he predestined for glory. God also knew those vessels of wrath that would not become vessels of mercy, however, just as in the case of Pharaoh, they are responsible for their lack of repentance. So God elects them as 'reprobate' however their own responsibility confirms them in that. God is sovereign, yet man responsible.

Possible Interpretations from translation 2 (causal):

2.1 God wants to show his wrath and power, and does so against vessels of wrath made for destruction and this also allows God to show glory more especially by showing his mercy to vessels of mercy made beforehand for glory. Two groups of vessels, one for glory, the other for wrath, shows more fully God's character, therefore shows more of His glory.

2.2 God wants to show his wrath and power, and does against vessels of wrath made for destruction. However, as in 1.2, some of those vessels, in God's foreknowledge repent and become the vessels of mercy. Therefore all made as vessels of wrath (cf. Eph. 2:3 – we were all children of wrath), yet out of these, through Jesus, God chose a people for himself who would repent through his grace and become vessels of mercy...as they were prepared for beforehand. So again, God is sovereign, yet man still fully responsible.

Its my feeling that either 1.2 or 2.2 is the most likely in the context of Paul, the teaching of Jesus and further systematic implications. This obviously though leads us with some difficulties:.
> If God truly does elect before the foundations of the earth, why is man still held responsible?
For the answer to this I direct you to Rom. 9:19f., noting particularly that our sense of justice and morality is soaked in the tree we ate from, and therefore apart from grace, warped.

> Is God completely just in holding us responsible if he moulded us this way?
See Rom. 9:14f. Noting that our sense of justice too is 'tree-justice' and we know that God is completely just, and his actions must also therefore be just. To further understand the depth of true justice we must submit to God's word as it teaches us about himself. God's justice often doesn't make sense to us, especially if we are unwilling to submit to his word, who would have thought that justice meant the Father pouring his wrath upon his Sinless Son to call us into his glory as vessels of mercy.

> How is God completely Sovereign in predetermining vessels if man is held fully responsible for his actions?
This is a complicated question in which there is no easy answer. I believe it to be a working, biblical paradox which is held in the counsel of God but cannot be fully grasped by human-kind. However there are things that help us, such as first, we know that it must work with God's character, therefore must be totally holy, and just, and loving, and righteous...etc. And also second, this biblical paradox is not unique, we see another closely related working biblical paradox in God's means of grace...such as shown in in Jude. - v. 21 says 'keep yourselves in the love of God,' and v. 24 says 'to him who is able to keep you.' So you keep yourself...in him who keeps you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Part 3 of Cranfield looking at 'mercy' in his intro to Rom. 9

"(iii) It is only where the Church persists in refusing to learn this message, where it secretly - perhaps quite unconsciously! - believes that its own existance is based on human achievement, and so it fails to understand God's mercy to itself, that it is unable to believe in God's mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptual notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it by the Christian Church."

[Cranfield, Romans]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who is the one who prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction in Rom. 9:22

Who is the agent of the 'preparation' of the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?

The participle 'prepared' is difficult. It is not as easy in Greek as in English translations to simply parallel the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction with v. 23, the vessels of mercy prepared for glory. This is because the participle in v. 23 is an active participle, much more obviously being connected with divine preparation; whereas for prepared in v. 22, Paul uses passive participle in middle voice which does not immediately suggest God as the one who prepares.

So what do we do with this? The answer I believe again is deducible from the context. Paul seems to be drawing an obvious parallel between vv. 22-23 and vv. 17-18 (see my previous post on Rom. 9 'the participle thelōn' for more on this), and here is no exception. God is the agent of Pharaoh's hardened heart, and is further the agent in Pharaoh being raised up, God is there, the one who prepares. If this parallel stands, and due to the theological and contextual flow of Romans 9, I believe it does. Then it is indeed God who prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction...for the purpose of showing his wrath, his power, and his mercy, ultimately, for the purpose of magnifying His glory.

'He does not indeed give a reason for divine election, so as to assign a cause why this man is chosen and that man rejected; for it was not meet that the tilings contained in the secret counsel of God should be subjected to the judgment of men; and, besides, this mystery is inexplicable. He therefore keeps us from curiously examining those things which exceed human comprehension. He yet shows, that as far as God's predestination manifests itself, it appears perfectly just.'
[J. Calvin on Rom. 9:22]

D. Moo's paraphrase of Rom. 9:22-23

“What objection can you make if it is in fact the case that God has tolerated with great patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction when you realize that his purpose in doing so has been to demonstrate his wrath, make known his power, and – especially – to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory.”

Translating the participle -thelōn- in Rom. 9:22-23

Rom. 9:22-23
'What if God, wanting to show his wrath and make known his power, bore with much longsuffering vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
in order to make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory.'

One of the most difficult translation issues is this passage is, what do we do with the participle, thelōn? (wanting/wishing/willing) There seems to be two most likely possibilities.

First Possibility - we translate it as causal, by adding the conjunctive though. This becomes,

although God wanted to show his wrath and make known his power, he [instead] bore with much longsuffering vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
in order to (1) make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory.'

I.e. Everything leads up to the single purpose statement, - this is what God does, even though he didn't have to bear with vessels of wrath, he did so that he could show the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy; Even though he could have shown his wrath and made known his power, he didn't, so that he could show the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy.

Second Possibility - we translate it as concessive, by making the conjunctive, because. This becomes,

because God wanted to (1) show his wrath and (2) make known his power, he bore with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to [or because he wished] (3) make known the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand for glory.'

I.e.Thelōn translated this way means there are three purposes of God, (1) to show his wrath, (2) to show his power, and (3) to make know the riches of his glory to vessels of mercy.

The first translation seems to allow a natural progression to a single clause, which balances structurally within itself (whereas the second has two purposes of God through the vessels of wrath, and one through the vessels of mercy; structurally inbalanced.)

The second seems to contextually work better with Rom. 9 and allows a parallel with vv. 17-18, God raised Pharaoh up for the purpose of displaying his wrath - so with Pharaoh and the vessels of wrath, God withholds judgement to more fully display his glory, shown though wrath, power, and mercy. Also, on the note of structure, an argument could run along the lines of, 'the riches of glory shown to the vessels of mercy is a climatic purpose of God, therefore there is only one, whereas wrath and power are similar traits/purposes and progress to the climax of the final purpose to vessels of mercy.' - but that might be crud.

I believe the (at the moment) that the second translation is more likely, and fits better with the context of Rom. 9 - and this really is one of those verses which we must let context help determine the meaning as it starts which a conditional de (but what if?) - so 'what if mr Reader, God chose to act this way, have a look at what I've just said...what do you think?' (my quite dodgy Pauline statement).

If this is the case then God's purposes in bearing with vessels of wrath is that he wants to show his wrath, power and mercy.
God actually desires to show these traits, and uses his means to do so. (What are God's means? More on this later).

Friday, September 08, 2006

Jim Packer on forgotten biblical truths.

Some thoughts from Jim Packer on forgotten/unpracticed biblical truths.

'1. The recovering of old truth, truth which has been a means of blessing in the past, can under God become the means of blessing again in the present, while the quest for newer alternatives may well prove barren;

2. No one should be daunted from attempting such recovery by any prejudice, ill will, or unsympathetic attitudes that may have built up against the old truth during the time of its eclipse.'

[J. I. Packer, A Passion for Holiness, p. 14]

Thoughts on the mysterium tremendum et fascinans

Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans was a phrase coined by R. Otto to refer to something one finds to be absolutely frightening yet awe-inspiring at the same time, something one feels helplessly drawn to yet wants to violently flee from in the same instant. Broken down is basically this:

mysterium - the 'wholly other' (Otto) that which is totally transcendent and apart, although is open to some degree to our experience
tremendum - the terror, awfulness, dread, overpowering, majesty, of God. Often linked with this is Otto's 'Creature Consciousness 'theory, (which I think is probably right in a sound context): a feeling of absolute 'nothingness' in comparison to and approach of God, or - , a feeling of total depravity and dependence upon God
fascinans - an attractiveness, wonder, obsessive interestedness in spite of fear

One may link this to Ezekiel's, Isaiah's, or John's revelation visions. The feeling of approaching the throne of our saviour - do we hope for it daily? Do we usher it in by our prayers? I find sometimes when I pray or meditate, this feeling of fear and awe, this knowledge of God's awesome wrath and his Fatherly love, this mysterium tremendum et fascinans, and it is such a wonderful dynamic of God's character, our place in light of Him, our appropriate response to Him, and our relationship with Him.

(some readers who have read Otto or Ninian Smart may recognise that I haven't entirely used this concept in the original context but linked it to Biblical and Christian experience.)

Some thoughts around William James and his views on mystical/religious experience

A couple of years ago I spent some time playing around the thoughts and ideas of William James as they present themselves in 'The Varieties of Religious Experience,' (As you do). This is a basic summary of his thesis followed by some of the thoughts that came to mind.

Religious experiences contain usually four distinguishable traits, namely, passivity, ineffability, noetic quality, and transience; by these four can we claim an experience to be 'religious.' (N.b. by religious in this sense, James is referring primarily to the mystical spectrum that accompanies religion.) These four basically mean:

Passivity - the individual within the experience has little or no control over the experience
Ineffability - the individual finds the experience near impossible to explain to someone who has not had a similar experience
Noetic Quality - the experience provides some degree of insight into truth, such as interpreting the present, explaining the past, or predicting the future
Transience - the experience was induced by deity/deities above and beyond rational understanding and perceptions

James would not classify himself as a believer in the deity of classical theism (or he is not a Christian for those of us that speeketh English) but I do feel a degree of truth resounding through this...once we distort it and make it our own :P I believe it was Mark Twain who famously said 'First get all the facts then distort them as you please.' With that infallible statement I'll continue.

It just really struck me that theologically, when we 'experience' God it contains an aspect of all of these traits. Lets take a couple of reasonably uncontroversial examples. When we read the Word of God in scripture, there is a degree of transience, the authority of one much bigger than ourselves, and with that an acclamation of authority and the necessity of submission. There is definitely an element of Noetic Quality, interpreting the place of humankind, the universe and its response to God on a large scale, and individual heart-warming situational guidance in obedience and faith; this is not to mention the prophecies such as the return of Christ in glory. There is an element of ineffability, the inability to explain the immensity of grace and the totality of the riches of the gospel as they have impacted our life and how they resonate in beautiful melody when we flick through its pages. Finally there is an element of passivity, a feeling of 'this is something actively leading me into truth and revealing to me the nature of God.'

Or lets take another example of singing praises to our God. There is obviously transience, worshiping Him who is so much bigger than me and so worthy of it. There is definitely a noetic quality in finding ourselves aware through the stirring of our hearts and the words we are singing, of our place before almighty God, and the appropriate response to Him; a recontexualising of our being. There is a passivity, knowing that we are to follow his command in praising Him and connecting with the truths we are claiming through song, submitting to those truths by asserting them (maybe). And there is a degree on ineffability, its difficult to explain the joy of singing praise to God to someone who doesn't see God as a true recipient worthy of praise.

I think the main reason I find James helpful is that it creates an awareness in my life of the multifaceted and spiritual connection I make with my Father God as I live to serve and love Him. It reminds me that each action of my life with I make to be worship (which should be every action), is drenched in a transience, in a revelation of truth and intimacy, in a passivity, or submission and obedience, and in a separateness from the world. Praise God for such a powerful and obvious relational connection in our lives!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Extract from Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins

' It is, from our present point of view, not yet at all certain what the word [forgiveness] means. All that we take for granted is that the Trinity had determined the Incarnation of the Word, that They has deterined and caused the creation of superfluous mankind with a purpose of entire joy, that mankind had set itself in such a relation to Them and especially to the flesh of the Word that it was bound, if the creation so ordained continued, to victimise its Creator, and that They had accepted that result and had determined that the original Incarnation should be a Redemptive also ; that is, that his life on earth should redeem life and earth, He was to be born, as he had willed, of a Mother. '

[Ch. 4, p. 35 emphasis mine.]

Tuning Up

For my 20th Birthday, my wonderful Lady lent me long term a beautiful handbound book, -Leaves of Gold-, which is a wonderful collection of prayers and thoughtful insights on the Godly life by varrious famous writers. While flicking carefully through some of the places she had highlighted for me thoughout the book I cam accross this delightful little admonishment:

' Tuning up - Every morning compose your soul for a tranquil day, and all through it be careful often to recall your resolution, and bring yourself back to it, so to say. If something discomposes you, do not be upset, or troubled; but having discovered the fact, humble yourself gently before God, and try to bring your mind into a quiet attitude. Say to yourself, "Well, I have made a false step; now I must go more carefully and watchfully." Do this each time, however frequently you fall. When you are at peace use it profitably, making constant acts of meekness, and seeking to be calm even in the most triffling things. Above all, do not be discouraged;be patient; wait; stive to attain a calm, gentle spirit. '

- St. Francois de Sales.

piper quote

"Raking is easy, but all you get is leaves. Diggin is hard, but you might find gold."
[J. Piper]

Tims helpful book list type thing

15 books I have found particularly spiritually helpful these past two years in no particular order

1. The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards
2. Desiring God,Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, John Piper
3. The Pleasures of God, John Piper
4. The Westiminster Sermons, Vol. 1, W. E. Sangster
5. The Imitation of Christ, Thomas A' Kempis
6. The Incomparable Christ, J. Stott
7. The Reformed Paster, R. Baxter
8. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Chs 1+2, J. Calvin
9. The mortification of Sin, J. Owen (vol. 6, ch. 1)
10. Convergence, The Spiritual Journey of a Charismatic Calvinist, Sam Storms
11. Christ's Glorious Achievements, C. H. Spurgeon
12. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, J. Frame
13. Apologetics to the Glory of God, j. Frame
14. The Scandal of Grace, S. Hughes
15. Supprised by the Voice of God, J. Deere

Don't Kill the LORD's Anointed. (Revised)

There are two scenarios in 1 Samuel 24 and 26 where it seems Saul has been given into David’s hands, yet David has chosen to spare Saul’s life.

We note particularly three groups of people; David, David’s men, and Saul.

> Saul is officially God’s anointed, and we see him verbally confess his sin and ‘repent’ at the close of both chapters, and yet we also see him continuing in his sin in trying to kill David. He is convicted, believes, confesses, and yet does not respond appropriately to the LORD.

>David’s men we see, take the LORD’s promise of delivering Saul into David’s hands and ‘run with it’ so to speak. They believe the message, respond to it by assisting David obediently, show trust in it by exclaiming the promise, ‘look this is the LORD fulfilling his promise to you!’ Yet there is something missing, they are not sensitive to how they should respond appropriately, they take the promise, the conclusion, and seek to fulfil it their own way.

> Finally David, he believes the promises given to him from the LORD, pursues the ends of these promises, and sensitively obeys the LORD’s instruction. He seeks the fulfilment of the LORD’s promise in step with the LORD’s character. Saul is the LORD’s anointed one, the one the LORD has chosen, and killing him is standing against the one the LORD has raised up, therefore standing against the LORD. David will not kill the LORD’s anointed.

Take an typological journey with me. Jesus is the fulfilment of David, he is the ‘new’ David in a sense. Jesus appropriately and sensitively responds to and obeys God’s word. Even if that involved Him walking to the cross, as it involved David’s persecution from Saul.
David’s followers may be linked to Jesus’ followers, particularly his close disciples; those who believed the message, yet often ran with it, not understanding the greater things of God.
Saul could be most obviously Judas, the one who hears and responds, yet betrays Jesus to His death, and inevitably his own death. Yet perhaps he could be linked to any who hear, believe, repent, and yet are easily choked by the thorns, those who do not respond by changing their lives.
Of course, Jesus can also be linked to Saul in a monarchical form, he is the King of the new Israel, the spiritual Israel. Jesus is God’s anointed one, the one on whom the spirit descends as a dove. The one when appropriately recognised, should not be killed. Do not kill the LORD’s anointed.

This is of course where those at the sentencing of Jesus went fatally wrong, they did not appropriately acknowledge who he was. They had heard who He claimed to be, they had seen the proof in His teaching and in His miracles, yet, they did not respond appropriately, they killed the Lord’s anointed. Whereas David, would not.

So how can we apply this, where can we place ourselves? We can, and often do, place ourselves with Saul, unwilling to act upon what we have seen, to truly live out our repentance, and inevitably in Saul’s role, this leads eventually to two things; first a desire to kill the Lord’s plan. Saul saw and acknowledged David’s fame and relationship with the LORD, he wanted to kill him. We, following Saul would want to foolishly kill the means of God’s plan being vindicated.
Second, an inevitable desire to be self-destructive. Sin is self-destructive, suicidal, not acting upon repentance and not responding appropriately to God’s revealed nature in grace has only one other possible option, walking blindly away from it and towards an Idol, which will destroy us. We see the fulfilment of this in 1 Chronicles 10-11.
Following Saul’s example therefore, will lead us eventually to a violent end. It gives only to killing, either a killing of God’s plan, which cannot be done, or a killing of oneself. Let’s not follow Saul in his killing. Note, this does not mean we are saved/sustained by works, but the effectual working of grace in our lives involves the relational dynamic of daily responding to the gospel.

We also can easily stand with David’s men, or the Disciples of Christ. So often we can take a promise, or piece of scripture and run with it, instead of contextually and sensitively applying it with humility and wisdom. This can lead to a trust in our own ability other than a humble dependence on the King. This leads to dishonouring our King; take the Disciples, one betrayed, one denied, ten deserted, yet eleven restored by God’s grace!
Let us humbly observe and digest the scriptures, considering ourselves more likely to misunderstand, and misapply, being wonderfully thankful to God’s grace when he gifts us with an understanding that changes our lives.

We most difficultly, yet inevitably must stand with David, with Christ. We are pursuing to be Christlike, to be like Him in all and everything we do, to mirror His glory and seek to be satisfied in Him alone. We must therefore in these two Chapters, seek to believe and respond like David, and how does David do that? He does that by not killing the LORD’s anointed. So we too must not, like the 1st Centaury Jews and Romans, kill the Lord’s anointed. We must not seek to kill Jesus. We must therefore flee idols (see Saul above), and flee anything that leads us away from a living repentance, and adversely seek and long to see Jesus living in our lives and the lives of others.

We must take delight in the Living Jesus, the Lord’s anointed, we must not foolishly seek to kill the Lord’s anointed, but seek to make much of His living. Wake up in the morning, longing to want the Living Jesus to be vindicated as alive to the world. We must want to be alive, in Him. We must want to be like Jesus, and seek Him in the scriptures daily, pouring through them to find His nail marks, breathing them in constantly to seek his thorny crown. We must pour out from them, responding, confessing, and obeying Him by seeking to mirror Him, to magnify Him, to glorify Him. We must foremost acknowledge our position daily to Him and ask for His grace to live totally to Him glory.

Let us not seek to kill the Lord’s anointed, but long for the Living Jesus to be magnified in our lives.