B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

A Parable of Spiritual Growth and Development

A Parable of Spiritual Growth and Development | Philomythoishttp://philomythois.com/2016/01/ben/a-parable-of-spiritual-growth-and-development/


Gospel, Guns, and Kingdoms: Part Deux, A Reply to Spalione’s Non-passive Pacifism 

Gospel, Guns, and Kingdoms: Part Deux, A Reply to Spalione’s Non-passive Pacifism | Philomythoishttp://philomythois.com/2015/12/ben/gospel-guns-and-kingdoms-part-deux-a-reply-to-spaliones-non-passive-pacifism/

Why I Disagree with John Piper and Jerry Falwell, Jr. on Christians and Shoes


As a no-name, know-nothing blogger, I want to send a different message into the blogospheric black hole than John Piper and Jerry Falwell, Jr. sent out to the web-world this month.

For the sake of the safety of their respective campuses, and in view of terrorist activity, Chancellors Piper and Falwell, Jr. have encouraged students, by their example, to get and wear shoes. Although no official policy at either school could be located, many images online imply that students are permitted to openly wear shoes at both Bethlehem College & Seminary and Liberty University.

I want it to be clear that this disagreement is among Christian brothers who are able to express appreciation for each other’s ministries.

My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get shoes and run away if terrorists come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to flee, not as triathletes or sprinters, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever flee with one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have shoes on my feet, so don’t chase me”? My answer is, No.

Here are nine considerations that lead me to this conclusion.

1. Jesus sent out his disciples without anything but the clothes on their backs – not even sandals – and they did not lack anything. Then he told them to get a moneybag, a knapsack, and sell their cloaks to buy swords. But he never told them to get sandals!

[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough [that’s plenty].” (Luke 22:35–38)

Clearly, the New Testament teaches that the disciples of Jesus should have moneybags, knapsacks, and swords – but we are not to wear sandals, since Jesus nowhere revoked his earlier instructions on avoiding footwear (cf. Luke 10:4). And this command of Christ for his followers to be barefoot comports well with the rest of the New Testament teaching on suffering in the Christian life.

2. The apostle Peter teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without wearing shoes.

Before we fire back our objections and exceptions to this truth, let us do our best to hear and embrace and be transformed in our self-protecting hearts by these texts from 1 Peter.

This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (2:19)

If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9)

If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)

It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (3:17)

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (4:13)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (4:14)

If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:16)

Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Fiery trials are not strange. And the trials in view are hostilities from unbelievers, as the next verse shows: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” Going barefoot is a trial, but it is a trial which Christ himself has commanded for his followers. These trials are normal. That may not be American experience, but it is biblical truth.

Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting footwear produced by Nike or Reebok, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.

3. Jesus promised that violent hostility will come; and the whole tenor of his counsel was how to handle it with suffering and testimony, not with shoes.

They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:12–19)

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. . . . Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:16–22)

What is the moment of life-threatening danger for? Is it for showing how fast we have been? Is it to show our shrewdness — that we have shoes on our feet and we can show you something? That is a response learned from Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson, not Jesus and the apostles. That response appeals to everything earthly in us, and requires no miracle of the new birth. It is as common and as easy as eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Jesus says that we should “pray that our flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20) since he knows his obedient followers will be fleeing barefoot.

If we teach our students that they should wear shoes, and then challenge them, “Let’s run away if they ever show up here,” do we really think that when the opportunity to escape with their lives comes, they will have time to take off their shoes and be obedient likes Moses was in the wilderness (cf. Acts 7:33)?

4. Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home, and not our kingdom, by renouncing the establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with shoes.

To be sure, there are many ambiguities about being exiles on this earth with our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20), while at the same time being called to serve in the structures of society (1 Peter 2:13). But no book of the Bible wrestles with this more directly than 1 Peter, and the overwhelming thrust of that book is this: As you suffer patiently and even joyfully for your faith, do so much good that people will ask a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with shoes will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s on our feet.

5. Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory that we are able to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, even as we expect to be wronged in this world.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38–39)

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44–45)

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12)

The point of Matthew 5:11–12 is that Christians are freed to rejoice in persecution because our hearts have been so changed that we are more satisfied in the hope of heaven than in the hope of running away. You can’t turn the other cheek while you’re running for your worthless life. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3). Or as Paul put it, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8).

Jesus struck the note that the way his disciples demonstrate most forcefully the supreme value of knowing him is by “letting goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” and calling it “gain” (Philippians 1:21).

6. The early church, as we see her in Acts, expected and endured persecution without mention of sandals, but rather with joyful suffering, prayer, and the word of God.

“Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29–31)

When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:40–41)

Saul approved of Stephen’s execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1–3; see Acts 9:1–2; 12:1–5)

In all the dangers Paul faced in the book of Acts, there is not a hint that he ever planned to carry or wear sandals for escape from his adversaries. He was willing to appeal to the authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:37) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). But he never used shoes to flee from persecution.

7. When Jesus told the apostles to buy moneybags, knapsacks, and swords, but NOT sandals, he was telling them not to use footwear to escape the very thing he promised they should endure to the death.

[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough [that’s plenty].” (Luke 22:35–38)

I do not think that Jesus meant that his disciples were to henceforth be a sandaled band of preachers ready to use footwear to defend their feet from suffering.

If the text allows for footwear, my question is, “Why did none of his disciples in the New Testament ever do that — or commend that?” The probable answer is that Jesus did not mean for them to think in terms of wearing footwear for the rest of their ministry. Jesus’s abrupt words, at the end of the paragraph, when the disciples produced two swords, were not, “Well, you need to get some sandals too.” He said, “It is enough!” or “That’s plenty!” This may well signify that the disciples have misunderstood Jesus yet again.

8. A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I wear shoes while I shoot my wife’s assailant?”

My answer is sevenfold.

1) This instinct is understandable. But it seems to me that the New Testament resists this kind of ethical reduction, and does not satisfy our demand for a yes or no on that question. We don’t like this kind of ambiguity, but I can’t escape it. There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of wearing shoes while using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2) and yet there is no mention of sandals whatsoever.

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this temptation to wear shoes, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim without disobeying Christ’s injunction against sandals. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

3) Jesus died to keep me from sinning against him by wearing shoes. That is, Jesus’s personal strategy for overcoming crimes was to overcome sinful inclinations by giving his life to pay debts and change hearts. It is no small thing that Peter based an example of suffering from unshod feet on the atoning work of Christ as exemplary: “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Clearly, following “in his steps” is an allusion to Jesus’ command to have no sandals.

4) I realize that even to call the police when threatened — which, in general, it seems right to do in view of Romans 13:1–4 — may come from a heart that is out of step with the mind of Christ. If one’s heart is controlled mainly by fear, or anger, or revenge, that sinful disposition may be expressed by using the police and their boots as well as throwing on shoes yourself.

5) I live in the city, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have shoes available for such circumstances.

6) I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. And I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me.

7) Back to the first point, it seems to me that the New Testament does not aim to make this clear for us. Its aim is a radically transformed heart that lives with its treasure in another world, longs to show Jesus to be more satisfying than life, trusts in the help of God in every situation, and desires the salvation of our enemies.

9. Even though the Lord ordains for us to use ordinary means of providing for life (work to earn; plant and harvest; take food, drink, sleep, and medicine; save for future needs; provide governments with police and military forces for society), nevertheless, the unique calling of the church is to live in such reliance on heavenly protection and heavenly reward that the world will ask about our hope (1 Peter 3:15), not about our comfortable footwear.

God is our refuge and strength. (Psalm 46:1)

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:17–18)

Once more let me say that God ordains the use of shoes by the state in upholding justice (1 Peter 2:13–17; Romans 13:1–4). Therefore, this article is not a position paper on governmental policy regarding ISIS. Nor is it about the policies of how police should be enlisted to protect private institutions.

This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our shoes are not material, but spiritual (Ephesians 6:15). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to wear shoes with which to comfortably flee the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.

[Compare the above reasoning with that found here.]

Piper’s Pacifism: A Canonical Response

John Piper (PhD), speaking as chancellor for Bethlehem College & Seminary, has responded in writing to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s (J.D.) statements on students getting permits to carry guns on the campus of Liberty University, where he is chancellor. In this post, I won’t be getting into the details of the statements made by Chancellor Falwell, Jr. His statements deserve little remark, in my opinion. He is well within his rights to carry a concealed weapon, his students have the liberty to arm themselves for the protection of Liberty, and I’m not the least surprised that he expressed such liberties in a manner deemed politically incorrect. That people are shocked by such a thing is what really deserves analysis.

Chancellor Piper’s statement, on the other hand, deserves a much closer consideration, if only due to the preponderance of Scripture which he quotes and evaluates in building his argument. My analysis will not be in a point-counterpoint form, but will assume that you’ve read Piper’s entire argument, which I understand may be too arduous a task for some readers. I fully accept that. If that’s you, please feel free to go back to crushing candy or flicking angry birds or fingering your phone screen in some other mindless manner.

Two preliminary points: (a) straw men and (b) residual Marcionism.

a. Chancellor Piper egregiously mischaracterizes the ethical position of Chancellor Falwell, Jr. (and those who agree with him) as: “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me.” This is clearly a straw man. Although Chancellor Falwell, Jr. may have a bit of straw hanging from his sleeve in this regard, such rhetorical deceptions are certainly beneath Chancellor Piper and are hardly an example of engaging the strongest opposing perspective.

b. Marcionism was possibly the earliest heretical sect in the ancient church and yet we haven’t quite managed to get ourselves completely out from its shadow, even today. Among other things, Marcion was said to be the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament, seeing the OT God as incompatible with the NT Christ. He created a “canon-within-the-canon” of Scripture by excising the OT altogether. I’m calling the continuing impulse to read the NT as abstracted from the OT “residual Marcionism,” and it is nowhere more evident in contemporary evangelicalism than in discussions of ethics.

Sometimes it shows itself as a “red-letter faith,” only treating the quotations of Jesus in the Gospels as truly authoritative – not recognizing that Jesus’ own red-letter teachings affirm that he and the God of the OT are one (cf. Jn 8:58, 10:30, 17:21).

Other times it appears as an epistolary bias, prejudicing the teaching of the epistles as more weighty than even the Gospels and Acts, much less the OT, because the epistles are said to have been produced later in the progress of divine revelation or because many believe that non-didactic portions of Scripture need to be interpreted in light of the didactic ones—implicitly giving pride of place to the nearly entirely didactic epistles.

All evangelicals will disavow a residual Marcionite impulse in principle, but it is most clearly seen in matters of ethics—is the answer we give consistent with the ethics derived from the entire canon of the OT and NT or does it illegitimately prejudice one part of the canon over the rest? (Note: I’d argue that the nature of reading Scripture requires the development of a “canon-within-the canon,” but that this may be done in ways which are legitimate and others which are more Marcionite. Or even Ebionite, I guess. But that’s a different discussion altogether.)

For the purpose of an analysis of Chancellor Piper’s ethics on self-defense, then, we will want to keep in mind whether or not classical OT self-defense texts (such as Ex 22:2) are adequately incorporated into his ethic, while also analyzing the way in which he selects and interprets the texts which lead him to his conclusions.

Chancellor Piper begins where he usually begins: what would Paul do? And Paul would tell Christians not to avenge ourselves, return good for evil, and that God gives weapons to governments to pursue justice in the world (Rom 12-13). The good chancellor acknowledges there are ambiguities in the way that Christian mercy and civic justice intersect, but asserts neither can be absorbed into the other. These points are well-taken, although I think the examples he gives only muddle the ambiguities further, rather than clarifying anything. Do many people think that in a democracy citizens are the government? Or that Rom 13:4 entails an ethical imperative for Christians to carry weapons? (Note: there are examples in Nehemiah 4:15-17 of the wall-builders in Israel carrying workloads with one hand and a weapon in the other. How does the chancellor’s ethic evaluate and incorporate this passage? How does his ethic speak to Christians in the militaries of various nations or law enforcement agencies, if it speaks to us at all?)

Following a consideration of Paul, we have a discussion drawn from Peter. It’s safe to say, I think, that Chancellor Piper is approaching this particular ethical question with a bias which weights the epistles as his canon-within-a-canon (at the very least abstracting the NT from the OT completely); however, if one maintains that the epistles are occasional letters—written to certain people upon the occasion of specific circumstances—then one will incorporate their teachings into a larger canonical ethic somewhat differently than the chancellor has. 

Yes, and amen, Christians can expect persecution and suffering and under such circumstances we should entrust our soul to a faithful Creator while doing good. But what does Chancellor Piper’s ethic have to say to the average American Christian on the subject of self-defense in a non-persecution situation, such as a violent mugging or home invasion, if he says anything at all?

I may be mistaken, but it seems as though the chancellor’s view of 1 Peter holds up a persecuted church as the ideal. The undertone seems to be that if the American church (among others) isn’t violently persecuted then we must be doing something wrong, right? Rather than acknowledging that persecution was the historical reality to which Peter’s letter was addressed and deriving valuable ethical practices from the text and its contexts, Chancellor Piper holds up the historical context of first century Roman persecution as normative, leaving him with very little to say to anyone in a dissimilar context… such as the American Christian audience for his article.

We also hear Chancellor Piper’s take on the words of Christ and the non-violent resistance offered by the apostles in Acts. I think virtually every Christian would agree with what Piper affirms about Jesus’ teachings on endurance and enemy love here; some of us would just question whether Jesus’ statements entail what Piper denies: namely, that Christians do not have the liberty to decide when to practice self-defense under an ethic of wisdom. Surely we have to leave room for there to be a difference between fighting wars to bring in the kingdom (Jn 18:36) and loving my neighbor by protecting him from someone who enters his home only to maim, kill, and destroy, right? Is there a relevant difference in Chancellor Piper’s ethic between a civilian and an off-duty Christian police officer using lethal force in self-defense? The former seems undesirable, while the latter seems permissible, but on what basis? It remains unarticulated, if there is a relevant difference at all. 

Now, Lk 22:35-38 is classically controversial in the pacifism vs. self-defense discussion. In my opinion, both sides read too much into it. Chancellor Piper and other pacifists wish to treat Jesus’ reference to buying swords as merely figurative and self-defense defenders want to read it as something like the Second Greatest Commandment. I think it’s not that complicated. Jesus is just telling his boys to “stay frosty, it’s gonna get hairy out there. Last time you went out, you didn’t take anything. This time, you better pack a lunch.” If you don’t have a sword, you’re going to want to get one—and like everything else use it wisely. Ex 22:2 already establishes ethically justifiable instances of self-defense in a canonical ethic and Lk 22:35-38 comports with it, and with the larger canonical ethic of wisdom.

So, Chancellor Piper’s point eight is where the theoretical rubber meets the ethical road and it is where the Chancellor seems to get the most squeamish about his conclusions, giving a sevenfold answer to the simple question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?” My answer would be, “Love God and do what you want”—and I want to shoot my wife’s assailant because I love her too much to let her be abused and because I love him too much to let him abuse her. If not providing for my family is a denial of the faith (1 Tim 5:8), how much worse is not protecting them if I am able? Chancellor Piper, on the other hand, states that the New Testament does not aim to make an answer to the question clear for us. And he may be correct in that regard, but this is where his residual Marcionism is most clear and where it leads his ethic to collapse under the weight of real-life situations. The NT abstracted completely from the OT may not give a clear answer. Fortunately, in God’s infinite wisdom he gave us the entire canon from which to derive an ethic. 

Chancellor Piper’s pacifism is not derived from a consistently canonical ethic and his residual Marcionism is most evident where his theoretical ethics are required to be put into practice. In contrast, a canonical ethical answer maintains that Christians have the liberty in Christ to act wisely in the world, which includes an allowance for justifiable instances of self-defense which comport with the larger ethical themes of love for neighbors and enemies, endurance under trial/persecution, only returning good for evil, and providing for one’s family. While I greatly appreciate Chancellor Piper’s ministry, in this instance I would suggest his conclusions are sub-biblical and, as such, impractical.

Soul Care and The Problem of Evil

The Banality of the Banality of Evil by Banksy. Oil on canvas, 2013.

Come join me for an evening discussing “Soul Care and The Problem of Evil” with other members of the Institute for Christian Psychology. Cheers!

Scripture Spectacles as Biblical Bifocals

John Calvin famously referred to Scripture as “spectacles” through which we are able to properly interpret all of creation (Institutes I.vi.1; cf. Gen 1-11: The Reformation Commentary on Scripture, p. 13). I’d like to briefly consider and extend this metaphor to make a point about some of the VanTilian underpinnings of the biblical/nouthetic counseling movement in order to propose a more faithfully biblical and faithfully VanTilian alternative.

"Safety Glasses"[Note: For those with “eyes to see,” in this post I’m essentially attempting to be more VanTilian than Van Til (which to some will seem only slightly less offensive than trying to be holier than Jesus—everyone else will have no idea what I’m talking about). I would argue that when Jay Adams developed his nouthetic approach to counseling he correctly understood Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic use of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture—however, Van Til’s doctrine is broader than his apologetic, I’d argue. Instead of developing an approach to counseling from the broad scope of Van Til’s theology and epistemology, Adams derived his approach to counseling from Van Til’s unique approach to apologetics—a much narrower foundation by the very nature of the case. As a result, it would seem more appropriate to call Adams’ approach “apologetic counseling,” rather than biblical counseling. It seems like a much better handle, since I’m not sure that Adams ever published a single major work on counseling without thoroughly criticizing every other approach to Christian soul care as sub-biblical at best. His approach to the actual task of counseling could also be fairly summarized as a very theologically-driven approach to an often confrontational sort of quasi-CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)–effectively, an extremely narrow subclass of a very limited therapeutic modality. I would argue that a counseling approach which is founded on Van Til’s theology and epistemology (rather than merely his apologetic), provides the surest footing for a more scientific and more biblical approach to soul care—Christian psychology. But enough of this stuff for those with “eyes to see.” For the rest of us, let’s get back to the spectacles.]

In context, Calvin describes the fallen sinner’s perspective on all of creation as something akin to that of old men whose vision is so poor that, when given a book they can barely tell what it is, much less read the text. But Scripture acts as spectacles, granting a clear understanding of ourselves, our situation, and God, as well as the interrelationships among the three. I’d like to extend the metaphor to recognize that the spectacles of Scripture are also necessary in order to see the spectacles themselves clearly—Scripture is its own best interpreter. So, if we look at our own reflection in a mirror (creation) while wearing the spectacles we can see the spectacles clearly, where without them we would not. General revelation is the context for special revelation.

When we closely inspect the spectacles, we see that they are, in fact, bifocals. They provide great clarity on things both “near” and “far” when looking through the correct portion of the spectacles—”near” things being the subjects which Scripture most directly, explicitly addresses (i.e., creation, fall, redemption, restoration, wisdom, ethics, theology, etc.) and the “far” things being subjects with which it deals more peripherally or only by way of implication derived by “good and necessary consequence” (i.e., linguistics, science, math, economics, medicine, etc.). Scripture is truly sufficient for all things, but not for everything in the same way.

Biblical counselors have tended to narrow the purview of their Scripture spectacles to look at everything through the merely “near-sighted” part of the bifocals, focusing upon special revelation and saving grace to the unfortunate neglect of general revelation and common grace, areas which involve reading through the far-sighted corrections of our biblical bifocals. Integrationist counselors, on the other hand, have often looked at both near and far objects through the “far-sighted” portion of the bifocals, misreading Scripture in light of presuppositions which contradict its own teaching. This leaves each in the unfortunate position of having a distorted, blurry view of one or the other aspect of divine revelation.

Christian psychology attempts to make proper use of these biblical bifocals, effectively seeing and interpreting all of creation and our Creator in light of the totality of His self-revelation. Through exegetical research and empirical research we come to see spectacles, mirror, and our own image more clearly, as God sees them.

Disputing a Doubtful Translation: Full Article

Disputing a Doubtful Translation: Full Article

Union with Christ in the New Testament: A Provocative Exegesis of Matthew 25:31-46

[Caveat lector: Necessarily, this post will be an overly brief and superficial treatment of the immense subjects under discussion. As always, questions and comments are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged.]

The Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide) has been a matter for drawing swords and shedding ink (at least) ever since the days of the Reformation. Witness a Baptist preacher and an Anglican bishop crossing quills over the matter just a few years ago (helpful summary here). My two cents: Piper had the loudest volume and Wright the largest volume – pick which volume you prefer.

The unfortunate fallout from these centuries of justification debates is that sola fide has become the functional center of certain streams of thought within the broadly Reformed tradition, leading some to see it as the central point of Pauline theology as well. It is not. Union with Christ is. Fortunately, this error of emphasis is being corrected in many recent volumes and conferences. Justification is grounded in union with Christ.

In contrast, the Kingdom of God is central to the theology of Christ in the Gospels. So Paul’s theology centers on Union with Christ and Christ’s theology centers on the Kingdom of God. I would like to suggest that these two theological centers converge in Matthew 25:31-46, “The Final Judgment.” Jesus’ doctrine of the Kingdom culminates most clearly in this passage, while Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ is clearly present in seed form, as we shall see.

If I am correct in my interpretation, then there will be relevant implications from my exegesis for discussions regarding the relationship between Pauline and Jacobean doctrines of justification, the relationship between justification and sanctification, and the role of love in the judgment of God (among many others).

Here is the text in Greek and English:

31Οταν δὲ ἔλθῃ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐν τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἄγγελοι μετ’ αὐτοῦ, τότε καθίσειἐπὶ θρόνου δόξης αὐτοῦ: 32καὶ συναχθήσονται ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, καὶ ἀφορίσει αὐτοὺςἀπ’ ἀλλήλων, ὥσπερ ποιμὴν ἀφορίζει τὰ πρόβατα ἀπὸ τῶν ἐρίφων, 33καὶ στήσει τὰ μὲν πρόβατα ἐκδεξιῶν αὐτοῦ τὰ δὲ ἐρίφια ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 34τότε ἐρεῖ βασιλεὺς τοῖς ἐκ δεξιῶν αὐτοῦ, Δεῦτε, οἱεὐλογημένοι τοῦ πατρός μου, κληρονομήσατε τὴν ἡτοιμασμένην ὑμῖν βασιλείαν ἀπὸ καταβολῆςκόσμου: 35ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ ἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ ἐποτίσατέ με, ξένος ἤμην καὶσυνηγάγετέ με, 36γυμνὸς καὶ περιεβάλετέ με, ἠσθένησα καὶ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με, ἐν φυλακῇ ἤμην καὶἤλθατε πρός με. 37τότε ἀποκριθήσονται αὐτῷ οἱ δίκαιοι λέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντακαὶ ἐθρέψαμεν, διψῶντα καὶ ἐποτίσαμεν; 38πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ξένον καὶ συνηγάγομεν, γυμνὸν καὶπεριεβάλομεν; 39πότε δέ σε εἴδομεν ἀσθενοῦντα ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἤλθομεν πρός σε; 40καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς βασιλεὺς ἐρεῖ αὐτοῖς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶ τούτων τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου τῶνἐλαχίστων, ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 41Τότε ἐρεῖ καὶ τοῖς ἐξ εὐωνύμων, Πορεύεσθε ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ [οἱ] κατηραμένοιεἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον τὸ ἡτοιμασμένον τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ: 42ἐπείνασα γὰρ καὶ οὐκἐδώκατέ μοι φαγεῖν, ἐδίψησα καὶ οὐκ ἐποτίσατέ με, 43ξένος ἤμην καὶ οὐ συνηγάγετέ με, γυμνὸς καὶοὐ περιεβάλετέ με, ἀσθενὴς καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐκ ἐπεσκέψασθέ με. 44τότε ἀποκριθήσονται καὶ αὐτοὶλέγοντες, Κύριε, πότε σε εἴδομεν πεινῶντα διψῶντα ξένον γυμνὸν ἀσθενῆ ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ οὐδιηκονήσαμέν σοι; 45τότε ἀποκριθήσεται αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἐφ’ ὅσον οὐκ ἐποιήσατε ἑνὶτούτων τῶν ἐλαχίστων, οὐδὲ ἐμοὶ ἐποιήσατε. 46καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲδίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Now, I am far from an expert in the history of the interpretation of this passage; however, it might be useful to think of modern commentators as tending to fall into one of two broad categories when interpreting the passage: liberal and conservative. Oversimplifying the matter somewhat for brevity’s sake, we can say that liberal theologians have tended to emphasize the social justice matters which Christ emphasizes in the passage: good works of love are what will matter at the final judgment. Care for the poor is at the heart of the gospel (cf. liberation theology). This has some similarities with some Roman Catholic interpretations of the passage as implying that meritorious works can earn salvation, (cf. Robert Bellarmine). Further, many would point out that there is nothing at all mentioned about justification by faith.

Oversimplifying again, conservatives have responded to this passage by limiting its scope to those within the church, because Jesus refers to “the least” as his “brothers” in vs. 40 – meaning that good works performed for those in the household of faith will be what matters at the final judgment, not broader social justice issues. Protestants have responded that these good works are the product of faith and not the basis for salvation. Love is the fruit of faith, so while the final judgment will be according to works, those works must be grounded in faith in Christ or they are just self-righteousness (cf. John Calvin in response to Bellarmine).

I tend to agree with both sides when they disagree with each other and disagree with both when they agree with themselves. In other words, I think they’re both wrong.

Exegetical Notes

These are the final words of the final pericope in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. It is fitting that its subject should be the final judgment. This passage is the poetic and dramatic climax of the teachings of Christ in the first Gospel.

The setting and events depicted in the passage are conventional of judgment scenes in Jewish literature, strongly echoing Daniel 7 (among others). The King sits upon a judgment throne; angels are present; people are gathered, separated into two groups and the righteous are rewarded while the wicked are punished. There are twin conversations which correspond with the two groups and their respective judgments.

The structural significance of the sentence conjunctions in this passage have been entirely overlooked by commentators. (For more on this matter generally, see Stephanie Black, Sentence Conjunctions in the Gospel of Matthew.) There is an introductory Οταν (“When”) followed by the twin conversations, which use three τότε (“then”) and a concluding καὶ (“and”) sentence. The paragraph structure is (1) introductory paragraph, (2) dialogue with the righteous, (3) dialogue with the wicked, and (4) conclusion. It looks like this:

(1) Οταν (“when”)…
(2) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

καὶ (“and”)…

(3) τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…
τότε (“then”)…

(4) καὶ (“and”)…

The conjunctions above first serve the obvious grammatical purpose of conjoining two clauses. There is also an obvious parallelism in the structuring of the two dialogues. However, once we consider the structure of the discourse from above the sentence level (in a discourse analysis) we can see beyond the twin mistakes made in the stereotypical liberal/conservative, Catholic/Protestant interpretations mentioned above.

Filling in the text further:

(1) When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…
(2) Then  the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

(3) Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

(4) And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Structurally and poetically, the climactic central point of the text is found in the shocking identification of the King with “the least” in vs. 40: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” It is the identification of the King with “the least” which is central to this passage, not the good works or lack of good works among those being judged. Both the liberal/conservative and Catholic/Protestant readings hang on two different sides of the same error by reading the text as though the distinguishing characteristics are in those being judged, rather than in the Judge’s shocking self-identification with “the least.”

As mentioned above, these are the final words of Christ in the final discourse of Matthew’s Gospel and shortly after proclaiming them, the King will be hungry and no one will feed him, thirsty and he will have only vinegar to drink, a stranger unwelcome among his own people, stripped naked to be beaten, sickened by blood loss and infection, and he will be alone in prison until his crucifixion, at which time he will even be forsaken by the Father so that “the least” would never be forsaken by Him. The shadow of the cross looms large upon this final discourse before the crucifixion, just as the love displayed there will be magnified at the final judgment.

Paul’s doctrine of Union with Christ simply makes explicit the subtle doctrinal realities already woven into the the narrative-discourse fabric of the Gospels. The final judgment will be based upon the love we show to the King, who identifies himself with us, becoming “the least” in order to save “the least.” For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:5)

(For a sermon I preached recently on this text, click here.)

Executive Summary of The Noetic Effects of Sin by Stephen K. Moroney


The Greek Text of James’ Epistle with Dale C. Allison, Jr. (1:2-4)

Continuing a series working slowly through the Greek text of James’ Epistle alongside Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s International Critical Commentary. It will not be an exhaustive series, but will include quotes, notes, and anything else I consider of interest as I work through the two texts, paying special attention to any points of intertextuality raised, as this is a personal research interest. I would like to thank Bloomsbury for providing a review copy of Allison’s text for this series.

2Πᾶσαν χαρὰν ἡγήσασθε, ἀδελφοί μου, ὅταν πειρασμοῖς περιπέσητε ποικίλοις,

3γινώσκοντες ὅτι τὸ δοκίμιον ὑμῶν τῆς πίστεως κατεργάζεται ὑπομονήν:

4 δὲ ὑπομονὴ ἔργον τέλειον ἐχέτω, ἵνα ἦτε τέλειοι καὶ ὁλόκληροι, ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι.

2Consider it utmost joy, my brothers, when you fall into various tribulations, 3knowing that this means of testing your faith works patient endurance; 4and let patient endurance have in you its perfected work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Allison begins with a helpful section on the history of interpretation and reception of this text. He notes efforts to reconcile apparent contradictions between this passage and the Lord’s prayer (“rejoice in tribulation” vs. “lead us not into tribulation), this passage and Paul (cf. Rom 5:3-4, where Paul states that tribuation (θλῖψις) produces perseverance (ὑπομονὴν) and perseverance fosters character (δοκιμήν) – whereas James states that tribulation (πειρασμοῖς) produces character (δοκίμιον) which fosters perseverance (ὑπομονὴν), and eventual perfection (τέλειον)). This passage also played a role in the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification (which contradicts 3:2 in its indictment of all). Some have used this passage as an exhortation to comfortable Christians, while others have consoled those in trial with these words. Notably, few have considered the ethical issues surrounding an exhortation to rejoice in suffering. Some might consider these to be cruel words to victims of abuse or injustice or it may engender a fatalistic “count it all joy” attitude toward the oppressed. These are interesting considerations for contemporary preachers.


(v. 2-4) James foregoes any further greeting or introduction and rolls directly into an unexpected imperative – rejoice in trials. This is an uncommon structure, although Galatians also begins similarly. He gives a complex justification for this exhortation in the rhetorical form of a gradatio or “climax,” building through a lengthy series of catchwords in 1:1-6. There is significant shared vocabulary and progression with Rom 5:3-4, which suggests either dependence between the texts or a common source/tradition. The passage may be closer to 1 Pet 1:6-7. Unlike Paul and Peter, however, James does not link this imperative to a Christological theme at all. The “trials/tribulations” here are likely non-specific historically and refer to the general afflictions of the audience.

(v. 2) James calls for the most counter-intuitive, unnatural response possible to trials and suffering: joy. In all of extant ancient Greek literature, only here in this instance is χαρά the object of ἡγέομαι, “as though James is commanding one to think an emotion.” (144) While the distinction can be maintained between God as “tester” and the devil as “tempter,” it is not always easy to distinguish between the two experientially (cf. 1:12-15, Book of Job, Testament of Job, Gen 50:20, Mt 4/Lk 4, Jesus led by Spirit into wilderness to be tempted by devil). πειρασμοῖς likely has eschatological significance here, possibly referring to the tribulation anticipated before Christ’s return (cf. Rev 3:10, Jas 5:8).

(v. 3) Allison translates the unusual δοκίμιον as “means of testing,” referring to a similar use in LXX Pr 27:1. This is the first of sixteen occurrences of πίστις (faith) in the epistle. While πίστις would seem to be “mere assent” or “credence” in 2:14-26, the term does not appear to carry that connotation consistently across James’ idiolect (cf. 1:3, 2:5, 5:15). Here is a use of πίστις which is consistent with Paul’s use, as “a comprehensive term for right religion.” (151) ὑπομονήν appears again near the end of the epistle (5:11), referring to Job’s endurance. ὑπομονήν is not passive resignation, but “being bravely patient with suffering until it dissipates.” (152)

(v. 4) James is envisioning the outcome of a process of enduring suffering to the point of a producing a perfect work. Suffering is not virtuous in itself, but endurance is. τέλειον (perfect) is a term freighted with significance, both ancient and contemporary. In the LXX, τέλειος most commonly refers to “unblemished” sacrifices or “undivided” hearts (cf. Dt 18:13). This is not likely a reference to sinlessness (contra Wesley), rather to “wholeness” (as contrasted with double-mindedness, 1:7-8). “James demands perfection, but he is no perfectionist.” (155) 1:5 links τέλειος with “wisdom” (σοφίας). “James 1.2-4 envisages a series and so a process. With this in mind, one recalls Phil 3:12-16, where Paul calls himself ‘perfect’ (v. 15) and yet declares that he has not yet obtained ‘perfection’ (v. 12), for that consists precisely in moving ever forward (v. 14).” (157) The virtues most prominent in James should be allowed to inform our understanding of τέλειος, namely peaceable, meek, willing to yield, full of mercy and good works, and bereft of partiality and hypocrisy (3:17-18). ὁλόκληροι is a near synonym of τέλειος, a common association. The verse concludes ambiguously ἐν μηδενὶ λειπόμενοι, leaving one to ask “not lacking in what?” The perfection discussed above is something “for which one strives in the present [but] will be realized at the end.” (160)


Given the Jacobean theme of endurance under trial, I wonder to what degree the Book of Job (or Testament of Job?) would serve as an intertext for James – given that 5:11 is the only explicit mention of Job in the whole NT. Ah, my kingdom for some Bible software…

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