You’ve got to read this book

For Lent I took up once again John Kleinig’s Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. That has to be one of the most helpful books I have ever read. I have been a Christian for a long time, and I am not unconversant when it comes to spiritual subjects. But I found myself learning fresh insights into the Christian faith on every page of this book.

Dr. Kleinig, an Australian theologian and Bible scholar, is simply the most illuminating contemporary Christian writer that I have come across. His subject here is “Christian spirituality,” what mystics and those seeking a deeper spiritual life all crave. But what he does is to open up that deep spirituality that can be found in the everyday life of the Christian: in the Gospel, in going to church, in reading the Bible, and in prayer. Grace Upon Grace has chapters on Christ and what He has done and continues to do for us; on how to meditate on God’s Word; on prayer; and on spiritual warfare.

Go to the Amazon site, which has a “look inside” feature for a sample. Go on and buy it there and the Cranach blog will get a commission. Some time ago I posted excerpts from the book on this blog. Do a search for “John Kleinig” and you can find them.

Reading it this time had an even greater impact on me than before. I was struck especially with what I was learning about intercessory prayer–praying for other people–and what it means to pray in Jesus’ name (praying as His agent for what He wants to happen). Also what he says about vocation, with his application of the New Testament’s military metaphors, with the garrison soldier not being responsible for the whole battle, just the plot of land where he was stationed.

Dr. Kleinig is Lutheran, but if you aren’t Lutheran, don’t let that keep you from reading it. All Christians can benefit from reading this book–pastors, young people in confirmation classes, lay people, new church members, everybody. If they do, they will be introduced to the riches of the Christian life. Seriously. Trust me on this. Read this book.

He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows

On this Good Friday I urge you to read and to meditate upon that astonishing prophecy of Christ’s Passion and His redemptive work in Isaiah 53.  In doing so, consider these words:

Surely he has borne our griefs

and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

We are familiar with the notion that Christ on the Cross bore our transgressions and our iniquities, though we can never plumb the depths of that truth.  But we don’t hear much about how He also bore our “griefs” and our “sorrows.”  What does that mean, and what difference does that make in our lives?

Easter and Baptism

Did you realize that you were buried in the tomb with Jesus?  And that on Easter morning when He rose from the dead, you did too?  That’s what your baptism accomplished, according to the Bible:  “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

Maundy Wednesday?

This would harmonize an alleged inconsistency in the inerrant Bible:

Colin Humphreys of Cambridge University says discrepancies in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke as compared with John arose because they used an older calendar than the official Jewish one.

He concluded the date was 1 April AD33.

This could also mean Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and separate trials did not all take place on one night only.

Prof Humphreys believes his findings could present a case for finally fixing Easter Day to the first Sunday in April.

In his new book, The Mystery Of The Last Supper, the metallurgist and materials scientist uses Biblical, historical and astronomical research to address the fundamental inconsistency about the event.

While Matthew, Mark and Luke say the Last Supper coincided with the start of the Jewish festival of Passover, John claims it took place before Passover.

“This has puzzled Biblical scholars for centuries. In fact, someone said it was ‘the thorniest subject in the New Testament’,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

“If you look at all the events the Gospels record – between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion – there is a large number. It is impossible to fit them in between a Thursday evening and Friday morning.”

“But I found that two different calendars were involved. In fact, the four gospels agree perfectly,” he added.

Prof Humphreys argues that Jewish people would never have mistaken the Passover meal for another meal because it is so important.

He suggests that Matthew, Mark and Luke used an old-fashioned Jewish calendar – adapted from Egyptian usage at the time of Moses – rather than the official lunar calendar which was in widespread use at the time.

“In John’s Gospel, he is correct in saying the Last Supper was before the Passover meal. But Jesus chose to hold his Last Supper as a Passover meal according to an earlier Jewish calendar,” Prof Humphreys said.

The Last Supper was therefore on Wednesday, 1 April AD33, according to the standard Julian calendar used by historians, he concluded.

via BBC News – Jesus Christ’s Last Supper ‘was on a Wednesday’.

So Jesus was “old school,” following the older calendar, whereas most of the other Jews followed the more modern calendar.

The Bible readings for Holy Week

Pastor William Weedon explains about the appointed readings for Holy Week:

Why did we read about BOTH the triumphal entry and the Passion and death of our Lord in the Palm Sunday liturgy. First, remember that the observance of “this happening” on “the same day” is a rather late convention in the Church’s liturgical life. The foundational mystery is celebrated each and every Lord’s Day: Christ crucified is raised from the dead. Even on Palm Sunday that remains the focus. And come Holy Week the Church delights to hear the Passion story told from each Evangelist’s perspective. Palm Sunday belongs to Matthew; Monday we begin some of John’s story (actually continued from the processional Gospel on Palm Sunday); Tuesday is Mark’s and Wednesday is Luke’s. Come Thursday we go back to John and hear of some events on Maundy Thursday. Friday is given over wholly to John’s Passion. So rather than thinking of it as a progression from this to that, in the Western liturgy we hear the whole story as it is told all four times during Holy Week, so that nothing of what Scripture gives us about our Lord’s passion, death, and burial is lost.

via Weedon’s Blog: So Katie and Sandy.

So even if you aren’t going to church every day this week, as a discipline for the week, read each of the passion narratives in each of the four Gospels.

Does anyone have any other customs, practices, or recommendations for Holy Week?

Meliorists vs. Traditionalists, vs. Confessionalists

Gerald McDermott at First Things offers a fascinating discussion of a current battle going on in evangelical theology:

Evangelical theology has long been divided between those who emphasize human freedom to choose salvation (Arminians) and those who stress God’s sovereignty in the history of salvation (the Reformed). Now this old division has been overshadowed by a larger division between new opposing camps we may call the Meliorists and the Traditionists. The former think we must improve and sometimes change substantially the tradition of historic orthodoxy. The latter think that while we might sometimes need to adjust our approaches to the tradition, generally we ought to learn from it rather than change it. Most of the Meliorists are Arminian, and most of the Traditionists are Reformed, though there are exceptions on both sides.

This new division has developed from challenges by some of those who call themselves “post-conservatives.” Led by Meliorist theologians like Roger Olson and the late Stanley Grenz, they argue that “conservative” theology is stuck in Enlightenment foundationalism, which seeks certainty through self-evident truths and sensory experience, sees the Bible as a collection of propositions that can be arranged into a rational system, believes doctrine to be the essence of Christianity, and, because it does not realize the historical situatedness of the Bible, constructs a rigid orthodoxy on a foundation of culture-bound beliefs. Responding in part to evangelical excesses in the inerrancy debates of the 1970s, post-conservative theologians developed an understandable distaste for rationalistic, ahistorical, and un-literary readings of Scripture.

In Reformed and Always Reforming: The Post-Conservative Approach to Evangelical Theology, Olson suggests that this brand of evangelical theology is fundamentalist in spirit because it chases heretics out of its “small tent.” He calls his “post-conservative” brand of evangelical theology the “big tent” version.

Olson divides the conservatives—which we would call Traditionists—into two camps, “Biblicists” (a derogatory term suggesting simple-mindedness) and “Paleo-orthodox” (another derogatory term, implying a refusal to face modern realities). The Biblicists, who include Carl Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, and D. A. Carson, see revelation as primarily propositional and doctrines as facts. But most importantly, Olson claims, they regard doctrine as the “essence” of Christian faith.

The Paleo-orthodox include Baptist D. H. Williams, the Reformed author-pastor John Armstrong, Anglicans such as the late Robert Webber and Christianity Today’s editor David Neff, and the Methodists William Abraham and Thomas Oden. For them, the ancient ecumenical consensus is the governing authority that serves as an interpretive lens through which Christians are to interpret Scripture. The critical and constructive task of theology is conducted in light of what the ecumenical Church has already decided about crucial doctrinal matters.

Olson’s division of conservatives into these two camps is partly right and partly wrong. It is true that when interpreting Scripture some conservatives look to the last few centuries of evangelical reflection for authority, and others look to the Fathers. But the post-conservative suggestion that both the so-called Biblicists and Paleo-orthodox are foundationalist is dubious. Few among the Biblicists just named—and none of the Paleo-orthodox—would affirm the possibility of intellectual certainty based on self-evident truths or sensory experience. Neither group would say doctrine alone is the essence of faith, but all would insist that experience should never be privileged over doctrine.

Meliorists such as Olson think that another basic problem with Traditionists is that they give too much weight to, well, tradition. They believe Biblicists pay too much attention to the evangelical tradition, and Paleo-orthodox to the premodern consensus. These traditions, Olson asserts, have been wrong in the past. “All tradition is in need of correction and reform,” he says, and evangelicals should reject any appeal to “what has always been believed by Christians generally” because tradition by nature protects vested interests.

The creeds, for example, are to Olson simply “man-made statements.” They all need to be re-examined for possible “revisioning of doctrine” based on a fresh reading of Scripture. Nothing is sacrosanct, everything is on the table. Only the Bible is finally authoritative. And even the Bible is too often mistaken for revelation itself, which consists more of the “acts of God” in history than the words of Scripture. Meliorists tend to reject the idea that the actual words of the Bible are inspired, and often prefer to speak of “dynamic inspiration,” in which the biblical authors but not their words are inspired. For most Meliorists, the Bible’s authority is primarily functional. God speaks through it when He chooses, and only at those times can we say the Spirit speaks through it with authority.

via Article | First Things.

The problem with the meliorists is that they are, essentially, liberal, jettisoning, in effect, any authority beyond what they want.  Furthermore, they believe that Christianity is getting better (which is what the Latin word “melior” means), so that Christians of the past had it wrong, but contemporary Christians can discover what it really means.   This strikes me as absurd and destroys the catholicity and historicity of the church.

But there can be a problem with traditionalists too.  These evangelical traditionalists, at least the paleo-orthodox, need a basis for determining which traditions they embrace and which ones they don’t.  To just embrace tradition as the means of interpreting the Bible would likely lead to either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, and I’m not  how an evangelical paleo-orthodox traditionalist would know which one to choose. The answer, of course, would be to follow the inerrant Bible, but to also specify what they believe the Bible teaches.

That is, they need confessionalism.  As usual, debates among Bible-believing, Gospel-trusting Christians are reduced to the Reformed/Arminian distinction, as if those were the only two alternatives.  Lutheran confessionalism is not mere traditionalism, since it sets forth a theology that affirms both a major continuity with the earlier church, while also setting forth criteria for sorting out Biblical doctrine from non-Biblical teachings, whether of the past traditions or emerging heresies.

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X