April 2013


Apart from the principle of the rope, it is impossible to understand the course of human history. (39)

Bound Together by Chris Brauns

Corporate solidarity and individualism. These words represent two concepts that speak to the heart of national and personal identities. Individualism is the mindset that one is as an island unto themselves. I am on my own and tied to no one. On the other hand, corporate solidarity speaks to the fact that, even though we are individuals, we are all tied together. While corporate solidarity is present within almost every society, more and more people are trying to live as if it were not so. After all, who wants to be tied to a Hitler? What innocent person wants to suffer for the actions of another? And yet, it is a reality of everyday life.

It is this idea of corporate solidarity, in fact, this biblical idea, that Chris Brauns writes about in his new book Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices. The kind of corporate solidarity Brauns writes about is one that crosses community, ethnic and national solidarity. It is one that has tied us all together since the beginning of man. This is our corporate solidarity in Adam.

The Ties That Bind: By What & To Whom?

Corporate solidarity is a simple concept and Brauns does a masterful job of presenting it in an easily understandable manner. While the term can seem distracting from its simple meaning, Brauns uses an explanatory concept he calls the principle of the rope to help readers understand this important truth. The principle of the rope is “the simple truth that our lives, choices, and actions are linked to the lives, choices, and actions of other people.” (25)

It is only natural that many people, even Christians, will have a hard time accepting this truth that permeates their everyday lives. Brauns reminds us of some biblical examples: consider the flood in Gen. 7 that destroyed everyone left on the earth, the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 19, the plagues in Egypt as told in Exodus, the conquest of Canaan by Israel in Joshua and even the sin of Achan that brought death to many people. These are just a few examples of corporate solidarity that run throughout Scripture.

Bigger than any of these examples is the rope that ties all of humanity together from Adam till the last person on earth is born. This is the rope that ties us all to Adam and his choice to sin against God. It is here that the doctrine of original sin comes into the picture. Stated similarly to the principle of the rope, the doctrine of original sin “refers to the reality that we are all bound to Adam in his choice to disobey God’s command.” (44) In regards to the nature of original sin, Brauns distills what can be the complex discussion of the realist versus the federalist/covenant view. Despite the differences of how original sin works, Brauns takes away three overlapping essentials to each position:

  1. All are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin.
  2. Al have a corrupt nature because of Adam’s sin. “We sin because we are sinners” rather than “we are sinners because we sin.”
  3. All the death and suffering and pain of human history are predicated on Adam’s failure in the garden. (48)

In the simplest terms using the rope analogy, “when Adam jumped off the cliff of sin and death in his rebellion against God, we were tied to him in his rebellion, and he pulled us over the side with him.” (49) This is perhaps one of the clearest and most succinct analogies to explain the doctrine of original sin.

While the principle of the rope ties all of humanity since Adam to Adam, there is a rope with a stronger bond, that, once tied to, we are severed from our ties to Adam. While the principle of the rope initially brings bad news to all of mankind, it can also bring good news. Romans 5: 12-21 tells us of the rope tied to Christ that is stronger than the rope we are born with tied to Adam. The essential argument of the passage is this

Just as we have been united to Adam – roped to him in his sin and rebellion – so now we can be united to Christ – roped to him – and receive his freedom, forgiveness, and salvation from our sin. (58)

Unlike the rope that ties us to Adam, this new rope that ties us to Christ cannot be broken. Similar to being severed physically from ones mother at the time of birth with the cutting of the umbilical cord, so believers are severed from their tie to Adam at the new birth and are then tied to Christ. They are united to Christ. It is this union with Christ that ensures we receive the status and benefits of our new tie to Christ.

Applications for Being Tied to Christ

While the first half of the book deals with defending the biblical doctrine of the principle of the rope, the second half of the book looks at several ways in which the principle of the rope has positive applications to our lives.

One of the benefits to being tied to Christ is the joy it brings. What might surprise readers is how this joy is experienced. After surveying numerous passages that discuss joy and the Christian life, Brauns concludes with the observation that joy in the Christian life is most experienced in our relationships with other believers. If the Christian life cannot be experienced as an island unto ones self, it follows that the joy of the Christian life cannot be experienced by ones self. We need the community of the saints to experience the fullness of the joy of our salvation in Christ.

Further, Brauns draws out helpful applications of being corporately tied to Christ within marriage, living in hurting families, help for those facing and fearing death along with applications for how Christians can utilize the ties that bind us together in the church and society.

Conclusion

While a book on corporate solidarity can potentially be a deep discussion, Brauns has done a masterful job of bringing its essential truths and components to the surface without losing its teeth. Bound Together is a perfect model for how to condense big deep truths into manageable material. This is the kind of book that I would give to everyone in my church if I could.

Brauns ably and clearly explains the biblical doctrine of corporate solidarity that will make it hard for skeptical readers to disagree with. He does with it just as Scripture does, he gives us the bad news and then follows it up with the good. The tie that binds us to Adam is not so strong that the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot loose us from and in turn eternally tie us to the second Adam, Christ the savior.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Zondervan through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.

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God is Impassible and Impassioned by Rob ListerTranscendent yet immanent. Knowable yet unknowable. Merciful yet wrathful. These contrasting descriptions are all true equally and at the same time as they describe the nature and character of God as revealed in Scripture. There are many people who have a hard time wrapping their minds around how God can both transcend the human experience as creator, wholly other and holy God, and yet, this same God accommodates Himself to the human experience in Christ incarnate and walks on the very earth He created and among the very creatures He created. These are tension points in Scripture for people trying to make sense of them and yet God and His word do not seem to so much as bat an eye.

Along these lines of tension is the discussion of God’s impassibility. Though mention of the impassibility of God stretches back to the early church fathers there have been very few books specifically dedicated to the topic. Recently, Crossway has published a new book dedicated to the topic titled God is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion by Rob Lister. Lister earned his Ph.D. From The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at the Talbot School of Theology. Lister’s goal is to address how it is that Scripture presents God as both unchangeable and yet expresses passions that might imply some kind of change when viewed from the human experience.

Some Definitions

The essence of the doctrine of passibility is that God suffers in the divine nature. This can be seen to them most clearly in the incarnation of Christ. The line of thought runs as follows: (1) Jesus was God incarnate, (2) Jesus displayed passion and experienced suffering on the cross, (3) therefore, God is susceptible to passion and suffering. (p. 125-26) Contra this, impassibility is the doctrine that God does not experience suffering in the divine nature. Lister defines being impassible and impassioned as follows:

  1. Impassibility is the belief that God cannot be manipulated, overwhelmed, or surprised into an emotional interaction that he does not desire to have or allow to happen. (p. 36)
  2. Impassioned is the belief that God may be affected by his creatures, but as God, he is so in ways that accord rather than conflict with his will to be so affected by those whom, in love, he has made. (p. 36)

Again, contra the passibilist’s view of the incarnation, Lister sees the incarnation as the perfect embodiment of the doctrine of impassibility.

The incarnation furnishes us with the supreme example of the dual biblical affirmation of divine self-sufficiency and gracious condescension. Accordingly, we see that the second person of the Trinity had to become incarnate in order to overcome natural divine impassibility (i.e. the impassibility of the divine order), and thereby accomplish the redemptively necessary goal of humanly experiencing suffering and death on behalf of sinners. (p. 37)

Lister makes a strong, detailed and deep case for God being both impassible and yet impassioned. Given the depth of the book I will only be able to touch on some of the more salient features of Lister’s argument.

Salient Features

Lister’s work is extremely well reasoned and thought out. It is exegetically based and driven on solid Biblical, theological and hermeneutical ground. In short, Lister’s argument holds the weight of the freight it intends to carry.

There are several gems to Lister’s argument that are worth briefly pointing out. First, as with any good discussion on a topic like this Lister revisits the primary sources in regards to the understanding of the history of the church on divine impassibility. In chapters two and three Lister’s addresses the Hellenization Hypothesis which seeks to discredit the Patristic notion of divine impassibility on the basis that it borrowed it completely from Greek thought. Recognizing that this claim commits the genetic fallacy Lister points out that merely borrowing language and concepts of contemporary philosophy is in itself not problematic and in fact necessary. Lister rightly points out that “the critical issue, then, is discerning whether biblical authority has been compromised in the attempt to express biblical truth through borrowed terminology.” (p. 61)

Second, as briefly mentioned above, Lister points to the incarnation as the embodiment of the impassibilist’s position. Lister argues that because the divine nature cannot suffer in the way that was necessary to affirm, among other things, the truth of Heb. 4:15, Jesus had to become incarnate in order to accomplish the cross. Christ did not suffer as a man to show us suffering in the divine nature of God but rather God became a man in Christ so that he could suffer. (p. 270) Lister is not saying that the divine nature cannot express emotion but rather, “as one expression of the explicit purpose of the incarnation that Jesus carry out the entirety of his mission – including his obedience, emotion, suffering, and death – as a man in dependence on God……Jesus our elder brother, who as the perfect image of God perfectly displayed for us what godly human passion should look like.” (p. 262) The point on the incarnation is one that Lister makes throughout much of the book.

Closely tied together are the third and fourth points. Third, there is the Creator/creature distinction. The point drawn from this distinction is that though God and man experience the same kinds of emotions they do not in the same way by virtue of the ontological difference between the two. The divine nature is perfect, infinite, transcendent and incorporeal. Man on the other hand is not. This leads to the fourth feature of analogical revelation. It is obne thing to affirm the emotional attributions to God in Scripture as real but it another thing to anchor our understanding of them first in ourselves (who are sinners) rather than the other way around. (p. 187) The mistake that passibilists make is to nearly view God’s emotions and ours as univocal. “We must never mistake relationship or emotional engagement with God for relationship with a peer.” (p. 216) This is further evident in being created in the image of God. “We are God’s analogues and not his ontological peers.” (p. 219) The Creator/creature distinction should keep this from happening.

Fifth, since Lister takes a decidedly Reformed approach (p. 36) to the impassibility of God he holds to God’s exhaustive divine foreknowledge (EDF). His explanation of this is clearly tied to the definition above of divine impassibility.

EDF precludes the possibility that God might ever be “caught off-guard,” thus experiencing an emotional reaction based on the surprise that comes to him from encountering the unforeseen. Additionally, EDF includes the fact that God foreknows not only all that his creatures will do, but also his own emotional (and volitional) responses to his creatures’ actions, before he himself ever experiences those responses. (p. 237-38)

Finally, though not unique to Lister’s approach, it bears pointing out the scope of Lister’s intent in the book. Lister is trying to produce a retroductive model of logical reasoning which “attempts to present a comprehensive theory sufficient to account for all the relevant data.” (p. 174) This approach seeks to hold to a theology that incorporates all the relevant data and thus develop a synthesized conclusion, rather than basing ones entire theology based on one passage of Scripture to the detriment of much else.

Conclusion

God is Impassible and Impassioned is a solid defense of the traditional doctrine of divine impassibility. Lister succeeds in defending the doctrine while also further expanding on some points that are both necessary and natural. That the title includes describing God as impassioned speaks to the balance Lister carries throughout the book. Lister is intent on holding onto the tension both words create because that is where he sees Scripture taking us. Lister’s presentation and critique of the history of this doctrine is fair and shows he has done the hard work of reading the primary sources. Lister addresses not only the most notable proponents of passibilism but also points out those within the conservative evangelical camp such as John Stott and John Feinberg. Though he disagrees with Open Theists, his treatment of them is fair and there is surprisingly no discussion of Greg Boyd who is probably the most conservative of the group though the most vocal and influential.

In regards to the biblical text Lister does not shy away from the hard texts. He ably discusses themes and exegetes texts like God’s jealousy in Deut. 4:23-24 and Deut. 6:13-15, the anger of God in Judges 2:11-15, God’s covenant love in the Psalms and Prophets and the famous repentance/regret/relenting passages like 1 Sam. 15. In the chapter dedicated to exploring the implications of impassibility and the incarnation Lister further deals with various relevant Christological passages such as the passion narrative, 1 Pt. 3:18-4:2 and Heb. 2:9-18 and 4:15. The only thing I would have liked to see more of was on the chapter on the incarnation. Though it ran throughout the book it could have been longer.

In short this book has added to the impassibility discussion and has brought life back into a virtually dormant discussion. This is not a book for the light of heart but I recommend it to theologically informed pastors, students and theologians.

NOTE: I received this book for free from Crossway in exchange for a review. The words and thoughts expressed are my own and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

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He is There and He is not Silent by SchaefferThis is the third and final post on Schaeffer’s He is There and He Is Not Silent. See the previous two posts here and here.

In the third and fourth chapters of He is There and He Is Not Silent Schaeffer discusses the area of epistemology, the study of knowledge, specifically focusing on the problem of knowledge and the answer.

The Problem

This issue of the problem of knowledge is what can we know and how do we know it? Or, to put it into Schaeffer’s own favorite phrase, what are the universals (pertaining to knowledge) that exist in order for us to explain the particulars? “How can we find universals which are large enough to cover the particulars so that we can know we know?” (p. 306) This problem persisted for centuries as men like Plato, the Greeks, Aquinas and even da Vinci tried to produce the universals upon which the particulars could be grounded. Despite the fact that the early scientists believed God existed and that the universe was discoverable, when the modern scientists came along beginning with Newton we are back to a world that is once again groping for universals. We now have a worldview that sees man as a machine and the universe as a closed system.

At this point Jean-Jacques Rousseau becomes important as he takes the next step in the line of thinking without universals. Schaeffer notes that he replaces the nature and grace distinction with nature and freedom (p. 310). This freedom is nothing short of the autonomy of man, the autonomy of man from everything – especially God. After Rousseau we move to Kant and Hegel who went from antithesis as the way of knowing things to synthesis.

Further down the road we get to the theory of positivism which held that the knower has no presuppositions upon which he approaches anything. Positivism fails because it (1) one cannot say that anything exists and (2) even if one did believe they knew something they would have no reason to trust that they know it truly. Following this line of thinking came verificationism and falsificationism.

In closing his short history of mankind trying to find an adequate theory of knowledge Schaeffer concludes with this,

All the way back to the Greeks, we have for 2,000 years the cleverest men who have ever lived trying to find a way to have meaning and certainty of knowledge; but man, beginning with himself with no other knowledge outside himself, has totally failed. (p. 319)

The Answer

The heart of the answer for Schaeffer to the problem of knowledge began with the Reformation idea (and Biblical idea) that language conveys meaning, or propositional truth. However, language is not stand alone. It is spoken by someone. Therefore, someone is there who speaks. For the Christian, the answer to the problem of knowledge is simply that God is there and He is not silent. Schaeffer points out the basic nature of language to man:

We communicate propositional communication to each other in spoken or written form in language. Indeed, it is deeper than this because the way we think inside of our own heads is in language. We can have other things in our heads besides language, but it always must be lined to language. A book, for example, can be written with much figure of speech, but the figure of speech must have a continuity withe the normal use of syntax and a defined use of terms, or nobody knows what the book is about. So whether we are talking about outward communication of inward thought, man is a verbalizer. (p. 325)

Man is a verbalizer, a communicator through language. Why then is it so hard to believe that God could communicate to man? It should not be, says Schaeffer. For Christianity, there is no problem of epistemology. Is is only because God exists and has communicated about Himself in propositional revelation that men can know at all and communicate at all. For Christians there is a connection and unity between God, man and the Bible. God exists, He created man in His image and He has communicated to him through the Bible. This is how we can know and it is the only theory of knowledge that makes sense of and adequately accounts for our human experience of knowing, language and communication.

Pauls Missionary MethodsJust over 100 years ago Roland Allen wrote Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? which became one of the most influential books on missions that is still available today. As is the custom for many classic works Robert Plummer and John Mark Terry have compiled a team of contributors who have been greatly influenced by Allen’s work to write a tribute. Paul’s Missionary Methods: His Time and Ours has contributions from authors like Michael Bird, Eckhard Schnabel, Craig Keener and Ed Stetzer. As quoted in the book, Leslie Newbigin said of Allen’s work when he wrote the foreword for its American edition in 1962,

I have thought it right to enter these words of caution, because the reader should be warned that he is embarking on a serious undertaking. Once he has started reading Allen, he will be compelled to go on. He will find that this quiet voice has a strange relevant and immediacy to the problems of the Church in our day. And I shall be surprised if he does not find before long that any of his accustomed ideas are being questioned by a voice more searching than the word of man. (p. 241-42)

The book has two parts. Part one looks at Paul in the New Testament as  the contributors seek to extrapolate parts of Paul’s missiology in regards to areas like him as a missionary, as a suffering missionary, his ecclesiology and the mission of the church. Some notable chapters as as follows. Michael Bird lays out the religious and historical context in which Paul did his missionary work. Eckhard Schnabel looks at the person of Paul namely his calling and role as apostle while also briefly sketching out the order of his missionary travels. Robert Plummer looks at the contribution to our understanding of the gospel that Paul makes. Benjamin Merkle sketches Paul’s ecclesiology taking a credo interpretation of baptism and the Lord’s Supper and a plurality of elders approach to church leadership. Don Howell Jr. provides a great analysis of the role of suffering in Paul’s life as it relates to his missionary ministry.

The second part of the books deals with Paul’s influence on missions. It is the second part of the book that the contributors begin to interact with Allen’s original work. By in large the authors express great agreement with Allen’s assessment of Paul’s missiology with only a few differences here and there. In chapter nine Michael Pocock seeks to answer the question of whether or nor Paul’s missionary methods/strategies are determinative for today. Chapters eleven and twelve deal with Paul and church planting and the accompanying are of contextualization.

All in all this is a great book. I have not personally read Allen’s original work but I suspect I will have to some day soon. For now, Paul’s Missionary Methods is a great primer on the missiology of Paul as well as the thoughts of Paul the missionary by the great missiologist Roland Allen. Here is an introduction to the missiology of two great missionaries: Paul the apostle and Roland Allen the great missionary to China.

NOTE: I received this book for free from IVP in exchange for an honest review. The words and thoughts expressed are my own.

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Galatians for You by KellerThe Good Book Company has just released the first book in a new series of devotionals titled God’s Word for You. The first book is on Galatians by Tim Keller titled Galatians for You. This series is designed to be an expository guide through the books of the Bible. It is not a detailed commentary on the Greek and Hebrew though it has helpful detail when needed. It is not so focused on the practical that it spends very little time on the text itself. This is a series that is purposely anchored to the text with the intent of bringing its truth to bear on the reader. This is a series that strikes such a perfect balance between any kind of commentary method that it can be profitable for anyone.

Regarding the book of Galatians itself this is the perfect book to kick off the series. What better book to begin a commentary series on than one that intentionally deals with clarifying what the gospel is especially as God’s people move from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Paul deals strongly and passionately with the Galatians about getting the gospel right and Keller allows his strong emotions to come out without covering them up or apologizing for them. In typical Keller fashion he ably presents the material in a clear and understandable way to produce maximum benefit for the reader. His abilities here really shine in chapter nine on Galatians 4:21-31 with Paul’s discussion of Hagar and Sarah.

To get a feel for how good this book is here are some excerpts:

The gospel did not come to him (Paul) through a process of reasoning and reflection; it was received not arrived at. (p. 21)

To abandon gospel theology is to abandon Christ personally. (p. 22)

Christianity is an appeal to bring our whole life, mind and heart, to Christ. To leave out how we think, or how we feel, its to give an incomplete picture of how comprehensive Christian commitment is (p. 35)

An American Christian has far more in common with a gospel-believer who lives a nomadic existence on the Mongolian plains than they do with a non-believer who lives on their street, drives a similar car, and whose children go to the same school as theirs. (p. 44)

You can’t believe God without believing in God, but you can believe in God without believing God! (p. 73)

If Jesus “became” a sinner for us, then we have “become” righteous in the same way. If His taking the curse means that He was regarded by God as a sinner, then our receiving the blessing means that we are regarded by God as if we are perfectly righteous and flawless. (p. 76)

Galatians for You is a great introductory book to read for the book of Galatians for both seasoned believers and new believers. Keller’s style draws you in to the point that you dread reaching the last page of the book. By one for yourself and all your friends. I look forward to reading more of these books by Keller.

NOTE: I received this book from The Good Book Co. through Cross Focused Reviews. I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review and the words and thoughts expressed are my own.

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