Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Few Short Comments on Romans 8 & 9

Romans is one of the top three books in the Bible. It might be in the top two, even. So, I wanted to comment on two of the most influential chapters of one of the most influential books of the Bible that has so affected my theology and my relationship with God as a Christian.

Romans 8 is by far one of the best chapters in the whole of the Bible. Beginning with "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law could not do..." (namely, God is saving and securing people) to ending with the everlasting encouragement at the end of the chapter of verses 28-30, 37: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

The entire chapter of Romans 8 never gets old to me. And I think that the ESV Study Bible has some insightful points to make that I would like to share with you.

In commenting on Romans 8:28, 29, and 30, the ESV Study Bible has this to say:

8:28 God weaves everything together for good for his children. The "good" in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ (v. 29), closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification (v. 30)
8:29 Verses 29-30 explain why those who believe in Christ can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then on to the day of Christ's return (the future). Foreknew reaches back to the OT, where the word "know" emphasizes God's special care of, or covenantal affection for, his people (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3"2). See Rom. 11:2 where "foreknew" functions as the contrast to "rejected," showing that it emphasizes God's choosing his people (see also 1 Pet. 1:2, 20). God also predestined (i.e., predetermined) that those whom he chose before hand would become like Christ.
8:30 The chain that begins with the word "foreknew" in v. 29 cannot be broken. Those who are predestined by God are also called effectively to faith through the gospel (see 2 Thess. 2:14). And all those who are called are also justified (declared to be right [or just] in God's sight). Because not all who are invited to believe are actually justified, the "calling" here cannot refer to merely a general invitation but must refer to an effective call that creates the faith necessary for justification (Rom. 5:1). All those who are justified will also be glorified (receive resurrected bodies) on the last day. Paul speaks of glorification as if it were already completed, since God will certainly finish the good work he started (cf. Phil. 1:6).

I can say that this insight is highly appreciated, especially on such an important chapter of the Bible. This chapter shows us our inability to respond to God, the effectual call God has for his elect people, and our true security in Christ.

Likewise, the chapter immediately following this chapter is one of the hardest chapters in the Bible. Oh how diverse and exciting Romans, the Word of God, is! Romans 9 is too long for me to type out for you, so I encourage you to grab your copy of God's word and read it while I (and the ESV Study Bible team) comment on a few important highlights.

Paul opens with an honest, heartbroken account of how he feels about his Jewish brothers. He says he has "great sorrow and unceasing anguish in [his] heart." He even goes so far as to say that he, indeed, if it were possible, might choose to be "accursed" and "cut off from Christ" for the sake of his brothers in the flesh, the Israelites, the Jews. He does not actively wish this, though, because, as the ESV Study Bible noted, "he knows this would achieve nothing, for none but Christ could be any person's substitute to bear God's wrath." They have had so much given to them, yet are still in sin and doomed to hell unless they repent and believe in Christ.
He continues, saying that it is not as though the promises to Israel have failed! What king of God would he be if God could not keep his promises or failed in trying to? No, Paul says that it is precisely because they are not Israel that he has kept his promise. What? Paul says in verse 8, "it is not the children of the flesh [Israelites] who are the children of God [true Israel], but it is the children of promise [his true elect people] who are counted as offspring [that is, the people of Israel]." He explains (v. 10-12) that though Jacob and Esau came from the same parents (and even though Esau was the one who deserved it by birth (that is, because he was a true biological son of Isaac, son of Abraham over Ishmael, son of Abraham)) Jacob was chosen to be true Israel in order that (i[na) "God's purpose of election might continue," not because of anything they had (or would do): God elected them before they were born (v. 11). It was because God chose to love Jacob.
Paul answers the question of injustice on God's part by answering that it not unjust to show mercy to someone who deserves and still punish another who also deserves punishment; because he still deserves punishment. In fact, our ability to choose salvation is completely contingent upon whether he gives mercy or not: "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." It depends on God. It depends on God plus something he does: having mercy. Paul goes on to show the sovereignty of God in salvation through his statement in verse 18: "So then he has mercy on (eleei/) whomever he wills, and he hardens (sklhru,nei) whomever he wills."
Up till this point, an Arminian could argue that this was only referring to election of Israel over the nations, which is partially true. The CEB Wesleyan Study Bible and Wesley's own notes over the passage indicate this. But these Arminians are missing one major aspect of the whole passage: verse 19. There Paul has laid out their own objection to this! Paul anticipated it and answered it! The Word of God is inexhaustible!
He says in verse 19-23, "You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his [God's] will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me this way?" Has the potter no right over the clay to make of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory...?"
Wesley's notes make all of this contingent upon us, but the case of all the verbs in the Greek are directed towards God, that is the subject, not the predicate. That is to say, in the Greek (and so clearly in the English of a good translation) it clearly indicates it is God making, enduring, preparing, etc. God is the one doing in this chapter, not man. Man is nothing. Man can do nothing. He can't even choose to obey the commands of God (8:7), which includes responding to the call to repentance and salvation. Even the objection Paul's supposed opponent makes is clearly making God responsible for salvation.

Though this is not in any way meant to be a real, comprehensive exegesis of these two great passages by any stretch of the imagination, this is how I understand scripture, in light of scripture. I think to understand Romans 8 and 9 in any Arminian sense is to have to confound the entire passage. The sovereign grace of Romans 8 and 9 is not something to take lightly. It is magnificent insofar as it shows the humility and depravity of man and the power and sovereignty of God in election. These passages have caused me to desire to feast on great theology and heavy scripture texts. They caused me to want to dive deeper in theology, to get the biggest glimpse of God that I could. I hope they do the same for you!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Reviews: October

Greetings Readers! Thank you for visiting my blog. Every once in a while I'll give reviews of books I've read recently that have either been beneficial, edifying, or that I think are noteworthy enough to suggest to or not to read. So, pick up and read, my friends!

George MacDonald was the inspiration for C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others to start anew within the genre of fantasy. This book is one of the reasons that we read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. This book is fantasy at its best. MacDonald was also a Christian, and one can feel the impact Scripture had on him through the vivid, albeit strange and peculiar, images he gives us with. This book is a treasure and because it is so I am reading it a second time. I recommend you give it a try.

The Lord of the Rings is by far my favorite book series of all time. I don't throw around the word masterpiece, so trust me when I say that this is one. This edition is absolutely my favorite too. The cover art by Alan Lee is fantastic (pun intended) and completely portrays what Middle-Earth would really be. I love these books, because they are made well (Houghton Mifflin is the junk) and are so aesthetically appealing that you want to read them even if you dislike the story (which you won't if you have any literary intrigue whatsoever). Buy them and read them. And then we can go get coffee and nerd out by talking about them forever, Ha Ha! Just kidding (... no I'm not). 

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be discriminated against? Have you ever thought to yourself that segregation and racism were never that big of a deal? John Howard Griffin gave us an insiders look on what it really was like to be valued or devalued according to the color of your skin alone. 52 years ago, a white writer/reporter decided that racism and segregation were too much. It was plainly wrong to judge a human being and give them worth based upon the color of their skin. Griffin decided to become a black man. To become an African American. That's right, 52 years ago, John Howard Griffin went through a skin treatment process and transformed himself into a black African American. The book is his personal account of how he was treated, what his interactions with other African Americans looked like, and his thoughts about the whole experience. Detail by detail the story is told vividly and movingly. To understand what racism is and what it can do, one must read this book to even grasp at the surface. This book is a must read.

Understanding Dispensationalist by Vern Poythress was one of the most edifying books I have read in a long time. This book was not written to destroy the dispensationalist's hermeneutic. It was not written to show how ignorant dispensationalists are. Nor was it written to show how superior Covenant Theologians (or as I like to call them, Covenantalists) are to dispensationalists. This book was made for us to understand dispensationalists, to understand why they believe what they do and how we can create conversation with them without either side throwing fists or (on the dispensationalist side) accusing the other side of heresy. Mixing an irenic call for understanding with an exegesis of Hebrews 12, Poythress shows that although the dispensational hermeneutic is virtually untenable, Covenantalists and New Covenant Theologians (I'm looking at you, John G. Reisinger!) alike should understand that dispensationalists are still brothers and sisters in Christ. Dispensationalists and non-dispensationalists alike will both benefit from reading this book, I am sure. He makes his case simply but scholarly, and freely interacts with scholars and big names in both camps. Poythress is the man and I hope to study under him at WTS one day. Until then, I recommend this book to you for edification, sanctification, and ecumenism.

These are just a few of the books I've read lately and thought I'd share them with you. May they be as good to you as they have been to me! Thanks for reading

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gregory of Tours

Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours. He was born as Georgius Florentius, after his father and grandfather, but later changed his name to Gregorius or Gregory in honor of his mother’s miracle working great-uncle, Gregory of Langres.[1] He was born on November 17, 539, in the Auvergne, which was a city territory of Gaul and is now modern Clermont-Ferrand.[2] He was born to Florentius and Armentaria, who were both from wealthy and strong ecclesiastical traditions.[3] Both his father and his uncle claim to have descended from one of the first Christian Gallic martyrs, Vettius Epagatus.[4] His mother was the niece of the Bishop of Lyons, Nicetius, and a granddaughter of Florentinus, Senator of Geneva, and Saint Gregory, Bishop of Langres. According to Gregory, of all eighteen bishops who preceded him, only five were not related to him in some way.[5] His father died young, and it was his father’s brother, Gallus, who provided him with his earliest Christian training.[6] It seems that after his father died, he was sent to live with his uncle, Gallus, in Clermont, where Gallus was bishop, and it was during Gallus’ episcopacy that he enhanced the cult of St Julian by instituting an annual pilgrimage to the saint’s shrine at Brioude.[7] Gregory’s family was especially attached to the cult of St Julian, so much so that Gregory eventually begins to himself to be the “foster son” of the saint, as well as consider him to be his “special patron.”[8] Gregory’s education as a youth was located within church schools and mostly confined to studying Scripture, and he often lamented his lack of training in rhetoric and secular literature, although, especially in his later years, he seems to have read constantly and voraciously and was also continually busy with his own writing.[9] As a boy he also spent some time with his mother’s uncle, Nicetus, before Nicetus became bishop of Lyons, and studied under the Archdeacon at Clermont, Avitus, before Avitus became bishop of Clermont.[10] He was ordained a deacon by 563, and, shortly thereafter, became quite ill and made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Martin of Tours, where he hoped to be healed.[11] After this difficult pilgrimage to the tomb of St Martin, the saint apparently did heal him of his severe fever.[12] In 573, Gregory was chosen to succeed one of his mother’s relatives, Euphronius of Tours, as bishop of Tours.[13] He was bishop of Tours for about twenty-one years, and it was during his episcopacy that he wrote the various works by which he is known today. He finished his popular, seven-book work The Miracles of St Martin in the summer of 593 and completed the finishing touches on his ten books in History of the Franks in the following year.[14] By the time of his death, Gregory had rebuilt the cathedral in Tours, improved its collection of relics, and written several different books.[15] Gregory finally died on November 17 in 594.[16]

Gregory was one of the most imaginative and prolific writers of the Middle Ages.[17] He considered his major works to be the ten books of histories, seven books of miracles, one book about the life of the fathers, a commentary on the Psalms, and one book about the liturgical offices of the church. For the most part, with a few exceptions, his important literary works have largely survived.[18] His ten books of histories are now commonly known as History of the Franks, and are certainly the most influential. His seven books of miracles are referred to in the preface of another book as being eight books, and this is how modern scholars now customarily consider them.[19] In his own sequence, the following are the eight books included: one book entitled Glory of the Martyrs, which consisted of stories about martyrs and the miracles they or their relics performed; one book entitled Suffering and Miracles of the Martyr St Julian, which consisted of stories about St Julian and his shrine at Brioude; four books entitled Miracles of the Bishop St Martin, which consisted of stories about St Martin, the patron saint of Tours, and the miracles he preformed before and during Gregory’s episcopacy; one book entitled Life of the Fathers, which consisted of a series of short biographies- better categorized as hagiographies- of important men and women in the church, most of whom were related to Gregory and lived in the sixth century; and one book entitled Glory of the Confessors, which consisted of stories about confessors and the miracles that they or their relics performed.[20] An attempt to provide a precise description of the order of composition of his works would only be mere speculation, because he seems to have constantly revised his writings.[21] These books enrich understanding of life and belief in Merovingian Gaul. His most influential, most important, and perhaps most well known work, Decem Libri Historiarum, translated as History of the Franks since the eighth century, is a misleading translation. It is misleading for two reasons. First, this translated title gives the impression that the work is centered on the expansion of the Frankish or Merovingian kingdom under Clovis and his successors. The topics include not only the events of the kingdom under Clovis, but such diversity as a nun’s revolt at a convent and accounts of cataclysmic floods are present as well.[22] In Book I of the History of the Franks Gregory takes readers through the event of the creation of Adam and Eve all the way to the event of St Martin’s death. Book II gives an account of Clovis from the time he is king even to his conversion to Christianity and his death. Books III and four deal with Clovis’ sons and their various wars and strife. Books I-IV altogether give an account of the world’s history even from Creation to the death of Sigibert, Germanic king of Austrasia, in 575.[23] Book V gives an account of Chilperic’s rule and Book VI ends with the death of Chilperic, where Gregory refers to his rule with revilement as “the Nero and Herod of our time” quite unsympathetically.[24] Books VII-X make up the last part of the History of the Franks, and are comprised of personal accounts of history up until his present. He concludes the tenth book by determining the years it has been since the Creation of the world until his present, by which he had determined it had been 5792 years.[25] There is nothing in my own research that indicates any one reason why Gregory wrote all that he did, except in the preface to his History, where it says that he wrote in order to commemorate the past in order that it may come to the knowledge of the future, in response to the complaints of many who were saying “[w]oe to our day, since the pursuit of letters has perished among us and no one can be found among the people who can set forth the deeds of the present on the written page.”[26] But he often attempts to show how superior Christianity is to paganism and heresy throughout his various writings, so perhaps his primary motivation was to show the importance and strength or superiority of Christianity.

There are questions surrounding the life of Gregory of Tours, but most have to do with the exact dating of events such as his birth, ordination to the diaconate, and his death. These questions are disputed to an extent, but most either agree that the particular event was close to or around their date of choice or they do not make a hard stance one way or another. Since most of his works remain intact, there is little debated about what is said, since most of it is fairly clear. Fortunately, there is enough available information about this time that speculation and debate is often unnecessary and superfluous.

[1] Edward James, Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991), ix
[2] Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers on History, (New York: Routledge, 2008), 139. Hughes-Warrington argues for this later date of birth, though there are others, such as W.A. Jurgens [W.A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers Vol. 3, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998), 305] who assert that it most likely took place in 138, a year earlier. Most scholars refuse to take a stand for either year and some restrict the date only to the end of the 130’s. For examples of these see Raymond Van Dam, Gregory of Tours: Glory of the Martyrs, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), 1; Edward James, Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1991), ix; and Thomas J. Heffernan, Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 3.
[3] Edward James, Life of the Fathers, ix.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers, 139.
[6] W.A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers Vol. 3, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998), 305.
[7] Raymond Van Dam, Gregory of Tours: Glory of the Martyrs, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998), 1.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Heffernan, Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 3.
[10] James, Life of the Fathers, ix.
[11] Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers, 139. Warrington actually dates this particular event two years later in 535, along with James [James, Gregory of Tours, x]. However, Jurgens [Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers Vol. 3, 305] and Van Dam [Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 1] assert the earlier date of 563. I have determined to follow Jurgens and Van Dam, on the basis that Van Dam has completed additional works of scholarship concerning the same historical context of which Gregory of Tours was located. For this information, see Raymond Van Dam, Leadership and Community in Late Antique Gaul, (Los Angeles: University of California Press), 179-201, 230-255.
[12] Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 1.
[13] James, Life of the Fathers, x.
[14] James, Life of the Fathers, xi.
[15] Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers, 139.
[16] James, Life of the Fathers, xi. There is still mystery concerning the date of his death. Some scholars (See Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, 305; Heffernan, Sacred Biography, 3) assert that he died between 593-594. Others date it possibly between 594-595 (See James, Life of the Fathers, xi). The consensus is, though, that it was probably 594. All of these sources assert that it was on November 17, but it is only James who at least shares that this is what tradition says, not any one written source.
[17] Heffernan, Sacred Biography, 3.
[18] Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 2, 3.
[19] Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 3.
[20] Raymond Van Dam, Gregory of Tours: Glory of the Confessors 2004 Reprint, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), xi.
[21] Hughes-Warrington, Fifty Key Thinkers, 139.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Books I-IV.
[24] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Books V-VI.
[25] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Books VII-X.
[26] Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, Preface.

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