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Round the Sphere Again: Terminology

Today was Canada Day, Canada’s holiday that’s the equivalent to (sort of) American Independence Day. We celebrate in much the same way, but there’ll be no fireworks where I live. It’s too light at any decent hour for that.

Here are a couple of interesting links dealing with one of my favorite subjects—words and word meaning.

This is one of my pet peeve words, at least when it’s used to describe the human condition since the fall. And I’ve been hearing it used that way a lot lately. The trouble with brokenness is that it downplays our problem; it’s true as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. 

Randy Newman of The Gospel Coalition Blog writes: 

God describes our sin many ways—almost all of which are far worse than “broken.” We’re rebellious, idolatrous, lost, enslaved, disobedient, adulterous, and—in case the point wasn’t pressed far enough—dead. If we see our sin as mere brokenness, our repentance and abhorrence at sin won’t push us in the opposite direction hard enough. And our appreciation of the cross as the only cure will be replaced with self-effort and legalism.

You really must read the whole piece—and the discussion in the comments, too.

I first heard this term a few years ago. I’ve never seen it defined and it isn’t one of God’s attributes in any of the systematic theologies I have. When I first heard it, it was used to mean something like this: to only, always, and ever wish good things, and only good things, for everyone.

Brandon Watson at Siris discusses the history of this word, its possible meanings, and its use for stating the problem of evil.


Christianity and Liberalism: Chapter 5

So I was wrong. This week’s chapter of Christianity and Liberalism, which I am reading because I am participating in this round Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together, is not about the message of Christianity, but about “the person upon whom the message is based. The Person is Jesus.”

Machen starts the chapter by making this point: In true Christianity, Jesus is the object of faith, while in liberalism, he is merely an example of faith. In other words, a Christian will put his faith in Jesus. He will, to use Machen’s words, stand “in a truly religious relation to Jesus.” The modern liberal, on the other hand, “tries to have faith in God like the faith which he supposes Jesus had in God; but he does not have faith in Jesus.”

I have to admit that I found this chapter more difficult to follow than the previous chapters. (And while I’m complaining, let me say that it’s long, too.) It wasn’t that any of it was hard to understand, but that I couldn’t always see how Machen was fitting it all together, so I put some points into bulleted lists to help me see the overall structure of the chapter. I’m using those lists here  and adding a few notes to them.

Reasons Jesus should be the object of the Christian’s faith:

  • For Paul, faith in Jesus was the primary thing. 
  • The original apostles made Jesus the object of their faith.
  • Jesus presented himself as  the object of faith.

Machen summarizes:

The truth is, the witness of the New Testament, with regard to Jesus as the object of faith, is an absolutely unitary witness. The thing is rooted far too deep in the records of primitive Christianity ever to be removed by any critical process. The Jesus spoken of in the New Testament was no mere teacher of righteousness, no mere pioneer in the new type of religious life, but One who was regarded, and regarded Himself, as the Saviour whom men could trust.

Reasons Jesus can’t be simply an example for us: 

  • Jesus considered himself to be the Messiah; we can hardly imitate him there. What’s more, if, as modern liberals believe, this claim is untrue, it’s a “moral stain upon Jesus’ character.” How can he then be a good example for us? 
  • Jesus had no sense of sin, and if Jesus is sinless, then he isn’t just one of us. There is a big difference between what Jesus experienced and what we experience. “That difference prevents the religious experience of Jesus from serving as the sole basis of the Christian life.”

That Jesus didn’t need to rid himself of sin and can’t, then, be our complete example doesn’t mean he isn’t human, nor does it mean he isn’t our example in any way. He is our ethical example and he is also our example when it comes to our relationship with God. But most of all, he is our Saviour. 

These contrasting views of the primary role of Jesus—Saviour or example?—come because Christianity and liberalism see the nature of Jesus differently. “[L]iberalism regards Jesus as the fairest flower of humanity; Christianity regards Him as a supernatural Person.” Liberalism rejects miracles, “and with the miracles the entirety of the supernatural Person of our Lord.”

Reject the miracles and you have in Jesus the fairest glower of humanity who made such an impression upon His followers that after His death they could not believe that He had perished but experienced hallucinations in which they thought they saw Him risen from the dead; accept the miracles, and you have a Saviour who came voluntarily into this world for our salvation, suffered for our sins upon the Cross, rose again from the dead by the power of God, and ever lives to make intercession for us. 

Once again, we see that Christianity and modern liberalism are really two different religions: first, in the presuppositions (chapter 3); next, in the authority by which the Christian message is received (chapter 4); and now in the central person upon whom the message is based (chapter 5). Coming up, it’s  the sixth chapter which discusses the message of Christianity, the gospel itself. 


Thankful Thursday

Today is moving day for my son and his wife. My sons are busy right now moving things from one home to the other. I’m still thankful that they found a place to rent. It’s old and tiny and nothing’s level, but it’s a home and it’s available and clean and there’s a yard. I know people living in a lot worse and people who can find nothing at all, so this little home is a good gift from God.

I’m thankful that we are getting mail again after a couple week of no mail delivery due to a mail strike/lockout. I’m expecting a few good things in the mail, so the renewed mail delivery is a good gift, too.

I’m thankful that the garden is growing. I’m thankful for the long daylight hours that make the plants grow fast. I’m thankful for the recent rain, because it’s good for growing things, too. I’m thankful for summer, a short season here, but a beautiful one.

I’m thankful for God’s care for me and my family.

Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.


Round the Sphere Again: Double-booking

Church History
Two of my favorite blogging women review Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History by Diana Lynn Severance.

  1. The Upward Call:
    This book, as the title suggests, deals wth women in the course of the history of Church, beginning with the women in the early New Testament and concluding with the present. The author does a thorough job showing the reader that Christian women provide a significant portion of the fabric of the church, whether those threads were ultimately good or bad.
    Read more.

  2. Lisa Writes:
    I was inspired and challenged by the grace of God and the fruit of the gospel borne by these, my forerunners in the faith. Some were quite wealthy and used their wealth and influence to advance the gospel. Some were poor, destitute, martyered for their adherance to Christ. Nearly all demonstrated a fervency in biblical scholarship and a thirst for knowledge that both encourages and shames me.
    Read more.

Two reviews of the new biography of John MacArthur by Iain Murray.

  1. Thabiti Anyabwile:
    I completely enjoyed reading the biography in part because I’ve long respected Dr. MacArthur.  Along with R.C. Sproul, MacArthur was my first Bible teacher.  Moreover, he was probably the first example of expository preaching I heard on a regular basis through the Grace to You radio broadcast.  So, it was a treat for me to get to know more about this living hero.
    But he wishes the biography had said more about two things. Find out what they are.

  2. Fred Butler:
    Out of all the biographies I have ever read, this one is probably the most unique - at for me. The main reason being is because I personally know the biographical subject and his family. Additionally, I also know many of the individuals mentioned throughout the book, and I have firsthand knowledge of a good many of the events in John’s life of which Murray writes. It made reading the book a bit surreal at times, but it caused me to step back and thank the Lord how he has allowed me to be apart of such a influential ministry.
    Read more.

Theological Term of the Week

ransom to Satan theory of the atonement
The view of the atonement that maintained that “the death of Christ constituted a ransom paid to Satan, in order to cancel the just claims which the latter had on man”1; also called the classical theory of the atonement. 

  • From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem: 

    This view was held by Origen (c. A.D. 185—c. 254). a theologian from Alexandria and later Caesarea, and after him by some others in the early history of the church. According to this view, the ransom Christ paid to redeem us was paid to Satan, in whose kingdom all people were by virtue of sin. 

    This theory finds no direct confirmation in Scripture and has few supporters in the history of the church. It falsely thinks of Satan rather than God as the one who required that a payment be made for sin and thus completely neglects the demands of God’s justice with respect to sin. It views Satan as having much more power than he actually does, namely, power to demand whatever he wants from God, rather than as one who has been cast down from heaven and has no right to demand anything of God. Nowhere does Scripture way that we as sinners owe anything to Satan, but it repeatedly says that God requires of us a payment for our sins. This view also fails to deal with the texts that speak of Christ’s death as a propitiation offered to God the Father for our sins, or with the fact that God the Father represented the Trinity in accepting the payment for sins from Christ….

  • From The Christian Faith by Michael Horton:  

    Assuming that the devil was the rightful owner of sinners, Origen taught that Christ was a trap: his humanity ws the necessary bait for luring Satan into thinking that he had at last won out over Yahweh, and then he conquered the devil by his deity.

Learn more:

  1. Got What are the various theories on the atonement?
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: Ransom Theory of the Atonement
  3. William SasserErroneous Theories of the Atonement (pdf)
  4. Jeffrey Waddington: Surveying the Wondrous Cross: The Atonement in Church History

Related terms:

1From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

Filed under Defective Theology.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.