Should a D.Min be called ‘Doctor’?

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letter-lLast month we talked about what a DMin is, and we ended that article with the question of whether or not someone who has earned a DMin should be referred to as ‘Doctor’.

So let’s talk about that.

At a glance the obvious answer would be “well of course they should be called doctor, it’s right there in the degree: Doctor of Ministry.” For many, though, this is not an adequate response, mainly because it is seen as giving the DMin too much credit, as putting in on par with a PhD.

Others say that neither of those should really be called doctor, that we should reserve the term for those in the medical profession (think Tim Allen’s character in The Santa Clause not wanting Neil to be referred to as a doctor since he’s just a psychiatrist).

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Knowing Who Christ Is, What He Has Promised, And Expecting This Of Him – The Person & Work of Christ

cross.pngLetter IIn his classic book All of Grace, C.H. Spurgeon makes the statement in regards to Christianity that “Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him.” If this is accepted as an accurate description of what the Christian faith entails, then the we must analyze what these things are which are to be believed.

If faith is believing that Christ is what he is said to be, it must be determined what Christ is said to be. If faith is believing that Christ will do what He has promised to do, it must be determined what Christ has promised.

Only after this is done may we as Christians move on to the sphere of trusting in or expecting this of Christ; so, it must be determined who Christ was and what he did, does, or will do.

Before any of this may be done it is first necessary to construct some basic context from which we as Christians may view the person and work of Christ. Historic Christianity in such texts as the Athanasian Creed has asserted that Christ is both God and man.

In order to set the context it is necessary to analyze both God and man individually, before proceeding to the Christ who embodies both – or as John Calvin states in the first line of his tremendous Institutes of the Christian Religion, our wisdom “consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

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John Calvin on Infant Baptism

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Wherefore, there is no difference in the internal meaning, from which the whole power and peculiar nature of the sacrament is to be estimated. The only difference which remains is in the external ceremony, which is the least part of it, the chief part consisting in the promise and the thing signified. Hence we may conclude, that everything applicable to circumcision applies also to baptism, excepting always the difference in the visible ceremony…”Institutes, Bk4, Ch16

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Letter IIn the fourth book of his Institutes, Calvin begins a discussion on the church. Calvin puts forth two marks of the church “the preaching of the word and the observance of the sacraments,” and included in the sacraments is the institution of baptism.

One of the objections which had been raised against Calvin’s was that paedobaptism is not found explicit in Scripture and is therefore not valid, that it is something devised by men rather than by God.

The above quote is the heart of Calvin’s rebuttal.

Calvin bases his defense on an appeal to circumcision in the Old Testament, stating that “prior to the institution of baptism, the people of God had circumcision in its stead.” He analyzes what the two sacraments are meant to represent, what it is that is at their essence. He concludes that they have the same internal meaning, namely, that it points to the forgiveness of sin and to the mortification of the flesh; that is, they both have their foundation in the promise of regeneration.

Once it is established that the two sacraments symbolize the same inner truths, Calvin notes that the only thing then differing is the external ceremony – that is, how those truths are applied in each case. In light of this Calvin concludes that everything which pertains to circumcision should therefore also apply to baptism.

In regards to the debate concerning paedobaptism this forms the backbone of the argument for the baptism of infants. The key point is that throughout the Old Testament circumcision was used by the people of God as a sign of their first entrance into the church, professing their allegiance to God, and most importantly that the people applied this sign to not only themselves, but also to all of their children (to include infants). Hence Genesis 17:10, “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”

If it is objected that baptism is a sign of penitence and faith, Calvin points out that the same was true of circumcision.

Calvin’s argument goes, then, that since circumcision and baptism convey the same notions – and perform the same office – concerning the individual’s relationship with God, what applies to one applies to the other. Since circumcision applied to infants in the Old Testament, baptism must therefore include infants in the New Testament; “since the Lord, immediately after the covenant was made with Abraham, ordered it to be sealed in infants by an outward sacrament, how can it be said that Christians are not to attest it in the present day, and seal it in their children?”

Although infant baptism is not explicitly illustrated in the New Testament Calvin points out that it is implied when the Biblical writers speak of families being baptized (Acts 16:15, for instance).

This, of course, does not rule out the baptism of those who convert to the faith, for just as those who were brought into the nation of Israel in the Old Testament were circumcised upon entry, so those who enter into the new covenant of Christ are baptized upon entry (what would be popularly termed the ‘believer’s baptism‘).

He thus concludes: “Wherefore, if we would not maliciously obscure the kindness of God, let us present to him our infants, to whom he has assigned a place among his friends and family, that is, the members of the Church.”

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PCABoba

Eugene Lilley (MDiv, MA) is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers and the American Chesterton Society.

He may or may not be a Time Lord.

 

Two or Three Uses? – The Law in Luther & Calvin

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Letter WWithin the realm of Christian theology there are many fiercely debated topics. One such topic is the question of the how the Law is to be understood in the Christian faith, especially in the light of the gospel and in the life of the Christian.

Taking on this task, Reformation thinkers Martin Luther and John Calvin both put forth ideas of how the Law is to be understood within Christianity.

When given a cursory reading, it will be noticed that Luther put forth two different uses of the Law, whereas Calvin put forth three, a distinction which has caused a fair amount of dispute between Lutheran and Reformed theologians to this day.

In order to gain a better understanding of this doctrine is helpful to compare and contrast these two great thinkers’ views on the topic, paying careful attention to how and why they draw the distinctions that they do. For John Calvin, it will be necessary to analyze his Institutes of the Christian Religion, where he lays out what he sees to be the three uses of the Law. For Martin Luther, it will be necessary to first look at his Commentary on Galatians, where he lays out what he sees to be the two primary uses of the Law; with this done, it will also be necessary to look at various other of Luther’s writings to discern whether or not he indeed limits the use of the Law to those two areas.

Because Calvin is more systematic in his approach to the topic of the uses of the Law, it will be helpful to discuss him first, and thereby gain a solid understanding of the field to be analyzed; with this done we can consider how Luther compares in his writings, both explicitly and implicitly.

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FATQ: Will There Be Free Will In Heaven?

freewill.pngLetter Today’s Frequently Asked Theology Question is: Will there be free will in heaven? If so, is there a chance anyone in heaven will ever sin? Adam and Eve communed with God and yet sinned, so how probable is it that millions of people with free will can refrain for all eternity?

The answer to this question depends a lot on what we mean when we say ‘free will.’ In general there are two different things we can mean:

1) “I can choose whatever I want” – Libertarian Free Will

Firstly there is what we might call the libertarian free will. The idea of libertarian free will asserts that a will is free when it is unbiased and completely unbound by any causality. This will is not determined by human nature, the environment, the will of God, or even our own desires (the will is the source of desires, not vis versa). These things may exert influence on the will, but they do not ultimately determine its choices.

The will is free in this sense when it has no decisive influences skewing it one way or the other. It has ultimate self-determination. It has the capacity to do anything, good or bad, left or right, chocolate or vanilla.

It is this notion of free will that is usually at the center of debates concerning determinism, of whether free will can coexist with the sovereignty of God or whether we are truly free if God knows the future, and it is this notion of free will that Jonathan Edwards dissects in his book The Freedom of the Will.

Part of Edwards’ argument is that this notion of the free will is counter-intuitive, that it just doesn’t make sense. As he explains, this notion of the free will “rests on the supposition that out of several possible courses of action the will actually chooses one rather than another at the same time that it is perfectly indifferent – perfectly evenly balanced between them – which is just say that the mind has a preference at the same time that it has no preference.” Edwards’ point is that we cannot say that the will has no preference and also say that it chooses, because the act of choosing implies a preference. The will, then, is determined by something; it is not free in this sense.

Rather than speaking of the will being free, Edwards posits that we should speak of the agent being free. The will is not self-determining, but is determined by the acting agent, by the person, by “the willing spirit.” The question, then, is whether the spirit is free, and what determines the preferences of the spirit.

2) “For freedom Christ has set us free” – Christian Free Will.

There is then a more Augustinian/Calvinistic – and I would argue, Pauline – notion of ‘free will’ which asserts that the libertarian notion of a free will is imaginary (or at most, only ever existed in Adam & Eve). Here the will is always biased one way or the other, towards sin or towards righteousness; the will is biased because the spirit is biased.

Whether or not the will is free, in this sense, depends on what the will is biased towards. If the will is biased towards evil, then it is not free. It is a slave to sin. If the will is biased towards righteousness, then that is when it is ‘free’, free from its slavery to sin.

In the biblical model it must be said that the will always has desires, and a will that has a desire or propensity to choose evil is not free.

The freedom of the will is thus about propensity first, not capacity. Capacity comes second, in that propensity determines capacity. A will that has a propensity to good is incapable of doing evil, and vis versa.

A ‘free will’ in biblical categories is thus a will that has been set free from its slavery to sin and which is now biased towards serving God. At present our wills are only partially free, for we are still mortifying sin. Upon glorification (that is, in the new heavens and new earth) our wills will be fully free, that is, fully biased towards righteousness. In this sense it is better to talk about a “freed will” than a “free will.” The will has been freed from its bondage to sin.

Thus, contrary to the notion of the libertarian free will where the will is the source of desires, in the biblical understanding the desires are the sources of the will. It is the heart and the spirit that ultimately matter.

Our wills will be free in that they will have no desire towards sin and therefore no capability of sinning. A will that still held the capacity to sin would be a will that still held the propensity to sin, and as such it would not be free.

Thus I would follow Augustine‘s model as laid out in his Enchiridionwhich is further explained by Thomas Boston in his Human Nature in its Fourfold State. Commenting on these four states of mankind Augustine states that “the first is before the law, the second is under the law, the third is under grace, and the fourth is in full and perfect peace.”

These four states are therefore: (1) before the Fall, where we were ‘able to sin and able not to sin’; (2) after the Fall, where we are ‘not able not to sin’; (3) regenerate man, where we are ‘able not to sin’; and (4) glorified man, where we are ‘unable to sin’.

The new earth is not a return to the seemingly unbiased state of Adam, but it is a state better than his, a state where we are fully free from any temptation or desire to sin and fully desirous of glorifying God. When you have been fully made new by God – ie, glorified – such that your only desire is to glorify Him, then sin will be by definition impossible.

So far as the Scriptures are concerned, it is only this freedom – the freedom of the will from sin – that has any meaningfulness when speaking of the will. John Piper puts it well when he says that “instead of speaking of the will as free or not, I prefer to speak of people as free or not, because that is the way the Bible does… Christians are free from the bondage to sin and from the oppressive demand of having to perform our own salvation.”

It is therefore not so much that there will be no opportunity to sin, but that there will be no propensity to sin and therefore a lack of capacity for sin, and it is this lack – replaced with a desire to glorify God – that will make our wills truly free.

[For a discussion of how the libertarian notion of free will might coincide with the Christian faith in the amoral sphere (ie, regarding actions that lack a moral character), check out Sovereignty and Contingency in Christianity.]

 

The Breaking of the Wall – Alienation and [Racial] Reconciliation in Christ

Reconcile (1)‘Alienation’ is a word that has become common parlance over the past hundred years, a familiarity that was perhaps bolstered most by the writings of Karl Marx, who truly popularized the word.

Alienation can come in many forms. For Marx it was primarily economic and political; as John Stott noted, alienation is partly a “sense of disaffection with what is” and partly “a sense of powerlessness to change it,” a feeling that is widespread in the present day.

Yet alienation was a viable concept long before the writings of Marx, so much so that it is this idea which is the focus of the second chapter of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This chapter of the letter focuses on two even more radical sorts of alienation, that is, alienation from the God who created us, and alienation from our fellow creatures.

The opposite of alienation, it might be said, is reconciliation. In turn, the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians focuses on these ideas of alienation and reconciliation; the first half focuses on the idea of reconciliation between God and man, the second half on the idea of reconciliation between man and his fellow man. Thus it could be said that the first half focuses upon vertical reconciliation and the second on horizontal reconciliation, two vitally linked reversals of the overall alienation that is present in the world.

In order to properly analyze the way in which this reconciliation plays out – with special focus upon the reconciliation of man with his fellow man in the form of racial reconciliation – it will be necessary to look at the context of the passage, at Paul’s purpose in writing this passage, and at what Paul’s meaning with certain images conveys (such as the “wall of hostility” being broken down). With this done, one may then analyze what the implications of this message are for Christians today, what it communicates in regards to reconciliation in such realms as race relations, and how the truths presented here by Paul may be useful to the individual.

Context and Purpose

In order to get a proper understanding of the truths being conveyed by Paul to the Ephesians, one must first develop an understanding of the context and of the purposes which envelop this text. First, there is the broader context of Paul’s letter.

The broader context here is that Paul is writing to the Ephesians, who were by the old Jewish system considered Gentiles. In the old Jewish system, the religious world-view had become one of exclusion, one of placing the chosen people of God – the Jews – above all of those around them. They were a group who were deemed to be set apart, to be holy; what this idea devolved into in the religious life of the Jews is what T. N. Lee suggests be described as “covenantal ethnocentrism.” John Stott perhaps best sums up this idea when he states that Israel had “forgot her vocation,” that they had forgotten that they were supposed to be a light to the nations and had instead twisted their place of privilege into a sort of favoritism which resulted in them despising those who were not of their ethnicity, “detesting the heathen as ‘dogs.'”

The Gentiles, on the other hand – that is, all those who were not Jews – had neither “part or lot in the Messianic people.” The Gentiles were alienated from the people of God, and they had never been anything other than alienated; they were considered by the Jews to be outcasts and objects of derision. This alienation was both social and spiritual; on the one hand they were alienated from the people of God, and on the other they were alienated from God himself. They were without a messiah, without part in Jewish commonwealth, strangers to the covenants of God, without any divine promise, and without the true God (Ephesians 2:12).

Even mmiddle-wall-partitionore, this division had a physical representation in the ancient world, a literal wall of separation. In Jerusalem the temple constructed by Herod the Great was built upon a platform, with individual courts for the priests, the lay men, and the lay women. Five steps below this platform was a walled platform, on the other side of which was another even lower walled platform, beyond which was the court of the Gentiles.

The Gentiles were not allowed beyond this wall into the upper courts on pain of death; for a Gentile to pass the wall was to forfeit their life. This wall was still present at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, as it was not destroyed until 70 A.D. when the temple itself was destroyed by the Romans. The presence of this division – of this alienation – is the essential background of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

In turning from this background of alienation, one may observe that the central message of the letter to the Ephesians is one of the need for unity and reconciliation, due to the already accomplished reality of that unity in Christ; that is, for the visible characteristics of the church to coincide with its invisible characteristics, namely, unity and oneness in Christ. Therefore, the grand theme of this portion of text is that Christ has destroyed both of the divisions which had previously existed, vertical and horizontal.

This can be easily seen in that Paul begins his letter detailing how all mankind has been reconciled to God, progresses through discussing how Jew has been reconciled to Gentile, continues in how we are all members of one body, and then elaborates upon this in the particular ways and relationships in which we should therefore walk in love. Paul’s purpose is to remind his readers of where they once were – residing in alienation – and then to encourage and instruct them in unity; they were once “alienated” but Christ has “reconciled us both God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16).

The Wall of Hostility

As has been noted, the central theme of this passage of Ephesians is of moving from alienation to reconciliation. One of the key images that Paul uses to describe this movement is that Christ “has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15). There are various possible meanings which one can attribute to this image. For instance, if one were a Gnostic, one might interpret the wall as referring to the comic barrier separating heaven from earth.

Most directly, the verse itself makes reference of the “commandments expressed in ordinances,” that is, the ceremonial law; thus John Calvin concisely asserts “this obstacle was the in the ceremonies.” From this approach, the vertical and horizontal reconciliation is best summed up by Charles Hodge when he states that: “The abolition of the law as a covenant of works reconciles us to God; the abolition of the Mosaic law removes the wall between the Jews and Gentiles.”

Yet further still, the ceremonial laws found their power in the Jewish temple, and in turn, one might easily draw a connection from the “wall of hostility” to the wall of the temple which literally kept the Gentiles out, the wall which kept them from accessing the Jewish ceremonies. As was previously stated, this wall did not fall until after Paul wrote this letter; this creates a parallel of sorts to the way in which the temple itself did not fall until this time, despite Christ assertion that he would rebuild it in three days (John 2:19). This means that the wall being referenced is not merely the literal wall, but rather it is being used as a literary image. When this literal wall is used as a literary image, it becomes more clear that when Paul referred to the wall he was referring to the “the wall as symbolic of the social, religious, and spiritual separation that kept Jews and Gentiles apart.”

The breaking down of this wall, therefore, refers to social, religious, and spiritual reconciliation of the Jews and the Gentiles, as exemplified in the removal of the ceremonial laws and the eventual destruction of the literal wall of the temple. Whereas before there was division, Christ removed the wall, and brought everyone together in unity, the result of which was the creation of “one new man in the place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). Thus, as John MacArthur puts it “spiritually, a new person in Christ is no longer Jew or Gentile, only Christian.”

The two groups were reconciled, where to ‘reconcile’ is defined as effecting “peace and union between parties previously at variance.” In reconciling the two groups Christ created in himself a common identity, a new group which would not be defined by ethnic features but by faith in Christ, and he did this through “his flesh,” through his death. Yet further still, when Paul speaks of “one man” and “one body,” he is in fact referring to an entirely new humanity; it is much broader than merely a breaking down of the barrier between Jew and Gentile, it is a breaking down of all barriers which divide the people of God from one another: divides of class, of sex, of nationality, of race. This much can be seen when this passage is taken in the light of such verses as Galatians 3:28, which asserts that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Contemporary Implications

While the removal of the distinction between Jew and Gentile does have enormous consequence in and of itself for us as contemporary Christians – for otherwise the vast majority of us could not count ourselves amongst the people of God – it also has implications beyond the mere (yet glorious) fact that it allows for our salvation. As was shown above, Christ not only broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, but broke down all divisions which attempt to establish themselves in the body of Christ, divisions which still seek to establish themselves today. One of the most notable contemporary examples of this is the racial division which has so long plagued the modern world, yet as has been and will be shown, Paul speaks to the healing of this divide.

Looking back at the context of what was being written, if any group seemingly had the right to be ethnocentric, it was the Jews. They were the chosen people of God, the one He had made His promises to and set His covenant with. Douglas Sharp notes that sociologists and anthropologists define ethnicity as “a sizable group of people who share a common history, geography, language, religious tradition and way of life that are transmitted as learned behaviors from generation to generation”; the Jews had their own pure version of all of this.

As Bryan Chapell points out, from the Jewish point of view there were only two races of people: the Jews and everybody else. That is to say, no division of nationality or skin color, no class distinction or cultural barrier has ever been “more absolute than the cleavage between Jew and Gentile was in antiquity.” The alienation between the Jew and the Gentile was the division par excellence. Thus, in breaking the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Christ broke the strongest earthly division there was to break, and in doing so both set an example and demonstrated that such divisions have no place in the body of Christ.

In response to this, it is our duty in the modern world to work towards casting down these barriers where they might present themselves, such as in the great need for racial reconciliation. We have become one body – one humanity, one family – in Christ, and thus we must love one another as brothers; yet one cannot love somebody and restrict them, oppress them, or treat them differently. Instead we must work to build up our fellow brothers in Christ, to remove the barriers that our ancestors put in place and that a great number of us now benefit from and even in some cases perpetuate (if only through our self-sustained ignorance). As Chapell states: “Paul will no longer allow any sense of ‘you’ versus ‘us’; it’s all ‘we’ and ‘us.'” This means that our shared identity in Christ must take precedence over all else, and in turn, racial prejudice cannot be tolerated, for as we draw closer to God we necessarily draw closer to one another.

Thus, Paul’s words are of eminent relevance to us today, for in addressing the widest distinction – that between Jew and Gentile – all other distinctions are included. Yet not only are Paul’s words a motivation to work for the social justice of racial reconciliation, but it is also of practical benefit in guiding the believer. For one, passages such as this can be used in order to show that they cannot consistently live as a Christian in hostility towards their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ; thus, if they are living in hate or prejudice, they can be called to accountability by the Word of God. They can be shown their sin to be what it is.

If the individual is needing guidance in understanding what to make of the divisions in the world around them, this can be used to show what God’s final will is for those divisions, namely, their destruction. Perhaps most importantly, this passage can be used to convey to the individual where their ultimate identity resides. If one is to live a fulfilled life it is imperative that one know where one’s identity resides, and as Paul shows here, that identity resides with Christ. Yet it doesn’t reside there on its own, it resides there with that of the of the person who is of a different nationality, of a different race, of a different gender. Salvation is a group affair; the individual cannot exist in isolation nor can they find their identity in isolation. This is not to say that we have no other identity, but that those identities cannot take precedence over our shared identity in Christ.

Conclusion

There is much work to be done in the task of racial reconciliation, yet the first step towards that end is the realization that working for said reconciliation is a necessary part of our life as believers as commanded by God. Racial reconciliation – as well as other forms – are not an option in the Christian life, they are a duty; the invisible church is unified, thus it is inconsistent for us to promulgate disunity within its visible representation. As was stated by John Stott “Men still build walls of partition and division like the terrible Berlin wall, or erect invisible curtains of iron or bamboo, or construct barriers of race, color, caste, tribe or class,” which means that “divisiveness is a constant characteristic of every community without Christ.” Note, that they are a characteristic of every community without Christ; they must not be part of a community with Christ, and we must work to make it so.

These issues of alienation from our fellow man, of divisiveness and of pride, of not being reconciled to one another, are still very present today, and the place that we must begin doing away with them is in the Christian community, for if they cannot be dispelled there then they cannot be dispelled anywhere. We must not let ourselves become like the early Jews in their ethnocentrism, but must fight for the unity of the body of Christ. There are some things that the Scriptures tell us to forget, such as when somebody hurts us, but one of the things that we are commanded to remember is that we were once alienated and have been reconciled (thus Ephesians 2:11 begins “Therefore remember”); we cannot forget what and where we were before God’s love reached us.

We have been reconciled to Him, yet if we are to draw closer to him we must necessarily draw closer to one another, for these two types of reconciliation happen together and inseparably through our faith in Christ. If reconciling alienated groups from one another was one of the things accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross, this being “brought near by the blood of Christ” of Ephesians 2:13, then we will wonderfully exalt the Lord when we strive for a greater ethnic diversity and harmony in our personal lives, in our church communities, and in society at large.