A Scholar’s Devotion with Bruce Ware

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences. 

This week, I have asked Dr. Bruce Ware if he would share his thoughts with us.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

Three-four days a week I read through the Bible (so, I read it through every two years).  Three days a week I meditate on one chapter of Scripture (e.g., Isa 40, or Eph 1, then 2, then 3  . . . .), reading it over and over for about three weeks, reading it slowly, probingly, prayerfully, questioningly, noticing details.  Both the fast and slow readings are enormously valuable.

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ? 

Notice what is said or intimated about Christ, as you read, and taking time to contemplate something of the wonder of Christ.


Bruce A. Ware is the Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology and the Chairman of the Department of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Thank you, Dr. Ware!
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Romans 2.14-16; Christian Gentiles Who Do the Law

Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

In my previous post I looked at Tom Schreiner’s interpretation of Romans 2.13, which reflects what Paul says in 2:6 that God “will render to each one according to his works.” Schreiner, saying that verse 13 reiterates the essence of verse 6, says, “Those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

Hypothetical

Paul could be speaking hypothetically about “doers of the law.” The Jews (though not the Jewish Christians hearing the letter being read) thought they were acceptable before God because they had his Torah. Paul could be saying, “Look, those who keep the law perfectly will be justified by God. The gentiles sure don’t keep it, but neither do you. Thankfully, there is Christ’s sacrifice.”

General Gentiles

Could verses 14-16 be speaking of general gentiles? Schreiner understood it that way in his first edition. Here, gentiles have the work of God’s law on their hearts so that they know and keep aspects his law, though they don’t realize that their morality reflects upon God’s handiwork. They will be judged based on whether they obeyed those “norms” pressed upon them by their conscience. If so, Paul would be saying that both the Jews and gentiles will be judged for not keeping the law, as all know the law (or at least aspects of it): The Jews through the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament and the gentiles though “natural law,” that is, they are born naturally knowing that certain moral actions are correct to do. 

Christian Gentiles

However, Schreiner now believes Paul to be speaking of Christian gentiles. The flow of thought could be represented like this: 

Those who only hear the law will not be righteous before God,

but those who do the law will be justified.

How do we know this?

For the Christian gentiles who do what the law requires show that the law is written on their hearts, fulfilling what Jeremiah prophesied in Jeremiah 31.31-34 about what God would do for those who are in the new covenant.

So these gentiles are in the new covenant. Jeremiah 31.31-34 says,

31 “Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32 This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. 

33 “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration.
“I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 

34 No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin.

Israel was given God’s Torah in Exodus 20-23. The gentiles were. Gentiles who converted to Judaism took on the task of following the law, but gentiles all across the world weren’t given God’s law. Israel, at Mt. Sinai, received God’s law. So how do these gentiles, who do not have the law, do what the law requires?

They do it by nature. They have a new nature. They are new creations, and they have God’s Spirit working in them. Paul brings up this same idea in Romans 8.3b-4 when he says, “[God] condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” 

Finally, in my next post, I’ll look at what Paul means about Jews and true circumcision and how that relates to Christian Gentiles.


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Romans 2.13; ‘Doers of the Law will be Justified’

tom schreiner romans 2

Romans 2.13, For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

In Romans 2.1-16, Paul’s flow of thought goes something like this:

2.1-5: Unrepentant Jews criticize gentiles for their sins while committing those same sins.

2.6-11: God is not partial; he will bless those who do good and judge those who do evil. He “will repay each person according to his or her works” (Schreiner’s translation, 121).

2.12-16: Schreiner observes, “Jews can scarcely use the Torah as a talisman, for anyone (whether Jew or gentile) who observes the law will be vindicated before God on the day of Jesus Christ” (126). Jews will be judged by the law, and gentiles will be judged by a “fair standard” (126).

Is Paul really saying that people will be judged according to their works? In Romans 3 Paul argues that no one is righteous (3:10) and all have sinned (3:23). The knowledge of sin comes through the law (3:20). How could any law-doer ever hope to be justified if “no one will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law” (3:20)?

Yet even Solomon, David, and Jeremiah all speak of God repaying one according to their works.

Proverbs 24:12: If you say, ‘But we didn’t know about this,’
won’t he who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t he who protects your life know?
Won’t he repay a person according to his work?

Psalm 62:12: and faithful love belongs to you, Lord.
For you repay each according to his works.

Jeremiah 32:19: the one great in counsel and powerful in action. Your eyes are on all the ways of the children of men in order to reward each person according to his ways and as the result of his actions. (see Jer 17.10; 25.14; Job 34.11; Psalm 28.4).

So, at least looking at what we have so far, if someone keeps the law, he (or she) will be declared righteous by God (Rom 2.13). Paul says in Romans 2:6 that God “will repay each person according to his or her works” (121). Schreiner says that verse 13 above reiterates the essence of verse 6: “those who do good works will receive justification” and they “who do the required works will be declared to be righteous by God, the eschatological judge, on the day of the Lord” (128).

It was not enough for the Jews to own the law and only hear it; they also had to keep it. They wouldn’t get away with condemning gentiles for their sins only to turn around and commit the same sins against God’s kindness without repentance (2.4-5). But how could Paul say that those who do the law will be justified? Schreiner says that Paul did accept the idea that “those who perform the required works will be rewarded” (128).

Tom schreiner romans second edition

So is Paul speaking hypothetically? Is he saying, “If someone could keep the law, then, yes, that one would be justified before God, (but, in reality, all sin and no one can keep the law)”? Or does he mean that “gentiles know the law in their hearts, [but] they are condemned since they don’t keep it perfectly” (129)? Or does he mean that gentile Christians show that they have God’s Spirit in them by obeying the law?

In the next post I’ll look at how Paul’s argument continues in Romans 2.14-16.

(There are more interpretations on what Romans 2.13 means. You can read more on the different interpretations on this blog). 


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A Scholar’s Devotion with Amy Peeler

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences. 

This week, I have asked Dr. Amy Peeler if she would share her thoughts with us.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

It is quite important to me to put this first in my day. I am a morning person, so this time is when I am most alert and thoughtful. If I let other things crowd into that space, simply reading God’s word (rather than working with it) often won’t happen. I have used different models of reading including The Bible in a Year, the Daily Office, or my own program of reading. I begin with prayer of confession, reading, follow with praise and intercession. Pretty simple, but God can do amazing things with simple!

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ? 

Practicing my vocation of teaching is a big part of loving Christ and being loved by him. Weekly eucharistic worship, as well as Christian friendships, partnering with service ministries, and spiritual direction keep me in the right place with God.


Amy Peeler is Associate Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. She has written You Are My Son: The Family of God in the Epistle to the Hebrews and has online instructional videos through the Greek of Hebrews on Exegetical Tools.

Thank you, Dr. Peeler!
Twitter: @albpeeler
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Book Sale: ICC, LNTS, and More

It’s that time of the year when I try to purge myself from books (because money). So here are some screenshots of the books, and the prices are posted underneath the pictures. If you’re interested you can comment here, message me on Facebook, Twitter, or email: spoiledmilks@gmail.com.

My prices are just under the used prices on Amazon, even if a book here is new.

  • First come, first serve.
  • Shipping is included in the price.
  • I can combine shipping prices if you buy more than one book.
  • I can only ship within the continental US.
  • I’m very open to haggling.

ICC

New: Acts 1-14 (Barrett, ICC): $35

New: 2 Corinthians 1-7 (Thrall, ICC): $35

New: 2 Corinthians 8-13 (Thrall, ICC): $30

LNTS

New: Swimming in the Sea of Scripture (Han): $30

New (w/ pencil marks): Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (Hauge/Skinner): $30

This volume’s title was misprinted with Marm instead of Mark.

New: One Lord, One People (Thompson): $30

There are indentions on the edges of some of the pages

Used: St. John’s Gospel (Lenski): $15

Used: Practices of Power (Moses): $35

Etc.

New: Critical Theology (Raschke): $10

New: Theology of Work Bible Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy: $8

Used: Evangelical Ethics (Davis): $5

Used: Ethics and Moral Reasoning (Mitchell): $5

Used: Ezekiel 1-20 (Moshe Greenberg): $20

Used: Matthew/Mark (Turner/Bock): $8

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Review Books: Winter 2018

As I am finishing up school, I like to think I’ll have a lot of time to read. And so I ask for books. All of them. Why do I do this to myself? Because I enjoy reading, and reviewing forces me to finish books.

Received Books 

A Hermeneutic of Wisdom – J. de Waal Dryden

As Kelly Kapic notes in her endorsement, “Dryden believe the Bible is primarily meant for spiritual formation, shaping us so that we might faithfully commune with God and neighbor.” The Bible wasn’t written so we could fill our heads with technical doctrines and talking about PhD topics with one another. It was to fill us with wisdom and love for living in God’s world, worshiping our Savior and Creator, and loving our neighbor. The Bible forms us spiritually, which means it shapes our whole selves. The Bible brings together meaning, ethics, application, and doctrine. His central thesis: “The Bible is a wisdom text” (xvi).  

Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 2nd ed. – John Walton

John Walton has studied the ancient Near East for over thirty years, and has updated his book on how the Old Testament fits into the ANE culture. People from different countries think very differently from you. Thirty years ago, people from your own state would think different about most things in life than you do today. 3,000 years ago, people on the other side of the world thought about pretty much everything differently than you do today. Walton has tried to understand their world and has written numerous books to reveal how an OT Israelite thought about life. Covering topics such as gods, cosmic geography, cosmology, kingship, law, wisdom, life after death, and more, this will help you to understand you OT better by understanding the ways in which Israel thought like everyone else and the ways their theology differed from everyone else’s. 

Angels – Michael Heiser

After writing The Unseen Realm and Supernatural, Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern scholar Michael Heiser has written a book about the Bible’s commonly misunderstood heavenly host. He looks at the terms the Bible uses for God’s heavenly host. the different capacities in which they serve God, important angels, how the heavenly host is understood in the Second Temple Period and in the New Testament. Heiser also answers important questions and long-held myths about angels. Not many books are written on angels by biblical scholars, so this is an important book. Heiser, like Walton, has studied the Old Testament and its ANE context for a long time, and he wants Christians’ understanding of God’s heavenly host to be shaped by the Bible instead of culture.

Biblical Eschatology, 2nd ed. – Jonathan Menn

I reviewed Jonathan Menn’s first edition a few years ago, having read it from cover to cover during one summer. It was fascinating. He looks at prophecy, apocalyptic literature, eschatology and the Bible’s structure, the significance of christ’s second coming, the millennium, the “rapture,” the “antichrist,” Revelation, the importance of eschatology, and ends his book with seven appendices. Regarding the importance of the “end times,” Menn says, “By understanding eschatology, we can have a well-integrated theology that enables us to live authentic Christian lives with confidence and hope. Such lives will demonstrate the present reality of the kingdom while we look forward to the final consummation in all its glory” (351).

Discovering the New Testament (Vol. I: The Gospels and Acts) – Mark Keown

Having just released a massive two-volume commentary on Philippians, Mark Keown, NT professor in New Zealand, is releasing a three-volume introduction to the New Testament. With Christ at the center, the New Testament letters “show us how to live the ‘in Christ’ life” (1). Keown represents the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts, has two chapters on critical methodologies and how scholars have understood the way in which  the four Gospels were written, and then looks at the content and theology of all four of those Gospel and Acts. He ends with looking at the kingdom of God, miracles, and parables. 

The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, and Trinity – Christopher Seitz

This book is a “commentary on critical method,” looking at various interpretations of the Old Testament, such as canonical and theological interpretations (4). The “Elder Testament” is made up of 39 books which all tell the story of Israel serving the one true God. The ordering of the OT is important, even though it differs between the Hebrew (MT) and Greek (LXX) texts (think Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty or Goswell/Lau’s Unceasing Kindness). All the Scriptures, both old and new, both “elder” and younger, speak of Christ. Here Seitz draws together old and new and examines the Trinity, wisdom, time and creation, Christ’s “speaking” in the letter to the Hebrews, and theophany. The Old Testament is not old and outdated, but it is older than the New Testament. Yet this “Elder Testament” still speaks of Christian theology about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the New Testament authors drew upon it. 

Romans, 2nd ed. (BECNT) – Thomas Schreiner

The Baker Exegetical Commentary series aims to be both readable while paying careful attention to important Greek exegetical matters. Each volume is written with pastors and teachers in mind so they can teach God’s uniquely inspired word. Tom Schreiner’s first volume was published in 1998, and has been a massive help for many who have studied, taught, and preached through Romans. Schreiner’s commentary is attuned to understanding Paul’s flow of thought, which is very important to understand anything Paul says in the letter. No verse is an island, and each reflects an aspect of Paul’s theology as shown throughout the full letter. Twenty years later, Schreiner has reworked his commentary, changing his mind on a few bigger issues and on numerous smaller issues. Schreiner has been a NT and Pauline scholar for almost 40 years now, so be sure to pick this one up. I’ve written more about Tom’s commentary here on my blog

Suffering – Paul David Tripp

Paul Tripp is a pastor, author, and biblical counselor. Not wanting to admit it, we have idols, and they live in our hearts. Suffering reveals to us what our idols are: in what do we put our focus, attention, and trust? What are our ordered loves? Is God actually first? Tripp tells of a few years where he had multiple surgeries and treatments for his failing kidneys, which caused him to cut back on his productive ministry. He thought his productive life was from his own hand, forgetting that any success or productivity we have comes from God. There’s more to the book than that, but Tripp shows that we can trust in our loving and faithful Father, who uses our hardships to shape us into the very image of the perfect Christ.

Books on the Way

1 Corinthians – Tom Schreiner
1-3 John – Marianne Meye Thompson
A New Testament Theology – Craig Blomberg
An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. – David deSilva
Conformed to the Image of His Son – Haley Jacob
Romans (ZECNT) – Frank Thielman

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November Sale: Two Horizons Commentaries (Kindle)

Two Horizons Commentary Eerdmans

Eerdmans has some excellent commentary series, and the Two Horizons Old/New Testament Commentary series is no disappointment. So far 18 volumes have been printed on OT and NT books, and now through the month of November Eerdmans is having a sale on Amazon on all 18 volumes for Kindle for under $50. Many commentaries alone are $50.

The Two Horizons series is a great series. I’ve read through Marianne Thompson’s Colossians & Philemon volume, and I’m working through James McKeown’s Genesis and Stephen Dempster’s Micah volumes. All have been very good. They are at both an academic level and a very readable level (though different authors vary). After the introduction, each volume works through the biblical text, and each end with a large section on theological themes of the book or letter. Not only is it a commentary on the book, but it draws the authors ideas together to show his thinking throughout the biblical text, how it adds to the canon, and how it reinforces the rest of the biblical texts.

You can find the links here

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Three Troubles in Romans 2

When I think of difficult passages in Romans, I think of Romans 5.12-21, 7.7-25, and all of 9-11. It wasn’t until I sat in on Lindsay Kennedy’s Romans class at CCBCY that I found out that many scholars think Romans 2 is the most difficult chapter in the letter. Why is this? There are three sections in Romans 2 that can be understood in a few different ways.

1. Romans 2.13, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

2. Romans 2.14-16, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

3. Romans 2.29, “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”

In the first point, is Paul saying that those who do the law are justified? Doesn’t he say that we are released from the law (7.6) and so we can now serve in the way of the Spirit? In the second point, who are these Gentiles? They don’t have the law, but they show that the work of the law is written on their heart. Does the pagan Polynesian show that somehow he ‘knows’ God’s commands? Or are these Gentiles Christians who, fulfilling Jeremiah 31.31-34, have God’s law written on their hearts? And thirdly, in perhaps the most well-known verse on the list, does Paul mean to say that Christian Gentiles are true Jews? How would that work?

This series will continue looking at Tom Schreiner’s revised Romans (BECNT) commentary because Schreiner has changed his interpretation of 2.14-16 since writing his first edition, and his understanding of the other two sections is helpful. I may write up separate posts on each text because that will make them shorter and more ‘bite-size.’


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A Scholar’s Devotion with A. Andrew Das

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences. 

This week, I have asked Dr. Andrew Das if he would share his thoughts with us.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

Devotional time is exceedingly important. I am a conservative (Bible-believing) Lutheran, and so I have a very high view of the power of God’s Word as that which creates and sustains faith. Getting people into the Word is essential to my confession. My wife and I taught our children to read before kindergarten and soon thereafter got them their own study Bibles in an accessible translation. For my own part, I cannot recommend highly enough the Christian Standard Bible. It is demonstrably the most readable translation on the market that is at the same time one of the most word-for-word translations. That accuracy to the original is very important to me. I need to have confidence in my English translation, but I also need a readable and accessible translation. Luther translated Scriptures into the ordinary, everyday language of the people. So my kids grew up with their pattern of daily study of God’s Word and prayer at the beginning of each day (we’d fall asleep if we did it at the end of the day).

For my own part, I help out in churches, and the churches, thankfully, schedule those labors well in advance. What I like to do at the office in the morning is to take time out from the daily grind and scour commentaries and monographs for devotional applications of God’s Word. I like to grow in my understanding of the Word and yet seek out how the Word is to be applied in a way that is a natural extension of its message.

This week, for instance, I have been meditating on the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus in Mark 10. Of course, we don’t know that he is rich right away, but Jesus sees through him pretty quickly. Jesus knew that things, literally, were getting in the way for him. He also had an overly optimistic assessment of his own ability to gain access to God’s kingdom. I find this passage challenging for me personally as a wealthy American Christian. Do I really need all this stuff? Does the stuff get in the way of loving others as God in Christ first loved me? Jesus’ death on the cross has freed me from my sins, including the idolatry of putting stuff before others and before the Lord. So I have been carrying this around with me this week and reflecting on how the passage relates to the entirety of the Scriptural witness and to my life..

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ? 

In terms of deepening my love for Christ, my love for Christ increases as I deepen my understanding of God’s Word, especially as I treat it in a respectful way as God’s saving Word addressed also to me personally. There are lessons to be learned and applied. So I try to mold my patterns of action on biblical models. If God became incarnate in Christ to suffer and die for me, how can I imitate that humble self-regard to put others first?

One game my wife brought to our marriage is, in conversation, trying to get the other person to talk about him/herself. We like to “flip” conversations to keep the focus on the other person and to try to hear them and express care for them, the same love that God has so richly showered upon us in His death on the cross.

As a part-time dean at my college, I am not surprised that even secular authors on “how to be a dean” talk about servant leadership. For me, it is who I am in Christ. I am to be a servant of others. So my devotional life is something that is to be carried with me all through the day. We pray without ceasing, do we not? The only way I can imagine that taking place is through the wealth and riches of God’s Word. There’s so much there!! It’s our power source. We are not only better preachers and teachers through our study of God’s Word (with fresh, engaging new insights all the time); when we approach our labors devotionally, we grow in our faith–because God’s Word is powerful. God speaks into our hearts through His wonderful Word, and it is so.


A. Andrew Das is the Donald W. and Betty J. Buik Chair at Elmhurst CollegeHe has also written a commentary on Galatians, as well as having written on Paul and the Law, Paul and Israel, and Paul and the Jews

Thank you, Dr. Das!
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Giveaway Winners: (1) “Reformation Theology” and (2) “Delighting in the Trinity”

Thanks to everyone who entered the giveaway for Matthew Barrett’s Reformation Theology and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. There were 184 entries, but there could be only two lucky winners (who are listed below). Of course, you can always buy the books from Amazon, which are in the links above. 

John C. won Reformation Theology and Nathan P. won Delighting in the Trinity. I’ll need the winners to send me their contact information. 

For some reason I can’t get the giveaway results to come up properly, so I’ve taken a screenshot, which you can click on and go to the real page (which looks just like the picture above).

Thanks to everyone who participated!


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Book Review: Political Church (Jonathan Leeman)


What is the local church? Or, perhaps, what is the church? Is it a body of believing Christians? Is it all of God’s people, his temple? Do we “go to church” or are we “the church”? How does the church live within the political sphere? Are they truly separate entities? In Political Church, Jonathan Leeman makes a case for the political nature of the local church and argues that it is possible to be political and a Christian. In fact, everything we do is political. “The local church and its members constitute a political community that exists according to Jesus’ explicit authorization in Matthew 16, 18 and 28… The purpose of this political community, then, is to publicly represent King Jesus, display the justice and righteousness of the triune God, and pronounce that all the world belongs to this King. His claim is universal” (294). 

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks. He is an adjunct teacher for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He has both an MDiv and PhD in theology, both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science, and began his journalism career as an editor for an international economics magazine. Political Church is the third (?) volume in the Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture, edited by Daniel Treier and Kevin Vanhoozer, which brings together Scripture, Christian doctrine, and the issues of our day. Leeman, using biblical theology (here, the flow of the Bible’s storyline), looks at the overall storyline to understand how Christians should think about the political sphere, something which touches every sphere of life (just turn on the news or get on Facebook or Twitter).

The first two chapters asks what “politics” and “institutions” are. Because these two chapters are the most technical, Leeman gives his readers a “get out of jail free” card and tells them that they should “feel free to skip them” (32). They are technical, and I certainly didn’t understand a lot of the political language, but I was stretched and I think I have underlines on almost every page. “Politics” is “public-wide and coercive governance,” an “order-enforcing agency” (60, 61). The local church’s institutional authority is the keys of the kingdom (Matthew 16, 18, 28), and the state’s institutional authority is found in “the sword” (since they are, as Leeman argues above, an “order-enforcing agency”). Putting it another way,

institutions tell you how to act, and they give you opportunities to act. They help to define relationships, giving them purpose and direction. They even shape aspects of your identity. Consider just a few examples listed by the sociologists: marriage, the contract, wage labor, the handshake, insurance, the army, academic tenure, the presidency, the vacation, attending college, the corporation, the motel and voting.46 These are very different kinds of institutions, but all of them, in various ways, contain rules and opportunities for action, shape a relationship, and impinge upon identity. (108)

The state builds the platforms of peace and justice so that the church can “hang signs with Jesus’ name over right beliefs, right practices, and right people—the repenting and believing citizens of Christ’s kingdom” (15).

Chapter three looks at the politics of Creations, particularly that as governed and ruled by the triune God. The Christian’s Godthe Father, Son, and Holy Spiritis one of a unified relationship and provides the basis for people to be committed to care for their close neighbors. Husband/wife, parent/child, employer/employee, and neighbor-to-neighbor are the relationships that make up the fabric of society. There are relationships of affirmation and submission. “Good government works according to principles of righteousness, justice and love; and good government works best when ruler and ruled are perfectly in sync” (153).

Chapters 4-6 cover the Politics of the Fall, the New Covenant, and the Kingdom. The “the local church is a political institution because it has been authorized by a King to borrow and wield his own office keys for declaring who is and who is not a citizen in the ‘age of new covenant’” (295). The local church is an extension of God’s kingdom; it is not God’s kingdom, but an embassy for it. It “represents one nation inside of another nation… and it protects the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. Embassies do not make people citizens of a home nation, but they do formally affirm who is and who is not a citizen of the home nation” (296).

Just as Jesus was ‘under’ the authority of Pilate and submitted to his decrees, Christians are not higher than their governments and must submit to their decrees. However, just as Jesus’ kingdom was elsewhere, Christians are members of the Creator’s kingdom, and he has given them a particular authority to preach the gospel, make disciples, and display love, peace, justice and righteousness. Everyone worships something—either God or idols. Christians are ambassadors for God (2 Cor 5.20); they mediate his covenantal rule to the world around them and call them to submit to Christ the King. 

Recommended?

The volumes in this series are more advanced than what I usually review, and one should have some knowledge of the political sphere to get the most out of this book. But yes, I do recommend it, especially because Leeman works through the Bible’s covenantal storyline. “The church’s life is held together by justification by faith alone, the most powerful political force in the world today for flattening hierarchies and uniting one-time enemies” (14). You may not be a political expert, but you will benefit from reading Leeman’s work. It is slow work, but it is a rewarding read.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture
  • Author: Jonathan Leeman
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (March 26, 2016)

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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A Scholar’s Devotion with Rikk Watts

Going through seminary, students are taught to study the Bible and uphold its doctrines about God while also being encouraged not to neglect their devotional times with God. Yet during my own devotional time I, and probably many others, often ask, “Is this approach the best way to grow spiritually, or is there a better way? What could I do differently? Should I incorporate my studies with my devotions?”  

Each week, I ask a different scholar two questions about how he or she spends time with the Lord and continues to love him with all their mind, strength, and heart. While no one method or style is “the only way,” we can draw on one another’s experiences. 

This week, I have asked Dr. Rikk Watts if he would share his thoughts with us.

1. How do you spend your devotional time with the Lord? 

Read my scriptures prayerfully in the original languages; reflect on what I understand they have to say to me; always give thanks to the Lord for the gift of life, this wonderful creation, his coming to us in his Son, his daily presence through the Spirit, and the sure and certain hope of the life of the world to come. Then wait on him to see what he might say to me, then prayers for friends etc.

2. How do you practically seek to deepen your love for Christ? 

Live my life in thankful obedience, deliberately seeing all of creation as a gift and as God’s temple destined for renewal, and all people as made in his image and therefore to be loved and treated with dignity and honor. I try to be present to every moment.

While I have devotional times, I’ve tried to keep my relationship with the Lord real; I.e. I might have regular scheduled meetings with my boss, but that’s not how I relate to my wife or close friends. I’ve tried to pattern both the scheduling and feel of my prayer time along the lines of the latter. Hence, I will often have very meaningful moments of prayer, devotion, and meditation, while walking, on public transport, sitting in a cafe, etc. In this sense my daily devotions happen throughout the day. I have to say this has resulted in a deep sense of the Lord’s very real presence throughout my day. I am also “Pentecostal” in background; though probably more Charismatic, and evangelical (in the UK Anglican tradition) both theologically and culturally; so a combination of thoughtfulness, cultural engagement, theological reflection, and praying in tongues and exercising various gifts is very much a part of my week.


Dr. Watts is the Dean of Theology (2017) at Alphacrucis College. He formerly taught at Regent College for 20 years. He is currently writing a commentary on Mark’s Gospel for the NICNT series. He has also written Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark and contributed the chapter on Mark’s Gospel in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

Thank you, Dr. Watts!


Further Devotions

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God’s Righteousness as Forensic

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

This series has given some snapshots of Tom Schreiner’s arguments over “the righteousness of God” in his revised Romans (BECNT) commentary. Again, he summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). I’ve looked at the arguments that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness to his covenant people, and the argument that his righteousness is transformative. In his first edition, Schreiner understood God’s righteousness as being both forensic and transformative, with one aspect being emphasized more than the other in certain verses. Now he understands it as entirely forensic. God’s righteousness is a gift given to sinners so that they would be declared righteous in God’s sight. Though they are sinners, they stand not guilty before him.

He gives nine arguments for understanding God’s righteousness as being forensic, but I put a few together here.

Forensic Righteousness

1. Righteousness, Faith, and Believing

“Righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) is placed near to the words “faith” or “believing.”

Romans 4.11, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,”

Romans 10.3-4, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

Galatians 5.5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.”

The one who believes by faith stands not guilty in God’s presence. They are declared righteous, but that righteousness won’t be seen by all until the day of resurrection.

2. To be Counted

Those who believe by faith are not “made” righteous but are “counted” righteous.

Romans 4.3, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” (see Rom 4.5, 6, 9, 11).

3. A Gift from God

This righteousness is a gift divinely granted to people.

Romans 5.17, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

God is the origin of righteousness, and he gives that status to the ungodly (see again Rom 4.3, 5, 6, 9, 11) .

1 Corinthians 1.30, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Here, Jesus is wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God. Paul’s comment in Philippians 3.9 refers to righteousness as a gift from God. So in Romans 1.17 and 3.21-22 “God’s saving righteousness is given as a gift to those who believe” (70).

Philippians 3.9, “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

So “God’s righteousness may be both an attribute of God and a gift of God, but it doesn’t follow logically that it is also transformative” (70). Philippians 3.1-9 can be paralleled with Romans 10.1-5. Just as Paul couldn’t have a righteousness of his own from the law, Israel as a whole has tried to establish their own righteousness from the law. Paul received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel must do the same. It is not about keeping the law; it is about trusting in Jesus.

4. Second Corinthians 5

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul writes that Jesus who had no sin became sin so that we could “became the righteousness of God.” God was not “counting their trespasses against them,” meaning he forgave those who put their faith in Christ. Christ died on the cross, and those who put their faith in him, though they are sinners, take on God’s righteousness.

5. Romans 3.21-26

If all have sinned, how can anyone be righteous? Schreiner observes, “Paul argues… that a right relation with God is not obtained by keeping the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. All people who trust in Christ are justified by God because of the redemption accomplished by Christ Jesus (3:24)” (71).

6. Lawcourts

Romans 8.33 says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Schreiner writes, “The lawcourt background here is unmistakable. Paul followed the usage of the LXX… and other Jewish Second Temple literature… in assigning a forensic meaning to δικαίουν [‘to justify’].”

2 Samuel 15.4, “Then Absalom would say, ‘Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.'”

1 Kings 8.32, “then hear in heaven and act and judge your servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct on his own head, and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness.”

Judges didn’t make anyone wicked or righteous. They made declarations about the wicked and the righteous. God declares us righteous, and he will transform us at the resurrection.

Proverbs 17.15, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”

Schreiner: “Paul… does not think God violates any standards of justice, since Christ bears the curse that sinners deserve” (72).

7. Righteousness and Forgiveness

Romans 4.7-8 quotes Ps 32.1-2. David’s sins are forgiven and he stands “in the right before God” (73). David is not transformed, but forgiven.

Conclusion

Honestly, with some of these points (#3) I do wonder why God’s righteousness being a ‘gift’ ‘from God’ means his righteousness is to be understood forensically. We can’t transform ourselves to be righteous. We need another (2 Cor 5.21). So whether it is forensic or transformative (or both), it is still from God. However, do to other points (#6) and parts of Scripture, I can still see how God’s righteousness is purely forensic.

God justifies sinners when they believe the human Christ Jesus died and was resurrected. He is currently ruling over all things, and he is the King. We are justified in the eyes of God. We stand “in the right” or “not guilty” before him because we are “in Christ.” Being justified in and of itself doesn’t transform Christians, but other aspects of the order of salvation that occur immediately (e.g., the reception of the Spirit) and other parts will occur over time (e.g., sanctification) will cause us to be transformed. God conforms us to the image of his Son by working in us through his Spirit. Through that, we are transformed “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3.18), awaiting our final transformation at the day of resurrection (1 Cor 15.49, 51-53). Christians are sinners who are declared righteous now and will be made righteous in the future.


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God’s Righteousness as Transformative?

16For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1.16–17)

In my previous post I noted that in his revised BECNT commentary on Romans, Tom Schreiner summarizes the theme of Romans 1.16–17 saying, “The gospel is the saving power of God in which the righteousness of God is revealed” (63). Commentators have come to different interpretations as to what God’s righteousness is. Schreiner explains three of the different interpretations in his commentary.

Last time I wrote about those who think that God’s righteousness is his covenant faithfulness. This time I present Schreiner’s arguments for (and against) God’s righteousness being transformative.

Arguments For

1. Revealed

God’s righteousness being revealed refers to God’s eschatological (end-time) activity that has invaded history. It makes sense that God’s righteousness here means his saving activity if we ask the question ‘What is being revealed?’—a new status (forensic) or divine action (transformation)?

In fact, both God’s righteousness (v. 17) and his wrath (v. 18) are revealed.

17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

God’s wrath is actively poured out against human sin, and so it fits the parallel that his righteousness would also refer to a divine activity. Schreiner notes, “Since verses 16–17 are connected with a γὰρ (gar, for), we can conclude that the saving power of God is intertwined with the righteousness of God” (68).

So as Paul writes, the gospel is God’s power for salvation to all who believe for in the gospel God’s righteousness is revealed. The gospel is God’s salvation-bringing power. It is a divine activity, and his righteousness is actively revealed in it.

2. Old Testament Usage

Many of the uses of righteousness in the OT refer to God’s saving action.

Psalm 98.1–3

‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.’

After God brought Israel through the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army, Israel praised Yahweh as a ‘man of war’ (Exod 15.3) whose ‘right hand’ is ‘glorious in power’ and ‘shatters the enemy’ (v. 6). He stretched out his right hand that the earth would swallow up the army (v. 12). He led his people safely through the waters in his ‘steadfast love’ (v. 13; Ps 98.2). God’s salvation is an active salvation that rescues his people from their enemies. See also Isaiah 45.8; Micah 6.5 and 7.9.

3. Made righteous

Later in Romans 6 Paul says, “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died has been freed (δεδικαίωται) from sin” (6.7). Schreiner writes, “The use of the verb ‘to justify’ [translated as ‘freed’]… demonstrates that God’s declaration of righteousness really frees people from sin” (69). In Romans 5.19, many in Adam were made sinners; in Christ, they are made righteous. “God’s forensic declaration is effective because the Lord who was crucified on behalf of sinners was also raised from the dead (Rom. 4:25), and thus sinners now live in a new way (Rom. 6:4)” (69).

Pushback

As Schreiner explains in his commentary, there are a few problems here. I won’t list every rebuttal; you can find that in his commentary. But I will present a few of them. 

Problem 1: Revealed

God’s righteousness (1.17) is the grounds for God’s power (1.16). The two terms are not synonymous. Simply because God’s righteousness in Christ is apocalyptic does not mean that his righteousness is transformative. “God’s declaration about sinners is an end-time verdict that has been announced before the end has arrived” (73). Referring to Linebaugh, Schreiner says, “Justification… is the final verdict, which is pronounced now” before the end has come (73).

Believers, in union with Christ, stand in the right before God, but that does not mean they are automatically transformed because of that verdict. Rather, Christians are transformed through the reception of the Holy Spirit, becoming new creations, being sanctified—conformed to the image of Christ—and ultimately by being glorified. At the resurrection we will truly be transformed. It is then that we will be like Christ—righteous and perfect.

Problem 2: Old Testament Usage

Simply because the words righteous and salvation are in parallel (as in Psalm 98.1-3) does not mean they are equivalent. Schreiner says, “Words may overlap in meaning, but it doesn’t follow from this that they have an identical meaning. The righteousness of God, then, denotes the ‘rightness’ and justice of God’s salvation in Psalms and Isaiah” (73).

Problem 3: Made righteous

“Virtually all scholars agree that in the vast majority of cases the verb ‘to justify’ (δικαιόυν) is forensic” (74). Most English Bibles translate δεδικαίωται as “freed.” Even if δεδικαίωται here held a transformative connotation, it does not mean that every use of ‘justify’ or ‘righteousness’ holds that same connotation.

Schreiner observes, “God’s declaration that sinners are in the right before him is the foundation for a changed life” (74). Because believers are justified, are in union with Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit who works in us to image Christ. We are transformed not because of our ‘not-guilty’ verdict, but because God’s Spirit works within us.

As for Romans 5.19 and people being made sinners or made righteous, 2 Corinthians 3.9 points to a forensic use of righteousness. There, righteousness is contrasted with condemnation, “a declarative term” (74). When God condemns someone, he doesn’t make them wicked. They don’t turn into wicked people. They already are wicked. Similarly, God’s declaration that someone is righteous doesn’t mean he turns him into a righteous person. “The declaration that Jesus,” vindicated in his resurrection, “stands in the right is granted to all those who belong to him, to all those who are united to him by faith” (75).

Conclusion

One of the major differences between Schreiner’s first and second editions is his move toward God’s righteousness indicating a forensic status instead of both a forensic status and transformative state. Think about this scenario. Harry and Marv rob a bank. They have committed a crime. They are bandits. They are criminals. A judge declares Harry and Marv to be guilty of their crime. The judge’s sentence does not transform them into criminals; they became criminals when they robbed the bank.

We are sinners. Yet those who believe on Jesus Christ are declared to be “in the right” by God. I am still a sinner. I am not a ‘righteous’ person. As I said above, when Christians receive their resurrected bodies, they will be like Christ (1 John 3.2; 1 Cor 15.49, 52-53). They will be righteous, and they will be perfect. God sees what they will be in the future and he declares them to be that now. Christians have the status of righteousness even though they are still presently sinners because we are now in Christ.

In my next and final post I will look at what Schreiner has to say about God’s righteousness being forensic.


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Giveaway: (1) “Reformation Theology” and (2) “Delighting in the Trinity”

This week I’ll be giving away Matthew Barrett’s “Reformation Theology” to one lucky winner and Michael Reeves’ “Delighting in the Trinity” to another lucky winner.

(1) Reformation Theology

Covering the background and theology of the Reformation, this book is a massive undertaking covering the person and work of Christ, the Holy Spirit, baptism, justification, sanctification, what it means to be created in the image of God, and more.

You can read more about it on Amazon.

Click here to enter!

(2) Delighting in the Trinity

Why is God love?  Because God is a Trinity.
Why can we be saved?  Because God is a Trinity.
How are we able to live the Christian life?  Through the Trinity.

Michael Reeves gives a fantastic introduction to Christianity and the Christian life rooted in the Trinity. We don’t need to shy away from talking about our triune God, but, instead, we can delight and rejoice in it. This was, hands down, my favorite book in Bible college. You can read my review here.

You can read more about it on Amazon.

(I can’t get it to show up here, so you’ll have to click the link below. U.S. addresses only. Sorry, international shipping costs a lot!)

Click here to enter!

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