Onward Christian Soldier

For the past 8 months, I have candidated with a handful of churches, interviewed with many companies, and sent out countless resumés and applications for ministerial, professional, and retail jobs.  Not a single one of those attempts at employment (last count was over 700) returned a job.  Having recently obtained a graduate-level degree, this whole endeavor has been a dejecting experience.  Last Thursday, my final job prospect — with a company for which I used to work, where I earned Employee of the Year, and where I just completed my third interview — came back with a, “No.”  As our student-housing lease draws to a close in ten days, questions of doubt and purpose have flooded my mind:  “Why did I move my family out here?” “Why did we spend that money on education?” “What are we supposed to do, now?”

My wife and I decided God has called me to Full-Time Fatherhood while her employment serves as our source of sustainable income.  At least, this is our calling for the time being.  1950s thought may label me as, “Deadbeat;” outsiders may see me as a quitter; and family may be disappointed in me, but if this is God’s calling for our lives — and we both agree that it is at this stage in our lives– then to not follow it would be sin.  It may be culturally abnormal, but so what?

For a while, this decision made me feel purposeless.  But meeting with one of my spiritual leaders today illuminated the rare and strategic opportunity I have to serve the local church and her saints.  I have a unique freedom to build relationships with members of our church.  I have the time to invest in other men, and to do so with those whom I already have a relational foundation.  My wife and I don’t have to make new friends or find a new church; we can build on what we have simply waded in up until now.  What an amazing opportunity!

Is it going to be easy?  No!  The easy thing would be to stay in our home with my daughter, locked away from the outside and wallowing in hopelessness while my wife works to support us.  Am I always going to have the energy to press into relationships?  No!  For starters, we have an infant.  Does it give me hope?  Yes!  But Satan will certainly use self-doubt and thoughts of purposelessness to attempt to bring me down.  I will have to constantly be in the Word, be in prayer, and reminding myself of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 15:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

It may not be the plan we had for our lives, but our Sovereign God has made it abundantly clear that our plan for our lives is, at this moment, inconsistent with His plan.  And as hard as it is to say this:  I should be diligent about following God’s plan, not attempting to hold onto my own.  For as Paul Maxwell writes:

Diligence sets the necessary rhythm for the gospel to weave its way into the crippling emotions that our twenties can bring. Diligence in grief, in moving on, in acclimating, in moving forward — diligence in meaning is the fundamental counteragent to the quarterlife crisis.

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Relevancy from a TV Drama

From The West Wing, “Undecideds” (S07E08). Originally aired 4 December 2005. NBC.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Matthew Santos, in an episode on NBC’s hit drama The West Wing, on the fatal shooting of an African-American child by a Latino police officer:

“You know, I find myself on days like this casting about for someone to blame. I blame the kid; he stole a car. I blame the parents; why couldn’t they teach him better? I blame the cop; did he need to fire? I blame every one I can think of and I am filled with rage.

And then I try and find compassion. Compassion for the people I blame. Compassion for the people I do not understand. Compassion. It doesn’t always work so well. I remember as a young man listening on the radio to Dr. King in 1968. He asked of us compassion, and we responded, not necessarily because we felt it but because he convinced us that if we could find compassion, if we could express compassion, that if we could just pretend compassion, it would heal us so much more than vengeance could. And he was right; it did but not enough. What we’ve learned this week is that more compassion is required of us and an even greater effort is required of us.

And we are all, I think everyone of us, tired. We’re tired of understanding, we’re tired of waiting, we’re tired of trying to figure out why our children are not safe and why our efforts to to make them safe seem to fail. We’re tired.

But we must know that we have made some progress and blame will only destroy it. Blame will breed more violence and we have had enough of that. Blame will not rid our streets of crime and drugs and fear and we have had enough of that. Blame will not strengthen our schools or our families or our workforce. Blame will rob us of those things and we have had enough of that.

And so I ask you today to dig down deep with me and find that compassion in your hearts. Because it will keep us on the road. And we will walk together and work together. And slowly, slowly, too slowly, things will get better. God bless you. God bless you and God bless your children.”


Absorbing Suffering

The following is an imagined dialogue on theodicy, how God stands sovereign with tangible evils, and how to be a community that can absorb suffering.  Quotations indicate exact words taken from the authors’ respective texts.  Centered text indicates narrator dialogue.  

Good evening and welcome to this week’s Talk Track on WCJE 101.3.  As always, I’m your host Christopher.  Today’s topic is sure to be a difficult one for many, as we continue our God and You series with God, You, and Death, Disaster, and Depression.  While tonight’s theme may yield deep introspection, as with every night, we want you to be a part of this conversation, so don’t hesitate to call us with your questions or comments at 888.314.1013.  Helping us today are Drs. Stanley Hauerwas, author of God, Medicine, and Suffering, and D. A. Carson, author of How Long, O Lord?.  Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.

Carson:  We appreciate the invite.

Hauerwas:  It’s our pleasure, for sure.

Sirs, I want to start with a simple question — actually, more of a statement about both of your books.  In reading them this past week, I perceived an adamancy from both of you that questions about death, disaster, and depression are healthy insomuch as they are particular and directed to God, and as they do not expect an answer.  Is this take-away accurate?

Carson:  That is quite more than merely simple.  In short, yes, it is absolutely crucial to believe with certainty all of the accounts the Bible relays to us, especially concerning Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection.  However, as comes with our finitude, our creatureliness, “in addition to great certainties there are great gaps in our comprehension”.

Hauerwas:  I agree with Don.  We need to be stripped of both wanting and expecting “easy answers and false comforts” so that we can ask questions about suffering with honesty.  If we look at the early church, as depicted in Acts or handed down through tradition, we see that they didn’t ask for answers, they asked for comfort.

Which is why, I take it, you both go to great lengths to not answer the infamous “Why” questions.  What, then, is the expectation readers should have in picking up your books?

Hauerwas:  Well, I can only speak for my purposes in writing, but for me, I want the readers of God, Medicine, and Suffering to move away from a systematic theology of theodicy — how a completely good and all-powerful God co-exists with evil — and more towards a narrative theology of suffering.  When we divorce the question of suffering from any reality other than an intellectual one, we churn out theoretical answers that provide no support in the storm.  As a result, we tend to spout out pithy statements like “God works all things for good”, which is true to a point, but is of no help whatsoever (and may actually be more harming) to those surrounded by dust that just won’t settle.  “We have no theodicy that can soften the pain of our death and the death of our children, but we believe that we share a common story which makes it possible for us to be with one another especially as we die.”  And honestly, will any answer, no matter how true, actually be of help to you if you were in the midst of suffering?  If you could peer behind the current, could see that the Accuser is trying to win a bet with God, would that make you feel any better?  Of course not!  What you need is place, not reason.  Recovering your story’s place in the Grand Story is what I want readers to capture in my book.

But why story?

Hauerwas:  If we view our lives as nothing more than the isolated happenings of each day, we have no purpose.  When we find ourselves drowning in sorrow over something as tragic as the death of the child, that purposelessness becomes fatalism, because that very death is completely separate from what happened yesterday or the day before.  If there is no Grand Story, and consequently we have no dwelling in it, we simply are recipients of either good or bad impersonal luck.  “Stories serve to relate individual experiences to the explanatory constructs of the society and culture and also to place the experiences within the context of a particular individual’s history”.

That makes sense, Dr. Hauerwas, but I can’t help but hear you saying we need to find a purpose in our suffering, something I distinctly felt you push against in your book and in your earlier comments.

Carson:  Stan, if I may…  Dr. Hauerwas is not saying to find the purpose of one’s particular suffering.  He’s saying that your life has a place in a story that is bigger than just us.  Knowing where you are in that larger story helps not to explain the suffering, but to expect it.  “It is important to stress the Christian’s location — between the fall and the new heaven and the new earth, enjoying the downpayment of the Spirit, but by no means free of death and decay.”  Furthermore, placing your story into that larger story must inevitably lead you to the cross, where there even God Himself cried out with a “Why?” that was not answered.

Hauerwas:  Exactly.  “The appeal to narrative at least has the advantage of reminding us that our lives and our deaths are not occasional bits of unconnected behavior but part of a larger pattern; recognizing this gives purpose to our lives.”  You’ll notice I say that story gives our lives purpose, not necessarily our suffering.  Our suffering — for lack of a better phrase — fits into our story especially if it is aligned with the larger story of God’s redemptive-historical plan.  “If Christian convictions have any guidance to give us about how we are to understand as well as respond to suffering, it is by helping us discover that our lives are located in God’s narrative — the God who has not abandoned us even when we or someone we care deeply about is ill.”  And there, Christopher, is our comfort, but not necessarily our answers.

That clears the air, I think.  Thank you.  Dr. Carson, what do you wish to cultivate in readers of your book?

Carson:  I wish to cultivate a wholistic approach to Christianity.  What I mean is this:  we have to take all the good the systematic theology movement has brought us and apply our biblical knowledge to our everyday experiences.  In particular, I want readers to see that God being sovereign and God being good are both necessary in traversing “the valley of the shadow of death”.  So often we focus on one aspect of God, one kernel of theology, that we lose the whole of the biblical narrative.  “In addition to holding that Christian beliefs are true and consistent, the Christian, to find comfort in them, must learn how to use them. Christian beliefs are not to be stacked in the warehouse of the mind; they are to be handled and applied to the challenges of life and discipleship. Otherwise they are incapable of bringing comfort and stability, godliness and courage, humility and joy, holiness and faith.”  Put more succinctly, we often theorize that we want God’s justice or God’s goodness in the midst of our storms.  If we only seek A or B, we wind up creating a god who is either sadistic or helpless.  “Only the triumph of justice and love” as the Bible describes them in God will bring us some comfort during our sufferings.

Thank you, Dr. Carson.  Let’s turn now to one of our callers.

Caller:  I want to thank you for choosing this topic, but I have an issue.  Earlier, one of you said it was wrong to quote, I believe it’s Romans, that says, “God works out all things for the good of those who love Him.”  Saying that sounds very unChristian.  I mean, it’s the Bible, God’s Holy Word.  How can that be wrong?

Hauerwas:  That’s a great question.  When you quote specific Bible passages such as Romans 8.28 to those in the midst of suffering, in essence you are saying, “Whatever you are dealing with is not so bad, so buck up, because God has it.”  While it is absolutely accurate that God is sovereignly in control, eschatology and other theology is not comforting.  We are called to bear with one another in their burdens, which does not mean making their burdens less burdensome, or trivializing what they are going through, but sitting with them in their grief, in their sorrow, in their deaths and other sufferings.  Otherwise, you are not present with me.  You are looking at my sufferings from the New Heaven and Earth, and not from where I am in my suffering.  People want presence.  God Himself recognizes this in that one of His Son’s names is “Emmanuel”, meaning God with us.

Carson:  To add to that, quoting Bible verses about and only about victory consciously forgets those passages and narratives that show God’s people in anguish and turmoil.  Our “name it and claim it” culture has infected us with a “pious version of…triumphalism” that all we want to do in our church communities is focus on the Victory.  Now, focusing on the Victory is crucial as many epistles argue, but the victory has to come from a struggle, a struggle of which we are a part, a struggle where we will experience loss.  “We struggle here, and much of the comfort and perspective the Bible offers has little to do with any appeal to the End. It would be tragic if all such comfort and perspective were lost because we fled immediately in our thought to ‘the hereafter.’” “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but a faith so robust it wrestles with God.”  Even for God, the defeat of sin, evil, and death came at the cost of His Son’s own life.

I want to play a clip real quick.  It is from the 1981 film My Dinner with Andre.  I think it adds poignancy to the discussion:

Clip:  “You know, it’s like what happened just before my mother died. You know, we’d gone to the hospital to see my mother, and I went in to see her. And I saw this woman who looked as bad as any survivor of Auschwitz or Dachau. And I was out in the hall, sort of comforting my father, when a doctor who is a specialist in a problem that she had with her arm, went into her room and came out just beaming. And he said: ‘Boy! Don’t we have a lot of reason to feel great! Isn’t it wonderful how she’s coming along!’ Now, all he saw was the arm, that’s all he saw. Now, here’s another person who’s existing in a dream. Who on top of that is a kind of butcher, who’s committing a kind of familial murder, because when he comes out of that room he psychically kills us by taking us into a dream world, where we become confused and frightened. Because the moment before we saw somebody who already looked dead and now here comes a specialist who tells us they’re in wonderful shape! I mean, you know, they were literally driving my father crazy. I mean, you know, here’s an eighty-two-year-old man who’s very emotional, and, you know, if you go in one moment, and you see the person’s dying, and you don’t want them to die, and then a doctor comes out five minutes later and tells you they’re in wonderful shape! I mean, you know, you can go crazy!”

Here’s my question:  do you feel as if evangelicals are in danger of cultivating a similar atmosphere as the one described in this clip?  What advice do you have for those who wish to suffer with the suffering, as is the biblical mandate?  Is there a way to do care wrong?

Carson:  Without a doubt, and I think we covered a little of the ‘how to do care wrong’ question.  The bottom line is that we need to expect suffering, and as such, allow others to expect it as well.  Hebrews attests that our Lord learned obedience through suffering.  How deep is the disillusionment that we should be better off than our Master?!  Jesus didn’t tell His followers to “count the cost” with the expectation that the cost would be benign.  We must come to grips with the mysteries of life, with the questions posited from both our finitude and our “seclusion” from the heavenly court.  We also need to cling to the cross, where we see the true God suffering for His people.  Furthermore, we must not try to discern the mysteries of God’s sovereignty and His goodness.  Finding an answer does not peace bring.  “To walk into the unknown with a God of unqualified power and unfailing goodness is safer than a known way.”  That means, when suffering with suffering, even when they ask, “Why?”, don’t think they want an answer.  Sit with them.  Pray with them.  Help them regain their place in their story and in God’s Larger Story, and help them do so by deepening their relationship with God through counseling, praying, and comforting.  Show the life of God to them, not mere intellectualism.  Finally, “It is important to help people live one day at at time.”  Be with them where they are, do not rush them to the eschaton.  They may eventually need to hear of the hope of the final resurrection, but where they are is, at first, where you should be, also.

Hauerwas:  Amen, brother.  “The greatest experience open to man is the recovery of the commonplace.”  Ultimately we must be grounded at and help others ground themselves at the cross.  The cross shows our God is not above our sufferings.  The cross offers us both grace in the now and hope for the future.  The cross shows we are not abandoned.  We may think increased intelligence and knowledge bring us hope, but in the storm, we need presence, and the cross is so divinely placed right in the midst of the overarching storm.  As I said earlier, this is the hope the early Christians had.  This is the hope we need to recover.

That’s all the time we have today.  I want to thank you both for taking the time to talk through this heavy subject with us.  Again, listeners, be sure to pick up God, Medicine, and Suffering by Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, and How Long, O Lord? by Dr. D. A. Carson.  Thank you for tuning into Talk Track as we discussed today’s installment in the God & You series:  God, You, and Death, Disaster, and Depression.  Tune in next week for the continuation of this series:  God, You, and Vocation, where we will be joined by Drs. Amy Sherman and Christopher Wright.  Until then, I’m Christopher, thank you for joining us on WCJE 101.3.


Victory

Tattooed on her wrist is “Philippians 4:13”, yet she doesn’t hold to the misconception that she can become an astronaut or the next leader of the free world.  She recognizes her lowliness apart from Christ, and strives to push into Him to accomplish what she believes is His plan for her.  She doesn’t chase after such vanities as fame or import.  She is content with attaining that which God has ordained for her.

And she hasn’t shied away from all the attacks, maladies, and hard times in this pursuit, because she wholeheartedly believes if God has called her to it, her obedience is her offering, her spiritual service.

On Saturday, my sister is graduating from college with a degree in sign language interpretation.  Three weeks later, she’s marrying a pastor-in-training, a wonderful man of God who also has set his sight on the mission, and who also strives to work out his salvation in what he honestly believes is his part in that mission.

Her victory in academics was no small feat.  Her planning a wedding through the final year of her collegiate experience was no simple task.  And her growth into a godly woman is nothing but a testament to the power of and her submission to the Holy Spirit.

I am very proud of her.

And now, O sons, listen to me:
blessed are those who keep my ways.
Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
Blessed is the one who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
For whoever finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the LORD.


Inherited Faithfulness

On the Use of Psalm 2 in Acts 4

The Psalms are a unique inclusion in the Old Testament canon, for they are not of the Law, History, Prophecy, or even Wisdom genre so familiar to the rest of the canon.  Thus, the difficulty in articulating the consequence of the Psalms being classified as Holy Scripture is understandable.  This difficulty is evident in the plethora of theological research proposing just as many different positions on the function of the Psalter within modern, covenantal life.  The most common view of the Psalter is articulated best by Collins:  “the best way to interpret the psalms is to start with recognizing that the right modern correlate for the life setting of the biblical psalms is not the prayer journal but the hymnbook.”  The question in view, then, is how do other biblical authors employ portions of this hymnody in their own works?  More specifically, how does Luke, in the fourth chapter of his Acts of the Apostles, utilize a canonized, Hebraic hymn?  In the following pages, I will argue that Luke, in Acts 4.23-31, employs typological analogy to present Psalm 2 as a comfort for the persecuted church through affirmation of the accomplished and promised victory of Christ and His people in the face of worldly opposition.  Before specifically answering this question, I will start with an exposition of the Psalm, followed by a brief exposition of the pericope in view.

As mentioned above, the Psalter functioned as Israel’s hymnbook.  As with a modern hymnbook, the purpose, occasion, and author of each of the individual writings varies with each work.  The context of the “Book of Psalms”, thus, varies as well.  However, the compilation of the anthology as a whole did have its purpose, as Collins argues:

By making individual laments, thanksgivings, and confessions of sin matters of corporate song, they enable the whole congregation to take upon themselves, as their own, the troubles and victories of the individual members, so that everyone can “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15 ESV).

However, to fully grasp the intent of each individual Psalm, an examination of each of them independently is necessary.  Therefore, a thorough hermeneutical exposition of Psalm 2 itself is the focus of this section.

While Psalm 2 has no authorial superscript, in Acts 4.25, Peter and John echo the early church tradition of Psalm 2 being a Psalm of David.  While at first glance it appears to be a coronation Psalm, recited at the inauguration of a new Davidic king, Kidner argues something deeper exists behind this poem:  “While it is usually considered a coronation psalm, it seems on closer inspection to recall [the specific words of verses 7-9] at a subsequent time of trouble (such as that of 2 Samuel 10).”  In that context, the Psalm functioned more as a prophetic song of comfort rather than a celebratory canticle.  Particularly, it appears to offer comfort to the anointed King, for God promised the throne of David an eternal inhabitant.

Through the use of literary drama, David works out this promise in a case-study fashion.  The focus of the case-study is both the Divine and His Anointed.  The Psalmist opens his work with a rhetorical question about the absurdity of rebelling against God, as is seen in the phrase, “plot in vain” in verse 1.  The only way the psalmist here can make such an outrageous claim as the guaranteed loss for the rebels is if he has seen God deal with rebels in the past, and if he has assurance that same God is on his side.  Thus, echoes of 2 Samuel 7 form the backdrop of the Anointed’s confidence in the vanity of “the nations”.  Keil and Delitzsch agree, writing, “For the psalmist…is too well acquainted with Jahve and His Anointed not to recognize beforehand the unwarrantableness and impotency of such rebellion.”

The scene following the planning of this attempted coup d’etat is the mockery of the rebels by the one “who sits in the heavens”.   That phrase was of utmost importance to the Israelite community, because it reminded them that behind the “Anointed” was the Everlasting, the Sovereign, who “in contrast to earthly rulers and events…is enthroned above them in unapproachable majesty and ever-abiding glory”.  It is this One who “installed” (NASB) His leader on the throne of His people, and thus can be trusted to sustain that leader, throne, and people.

It is at this point the Anointed speaks, recounting the promise of sustenance, and affirming the definite defeat of Israel’s, and thus, God’s, enemies.  The phrase, “You are my Son,” coupled with the word, “decree,” would immediately take the mind of the Israelite people to 2 Samuel 7, where David is referred to as the son of God.  Says Calvin, “David, indeed, could with propriety be called the son of God, on account of his royal dignity…”  As the beholder of this title, He can ask God for the world, because the world is God’s.  Vangemeren articulates this inherited dominion beautifully:  “Since God is the Ruler of the world, he authorizes the Davidic king to extend his kingdom to ‘the ends of the earth’.”

The Psalm closes with a warning in light of both the promises of God and the inherited dominion of God’s Anointed.  The only hope for the rebels is to renounce their prideful ways and submit to the authority of God’s Anointed, the vice-regent of His dominion.  This submission is not simply a canceling of their planned attacks, but a humbling, prostrate approach to God’s anointed:  “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.”  The warning, though, is not just a threat; it is what Kidner calls “an invitation”, as is evidenced in the beatitude which closes the Psalm.

The entire Psalm focuses on the power of God to sustain and deliver His Anointed.  Its inclusion in the Psalter points even further to the promised deliverance and protection of those under the Anointed’s rule.  Again, Collins:  “The pious Israelite realizes that his hope of blessing is now irrevocably tied to the house of David (cf. 2 Sam 7: 12– 16), and so he prays that God will keep the king pure.”  In short, the victory of the King is a victory for the people.

Before discussing this Psalm’s purpose and function as employed by Luke in Acts, a brief exposition on that book is warranted.  Acts is widely held as the continuation of Luke’s Gospel account, with a focus on the expansion of the early church.  Early church tradition holds Luke was the physician who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys.  The prologue to Luke’s Gospel indicates the physician went to great lengths to thoroughly research and investigate the Messianic claims of the man named Jesus.  The second book’s structure takes its form from Jesus’ commandment to be Christ’s “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  That is, the book narratively recounts the geographical spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  Instead of focusing on the words and works of Jesus, Acts focuses on the words and works of the Apostles, and the consequent formation of the early church.

The intended audience for Luke’s sophomore work was the same as his Gospel, namely, an enigmatic individual named Theophilus.  While some purport Luke’s purpose in penning both works was no more than a fulfilled, transactional service as enlisted by Theophilus, this view fails to take into account Luke’s own words attesting to his sense of duty to the truth as mentioned in the opening verses of Luke’s Gospel.  In this light, the occasion for both works appears to be either apologetic or kerygmatic.  As with all other the other works now canonized in the New Testament, Luke may have also held an expectation of his works circulating the known world.  In this vein, Liefeld and Pao write:

Luke probably wrote his treatise to Theophilus with the expectation that, in addition to the kerygmatic, apologetic, and conciliatory purposes, it could also be used within the churches for instructional purposes to show how Christianity moved out from its origins in Palestine to become a movement of God’s Spirit in the Roman Empire.

All of this simply illuminates the uncertainty regarding the exact purpose(s) surrounding Luke’s endeavors, especially when speaking of Acts.  What can be said is he was meticulous in his selection as he attempted to communicate the Apostle’s response to Jesus’ resurrection and the history of the early church.

The specific pericope in view fits into the Petrine-focused segment of Acts as he leads the Gospel out of Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria.  At the beginning of chapter 4, Peter and John are put on trial before the Sanhedrin for their healing of a crippled beggar.  The only justice the Sanhedrin could deliver regarding the aforementioned was a stern warning to not preach the name of Jesus any further.  The disciples did not consent to this but were released nonetheless.  Upon their release, Luke records them returning to their entourage followed by a prayer for boldness which included a quote from Psalm 2.

In light of the divine perseverance in the face of recent persecution, it is safe to say Luke utilizes typological analogy in mentioning the recitation of Psalm 2 in the disciples’ prayer.  In fact, in the verses immediately following the quotation, the disciples themselves do most of the hermeneutical work by analogizing Psalm 2 to their modern day.  “Herod and Pontius Pilate” are “the kings of the earth”; the Gentiles are “the nations”; “the people of Israel” are the “peoples”; and the “Anointed One” is the “holy servant Jesus”.

This typological use of Psalm 2 in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles essentially means two things:  first, God’s promises to the Israelite people are inherited by the New Covenant community because, second, the New Covenant community are the chosen people of God just as were the Israelite people.  Luke is affirming that, just as Israel’s sustenance was contingent upon God’s faithfulness, so the church and its advancement was utterly dependent on the Creator God.  Even beyond that, Luke’s use of Psalm 2 was to comfort the growing and opposed church body by reassuring them God’s covenant with David endured in the person of Christ, and, as such, would be inherited by those united in Christ.  Marshall agrees:  “Here, the point of the citation is to confirm from Scripture that when the rulers of the world rise up against the Lord and his Anointed One, their attacks are doomed to failure.”  The promises of God’s hedge of protection around His Anointed guarantee the preservation of the Anointed’s people just as the promises to the king extended to the king’s regency.

A brief comment is necessary to affirm the historicity of this use of the Psalm.  While some scholars argue Luke included this Psalm through creative license, their cases are “shown to be unconvincing”.  RC Sproul argues the prayer itself was a bold act, characteristic of the first-century Christian.  Says Sproul, “Those in the early church understood that despite all the antagonistic actions of those authorities, God was still sovereign.  God was still in control.”  The church in Acts believed itself to be heirs of God’s continued promise.  Thus, when it is noted Luke included the Psalm in his recount, it is rightly held by the author that Luke’s inclusion was calculated, intentional, yet historically accurate.

To sum up, the second Psalm was likely both a coronation song, recited at the inauguration of the new king, as well as prophetic comfort, reminding the faithful king of God’s continued preservation of him and his people in times of trouble.  Luke applies the Psalm typologically, essentially arguing the New Covenant community inherited God’s promises made to Israel by being aligned to Christ, the true Anointed and ultimate Davidic king.  His purpose, then, was to remind the growing and oft opposed New Covenant community to remember God’s faithfulness to obedient kings, especially Christ.  As the New Covenant community continues to be faithful to Jesus, so will they also continue to inherit the faithfulness of God promised to His Anointed in Psalm 2.

Works Cited

Calvin, John. Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1999.

Collins, C. John. Forgotten Songs: Reclaiming the Psalms for Christian Worship. Edited by C. Richard Wells and Ray Van Neste. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2012.  Kindle Edition.

Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch. Psalms. Translated by Francis Bolton. Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1 – 72. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Ladd, George E. The Pattern of New Testament Truth. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968.

Liefeld, Walter L., and David W. Pao. Luke – Acts. Edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Marshall, I. Howard. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Edited by G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007.

Sproul, R.C. Acts. St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.

Vangemeren, Willem A.. Psalms. Edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.


Missional Identity in God’s Covenantal Acts

On Williams, Michael D. Far As the Curse is Found. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2005.

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1.28 ESV). Creation is the setting of humanity’s existence. While the earth God created was cursed because of Adam’s sin (Gen. 3.17), that earth still exists and serves as “the environment that the fall and redemptive events modify”. Moreover, while the curse added the element of laborious toil to the aforementioned command to subdue the earth, that command, that mission is still relevant today. Thus, creation and mission are at the core of God’s covenantal acts and are fundamental to His covenanted peoples’ identity.

In Far As the Curse is Found, Dr. Williams argues covenantal elements exist in the opening chapters of God’s Word. Throughout the third chapter of Far As the Curse, Williams explains how the first two chapters of Genesis give the Israelites their intended identity as creatures in relationship with Almighty God. Williams states this gracious, initiatory act of creation and relationship calls forth from them a response to bring that identity to the ends of the earth: “The creation story reveals that their constitution as God’s people implicates them in a larger design…” In essence, humanity is not the end purpose of God’s covenantal works. Mankind certainly is to respond to his gracious inclusion in God’s covenant with worship to God alone, but also with “loving his neighbor, and caring for creation”.

Williams goes on to say the introduction of sin does not change humanity’s original intended identity and mission, but it does change how both God will relate with mankind and how mankind will respond (namely, in struggle). Speaking of God’s covenantal acts with Noah, Williams asserts: “From this point forward, God covenants with man not just as image bearer but also as sinner. For a creature in revolt against the divine rule all overtures of grace are in spite of his fallen nature. God preserves his creation in spite of man. And he redeems in spite of sin.” Mankind is still the image of God, although marred, and he is still called to bring that identity to the ends of the earth, although that mission will be met with resistance.

As the focus of the redemptive-historical story changes from universal to particular at Genesis, Williams very clearly reminds his readers the scope of redemptive history does not change: “The goal of God’s covenant with Abraham is that people from every nation, not just Israel, will be redeemed.” Peterson quoting Moo from the Spring 2010 edition of Presbyterion, takes this goal one step further:

God’s work…has in view a reclamation of the entire universe, tainted as it is by human sin. That fallen human beings are the prime objects of this reconciliation is clear…But it would be a serious mistake to limit this “reconciling” work to human beings.

Williams takes pains to remind the reader the universality of the creational intent still functions as the identity and purpose of God’s people, even as the biblical story zooms in on a particular people. Again, Abraham is not the end purpose of God’s covenantal works.

Moving on from the call of Abraham, Williams explains how the law given to Moses helped the Israelite people form their identity as image-bearers and carry out their image-bearing mission. While sin marred the image of God in humanity, the law illuminated God’s holy character to His people. By keeping the law, Israel would be both working out their identity while revealing God to her surrounding nations. Thus, both created identity and mission are wrapped up in the purpose of the law: “The law given at Sinai harkens back to the relationship God established with Adam and creation at the beginning. God’s covenantal action after the fall is designed to return fallen humanity to the integrity of Eden”.

And then God comes down in Jesus, changing the strategy of the mission, broadening the defined people of God, but keeping both missional and creational intent the same:

The mission remains substantially the same under the new covenant. God calls the church, as he did Israel, to…mediate the blessings of the covenant to a world estranged by God…In contrast to the centripetal model of the Old Testament…Jesus charges his disciples with a centrifugal missionary mandate…yet a centripetal aspect remains a part of the church’s mission.

The mission and identity then becomes living as image-bearers in a rebellious world via striving to live life with the mind of Christ (Philippians 2.5). No more are glimpses of God only possibly by law; we see God in Jesus, who took on created flesh and lived out the mission in perfect obedience.

Thus, in the new covenant, identity becomes unity with Christ, and mission is living out the resurrection truth. All humanity was united with Adam as the vice-regent of all creation. Given his choice in disobedience, all humanity became united with Adam in his disobedience as well. Christ, the prologue, climax, and epilogue of redemptive history, came to this earth, fulfilling the obedience foregone by Adam. Through God’s gracious and effective call to His elect, new humanity is found to be united in Christ’s obedience. This unity with Christ does not eradicate our created humanness, it pushes us to restore it to its fullness: “…redemption does not scrap creation, but rather advances to restore it”. Therefore, response to the gospel is not simply believing; it is filling the earth with the Christ and subduing sin-scarred creation under His resurrection power. This is our identity and our mission. This is the only proper end to God’s covenantal works with His people.

Works Cited

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. Quoted in Robert A. Peterson. “To Reconcile to Himself All Things: Colossians 1:20.” Presbyterion 36, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 37-46.

Williams, Michael D. Far As the Curse is Found. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2005.


The Bliss of this Glorious Thought

In worship today, we sang one of my favorite hymns:  It Is Well with My Soul.  The canticle was written by Horatio Spafford following the shipwreck and consequent death of his four daughters.  This tragic event was the fourth and paramount crisis of his plagued life.  Now, I’ve sung it numerous times; I even had it performed at my undergraduate capstone performance.  Today, however, I experienced one of the stanzas with the emotion I presume was behind its penning.  Following is the lyrical composition of the stanza:

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!

I now would like to take creative license and present it in a narrative fashion for emotive emphasis:

My sin…
Oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin…
Not in part, but the whole!
Is nailed to the cross!  and I bear it no more!
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, oh my soul!

I feel as if Spafford began writing this specific stanza and couldn’t get beyond the first two words without feeling the weight of the grace of God.  He couldn’t mention the forgiveness of sin without breaking from his train of thought to praise God within the praise of God that was Spafford’s hymn!

The Apostle Paul himself seems to have a similar reaction to the glorious grace found in the death of Jesus.  In Romans 5, he articulates the rare audacity of Christ’s sacrifice:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

What an incredible verity!  How can we not pause to meditate on it?!

The point is this:  how often are we arrested by amazing truths in our worship?  How often do we let the words penetrate our hearts and form our emotions?  This is what worship is about!  The challenge, then, is allowing ourselves to be enraptured by God and His love.

Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought:
That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

Pause for affect.