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A Question Of Justification

Over the last twenty to thirty years the reformation doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone has been subject to reformulation by different figures.
The Church of Rome and the Lutheran Church produced a joint statement about justification in the 1990’s. As much as I can tell, the document affirms that if certain terms are understood in certain ways under certain conditions then there really is no certain difference between justification as both churches understand it. Apparently the whole reformation and a bunch of anathemas were all about a variance in emphasis. Who knew?
There have been other formulations which have been popularly described as the ‘New Perspective on Paul’ and the ‘Federal Vision’.
Now the impact of these new perspectives is being felt at popular levels.
Collin Hansen, author of the book ‘Young, Restless & Reformed’ writes an article in Christianity Today about InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a parachurch group that works on university campuses and is also involved in publishing. His basic observation is that the doctrinal basis of IVF has been diluted with the effect that Catholics can subscribe to it in good conscience. He refers to a chapter of IVCF which split over the issue.
The President of IVCF, Alec Hill, responded to Hansen’s piece (also in Christianity Today) denying the charge, as laid, and also countering that Hansen had not given full consideration of the situation and had failed to obtain IVF’s position before publishing.
He refers to IVCF’s Doctrinal Basis, revised in 2000.
A relevant section reads:
[We believe in:]
Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine,
who lived as a perfect example,
who assumed the judgment due sinners by dying in our place,
and who was bodily raised from the dead and ascended as Savior and Lord.
Justification by God’s grace to all who repent
and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation.

IVCF’s doctrinal statement before 2000 read:
[We believe in:]
The necessity and efficacy of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world, and the historic fact of His bodily resurrection.

The newer statement is more comprehensive, though the replacement of ‘substitutionary’ with ‘assumed’ lacks clarity.
The problem is that the phrase ‘Justification by God’s grace to all who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation’ does not clearly affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone; that is that God works in us by the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new birth and a faith that lays hold of the Gospel and repents of sin and trusts Christ as having been punished in our place and raised for our new life. It could easily be affirmed by those who believe that God’s ‘grace’ is the sacraments and the church and that when we participate in these we are placing our faith in Jesus alone.

Justin Taylor links to the primary sources, but clearly is not convinced by Hill’s defence.
R. Scott Clark (who should be on the blogroll by now) also notes the issue, and points out that he has already identified that the New Perspective on Paul and the Federal Vision could serve as bridging points toward Rome’s formulation of justification.

Why should we aware of such situations, since they take place far away?
Well these things start in academia, where academics basically have to come up with new ways of saying old things, or old sounding ways of saying new things, to justify their jobs. Mostly these formulations are considered by other academics or their students.
Then they get published in more and more popular forms.
Para-church groups with memberships exposed to academic and new ideas adopt and spread those ideas.
Those people settle into local churches and become influential in accountable movements (denominations).
It will get to us eventually.
So that’s why we sometimes have to get into issues, even though they seem far removed from us.
Especially when it involves something as central to the Gospel as justification by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.


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The Reason For Sports – A Book Review

Ted Kluck loves Jesus. Ted Kluck loves the Church. Ted Kluck also loves sport.
The Reason For Sports (2009, Moody Press, 154pgs) enjoys the subtitle ‘A Christian Fanifesto’. Very cleverly it disguises the fact it is series of twelve largely unrelated essays, some adapted from columns that Kluck has written for magazines.
Kluck seeks to reflect on the passion that he and countless others share for competitive sport and relate those reflections to a Christian worldview. Watching individuals or teams excell at the highest levels, taking pleasure from the success of those whom you support, and generally feeling deflated when they lose. Many of these high achieving individuals also veer dangerously toward atitudes and actions which can be self-destructive and wrong. Yet the fascination with them remains.
The book is written from a US context so many of the names will be unfamiliar to Australian readers, apart from boxers Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson and golfer Tiger Woods. I did not know that Ricky Williams, an NFL player of repute, left the game and spent time in an Australian commune.
In spite of the fact that the stories involve athletes and teams who are largely anonymous, the names of Australians almost implant themselves on some of these narratives: Warne, Ablett, Carey, Fevola, Sailor, almost any Rugby League player have had their personal failings and transgressions played out in the public arena and the situations described here echo aspects of stories with which we are familiar. As someone who remembers the first premiership/competition wins of the Queensland State of Origin, Wynnum-Manly Seagulls, Brisbane Broncos, Queensland Cricket and Brisbane Lions the pleasures and the pains of which Kluck writes are very familiar.
His writing style is also very engaging with an amusing and self-deprecating voice, which make his writing an easy read.
Because these figures achieve with such passion and with such visibility their successes and failures are larger than life. It is in his observations about character, fame, fallenness and morality that emerge from these big canvasses that he draws conclusions that are applicable to the lives of all people.
Most of us want to identify with success of our heroes and disavow them in their failings. Kluck points out that their successes in the arena are most likely beyond our capacities, but that their personal failings are far more likely to be reflected, in some measure, in our lives and it it here that we (and they) can learn our lessons.
This is a thoughtful book that can be picked up and read from at any point. You could read it in a sitting or come back to it over a period of time.
There are insights about the Creator, the Redeemer and the human condition, both fallen and redeemed.
Most sports fans who are happy to read the sports section of the newspaper should happily be able to get through it without any problems at all.
A good gift for someone who enjoys sport, but also likes to have a bit of a think about deeper issues.

The Reason For Sports is available at Koorong.


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Is The Cross A Christian Symbol?

Here at the Mount Gambier cemetery, right at the top of the driveway, stands a large wooden cross, standing three meters high, made of two posts bolted against each other. It is central, imposing, but it’s made of wood. It will not last forever.
I wonder, because my mind wonders such things, that if the time ever comes what the attitude would be to its replacement. What about in the meantime? Will there be those who would seek its removal as a Christian symbol in a public space?
Our war memorial, located in a park near the center of town, also prominently features a cross in its design. Made of stone, it will not decay any time soon, but what of its future. Many similar places around our country feature the imagery of the cross.
In the USA there are a number of court cases being fought seeking to removal of crosses on display on Government land. Here is a report on one such case, from the Dallas Morning News.
A six foot cross stands in the Mojave desert. Currently covered in plywood so no-one can see the offending shape contained within. Its presence on public land is opposed by those who believe the law of the US forbids government to demonstrate any partiality to any particular religion.
Look these cases up on Google. Visit wikipedia. Given the sensitivities surrounding these cases open source record histories contain a fairly balanced record.
I’m concerned that folk who acted in good faith (pardon the term) are threatened with the removal of memorials that have stood for a long time. There will be lots of upset folk on either side. I think that it is insensitive to memorialise a group which includes people of non-Christian religions or no religion at all with a symbol that is considered Christian.
There are levels and levels of consideration here.
There is no biblical ground that mandates the cross as a Christian symbol. The only two physical symbols committed by Christ to the Church were bapstism and the supper. The Lord did tell us to take up our cross daily, but the metaphor involved does not carry the same weight as the sacramental signs.
Use of the cross as a symbol of Christianity is a choice, but one that no Christian should feel compelled to defend with as central to their faith.
If that is accepted, what should we make of the cultural appropriation of the cross by wider Western culture as a symbol representing death?
It shouldn’t make us think that those who do so are ‘Christian’ in some cultural way. Their doing so may actually make it harder for those who act for purely cultural reasons to accept that they may not be Christian.
So, rather than feeling threatened, when these sorts of issues arise, and they probably won’t go away we need to know what is essentially Christian and be prepared to defend that. There will be others who will fight for memorials, symbols and history. We may even have cause to join them from time to time. But this is not our central calling.
Our calling is to defend the Gospel.
We’re not defending the symbol, we proclaim the truth that stands behind it.

For some expert commentary, below is a clip from the Colbert Report. It is a satirical comedy television show hosted by Stephen Colbert who portrays himself as a politically conservative commentator. His commentary on the Mojave Desert Cross case is very amusing. Don’t forget to read all the text blurbs as well.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


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The Power Of Unapology – Lessons From Our Unrepentant Prime Minister

Fairfax journalist Annabel Crabb wrote a wry article about our unapologetic Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Read it here. As an old Melburnian the link is to the Age website. Sorry for those who avoid such places.
Crabb makes the observation that having been a figure of enthusiastic contrition for the failings of those who had preceded him, our PM has been more in the habit lately of refusing to apologise for positions that he is not really being asked to repent of.
The word ‘unapologetic’, when used to describe an attitutude or action makes the said attitude or action seem bold, decisive, possibly defiant, and serves to gather those who agree with the said attitude or action into a bold partnership of mavericks.
Crabb’s illustration of the principle using puppies is laugh out loud stuff.
She also provides us with the splendid phrase ‘champagne unrepentence’ to describe how PM Rudd has managed to unapologetically champion two seemingly conflicting policies over the one issue.
Christians are used to apologising for one thing after another. And rightly so.
But these days we may be getting a little unapologetic ourselves.
When it comes to issues such as Scriptural authority, penal substitutionary atonement, worship that is focussed on God, the imperative of evangelism and living according to God’s Word we may be tempted to say that we embrace these positions apologetically, as if we’re brave or principled to hold them.
Scripturally speaking, we don’t hold these positions, these positions hold us.
The Holy Spirit has regenerated us and to Spirit indwelt minds the Scriptures are life and truth.
We don’t need tricks with words to try and make our position seem marginal, edgy or brave. The Gospel has its own power.
The truth by which we are saved and then live by comes to us not in ‘plausable words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might rest not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
Our positions are true, not because we hold them with vigour (or unapology) but because they are true.
So let’s affirm them with simplicity, humility and gratitude.
After all, it’s not about us, it’s about the Gospel.


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Pudim De Coco – East Timorese Dessert Recipe

My youngest daughter has to do a project on a foreign country. She chose East Timor because she knew someone who had a thousand photos of East Timor on their computer, along with a couple of books and some scarf/tais.
Part of the presentation involves preparing food from the country in question. A quick computer search offered us Pudim De Coco. A preliminary effort ended in disaster, but another search offered us a more reliable recipe.
The recipe turns up in Brazilian and Portuguese cooking sites as well. This is not a suprise, since East Timor was a Portuguese colony. As the ingredients show it is a combination of cultural ingredients.
Basically, it’s a coconut based baked custard.
After our disaster effort, the other recipes we found all seemed to have the basic ingredients in common.
Here’s a recipe I found on Recipezaar:

You’ll need a bain marie (large tray with water in it that you can sit your baking dish in it) in an oven preheated to 180 degrees. Since we’re sharing this at school we chose a rectangular corningware baking dish about 20cms by 12cms and 5cms deep. Think creme caramel. You could make this in individual ramakins or a souffle dish.

Caramel sauce.
2 tablespoons of water
1 cup of sugar
Place in saucepan without stirring, bring to boil and simmer until the sugar changes colour to golden brown. This takes some time, and the mixture will look pretty ghastly for a while. Don’t weaken. Don’t stir, just wait.
Pour this into the bottom of your baking dish. We prewarmed our baking dish in the oven. Make sure the mixture covers the whole bottom of the dish. It’s good for the mix to cool while you make the custard mix.

Custard. (This is so easy)
5 eggs
1 can low fat condensed milk
1 can coconut cream (maybe you could use low fat as well, but what’s the point?)
Break eggs into mixing bowl, whisk to make sure egg is completely broken up.
Add condensed milk and coconut cream, mix thoroughly.
Pour into the baking dish.
Cover with foil.

Place the dish in the bain marie and cook for an hour or so, until you can slide a knife or skewer in and have it come out clean. I like a firm texture anyway.
Allow to cool and spend the night in the fridge.
Slide a knife around the edge, carefully turn out on a serving platter (you may need to let the dish sit in some warm water beforehand to loosen the caramel) and enjoy.
Cream and/or icecream are good.
Some time in the future I’m going to try the custard mix in small custard tarts.
Maybe we’ll add a photo tomorrow.


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How To Worship – A Helpful Instructional Video

Amazingly, or not, the Frame/Horton post has been the most viewed anything here for some time. In that spirit, here’s another area of controversy: How To Worship.
It’s probably best not to watch this while drinking anything.
I can confess to having tried most of this at different times in the past, kidney stones notwithstanding.
You can visit the website of the church that produced the video here. They seem to be able to laugh at themselves and then ask us to join in. As far as I can tell it was not made with a divisive and critical mind-set.
HT:David Ould


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A Mighty Fortress Is Our God – Sunday Songs

Today at mgpc we noted that it was Reformation Sunday, which falls each year on the last Sunday of October closest in date to October 31. It marks the date during 1517 when Martin Luther was reported to have nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg. All Protestants share this as an important event which marked the widespread revival which came to be known as the Reformation. (But you probably knew this.)
You also probably know that Martin Luther would write the words and compose the melody of the hymn based on Psalm 46 entitled ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’. (Ein feste berg ist unser Gott in the German.) The song is the national anthem of protestantism.
I don’t suppose I can assume that everyone has been singing along to this at church today. There seems to be a quiet embarrassment about the Reformation these days, as if it simply freshened things up a bit, and wasn’t a fundamental recovery of the central doctrine of the Gospel.

Luther’s german lyric has been translated into English many times.
I grew up with the translation of Thomas Carlyle which was included in the Church Hymnary, Revised.
1.
A safe stronghold our God is still,
A trusty shield and weapon;
He’ll help us clear from all the ill
That hath us now o’ertaken.
The ancient prince of hell
Hath risen with purpose fell;
Strong mail of craft and power
He weareth in this hour;
On earth is not his fellow.
2.
With force of arms we nothing can,
Full soon were we down-ridden;
But for us fights the proper Man,
Whom God Himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, who is this same?
Christ Jesus is His Name,
The Lord Sabaoth’s Son;
He, and no other one,
Shall conquer in the battle.
3.
And were this world all devils o’er,
And watching to devour us,
We lay it not to heart so sore;
Not they can overpower us.
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit;
For why? — his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.
4.
God’s Word, for all their craft and force,
One moment will not linger,
But, spite of hell, shall have its course;
’Tis written by His finger.
And though they take our life,
Goods, honor, children, wife,
Yet is their profit small;
These things shall vanish all:
The City of God remaineth!

Our newer Rejoice! hymnbook changed to a version based on the more widely used translation of Frederick Hedge.
I’m including a traditional version of Hedge’s translation though, primarily because it also uses the phrase ‘Lord Saboath’ (Lord of hosts), which Rejoice!s modernisation dispensed with.
1.
A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
2.
Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
3.
And tho’ this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim – We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
4.
That word above all earthly pow’rs – No thanks to them – abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro’ Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

The youtube is from Steve Green. Neither he nor the hymn really need me to commend them, but someone’s got to be hearing this for the first time, I guess.