Theologically Driven


Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

Contributors to the blog include:

John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.

Can a Person Be “Overly Righteous”?

by Bob McCabe

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? (Ecclesiastes 7:16)

Can “be not overly righteous” really be saying what it seems to be saying? Does God actually want us to tone down our righteousness? In order to correctly determine the meaning of this clause, it must first be placed in its immediate context. The context of v. 16 is found in the paragraph of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, which reads:

(15) In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. (16) Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy [better translated as “astonish”] yourself? (17) Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? (18) It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

There are a number of different interpretations of the expression “be not overly righteous” in v. 16. We will examine three of these. The first interpretation can be called the golden mean view. When v. 16 is taken in connection with the command to avoid being excessively wicked in v. 17 (“be not overly wicked”), a number of commentators have concluded that this is a call to moderation, a golden mean between virtue and vice. As such, the author of Ecclesiastes, Solomon, is encouraging his audience to avoid living an excessively righteous or sinful life. The problem with this understanding is that it misses the point of the argument in the immediate context. It should be noted in v. 15 that Solomon had difficulty in understanding how God works out divine retribution. Solomon had seen a righteous man die while living a righteous life and an ungodly man live a long and prosperous life. This was an apparent inconsistency to what an Israelite living under the Mosaic Covenant expected. The advice to live a life of moderation does not fit the discussion of v. 15, nor any other portion of the Bible.

A second interpretation is the self-righteous interpretation. Some commentators understand the term righteous as a reference to self-righteousness. Therefore, when the writer says “be not overly righteous,” he means “don’t be self-righteous.” A problem for this view is found when we compare the Hebrew adjective saddiq, translated as “righteous” in v. 16 with its use in v. 15, also translated as “righteous,” as well as its corresponding noun seder, translated as “righteousness.” Let’s translate v. 15 with the idea of self-righteousness in it. “In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a self-righteous man who perishes in his self-righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.” The problem is that whatever righteousness is, it is the antithesis of wickedness. Therefore, the only type of righteousness that v. 15 can be referring to is a genuine righteousness. The self-righteous view does not fit the context.

A third and preferred interpretation is the genuine righteousness view. This view understands the term righteousness to be a genuine righteousness, as this Hebrew term is always used in the Old Testament. The righteousness described in this verse is the same kind of righteousness as found in v. 15. The righteousness in v. 16 is excessive (“overly righteous”) only in the sense that an Old Testament believer might simplistically expect God to honor his righteousness with immediate blessing. In v. 15 Solomon describes a situation where a genuinely righteous person receives what the wicked should get, and the wicked person receives what the righteous person should get. The point of v. 16 could be interpreted like this: “Do not be simplistically righteous with the expectation of immediate reward, neither be naively wise, why cause yourself to be astonished that God did not honor your righteous living with immediate blessing?” How does this fit in with vv. 17–18? When one sees the wicked prospering, he may lose heart and turn to an excessively sinful lifestyle. This should not be followed because God may immediately judge this sinner (v. 17). According to v. 18 the believer should avoid both extremes. In light of other portions of this book (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14), Solomon would argue that we should live righteously because God will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14); this is when the Lord will certainly reward His people.

For more detail info, see Wayne A. Brindle, “Righteousness and Wickedness in Ecclesiastes 7:15–18,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 23 (Autumn 1985): 243–57.


The Fight over the Date of Easter

by John Aloisi

Throughout church history professing believers have argued amongst themselves about all kinds of things. In retrospect, some of these debates have been key steps in hammering out the details of important theological issues. Other debates have been less than edifying. Many of the disagreements related to the date of Easter have fallen into this latter category.

People are often surprised when they discover that a series of significant and sometimes very bitter controversies have taken place over how to calculate the date of Easter. And as of [yet], the disagreement is still not fully resolved.

The controversy about when to celebrate Easter is usually described as taking place in four distinct phases. Space does not permit a discussion of each of these, but here’s a glimpse of the earliest phase. Writing in the fourth century, Eusebius described the first stage of this controversy when he wrote,

At that time [the late second century], no small controversy erupted because all of the Asian dioceses thought that the Savior’s paschal festival should be observed, according to ancient tradition, on the fourteenth day of the moon, on which the Jews had been commanded to sacrifice the lamb. On that day it was necessary to finish the fast, no matter what day of the week it might be. In churches throughout the rest of the world, however, it was not customary to celebrate in this way, since, according to apostolic tradition, they maintained the view that still prevails: the fast ends only on the day of our Savior’s resurrection [Sunday]. Synods and conferences of bishops were held on this issue… (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.23).

Eusebius also went on to tell of how Victor (bishop of Rome in the late second cent.) tried to excommunicate a large number of eastern churches for their practice of celebrating Christ’s resurrection on the 14th of Nisan. Needless to say, these were not some of the church’s brightest days.

Much more encouraging is the advice found in another early text. The Apostolic Constitutions is a document that was probably compiled in the late fourth century. Regardless of its exact origin, this document provides insight into how some early Christians celebrated the resurrection of Christ:

Break your fast when it is daybreak of the first day of the week, which is the Lord’s day. From the evening until the cock-crows, keep awake; assemble together in the church; watch and pray; entreat God. When you sit up all night, read the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—until cock-crowing. Baptize your catechumens and read the Gospel with fear and trembling. And speak to the people such things as will assist their salvation…. And from that point on, leave off your fasting and rejoice! Keep a festival, for Jesus Christ, the pledge of our resurrection, is risen from the dead! (Apostolic Constitutions 5.19).

Regardless of how one calculates the date of Easter, this last statement expresses the heart of why Christians have celebrated Easter for many centuries—Jesus Christ, the pledge of our resurrection, is risen from the dead! In celebrating Easter we celebrate the fact that Christ has conquered death and that just as God raised Christ from the dead, he will someday raise Christ’s followers as well (1 Corinthians 6:14).


“I Don’t Put God in a Box Like That.” Really?

by Ben Edwards

A common tactic used in discussions about God and His actions is to claim that the other person is limiting God. It comes up in questions about creation (“I don’t limit God to just six days for creation like you do. I think He could use evolutionary processes and take billions of years”), about the sufficiency of Scripture (“I don’t limit God to speaking in the Bible like you do. I think He still speaks to people today”), and about the way of salvation (“I don’t limit God to saving people through faith in Jesus Christ like you do. I think He can save people who never hear about Jesus.”) This tactic may intimidate a person. After all, who wants to limit God, or “put Him in a box”? We would never want to impose our restrictions on God. Surely a more open-minded and broad approach to these issues gives more honor to God and His ability, right?

There are at least two problems with the accusation that the person who holds these beliefs is limiting God. The first problem is that the person claiming not to limit God is in actuality limiting Him. Let me illustrate with the issue of the ways of salvation. In theory, there are two options in this scenario: (A) God will save only one way, e.g., those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ or (B) God will save through multiple ways. Someone who holds position B is accusing someone who holds position A of limiting God, but person B is also limiting God. If someone says that God saves people through multiple ways, they have eliminated option A, the option of only saving people through Jesus Christ. They have limited God to choosing option B. They have effectively said that God cannot choose one way of saving people—He must choose multiple ways. In other words, someone who says that God saves in multiple ways has “limited God” to saving in multiple ways, while someone who says that God only saves in one way has “limited God” to saving in one way.

The same is true for the other scenarios. So, if both people could be accused of “limiting” God, how can we determine which “limitation” gives more honor to God and His ability? That leads to the second problem. The position that will bring the most honor to God is the position that He claims for Himself. If we argue against what He has said, then we really dishonor Him.

Suppose my wife and I come to visit you and notice a picture on your wall that we like. We ask where it came from, and you say, “I bought it recently.” My wife believes you and says you have good taste, but I say “I don’t want to limit you to only buying this picture. I think you actually took that picture and made the frame yourself because you are a talented person.” Who is actually honoring you? I may seem to be honoring you because I’m arguing that you did something more impressive (at least to me), but my wife is actually honoring you more because she believes what you said. I’m actually dishonoring you by failing to believe what you said.

God has spoken to us through the Bible, and He has told us how He does certain things. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). If I say, “Jesus, I think you actually save people in many different ways because you are a loving and gracious person,” I may appear to be honoring Him. But in reality, I dishonor Him because I fail to believe what He says.
In essence, it’s not a matter of whether or not I “limit” God, but whether or not He has “limited” Himself and revealed that in His Word, the Bible. And if I really want to honor Him and His ability, then I need to study what He has said in the Bible and believe it (even if it doesn’t match up with what I think.)


Do I Answer a Fool? Or Do I Not?

by Bob McCabe

In Proverbs 26:4 we are commanded not to answer a fool, but in the very next verse we’re commanded to answer a fool. On the surface I am in a quagmire since both commands seem to be in conflict with each other. So do I or do I not answer a fool? This raises a larger issue about how to apply the various sayings found in the book of Proverbs.

One of two broad categories of proverbs is known as prescriptive proverbs (the other is descriptive). A prescriptive proverb does more than simply tell about the way life is. It seeks to characterize an attitude or an action in order to influence behavior (Klein, Blomberg, Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, 313–14). The focus of this post is to describe three types of prescriptive proverbs that will assist in applying them.

1. A prescriptive proverb that allows for exceptions is a generalization. At the minimum, there are two categories of generalizations. First, some proverbs allow for limitations in various circumstances. The example we initially saw in Proverbs 26:4-5 is certainly an example of this. There are contexts when we should avoid answering a fool lest we look like the fool; however, there are other settings when we should answer the fool so that he does not look wise in his own eyes. We must use godly discernment in determining which proverb to follow. In addition, wise planning with proper advice is praised in Proverbs 15:22. However, this is balanced by Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Parsons, “Guidelines for Understanding and Proclaiming the Book of Proverbs,” BSac 150 [1993], 160). The foolishness “bound in the heart of a child” in Proverbs 22:15 may provide a hindrance to the proverb in Proverbs 22:6 (Zuck, “A Theology of the Wisdom Books and the Song of Songs, in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, 234). Second, other proverbs are generalizations because they are bound to the dispensation of law. For example, Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, without painful toil for it.” The blessings of wealth were promised to obedient Israelites in Deuteronomy 28:8-14. This type of promise has temporal limits since it is not made to believers in the New Testament. At times, a generalization may even be limited in the dispensation of law. An example of this is Proverbs 10:30, “The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in the land.” When this text says the righteous will not “be uprooted,” the sage is referring to righteous Israelites not being uprooted from the land of Israel. However, there were exceptions to this, viz., Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we recognize this type of exception, my point is that the “land” emphasis in this proverb reflects that its was written under the dispensation of law and its direct application pertains to those living under the law, though its application allowed for exceptions.

2. A prescriptive proverb that has no exceptions is a moral absolute. This will often be true in proverbs dealing with an action or characteristic of God. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.” Another example is Proverbs 14:31, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” The instructional material in Proverbs 5against adultery by maintaining a proper marital relationship is a moral absolute. It upholds the moral absolute, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).

3. A prescriptive proverb may contain both a moral absolute and a generalization. Proverbs 3:1-2 is an exhortation to honor one’s father with a promise of long life and peace. The command to honor one’s parents is a moral absolute; however, the promise about long life is only a generalization, for Jesus Christ was the embodiment of honor to His earthly parents, yet He was crucified in His early thirties. “God in His sovereignty may make an exception as in the case of Jesus” (Parsons, 161, n. 72).

May God grant us discernment as we apply the wisdom of Proverbs.


How to Approach Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

In our last post we appealed to John 17 to show that a properly ordered witness for Christ must avoid the two poles of (1) being both in the world and of the world, hoping the gospel will advance wordlessly through personal intimacy alone (Christ of culture) and (2) being neither in the world nor of the world, hoping the gospel will advance through remote belligerence alone (Christ against culture).

If the reader is familiar with H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture, he will recognize two of Niebuhr’s five approaches, adapted here for my purposes. Niebuhr actually proposes three intermediate approaches, but I will select just one for further consideration: Christ and culture in paradox. (Note: I am using these categories somewhat differently than Niebuhr does, but I think they are helpful enough to be repurposed.)

In the paradox model, the Christian lives in two realms—as a citizen of the present, earthly/civic realm, and as a prospective citizen of heaven. In both these realms, Christ rules the believer’s activities, but in very different ways. In the earthly/civic realm, Christ rules indirectly through the dominion mandate by which everyman may, by submitting to God’s sovereign lordship over Creation, effectively rule over all that God has made as his vice-regents on earth. We do so by cultivating common/moral virtue, the sciences (Gen 1:28–31), and civic structures (Gen 9:6); by stewarding divinely granted “property” (whether material/physical, intellectual/ideological, ethical, etc.); and by obeying the second great commandment of loving neighbor as self (Matt 22:39). Specifically, this takes the form of being the very best possible citizens, workers, spouses, parents, students, and neighbors in the natural realm and under divinely imposed natural law. This is the duty of every person, and we should encourage/expect every person around us (regenerate and unregenerate alike), being fellow-image-bearers, to aspire to these selfsame goals. This is the duty of all image-bearers.

The believer’s goal in living this way is not only or even primarily to woo people into the second or heavenly/ecclesiastical realm (where Christ rules through shepherds in covenanted communities bound by the regulating principles of a comprehensive and inspired canon). Both Paul and Peter, however, suggest that by living in this way, even “without words,” we will routinely encounter opportunities for the Gospel (Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1; etc.)—and we should be ever looking for these. By setting Christ apart as Lord we will invariably stimulate people to ask us the reason for the hope that lies within (1 Pet 3:15). And the Christian Gospel is our answer, delivered from the standpoint of a clear conscience and in a context of mutual respect earned by “good behavior” (v. 16).

So if a believer should find himself working, say, in a public school setting, the approach would not be unregulated Gospel declaration (which will get one fired) or withdrawal to engage in remote denunciations of that “wicked and irremediable public school system” (the Christ against culture approach). Nor should the believer simply seek to “blend in” with the sterile, non-theistic worldview that usually prevails in this setting—and, frankly, in almost every civic setting (the Christ of culture approach). Instead, the believer should view himself as an agent of common grace, moral virtue, and neighborliness, humbly and proactively being the best citizen, steward, worker, and ethical mentor that he possibly can be with God as his witness. The believer need not continually announce his faith, but neither will he be able to conceal it; indeed, in very short order, he will be asked to offer a reason for why he is the way that he is. And the Gospel will have its day.

As circumstances allow, this approach can also countenance a more assertive face—after all, if unbelievers can ask believers reasons for the hope that lies within, the believer can freely inquire about the reasons for the unbeliever’s hopelessness, too! And by doing this, we can gently push open doors to the hopeful introduction of the Christian Gospel.

In either case, though, a paradox/antithesis will emerge. It must emerge. Believers and unbelievers all live in the very same world, but they have radically different worldviews that cannot long remain a secret. And it is the Christian’s role to deliberately enter this common world determined not to “become like the fool” (Prov 26:4), but instead to invite and answer the fool’s inquiries (Prov 26:5) with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15) so as to introduce them to God.


2 Extremes to Avoid for Evangelizing at Work

by Mark Snoeberger

I work in an almost exclusively Christian environment. With the exception of a few brief encounters with folks delivering packages, reading the gas meter, and such, my whole workday is spent with believers. I’m not the best person, I admit, to speak of sharing Christ in the workplace. Recent changes in my family’s situations, however, have left me thinking very hard about the topic, and I feel enormous pressure to offer them timely advice before their fresh opportunities deteriorate (as they so often do) into situations where opportunities for the Gospel have been effectively crushed.

In my experience, there are two major poles to avoid when answering this question. The first I’ll call the Christian Conquest approach. In this approach everyone around me is the enemy of Christ, and my sole purpose is do battle with them until they submit to Christ. To this end, I wear my Christianity on my sleeve: I post Bible verses all over my cubicle wall, hand out tracts liberally, tell everyone around me and especially under me that they must be born again, and start evangelistic conversations in any place and at any time. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I say, “No way! I don’t drink, and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid anybody who drinks because I’m a CHRISTIAN! Don’t ask me to hang out with you until you repent and join me at church.”

There’s a tiny part of me that admires a person like this, because he is willing to endure ridicule and social ostracism in order to make Christ known. And at the end of the day, so long as the Gospel is proclaimed, God sometimes uses this approach to save people. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best approach. Here’s why:

  • It’s unethical. If you’re being paid to make widgets and you decide to stop making widgets in order to share the gospel on company time, you are stealing from your employer, and that’s wrong. Just because the success of the Gospel is the Church’s highest mission does not mean that evangelism automatically trumps all of the believer’s other responsibilities (Titus 2:9).
  • It’s ineffective. Of course, just because something is ineffective does not make it wrong, but some things are ineffective because they are demonstrably wrong. And being a bad worker, and obnoxious person, or a hater crushes legitimate opportunities for the gospel (see, e.g., Matt 5:16; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Pet 3:1, 13–17). If your whole office regards you as snobbish and obnoxious, you are not being a good witness, no matter how many Bible verses are pasted on your wall (electronic wall or cubicle wall, it makes no difference).
  • It’s contrary to the essence of the Gospel. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God,” of course (1 John 2:15–17), and this must be remembered, but somehow that truth must be harmonized with the requirement to be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them” (Matt 9:10ff; 11:19; etc.). Whatever our relationship to unbelievers is to be, it most emphatically is not hostility! We hate their corrupt garb, yes, but all the while we must show mercy (Jude 23).
  • It’s sometimes even illegal. If you are being paid to do civic services or provide civic instruction in the civic arena, and you decide to offer religious services/instruction instead, you just might be fired. And if you do, it won’t be because you’re suffering for Jesus; it will be because you didn’t do your job. More on this in my next post.
  • This goes to a deeper philosophical issue: this approach doesn’t have a good handle on what it means to live in God’s two “kingdoms.” Some things we do in life as members of human society, as image-bearers living out the dominion mandate; other things we do as members of local Christian societies, as ambassadors living out the Great Commission. And while these spheres don’t conflict, neither can we conflate them.

The second pole I’ll call the Christian Synthesis approach. Everyone around me is a victim of sin, and my goal is to relate with them until I start to rub off on them. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share Christ, but that’s pretty awkward and off-putting, so I’ll be slow and subtle about it—so slow and so subtle that somehow it never happens. If a friendly group of co-workers asks me to come to the office party and share a few beers, I’ll go, but avoid getting tipsy by using some sort of lame medical excuse (or maybe I’ll blame the overbearing wife—that will get a good laugh and make me look relevant). If the topic of religion happens to come up, I’ll take them to an event at a relational, relevant church and hope the preacher gives a friendly, low-key Gospel message so I don’t have to do it. Realistically, though, it’s quite possible that religion will never come up in conversation—I might age out without anybody even knowing that I’m a Christian. Oh well, I tried.

The strength of this approach is that it takes seriously the expectations that Christians be the “friend of sinners” and even to “eat with them.” But there’s no antithesis—nothing at all that “sets Christ apart as Lord” or compels unbelievers to “ask the reason for the hope that I have” (1 Pet 3:15). It exemplifies Carson’s complaint that “to the degree that... Christianity has assimilated itself to the dominant ethos, reasons for anyone joining it are harder to come by” (Christ & Culture Revisited, 118) and suggests to thoughtful minds that there is no difference at all between unbelievers and believers save that believers are sinners saved by grace—an oft-repeated but savage lie. Instead it is a kind of “relational evangelism” that has never progresses past the “relationship.” And without a propositional Gospel, no matter how relational, it isn’t evangelism.

It seems to me that all believers are drawn to one of these two poles, and while my descriptions may be extreme, we all trend one way or the other. Some of us see the Christian’s role as standing against world. Some of us see the Christian’s role as being a part of the world. The truth is somewhere in between: Christ wants us—in fact he prays for us—to be in the world but not of it (John 17:15–16), a very delicate balance that can sometimes prove elusive. We’ll look at what this might look like in part 2 of this post.


6 Historical Positions on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

by Mark Snoeberger

A few months ago Bill Combs and I released a pair of blog posts that raised ire among some of our readers relative to the debate concerning divine sovereignty and human freedom. One of the barriers to fruitful dialogue that emerged in the ensuing discussion was one of definition—a failure to define historical positions in ways mutually acceptable to all participants in the debate. This failure has the potential to lead first to equivocation, then misrepresentation, followed by ad hominem attack, and even charges of heresy. This is unfortunate.

The following is a faithful attempt not (1) to debate the question or (2) to attach labels to people who don’t like to be labeled. Rather, it is an attempt to faithfully describe six key positions using historical descriptions (though not necessarily labels) that proponents of each position (whether historical or modern) can embrace:

  • A Pelagian is one who believes that man needs no assistance to come to God. By his own unaided power any man can avoid the pitfalls that ensnared Adam and generate all the faith and action necessary to follow Christ’s superior example and so be accepted by God. This belief was condemned as heresy at the 15th Council of Carthage in A.D. 418. This position is rare among evangelicals, and the label should not be assigned lightly.
  • A Semi-Pelagian is one who believes that every man, though weakened by the Fall, yet retains the ability, based on the power of choice granted him in the imago dei, to make a divinely unaided and a priori contribution of faith leading to his own justification. Any divine grace offered thereafter is truly grace, but grace of an a posteriori nature. This belief was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529.

NOTE: The term semi-Pelagian is unknown in antiquity, first appearing formally as a pejorative label for the 16th-century teachings of Luis de Molina, or what is sometimes known as Molinism—teachings that generally (though not perfectly) resemble the ancient position condemned at Orange. Some have suggested that the label Massilianism (a term that reflects the geographic center of the more ancient position) is more accurate, but it has not caught on. The result is a real historical position with definite modern representatives, but one with no label other than a pejorative that modern proponents of the position do not accept. This is a conundrum with no clear resolution; still, any suggestion that the historical position is imaginary because of the absence of a mutually agreeable label is unacceptable. The historical position described above does exist today, irrespective of the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Arminian position.

  • An Arminian is one who believes that man, though rendered totally depraved by the Fall, receives from God the non-efficacious power of alternative choice via prevenient grace either (1) at birth or (2) through the hearing of the Gospel. Thus aided by God, any man may, without compulsion, either reject or embrace Christ. If a man chooses to embrace Christ, this faith event triggers additional divine graces (the anachronistic grace of election based on God’s prior knowledge of the faith event, and the subsequent graces of justification and sanctification).

NOTE: Arminianism has never uniformly taught that the believer may lose his salvation. Instead, the question remains an open one, both historically (see the words of Arminius himself and the Five Articles of the Remonstrance) and also today (see the doctrinal standards of the modern-day Society for Evangelical Arminians and the representative words of Roger Olson, arguably the foremost Arminian of our day). All this goes to suggest that the question of eternal security should not be treated as a defining issue for the position here described. To do so without qualification is to introduce a red herring.

  • A Moderate Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, issues efficacious grace to his elect alone so that they may then exercise faith unto a regeneration and justification that can never be forfeited.
  • A Full or Historic Calvinist is one who believes that all men are rendered totally depraved by the Fall, but that God, in accordance with his pre-temporal and unconditional electing decree, efficaciously regenerates his elect, creating “new creatures” who gladly exercise faith unto a justification that can never be forfeited.

NOTE: Calvinism has never uniformly taught a definite or “limited” atonement. The question remains an open one that has long been the topic of intramural debate among Calvinists (see, e.g., the historical canons of Dordt and this recent contribution to the debate). Again, all this goes to suggest that the extent of the atonement should not be treated as a defining issue in describing the Calvinist position.

  • A Hyper-Calvinist is one that holds to the immediately preceding position, but teaches additionally that (1) believers have no responsibility to indiscriminately call the lost to repent and believe in Christ for salvation and/or that (2) unbelievers have no duty to repent and believe in Christ for salvation.

NOTE: Few believers ascribe to the label hyper-Calvinist; like the label semi-Pelagian, it is uniformly pejorative. However, it is a historical position with modern proponents: the position cannot be rendered imaginary due to the elusiveness of a label. The term should not be used, however (as it often is), in a historically inaccurate way to discredit those who hold to the Calvinist position.

Conclusion: The question whether a modern position may be logically crafted so as to present a viable via media or whether elements of these historical positions may be so combined as to offer a viable hybrid position will be graciously left open today. What is hoped, however, is that the historical parameters of the debate have been faithfully delineated.


How Long, Lord? Will You Forget Me Forever?

by Bob McCabe

I have cried out with these words from Psalms 13:1 on a few occasions. How do I know that it is legitimate to apply this verse to my life? And what about other psalms? While there are many ways to determine this, one is to consider a psalm’s historical setting. In examining this, there are two areas to consider.

The first is from the superscriptions that begin a number of psalms. For example, Psalms 3, an individual lament, informs us of two things: the author—”a psalm of David”—and the historical setting—”when he fled from his son Absalom.” The second area would be from the other biblical data found within the psalm itself and from any other place in the canon. For example, Psalms 2:1-3 indicates that this royal psalm was written during a time of turmoil in Israel, and Acts 4:25 says that David was responsible for Psalms 2. The combined data shows that this psalm was written in a time of turmoil during the reign of David.

However, we should be careful not to become excessively precise in identifying the historical details when a psalm as well as any other portion of Scripture does not provide specific information. It appears that the authors of many psalms wanted their inscripturated poetry to be used by other worshippers so they purposely communicated on a more general level. This was part of the their intention. In this type of context, we need to be content with a general knowledge of the historical setting. The superscription for Psalms 13, an individual lament, states two items: its musician—“for the director of music”—and author—“a psalm of David.” Unlike the heading in Psalms 3, Psalm 13 provides no information about its historical setting, though the superscription suggests that this psalm was composed during David’s lifetime. The content of Psalms 13 gives more information. This psalm indicates that David was in a time of extreme spiritual agony where God’s face seemed hidden from him and his enemies would triumph over him. In this agony, David prays to God and turns in faith to focus on God’s unfailing love (Psalms 13:5). In the end, he will be able to sing God’s praises about his goodness (Psalms 13:6). As the content of this psalm suggests, the details of this psalm could have taken place a number of different times in David’s life. He wrote this lament psalm in a generalized manner so that it could be used by other struggling worshippers like myself. In the final analysis, we can use this individual lament to guide us to rejoice in God’s goodness and his unfailing love.


Biblical Reasons to Believe that the Creation Days were 24-Hour Periods

by Mark Snoeberger

When Justin Taylor released a blog entry last Wednesday defending a non-literal use of days in Genesis 1, and thus suggesting at least the possibility that the universe is quite ancient, both Ben Edwards and I sat down, without consulting, to write responses. While identical in ideology, our approaches were different enough, I think to merit posting both. Below, then, is a point-by-point answer to Taylor’s major arguments followed by my own counterargument in favor of 24-hour days.

Taylor’s article begins with five alleged premises/presuppositions (appearing below in bold font style) of young-earth creationists (YECs). These I will address briefly:

  • Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2–2:3. Mostly False. While some YECs see Genesis 1:1 as a summary for the whole chapter, most do not. Instead, we see Genesis 1:1 as a description of the very first “actual event of creation,” ex nihilo, of the original raw materials of the universe. This event happened, we argue on Day 1, with vv. 3ff functioning as a detail of God’s manipulation of those materials. Indeed, a quick summary of YEC materials will divulge that the summary/titular view of Genesis 1:1–2 is held in contempt by a great many YECs because of its association with the old Gap Theory.
  • The creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself. True. But it seems to me that the burden of proof here rests with those who say that the creation week of Genesis 1:2–2:3 is not “referring to the act of creation itself.”
  • Each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to a 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11). True, and see below for a defense of this claim. Each of the ten uses of yom in Genesis 1 (though not each use of yom in the OT) fits the qualifications detailed below for a literal day.
  • An old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us. Mostly true. In theory one could hold to geological evolution without biological or human evolution, but this is rare. The critical concerns for the YEC are (1) that any old-earth geology model that uses evolutionary explanations of the fossil record contained in the geological strata to suggest animal death before the fall contradicts what Scripture tells us (Gen 1:31; Rom 8:18–22); and (2) that any suggestion of hominid death before the fall is not merely troubling, but catastrophic to the Christian faith (Rom 5).
  • The approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis. True. And I appreciate the qualifier “approximate,” because it is very important to a lot of us.

The article then turns to Taylor’s five reasons (again in bold) why the days of Genesis 1 are not necessarily literal. I will now address these in order.

  • Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary.

Agreed. As a YEC, I like this statement very much. But I would add an important qualification: Genesis 1:1 tells us that this actual act of creation occurred in the opening moments of Day 1 of the creation week and out of nothing. Verse two (commencing with an explanatory waw) then details the original appearance of those materials, and the rest of the chapter (with nearly every verse introduced by a waw consecutive, the standard marker of narrative sequence) detailing the divine manipulation of those raw materials into the universe as we know it.

Which brings me then to several objections to Taylor’s fuller explanation:

(1) That the verb “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense is very true. That “when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline” is less defensible. The perfect tense is by far the most common tense used in Hebrew and as such carries very little exegetical freight (think the aorist in Greek). Having said this, the likeliest explanation of the verb is that it details an event that is actually part of the biblical story line, not an undefined precedent to the storyline that stands temporally outside of it. See below.

(2) I also disagree that Genesis 1:3–2:3 represents a “highly patterned structure of forming and filling” (informed readers will recognize here the language of the highly inventive “framework theory” popular today). Instead, this chapter is, in terms of its linguistic features, a very mundane and simply structured piece of Hebrew narrative not unlike most of the rest of the book. All the syntactical and rhetorical features of this chapter point routinely to a narrative sequence of consecutive days—days that must necessarily occur in immediate succession for the very survival of the unfolding universe.

  • The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day.”

Building on his assumption, above, that Genesis 1:1–2 details the background to the creative week, Taylor’s article now clearly asserts that light, darkness, earth, and water existed before the creation week (and apparently a long time before, in order to accommodate the assured results of science). However, if, as I have argued in point (1), Genesis 1:1–2 details the actual creation of the unformed and unfilled materials that occurred on Day 1, this argument fails.

Who is right? Well, Exodus 20:11 gives us a very clear answer: “In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” There could be no plainer rebuttal of Taylor’s affirmation: the heavens and the earth and the seas were not created “before the first day,” but rather on one of those six days, viz., the first.

Taylor’s arguments that (1) light existed before the celestial beings and (2) reached earth immediately are thorny ones for which YECs do not have a unified answer, but few see these as serious problems. In answer to the first problem some YECs argue a temporary light source or light sourced in God himself. Ultimately the debate is incidental. After all, God hears without ears and sees without eyes, so it is not hard for us to extrapolate light without a sun. In answer to the second problem some suggest that God created with apparent age and others that the speed of light has slowed since the creation week. Again, however, this is an intramural and incidental debate. God is a supernatural God who makes bread appear instantly without growing the grain, milling it, or baking it; likewise, making mature light is not difficult for our supernatural and omnipotent God.

  •  The Seventh Day Is Not 24 Hours Long

Sure it is. Miles Van Pelt’s comments aside, it would appear that the argument from Exodus 20:11 is unassailable. The Israelites were to work six ordinary days and rest for one ordinary day, just as God created in six ordinary days and rested for one ordinary day—one that started at evening Friday and ended the same time on the following day. That the original Sabbath, by analogy, points to a greater rest for the people of God (Heb 10 etc.) in no way suggests that the Sabbath template itself was itself a “greater day.” Admittedly, there is no “evening-morning” clause used of the seventh day in Genesis 2, but there is no syntactical reason forthcoming to believe that it was anything other than an ordinary day.

  • The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long.

True. And you’ll not find a YEC who affirms otherwise. Some will be astonished by this, no doubt, but we young-earth creations really have noticed Genesis 2:4 before today, and our answer is long-standing and well developed—if only our detractors cared to read rather than assume our arguments. The YEC argument is not an unqualified affirmation that the word yom always refers to a 24-hour day. If one of us were to make such an argument, then our old-earth brothers would have good reason to snicker. But we don’t say this. And so I beg the old-earth community to have the integrity to stop rehearsing this silly strawman as though it were a legitimate argument.

The qualified argument that YECs use is instead this: The Hebrew word yom, when cast in the singular and as a non-compound grammatical structure (as it does hundreds of times in the Hebrew OT), has uniform reference to a 24-hour day.

We fully appreciate the fact that the semantic range of yom exceeds literal 24-hour days, and that Genesis 2:4 offers syntactical features that point to a broader use of yom. This in no way threatens the young-earth argument.

Genesis 2:5–7 is a difficult passage with many options for interpretation, as all versed in the discussion will admit. However, the unabated series of waw consecutives in a Toledot genre seems to cast some doubt on Futado’s understanding of this pericope as a “topical” reenactment of Genesis 1. Instead, a very good case can (and has) been made that these verses offer a narrative detailing the establishment specifically of the Garden of Eden, and not of the earth generally (see McCabe).

This brings me, finally, to five positive arguments why we ought to think of the days of Genesis 1 as literal, several of them distilled from the material above:

  1. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because when one examines the many other singular uses of yom in a non-compound grammatical structure throughout the OT, the idea of a literal day is nearly universal.
  2. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because they are accompanied by ordinals (first, second, third, etc.). Of the more than 150 uses of yom with an ordinal in the rest of the Hebrew OT, just one (Hos 6:2) refers to something other than a literal day.
  3. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because of the use of the qualifier “evening and morning” throughout Genesis 1. It seems to go without saying that while literal days have mornings and evenings, figurative days do not.
  4. The days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because anything other than literal days renders the comparison with Exodus 20:11 a matter of equivocation. Israel worked six literal days and rested for one literal day. God created for six literal days and rested for one literal day. The idea of God creating via a six-point framework and then resting eternally does not seem to offer much of a precedent for Israel’s seven-day workweek.
  5. Finally, and more historical/theological than exegetical in nature, the days of Genesis 1 are literal, 24-hour days because this has been the overwhelmingly majority plain reading of the text throughout church history—at least until it came into conflict with the “assured results of modern science.” The old-earth idea of non-literal days is without serious doubt a product not of grammatical-historical exegesis, but of the accommodation of the Bible to the assured results of modern science as independent, norming factors in biblical interpretation. Old-earth creationism is at its heart a blunt denial, I would argue, of the Bible as the norma Normans non normata.

Of course, we must deal with one last objection. There are noble figures in church history that expressed doubt about the literal nature of the Genesis 1 days (though, interestingly, Taylor cited just one who lived prior to the modern period). Augustine is Taylor’s lone exception, and while others might admittedly be cited, Augustine remains a favorite go-to source for old-earth creationists. I’d like to challenge this, not because I doubt the old-earth account of what Augustine believed, but because his argument is fueled neither by exegesis nor modernist principles, but by theology. Specifically, he doubted that that an infinite God would ever need to work for six days to accomplish anything (much less rest), and suggested that these were instances of anthropomorphic condescension: God created his universe instantaneously, but cast the event in the anthropomorphic language of the passage of time for the understanding of finite humans. In other words, while Augustine and Machen both doubted that the days Genesis 1 were to be understood as literal, the basis of their respective arguments is worlds apart, diminishing their value as parallel sources.

Finally, I would like to point our readers to two very competent defenses of this position with considerably greater detail, one by Bob McCabe and another by Gerhard Hasel.


3 Reasons Why Some Christians Avoid Church

by John Aloisi

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the myth of unchurched Christians. Unfortunately the reality is that there are a good number of professing Christians who either shy away from church membership or avoid church attendance altogether. The problem of professing Christians who neglect church involvement is sadly not a myth.

There are a number of excuses that such professing believers give for their lack of church involvement. Here are three that I’ve heard:

  1. “I’ve been hurt by a previous church (or church leader).”

Sadly, this reason is often grounded in reality. Many people have been emotionally torn up by the actions of other people. Churches are full of sinners—hopefully, redeemed sinners, but sinners nonetheless. It should come as no surprise that sinners sin, and although all sin is ultimately against God, human sin often has harmful consequences in the lives of people who have been sinned against. But someone’s sin against you is not a good excuse for you to sin against God by ignoring his plan for this dispensation which is for his people to identify with a local church.

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites.”

Yes, local churches contain people who live hypocritically. To some extent, every person that acknowledges the lordship of Christ but continues to sin is acting hypocritically. This was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem in the twenty-first as well. As long as believers possess a sin nature, they will sin against their Lord and Savior, and such sin runs contrary to their profession. However, this isn’t a good reason for avoiding the church, for few things could be more hypocritical than professing to love Christ while refusing to identify with his people in a local expression of the body of Christ.

  1. “I can worship God better on my own.”

Some professing believers speak of being “churchfree” or “satellite Christians.” They feel that because they can approach God directly through Christ, they do not need to be connected to a local church. In fact, some profess that their relationship with God has actually improved by walking away from the church. But if God’s plan for this age involves his people assembling together for worship, fellowship, and mutual accountability, then it doesn’t ultimately matter how one feels. The quality of one’s worship is not completely separate from affections or “feelings,” but feelings cannot override commands. One cannot worship God better by ignoring his instructions and the model that is pretty clearly laid out in the NT.

Sometimes these three excuses are used together, as if one could build a cumulative case for why he or she doesn’t need to be connected to a local church body. I’ve provided only the simplest replies to these excuses. Here are a few NT passages so-called unchurched Christians must wrestle with if they wish to continue excusing their lack of local church involvement:

Acts 16:5: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.”

1 Corinthians 5:2, 4–5, and 12–13: “Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan…. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

1 Timothy 3:14–15: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 13:7, 17, and 24: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith…. Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account…. Greet all your leaders and all the Lord’s people.”

See also Acts 15:41; 1 Cor 1:2; 1 Cor 4:17; 1 Cor 7:17; 2 Cor 8:1–24; Gal 1:2; 1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:5–9; Jas 5:14; and 1 Pet 5:1–4 among others.


Jesus’ Ethics: Four Observations

by Jared Compton

One of the lectures I give each year in my Gospels class is titled “Who’s Invited and What Should They Do?” In the first part (“Who’s Invited?”), I talk about who it was Jesus invited (invites) to follow him, to repent and believe, to enter his kingdom. Here we talk about what the label sinner meant in the first-century and how it described those who’d transgressed both God’s law and the “laws” of Palestine’s religious establishment. In the second part (“What Should They Do?”), I try to sketch Jesus’ ethics. What sorts of behavior did (soon-to-be-king) Jesus require of his disciples? Here we look at the epitome of Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). I’ve yet to finish off this talk feeling like I’ve done justice to Jesus’ sermon. And, considering its importance—these are Jesus’ ethics, after all!—I’m very interested in doing a better job. Just yesterday, in fact, I received in the mail a new book I’d ordered on the sermon. It’s part of a new commentary series (!) by Zondervan entitled “The Story of God Bible Commentary.” It’s by veteran Gospels scholar and teacher Scot McKnight. In his introduction, McKnight summarizes Jesus’ ethics with four observations that I found helpful. Here I thought I’d simply share them and encourage any of you puzzled by the sermon to get McKnight’s book and see how (if?) each observation plays out in Jesus’ ethics. (That’s, at least, what I’m going to do.) Before I list them, let me also say that the first three are what, it seems to me, McKnight thinks sets Jesus’ ethics off as biblical ethics, over against the ethical programs of Aristotle (virtue ethics), Kant (duty or deontological ethics), and Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism; cf. consequentialism). And the last one sets his ethics apart as fulfillment-era ethics. That is, it reflects the fact that these are ethics coming from one who came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17–20). So, according to McKnight, Jesus ethics are...

(1) ethics from above. Jesus’ ethics are divinely-revealed ethics. Just as the Torah came from God, so also does Jesus’ “law.”

(2) ethics from beyond. Jesus’ ethics, like the prophets of old, encourage the people of God to live in the present in the light of the future. (Here I couldn’t help thinking of the way Peter puts this in 2 Pet 3:11.)

(3) ethics from below. Jesus’ ethics, like Israel’s wisdom traditions, encourage the people of God to live in God’s world in God’s way. Live in light of the way the world works (or, is supposed to work).

(4) messianic ethics. Jesus’ ethics are ethics for the new era brought about by messiah’s death and resurrection and, moreover, they are possible only for those filled with the eschatological spirit, Jesus’ new community.


Unchurched Christians, Minotaurs, and Other Mythical Beasts

by John Aloisi

From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken, but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.

Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.

More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.

The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.