Sky Links, 5-19-18

Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, who are champions at pouring beer.
-Isaiah 5:22

One Another Stuff
-Ron McKenzie

The New Testament does not teach us to worship with one other.

Instead, it tells us to do all these "One Anothers".

If we only come together for worship and listening to sermons, which the New Testament does not require, we will not have time to do the "One Another Stuff" that the New Testament does require. For these, we have to be together.

Is “Justification by Faith” the Gospel?
-Matthew Bates

...false gospels and their accompanying diseased faith requirements abound. And if these false gospels are not damaging enough, a blanketing apathy accompanies the entire quest for ultimate truth—“Who cares? What is on Netflix tonight?” Could this be because the church has misplaced the harnesses, clips, and ropes by pairing personal faith with a deformed gospel? Many of these pseudo-gospels are well known: consumerism, nationalism, physicalism, easy believe-ism, health-and-wealth, therapeutic moralistic deism, and utilitarianism.

In response, churches, especially those with a Protestant-evangelical heritage, pride themselves on clinging to the actual gospel, advertising that they are a “gospel-centered” or a “gospel-driven” church. In seeking to preserve the true gospel, these churches look back to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, and other early reformers. And what is this gospel? That we are justified by grace alone through faith alone, not by works. This is what the Bible emphatically teaches. Or does it?

It is precisely because of this rootedness in Scripture and in the Reformation’s slogans that Protestants, especially those with an evangelical heritage, might discover that “justification by faith” is the most surprising false gospel of all. Let me clarify by advancing three basic propositions:

(1) The “gospel” (euangelion) given to the apostles is true and unchanging.

(2) Justification by “faith” (pistis) is true and unchanging.

(3) But the gospel is not “justification by faith.”

So, the gospel is true, and justification by pistis (“faith”) is true, but they are not the same thing. From a biblical standpoint they are not even approximately equivalent. The problem is that both euangelion (“gospel”) and “justification by pistis” were understood in slightly inaccurate ways in the Reformation era, and then falsely equated. The result: confusion in the church’s theology of salvation.

Why claim that the gospel is not “justification by faith”? The answer is simple. When the Bible describes the boundaries and content of the gospel, justification by faith is never mentioned. There is no passage where “gospel” (euangelion) is straightforwardly equated with “justification by faith”?...

...If we were to take all of Paul’s statements where he delineates the content of the gospel, looking also at the four Gospels, the speeches in Acts, and other texts, we might find that the gospel contains certain core elements (Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 52).

Jesus the king:
  1. preexisted with the Father,
  2. took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David,
  3. died for sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
  4. was buried,
  5. was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
  6. appeared to many,
  7. is seated at the right hand of God as Lord, and
  8. will come again as judge.

So, the gospel is not justification by faith (pistis); rather it is a story about Jesus the Messiah centered upon his pistis (trusting allegiance) that includes his justification. More precisely, it is a Trinitarian story about Jesus the king. The Christ is sent by the Father, shows faithfulness to God and us in dying for our sins, is justified and raised, and is installed as king of kings. The purpose of this gospel is not said to be “salvation in heaven,” or anything like that. It is to bring about the obedience of pistis (embodied allegiance) among the nations, as Jesus the Christ pours out the Spirit. Then Jew and Gentile can be united together via the Spirit in the Messiah, that is, in Jesus the king.

What, then, should we make of our beloved doctrine of “justification by faith”? It is not the content of the gospel—not even close. It is, though, vitally important.

Briefly, our justification is not part of the gospel proper—only Jesus’s justification. Yet our justification is bound up with his. Meanwhile, our pistis (traditionally “faith” but better “allegiance” in certain contexts) is not part of the gospel proper either. Rather, it is the only valid response to the gospel. Meanwhile, the purpose of the gospel is not justification by faith, but allegiant obedience to Jesus the Messiah (the obedience of pistis) among the nations.

If Faith is Allegiance, then What is Justification by Faith?
-Matthew Bates

Contrary to Luther and his many heirs, the biblical gospel is not “justification by faith.” Nor is the gospel the Roman Road. It is not “trusting in Jesus’s righteousness alone.” These are not even accurate approximations to the gospel. These concepts may relate closely to the gospel, but when we begin to call them the gospel we introduce confusion, with dreadful theological and practical consequences. The actual biblical gospel is held in common by Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians worldwide, even if, ironically, it is not always called the gospel by individuals and groups that claim to be the most gospel-driven or gospel-centered.

The Bible’s most precise descriptions show that the gospel is the story of Jesus as framed by the collaborating work of the Father and the Spirit. The Father sends the Son to take on human flesh in the line of David. Jesus is faithful in dying for sins, is raised, enthroned as king of heaven and earth, sends the Spirit to bring Jew and Gentile together into one people of God united in the Messiah, and will return as king. This is a much wider gospel than mere “justification by faith” as it touches on the whole life-story of Jesus, as well as the Old Testament patterns and promises that frame it. I sought to outline this gospel in a previous Catalyst essay.

At the same time, “the gospel” is not infinitely wide. It is not a general positive message about God, or the whole story of salvation history, or the Nicene Creed, or the Trinity, or Jesus himself. It is definitely not helping the poor or a style of music.

Nevertheless even with this sharpening of the gospel, questions press. If the “gospel” (euangelion) is strictly a story about Jesus, then why is it good news for us?—how does it relate to “faith” (pistis)?—and how does “justification” (dikaiosynē) connect to these other terms? We will seek to outline answers to these three questions. This may just stimulate more questions. I try to answer many of them in Salvation by Allegiance Alone (Baker Academic, 2017). Here I merely hope to provide a starting point.

"How Long Have You Struggled with Pornography?"
-Wade Burleson

Paul Young believes Christ died for every human being who has ever lived or ever will live, those who are in heaven and those who are in hell. I believe Christ died for the elect. We both believe Christ died for the world, but Paul defines the world as every human being, whereas I define it as a particular people (the Bride of Christ) from every nation, every tongue, every kindred, and every family on earth. Paul Young treats every human being as a child of God, and thus connects with them in a deep emotional and spiritual level. I desire to connect with every human being in a similar manner to Paul Young.

In discussing the extent of the atonement, Paul Young told me a story of a couple of Calvinists who approached him to debate the subject. Paul observed that Calvinists typically approach him in pairs, one tall and lean the other short and plump. The tall one argued with Paul about the extent of the atonement and Paul responded, "So let me ask you a question. You have two boys, both of whom are your flesh and blood. One boy is saved because God chose Him, Christ died for Him and the Spirit regenerated Him. The other boy, however, is chosen by God to be a "vessel of wrath" upon whom judgement will fall as a demonstration of God's holiness and justice. My question for you is this: 'Does it bother you that you have one son who will be in heaven and one son who will be in hell?'" The tall Calvinist responded: 'It does not. God's purposes are good, and if my boy is a vessel chosen for the demonstration of God's wrath against sin, it will be fine with me."

Paul Young's next question was this: "How long have you struggled with pornography?"

I was shocked at Paul's question to the man. Paul explained to me that any human being who is so emotionally disconnected from their children's welfare that they can dispassionately speak of their eternal state without sorrow, tears or pleading with God for mercy, is a person who is disconnected from emotion in relationships. The tell-tale sign of a struggle with pornography, according to Paul, is an emotional disconnect from human relationships.

I may disagree with Paul Young about the extent of the atonement, but I can guarantee you I want to treat every person the way he does. I wish to believe like Charles Spurgeon who once said "God, save the elect and elect some more" and I wish to live like Paul Young who treats every human being as a chosen recipient of God's grace. My view on the atonement has not changed. I believe it is a particular atonement for those who believe. But I can tell you without hesitation I would rather be around people who believe in a powerful, universal atonement and treat everybody like a child of God than a limited atonement person who is emotionally disconnected from the human race. I'm not sure what camp that puts me in, but its one which I do not wish to leave.

To my fellow evangelicals: What you’re cheering in Jerusalem is shameful
-Richard Mouw

Those of us in the evangelical world who have on occasion publicly criticized the policies of the Benjamin Netanyahu government have been quickly reminded of the ways we are evoking God’s displeasure with us. My hate mail regularly features the promise that God made to Abraham when he informed the patriarch that he would be the father of a great nation: “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Genesis 12:3).

Well, let the hate mail keep coming, but this needs to be said: It was a shameful thing for evangelical pastors to be celebrating the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem while just a few miles away the Israeli army was killing dozens of Palestinian protesters against Israeli policies. (The death toll stood at 60 as of Tuesday, Palestinian officials said, and more than 1,700 people had been hospitalized.) It’s shameful, not only because they use their theology to make the moving of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem a matter of “eternal” significance, but also because they refuse to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, some of whom are themselves evangelical Christians.

Do I fear being cursed by God for saying that it was a shameful thing for these two pastors to join in the celebration at the opening of the Jerusalem embassy? No, because those who so easily invoke that ancient promise fail to think about what it covers. I do want God to “bless” Israel, as did the ancient prophets who regularly delivered divine messages to their compatriots.

But those prophets never called for an uncritical acceptance of whatever happened to be the current policies and practices of Israel’s leaders. Here, for example, is a typical one of those ancient messages from the Lord: “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice” (Malachi 3:5).

God is not indiscriminate in handing out blessings to Israel. God wants the leaders to promote the cause of righteousness, which has to do with, among other things, how they treat “the stranger in the land.” The ancient Hebrew writers were consistent in emphasizing his point: “And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

If we want God to “bless” Israel we should keep calling the present Israeli government to treat the Palestinians as those who are “born among you.” We do Israel no favors by praying at its celebrations while ignoring the grave injustices taking place not far away.

The evangelicals who send angry messages quoting the biblical passage about blessings and curses are right to insist that God both blesses and curses nations for what they do. And the time is long past for us as evangelicals to talk seriously together about God’s concern for justice in the Middle East. And while we are at it we can also talk, as evangelicals, about God’s concern for “the stranger” who is within and at our own American borders. It is always important to attend to these things. They are matters for which divine blessings and divine curses are at stake.