Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Theology (page 1 of 2)

Our God Has a Name

yhwhOur God is personal. He relates. Fundamental to his very existence is the reality that he exists as a person in community. From eternity past the Father has loved the Son (John 17:24). He is a personal, relational-covenant-keeping God.

And because he is personal, he has a name. I think it might be time for us to familiarize ourselves with it again.

Lately I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ excellent book titled, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Here’s an insight that resonated with me.

For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. 1

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Notes:

  1. Kindle edition, location 156.

A Confession That Connects

A Good Pattern to Follow

When we planted Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills there was very little that we wanted to do differently from what we had seen. You might have been able to tell from the name that we chose (we were planted by another Grace Fellowship Church), but we firmly believed — and still believe — that the pattern that had been established for us was a good one.

That church prioritizes the word, exalts Christ, depends on God in prayer, worships him with authentic and theologically rich singing, and lives out some genuine New Testament fellowship. She is led by godly elders and served well by deacons that look an awful lot like Jesus in their Christ-like serving. All the essentials are there, so there really was very little to change when we planted.

That being said, we didn’t simply want to copy & paste, or go with a church-in-a-box mentality either, so we carefully investigated just about everything so that from top-to-bottom we were making sure that we weren’t just assuming essentials.

We wanted to act out of conviction, not convention.

Taking a Different Turn

One place where we decided to head in a different direction was in our Statement of Faith. While we believed (and still believe!) everything in the Statement of Faith from our planting church, we wanted something a little more. Our desire was twofold for our Statement of Faith:

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680 News and Theology of Law

One news headline caught my attention today. This is what it said:

Junction neighbourhood bully gets more jail time for harassment

680news_icon

The headline caught my attention not because it’s the biggest news story of the day, but because I have friends and family who live and work in this area, so it was a matter of concern for me. The story is relatively mundane (hey, it’s life in the Junction!), but one line in particular startled me.

When speaking of the ‘neighbourhood bully’ who has been forced by the courts to move, one man offered this profound theological insight:

“The law can’t force a person to love thy neighbour,” John Ritchie said. “But the law can stop the conduct and this behaviour.”

Wow! Unless this man is a pastor, theologian, or mature believer, I think he probably spoke better than he knew. This is biblical truth.

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Newsflash: The New Testament is Shorter

Call me Captain Obvious if you like, but the New Testament is shorter than the Old Testament. I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that in some sense the length of the two covenant documents speaks to the relationship between the covenants themselves and what is required of the people who are part of those covenants.

Simply asking the question, ‘Why is the New Testament shorter?’ helps us to see the nature of the covenants in contrast. For example, here are at least two parts of the answer that I would give you to that question:

1. There are no genealogies in the New Testament

One of the things that makes the Old Testament longer is the accumulation of stories of family lines. So, for example, the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 is vital because it records God’s preservation of the line of Judah. The Old Testament is filled with both genealogies and narratives that preserve bloodlines.

The New Testament, on the other hand, has no genealogies (except for that of Jesus, which is the climax of the Old Testament). There are no stories of fathers and children, no stories of family lines being preserved.

This makes the New Testament shorter. It also illustrates one of the fundamental differences between the covenants. The older covenant was passed on from generation to generation through bloodlines and families (Gen 15.3-5), while the newer is passed on through gospel proclamation and faith (2 Tim 2.2). Therefore, the New Testament simply has the book of Acts which records how the gospel was proclaimed and believed. That’s all there is for narrative. There is no ongoing record of families which must be saved because God’s people will now be made up of ‘all nations’ as they become disciplines… adopted children.

2. There is no case law in the New Testament

A second reason why the Old Testament is longer is because Moses and many prophets after him are forced to belabour the teaching of the Law in any and every imaginable context (and even some rather unimaginable ones!). Every time I read through the Old Testament I’m amazed at some of the case law and think to myself, ‘Really? Someone did that? And they needed to set a precedent law against it?’

In the New Testament, however, there is a distinct lack of laws (note: I didn’t say distinct lack of Law). You would think that as the New Covenant was being received and applied across cultural boundaries and geographical regions and religious backgrounds there would be a lot more Acts 15-type-moments. But in reality, there aren’t, simply because the New Covenant isn’t about setting case law. That’s not the nature of this covenant.

For example, when the Corinthians ask Paul about whether or not they are free to eat meat sacrificed to idols, he does not deliver case law that is binding on all Christians. Rather, he holds up the ideal of freedom and then allows it to be swallowed up by the law of love so that individual Christians simply cannot answer the ethical question without coming face to face with the question, ‘What is love and am I willing to be governed by it?’ (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). He does the same thing again when it comes to the exercise of spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12-14). Love is the law that governs all of Christian behaviour in the New Testament (John 13.34-35).

And so it is written…

When you’ve only got one law that trumps in any and every situation, and you don’t have to record genealogies and family histories spanning thousands of years, you can write a much shorter covenant document. Which is precisely what we have.

How Do You Feel About Predestination?

Abraham & Isaac

The doctrine of God’s electing individuals to salvation, apart from any good in them (either actual or foreseen) is known as unconditional election (o predestination). It is exemplified in Isaac’s twin sons: ‘…when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”‘ (Romans 9.10-13).

Predestination is a doctrine that is often at the centre of controversy. And too often the controversy could be quelled, if not quenched, by a calm tongue and a gentle answer (Prov 15.1). But too much of the time those who believe the most strongly in predestination are (rightly or wrongly) associated with pride and arrogance and preachiness, rather than humility, gentleness, and love.

But that should never be.

That’s just one of the reasons why I loved reading this in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of faith the other day:

The doctrine of the high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election; so shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel. (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5; 2 Peter 1:10; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 11:33; Romans 11:5, 6, 20; Luke 10:20)

That’s a big mouthful, but basically it’s saying that this isn’t a doctrine to be wielded like an ax, to wound our enemies, but should be applied carefully, like a balm to give courage to wounded souls, and like a call to worship for those who embrace it and are humbled by God’s grace. For those who know the doctrines of grace and love them, this should be the very thing which calls forth our humility and our worship like nothing else. It should never be a source of pride and it is not a doctrine to be handled flippantly.

So how do you feel about predestination? Does it make you condemn those who don’t understand it? Or does it make you marvel at God’s mercy?

The Pendulum Drives Everything

A pendulum

The pendulum drives everything. Okay, maybe not everything, but most things.

What we perceive to be an excess in one direction drives us to correct the balance by moving in the other direction. Over and over and over. I’ve seen this in other people and I’ve seen it in myself.

The more we run from doctrinal error that we see in others, the more likely we are to fall into the opposite error ourselves. An over-the-top notion of male headship leads to the rise of feminism. An over-emphasis on the sovereignty of God leads to open theism. A preacher who makes a huge deal out of minor issues will eventually find that people stop listening to the things which actually are important. If my friends discipline their kids too much, I want to bring balance to the universe by letting my kids run wild.

For every wrong over-emphasis there is an equal and opposite corresponding over-emphasis in the other direction. More often than not when I have made a theological move it has been as much about moving away from something I perceived to be wrong as it is moving toward something I perceived to be right. That’s not entirely wrong, but I think it does warrant caution.

It has made me want to move slower and ask more questions.

  • Is the content of the position really erroneous or has it just been given inappropriate weight?
  • If I am moving from an extreme position, am I moving to an extreme position? Is there a middle-ground?
  • What is good in the position I’m rejecting that I stand to lose?
  • If I’m rejecting something because I feel like I don’t like it, why do I feel like that?
  • Who am I following? Are they prone to unnecessary extremes?
  • Does the measure of my passion for this issue reflect the Bible’s passion for and clarity on this issue?

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting old and mellow. But it seems to me that if we’re always moving between extremes, we’re probably passing the truth somewhere in the middle every time. And if I’m just always stuck on the same extreme, I’m probably always just as far away from the truth as I was before.

The trick, I think, is to be pulled to truth like a magnet to its pole rather than to be pulled away from extremes to opposite extremes. Easy to say, harder to live.

I pray that God, by his grace, would allow me to cultivate a deep enough longing for truth in my heart that I would pursue truth out of an ever-increasingly-pure and purified mind that is willing to be wrong, willing to change, willing to believe what I may not like at first, and willing to stay put even when it seems like it would be nicer to change camps.

And I also pray that he would give me friends who observe me carefully and tell me when I’m just over-reacting.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Jesus is So Obviously God

The Holy TrinityFor those who have eyes to see, it couldn’t be clearer: Jesus is God. It’s everywhere in Scripture.

Of course there are a few key proof texts that can be used in isolation, but really it is the whole storyline of the Bible that, when brought together, can leave us with no other impression than this: Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God because ‘in him the whole fullness of deity dwells’ (Col 2.9).

I see this all the time in studying, but thought I’d just share this one because it struck me as particularly glorious today.

I’m studying to preach the last half of Mark 10 (verses 32-52). In this section Jesus prophesies his coming death and resurrection, in which he will bear the wrath of God (handed over to the Gentiles, drinking the cup, enduring the baptism — all biblical images for the wrath of God) in order to ‘ransom’ (could also be translated ‘redeem’) ‘many.’

Now, right away that should stick out to us for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is Psalm 49.7, which says, ‘Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life.’ So how can Jesus, then, if he is just a man, ransom ‘many’ with his life? Something bigger is clearly happening here. That gets drawn out more as we turn to Isaiah 44.

The burden of this section of Isaiah (40-48) is twofold: (1) God will redeem his people from exile — a second ‘Exodus’; and (2) the fact that he announces beforehand what he will do is what clearly sets him alone apart as God. That God has the power to act to redeem his people and the ability to declare the future before it happens are the two things that make it clear to Israel that he is God and there is no other.

So I find it pretty awesome that in Mark 10, just before Jesus enters Jerusalem to be rejected by Israel he is (1) declaring that he will redeem his people, and, (2) declaring it in advance, before it comes to pass. For anyone with eyes to see, it’s there to be seen.

What I love though, is that if you read Isaiah 44 in light of Mark 10 and Jesus’s impending conflicts in Jerusalem, it becomes even more glorious:

  • I am the Lord … who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish (Isa 44.24-25)
  • [I am the Lord … who says] of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’ (Isa 44.28)

Isn’t that exactly what Jesus is about to do, beginning in the very next chapter? Confrontation after confrontation with the ‘wise’ of Israel, until no one dares to ask him any more questions, because he turns them back in their ‘wisdom,’ making their foolishness evident to all (Mark 12.34). And isn’t the very charge brought against him by the Sanhedrin that the temple will be destroyed (Mark 13) but that he will ‘lay the foundation’ and rebuild it (Mark 14.58)?

As the narrative of Jesus’s life unfolds, the gospel writers make it clear for any with ears to hear: this Jesus does what God himself said only he could do. From the forgiving of sins and the cleansing of sinners to the ransoming of a people and the rebuilding of the true temple, all has been declared ahead of time that when Jesus comes we will know that in him we see our God.

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