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ISIS vs other Sunni interpretations of the role reason plays in Islamic thought

2 Sep

From Robert Reilly:

Why does the Islamic State (ISIS) behave in the strange ways it does? What inspires it to rampage through the libraries and museums of Mosul, Iraq, destroying priceless manuscripts and artifacts? Why does it take jackhammers to priceless archaeological relics from the Assyrian Empire? Why does it line up Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya, face them north across the Mediterranean, and then slit their throats? Why is it so keen on reestablishing the caliphate? Why, in short, does it behave sounreasonably?

Of course, one can answer these questions by simply quoting ISIS spokesmen and repeating their justifications, which are laced with quotations from the Qur’an and the hadith (the canonical accounts of the sayings and doings of Muhammad). But that is not a great help, because other Muslims have lived under the same injunctions without wreaking the havoc that ISIS does. There must be a deeper reason.

And there is.

ISIS and its al-Qaeda predecessor are incomprehensible to most Westerners because they are unaware of a pivotal theological struggle waged within Islam more than a millennium ago. It was a battle over the nature of God and the role of reason—and the side of irrationality won. The resolution of that conflict has had profound consequences for much of Sunni Islam—and the rest of the world—ever since.

Read the rest

Liberals and conservatives both cite ignorance of levitical law as evidence that the other side is biblically illiterate. They are both right.

6 Jul

From Tim Keller:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” Most often I hear, “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what you want to believe from the Bible?”

I don’t expect everyone to understand that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological adviser) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First, it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3–12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the Old Testament no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this issue. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament.

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshipers could approach a holy God. There was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Sam. 15:21–22; Pss. 50:12–15; 51:17; Hos. 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), and he ignored the Old Testament cleanliness laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

The reason is clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple tore, showing that he had done away with the the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its cleanliness laws. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us clean.

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray “in Jesus name” we “have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we continued to follow the ceremonial laws.

Law Still Binding

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:27–30; 1 Cor. 6:9–20; 1 Tim. 1:8–11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

The New Testament explains another change between the testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament sins like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people constituted a nation-state, and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how Paul deals with a case of incest in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1ff. and 2 Cor. 2:7–11). Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can’t say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: “Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”


This article originally appeared in Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s monthly Redeemer Report.

Belgic Confession 35: The Lord’s Supper

26 May

ARTICLE 35 – THE SACRAMENT OF THE LORD’S SUPPER

We believe and confess that our Saviour Jesus Christ has instituted the sacrament of the holy supper1 to nourish and sustain those whom He has already regenerated and incorporated into His family, which is His church.

Those who are born anew have a twofold life.2 One is physical and temporal, which they received in their first birth and is common to all men. The other is spiritual and heavenly, which is given them in their second birth and is effected by the word of the gospel3 in the communion of the body of Christ. This life is not common to all but only to the elect of God.

For the support of the physical and earthly life God has ordained earthly and material bread. This bread is common to all just as life is common to all. For the support of the spiritual and heavenly life, which believers have, He has sent them a living bread which came down from heaven (John 6:51), namely, Jesus Christ,4 who nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of the believers5 when He is eaten by them, that is, spiritually appropriated and received by faith.6

To represent to us the spiritual and heavenly bread, Christ has instituted earthly and visible bread as a sacrament of His body and wine as a sacrament of His blood.7 He testifies to us that as certainly as we take and hold the sacrament in our hands and eat and drink it with our mouths, by which our physical life is then sustained, so certainly do we receive by faith,8 as the hand and mouth of our soul, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Saviour, in our souls for our spiritual life.

It is beyond any doubt that Jesus Christ did not commend His sacraments to us in vain. Therefore He works in us all that He represents to us by these holy signs. We do not understand the manner in which this is done, just as we do not comprehend the hidden activity of the Spirit of God.9 Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what we eat and drink is the true, natural body and the true blood of Christ. However, the manner in which we eat it is not by mouth but in the spirit by faith. In that way Jesus Christ always remains seated at the right hand of God His Father in heaven;10 yet He does not cease to communicate Himself to us by faith. This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ makes us partakers of Himself with all His benefits and gives us the grace to enjoy both Himself and the merit of His suffering and death.11 He nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of His flesh, and refreshes and renews them by the drinking of His blood.

Although the sacrament is joined together with that which is signified, the latter is not always received by all.12 The wicked certainly takes the sacrament to his condemnation, but he does not receive the truth of the sacrament. Thus Judas and Simon the sorcerer both received the sacrament, but they did not receive Christ, who is signified by it.13 He is communicated exclusively to the believers.14

Finally, we receive this holy sacrament in the congregation of the people of God15 with humility and reverence as we together commemorate the death of Christ our Saviour with thanksgiving and we confess our faith and Christian religion.16 Therefore no one should come to this table without careful self-examination, lest by eating this bread and drinking from this cup, he eat and drink judgment upon himself (1 Cor 11:28-29). In short, we are moved by the use of this holy sacrament to a fervent love of God and our neighbours. Therefore we reject as desecrations all additions and damnable inventions which men have mixed with the sacraments. We declare that we should be content with the ordinance taught by Christ and His apostles and should speak about it as they have spoken.

1. Mat 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:1920; 1 Cor 11:23-26. 2. John 3:5-6. 3. John 5:25. 4. John 6:48-51. 5. John 6:63; John 10:10 b. 6. John 6:40, John 6:47. 7. John 6:55; 1 Cor 10:16. 8. Eph 3:17. 9. John 3:8. 10. Mark 16:19; Acts 3:21. 11. Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 10:3. 4. 12. 1 Cor 2:14. 13. Luke 22:21-22; Acts 8:13, Acts 8:21. 14. John 3:36. 15. Acts 2:42; Acts 20:7. 16. Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 11:26.

– See more at: http://www.scripturezealot.com/belgic-confession/#sthash.nRBG7aGe.dpuf

Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 100-102

14 Jan

Q. 100. What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?

A. We are to consider in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.

Q. 101. What is the preface to the ten commandments?

A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.[436]Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God;[437] having his being in and of himself,[438] and giving being to all his words[439] and works:[440] and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people;[441] who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom;[442] and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.[443]

Q. 102. What is the sum of the four commandments which contain our duty to God?

A. The sum of the four commandments containing our duty to God is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.[444]

Is “replacement theology” the same as “covenant theology”?

13 Feb

To many reformed ears, they may think that the view that the church ‘replaces’ Israel as God’s chosen people in the New Covenant is classic reformed and covenant theology.   But the term replacement theology must be seriously qualified, and probably rejected outright, for it assumes a disjointed (dispensational) understanding of God’s redemptive activity in history rather than a covenantal (redemptive-historical) view — it strongly implies that God scrapped His old plans and started over with a new people rather than building on and from the original people of God; further, it does not recognize that reformed theologians and covenant theologians have not uniformly accepted the view that God simply forgot or erased or lost complete interest in His original work and promises made to the Jewish people.  Instead, most have recognized, hoped for, or interpret Romans 11 as specifically calling for a final future significant conversion of the Jews in to the faith.  Scott Clark has a great short article on the differences here.

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