Arguments for God’s Existence (Keller)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical Many Christians throughout history have argued for the existence of God in various ways and using various methods. For example, there’s the moral argument for God. The argument goes something like this: there are objective morals in the world that transcend local communities. These morals didn’t just arise out of thin air and they can’t well be defended by the theory of evolution. The best explanation for these objective morals is the existence of God. Of course this argument takes various forms.  There are also other arguments for God’s existence like the argument from order or the “first cause” argument.

I appreciate how Tim Keller briefly explains these kinds of arguments for God’s existence:

Many people point out that the arguments for God not only do not prove God’s existence but also give us only an ‘unmoved mover’ or some other abstract being, not the holy, loving, all-powerful God of the Bible.

But the purpose of the so-called theistic arguments is not to give us a specific description of God. The main work they do is to help us ‘see the inadequacies of [secular] naturalism’ and bring us to see that there is probably something transcendent outside of nature. These ‘cases for God’ have been around for centuries, but in today’s world our goals for their use should be targeted but modest. They primarily provide a means for ‘shaking up the dogmatic confidence…that naturalism and materialism are the default rational views of the universe.’

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p.228

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Theme of Conversion in Paul’s Letter to Philemon (Pao)

  David Pao’s commentary on Philemon has been helpful for me as I’ve preached through this letter Paul wrote to Philemon and the church that met in his (Philemon’s) house.  Today I read Pao’s concluding application remarks and found some good and appropriate points based on Paul’s appeal to Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ.  One thing Pao noted is the significance of conversion in this letter:

This letter deals with the effects of conversion: the conversion of Philemon and his household and the conversion of Onesimus. With Philemon’s conversion, he must live and act within a different frame of reference. An underlying purpose of Paul’s appeal is to have Philemon fully obtain “the knowledge of every good thing that is in us for Christ” (v. 6). In this respect, the function of this letter is comparable to that of the early Christian catechetical instructions, through which new believers learn to live out their new identity.

The conversion of Onesimus is the focus of a major subsection of this letter (vv. 8–16). If we can assume that the entire household of Philemon was converted when Philemon himself received the gospel message, Onesimus’s “conversion” during his stay with Paul signifies a personal and independent commitment to the gospel. Paul’s identification of this regenerated Onesimus as his “son” points to his incorporation into the household of God. This appellation does not function as a term of endearment; it reflects the Jewish understanding of conversion as a new birth. In light of the prevalence of kinship language in this letter, this conversion acquires added significance. Onesimus does not simply obtain eternal life; he is now part of a community that worships God as Father and Jesus Christ as Lord.

With the conversion of both Philemon and Onesimus, the relationship between them can no longer remain as it was. Philemon must receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother” (v. 16). This statement clearly points to the reframing of the relationship between these two. For the discussion of the theology of conversion, the phrase that follows is equally significant: “both in the flesh and in the Lord” (v. 16). Instead of arguing for two separate realms of existence, Paul clearly points to the interrelatedness of one’s earthly existence and spiritual identity. The fact that both Philemon and Onesimus are now part of this same community, grounded in grace, makes it necessary that their relationship be transformed according to the new rules of this kinship group.

Pao does write a bit more on this, but the above quotes are an accurate and helpful way to think about Paul’s letter to this Christian church in the 1st century.  Or, as the Bible teaches elsewhere, true faith in Christ always works out in love towards others, especially those in the household of faith!

The above quote is found in David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 434.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Full-Time​ Sermon Critics (Bucer)

Concerning the True Care of Souls Bucer, Martin cover image I’m thankful that God’s people I serve in my pastoral ministry do not bombard me with harsh critiques of my sermons.  It’s a blessing to minister to people who generally listen carefully and respect the preached Word.  Now, it is true that some people in the pews are constantly critical of biblical sermons.  This can be a serious drain on the ministry and on the church.

I like how Martin Bucer discussed this in the first half of the 16th century.  After he explained how the Lord rules his people using the pastoral ministry, Bucer wrote the following:

This is why Christians are first of all to ask the Lord with great earnestness to grant them faithful ministers, and to watch diligently in choosing them to see that they walk in accordance with their calling and serve faithfully; and when these ministers come to warn, punish, teach or exhort in the Lord’s name, not to dismiss it thoughtlessly and despise this ministry, as sadly many are wont to do today.

Such people are so kind as to object to and judge the sermons and all the church activities of their ministers, just as if they had been appointed to do so and the only reason for hearing sermons was so that they might in the most unfriendly way discuss, distort and run down what had been said in them, or anything else which had been done in the church. In such people you do not observe any thought of approaching sermons in such a way that they might in some way be moved by what they have heard in them to acknowledge their sins more fully, or to commit themselves more wholeheartedly to Christ and seek more earnestly to improve their ways; all they do is to judge and criticize anything which is said which applies to them, or which in some way they consider not to fit in with their carnal impudence (and not Christian freedom). And when they praise something in a sermon, it is generally because it applies to other people, whom they like to hear criticized; and they take from such sermons nothing beyond an excuse to run down those they do not like, and not so that they might be warned or built up.

Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, p. 196.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

I Paul Write This With My Hand…

  In Philemon 19 it says: “I, Paul, write with my hand: I will repay…”  Paul is telling Philemon that if his runaway slave Onesimus owes him (Philemon) anything, he (Paul) will for sure repay whatever it is to help restore the relationship between the two.  It’s interesting that Paul notes he’s writing at this point in the letter, in the body and not the conclusion, like he did elsewhere.  And he doesn’t say “I wrote this *letter*.”  It could be he is referring to the following phrase: “I will repay!”  It would then go like this:  I write with my hand: I will repay!!!”   The NLT puts verse 19 in ALL CAPS to show that perhaps Paul literally wrote that part of the letter as a legal signature that he would for sure repay what he promised: I PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT….”  Perhaps Paul’s secretary wrote the other parts of the letter, but Paul wanted his signature here as a guarantee to Philemon and the house church there that he’d do what he said.

While I certainly disagree with aspects of J. D. G Dunn’s theology, I like his comments on Philemon 19:

ἐγὼ Παῦλος ἔγραψα τῇ ἐμῇ χειρί, ἐγὼ ἀποτίσω· ἵνα μὴ λέγω σοι ὅτι καὶ σεαυτόν μοι προσοφείλεις. In an unusual step Paul evidently took the stylus in his own hand at this point and both signed his name (“Here is my signature: Paul,” NEB/REB) and wrote out his personal guarantee (“Here, I will write this with my own hand: I, Paul, will pay you back,” GNB). It would be necessary to state what he was doing since the letter was not purely personal (where change of penmanship would be sufficient visual indication of the author’s personal intervention; see Weima 46–47) but was for public reading.

The step was unusual for Paul, since elsewhere his personal autograph marks the beginning of the letter’s closing (see the introduction to the comments on vv. 8–20). But here it comes as the climax to Paul’s appeal to Philemon, where he is pulling out all the stops and putting the full weight of his personal standing behind his words (cf. the “I, Paul” of 2 Cor. 10:1; Gal. 5:2; 1 Thes. 2:18). In this case the personal autograph does not have the function of legitimating the letter as Paul’s (see on Col. 4:18), but rather has a legal function as Paul’s personal guarantee to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. The legal character of the procedure is put beyond doubt by Paul’s use of ἀποτίνω, which occurs only here in the New Testament, but, once again, is common in the papyri as a legal technical term meaning “make compensation, pay the damages” (BAGD, MM). Paul was not content to make promises and provide mere reassurances; rather, he undertakes the formal legal responsibility to make good whatever wrong Onesimus has done Philemon.

 James D. G. Dunn, The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing; Paternoster Press, 1996), 339–340.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Justifies the Ungodly…

  One of my favorite phrases that the apostle Paul wrote is found in Romans 4:5.  The NASB translates it like this: “…Him who justifies the ungodly….”  I like how W. G. T. Shedd commented on this aspect of justification.

The justification of the “ungodly” (Rom. 4:5; 5:6) includes both pardon and acceptance. Either alone would be an incomplete justification of the ungodly. In the case of a sinner, the law requires satisfaction for past disobedience and also perfect obedience. When a criminal has suffered the penalty affixed to his crime, he has done a part, but not all that the law requires of him. He still owes a perfect obedience to the law in addition to the endurance of the penalty. The law does not say to the transgressor: “If you will suffer the penalty, you need not render the obedience.” But it says: “You must both suffer the penalty and render the obedience.” Sin is under a double obligation; holiness is under only a single one. A guilty man owes both penalty and obedience; a holy angel owes only obedience.

Consequently, the justification of a sinner must not only deliver him from the penalty due to disobedience, but provide for him an equivalent to personal obedience. Whoever justifies the ungodly must lay a ground both for his delivery from hell and his entrance into heaven. In order to place a transgressor in a situation in which he is dikaios or right in every respect before the law, it is necessary to fulfill the law for him, both as penalty and precept. Hence the justification of a sinner comprises not only pardon, but a title to the reward of the righteous. The former is specially related to Christ’s passive righteousness, the latter to his active. Christ’s expiatory suffering delivers the believing sinner from the punishment which the law threatens, and Christ’s perfect obedience establishes for him a right to the reward which the law promises.

The right and title in both cases rest upon Christ’s vicarious agency. Because his divine substitute has suffered for him, the believer obtains release from a punishment which he merits; and because his divine substitute has obeyed for him, the believer obtains a reward which he does not merit.

 William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 793–794.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Word Is Greater Than The Preacher (Luther)

Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons Last year I posted this section of a sermon Martin Luther gave on Luke 2, but it’s worth mentioning again in our celebrity preacher situation.  In this part of the sermon, Luther was talking about how the shepherds outside of Bethlehem heard the angels’ words proclaiming the Savior’s birth.  Luther noted that the angels heard it as God’s word: “The angels were soon forgotten and the Word of God only seized and retained.”   Luther also said this:

One, however, might say: Yes, I would also gladly believe if an angel thus from heaven were to preach to me. This is very foreign to the subject. Whoever does not receive the Word for its own sake, will never receive it for the sake of the preacher, even if all the angels preached it to him. And he who receives it because of the preacher does not believe in the Word, neither in God through the Word, but he believes the preacher and in the preacher. Hence the faith of such persons does not last long. But whoever believes the Word, does not care who the person is that speaks the Word, and neither will he honor the Word for the sake of the person; but on the contrary, he honors the person because of the Word, and always subordinates the person to the Word. And if the preacher perishes, or even falls from his faith and preaches differently, he will forsake the person of the preacher rather than the Word of God. He abides by what he has heard, although the person of the preacher may be what he will, and come and go as he may.

Exactly! The preacher is subordinate to the word. Preachers come and go, but the word of the Lord remains forever. Luther again:

The true difference between godly faith and human faith consists also in this, that human faith cleaves to the person of the preacher, believes, trusts and honors the Word for the sake of him who spake it. But godly faith, on the other hand, cleaves to the Word, which is God himself; he believes, trusts and honors the Word, not because of him who preaches it; but because he feels it so surely the truth that no one can ever turn him again from it, even if the same preacher were to try to do it.

This faith triumphs in life and death, in hell and heaven, and nothing is able to overthrow it; because it rests upon nothing but the Word without any regard whatever to persons.

Martin Luther, “Second Christmas Day (Luke 2:15–20),” in Luther’s Church Postil: Gospels: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Sermons, ed. and trans. John Nicholas Lenker, vol. I, The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther (Minneapolis, MN: Lutherans in All Lands Co., 1905), 162–163.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Comfort of Election (Or: Pelagianism Has No Pity) [Bavinck]

 Some people wrongly think that the biblical teaching of unconditional election is a frightening and dark teaching that hinders evangelism and makes people into fatalists.  It is true that wrong views of election (such as a hyper-Calvinist view, for example) do get in the way of evangelism and can give people a fatalistic outlook.  However, a biblical understanding of election does neither; in fact, it ascribes all glory to God, it gives comfort to followers of Jesus, and it’s a reason to share the gospel with all kinds of people!  Herman Bavinck said it well:

The Son did not move the Father to love; electing love arose from the Father himself. Scripture, accordingly, everywhere teaches that the cause of all the decrees does not lie in any creature but only in God himself, in his will and good pleasure (Matt. 11:26; Rom. 9:11ff.; Eph. 1:4ff.).

For that very reason, both for unbelievers and believers, the doctrine of election is a source of inexpressibly great comfort. If it were based on justice and merit, all would be lost. But now that election operates according to grace, there is hope even for the most wretched. If work and reward were the standard of admission into the kingdom of heaven, its gates would be opened for no one. Or if Pelagius’s doctrine were the standard, and the virtuous were chosen because of their virtue, and Pharisees because of their righteousness, wretched publicans would be shut out. Pelagianism has no pity.

But to believe in and to confess election is to recognize even the most unworthy and degraded human being as a creature of God and an object of his eternal love. The purpose of election is not—as it is so often proclaimed—to turn off the many but to invite all to participate in the riches of God’s grace in Christ. No one has a right to believe that he or she is a reprobate, for everyone is sincerely and urgently called to believe in Christ with a view to salvation. No one can actually believe it, for one’s own life and all that makes it enjoyable is proof that God takes no delight in his death. No one really believes it, for that would be hell on earth. But election is a source of comfort and strength, of submissiveness and humility, of confidence and resolution. The salvation of human beings is firmly established in the gracious and omnipotent good pleasure of God.

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 401–402.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015