I Know More Than My Pastor (Ridgley)

It does happen sometimes when a regular member of the church has more doctrinal or biblical knowledge than his or her pastor. For example, sometimes seminary professors are regular members of a church. For another example, sometimes church members take Bible or theology classes and have spent more time studying a certain book or topic than his or her pastor. However, sometimes people only think they know more than their pastor. I appreciate how Thomas Ridgely discussed this in volume 2 of his Body of Divnity. [This quote is found under Ridgley’s explanation of Q/A 155 of the Westminster Larger Catechism: “How is the Word made effectual to salvation? I’ve edited the quote very slightly for readability.]

It is objected by some that they know as much as ministers can teach them; at least, that they know enough (although they don’t practice it perfectly). This objection sometimes savors of pride and self-conceit, in those who suppose themselves to understand more of the doctrines of the gospel than they really do.

It can hardly be said concerning the greatest number of professing Christians, that they either know as much as they ought, or that it is not possible for them to make advances in knowledge by a diligent attendance on an able and faithful ministry. However, that we may give the utmost scope to the objection, we will admit that some Christians know more than many ministers who are less skilful than others in the word of truth.

But it must be observed that there are other ends of hearing the word besides the gaining of knowledge, namely, 1) the bringing of the doctrines of the gospel to our remembrance, and 2) their being impressed on our affections; and for attaining these ends, the wisest and best of men have not thought it below them to attend upon the ministry of those who knew less than themselves. Our Savior was an hearer of the word before he entered on his public ministry; and though it might, I think, truly be said of him, that though he was but twelve years old, he knew more than the doctors, in the midst of whom he sat in the temple, yet ‘he heard and asked them questions.’ And David, though he professes himself to have ‘more understanding than all his teachers;’ yet was glad to embrace all opportunities to go up into the house of the Lord; this being God’s appointed means for a believer’s making advances in grace.

 Thomas Ridgley, A Body of Divinity, vol. 2 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 444.

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

Hell (Geenna) (NIDNTTE)

In many modern English versions of the Bible, the word hell is used fourteen times (eleven by Jesus). The Greek word in twelve of these instances is γεεννα (geenna or gehenna). What does this word “hell” or “geenna” mean? It’s actually the Greek transliteration of the Old Testament phrase “Valley of Hinnom.” Below is a helpful summary of geenna in the NIDNTTE. It’s helpful because it gives us some of the OT background of the NT’s teaching about hell.

In Jewish Literature:

The word γεεννα is not certainly attested prior to the NT…. The term is a transliteration of Aram. גֵּיהִנָּם, which in turn derives from Heb. גֵּי־הִנֹּם, “Valley of Hinnom,” referring to what is now known as Wadi er-Rababi, just S and W of Jerusalem (Josh 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chr 33:6; Isa 31:9; 66:24; Jer 32:35 [LXX 39:35]). Because child sacrifices were sometimes offered in this valley (cf. 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6), Josiah had it desecrated (2 Kgs 23:10). According to Jer 7:32 and 19:6–7, it will be the place of God’s judgment (cf. Isa 30:33; 66:24).

Jewish apocalyptic [literature] refers to “a valley, deep and burning with fire” (1 En. 54.1; cf. 56.3 et al.), apparently assuming that the Valley of (Ben) Hinnom would become, after the final judgment, the hell of fire (this idea may have been influenced by the fact that the valley evidently was used for burning refuse and the bodies of criminals). Hence the name γέεννα came to be applied to the eschatological place of punishment in general….

The word geenna in NT literature:

The term γεεννα occurs 12× in the NT, mainly in Matthew (Matt 5:22, 29–30 [par. 18:8–9 and Mark 9:43, 45, 47]; Matt 10:28 [par. Luke 12:5]; Matt 23:15 [υἱὸς γεέννης], 33; Jas 3:6). Because it is a place of fire (ἡ γέεννα τοῦ πυρός, Matt 5:22; 18:9; τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον, “unquenchable,” Mark 9:43 [cf. Matt 3:12 = Luke 3:17]), Gehenna is elsewhere referred to by such phrases as “the blazing furnace” (Matt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (25:41), and “the fiery lake” (Rev 19:20 et al.). Gehenna is distinguished from Hades, which evidently houses the souls of the dead before the last judgment; indeed, Hades along with death will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). The same punishment will overtake Satan and the demons, the beast from the abyss, and the false prophet (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

 Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 548.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

By His Sovereign Will

In 1559 Antoine Chandieu and John Calvin wrote the first draft of the French Confession (also called the Gallican Confession). That same year the Synod of Paris edited and adopted it. In 1571 it was revised and adopted by the National Synod in La Rochelle, France; therefore sometimes this confession is called the “Confession of Rochelle.” It’s really an excellent Reformed confession. Here’s a comforting explanation of providence from article 8:

VIII. We believe that he [the triune God] not only created all things, but that he governs and directs them, disposing and ordaining by his sovereign will all that happens in the world; not that he is the author of evil, or that the guilt of it can be imputed to him, as his will is the sovereign and infallible rule of all right and justice; but he hath wonderful means of so making use of devils and sinners that he can turn to good the evil which they do, and of which they are guilty.

And thus, confessing that the providence of God orders all things, we humbly bow before the secrets which are hidden to us, without questioning what is above our understanding; but rather making use of what is revealed to us in Holy Scripture for our peace and safety, inasmuch as God, who has all things in subjection to him, watches over us with a Father’s care, so that not a hair of our heads shall fall without his will. And yet he restrains the devils and all our enemies, so that they can not harm us without his leave.

 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The Evangelical Protestant Creeds, with Translations, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 364.

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

Gender, Race, Oppression, and Critical Theory (Shenvi/Sawyer)

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Hearing about many recent cultural issues and happenings has left me somewhat confused. I am wondering why some people today think it’s ok for a person to condemn violence by engaging in violent acts himself. I’m wondering how someone can think an entire group of people is guilty if only some members of the group have done evil. I’m also wondering why one group will absolutely not listen to or dialogue with a group it opposes.

Here’s a short booklet that has answered a lot of my questions: Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer. (As a side, having studied postmodernity in seminary, it’s fascinating to me to see how critical theory’s epistemology seems to be a child of postmodernism.) Here’s an excerpt I marked up:

Because contemporary critical theory divides society into oppressed groups and oppressor groups, many critical theorists insist that our identity as individuals is inextricably bound to our group identity. From the perspective of contemporary critical theory, our experience of reality, our evaluation of evidence, our access to truth, our moral status, and our moral obligations are all largely determined by our membership in either a dominant oppressor group or a subordinate oppressed 􏰙􏰆􏰂􏰔􏰚 group. It’s important to note that the definition of “oppression” in critical theory differs markedly from the definition one finds in the dictionary, where “oppression” refers to “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.” According to critical theory, “oppression” should additionally or even primarily be understood in terms of “hegemonic power,” the ability of a particular group to impose its norms, values, and expectations on the rest of society: “In any relationship between groups that define one another (men/women, able-bodied/disabled, young/old), the dominant group is the group that is valued more highly. Dominant groups set the norms by which the minoritiized group is judged.”

Given this definition, contemporary critical theorists view racism, sexism, classism, ableism, capitalism, heteronormativity, and cisgender privilege as forms of oppression: “People [in the U.S.] are commonly defined as other on the basis of race or ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and physical or mental ability. Each of these categories has a form of oppression associated with it: racism, sexism, religious oppression/anti-Semitism, heterosex- ism, classism, ageism, and ableism, respectively.”  In saying that a particular man is an “oppressor” the critical theorist is not saying that the man has personally ever abused his power or, for instance, mistreated women in ways that are traditionally understood as unjust. Rather, the critical theorist is asserting that the group to which the man belongs (men) has imposed its views on society regarding what is normal, expected, and valuable, thus making the man an oppressor. By establishing hegemonic norms, dominant groups conversely characterize the “Other” as abnormal, unusual, deviant, or worthless. Of course, a particular individual can participate in both oppressed and oppressor groups simultaneously, but this overlap does not reverse or overturn the respective social position of the groups to which she belongs. For example, a white woman is oppressed in terms of her gender but is still privileged in terms of her race.

One of the most important implications of contemporary critical theory’s emphasis on group identity is the moral asymmetry it assumes between different groups. Because of its collectivist outlook, members of oppressor groups are not seen as morally neutral, even if their individual behavior has been unimpeachable….

I’ll come back to this book later, but for now if you’re interested you can find it online in several places as a PDF: Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement by Neil Shenvi and Pat Sawyer. I also appreciate how this book shows some positives of critical theory but then contrasts it with the Christian worldview and apologetics.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Justified by Faith without the Law and Works (Bullinger)

Here’s a nice excerpt on justification by faith alone by Henry Bullinger. It’s found in the first Decade of Bullinger’s sermons. I’ve edited it slightly for readability:

But, honored brothers in the Lord, good works here come into no jeopardy to be set aside, because of this doctrine, which teaches that faith alone justifies. Thus did the apostles of Christ teach; why then should we not teach so too?

As for them that think this doctrine, whereby we do constantly affirm that faith alone without works doth justify, to be contrary to religion, let them blame the apostles of Christ, and not find fault with us. Moreover, whereas we say, that the faithful are justified by faith alone, or else by faith without works, we do not say, as many think we do, that faith is only alone (fidem esse solam), or utterly destitute of good works: for wheresoever faith is, there also it shews itself by good works; because the righteous cannot but work righteousness. But before he works righteousness, that is to say, does good works, he must of necessity be righteous: therefore the righteous does not attain to righteousness that goes before by works that follow after.

Wherefore that righteousness is attributed to grace: for the faithful are freely by grace justified in faith, according to that saying, “The just shall live by his faith;” and after that they are justified, they begin to bring forth the works of righteousness. Therefore, in this discourse I mean not to overthrow good works, which have their due place and dignity in the church among the faithful before the face of God: but my mind is, by all the means I may, to prove that the grace of God, and increase (meritum) of the Son of God, is overthrown and trodden under foot, when we join our merits and works to the merit of Christ, and to faith, by which we take hold on Christ.

For what can be more manifest than this saying of the blessed apostle? “If we be saved by grace, then not now works; for then grace is no more grace. But if we be saved by works, then is it now no grace; for the work is no more work.” Rom. 11. Wherefore these two, grace and merit or work, cannot stand together. Therefore, lest we should overthrow the grace of God, and wickedly deny the fruit of Christ’s passion, we do attribute justification unto faith only, because that faith attributs it to the mere grace of God in the death of the Son of God.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The First and Second Decades, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), 118–119.

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