Christ’s Suffering, Our Suffering (Clowney)

The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross (Bible Speaks Today) Peter knew well what it means that Jesus suffered.  Peter witnessed the sufferings of Christ and he knew that Jesus’ suffering was redemptive.  You can read more about his teaching on suffering in his epistles, of course.  Peter also knew that our suffering as Christians is connected to Christ’s suffering: “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13 NIV).  Edmund Clowney gave a helpful insight into the relationship of Christ’s suffering and the Christian’s suffering:

Peter is a witness of Christ’s sufferings (5:1). He testifies not only to the events of Gethsemane and Calvary, but also to their meaning. Christ, the righteous one, suffered for us, the unrighteous, to bring us to God (3:18). The fact that the righteous suffer is the enigma posed in the book of Job and in many Psalms. Peter answers the question just as the Old Testament does. God is sovereign; we suffer according to the will of God (4:19). But God’s will for our suffering must now be understood in the light of God’s will for Christ’s suffering. Only Christ is truly righteous, yet he suffered for our sins. The key to the mystery of the suffering of the righteous is the mystery of the suffering of Christ. The prophets testified of his suffering and of the glory to follow (1:11). In the wonder of God’s design, it was his purpose that Christ should suffer for us, and by his suffering save us. Knowing his suffering for us, we may rejoice when God wills that we should suffer for him. We cannot add to his atoning sufferings, for he bore our sins in his own body on the tree (2:24). Christ suffered for sins ‘once’ (3:18). Yet when we suffer as Christians there is a sense in which we share in the sufferings of Christ. Made righteous by him, we suffer as the righteous with him.

Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 190.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The Spirits in Prison? (Clowney)

 Sometimes when we get into the details of the exegesis, syntax, grammar, and interpretation of a passage we forget or miss the big picture.  I appreciate how Edmund Clowney discussed the “hard text” of 1 Peter 3:19-20 in such a way that he didn’t forget the bigger picture of the surrounding context.  Here’s what he wrote after talking about the “spirits in prison” text:

In this whole passage Peter continues to give reassurance to Christians who must endure suffering and persecution. Christ has conquered by the power of his resurrection. He has prevailed to bring them to God. The devil may still be on the prowl like a roaring lion (5:7), but he cannot destroy those whose refuge is the Lord. Peter reminds suffering Christians of the period before the flood. The power of evil might then have been greater, the number of the elect even fewer. But God was in control. He withheld judgment, then as now, only to display his longsuffering grace. But his judgment did come: Noah and his family were delivered from that evil age by the judgment, the waters of the flood. Yet the judgment of the flood was only provisional, and the deliverance of Noah but a prefiguring, or ‘type’, of the final and full salvation of Jesus Christ.

 Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 164.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Our Living Hope (Clowney)

Reading through Edmund Clowney’s commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-5 this morning brought me to these excellent observations about Christian hope:

Peter writes a letter of hope. The hope he proclaims is not what we call a ‘fond hope’. We cherish fond hopes because they are so fragile. We ‘hope against hope’ because we do not really expect what we hope for. But Peter writes of a sure hope, a hope that holds the future in the present because it is anchored in the past. Peter hopes for God’s salvation, God’s deliverance from sin and death. His hope is sure, because God has already accomplished his salvation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus was a life-changing reality for Peter. When Jesus died on the cross, it was the end of all Peter’s hopes. He knew only bitter sorrow for his own denials. The dawn could not bring hope; with the crowing of the cock he heard the echo of his curses.

But Jesus did not stay dead. On that Easter morning Peter learned from the women of the empty tomb and the message of the angels. He went running to the tomb and saw its evidence. He left in wonder, but Jesus remembered Peter and appeared to him even before he came to eat with the disciples in the upper room. Hope was reborn in Peter’s heart with the sight of his living Lord. Now Peter writes to praise God for that living hope. The resurrection did much more than restore his Master to him. The resurrection crowned the victory of Christ, his victory for Peter, and for those to whom he writes. The resurrection shows that God has made the Crucified both Lord and Christ. At the right hand of the Father Jesus rules until the day that he will come to restore and renew all things.2 With the resurrection of Jesus and his entrance into glory, a new age has begun. Peter now waits for the day when Jesus will be revealed from heaven (1:7, 13). Peter’s living hope is Jesus.

 Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 44.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Relationship between Systematic Theology and Practical Theology (Murray)

John Murray explained the relationship between systematic theology and practical theology so well in his charge to Edmund Clowney when Clowney was installed as professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary (1963). Here’s what Murray said:

Practical theology is principally systematic theology brought to practical expression and application. And this means the whole counsel of God brought to bear upon every sphere of life, particularly upon every phase of the life and witness of the church. He would be a poor theologian indeed who would be unaware of, or indifferent to, the practical application of God’s revealed counsel. But likewise, and perhaps more tragically, he would be a poor exponent of practical theology who did not know the theology of which practice is the application. I charge you to make it your concern to be the instrument of inflaming men with zeal for the proclamation of the whole counsel of God and of doing so with that passion and power without which preaching fails to do honor to the magnitude of its task and the glory of its message.

John Murray, Collected Writings, vol. 1, p. 108.

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

“The Preacher Who Takes Up Vos’ Biblical Theology…” (Clowney)

Preaching and Biblical Theology Over the past 15+ years I’ve come to a pretty strong conviction that an understanding of redemptive history is of utmost importance in the pulpit ministry.  Preaching that has no understanding of redemptive history is preaching that lacks.  There are nuances to this discussion of course.  I’m not an advocate of hyper redemptive-historical preaching.  And I believe there is a time and place in the pulpit for topical and doctrinal sermons as well as solid application.  Basically, my view is that the pulpit ministry should have a firm and balanced grasp of systematic theology and biblical theology, both of which should be generally evident in the preaching.  I like how Edmund Clowney spoke about this in his very good book, Preaching and Biblical Theology.

“There is…no opposition between biblical theology and systematic or dogmatic theology, though the two are distinct.  Systematic theology must draw from the results of biblical theology, and biblical theology must be aware of the broad perspectives of systematics. …The development of systematics is strictly thematic or topical.  …The development of biblical theology is redemptive-historical.”

Later Clowney mentioned Geerhardus Vos; I’ve always liked these paragraphs:

“The preacher who takes up Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ for the first time enters a rich new world, a world which lifts up his heart because he is a preacher.  Biblical theology, truly conceived, is a labor of worship.  Beside Vos’ ‘Biblical Theology’ should be set his little book of sermons, ‘Grace and Glory.’  There we hear a scholar preaching to theological students (the sermons were delivered in Princeton Seminary), but with a burning tenderness and awesome realism that springs from the grace and glory of God’s revelation, the historical actualization of his eternal counsel of redemption.”

Clowney then talked about the text and the pulpit.

“An old Dutch preacher has sagely observed that the pulpit must not drive us to the text, but rather the text must drive us to the pulpit.  In biblical theology that scriptural dynamic impels the preacher’s heart with unimagined strength.”

Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, p. 18-19.

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

The Lion and Lamb

These are great words from a great book: The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney.  This is a short commentary on Genesis 49:9-10.

“The ancient prophecy is recalled again in the last book of the Bible.  John weeps because there is no one who can open the book of God’s decrees.  One of the elders in the heavenly throne room responds, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals’ (Rev. 5:5).”

“Jesus, the Lion of Judah, is also the Lamb that was slain.  He who is the Lord came as the Servant.  There is more than a chance similarity between the sign of Joseph and the fulfillment in Jesus.  Deep in the structure of God’s redemptive plan is the principle that His power is made perfect in weakness.  Not by human might, but by the power of God’s Spirit, the promises of His word are fulfilled.  God’s chosen Ruler is His Suffering Servant, betrayed by His brethren but raised up to fulfill God’s promise.”

Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1988), 84.

shane lems

Westminster Seminary California and the Confessions

Product DetailsI’ve been enjoying this new book which summarizes the history of Westminster Seminary California: A New Old School, edited by W. Robert Godfrey and D. G. Hart.  Since Andrew and I graduated from WSC over five years ago, both of us have a vested interest in this book.  One emphasis of this book is a big reason why I studied at WSC: its commitment to Reformed/Presbyterian theology and confessions.  As the book notes, all Christians have some form of confession; every Christian believes at least some doctrine.

“No Christian who reads the Bible can escape some kind of creedal conclusions in the sense that he makes some decision about the meaning of the Bible.  To speak of the Bible’s meaning, as Westminster’s faculty always understood, was to talk in terms of doctrinal affirmations and denials.  Being a Christian without doctrine was impossible.  The best approach, as the importance of the creeds at Westminster demonstrated, was for Christians communally to summarize those doctrines into a coherent whole that would inform the life and ministry of Christ’s church.”

“Still the anti-confessional bias of many American evangelicals challenged Westminster California to ask again and again whether the teachings and practices of Reformed confessionalism were still necessary or worthwhile in the contemporary church.  But through these reflections Westminster California forged an increasingly self-conscious confessional identity as the years went by.  It became even more confident of the truths of the Reformed confessions.”

WSC started out by upholding, affirming, and teaching the Westminster Standards.  In 1993 they added the Three Forms of Unity to further bolster their Reformed confessional identity.

“Far from watering down its confessional identity, this action actually underscored the importance of confessional Reformed Christianity for its education.  This decision also helped assure that students would be well versed not only in Reformed theology generally, but also in the church’s confessional expressions of the truth.  Adding to the confessional identity of Westminster California is the reality that the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity are essentially agreed at almost every point, showing the unity of Reformed Christianity.”

If you have any interest in Westminster Seminary California – whether a former or current student, former or current parent(s) of a student, or if you are curious what WSC is all about, I highly recommend this book: A New Old School.  Also worth noting is that the Kindle version is currently at the special introductory price of $4.99 (here on Amazon).

shane lems

sunnyside, wa