Monday, September 30, 2013

Convocation At Tyndale (Or, Why I Am So Glad To Be Serving Here)

Our annual convocation ceremony took place here at Tyndale a few weeks ago. Convocation is an evening to assemble at the beginning of the school year to worship and corporately commit ourselves to God for the upcoming academic year. During the service there was a time for all the faculty to stand and make the following pledge together:

"We, the faculty of Tyndale Theological Seminary, pledge before our Lord and before those gathered the following:

We promise by God's grace to maintain a vibrant and personal devotion to Jesus Christ in our own lives, to be regularly in the Word of God, to be people of prayer, and to participate actively in the local church. We will endeavor to be Christian examples, living lives that are consistent with what we teach.

We promise to be submitted to and to teach, with the Holy Spirit's enablement, the whole counsel of God--both the truths that are popular and those that are unpopular. We promise as a community of scholars to pursue excellence in all our various disciplines.

And finally, we pledge to encourage you, our students, to apply the truths you learn and seek to live by them in your Christian pilgrimage. We pledge to be available to help you, to encourage you, to counsel you, to challenge you, and at times to admonish you.

As a team of professors, we will endeavor, by God's grace to make this one of the best and most important years of your life. May our Lord give us grace to that end."

It is a joy for me to teach and serve at a place that annually publicly declares its commitment to God, Scripture, and our students in such a way. The students also corporately made a similar pledge later in the service.

Monday Musings: Salvation as an "End-Time" Reality that Has Broken into Our Present

Last week I introduced the word picture of a giant wall separating our present lives from God’s promised future, our future eternal existence with God in the new heavens and earth. In my own mind I picture this wall somewhat like the Hoover Dam. The wall will be completely removed when Christ returns and God recreates the heavens and earth as described in Rev. 21:1–8.

Jesus’ resurrection shot through the wall like a bullet, creating a hole through which “end time” realities such as resurrection life and power, the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God, and new creation itself began to pour through into this present evil age characterized by sickness, sin, and death. John notes that Jesus anticipated this happening when he said, “Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39; ESV throughout). Jesus’ “glorification” (i.e. his death, resurrection, and ascension) opened the way for the end-time reality of the Spirit to invade the present.

Theologians coined the phrase “inaugurated eschatology” (since theologians, of course, like big words) to describe this reality. “Inaugurated” points to the fact that these things have already begun while “eschatology” points out the fact that the things that have already begun relate to the eschaton or end times.

Salvation has broken through alongside the other end-time realities that have come pouring into the present through the resurrection and the activity of the Holy Spirit.

Despite how we often talk about salvation it is first and foremost an end-time (eschatological) reality. Those who believe in Christ will be saved (i.e. following Christ’s return they will survive the final judgment and experience eternal life in God’s new creation). Many verses throughout the New Testament point to this future timing of salvation.

We Will Be Saved

• “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22).

• “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:9–10).

• “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11).

• “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

• “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:5).

• “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 5:8–9).

• “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16).

• “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Tim 4:18).

• “Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” (Heb 1:14).

• “So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:28).

• “Who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).

• “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation1—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2).

All of these verses clearly communicate the future tense of salvation—salvation is an end-time event associated with the return of Christ and the final judgment. From this perspective we have not yet been saved. We have not yet passed the final judgment and are not yet living in God’s new creation.

We Have Been Saved

As with the other end-time events that have come crashing into the present though the hole or crack opened up by Jesus’ resurrection, salvation has also come barreling into our present. This is why the New Testament authors can confidently talk about salvation as a thing that we possess in the present. Christians have been saved!

• “For in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24a).

• “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:5).

• “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8–9).

• “Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:9).

• “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Tit 3:5).

We Are Being Saved

As Christians we have confidence that we will be saved because we have been saved. But what about the present time? What connects our past salvation to our future salvation? The process of salvation. As Christians we are being saved in the present.

• “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).

• “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:2).

• “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor 2:15).

This understanding of salvation as past, present, and future is important for how we understand the Christian life. It also influences our understanding of assurance of salvation, the place of warnings in the New Testament, and a host of related discussions. We have been saved. We are being saved. We will be saved. Salvation is primarily a future event that we have access to in the present in Jesus Christ and because Jesus’ resurrection punctured the wall separating our present existence in this difficult and evil world and God’s promises concerning our existence in his future new creation. We are living in a time of partial fulfillment even as we long for and wait for full-fulfillment at Jesus’ return.

May your life this week be marked by a growing awareness and experience of the end-time realities that have broken into and are transforming our present existence in this world!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday Musings: A Crack in the Wall Separating our Present from God's Future

As Christians we live as future oriented people. We have a clear sense of how God is going to act in the future to set things right in his creation by removing sickness, death, sorrow, pain, and sin (Revelation 21). One way this knowledge of the future impacts our present is by filling us with hope, a hope based on the firm promises of God. This hope carries us through the difficulties, problems, and sicknesses that characterize our present existence.

In addition to hope, the future impacts our present existence by invading it. In Christ and because of Christ’s death and resurrection future realities have been unleashed in this present evil age that is characterized by sin and death. In Christ the future has invaded the present! I want to draw attention to a few ways the future has invaded the present in this post and will discuss a few more ways in a future post.

The Kingdom of God: When we look at the symbolic visions of Revelation 21 and 22 we are seeing the full, future realization of the kingdom of God. God’s reign and rule will be physically and tangibly present in the new heavens and earth. God will be with us and will personally wipe every tear from every eye (Rev. 21:4). The nations of the earth will exist in perfect allegiance to God (Rev. 21:24–26) and the leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to the nations (Rev. 22:2). God’s reign and rule will perfectly extend through and be acknowledged by all creation. This future kingdom is spoken of throughout the New Testament (Matt. 6:10; 25:34; Luke 19:11; 21:31; Acts 14:22; 2 Thess. 1:5; 1 Cor. 15:50).

In Christ this future kingdom has invaded the present! Christ told the Pharisees that the kingdom of God was in their midst (Luke 17:21); of course it was in their midst because it was embodied in the king himself. Jesus directly links his miracles to the coming of the kingdom: “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20; cf. Matt. 12:28). Even as we await the coming of God’s future kingdom we experience it to a partial degree in the present as we submit ourselves to Christ’s reign, pledge and live our lives in allegiance to him, and extend his rule and presence everywhere we go. We belong to the kingdom now and reap the benefits of the kingdom even as we wait with longing and expectation for the full realization of the kingdom in the future. Paul notes that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). This passage clearly links the present experience of God’s kingdom, reign, and rule with another future reality that has invaded the present, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit: In the Jewish thinking of Jesus’ day the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all humanity was an event associated with God’s future kingdom. This expectation was based upon Joel 2:28–29 (see also Ezek. 36:25–27; 37:14) which stated, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Following Jesus’ resurrection the Holy Spirit was indeed poured out upon Jesus’ followers as recounted in Acts 2. Peter directly interprets the outpouring of the Spirit as a fulfillment of Joel 2:28–19 in Acts 2:16. The fruit of the Spirit is thus the fruit of the life of our future existence in God’s kingdom being supernaturally produced and developed in the midst of this present evil age (Gal. 5:22–23). We are commanded to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16) and the Spirit is our seal and the guarantee of our future inheritance in God’s future kingdom (Eph. 1:13–14). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit follows Jesus’ resurrection; thus pointing out another feature of the future that has invaded the present: resurrection.

Resurrection: Most first century Jews, excluding the Sadducees, believed in a future resurrection that would be followed by vindication for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. This makes Jesus’ statement to Martha particularly startling. “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:23–26). Jesus was the living embodiment of future resurrection power.

Following Christ’s resurrection Paul makes it clear that those who are in Christ share in his resurrection and the power of his resurrection even in the present! Believers are united to Christ and share in his resurrection and power over sin and death: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. . . . Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. . . . If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 6:5, 13; 8:11). Our present experience of resurrection power is directly linked to the Spirit that indwells us. Finally, in Ephesians 2:6 Paul describes Christians as those who have been raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places right in their present concrete, physical existence on earth. Our boots are solidly on the ground in this present evil age, so to speak, but spiritually we are already experiencing the future reality of resurrection!

New Creation: Paul provides a summary description of how the future has invaded the present in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” “New creation” is a way to point to the future world described in Revelation 21 and 22. In Christ this future new creation has broken into this present creation and is at work transforming those who are in Christ! As Jesus used the illustration of the kingdom of God being like leaven slowly spreading through an entire loaf, new creation has broken into the present and is transforming individuals one at a time as it spreads throughout creation (Matt. 13:33).

Jesus’ resurrection could be thought of as the opening event, the crack in the great wall separating our present and God’s future in the new heavens and earth. In Jesus’ resurrection the future resurrection burst through the wall and opened the way for all of these other “end time” realities to come pouring out: the kingdom of God, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, resurrection, and new creation itself. Our present experience of these future realities is as real and concrete as it is partial and incomplete and we long for the day when Christ will return and completely remove, not just crack, the wall separating our present and God’s future.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Announcement: The Final Days of Jesus

I am excited to announce the publication of the first book for which I have made a substantial contribution. I am not listed as an official author but my name appears on the cover with the ambiguous phrase “with Alexander E. Stewart.” This means that although I am not part of the official book contract I made a substantial contribution to the book while working as a research assistant with Dr. Kostenberger.

The book examines Jesus’ final week by carefully comparing each of the four Gospels to each other. We provide the ESV text along with commentary discussing the similarities and differences between the accounts. The goal with this book was to present an academically grounded discussion of this powerful week in history in an engaging manner that could be easily read and understood without advanced academic training. Some scholars only write books for other scholars but this book is for God’s global church. We pray that it will strengthen the faith of God’s people and turn the hearts of its readers to reconsider and reevaluate their commitment to our resurrected savior.

Jenny and I are currently working on an accompanying study guide that will be freely available for download from Crossway. The study guide will help equip Sunday School classes, small groups, and families to reflect on the events that unfolded during this crucial week of Jesus’ life.

The book is currently available for pre-order and will be on shelves January 31, 2014 but I wanted to mention it now because, of course, it is my first book :-). I will post again when it officially hits the shelves and will keep you updated about future writing projects.

Monday Musings: How God's Future Impacts our Present

How does our knowledge of the future affect or impact our lives in the present? One key way is hope. Our certain knowledge of the future fills us with hope in the midst of incredible difficult circumstances in the present: death, disease, natural disasters, and the pain inflicted by the sinful actions of others. This is the way the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 lived as people of the distance who “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13).

Revelation 21-22 provides us a visionary picture of the future. The symbolic details of the vision leave much to the imagination concerning what moment-by-moment life will be like but the general outline is quite clear. Here are some of the major contours of this vision.

New Creation: New Heaven and Earth (Rev 21:1; cf. Isa 65:17; 66:22) In fulfillment of the promises made through the prophet Isaiah John receives a vision of the New Creation: God recreation or creation of a new heaven and earth. The judgment visions in Revelation reveal a de-creation of the present order in anticipation of a new creation; the implicit logic being that the one who originally created has the power to de-create and re-create. The absence of the sea in God’s new creation should not discourage avid boaters since the sea is here symbolically representing chaos and disorder. This was a very common symbol in the ancient world.

Existence in God’s new creation is concrete and tangible; we will not exist as disembodied spirits floating around somewhere in space but rather in resurrected bodies in a new, concrete, tangible world.

God’s Direct Presence (Rev 21:3, 7; 22:3; cf. Jer 31:33; Ezek 43:7; 48:35; Hos 2:19-20; Zeph 3:15-17) This is perhaps the most powerful element of John’s vision of the future and comes as the fulfillment of many Old Testament promises and prophecies. Throughout Revelation there is a strong spatial dualism between earth and heaven. Earth is the dwelling place and abode of man while heaven is God’s dwelling place. God’s decrees and judgments from heaven affect the earth and the prayers of the saints on earth ascend to heaven but they are nevertheless two distinct areas. The descent of the New Jerusalem has been understood in various ways but Rev 21:3 clearly interprets it as representing God’s residence with humanity on earth. With the descent of New Jerusalem the barrier between earth and heaven is breached or removed and God directly lives among his people.

No Death (Rev 21:4; cf. Isa 25:8; 26:19); No Mourning or Crying (Rev 21:4; cf. Isa 25:8; 65:19; Jer 31:13); No Disease (Rev 21:4; 22:2; Isa 65:20; Ezek 47:12; Mal 4:2) The direct presence of God with humanity leads directly to these other realities: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes . . . .”

John’s vision of the future sharply contrasts with our present. We weep, and mourn, and hurt, and cry over senseless evil, cancer, heart attacks, violence, and death. We long for Christ to return to set everything right once and for all in his creation. We do not, however, wait in despair. We wait in confident hope and expectation that God will one day make good on his promises to his people!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Introducing the new Seminary Chaplain at Tyndale (drum-roll) . . .

The Fall semester officially began today! In addition to my New Testament and Greek classes I have inherited the position of seminary chaplain. The chaplain is responsible for planning and scheduling the two weekly chapel services throughout the year and for leading a half-hour faculty and staff devotion/prayer meeting each Monday. The chapel scheduling will require a good deal of networking with pastors and Christian leaders in the Netherlands.

In my first time leading the faculty/staff meeting today I shared some of the following thoughts: John concludes his vision of the eschatological New Jerusalem by summing up the future of God’s people: “and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:5c; ESV). This language of “reigning” is significant in light of God’s original creation purpose for humanity to reign and rule in his creation for his glory as his image bearers and representatives  (Gen 1:26-28). As a race we were/are rendered unable to fulfill this purpose by our rebellion, disobedience, and sin, but Rev 22:5 provides a glorious glimpse of our future—we will one day, as a redeemed race, fulfill God’s original creational purpose. We will reign with him as his image and representatives over a renewed and restored creation. Heaven/New Creation will certainly not be boring! Even better, “new creation” begins right now in the midst of this old creation for those who are in Christ (2 Cor 5 17). We engage in this activity of extending God’s reign and rule throughout his creation as we engage and participate in his mission to the world. I.e.: missions is a way for us to fulfill God’s original purpose for humanity while anticipating the future day when we will fulfill this purpose fully and completely in God’s new creation!