Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Nature and Grace[1]

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            Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace was a response to the pernicious views of Pelagius’ concerning the grace of Christ.  He addresses the letter to Timasius and Jacobus, whom he calls ‘my beloved sons’.  Augustine’s manner in confronting the heresy is done graciously, not vehemently, for he does not judge the motives of his zealous rival, but rather his writings.

God’s Righteousness through Christ Alone

He begins by speaking of God’s righteousness, which comes not through the law, but only through Christ Jesus.  This righteousness makes one a Christian, that is, if he needs it.  But if one, by virtue of his own righteousness, needs not Christ’s righteousness, then the death of Jesus was in vain.  But if Christ’s death is not in vain then human nature cannot of its own merit, escape the wrath of God.  Said escape can only be realized by faith in Christ.

Our Corrupted Natures

Although our nature was created whole and sound, it was corrupted by original sin, which was committed by free will, and now requires Divine rescue from it’s fallen state.  This rescue is gratis, not merited, it’s a justification freely given by God through Christ’s sacrifice.   For because of original sin, all mankind is justly under God’s wrath, and as such needs a Savior, so that they can be ‘vessels of mercy.’

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Ability to not Sin

Pelagius advanced the argument that actually all men sin, but its possible that they can abstain from it.  Augustine responds that just because something is possible, it does not follow that it can actually happen.  Moreover, one is not unrighteous because of his own choice [Pelagius], but rather because of his inability to choose to be righteous.  To affirm the former, rather than the latter, would make the cross of Christ of none effect and prove one to be a liar (1 Jn.1:8).  Pelagius corrupts (Jam.3:8) to support the above notion by making an interrogative note: “Can no man, then, tame the tongue?” as opposed to “No man can tame the tongue.”  James wrote this of the tongue, emphatically, not interrogatively, so that we would petition God for his mercy and grace.  Augustine rightly points to (Jam.3: 10) to support his conclusion of our need for God’s grace to tame our tongue.  Furthermore, Augustine points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, we are commanded to ask for pardon from past sins, and to be kept from future transgression.  But, if we do not need divine assistance in the matter, why then are we commanded to ask for help?  It seems foolish therefore, to ask for something we have.

Pelagius’ View Concerning Our Corrupt Human Nature

Pelagius denies that human nature has been corrupted by sin, for if sin is not a substance, then how can it corrupt human nature?  Augustine responds by first pointing out, that such a view opposes the Jesus who said, “they that are whole, need no physician, but they that are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mt.9: 12-13)  Second, even though sin is not a substance, it does not prevent our nature from becoming corrupt.  Augustine continues and explains that we humans are sufficient of ourselves to commit sins, but insufficient of ourselves to be healed from it.  For the penalty of sin is death, and as such we need to choose to stop sinning, but we need to be revived from the grave, before being able to do that.  We need a Vivifier!   Until our souls are revived by Christ’s grace, we are unable to respond to God in righteousness.  To think we need no such assistance reveals our pride and restricts the humble petition for divine grace from being offered.

Augustins’ God-Centeredness for Man’s Healing

Augustine further points out that although God’s purpose in acting is to heal all things, He does not follow the sick patients prescription for its accomplishment.  For in His purpose to endow the Apostle Paul with power, God made sure that Paul was weak because “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.12: 7-8).  In fact Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was given to keep him humble because of the multitude of revelations that God gave him, so that he would not be prideful, and that in the ‘right’ thing.  By doing this to Paul, God is preventing the apostle from boasting in gifts he has received, not earned, and as such, he is being protected from eternal peril.  Now, God in a certain sense forsakes the proud, so that such a one may learn that he has a Master, and thus learns to renounce the pride.

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Equality to God

Pelagius also equals man’s sinless to be equal to God, but Augustine responds by noting that the creature can never in substance become equal to God.  Moreover, Pelagius honors God as Creator but dishonors him as Savior when he holds that Jesus heals us of our past sins, but not the future ones.  Unwittingly, Pelagius is not encouraging that believers be watchful and pray, “lead us not into temptation”; instead he is advancing an independent attitude between the creature and the Creator.  Another argument Pelagius raises is that Abel was sinless on the heels of asserting that not all people’s sins in the Bible were recorded.  Augustine responds, by noting that Adam, Eve, and Cain’s sin are recorded, but to conclude and even ‘add’ that Abel did not sin because it’s not in the text, is a wicked act for the text also is silent on that.

Augustine addresses many other issues concerning how only by God’s grace one can be sinless, that what He commands is not impossible but in no wise removes the need for petitioning his divine help.  He also tackles the issue of free will and its ramifications to the believer’s life.  Toward the end of the letter, Augustine uses other authorities to combat Pelagius’ views, he demonstrates how to exhort men to godly living, and ends the treatise by accentuating the need for the Holy Spirit to help believers walk holiness.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “Treatise on Nature and Grace: Against Pelagius,” The Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Pp.121-151, (T & T Clark Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

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Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD “Athanasius, On The Incarnation”[1]

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The Universe’s Creation

In his letter On The Incarnation, Athanasius first grounds his apologetic of the incarnation on the universe’s creation.  He does this by addressing fallacious views of creation, the first of which is Epicureanism (fortuitous generation).  They contend that everything is its own cause and is independent of any purpose, but Athanasius argues that the diversity of bodies and parts actually supports an intelligent, creating designer.  Then there are the Platonists (pre-existent matter).  They purport that God created the world with the matter that already existed; in other words, God is seen as a mechanic using available material to construct the universe.  Athanasius contends that this view weakens God, for he could not create the material needed to construct the universe.  But He could not in any sense be called Creator unless He is Creator of the material with which all things have been made.  Moreover he accentuates that the world as well as humans were made ex-nihilo and that Scripture attests to this.  But when Adam disobeyed, the promise of death had to be met out.  Yet, in keeping with God’s goodness, He could not allow his creation, especially his image bearers, his rational creatures to continue in a corrupt state.  Thus, he sent the incorporeal immaterial One who has always been, and through the incarnation takes a body of our nature, and reveals Himself, in order to conquer death and restore life back to us.

The Reason for the Incarnation

Second, Athanasius asserts that the reason for the incarnation was to give man the knowledge of Himself.  For, to be destitute of the knowledge of God is equivalent to a purposeless existence.  Hence, in the incarnation man can get a “front row seat” and somewhat understand the Father and their Maker, and as a result have a happy and blessed life.  But man rejected the knowledge of God (which is the equivalent of irrationality for Athanasius) and replaced it with idolatry, witchcraft, and astrology, even though the creation along with the Law and Prophets gave further attestation to the Creator.  Such darkness prevented man from understanding the knowledge of God, and as such, only the Lord Jesus Christ could bring about such knowledge to man.  In His mercy, he condescended to man to save the lost.

God’s Ubiquity Not Affected by the Incarnation

Third, the incarnation affected not his ubiquity, for even though he was in a body, he never ceased being the sustainer of all things.  He maintained the same nature (separate from the creation).  Moreover, his miraculous acts (healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead) his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, testified to his dominion over creation and as such, to his deity.  His public death among other things did not show weakness, but rather it demonstrated strength.  It was the means by which he would destroy death, while simultaneously through the resurrection manifest the monument of victory over death.  His public death was also necessary for the doctrine of the resurrection to be believed as a historical event, rather than a mere fable, both by his disciples and those who would later believe.  Christ’s death on the cross, demonstrated his bearing the curse on our stead, for “Cursed is he that hangs on a tree.”  This death and resurrection secures for the believer the joy of life, rather than the torment of death.  For, just as Christ is the first fruits of life, through the resurrection, believers will follow in like manner.  Hence the fear of death to man is overthrown.  Death is swallowed up in victory!

Proofs for the Resurrection

Fourth, the resurrection has many proofs to its veracity.  First of all, the fact that men from all cultures are turning to faith in Christ points to him being alive, not dead.  Second, being the source of life, it was impossible for him not to bring his body back to life.  Third, even if God is invisible, the fact that his works of casting out demons and overcoming idolatry through his people is manifest are proof of the resurrection.  For, demons would scarcely obey in the name of a dead man, but rather in the name of the One risen.

Responding to the Jews Concerning Christ’s Person from the Old and New Testaments

Fifth, Athanasius answers the unbelieving Jews by using the Scriptures to argue for the incarnation with many references.  He starts with the virgin birth (Mt.1: 23, cf; Is. 7:14), and moves on to Moses’ prediction (Num.14: 5-17; Is. 8:4), his living place (Hos. 9:1), his death (Is. 53:3), his birth and death on the cross (Jer.9: 19; Ps.22: 16; Is.9: 10), his miracles (Is.65: 1-2, Rom.10: 20; Is.35: 3) and more scripture.  He then argues from the withdrawal of prophecy and the destruction of Jerusalem (Mt.11: 13; Lk.16: 16), and points to the fact that it was the Lord himself that would save us (Is.63: 9).

Unbelief of the Greeks Addressed

Sixth, Athanasius addresses the unbelief of the Greeks concerning the absurdity of the incarnation and he points out that it is no problem for Christ to manifest in a body if in fact the Logos Manifests Himself in creation.  Moreover, his manifestation in a body is grounded on his relation to Creation as a whole.  Hence, because he wanted to reveal himself to man, he became man.  Another line of argument concerns the reason for the incarnation.  Since man is the only creature that sinned, he would not see or recognize the Creator through his works, so through the incarnation he manifested his works among them.  He continues with many other proofs to counter their scoffing, but ends his letter with an exhortation for those who love knowledge to find it where it only resides: in Christ, where it’s attained through virtuous living that’s grounded in loving the Logos who is blessed forever more.

[1] Athanasius, “On The Incarnation of The Word,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, p.36 (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

 

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

Justin-Martyr

Justin Martyr, First Apology[1]

In his first Apology, Justin addresses the Roman Emperor; Pius Augustus Caesar, his sons Versimmus and Lucius, both of which are philosophers, the Senate and all of the Roman people.  Martyr’s chief concern is regarding the injustice Christians are suffering at the hands of Roman authorities.  The Christian worldview is being egregiously misrepresented, and as such, Justin challenges these “lovers of truth” (the philosophers) to listen to reason, and to investigate to see whether or not the allegations raised against believers are warranted.

First, Christians are being condemned for simply bearing the name.  Justin points out that a mere name does not constitute whether one is evil or good, but rather the actions one does or does not commit should condemn or acquit them.

Second, Christians are charged of being atheists and Justin points out that they are atheists of a certain kind.  This atheism is not equivalent to our modern usage of the word.  Instead, it concerns the refusal of Christians to worship the pantheon of Roman gods, which Justin rightly labels as “demons”, which are not gods at all.  Instead Christians acknowledge only Jesus Christ as God, the only one worthy to be worshipped.

Third, Justin accentuates the need for Christians individually to be tried to see if they actually are evildoers, and if found guilty, they ought to be punished.  But to merely condemn one for bearing the name “Christian” lacks reason, and it is a travesty of justice.

Fourth, Justin points out the foolishness of idol worship and demonstrates how God is to be served.  Idols are nothing but soulless dead representations of contingent beings (creatures) and as such, to worship them is not only senseless but an offense to God (creator).  Since God is the only necessary being, he is the source of all things, and as such, the service that God accepts, must conform to the excellencies that reside in Him.  Moreover, Justin points out that the Christians worship is rational and is based on Christ’s teaching, who among other things, calls all men to repentance from dead works to serve the living God.

Fifth, Justin continues with a litany of Christ’s teaching found in the Gospels.  Concerning truth telling, the believer is to let “your yes be yes, and your no, no”.   Regarding civil obedience, give to Caesar what belongs to him, and to God what belongs to Him.  Here, Justin distinguishes the proper relationship the Christian is to have with the state and with God.

Sixth, Justin answers the heathen analogies to Christian doctrine, to the history of Christ and to his Sonship and points out that although there are similarities, truth and redemption are only found in Christ Jesus the Lord.  Since the aforementioned obtains, Christians have abandoned the worship of false gods, the practice of sorcery, and promiscuous behavior.

Seventh, Martyr points out that the life and works of Christ are predicted in the Hebrew prophets, and as such uses fulfilled prophecy to argue for the veracity of Christian doctrine.  He starts off with Moses describing the time of Jesus’ coming and his passion.  Then Isaiah (the most quoted prophet) describes the predicted virgin birth, reign, and crucifixion of Christ, while Micah describes Bethlehem as the place of his birth.  Furthermore, the Psalmist predicts his incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension.   Justin also points out that Judea’s desolation, Christ’s healing ministry, and rejection by the Jews are also foretold.  Hence, if what was foretold has already been fulfilled, for Justin, it stands to reason that the predictions not yet fulfilled, will be.  And are thus worthy to be believed.

Eighth, Justin explains that even though demons have instituted the rite of baptism in their temples, true baptism is reserved only for those who are born again.  He continues to explain that partaking of the Eucharist is reserved only for those who have been regenerated and baptized.  He finally explains the reason they worship on Sunday and explains their liturgy.

Justin concludes his letter in the manner in which he started, he appeals to reason and justice. He challenges his audience, if the material presented is reasonable and true, and then they should honor it and not decree the innocent to be killed.  If it is nonsensical, they should totally disregard it. He then warns them that they will not escape the coming judgment of God if they do not stop their injustice.

[1] Martyr, Justin, “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, pp.163-187,) T & T

Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

1

Ignatius, Epistle to Polycarp

Ignatius like Polycarp comprised part of the band of disciples after the apostles.  They are known as the “Apostolic Fathers” the bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of the apostle John

While Ignatius highly esteems Polycarp and feels privileged to behold him, nevertheless he commends and exhorts the bishop of Smyrna for many things.  Polycarp is commended for his steadfastness in the faith and is exhorted to be constant in evangelism, diligent in intercessions, focused on church unity, winsome in his speech, sober as God’s athlete who awaits his eternal reward.  Moreover, Polycarp is exhorted to consider the times and zealously contend for the faith, which is being challenged with false doctrine.

Polycarp now focuses on household codes.  Concerning widows, they are to be nurtured, protected and befriended.  Concerning slaves, both male and female are to be treated with dignity.  If marriage is to honor God, it must be patterned after Christ’s relationship with his church, and the husband/wife union must have the bishop’s approval.  To heed the bishop results in God heeding the flock, the goal of which is the unity of the body.  Finally, Polycarp is exhorted to appoint a Messenger in Antioch for the work of the gospel.

This is definitely not business as usual.  Note the preoccupation Ignatius reveals with eternal issues in correspondence to the Great Commission (MT. 28:18-20):

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

To accomplish Christ’s command, Ignatius understood the urgent need for Polycarp to practice the things exhorted (i.e., evangelism, intercessions, church unity, gracious speech, etc.)

It’s uncanny how relevant this letter was then and is so today.  These exhortations are pointed, concise, and conspicuously God centered.  Christians would do well to pattern their discipleship according to this brief powerful letter.

(SDG)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD by Sergio Tangari

1Considering Some Who Have Shaped the Church’s Thought  

The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7.  Too often Christians find themselves imitating the faith of those who actually do not speak the word of God to them in truth.  Instead, they listen to teachers who proclaim what their itching ears want to hear to their utter destruction.  One way to guard against that is to consider how believers through the centuries understood the Gospel, and treasured Christ as they lived out its implications.

There are two cautions, two extremes, I think are critical to consider if we are to love God with our minds and hearts.  First, we must guard against thinking that because something is old (pick a number) it’s irrelevant in the present and for our future.  Second, we must guard against thinking that because something is new it’s relevant for the present and future.  Both extremes are foolish, irrational, clothed in hubris and blind us from discovering objective truth so that we may live out its implications presently and in the days ahead.

The following summaries are provided to encourage, challenge, comfort and invigorate the follower of Christ to consider how in the last two millennia followers of Christ understood and lived out the implications of their faith.  It’s to consider how these believers spent their energies for the glory of God and the cause of the kingdom, and to see where their example is worthy to be emulated.

Some things will seem odd, some things odious, some things onerous, and some things endearing.  I trust in no way you will be bored.  These summaries are but a taste of their substance that I’ve attempted to capture so that you the reader will take up and read at the source.

(Soli Deo Gloria)

                                                           

 The Patristic & Medieval Period

Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans[1]

In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius addresses the issue of his death.  As a prisoner, Ignatius first encourages the Romans to pray not for his deliverance, but for his death.  Secondly, he desires a martyr’s death to prove the genuineness of his faith.  Third, martyrdom is to be via the wild beasts.  Fourth, Ignatius desires death to rid himself from his persecutors.  If the wild beasts don’t want him, he will entice them to rip him to shreds.  For his goal is to attain to Jesus.

Fifth, only by death could Ignatius attain to the true life.  He desires neither the pleasures of this world nor it’s kingdoms, but rather the pleasures of God and His kingdom.  Only through death can he attain to this true life.  Sixth, he exhorts the Romans to demonstrate their fidelity to Christ by imitating him.  Seventh, Ignatius affirms that what he has written to the Romans is in accordance with Gods will.  Hence, to prevent Ignatius from martyrdom is equivalent to the Romans hating him.  Finally, he encourages the Romans to pray for the Syrian church, who only have Jesus Christ as the overseer.

If Christ is not risen from the dead, then Ignatius was a fool.  But if Christ is risen from the dead according to eyewitness accounts (The Gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians 15, etc.) then Ignatius understood true treasure and was thus willing to lay down his life for the Master.

As a young man, in 1984 I attended a lecture where Richard Wurmbrand, the Lutheran pastor tortured for Christ, imprisoned in a communist prison for over 14 years, spoke of his experiences.  It was humbling for I was in the presence of one who loved Jesus in word and deed.  While not all believers are chosen by God to journey that road of suffering, all believers are called by Christ do die to self.  This is why Jesus made it clear that in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.  The road is hard, for some more than others, but the rewards far outweigh the temporary hardships.  What say you friend?

[1] Ignatius, “Epistle to the Romans,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I, 73, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996).

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 4: IS THEIR EVER A TIME TO JUDGE ANOTHER’S WORK IN THE GOSPEL? (Vvs.1-5)

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Paul continues his thought from chapter three and exhorts the believers to think biblically, truthfully, when they regard the apostle’s status:

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

Like the Corinthians, many of us tend to label and decipher a person’s value based on their status in life.  To assist them in their view of the apostle, Paul says; “regard us as servants of Christ…stewards of God’s mysteries.”  Note the gravity and humility of this statement.

On the one hand, the gravity of being put in charge to steward, care for and appropriately handle the mysteries of God (i.e., to unfold the meaning of the incarnation and work of Christ on Calvary’s cross) as revealed to the apostle by Christ himself.

On the other hand, consider Paul’s humility recognizing that he’s Christ’s servant not a “superstar apostle” celebrity.  Contrary to the Corinthian blunder of comparing themselves among each other, Paul compares himself to no mere man, but recognizes his status before the risen Lord as a servant.  All who are in ministerial work are just that, servants and nothing more.

They are servants who have received mercy and God’s kindnesses.  That’s why any boasting that’s not Christ centered is truly in vain.  The Creator has given all things which the creature enjoys (i.e., salvation and gifts which accompany God’s people) freely, these are not earned.  Thus, to boast in that which you have not accomplished and posing as if you did is indeed delusional.

After describing his position as servant and steward, Paul accentuates that not just anyone can be a steward, only he who is “trustworthy” which implies that many are not and as a result, can’t be stewards (i.e., the Corinthians).  This is emphasized because the Corinthian’s seem to have questioned Paul’s legitimacy as an authority to heed.

Paul explains to these believers that their view of him and especially his apostleship is insignificant because he knows that God the Judge will have the last word on such matters and will rightly approve or disapprove of his work on the final day.  Do we realize the weight of this understanding?  Can we appreciate the profundity of this reality that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and be rewarded for our service and receive our praise from God?

Paul thus commands these believers to withhold their judgment because the day approaches when our works and motives fueling said works will be exposed by the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, all-just, all-wise God who perfectly and without bias judges.

We all long for praise, it seems, especially when we do something well because of our skill set.  This brings a measure of satisfaction, nevertheless, longing for the creatures praise is too short sighted, since they too only see our actions through the “key-hole” of life.  Paul is wisely pointing the Corinthians and us to look for God’s approval, praise and reward for its’ worth has an infinite texture to it that our creaturely praise can’t compare.

(SDG)

1 Corinthians Chapter 3: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BOAST IN GOD ALONE? (Vvs.9-23)

1-corinthians

After correcting the Corinthians on the erroneous bent to make much of men and by default little of God (Vvs.1-8), Paul gives the reason for why they are to boast in God for gospel fruit and not their favorite ministers:

For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.  10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Paul first accentuates that the players are the apostles (the builders) and the Corinthians (the building, the field, the tabernacle of God by the Spirit’s indwelling).  Both are needy, both comprise the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and both have differing tasks according to the wisdom and knowledge of God.

If these believers were not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then Paul could not affirm that they are the building of God.  That is, the fact these believers are the temple of God points to the divinity of the Spirit who is God and who is also the author of the gospel message preached by Paul and the other ministers.

Paul continues to explain that this building’s foundation is Christ (the foundation which has been laid down by the apostle) and like a wise master builder was built through Paul because of the grace of God.  Building upon the foundation which is Christ requires great care (a metaphor for edifying and growing people on and in the gospel message).  Here’s where some obscurity arises.

When the work of ministry is performed in accordance to the gospel message, lasting fruit will be borne and its genuineness will be revealed by the All-wise God’s furnace of truth: determining what is acceptable to Him and what is not, purifying what is acceptable and destroying what is not (vv.10-15).  Reward and the loss thereof are at stake here for the workers on God’s field/house, not salvation (as I understand it).  Paul now turns his focus off the workers and onto God’s building, His temple and exclaims to the Corinthians:

16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.  18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, “He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless.”

The apostle Paul pricks the Corinthians pride (their “altar of knowledge”) and finds it desperately wanting.  Their boasting in men reveals the ineptness of their capacity to judge righteously (something Jesus commanded his followers to enact) that they are in fact “God’s temple” by the Spirit’s indwelling.  Now Paul warns the perpetrator that “to destroy God’s temple”, will result in their own destruction.  How is God’s temple destroyed in the context?

It’s not destroyed by food, drink, illicit sex or a host of other sins.  Contextually, what destroys God’s temple (His people, His church) is pride revealed through their boasting in the creature (e.g., Paul, Cephas, Apollos, etc.) instead of the Creator (i.e., the source of all the good gifts they enjoy and derive tremendous benefit from).  When we make much of the creature, we tend to make little of the Creator and when this occurs, deception is occurring, demonic activity is raging and we are the tools being used.

Remember that the comparison between this world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ is made so that those who fancy themselves to be clever will humble themselves to accept the foolishness of the cross.  Paul’s warning the Corinthians who claim to know God, that if they are operating under the world’s wisdom (see chapter 1-2) then they can’t belong to Christ.  And if they in fact do belong to Christ, then their boasting is not based on God’s wisdom and knowledge, a knowledge that is simple yet profound, easily understood yet incapable of being fully grasped.

So Paul concludes this thought by commanding the Corinthians never to boast in men because they belong to God who is their greatest treasure, supreme good and delight.  To boast in the creature is an act in futility (this is not addressing the command elsewhere to give honor to whom honor is due) because we are finite, needy and utterly dependent on God who is infinite, self-existent and kind to us through the foolishness of the cross of Christ.

To boast in God alone then means to make much of God, and little of man.  It means that our praise is properly placed according to the worth of our object.  It means that we are rightly appraising what is true, beautiful and good.  It means here that we recognize that any gospel fruit is sourced in God alone, never in the minister.

(SDG)

Summary of Chapter 2: CHRISTENDOM STRIKES BACK (Pgs.36-54)

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In this chapter Stark notes that the defeat in 672 of Muslim attacers on Constantinople occurred for two reasons.  First, Byzantium had made tools sophisticated enough to best Muslim forces.  The Western technology of impenetrable fortifications, along with natural sea barriers contributed to Muslim defeat.  Second, “Greek fire” a catapult with pumps acting as flame throwers could not be matched by Muslim armies.

The Battle of Tours/Poitiers was a fierce engagement where Muslim troops drove deep into Gaul not far from Paris and advanced to victory over the city of Bordeaux and plundered it.  Again, a small Christian army could not stay their own slaughter by the Muslim army at the Battle of the River Garonne.  It wasn’t until the Muslim army met Charles Martel, the ruler of Gaul, that the tables began to turn against the Muslim’s conquest of Europe.

Here, Martel the powerful battle hardened leader led his troops in battle and conquered the Muslims for several reasons according to Stark, the following of which are notable; the Gaul’s were heavily geared as opposed to Arabs lightly geared, the Frankish soldiers were disciplined, Arabs fled because they sensed they were outmatched.

Many historians see this battle as monumental between having an Arab vs. a Western civilization.  Others make little of this battle and Arabs see it as no big deal (Pg.43).  What is certain is that Spanish Muslims understood that their defeat by Charles Martel was had through an empire building people, not mercenaries or a barbarian horde.  The countries of Spain, Italy and Sicily had to also be reconquered.

All these victories preceded the First Crusade.  This means that when the armies and knights of Western Europe marched or navigated to the Holy Land, they were very familiar with their Muslim opponents and knew they could take them.

Reflections From 1 Corinthians CHAPTER 2: HOW IS GOD’S WISDOM MANIFEST IN GOSPEL COMMUNICATION? (Vvs.6-9)

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Paul continues this theme of wisdom and turns it (if you will) upside down.  On the one hand, the apostle refused to succumb to the pressure of using rhetoric as a means to connect with his audience, so that when he preached Christ, the testimony of God would not lose its power, but also so that these “word smiths” would not rely on human wisdom, tact, etc., but instead on the Spirit’s power.

On the other hand, it’s that very tactic of Paul that is Gods wisdom (which seems foolish to the unregenerate soul).  Paul explains:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Note how Paul says that the wisdom he speaks of is God’s wisdom spoken among the mature (i.e., those who understand that their calling and standing before God was all God’s doing, not theirs).  The mature here are those the world considers to be foolish because they trust in the eyewitness account of the God/Man’s life death and resurrection.

So this wisdom of God is spoken among the “called”, “saints” etc., a wisdom sourced in the Creator not the creature, it’s a wisdom in this present evil age that is from the age to come, it’s a wisdom the rulers of this age do not possess nor can grasp, it’s a wisdom granted by God.

So this wisdom (which I take to mean Christ crucified contextually) was previously hidden predestined by God before time to be mysterious for His glory.  Now I’m not sure how to interpret the phrase “to our glory”.  Could it be that Paul is referring to future glorification in the consummation of the new heavens and the new earth?  Perhaps it speaks of the praise due to those who embrace the message of the cross (even though their calling, redemption, and saintliness are God’s work) and thus despise this world’s wisdom of rejecting the message.

Again, it could be pointing to the honor and value we place on those who possess certain kinds of knowledge that when applied to the knowledge of God, that one has reached the heights of knowledge.  Perhaps it’s all three, or something else not mentioned but Paul continues and provides a phrase that clarifies God’s wisdom compared to the creature:

but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”    

I take rulers to refer to demonic spirits or Satan himself, not human beings.  The reason is because since the beginning in the Garden of Eden unto the present, satanic deception has been a constant affront to God’s word and plans.  Demonic spirits and Satan himself have outlasted all rulers.  Through the wisdom of God’s word and message, demonic ideas that exalt themselves above the knowledge of Christ are demolished by argumentation.  These ideas are called “strongholds” in 2 Cor. 10:1-6:

“Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”  

These ideas come from the god of this world (Satan) who blinds those who don’t believe the message of the cross.  We have a real enemy, and God with his foolishness (i.e., Christ’s Cross) defeated Satan and his creaturely wisdom (i.e., the crucifixion) through the hidden means now revealed to the called—redemption through the last Adam’s atoning death and resurrection from the grave.  Death died with the death of Christ and no creature had a clue what was truly occurring—including Satan.

This previously hidden wisdom, knowledge and power have been displayed to those who love God, not to those who hate Him.  So why is the cross God’s wisdom?  It’s because through it God accomplished his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of being a blessing to the nations, plural, through the Messiah.  To Greeks this is foolishness (which indicates they understood the message but rejected the implications of it) and to the Jews this message is a stumbling block (Messiah is to reign, not die, thus a dying deliverer is intolerable, an oxymoron).  Nevertheless, to the “called” both Greek and Jew alike, the message is the power and wisdom of God.

May we His people not cower with the message of Christ, but instead may we clearly and winsomely proclaim it, explain it, and live out its implications among those who are perishing whether it is foolishness to them or a stumbling block.

(SDG)

Summary of “THE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Mark of the Christian Schaeffer points out the great Commandment to love God and neighbor is at the core of our message and it must be lived out if two things are to occur.  First, if men are to know that we are Christ’s disciples, there must be the humble preference toward one another that Jesus demonstrated to the disciples when he washed their feet in (John 13).  Love among the brothers lets the watching world see if we actually belong to Jesus or not.

We may very well be his, but if our actions are contradictory then the unbeliever has the right given by God to judge us.  This kind of life is costly, painful and accompanied by great loss, but our love for the Savior and for the lost must be what motivates us.

Second, we must be unified with believers so that our evangelistic endeavors are not hindered and the world may know that the Father sent the Son (John 17).  This unity must be evident in word and in deed.  Even when there are differences among us, and there will be, it’s critical that forgiveness, repentance, humility and kindness be evident when we part ways with our brothers and sisters.

This unity, according to Schaeffer, is not organizational, nor our mystical union with Him, it’s not our positional unity in Christ, not even a legal unity before Him.  But it’s a real, observable, practical unity that practices both God’s holiness and love.  Schaeffer rightly accentuates that this unity is never to be separated from His propositional truth (scripture) for it is these propositions that believers are called to live out before the world.