The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘legalism

Indicatives and imperatives

leave a comment »

Justin Taylor has provided a helpful set of links to the ongoing discussions between William Evans and Sean Lucas at Reformation21 and Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian at the Gospel Coalition. Having made reference to a couple of these before, being persuaded of how important the issues are, and therefore having an ongoing interest in the matter, I thought others might appreciate following the discussion. Taylor summarises:

William B. Evans and Sean Michael Lucas have been engaged in a profitable discussion over at Reformation 21 on sanctification and the gospel. Here are their exchanges:

Rick Phillips also added a helpful and important post summarizing seven assertions about the relationship between justification and sanctification.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian have been engaged in a longer—though less direct—discussion addressing similar issues:

UPDATE: Kevin DeYoung appears to have discovered a new grammatical/theological category. According to the URL for his penultimate piece in his conversation with Tullian, he is actually discussing “inidactives.” No wonder these guys are in danger of talking past each other! From now on we must consider the indicatives, the imperatives, and the fearsome and yet to be designated inidactives.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 09:07

The law of love and the love of law

leave a comment »

I liked this article from Kevin DeYoung, concluding:

Preachers must preach the law without embarrassment. Parents must insist on obedience without shame. The law can, and should, be urged upon true believers—not to condemn, but to correct and promote Christlikeness. Both the indicatives of Scripture and the imperatives are from God, for our good, and given in grace.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 19 August 2011 at 08:45

Posted in Christian living

Tagged with , , ,

Spurgeon looks within

leave a comment »

Spurgeon, in his autobiography, writes as follows:

I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer’s life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it.

To say I will humble myself at such a time, and rejoice at such another season, is nearly as much an affectation as when the preacher wrote in the margin of his sermon, “Cry here,” “Smile here.” Why, if the man preached from his heart, he would be sure to cry in the right place, and to smile at a suitable moment; and when the spiritual life is sound, it produces prayer at the right time, and humiliation of soul and sacred joy spring forth spontaneously, apart from rules and vows.

The kind of religion which makes itself to order by the Almanack, and turns out its emotions like bricks from a machine, weeping on Good Friday, and rejoicing two days afterwards, measuring its motions by the moon, is too artificial to be worthy of my imitation.

Self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things. I am obliged to go day by day with this cry,—

“I, the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.”

While I can believe the promise of God, because it is His promise, and because He is my God, and while I can trust my Saviour because He is God, and therefore mighty to save, all goes well with me; but I do find, when I begin questioning myself about this and that perplexity, thus taking my eye off Christ, that all the virtue of my life seems oozing out at every pore.

Any practice that detracts from faith is an evil practice, but especially that kind of self-examination which would take us away from the cross-foot, proceeds in a wrong direction.


Thanks, Pyros.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 17 May 2011 at 22:09

Mining the past

leave a comment »

Too often while reading contemporary authors on the law in the life of believers, I find myself asking the question, “Haven’t these guys read the great minds of the past on this issue?”

So asks Rich Barcellos, before supplying a few key statements from some of the theological giants who have wrestled with these issues before.

UPDATE: And there’s more.

UPDATE: More again.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 18 November 2010 at 17:48

“The Marrow of Modern Divinity”

leave a comment »

Marrow of Modern Divinity (Fisher)

Martin Downes lets us know that a new edition of this classic work is being published by Christian Focus:

A dialogue between a minister of the gospel and a young Christian. Both legalism and antinomianism are perennial dangers for the church and for individual Christians. When we begin to think of the Christian life primarily as a list of ‘do’s and ‘dont’s’, we are under the sway of legalism. When we begin to think that it is okay for us to go ahead and sin because God will forgive us anyway, we are feeling the temptation of antinomianism. The Marrow of Modern Divinity proclaims a gospel that can rescue us from both of these dangers.

After many years of being out of print this work is coming back in a clearly laid out edition, with explanatory notes by Thomas Boston and an introduction by Philip Ryken.  He has been blogging Boston for those who want more.

Martin also reminds us of a series of addresses on the neglected but vitally important pastoral issues in the Marrow controversy by Sinclair Ferguson.  I can heartily second Martin’s recommendation.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 June 2009 at 13:09

False dichotomies

leave a comment »

In the last couple of days a list of qualities in communities of performance and communities of grace has been floating around the interweb (e.g. here).  It apparently comes from an address by Tim Chester at the Total Church Conference, and also appears on Tim’s blog.  I recently read Total Church by Tim and his colleague, Steve Timmis, and found much that was provocatively helpful and challenging, and a few things with which I disagreed or about which I had questions (I may try to review this book shortly).  Here is the list:

Communities of performance

  • the leaders appear sorted
  • the community appears respectable
  • meetings must be a polished performance
  • identity is found in ministry
  • failure is devastating
  • actions are driven by duty
  • conflict is suppressed or ignored
  • the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted)

Communities of grace

  • the leaders are vulnerable
  • the community is messy
  • meetings are just one part of community life
  • identity is found in Christ
  • failure is disappointing, but not devastating
  • actions are driven by joy
  • conflict is addressed in the open
  • the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

We are asked to assess the churches of which we are a part and to which we belong, and to see whether we belong to a community of performance or a community of grace.

However, what we are presented with here is a series of false dichotomies: this is a logical fallacy in which two options are given on the premise that the one is mutually exclusive of the other, and that there are no other alternatives.  But it is a false dichotomy because the contrast is either not jointly exhaustive or not mutually exclusive.  Put more simply, you are being told that this is an ‘either-or’ choice when it really is not.

So, are your leaders sorted or are they vulnerable?  These are not mutually exclusive choices.  Is it wrong for leaders to be competent?  Is that the same as sorted?  What does ‘vulnerable’ mean?  Does it mean that their fallen though redeemed humanity is apparent, that they evidently are earthen vessels (2Cor 4.7)?  Webster’s Dictionary suggests that a vulnerable person is “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded” – what does that have to do with grace?  If it means that the leaders of a church don’t pretend to be superhuman, all well and good.  But how does that contrast with ‘sorted’?  A lot of people who like to appear sorted are actually prone to being wounded – vulnerability is often part of the package, because it’s the very thing that the performer is trying to deny.  Furthermore, a leader who is not only capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, but who is constantly wrecked by it and made incapable of serving others through it (e.g. curling up in self-centredness) is not really a demonstration of grace.  Only where one’s vulnerability works itself out in, for example, a Pauline dynamic does it prove a demonstration of grace.

The community appears respectable or it is messy?  If by this we are called to distinguish between a Pharisaic outward morality and a readiness to acknowledge the realities of remaining sin and the imperfections of sinners wrestling toward holiness, fine.  But is messy the opposite of respectable?  If we are beacons of gospel light in a fallen world could we not appear – or, indeed, be – ‘respectable’ to a twisted and miserable world without being Pharisees?  And does messy require that we not make progress toward godliness, even while we recognise that God’s grace is not always the neat and streamlined thing we would like it to be?  Are we being told to oppose messy with orderly?  After all, things in the church are to be done decently and in order (1Cor 14.40).  Is there something ungodly about being like God?

Again, if a polished performance is the be-all-and-end-all of a meeting for worship, then clearly we are in trouble.  But how is that opposed to a meeting that is one part of community life?  The whole life of a community could be the pursuit of a polished performance.  What does it become then?  Again, could a meeting that is decent and orderly be a genuine arena for true grace?  Paul evidently thought so.

Is your identity found in ministry or in Christ?  Surely and fundamentally, it is in Christ.  But is knowing and labouring in one’s calling and service the opposite of finding one’s identity in Christ?

Is failure devastating or disappointing?  Well, it depends on the nature of the failure.  When Peter failed to own Christ, he was more than disappointed.  He was, of course, restored by God’s grace, but he was devastated.  Are we called to distinguish between the demand for sinless perfection and the recognition that there is a constant battle against sin and for godliness?  Amen!  But surely it is not the necessary mark of a mere performer to be profoundly grieved over sin (one’s own or that of others), and some of the most gracious men are much more than disappointed by their sin and those of others, while recognising that where sin abounds grace much more abounds?

Are your actions driven by duty or joy?  Well, are not a lot of my actions duties?  Cannot my duties be driven by joy?  What sort of joy?  What is the opposite of this joy?  Distress?  Grief?  To be sure, my actions are not to be driven by guilt, or with a view to earning merit, or merely being applauded.  But to be driven (motivated?) by joy does not mean that what I am doing is not my Christian duty.

Is conflict suppressed or ignored or addressed openly?  What does openly mean?  If it means in front of the whole community, then that runs against our Lord’s injunction to go first alone to win one’s brother, and then with one or two others (Mt 18.15-17).  “Of course it doesn’t mean that!” you respond.  I know, but in terms of the false contrast supplied it could.  What does suppression mean?  If it means covering a brother’s ignorant offence with a blanket of love (in the longsuffering spirit of 1 Corinthians 13.4) because you do not need to raise it with him unless it becomes a pattern of sin, surely that is a mark of grace?  If and when a problem does need to be dealt with, do you do so frankly, transparently, openly?  Good, that too is grace.

Is the focus of your local church on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) or on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)?  Why should an affectionate heart full of love to God and persuaded of the sinfulness of sin and the abounding grace of God in Christ lack orthodox belief and righteous behaviour?  As Martin Downes points out (just seen this!), orthodoxy is demanded in a true community of grace and a true minister of the gospel of grace (2Tim 1.13-14).  There is no necessary exclusivity between orthodox doctrine and righteous living and the affections of the heart (as the parenthetical caveats acknowledge, there is a specific context in which these qualities can become opposed, even if they not mutually exclusive themselves).

If you read Tim Chester’s own blog, you will see that he is much more nuanced than the list suggests.  This is a good thing, because the naked list is thoroughly misleading.  It sets up a series of unfair contrasts that demand a much more carefully explained context to be genuinely helpful.  The categories established and the judgments demanded by them suck the unwary reader into an ‘either-or’ quandary which is simply unnecessary, not to mention unreasonable.  The opposing lists feel edgy and radical, but – standing alone – they seem flawed and can be very easily misunderstood.  Indeed, almost all of the marks of a community of grace we are offered could very easily be ‘performed.’  I hope that by simply pointing this out, I will not be immediately consigned to one of those terrible ‘communities of performance.’

Some of the things that Tim identifies certainly can mark a community as tainted with Pharisaism and legalism and hypocrisy.  Some of the marks he suggests identify a community of grace are – rightly understood – indicative of spiritual health.  However, there is a mere surface contrast being demanded by these lists that could betray us into a denial of true grace at work.  Martin Downes makes plain that

Christ is enough. His obedient life is enough. His finished work is enough. The imputation of his righteousness is enough. It has all be done by Him for us. Grace has set us free from seeking to establish, maintain and advance our status on the basis of a false righteousness.

Where Christ is enough and known and felt to be enough, grace will reign and our communities will be awash with grace.  It will be grace in which we stand (Rom 5.2) and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Such realities are not advanced by false dichotomies.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 November 2008 at 14:24

%d bloggers like this: