New Wineskins: A New Response to an Old Problem

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

UPDATE (Sunday, 4/2/17): Comments are closed and no more names will be added to the list. Please see this post for further explanation.


“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus discusses the necessity for a new people of God and a New Covenant to usher in his kingdom. The lesson is that old ways can be intractable and inflexible; and thus, if the new wine of the Spirit-filled kingdom is poured into those old, inflexible wineskins, they will not be able to contain its expanding volume due to the bubbling effervescence of active fermentation. This is of course a metaphor. Jesus is not primarily seeking to teach us about brewing or vintning methods (although he is technically correct, as anyone who has had the lid blown off of their fermenter when the air lock becomes clogged can bear witness). No, this is a metaphor, a parable, to teach us that old ways cannot often tolerate fresh moves of the Spirit of God.

Now, when Jesus says that old wineskins cannot contain the new wine, is he talking about the Law of God? No. The Old Testament? No.  Jesus does not denigrate the Torah or any part of the scriptures. What, then, is he saying needs to change? What, then, is lacking? Specifically, he is arguing that what cannot contain the new wine of the New Covenant are man-made and extra-biblical additions to the law and man-made and extra-biblical cultural appropriations of the Law. So: Tithing mint, dill, and cumin while ignoring mercy and justice. Ostentatiously giving to the temple while leaving one’s parents destitute. Not being allowed even to talk to a woman as a hedge against sexual immorality, while ignoring her worth and dignity as an equal image bearer. These were all Pharisaical hedges put around the law intended to keep one from even coming close to transgressing it. But the great irony is that the hedges themselves led to weightier transgressions of God’s law, as Jesus often points out.

An example of Jesus’ wisdom pertaining to the inability of old wineskins to contain new wine has occurred just this week. Three sisters-in-Christ who host a podcast called “Truth’s Table” invited two brothers from the Reformed African-American Network to record an episode called “Gender Apartheid.” I was made aware of this podcast after another minister posted a rebuttal on the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals blog, called, ironically in this case, the Mortification of Spin. In the blog post, the pastor warns that the episode is “shocking to anyone who actually believes and upholds the doctrinal standards of the PCA and OPC.” He calls the podcast, “typical boilerplate liberation theology,” and says that the views espoused are, “fundamentally unbiblical and incompatible with the gospel and the church’s mission,” and that they, “destroy the gospel by replacing it with something else.”

These are very serious charges, my friends. So serious that one would expect a robust articulation of these charges and how these brothers and sisters in Christ have actually done these things. One would expect evidence to substantiate these charges. However, if you read the blog post, you will not find the charges substantiated in any way. What you will find are more charges, uncharitable conclusions, and a failure to really listen to what these brothers and sisters were actually saying.

The pastor charges that the grave error that has been committed is that, “the hosts dismiss the biblical pattern of male leadership within the church as nothing more than a manmade rule. They also mock those who uphold that biblical pattern and join that mockery with crude language.” He goes on to further charge that, “Near the very end of the podcast one of the hosts gives a brief nod of legitimacy to transgenderism.”

Again, serious charges. Are they given any substance? To this the author states, “I will not labor over every problem with the content of this podcast. You will be able to hear for yourself.” He then threatens the three women and two men by advising that anyone reading the blog should write letters to their Sessions so that they can be properly rebuked for their errors. This Saturday (April 1) the Alliance followed this up by sending an email alert with the blog post and contact information, urging readers to contact the authorities of the five people who produced the podcast.

So let me state it again, none of these very serious charges are backed up with any evidence at all. Instead, the blogger assures us that it will be evident to anyone who listens that what he is saying is true.

Therefore, after reading the blog post, I decided to listen. When I listened, I heard nothing of what the blogger was alleging. The blogger alleged that what was said on the podcast was unbiblical and unconfessional. But in listening to the podcast three times, I did not hear even once anyone saying that women should be ordained to the pastorate. Instead I heard passionate pleas to treat women as equal image bearers and to utilize their gifts in any and every way that does not violate the scriptural commands to an ordained male pastorate. Not once did I hear anyone advocate for women’s ordination. Rather I heard requests to include women as speakers at conferences. I heard a request to allow more emotion in worship, to allow a more feminine response in worship. Again, this is not an attack on the male pastorate. I heard that women should be allowed to say prayers, give testimonies, take up the offering, pass out communion, and to serve as greeters in the church. None of these are roles that must be reserved for the pastorate.

In essence, their argument is that anything that an unordained man can do in the church, a woman should be allowed to do. That’s an argument that should not be all that controversial. This was not, as two Alliance members alleged on Twitter, “an open advocacy of women’s ordination.” I think that anyone that came to that conclusion has failed to really listen to what these brothers and sisters were saying in this podcast. And given the level of accusations in that blog post, in email campaigns, on Facebook and Twitter (some of which may have been now deleted, but I possess screenshots), I believe that many people have sinned and owe those ladies an apology. I also believe that the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has severely overstepped in sending out an email alert asking people to contact the church authorities of the podcast hosts, without any substantiated evidence at all.

What then to the charges of crudeness and of a nod to transgenderism? Again, I believe that both of these charges stem from a failure to listen with charity seeking understanding. The crudeness that was spoken of can only refer to the use of the words, “penis,” “breasts,” and “ovaries.” But even if we object to the definition of maleness in terms of anatomy, it is a fact that possessing a penis is a requirement to be a pastor, elder, or deacon in the PCA. What she then did was move from this biblical and confessional requirement (which she gave no inclination of disagreeing with) to object to that essential requirement for ordination being extended to other roles, ministries, and activities in the church that do not require ordination. That is what she was challenging. She wasn’t challenging the notion that there are requirements for ordination, she was challenging the fact that one must be a male to do all the things mentioned above. All three of the hosts were challenging the notion that women should only be consigned to nurturing ministries in the church, and that men were above such ministries. Their challenge is valid. Men should be serving in nurseries, teaching children, cleaning, and cooking food in the church. If your church does that, great! Wonderful! If men in the church are reticent to do such things because they are “women’s work,” that’s the toxic patriarchy they were referring to. Furthermore, only allowing women to do ministry in these areas is another example of what they were pushing against. When she mentioned that perhaps if women had “penis shaped microphones,” (a provocative image, to be sure) she was using admittedly strong language to prove the point that unless one possesses a penis one does not have a voice in our churches. Is she wrong?

To the nod to transgenderism – again this is baseless and is frankly the most uncharitable accusation of all. There were three references in the podcast to ideas from academic gender studies: that gender is a construct, the term cisgender, and the disclaimer at the end of the podcast about transgender image bearers. There is nothing in those statements that is a nod to transgenderism. The first statement was a purely academic acknowledgement of the distinction between gender and sex, and they even clarified this shortly after stating it. They are affirming the existence of biological sex and the creational and biblical distinctions between the sexes. They even used that affirmation in one of their arguments about feminine responses to worship. Gender, as they were using it, refers to normative gender appearances and behaviors.

Now, I’m not sure what they would say to women dressing and appearing more masculine, they didn’t address that. But what they were addressing is the assigning to a gender specific roles and ministries in the church that are extra-biblical. Where in the Bible does it say that only women should cook, clean, and change diapers? Where in the Bible does it say that women cannot do other ministries such as serving on staff, speaking at conferences, taking up the offering or passing out communion? When women are restricted to certain roles and forbidden others (again, not talking about roles and ministries reserved for those who are ordained) that’s the Gender Apartheid they were referring to. That’s the gender construct they were referring to, not that biological sex doesn’t exist or that sex distinctions don’t exist.

Lastly, to the use of the term cisgender and the statement about transgender image bearers, this I took as a compassionate acknowledgment that all kinds of people are listening to and reading the things we put out on the Internet, and that their perspectives were not necessarily included in that podcast. That’s just a compassionate thing to say. It doesn’t say any more than that we acknowledge that you exist and that you have a voice and that you are an image bearer of God. Who of us would deny that any human person bears the image of God and is due honor, dignity, and respect?

In conclusion, I want to affirm what I heard on that podcast. I heard a stirring call to biblical faithfulness in how we treat women and utilize their gifts in the church. I want to thank Ekemini, Michelle, Christina, Tyler and Jemar for their courageous, biblically faithful, and entertaining words to us. This is new wine. It’s a fresh, prophetic move of the Spirit to do what the Bible actually calls us to in the church. I pray that our wineskins can flex with the bubbly. If not, I’m afraid they’ll burst.


The following people have seen fit to attach their names to this post in agreement with what is said and in support of Ekemini, Michelle, Christina, Tyler and Jemar. If anyone reading this would also like to attach your name, please leave a comment and I will add you to the list.

Rev. Dr. Irwyn Ince

Rev. Mike Khandjian

Rev. Doug Serven

Rev. Jay Simmons

Rev. Jon Price

Rev. Mike Sloan

Emily Sloan

Rev. David Richter

Rev. Bobby Griffith

Rev. James Kessler

Rev. Kevin VandenBrink

Rev. John Haralson

Rev. Joel Littlepage

Melissa Littlepage

Rev. Brad Edwards

Hannah Edwards

Rev. Wayne Larson

Rev. David Schweissing

Rev. Charles Johnson

Rev. Jimmy Brock

Rev. Moses Lee

Rev. Robbie Schmidtberger

Rev. Ewan Kennedy

Rev. Hansoo Jin

Rev. Justin Edgar

Rev. Jeff Birch

Rev. Ethan Smith

Rev. Greg Ward

Rev. Kevin Twit

Rev. Curran Bishop

Rev. Howard Davis

Rev. Dan Adamson

Beth Sloan Hart

Rev. J. Paul Warren

Rev. Dave Abney

Rev. Matt Adair

RE Matt Allhands

Rev. Hace Cargo

Rev. Lance E. Lewis

Eriq Hearn

Rev. Robert Binion

Rev. Sam DeSocio

Rev. Austin Pfeiffer

Rev. John Houmes

Rev. Ben Reed

Jeremy Bouris

Hannah Rose Singer

Cody Alan Brobst

Katelynn Ronning

Rachel Flowe LeCroy

Jill Harding

Rev. Wesley Martin

Sean Loftin

Amanda Cope

Tanner J. Beebe

Garrett Lathan

Kyle Dickerson

Helen Marchman Morris

Lauren Hogsett

Dr. Ted Turnau

Rev. Ross Lockwood

Dr. Otis W. Pickett

Julie Thome Pickett

Rev. Sam Kang

Dr. Matthew W. Uldrich

Rev. Pat Roach

Katie Ribera

Josiah Green

Craig Harris

Ameen Hudson

Edward Games

Kelsey Vaughn

James Jardin

Susannah Walden

Olivia Cordray

Dr. Eric Michael Washington

Stephanie Woodward Ilderton

Brittany Smith

Steven Gilchrist

Chase Daws

Andrea Romyn

Rev. Tim Locke

Jeff Rendell

Claire Berger

Rev. Marc Corbett

Jessica Fox

Adam Houston

Owen Troy

Taylor Daniel

Rev. Parker James

Matt Creacy

Hadrian of Carthage: A Medieval African Who Changed Europe

February is Black History Month, a month to pay “tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.” As a church historian I am particularly interested in paying tribute to those African-Americans and others of African origin who played a major role in the story of the Christian Church. There are many who have done excellent work in telling the story of early African-Americans who contributed to American Christianity: leaders like Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, and early African-American Presbyterian leaders like John Gloucester.

My interest in church history though lies further back in the annals of time. I’m a medievalist and I also dabble in the early church period. I have been encouraged at the increased awareness of just how many of the early church Fathers were African: Athanasius, the staunch defender of Nicene Orthodoxy, Augustine, the Schoolmaster of Western Christianity, Cyril of Alexandria, Origin, Cyprian of Carthage, Tertullian… I could go on. I was encouraged to see an article recently that highlighted this wonderful history as a part of a series of posts on Black History Month on the Reformed African-American Network.

The medieval period, however, has often been seen as a time without much contribution from Africans to the life and work of the Church. Part of that is due to the spread of Islam over North Africa. Part of that is due to our ignorance in knowing and telling the stories of African Christians during that time. Yet, as I was reading the article linked above I remembered one particular African who had an enormous impact on medieval Europe: Hadrian of Carthage.

Hadrian, also known as St. Adrian of Canterbury, was like St. Augustine a North African of the Berber people. He was born in Carthage in the early to mid 7th century, and classically educated. He later moved to Italy and became an abbot of a monastery near modern day Naples. Bede describes Hadrian as, “a native of Africa, very learned in the Scriptures, experienced in ecclesiastical and monastic administration, and a great scholar in Greek and Latin,” (HE IV:1). That’s a pretty impressive endorsement by Bede! Because of his experience and erudition, Hadrian was impressed upon two separate times by his friend Vitalian, the Bishop of Rome, to take the vacant see of Canterbury and engage himself in a much needed reformation and revival in the English Church. Twice though Hadrian turned him down, the last time recommending another monastic leader, one Theodore of Tarsus. Theodore accepted the appointment, but the Pope insisted that Hadrian go along, ostensibly, to show Theodore the way through Gaul to England. Yet it was not travel directions that the Bishop of Rome truly desired Hadrian to give, but to be a partner to Theodore in the reformation and revival of the English Church.

Theodore and Hadrian set off for England in 668, after a brief pause for Theodore to grow his hair out so as to be able to accept the Roman form of tonsure. They arrived in England in 669 and began visiting the churches so as to ascertain their state and begin the needed education and reform. They began to attract students whom they instructed in the knowledge of theology, church customs and rites, sacred music, Greek and Latin, and the study of sacred Scripture. Bede describes a renaissance of sorts in England that came as a result of their labors, “The people eagerly sought the new-found joys of the kingdom of heaven, and all who wished for instruction in the reading of the Scriptures found teachers ready at hand,” (HE IV:2).  This explosion of learning was such that Bede remarked a couple of generations later that, “some of their students still alive today are as proficient in Latin and Greek as in their native tongue,” (ibid.).

Thus we can see that Hadrian’s impact on England and the church in England was massive. Yet what remains to be seen is just how much his contribution to the reformation and revival of England led to the foundations of Christianity in Western Europe.

Western Europe in the 7th c. was still a largely unreached place. Catholic Christianity was established in some places, while others of the Germanic tribes had been converted to Arian forms of Christianity. Still others remained pagan. There was a great need in these Germanic areas for both evangelization and Christianization. The problem was that the existing churches of Western Europe (mostly in Gaul, modern France) were not equipped to undertake this mission. This is where the English came in.

Due to the work of Hadrian and Theodore, the English were equipped to engage in this mission to the Germanic peoples. And so they did, with great vigor and success. Boniface led a wave of missionaries from England back to the continent to evangelize and establish churches. He is now known as the Apostle to the Germans. Educational leaders like Alcuin of York were brought from England by the Carolingian rulers to help establish court schools as well as cathedral and monastery schools and to lead in the Christianization and reform of the churches in Western Europe. The legacy of these English missionaries is hard to overstate: these are the fathers of the Europe we know today. They established the institutions and infrastructure upon which Western civilization is established.

And none of this would have been possible without the efforts of St. Hadrian, the African. A medieval giant who had a greater impact than any of us probably realize.

Let us give thanks for St. Hadrian and celebrate his work and ministry and its vast impact on the world we live in.

A Brief History of Sanctification

When reading Berkhof’s Systematic theology one comes away with the notion that justification and sanctification were inseparably conflated and that works based theology reigned until the Reformation, (Berkhof, 529-30). While it is true that the Reformers were the first to articulate the doctrine of justification by faith alone and to draw out the distinction between justification and sanctification, it is not true to say that the church was uninterested in the process of sanctification until the Reformation.

Sanctification is, as the word suggests, the process by which a person is made holy. The distinction has historically been made between definitive sanctification, a setting apart by God at one’s regeneration and baptism, and progressive sanctification, the lifelong process by which a believer, by grace, is enabled to more and more die unto sin and live unto righteousness, to paraphrase Westminster. To say that the church never rested in the “apartness” of baptized believers or that the church never sought to become more conformed to God’s law would be incorrect. Furthermore, after Augustine, everyone in the West taught and believed that everything in a believer’s life was totally and completely of and by grace.

Since though we do not see traditional reformed systematic theological categories in the first fifteen centuries of the church, what do we see? I propose that we see different models of sanctification throughout the life of the church. These models are more or less chronological. They are:

  1. Martyrdom (1st-4th) – the intense early phase of the church. The passion of standing for one’s faith in the face of torture and death and the contagious fervor that this threat posed served to sanctify the early church.
  2. Orthodoxy (4th-6th) – Right belief in the era of the Creeds and Councils. Sanctification through right belief.
  3. Mystical Theosis – Eastern contemplative. Becoming God-like through spiritual disciplines and contemplation. Related to orthodox belief.
  4. Sacramental Divinization (5th-7th) – Augustine’s Western counterpart to Theosis. Being made God-like through grace by hearing the word, participation in the liturgy, sacraments, and prayer.
  5. Communal Regulative formation (5th – 11th) – Benedict of Nursia. Sanctification through faithful (full of faith) and evangelical (belief and adherence to the gospel) submission to a rule of life in the community of believers. Still assumed the Augustinian notion of sanctification by grace.
  6. Corporate Sacramental Participation – Carolingian period (8th-10th c). A form of Augustine’s notion, but more emphasizing the entire body being sanctified corporately instead of individual believers.
  7. Curative Pastoral Application – Innocent III (13th-14th) Emphasis on individual participation and involvement in pastoral care to bring sanctification.
  8. Mystical Contemplation (13th-15th) – Mystics like St. Francis and Bonaventure building on the tradition of Pseudo-Dionysius in the mystical contemplation of the Trinity. There is some of this in Augustine too.
  9. Imitation of Christ (15-17th) – Thomas à Kempis and the other devotio moderna adherents. Contemplation and imitation of Christ. There is some of this in Francis as well.

A Word on Reading the Scholastics

Here are a few points that will help us enter into the wonderful world of scholastic theology.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to spend thousands of hours reading and studying the writings and theology of the scholastic period through the course of my PhD, my teaching, and especially through working on this: a translation of one of the more important works of scholastic theology by St. Bonaventure. Since the writings of the scholastics can be a bit difficult to enter into, I thought I would write a primer on scholastic theology as an entry point for interested readers.

Scholasticism broadly defined is the theological and intellectual movement surrounding the schools of Paris in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is marked by an adherence to the theological tradition, grounded in the teachings of the Bible and the theological exposition of St. Augustine. The basic tenant of Scholasticism was Augustine’s mantra Credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I may understand), or to put it more simply, faith seeking understanding. There are two things that made Scholasticism different from previous intellectual movements: the sic et non method, and the use of Aristotle (This one, not this one).  These two (the method and the philosophy) combined to form a theological movement that posited and explored the thesis that everything could be understood and explained through faith and reason. Therefore, if we do not either understand how the sic et non method works or know a bit about the Bible, Augustine, and Aristotle, we cannot read, understand, or explain the scholastics in an intelligent way. Here are a few points that will help us enter into the wonderful world of scholastic theology.

 1. The fallacy of historical anachronism
The first thing we must note when undertaking to read writings from the past is that we should avoid the fallacy of historical anachronism. What’s that? It’s when we impose later developments onto earlier ones and either criticize the earlier for not having exhibited evidence of the latter, or assume that something in a latter development is also an integral aspect of the earlier ones. An example of this would be in criticizing medieval authors because they do not articulate their soteriology in the exact language of the canons of the Council of Dort. We could however hold medieval writers to the canons of the Council of Orange since it preceded the Middle Ages. The basic idea here is that if something didn’t exist yet, we can’t expect someone to know about it. It would be like expecting Abraham Lincoln to know the intricacies of the whip and nae nae, for example.

 2. The sic et non method
The sic et non method was the way scholastic theology was done, thus it is often called eponymously the scholastic method. The sic et non method was introduced by Peter Abelard in the 12th century. Abelard was a rock star in the classroom, mesmerizing his audiences with his lectures. In them he would posit a question, for example, “Must human faith be completed by reason, or not?” Then he would present the arguments for answering “yes” (Latin, sic) followed by the arguments for answering “no” (Latin, non). Abelard would argue passionately and vigorously for each side of the position, but would never give his answer. He would just leave the audience hanging! While this method lead to his fame, it would not develop into anything more than a show prop for about 100 years.

Meanwhile, around the same time, the theological standard for orthodoxy was being developed by another Peter, this one named Lombard. His Four Books of the Sentences was the standard exposition and articulation of Western (Augustinian) theology for 500 years. This book, not Thomas Aquinas, was the theological textbook of the Middle Ages, and has left such an imprint on the Western theological landscape that we can even see it in the arrangement of books and subjects in Calvin’s Institutes.

In the 13th century, the teachers of Paris, lead by Alexander of Hales, synthesized Abelard’s lecture method and Lombard’s theological textbook to form the scholastic method. It began as an academic exercise. Alexander had his students (one of which was the famous scholastic theologian and contemporary of Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure) write a commentary on the sentences of Peter Lombard, using a modified form of the sic et non method. Alexander and his students added to Abelard’s method of presenting the yes and no a statement of the correct answer (in the opinion of the student) and then answers to the objections.

Thus when reading any of these scholastic texts, one must understand that the first statements one finds at the beginning of each section are not the opinions of the author! They are simply popular arguments for and against that the author is presenting for the sake of the method. If the reader wishes to understand what the author is actually teaching on the subject, he must skip down to the respondeo, which begins with the words “I respond.” There you will find the opinion and rationale of the author on the question. Following the response then are the responses to the objections that did not agree with the opinion that the author took.

This academic exercise was undertaken by students of theology studying for a doctorate in the late Middle Ages. Jan Hus, the famous Czech reformer, wrote one of these commentaries as a part of his magisterial studies in Prague, and in it he exhibits the same method developed by Alexander and his students.

The Summa theologica by Thomas Aquinas, though not a commentary on the sentences (he did produce one) employs the sic et non method. Thus readers of the Summa need to understand how the method works.

 3. Augustine and Philosophy – He loved Philosophy!
St. Augustine laid the theological and intellectual framework for Western civilization. His mature synthesis of Christian society can be found in his capstone work The City of God, which was written in 426, four years before his death. In the City of God Augustine argues that the philosophical basis for Christian thought should be what we now call Neo-Platonism, and he even states that Plotinus, the chief expositor of Neo-Platonism in his nine-volume work The Enneads, was the closest of the pagan philosophers to come to a true understanding of God (See Book X in The City of God). In The City of God and other writings Augustine synthesized the Christian faith and Neo-Platonic philosophy to lay the intellectual foundations for the Christian west.

 4. The Scholastics and Augustine
As was already stated above, the theology of the Western church in the Middle Ages was thoroughly Augustinian. This is so in almost every aspect of every subject of theology. For example, medieval theologians were Augustinian in their thoughts on sacraments, sin, grace, anthropology, theology proper, ecclesiology, eschatology, and every other “ology” you can think of. Augustine was the teacher par excellence of the medieval church.

Specifically, on the topic of salvation and grace, medieval theologians consistently maintained their adherence to the Augustinian doctrines of grace. These doctrines are articulated in his treatises against the Pelagians, and also made canonical by the declarations of the Council of Orange. This theology posited the existence of Original Sin, handed down from parent to child all the way back to our first parents, and that original sin destroys the ability in any human being to love God or achieve salvation or do any good work outside the divine aid of God. Augustine also taught that believers must have an act of God performed on them to even make them dispositive for grace. He taught that believers were chosen by God (predestined) to receive this grace a part from any merit in themselves. He also taught that this grace was conferred to believers by a free gift of God through sacraments. No orthodox western theologian (medieval, Reformational, or otherwise) ever strayed from this opinion until the modern period.

A poignant example of this can be found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian often pilloried by some Protestant polemicists. In Question 109 of his Summa theologica, Thomas posits ten questions on the necessity of grace in human salvation. You are welcome to read this section, minding the use of the sic et non method I outlined above:

It is notable that Thomas’s answer to all ten of these questions is unequivocal: divine help is absolutely necessary for any good thing to come out of a fallen person. Here are the ten questions:

  1. Without grace, can man know anything? Answer: No
  2. Without God’s grace, can man do or wish any good? Answer: No
  3. Without grace, can man love God above all things? Answer: No
  4. Without grace, can man keep the commandments of the Law? Answer: No
  5. Without grace, can he merit eternal life? Answer: No
  6. Without grace, can man prepare himself for grace? Answer: No
  7. Without grace, can he rise from sin? Answer: No
  8. Without grace, can man avoid sin? Answer: No
  9. Having received grace, can man do good and avoid sin without any further Divine help? Answer: No
  10. Can he of himself persevere in good? Answer: No

Now, admittedly I have done a bit of contextualization to bring his terminology into our modern theological idiom. Thomas is a very precise thinker. So if you take my challenge and read the section, you will find that at times he will say that an extra work of grace is not needed. Nevertheless, none of these things can be done without divine aid. That is what we would call grace. Here are some examples:

Response to question 1: Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs Divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act. But he does not need a new light added to his natural light, in order to know the truth in all things, but only in some that surpass his natural knowledge. And yet at times God miraculously instructs some by His grace in things that can be known by natural reason, even as He sometimes brings about miraculously what nature can do.

Response to question 2: And thus in the state of perfect nature man needs a gratuitous strength superadded to natural strength for one reason, viz. in order to do and wish supernatural good; but for two reasons, in the state of corrupt nature, viz. in order to be healed, and furthermore in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue, which are meritorious. Beyond this, in both states man needs the Divine help, that he may be moved to act well.

Response to question 3: But in the state of corrupt nature man falls short of this in the appetite of his rational will, which, unless it is cured by God’s grace, follows its private good, on account of the corruption of nature. And hence we must say that in the state of perfect nature man did not need the gift of grace added to his natural endowments, in order to love God above all things naturally, although he needed God’s help to move him to it; but in the state of corrupt nature man needs, even for this, the help of grace to heal his nature.

In these we can see that Thomas is making the distinction between what we would call saving grace and what we would call either common grace or simply, grace, i. e. the grace we need to continue to live the Christian life.

 5. The Scholastic theology of the will
One last thing should be said when thinking about how some scholastics, specifically theologians like Thomas and John Duns Scotus, discuss things like the will, the intellect, the mind, reason, and so on. When they do this they are operating on a whole host of assumptions, set by St. Augustine, on the philosophical foundation for nature and being. Augustine, for example, taught that there is in every human a higher soul and a lower soul (see De Trinitate, Book XII). Augustine also taught, as we have already established, that the human person was fallen and unable to do good or choose God outside of divine help. Scholastic theologians like Thomas and Scotus took this teaching to a particular place when they posited that it was fundamentally the human will that was fallen and thus made the human person unable to do any good thing or to love God or choose to serve him or have faith in him. This theology of the will served as the basis for much of Luther’s thought on the human person, salvation, and the will and is the underlying basis for his doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone.

The reason why Thomas and Scotus taught that there was a part of the human intellect that was untouched by sin has to do with where they placed the image of God in the human person, again following, you guessed it, Augustine. Since they all placed the image of God in the upper or rational soul, that part of the human person could not be touched by the fall, otherwise a person would cease to be rational, cease to be an image bearer, cease to be a person. Yet, these teachers protected the Augustinian teachings on grace in unequivocally stating that despite this, the human person could know nothing or do nothing outside of God’s divine help (as is shown above). Thus I think that anyone labeling these thinkers as semi-Pellagian is straying out of their lane.

Conclusion: Why this matters
Why does this matter? Simply, because there is a resurgent interest in the scholastic period and in thinkers like Thomas, Scotus, Ockham, and Bonaventure. I would add that theologians like Hugh of St. Victor (and the other Victorines), Lombard, Hales, and Anselm are also worthy of study. Thus if we are going to study and read these medieval thinkers, it is always good to read them correctly, contextually, and on their own terms. To put it even more simply, it matters because we want to tell the truth about what these folks actually said.

Why else does it matter? I think another good reason why reading these writers accurately matters is that when we do not tell a true or accurate story about medieval theologians (or patristic writers like Augustine), and then someone is presented with a more nuanced and accurate take on them which better accounts for their writings and their context, it discredits those who propounded the unfortunately false view and those who surround him or her. How many young Protestants have converted to Roman Catholicism (or seriously considered it) because they have heard truncated or even false takes on ancient and medieval writers only to hear a truer take from Roman Catholic authors and apologists? We as Reformed and otherwise Protestant are better served by engaging these ancient and medieval authors correctly, articulating where we differ, celebrating where we find commonality, and enriching on our own traditions where we find anew sources for growing and building upon our own little piece of the great Catholic Church.

To Ash or not to Ash

To Ash or Not to Ash - Theopolis

Today is Ash Wednesday, and as many Christians of the Protestant formerly “low church” persuasion are reacquiring some of the good and ancient practices of the church, one question in particular comes to the front: to ash or not to ash? That is, while many of us are finding great spiritual value in keeping Lent, we are also wondering, what about the whole ashes on the forehead thing?

So, why even make ashes an option? Here, briefly, are the reasons. Let me first say that I resonate with the idea of not offering ashes on Wednesday. The practice is not commanded in scripture, and it is not something that I consider to be essential to the life of the church. Therefore, I do not judge those who abstain from the practice any more than I do those who practice it.

That said, I do believe the imposition of ashes to be a good and right thing to do. My reasons are that the symbolism is taught in the scriptures, the practice has a very ancient heritage in the church, and that rituals are important to us as human beings and especially as Christian believers.

>>To read the rest, click over to the Theopolis Institute Blog.

Why We Need Advent, Now More Than Ever

Not feeling the Christmas spirit this year? That’s what Advent is for. Let’s keep the season of Advent to mourn the brokenness of this world and to prepare our hearts properly for the celebration of Christmas.

Advent-Christmas-candle-10

I don’t know about you, but I’m having trouble summoning up the Christmas spirit this year. Thanksgiving is over and now our culture is trying to force us into full on Christmas celebratory mode. Our culture wants us to give into the swelling wave of sickening consumeristic bacchanalia. But, I want to ask a question: is it the time for feasting yet? Is it a time for emptying our pocketbooks on ourselves just yet? Should we push back against our culture just a little, this year of all years?

How can we feast while a great American city burns? While a family mourns the reality that no one will be held accountable for the death of their son? While brothers and sisters cry out against what they see as systematic oppression, and folks across the racial and socio-economic divide struggle to listen? How can we feast while Ebola ravages the people of West Africa and threatens to move in on other parts of our world and while now the bubonic plague is becoming a threat to the people of Madagascar? How can we celebrate when campus rape culture has been exposed to be a system where victims are not always protected and the reputations of venerated institutions are instead? How can we go into full on Christmas mode when tanks continue to line up in Ukraine and heads continue to roll in Syria and Iraq? How can we feast when millions upon millions of poor immigrants and refugees in our own country struggle to meet the basic necessities of life? How can we be so tone deaf as a culture? Before we feast and celebrate, would it be appropriate to stop and pray and fast for the many sad things we see around us?

The great history and tradition of the Church may have an answer for us. You see, traditionally there was a preparatory season of prayer and fasting that preceded Christmas. Christmas is not just a day, but a season of the Church year and a time of celebration in the life of the Church. And while we are seemingly always ready to remind others to keep the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember that this feast of Christmas must also be kept in its proper season and its proper proportion. As long as there has been a feast of Christmas, there has also been a preparatory time that preceded the great feast, a period that the Church has called Advent.

Traditionally, the Christmas celebration season followed Christmas Day, while the season that preceded Christmas Day was set aside for preparatory prayer, meditation, and fasting. So while we are keeping the Christ in Christmas, let us also remember to keep a holy Advent to prepare for his coming.

What is Advent? In short, Advent is a season for us to cry out against the brokenness, the injustice, the sin, the disease, the hurt, the oppression, and the fallenness of this world. Advent is a time for us all to hit pause for a moment and as a church, as a human race, to pray and cry out to God to come and fix our broken world. Ultimately God, the All-Powerful Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the only one who can fix our world in a lasting way. But we must not forget that God, while he can intervene supernaturally, almost always uses people to meet his ends in this world. So while we are praying and fasting, let us also be doing. James says, let us not be hearers of the word only, but also doers. Pure religion he says is to serve widows and orphans – to love the poor and the foreigner; the oppressed and downtrodden – to welcome, to host, to listen, and to serve. In short, to love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor, you ask? Friends, who is not your neighbor?

So Advent is a time to pray, a time to fast, a time to listen, and a time to do. If it seems that feasting may be inappropriate this year, or any year, let us first prepare our hearts for the feast. We will feast – we will eat and drink and celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God into our flesh – but before we do that let us first press pause for a moment. Let us first pray and mourn awhile. It will be good for our souls and it will be good for our world.


Here are some resources for praying, listening, and doing:


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Five Reasons Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters

Today the church celebrates the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into his glory in heaven, to sit at the right hand of God the Father and rule as King over the entire universe.

Why is that Christmas and Easter are such big deals in our culture, but Ascension and Pentecost are largely ignored? Have you ever thought about that? I think that the reason for this is that Christmas and Easter do not confront people with the lordship of Christ the way that his ascension does. Christmas is the easiest to accept for our culture. It’s just a sweet little baby born on a manger. Nothing there to confront me. Nothing there to make me take stock in my life. Even if we come to terms with the fact that this baby in the manger is actually God incarnate, it is still easy to sentimentalize and ignore. Baby Jesus. Sweet little Jesus. Tame Jesus.

Easter is a little harder to deal with, but we can manage it OK. Easter confronts us with the unmistakable fact that Jesus is who he said he is, the Son of the living God. Easter means we have to believe in Jesus, we have to believe that he is real and that he rose from the dead. This is why Easter has been made into cute bunnies, eggs, and pastel colors. These are not wrong, but they make Easter more palatable. Still, for those of us who embrace the real Easter, all it does it make us come to terms with the reality of Jesus. We must believe in him.

Yet when we come to the Ascension we are asked to do much more. We are asked not only to believe, but to take stock of our lives and to do what is right. The Ascension of Jesus means that Jesus is Lord. You are not lord. Your feelings are not lord. The government, the wealthy, the powerful, they are not lord. Jesus is Lord. This is the first of the Christian feasts that requires us to take stock of our lives and respond to the ever present reality of the lordship of Christ in our lives and over our world.

So what does the Ascension mean for us? Why does it matter? I want to look at five reasons why the ascension of Jesus Christ really matters to all of us in our daily lives.

1. The Dignity of Humanity
First, Jesus’ ascension into heaven means that all human life has great worth and dignity. This was so at the creation, where we read in Genesis 1 and 2 that men and women are created in the image and the likeness of God. That we are all created in the image of God means that we all have inherent worth. Look at the following from the 8th Psalm:

1 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. 2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?

The Psalmist begins by declaring the glory of God and wondering how man compares to God. Man is an insignificant ant compared to God. Right? This is the typical view of most cold, reformed types. Yet David does not stop there:

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9 ESV)

We have great dignity because of our created humanity. We bear the image of God and have been given dominion over the entire earth. Each and every one of you has great worth because God has made it that way.

And the ascension of Christ means that this dignity and worth is fulfilled, cemented, and magnified. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. That means that a human being, a man, is now sitting in heaven and ruling the entire cosmos. Our humanity is raised and ascended with him! This magnifies the dignity and worth of all human beings. Our flesh is not something to be detested! Your bodies are not something to hate or abhor! Other races and nations of human beings are not in any way lesser than you or worthy of your subjugation! We all share a common humanity and that humanity has been raised up in Jesus Christ. Your bodies are beautiful. They are of great worth, because Jesus Christ has ascended. A human being with a real human body is the King of all. That means that all our flesh has been raised to this dignity. We are not to hate ourselves or hate other people. You have been raised up with Christ!

2. Access to God
Secondly, the ascension of Jesus Christ means we have access to God. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 ESV)

He also tells us in Ephesians 3:

8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:8-12 ESV)

So we see that we have access through Jesus to God the Father. We are told that we have bold access, that we are to go boldly to the throne of grace. But would that have been so if Christ had not ascended to heaven? NO! The reason we have access to God is because Christ Jesus ascended to heaven and he now sits at the right hand of the Father acting as an advocate for us. It is through Christ that we have access to the father. It is through the ascended Christ that we have bold access to him!

Furthermore, we don’t just have this flimsy ephemeral access to the Father. According to Paul in the letter to the Hebrews in chapter 4, WE ascend to heaven with Christ to enjoy access with the Father. It is through our worship each week that we are able to ascend to the Father and make our requests know of him:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:11-16 ESV)

How is it that we draw near to God? How is it that we draw near with confidence to the throne of grace? It is through our worship! It is by being consecrated by the living and active double edged sword of the word of God and by being raised up by the Spirit of Christ into the presence of the almighty. But we would not be able to do it without Christ,  without the ascended Christ. It is he who gives us access to the Father. It is because of the ascension of Jesus Christ that we can, each week, ascend into God’s presence to worship Him, petition Him, and feast on and be nourished by the body and blood of his Son Jesus Christ. If Christ had not ascended into heaven, we would have nothing.

Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote:

“The Ascension means that heaven is not merely a hope, but a present possession for the Church in [Jesus Christ].”

Or as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:4-7:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

You are raised up with Christ and seated in the heavenly places. You do this every week when we all gather together to worship God. Heaven is not merely a future hope, but a present possession for you, the Church, through Christ the ascended Lord.

3. The Ascendency of the Church
Thirdly we see that the ascension of Jesus Christ results in the ascendency of the Church. In Acts 1 we read of two men in white robes who address the disciples after they witnessed the ascension of Jesus:

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?.” (Acts 1:11 ESV)

Why do you stare up into heaven? Jesus has ascended so that his Church can take up his work. So go, get to work! Jesus left them with these words:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Which is Luke’s version of the great commission of Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

The ascension of Jesus therefore means that the work of the kingdom has been left for the church to accomplish. Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus actually amassed very few devoted followers during his earthly ministry? In fact, as we from the ending of the gospel of Mark, Mark leaves no one left to boldly share the good news! Yet the ascension of Jesus means that Jesus himself is not going to take up that task. If Jesus had not ascended, if he had remained on earth as a king or religious leader, things would be drastically different. Have you ever wondered why he didn’t just stay? Why didn’t he stay? He tells us exactly why he didn’t stay. He went up because by doing so he enabled the church to become what it is today, a billion Holy Spirit filled Elishas who will be able to do far more than one earthly Jesus. Is that blasphemous to say? No, Jesus says, “You will do greater works than I.” The church is able to do more being empowered and filled with the Holy Spirit than one earthly Jesus could do. He left so that the church could also ascend. And our ascension means that we have work to do. We have his commission to fulfill. We, the church, are the hand of God in this world.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:8 (quoting Psalm 68): “Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” The gift that the Lord Jesus gives to men as he ascends on high is his church. The apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers are all gifts to the church, which in turn is a gift to all men. So let us go out and be a gift. Let’s live in a way as the church like we truly confess an ascended Lord and let’s be about his business in this world!

4. The Completion of the Atonement
Fourthly, the ascension of Jesus Christ is the completion of the atonement. We tend to think that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the only necessary event of the atonement. Yet the Apostle Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 15:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (1 Corinthians 15:17-18 ESV)

Thus, according to Paul, the atonement, the accomplishment of the forgiveness of your sins to make you right with God, was not completed on the cross, but that the resurrection of Christ was a necessary element of the atonement. Now, for certain, the sacrifice for sins was completed on the cross. The penalty that Jesus paid to God the Father was completed on the cross. Yet the complete atonement which makes you right with God was not complete. Jesus had to be raised. Paul says so. If Jesus had not been raised, you would still be dead in your sins.

Furthermore, the atonement was not complete until the ascension. The Apostle John wrote some verses that we repeat a lot here at Christ Our King. 1 John 1:8-10. Maybe you can say them by heart:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 ESV)

We confess this because it says that if we confess our sins, the Lord forgives us. We claim that precious promise each week for the forgiveness of our sins. Yet do you know what the next verse is?

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2 ESV)

The REASON why you can have forgiveness of sins, the reason why you can be right with God is because Jesus Christ has ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the father, and can constantly act as an advocate on our behalf. He has paid the penalty for our sins, he has been vindicated by God by being raised from the dead, and now he sits at his right hand constantly advocating on our behalf. There is no atonement, there is no forgiveness of sins without the ascension of Jesus Christ!

5. The Victory of Jesus
Finally, the ascension of Jesus Christ completes the Victory of Jesus Christ as the King of the entire Universe. Psalm 110:1 says:

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1 ESV)

Peter uses this as his sermon text on the day of Pentecost, where he proclaimed:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, 35 until I make your enemies your footstool.’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:32-36 ESV)

Jesus Christ is King of the entire universe. He is Lord of all. The US Government is not Lord. Jesus is Lord. The most powerful corporations are not Lord. Jesus is Lord. YOU are not Lord. Your feelings are not Lord. Your doubts and fears are not Lord. Jesus is Lord. This is why we can rejoice in our own weaknesses. This is why we can cast our cares on him. This is why we can boast in the Lord. This is why we are not to worry. This is why you can place your complete trust, in all areas of your life, in Jesus Christ, because HE IS LORD OF EVERYTHING.

Dutch Reformed theologian and leader Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!”

Jesus Christ is the victorious King, and he is Lord of all. He is Lord over your circumstances. He is Lord over your hurts. He is lord over your pain. He is lord over your uncertainties. He is lord over your fears. He is lord over your doubts. He is lord over your depression. He is lord over your families. He is lord over our city. He is Lord not just of the Church, but of every human institution. JESUS IS LORD!

He has defeated death. Death hath no more dominion over you. He has defeated hell. Hell no more be a worry for you. He has defeated the grave. The grave will not hold you. He has defeated the devil. The devil can do nothing to harm you. Jesus Christ has ascended into the highest heaven in the fullness of his humanity and his deity. He is a human man and he rules and reigns over all things.

Believe in him. Put your trust in him. And let him be Lord over your entire life and being. Hold nothing from him. Hide nothing from him. Keep nothing from him. He is Lord.

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