Sweet Exchange

Buried in a footnote in an unrelated book is one of the best to-the-point-refutations of N.T. Wright’s objection to the glorious truth that God imputes to the believer the righteousness of Christ –

Theologians and exegetes often discuss the Protestant idea of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the terms of the law court, since the dikaios word group is a legal/judicial one.  Yet the law-court metaphor is just that – a metaphor that can help with certain aspects of imputation but does not explain the theological concept entirely.  N.T. Wright’s oft-quoted critique of imputation falls short precisely because he treats the metaphor, as it were, univocally.  He writes, ‘Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom’; in What Saint Paul Really Said (Oxford: Lion Book, 1997), 98.  Well, sure, that’s very clever-sounding, but he’s not really critiquing imputation here.  Imputation is a judicial idea, yes, but also a covenantal one.  Entering into certain kinds of covenants involves my identity and all that I am, such that all that’s mine becomes yours and all that’s yours becomes mine.  When I married my wife, for instance, my student loan debt actually became hers, and her Honda Civic actually became mine.  Neither the Honda nor the debt floated across the courtroom.  Still, there really was this ‘sweet exchange,’ at least from my perspective.  So it is with the sweet exchange of Christ’s righteousness and my sin.  By giving himself to his people in the new covenant, what he possesses becomes ours, and what’s ours becomes his.  In that sense, Wright is correct to point to the covenantal aspects of God’s righteousness in Christ.  I even appreciate his point in the same chapter of this critique that the book of Romans, most fundamentally, presents us not with the realities of the law court but with a ‘theology of love’ (p. 110).  Yet somehow he misses the fact that the shared identity of biblical covenants involves exchanging not just obligations but debts and blessings.  Somehow he misses the fact that the exchange of sin and righteousness between Christ and sinner – these legal or judicial realities – is also a covenantal reality, and a nuptial one, at that.

Jonathan Leeman, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 110 fn. 62.


Preaching in a Post-Christian Context

From Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2007), 74-75.

We dare not be content simply to preserve the message; we must propagate it boldly.  New Covenant preaching cannot remain comfortably within the New Covenant community, speaking that community’s special dialect!  We live and preach in the redemptive era when the crucified and risen Christ sits enthroned in heaven as the Lord who announces: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations’ (Matt. 28:18).  In view of our place in the unfolding of God’s plan, the preacher’s calling is not merely to put the finishing touches on Christians who are already biblically literate and theologically sophisticated.  Nor is it only setting straight Christians from other churches and traditions who need correction.  If pastors ever had the luxury of assuming that they were ministering in Christendom – that is, in a community and culture dominated by Christian conviction – those days are over.  We need to recapture the apostolic sense of gospel mission to the pagans, not only in far away pre-Christian cultures but also in post-Christian American and Europe.


Ashamed to Repent

We started reading Robinson Crusoe last night as a family.  At the end of the first chapter Lucy said, “Uh!  I just want him to go home.”   I, on the other hand, am finding the descriptions of the way people can rationalize their behavior and ignore their consciences to be instructive.  Listen to this snippet:

I have since observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth, to that reason which ought to guide them in such cases – viz. that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools, but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.

Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1919), 8-9.


Effervescent Pearls

Andrea and I recently enjoyed watching the movie Begin AgainThis scene really hit me:


Wisdom from Wendell

I’m reading of collection of interviews that Wendell Berry has given over the years.  They are another quality addition to his body of work that includes novels, essays, and poetry.  There’s much to highlight, but this section was particularly profound:

Plowboy: …it takes a conscious effort to reinstate the ceremony and ritual in our lives.  Many intentional communities are trying to generate this kind of awareness and stability…

Berry: But I’m much more interested in the results of accidental communities that have formed by fate and fortune and circumstance.  The intentional community seems to me a rather escapist idea, sort of a new version of the white citizen’s council.  I thought that’s what we were trying to get away from.  I think the idea that you can have an intentional community is about as misleading as saying you can have an intentional life.  If you’re going to have a decent and stable community, you’ve got to produce the cultural and social forms by which to deal with the unexpected and the undesirable.  The intentional community idea assumes that when you say love your neighbor as yourself, you have some kind of right to go out and pick your neighbor.  I think that the ideal of loving your neighbor has to take on the possibility that he may be somebody you’re going to have great difficulty loving or liking or even tolerating.

Plowboy: In your writing you emphasize that the inhabitants of a region thrive on the daily interchange between old and young… yet many of these new communities are made up primarily of young people.

Berry: Yes, and that’s one of the worst possible kinds of segregation.  This is probably the first generation not to have a history.  They have their own immediate history but not one that comes from having older people around them.  They’re coming up to adult life without the awareness that anyone has ever gone through their experiences before, much less learned anything from them.  But I know people who as children had their grandparents’ memories in their memories, so that in a sense, as young people they had old minds.  They had a kind of seasoning.

From Morris Allen Grubbs, ed., Conversations with Wendell Berry (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 10.


Faith and Works

From Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, trans. J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii:

Faith is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1). It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.

Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. And so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises, it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.

He who does not these works is a faithless man. He gropes and looks about after faith and good works and knows neither what faith is nor what good works are, though he talks and talks, with many words about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man would stake his life on it a thousand times. This confidence in God’s grace and knowledge of it makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and all His creatures.

And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in faith. Hence a man is ready and glad, without compulsion, to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, in love and praise to God, who has shown him this grace.

And thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate burning and shining from fire.


Is It Baptist To Be Multi-Site?

You are probably familiar with the term “multi-site” by now. Maybe your church has already gone to the model, or is considering it. Very simply put, multi-site refers to the concept of one church that meets in multiple locations. Twenty-five years ago, there were fewer than 25 such multi-site churches in North America. Today there are over 5,000! It is a relatively recent phenomenon, yet an increasingly popular strategy for reaching more people with the gospel.

Opening up another campus allows for growth that is usually quicker and more cost-effective than building bigger or sending people out to start something new. It is in many ways simpler and more streamlined. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but can keep the same name, logo, website, 501(c)3 status, support staff, etc. Resources can be shared more readily. You can be more certain that your own “DNA” is being replicated.

I understand the appeal and practical benefits. There are many Baptists whom I respect that have gladly joined the multi-site movement, motivated by a genuine desire to penetrate lostness. But I’ve always had a lingering doubt about whether this method is entirely consistent with our Baptist principles, particularly that of local church autonomy.

Now you may be wondering why I don’t pose the question as, “Is it biblical to be multi-site?” It is because I don’t have space to make a full argument from Scripture. I am assuming that we are all Baptists here. And I am assuming that we are Baptists because we believe it is biblical. We are solidly convinced the Bible teaches that baptism is to be administered to believers only. And we believe that “a New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers” (The Baptist Faith & Message 2000, Article VI). Our views about credobaptism and congregational ecclesiology are the principal reasons why we are Baptist, and not Methodist or Presbyterian.

But while they may remain firm on the practice of baptism, Baptist practitioners of the multi-site model appear willing to compromise the autonomy of the local assembly. Each distinct location is not allowed the responsibility to receive and dismiss its own pastors and members. There is limited leeway given to determine the best programs and strategies for evangelism and discipleship. In many ways, the satellite congregations are bound by the decisions coming out of central headquarters.

When it comes to organizational structure and leadership in a multi-site operation, there may be one single pastor over all the campuses, in which case you have a hierarchy. How is this different than having a bishop? Or there might be a representative group of elders overseeing all the campuses, in which case you then have a presbytery. It seems to me that while the language may be “one church in multiple locations,” what you really have is a small denomination.

There are potential dangers in any system, but with multi-site, the pull towards empire-building and a cult of personality is extremely strong. There is also a temptation to trust in a franchise brand instead of the power of the Word and Spirit.

I can see how in true revival circumstances where massive amounts of people are being converted at once, a temporary multi-site solution might be needed. But I would rather see this as church planting in slow motion.

What all this means is that the task of pastors is not just to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), but also to commit what we know to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim. 2:2). We must be committed to raising up leaders from within our churches who could do what we do and be released from our authority to start other churches as the need arises. Hopefully these churches would retain a similarity and organic connection, without control or formal structural unity.

A growing number of like-minded yet independent congregations freely choosing to associate and cooperate together in mission…that sounds more Baptist (and biblical) to me.

Nathan Carter is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago. This article first appeared in the Illinois Baptist. Read the latest issue online.



Christ Alone

William Carey, the great missionary pioneer who translated the Bible into forty languages said this:

I am this day 70 years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on review of my life I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust; my direct and positive sins are innumerable, my negligence in the Lord’s work has been great, I have not promoted his cause, nor sought his glory and honor as I ought.  Notwithstanding all this, I am spared till now, and am still retained in his work.  I trust for acceptance with Him to the blood of Christ alone.

Letter to Jabez Carey, in James Culross, William Carey (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1882), 208.


We Crave Something Beyond Our Biology

I don’t usually list Andy Stanley as one of my theological heroes or ministry role models, but his recent defense of monogamy in TIME magazine is brilliant:

Cassette tapes are obsolete. Monogamy is more like an endangered species. Rare. Valuable. Something to be fed and protected. Perhaps an armed guard should be assigned to every monogamous couple to ward off poachers. Perhaps not.

The value a culture places on monogamy determines the welfare of its women and children. Women and children do not fare well in societies that embrace polygamy or promiscuity. In the majority of cases, sexual freedom undermines the financial freedom of women. Sexual freedom eventually undermines the financial and emotional security of children.

If we are only biology, none of the above really matters. All’s well that ends with the survival of the species. If we are only biology, monogamy was probably a flawed concept from the start. But very few of us live as if we are only biology. I’m not sure it’s possible. We constantly refer to “our bodies”—an acknowledgement that we are more than “bodies.” Apparently, there is an “I” in there somewhere, an “I” that desires more than another body with which to ensure the survival of the species. As a pastor, I’ve officiated my share of weddings and I’ve done my share of premarital counseling. I always ask couples why they are getting married. Survival of the species never makes the list.

The “I” and “You” that inhabit our bodies desire more than another body. We desire intimacy—to know and to be fully known without fear. Intimacy is fragile. Intimacy is powerful. Intimacy is fueled by exclusivity.

So, no, monogamy is not obsolete. It’s endangered. But so was the buffalo.  Perhaps we happily monogamous couples should relocate to Yellowstone.


Why I Prefer To Be Buried And Not Cremated

From Russell Moore’s new book Onward (Nashville: B&H, 2015), 61-62:

“Can’t I be resurrected from an urn as easily as I can from a casket?” they ask.  Of course.  That’s not the point.  God can resurrect me if my body is eaten by alligators, but I wouldn’t dispose of Aunt Gladys that way, shrugging and asking, “What does it matter?   See her in heaven.”  The way we treat the body is a sign of what we believe about the future.  The women around Jesus cared for his body, anointing it with spices, because it was him; they knew that the body is important because it will be part of the new creation, whether that resurrection happens in a matter of days or after billions of years of decay.  Christians respect the body because we believe our material bodies are part of God’s goal for us and for the universe.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers