Reformed theology in Scandinavia – reflections part 2

In this blogpost I’d like to reflect on yet another theological stream that I can see in Scandinavia, often referred to as grace teaching. I have seen a number of examples especially in Norway and Sweden, and some of the influences would be for example Joseph Prince from Singapore and Åge Åleskär from Norway. Some might object to call this stream reformed and I’m not sure if they would themselves, but I’ve heard for example Joseph Prince quote Martyn Lloyd-Jones to back up his theology, and he is undoubtedly reformed, so whether “the grace teaching” is reformed or not is not the topic, they are at least inspired by reformed theology and therefore belong in these reflections.

The theology of the grace preaching would emphasize that Jesus has lived and perfected the whole of the law and given the result (righteousness) to those who believe. Therefore we are not under the law and it doesn’t apply to us any longer. The focus would be to liberate people from all kind of legalism and musts that Christians so easily fall under. At least some preachers in this stream would put a strong border line at the cross basically saying that everything that takes place before the cross (including the life of Jesus) belong to the Old Covenant and therefore does not apply to the New Covenant established at the cross of Jesus. The critics would call this stream licensious (i.e. giving permission to “sin under grace”) and neglecting for example Jesus teaching in the sermon on the mount.

My primary reflection is that there is actually very much in this theological stream that I appreciate. They are inspired by solid reformed theologians in their understanding of law and grace and they truly know how to rejoice in God’s gift of righteousness. This is not a bad thing in my perspective but something I believe they are right in doing!
My second reflection is a concern I have. In the 80′s the “faith movement” started because they felt that there was a need for teaching on faith in Sweden and everything was built around one topic in Scripture. Altough many things were very healthy with this faith teaching, some things did go wrong and that was partly, I believe, beause their theology was all focused around one area in the Scripture. The current grace teachers, many who have backgrounds in the faith movement, I believe are sometimes very close to do the same mistake all over again, but this time the theological focus is another issue lacking in Scandinavia, i.e. grace. The risk would be that longing to see the teaching of grace being restored to church they will start to build “grace churches” rather than “faith churches”. I strongly believe in the grace of God and the need for a biblical understanding of the grace of God to be restored to the Scandinavian churches, but my longing is first of all to build with “the whole counsel of the Lord” in order to see a biblical church, rather than just a grace church.
My third and final reflection is on the division of Old and New Covenant on the cross. I don’t want to claim that they are wrong because I would need to study the details of what they claim before I would like to make that kind of statement, and certainly the cross is very central to the Christian faith. However, sometimes I feel that it is a quick and unreflected way to get away from Jesus teaching. My perspective would rather be that Jesus came with grace and truth and when Jesus began his public ministry he proclaimed “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15. I believe there is a breaking in with the kingdom of God, which is part of the New Covenant which starts with Jesus coming to earth rather than with the cross. Jesus also certainly preached the good news, the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation, and central for the New Covenant, so even if the death of Jesus at the cross is establishing the covenant in blood, it certainly comes to us through the life of Jesus.

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10 Responses to “Reformed theology in Scandinavia – reflections part 2”

  • Comment from Andreas Cucca

    Do you mean that all of the teachings of Jesus apply to the new covenant? Didnt Jesus also speak to people under the old covenant? Should we not interpret the teachings through the cross of redemption?

    • Comment from dan

      As I wrote in my blogpost I believe that Jesus came with the new covenant, and not merely that it began at the cross (altough the cross is hugely important for the new covenant). I wouldn’t claim to have all theological issues worked out completely and one of those issues is for example how to view the sermon on the mount.
      However, I’m not convinced that the sermon on the mount is solely to make the law more difficult or to show the true meaning of the Old Testament law. I’m certain that I’m no longer under the OT law (including the 10 commandments) and neither am I under the sermon on the mount as a law. But I do believe that Jesus is teaching us how the kingdom of God works and the ethics within the kingdom. Therefore it’s not a new law that rule over me but a new life I live in God’s grace.
      It’s not only about the teaching of Jesus but there is a number of things that Paul is mentioning in his letters that we do need to take serious. Personally, I believe that Paul in his letters is using a pattern to first lay a theological foundation of grace to show who we are, and then he applies it in the latter chapters to show the outworking and ethics that this new life in the kingdom of God demands, see for example Ephesians.
      Lets keep the talk alive and let the word of God lead us forward!

  • Comment from Kjetil

    Interesting. Sometimes I reflect much in the same way as far as the “faith” movement vs the “grace” movement are concerned, and it alarms me a bit when such a strong emphasis is placed on “one issue” so to speak.

    • Comment from dan

      Lets not be driven by issues but by the Word of God and a passion for his glory. Altough, to clarify myself, I actually appreciate the grace teaching, and I believe it’s needed in this part of the world. I agree with most things that they say concerning the foundation of grace, but I still have some concerns.

  • Comment from Markus Kristensson

    It’s intresting to read these “Reformed theology”-posts you’re writing. As you I think the grace teaching brings something that is needed and in some way or another has been lacked in church for too long. You are probably right in expressing some of the worries, and I believe that we who preaches grace would be wise to think through what we are communicating. Maybe one could say it like this; are we preaching grace and then nothing, or are we primarily focusing on grace, but also on faith, thereby resulting in intimacy with God and outflow? Joseph Prince got a book called Destined to Reign and Steve McVey got his Gracewalk, maybe that’s just two different expressions of the second alternative?

    Joseph Prince, Åge Åleskjaer or Rob Rufus wouldn’t say that they take one part of the Word of God and throw out the other, rejecting for example the teachings of Jesus. Instead I’m rather convinced that they mean that we have to read them in context. Not reading in context will result in what Rob Rufus funnily expressed: “If you read a text out of it’s context you will be conned.” Therefore I believe that looking at the Gospels we have to pay attention to whom Jesus is speaking to, seeing that we are dealing with different covenants, even though as you say Jesus already was living out the kingdom of God. Thereby it would be dangerous to pure and simply remove the context and say that Jesus’ every teaching is applicable to New Covenant believers. One example of this would be the rich young man who comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to have eternal life. As an answer Jesus gives him all but grace, an answer I would say isn’t applicable to us, even though its meaning is: coming to Jesus in any other way than grace will always result in insufficiency, that is you will always lack something under law.

    I actually do got a quote from Åge that I throw in here, maybe it will give some input on how he thinks. Here he is answering a question if the Gospels belong to the Old Covenant and if they have authority over our lives: “Det är viktigt att förstå att hela Bibeln gäller oss. Hela Guds ord från Första Moseboken till Uppenbarelsen är aktuellt för en kristen, det gäller bara att förstå vad Bibeln säger i de olika sammanhangen. Evangelierna är tex helt klart före det nya förbundet, Hebr 9 – testamentet gäller inte förrän den som dött upprättat det. Nya förbundet (NF) kommer att gälla efter Hans död. Jag tror att det man faktiskt gör om man säger att NF startar före korset är att man gör något med Jesus blod och korset som på ett sätt försvagar detta. Men i min förståelse så är det det Paulus säger att vi ska förkunna Jesus och honom som korsfäst och jag har målat Kristus som korsfäst för era ögon. Så det är viktigt att NF är baserat på att det blev fullbordat på korset. Jesus levde i det NF som Jesus, men hans lärjungar levde inte i det tills NF blev färdigt, se Petrus förvandling på pingstdagen.”

    I would see the Sermon on the Mount as an correction of the corruption of the law taught by the pharisees those days, which resulted in men not seeing their need for Christ. That’s why I believe Jesus in chapter 5 talks about that He hasn’t come to remove or destroy the law, not even “one jot or one tittle”. Therefore, instead of almost making the law keepable as the pharisees , I would say that Jesus shows the law in it’s full glory. That’s why he finishes it off by saying that he who listenes to this words and acts upon them is like a man who built his life on a rock. We could never compete with that standard he just had revealed, but we could give up hope in our self and build on the rock, which would be the righteousness of Christ. My point is then that this sermon could be labeled a grace sermon. Then you have a point saying that the new life of Christ in us will work a lot of these things in us, at least apart from the cutting off hands or plucking out eyes-part… ;) Any input on this?

    This was too long, hope you endure! Just one more question to go!: Have you noticed different “grace-camp”-approches on the question of sovereignity in Sweden?

    • Comment from dan

      Welcome to the blog Markus, and thank you for your input.
      I think that you bring some very good thoughts and input to the talk, please continue to. I don’t think I will have the time now to give feedback to all your thoughts, but perhaps others are able to join with more perspectives?
      I find it interesting that you group Joseph Prince, Åge Åleskär and Rob Rufus together because I don’t think I would. In my next blogpost on this subject I will write some reflections on a stream that I call Reformed Charismatics, and that’s clearly where I would see Rob Rufus belonging. If you look at his theology he is not only teaching grace, but there is a whole theological framwork on how to build church, which is clearly reformed and he has a clear reformed theological understanding on a number of issues. I’m glad however that you affirm and also quote Åge on the importance to affirm the whole of scripture.

      Taking the young rich man I believe that this story has a number of things to teach me. Nowhere in the Old Covenant was he forced to give up everything, so is was not part of the law. He probably already tithe and did everything that the law required. Much like Paul this young man could probably say “as to righteousness under the law, blameless”. What Jesus is showing this young man, though, is that the law cannot lead you to righteousness, but actually lead you to self-rigtheousness, which is sin. That is why Paul reflects on his righteousness under the law, not only as “not enough” but as a loss, something that actually drew him away from God. This principle still applies to me and to my relationship with God. I need to give up everything, every attempt to “make it”, in everything, in my whole life, I need dependence on Jesus.

      About the sermon on the mount. Joseph Prince is sometimes quoting a man called Martyn Lloyd-Jones. There is also a book with Lloyd-Jones preachings on the sermon on the mount called “studies in the Sermon on the Mount”. When the issue has been raised here on the blog I have felt an urge to personally go deeper with this issue, and Lloyd-Jones would be my choice. A quote from him that I find very challenging is: “The Sermon On The Mount is not a code of ethics or morals; it is a description of what Christians are meant to be.”

      About the sovereignty of God. Most people in the “grace teaching camp” as you put it come from an Arminian holiness background and has then caught hold of grace, but not the theological framework to understand grace, that’s why I think the whole issue of understanding God’s sovereignty becomes a problem. I do have reflections on this, but it would take too much time to share them now. Perhaps something for a future blogpost. What’s your own reflections on this issue?
      Some questions to ponder would be; Is faith a work or a gift? If it is a gift, who gives it to me?

      • Comment from Markus Kristensson

        Thanks and thank you for your answer! :)

        Taking those thoughts and question you pose, would you say that arminianism is not reformed or in kinship with calvinistic thought about faith as a supernatural gift? I don’t know if you argue arminianism as unreformed, but the contrary could be made. And then, how do you refer to the word reformed, in a wide or narrow sense? Where the latter would point to hardcore calvinism and the former would even include arminianism.

        I would base that grouping together on the fact that all of them teaches the new position of a New Covenant believer under no restraining law, and I guess that even if they teach different subjects they would still try to stay on a foundation of grace. But exactly where to position Rufus, Prince and Åleskjaer I don’t know. In Sweden I haven’t heard much grace teaching and I’m no theologian so I’m not in the best position to assess that. However in a more world wide perspective I do believe that Steve McVey has more of an inclination for calvinism than all of the others, and Rufus did actually make an intresting statement in one of his teachings about reformed theology: “I had some little insight of grace but I was still under a lot of law through extreme reformed theology. And extreme reformed theology has a built-in anti-super-natural component against the spirit. And I was under severe reformed theology.” I guess it’s one of the why’s why I have seen more of a connection between him and Prince than him and McVey.

        Anyhow, my grouping together of them is probably to shallow and it will be nice reading your following reflections on Reformed Charismatics (and maybe later on the Sermon of the Mount and on Grace and sovereignity)!

        • Comment from dan

          Markus, just to clarify myself a bit. I’m actually not too concerned about grouping people inte categories etc, but since what I do on this blog is reflect on things, sometimes for the sake of reflections it is helpful to understand different theological approaches in the light of eachother and to some extent you need some groupings, but in real life, they shouldn’t matter too much. I believe I do have a lot to learn from all kind of different streams, but what’s most important is to cultivate a heart that loves God’s word and that want to be shaped by it, so don’t worry too much about it… Sorry if I’m confusing you as well.

          Just shortly about arminian and reformed theology. Some reformed theologians can be very legalistic and some arminians can be very grace centered. I kind of like what Martyn Lloyd-Jones (who is reformed) said that he wants to trust in God as a reformed and work hard as an arminian. There need to be balance between our and God’s responsibility, but it’s still helpful to understand the differences.

          In short Reformed theology would be God centered, that is God gives us grace, God give us faith, God will sustain our faith and keep us in him so we want fall out of his grace (that is loose our salvation). Some reformed theologians (and I believe that they are doing a mistake) would say that the only way to know if you are saved is to see if you are doing good works, and then it all becomes works-centered the “back way”.
          Arminian theology would focus more on man’s responsibility and man’s choice rather than God’s choice and act. So man chooses to believe in God, and then sustain himself in the faith by persevering and keep doing good works. You would loose your salvation if you “drop yourself” out of the grace (that is man chooses when to go in and out). Often verses like Hebrews 6 are used to support this view, however my biggest problem with this view is that there always seem to be possibilities for those who have sinned away their salvation to get it back by repenting again, something which is clearly impossible according to Hebrews 6.

          The issue about reformed and arminian theology in my view is not in which camp you are in, but in which direction you are leaning.

  • Comment from Josef

    Are you a calvinist?

    • Comment from dan

      Hi Josef, welcome here!
      I don’t know exactly where you are coming from when asking the question.
      Labels such as being a Calvinist are honestly not important for me. My heart is to allow the Bible influence me and I want to draw my theological understanding to the best of my ability from what the Bible is teaching rather than through a theological system. I do think however that the reformed tradition has proven to be most careful in trying to understand what the Bible is teaching and even if I wouldn’t like to be automatically labeled TULIP I am happy to call myself reformed in my theological understanding, but trying to remain humble in the fact that I don’t have a perfect theology. I have said to my church at a number of occasions that if anyone can show me from Scripture that I am wrong or a bit skewed in something I believe I will change immediately.

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