An interview with Michael Eaton

My next blogpost on reflections on Reformed theology in Scandinavia will be a few more days, but meanwhile I’d like to share this interview with Michael Eaton. He is a reformed theologian originally from Westminster Chapel in London, but is now since many years back leading a church in Kenya that has seen many churches being planted.

In the interview Michael Eaton is sharing his perspective on many issues such as justification, grace, works, sanctification, the warnings in scripture and the sermon on the mount. I believe that his thoughts feed very well into the discussions that has taken place on my earlier reformed theology posts.

The interview is 25 minutes long but is well worth the time.

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.

Reformed theology in Scandinavia – reflections part 1

I announced in an earlier blogpost that I would spend some time to share some reflections I have on Reformed theology or grace theology that is entering into Scandinavia. As far as I can see it there are three streams that I would like to reflect on. We have reformed charismatic movements, we have the so-called grace-preaching and then I can see another stream of reformed theology that I would like to start up reflecting on today.

I would like to start by reflecting on a stream of Reformed theology that I perceive is gaining some ground in Scandinavia. It’s represented especially by an American pastor named Paul Washer. From what I’ve seen they seem to put a lot of emphasis on repentance from sin and how we are all sinners that need to repent. Put Amazing back into grace seem to be a phrase commonly used by people who would identify with this preaching, and the obvious meaning of that phrase is that by realising how our sin has separated us from God, and by grieving our sin and then to look at the cross and realise that our sin is atoned for by the death of Jesus, make us realise how amazing God’s grace is. “What is man that God be mindful of him” (Psalm 8:4) and “Behold, even the moon is not bright, and the stars are not pure in his eyes; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” (Job 25:5-6) would be verses from the Scripture that would be lifted forward in order to show man’s inadequancy and by constantly grieving our own sin would then even more make God’s grace more amazing in our eyes. There also seem to be a strong emphasis holiness and rejecting sin, even to the point where fear of whether we are saved or not is allowed to gain ground when we do sin.

My first reflection on what I’ve seen and heard from this stream so far would be that theologically I would agree with a lot of things like being amazed about who we really are and what we deserve and then realise the amazing grace God has given us. I sometimes meditate on the curses that are given in for example Deuteronomy for those who do not obey all of God’s commandments and it makes me realise that I actually don’t deserve the grace He has given me. That is healthy exercise! However, my biggest problem with preachers that are inspired by Paul Washer is when I listen to them speaking because then the grace of God doesn’t seem to be that amazing anymore, it doesn’t even seem to be there even. It’s often very hard and harsh messages that’s building up condemnation in the people listening. There doesn’t seem to be any “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” but rather a constant lifting up of what’s behind. The way I see it we should rather have our strength in the joy of the Lord and in rejoicing in who we now are in Christ through his grace, rather than constantly looking back to who we once were in sin. It does have a value in order to show us our need for grace, but the strength to then live for Christ does not come from there.
Jesus did not seem to have his biggest problem with the sinners, the prostitutes or the believers that fell, like Peter for example, but rather with the religious, those who didn’t “sin” and therefore was unable to put their trust in another man’s righteousness.

I would like to finish my reflections by sharing a video clip from another reformed preacher, Mark Driscoll, sharing a message on John Piper’s conference “The supremacy of Christ in a postmodern world 2006″. The irony would be that the people who listen to Paul Washer also seem to listen to people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll, altough I would say that the message we will hear in this video radically differs from what Paul Washer would say.

Reformed theology in Scandinavia

For a while I’ve been noticing that reformed theology and grace theology is starting to enter Scandinavia to some degree the past few years. At least from my perspective it’s quite a new thing and my view would be that reformed theology has been rather non-existent for many years.

I’ve also noticed on some blogs, for example here, that the issues has been discussed. When I have reflected on these influences I’ve noticed though that there seems to be a few different kinds of reformed influences and on a few blogposts ahead I’d like to comment on some of these streams or ideas that are starting to be represented in our nations. My goal is not to cover everything, or judge or anything like that but rather to reflect on what I see grow forth etc. There might even be a discussion being formed, which is welcomed.

In this first blogpost I’d just like to give some definition to reformed theology. It’s not an all exhausting list at all, but might give a brief idea what I’m talking about.

  • It’s a God centered theology, where the sovereignty of God and His glory is the focus. If arminian theology (which could be the counterpart) would emphasize man’s free will, man’s choice and man’s responsibility, then reformed theology would rather empasize God’s role in salvation, God’s ability to sustain us and that what God has begun he will finish. This does not mean that man has not got any responsibility or even free will, but the empasis would be on God.
  • It’s a grace theology. Out of the previous point flow the grace of God, because if we are saved by God, if we are made righteous by God and not by our own works, then all the glory belong to God. We have received this grace by faith, and even that is a gift from God. God is the author and perfector of faith. He is the reason I have saving faith from the beginning and he will perfect faith in my life.
  • It’s a theology which emphasize the role of scripture. There seem to be this attitude, that if all the glory belong to God, then we need to really understand what God is saying to us. Not much of reformed theology would seek to build on great ideas but there seem to be the call of the reformation to get back to the source, sola scriptura.

For me personally, I’m very happy for this emphasis on scripture. I would say that it’s more important to allow scripture to shape doctrine than the opposite. This is why in one way I would hesitate to label myself reformed since I wouldn’t want to stamp myself with a whole doctrinal system. However, I do find reformed theology to be very wholesome and scripture saturated which is why I also find myself more and more comfortable with seeing myself as a reformed charismatic. It’s not my theological background but there are a lot of aspects of reformed theology that I find very attractive and I always find myself drawn to God centered worship for example songs written by Simon Brading, Stuart Townend and Matt Redman.

This was just an introduction, and I’m planning to get back to this subject in some coming blogposts. Keep posted. I’ll finish with a video of a great God centered worship song written by Simon Brading.

And another one written by Matt Redman:

Shall we carry on sinning?

A few days ago I wrote a blogpost on the gospel being such a scandal of unmerited grace that if you have understood it correctly it should make you come to the conclusion that if this gospel is so unmerited does that mean that I should carry on sinning so that grace may abound.

The answer to the question is an obvious no. Sin is like a pit of quick sand that just draw you further and further down and your own actions, your own righteous deeds, that you do trying to get out actually makes it worse and you sink even more (which is why Paul says that he counts his own striving as a loss). Then Jesus comes along and he pulls you out from the pit totally independent of your own works why on earth would you want to have anything to do with the quick sand again? God’s grace, pulling us out of the sand, actually gives us a distaste for sand [sin] as it were.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” Tit 2:11-12

In the same way as God’s love to us has made it possible for us to love God, God’s grace given to us has first of all made us totally free from condemnation of sin and secondly the grace of God is training us to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. Through God’s grace there is no separation left and my sin is no longer and never will be a problem between me and God, it has been dealt with. At the same time the love that the Father so gracefully has covered me with gives me a longing to no longer give myself to what once was the cause of separation between me and God. Being drawn near to the Father gives me a longing to be more like him. In this way, through His kindness, love, grace and acceptance I am drawn into a longing to say yes to righteousness and no to sin.

If you are a believer, would you say that this is true according to your experience? What has given you the greatest longing to live for Jesus? Is it people who tell you the given standard to live by, the do’s and the don’ts or is it the moments where you have realised how loved and accepted you are through God’s grace?

If you are not a believer in Jesus I would say to you, stop trusting in your own ability to make it and I would want to give you this invitation to trust in another, in Jesus, to pull you out of the quick sand you are in. Receive his grace by trusting in what he has done for you, dying on the cross with your sin to reconcile you to God and then being raised from death to bring you into a new life.

The scandal of the gospel

Today I would like to continue to look at the doctrine of grace and today I would like to look at the scandal of the gospel, which truly is a stumbling block to the religious and the legalists and a folly to the wise, but for those who put their trust in this scandal it is the power of God for salvation. It’s actually such a scandal that even many Christians feel obligated to mix it with law rather than with faith.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” Romans 6:1

Now after reading this verse I’d like to quote one of my personal heroes and one of the 20th century’s greatest bible expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He says, commenting on this verse:

The true preaching of the gospel of salvation by grace alone always leads to the possibility of [the charge that we may sin that grace may abound] being brought against it. That is a very good test of gospel preaching….
If my preaching and presentation of the gospel does not expose it to that misunderstanding, then it is not the gospel….If your preaching of salvation has not been misunderstood in this way, then you had better examine your sermons again, and you had better make sure that you are really preaching the salvation that is offered in the New Testament to the ungodly, to the sinner, to those who are dead in trespasses and sins, to those who are enemies of God.

In other words; the best test whether you have understood Romans chapter 1-5 is that if you would leave chapter 6 and on aside, and read those 5 chapters as if it was for the first time, your natural response would be to see the scandal of the gospel – “But that must mean that we can carry on sinning and grace will abound, is that what we should do?” If you never let your understanding of grace come to that scandalous conclusion before you move on to understand Romans 6 (which is also very important) then you have probably never understood the first 5 chapters.

The same should be true of how we preach the gospel. If the people who hear the gospel are never allowed to come to this scandalous conclusion before we move on to chapter 6, then we have probably not preached the gospel at all.

The scandal of the gospel is that we put our trust in someone else’s righteousness, in Jesus. That means that whether we’re right with God or not is fully dependent on whether Jesus is right with God or not. Saving faith is to put your trust in what He has done for you and then to realise that you can’t add to that with your own effort. The scandal of the gospel is to realise that my own life and my own sin has drawn me totally away from God into spiritual death and enmity even with him, but God has loved me even when I was his enemy and He died with my sin on the cross and he has now given me His righteousness through faith in Jesus and we are justified fully by his grace through putting our trust (faith) in what Jesus has done for us rather than in what we could do for him.

This is my position before God. I am justified apart from my works and I will always stand before God apart from my works, because the gift of his grace has been given to me through faith apart from my works.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”  Lets look at the answer to that question next time.

How a christian relate to the law

Today I would like to expand a bit on how a christian should relate to the old testament law. In my last blogpost on the issue I argued that the purpose with the law is to show us the reality that we are sinners in God’s sight and to reveal for us in that way our need for grace, but how should you actually relate to it as a Christian who has put your trust in Christ and who now is justified or made righteous?

In the seventh chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome Paul presents a metaphor to help us understand this. He says that the law is like our husband given to us in marriage. Now the law is obviously very good, and in itself it’s perfect, without any flaw. That might sound like the perfect husband if it weren’t for the fact that he is constantly demanding the same perfection from you. And he’s not a good helper, he is just expecting perfection without giving any help and worse he is impotent, not able to help you bear fruit, so the law constantly makes you feel condemned. One day you see Jesus and you see that he is equally perfect, but the difference is that he is helping people and lifting them up rather than condemning them. You think to yourself that what if I could marry Jesus instead. The only problem is that the covenant of marriage is only broken when one party dies, and the law will never die. So there you are with this condemning husband who will never die and you’re stuck.

But, says Paul, what has actually happened through your faith in Christ is that you have died, so you are now released from your bondage to the law and from its authority over you. And the great thing is that God has not only left you there in a spiritual single life, but he has then raised you to a new life where you have been united with Christ. There you now live with Christ as your husband, as it were, and bear fruit for God and serve him in the new way of the spirit.

Terry Virgo gives us this excellent illustration, to help us understand this, of a man who has been in the military service. One day his serving time has come to an end and he collects his civilian clothes back and give his military uniform and equipment back. Then as he walks across the courtyard area he hears an officer whose voice he recognises well: “Attention”. At first his back is straightened out of sheer routine until suddenly he realises, I’m not in the army anymore, I’m a civilian, the officer can shout as much as he wants to but it doesn’t carry any authority over me.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Rom 8:1-2

As a christian, I am in the same position as the former soldier. There simply is no condemnation on me any more. The law doesn’t carry any authority to condemn me anymore because there is no condemnation on those who are in Christ. It simply doesn’t exist any longer because we are released from the law and we now live in the grace of God. And when the condemnation come and the oughts and the musts and the do’s and the dont’s we are so easily proned to straighten our back and say, allright this time I will do better, this time I will try harder, this time I will please you and we try to please God by working harder at all those things that we are released from and we never really get to experience his acceptance and favour cause we are constantly living under the condemnation that we could do better.

Let me suggest to you that we don’t please Jesus, our new husband, by cheating on him with our former husband. We honour Jesus by living in the grace he has given us, loving him and enjoying his presence.

And then we have the law…

I would like to continue a bit from my last blogpost and today expand a bit on the doctrine of grace.

I am preaching tomorrow on the third chapter to the Phillipian church where Paul speaks about his human attempt to live a perfect life and that way earn a pat on the head from God. His conclusion is that legalism is only worth to be mixed with the other things he produce himself and then flush down the toilet and that his own attempts are worth nothing compared to being found in Christ.

Thats quite a harsh way of speaking about trying to live a life according to the law, isn’t it. Well, I would say that to understand biblical grace we need a clear understanding of the old testament law, and how it applies to people living in the new covenant. When I came to faith, I was taught that as a christian I no longer need to follow the ceremonial law of the old testament but the moral law still applies to me. The problem is that Paul is not only speaking of the ceremonial law but he is also speaking of his driven ambition and his achieved righteousness and it is all worth toilet paper to him.

“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane…” 1 Tim 1:8-9

To understand the doctrine of grace, we first need to acknowledge that the law is good. God has given us his law, and in it we see something of God’s character. Secondly we need to recognise that the law will only be good for us (or beneficial) if we now how to use it in the right way. Thirdly, we need to see that the law is not for those who are justified, it’s not for the righteous, but it is for sinners, and Paul then goes on to list a number of different sins to make sure that all can feel included in the category.

The law, thus, is beneficial for each and every person who is a sinner in order for us to realise that we are sinners, and thus, help us see our need for grace. But when you become a follower Jesus and put your trust in him, rather than in your own striving and human attempt to reach holiness, then he declares you to be righteous, he justifies you, and you become just, righteous and holy. Not because you have earned it or deserved it, but because that’s his grace.

That is all for now. Lets expand more of the doctrine of grace further on.

What does God think about…

My first real blogpost will be of the philosopical kind. I have been reading some different debates and articles on God’s opinions lately. I will leave those aside and this is not an attempt to involve myself in them, but it has spurred some thinking on my part.

So often we try to define God’s opinions depending on what our current culture says to us. Our view of who God is easily becomes political correct. My suggestion though, is that God must be defined by his character in eternity, whether we like it or not in our current culture.

God is love. This is neither unfamiliar or uncomfortable. We know this because God has revealed this character to us through the Bible and first and foremost through Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of John states: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

The law did reveal something of God’s character as well. Something of his standard, his holiness. Now the ultimate purpose of the law was not for us to try to live by it, but for us to realise that we can’t live by it. The law is our teacher that teach us our need for grace is the point Paul is making in his letter to the Galatian church.

Grace and truth came through Jesus. In Jesus, in his grace, and in the truth he reveal we see God. In the grace that has been given to us, that even if we have not lived according to God’s standard, even if each and every one of us are sinners, we have been given grace through Jesus. On the cross he has died with my sin and through faith in him I am now free from the condemnation of law, death and sin. Jesus also came with truth. On the cross Jesus not only put an end to condemnation on every believer, he also manifest that there actually is a righteous condemnation on sin that need to be dealt with. God does not change his opinion on sin according to current waves of popular culture, he deals with sin on the cross. Jesus came both to reveal the eternal grace and love of God’s character as well as His eternal holiness and truth.

Let me use an example that is not very controversial. Pedophilia is a sin in God’s eyes. Now that is not very difficult for me to grasp since it fits very well into my culture and worldview. My point is that it has always been a sin in God’s eyes. In ancient Greece it was considered an ideal for an older man to have a sexual relationship with a young boy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty] and in their culture this would probably be considered normal. My point is that God did not suddenly change his position in 1650 BC and he doesn’t suddenly change his position 2009 AD.

God is God, and he doesn’t deal with sin by wiping it under the carpet and forget it. He condemns it on the cross of Jesus and then recreate us with a cleansed conscience and a new life in Jesus Christ.

Grace and Truth. We need to acknowledge both aspects of God’s character to see God revealed to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.