Amen and amen.
Delivered at the conclusion of a debate with a Muslim several years ago.
More White at aomin.org.
Perusing used book stores in South Texas is not quite like doing so in the Shangri-La of used (theological) book stores, that being Grand Rapids, Michigan. One can still smell the racks of 19th Century commentary series available at Baker Book House….the biblical dictionary/encyclopedia sets lining the walls at Reformation Heritage Books…and the treasures at Credo Books in an old warehouse antique shop downtown. The “Religion/Philosophy” section at Half Price Books pales in comparison, although a treasure may be found if one looks hard enough, such as F.F. Bruce’s New International Commentary on the New Testament volume on Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians for $3(!). Perhaps one of the brethren at Grace Community Church has a lead on a good bookstore or two in San Antonio…. ;)
Having access to quality books at good prices was something we did not take for granted because many do not have such access. Almost every used book store will have titles, however, which are less than worthwhile (Reformation Heritage is the exception. They have absolutely no lightweight stuff in their new book section, nor is there any pap in the used book selection. Highly, highly recommended). Whilst perusing the selections at Half Price Books today, I ran across a book that, shall we say, is not one I will move to the front of the wish list ahead of Turretin or Bavinck. The book?
If ever there were an oxymoron, this is it.
Let’s see, when does the Bible become a book of theology? We must wait until Genesis 1:1 before theology enters the Scripture:
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
If ever a statement of theology was written in history, that is it. If the Bible is a book without theology, then it must by definition be a book without God. And, from the descriptions on the back of the dust cover, it may well be a book without God. “He…challenges scholars’ assumptions of Scripture as monotheistic…” It is not just “scholars” who read Scripture as monotheistic – it has been the clear understanding of the people of God from the beginning that God’s revelation of himself is one which is monotheistic and in no way polytheistic.
Then, the author “proposes treating biblical narrative as myth rather than historical fact.” Once one opens up that can of worms, one cannot hold to any truths at all if narrative passages are not in fact narrative, but mythological. Were Adam and Eve in fact removed from the Garden? If a narrative passage such as that is mere myth, then what meaning could a prophetic passage have such as we see in Revelation about a form of return to Eden with the coming of the New Jerusalem – is that beyond myth? Did Cain kill Abel? Did the Israelites really cross the Jordan? Where does this end?
Also, the author assumes that only that with whom he differs have presuppositions: he “advocates stripping away the theological and historiographic biases that underlie modern biblical scholarship in order to arrive at a nontheological historical reading of the Bible.” A “nontheological historical reading of the Bible?” Yet, he brings no “biases” to the interpretive table? Not having read the book, I would assume there is a fair degree of hyperbole in the title, possibly meant as an attention-getting means for those disaffected with theological study. Even so, what appears to be implied here is that nobody has gotten the meaning of the Bible correct until the author of this book came along. Nobody? Well, when one removes “theology” from the study of Scripture and when one determines narrative passages to be mythological, well, then, one probably can have a Bible without theology. In that case, then, what one ends up with is neither the Bible nor theology.
Theology is not something to avoid for the one who claims to have bowed the knee to Christ – it is something which will enhance worship and which will result in affirming Paul’s “Oh, the depths of the riches” concerning God in Romans 11. Praise God that he (God) desires us to be students of theology – to be students of him, as we are also children of his!
Grace Community Church (San Antonio, Texas) Sunday School, June 29, 2014 – Zeek Coleman: You Must Be Born Again (John 3:3-7)
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
An earlier version of this post has proven quite popular and two books have since been added. As always, with every author’s works – including the present writer’s – please be discerning. Thanks to The Gospel Coalition for hosting these documents.
The new books are:
The Inclusive-Language Debate: A Plea for Realism (Zondervan, 1998)
From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days (Christian Focus, 2010)
The following books are have been available for free download and it would be prudent to do so while they are available. My personal recommendations would be The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and Love in Hard Places. The Difficult Doctrine…. would have a place on my personal Top Ten list.
Letters Along the Way: A Novel of the Christian Life (Crossway, 1993)
Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century (Baker, 1994)
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, 2000)
Love in Hard Places (Crossway, 2002)
The Biblical Data
What is the biblical ground for the insistence that the minister of the gospel must proclaim repentance unto life along with a summons to faith in Jesus Christ? The Old Testament employs the two verb roots שׁוּב (s̊ûḇ, “turn,” “return”) and נָחַם (nāḥam, “repent”) when it calls for or speaks of repentance:
Isaiah 55:7: “Let the wicked forsake [יַעֲזֹב, ya˓azōḇ] his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn [וְיָשֹׁב, weyās̊ōḇ] to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
Joel 2:12–13: “Even now, declares the Lord, return שֻׁבוּ, [s̊ûḇû] to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return [וְשׁוּבוּ, wes̊ûḇû] to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”
Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn [שׁוּבוּ שׁוּבוּ, s̊ûḇû s̊ûḇû] from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Job 42:5–6: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent [וְנִחַמְתִּי, weniḥamtî] in dust and ashes.”
Jeremiah 8:6: “I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right. No one repents [נִחָם, niḥām] of his wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’“
The word-groups denoting repentance in the New Testament are primarily from μετανοέω, metanoeō, (34 times) and μετάνοια, metanioia, (22 times), meaning “to change one’s mind” and “a change of mind” respectively; and secondarily from στρέφω, strephō, and ἐπιστρέφω, epistrephō, meaning literally “to turn” and “to turn about” respectively (but both are consistently translated “convert” or “be converted”), and μεταμέλομαι, metamelomai, meaning “to become concerned about afterwards.”
The glorified Christ placed beyond all doubt that repentance is to be a part of gospel proclamation, when he declared on the evening of his resurrection from the dead: “This is what is written: that the Messiah should suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance for [μετάνοιαν εἰς, metanoian eis] forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed [κηρυχθῆναι, kērychthēnai] in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46–47). As did John the Baptist before him (Matt. 3:2, 8, 11; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3, 8; Acts 13:24; 19:4), Jesus himself preached repentance in the imperative mood (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15), characterized the very purpose behind his coming to people in terms of calling sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32), warned that unless sinners repented they would perish (Luke 13:3, 5) and unless they were converted (στραφῆτε, straphēte) and became as little children, they would never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3), denounced whole cities that would not repent while commending Nineveh for repenting at the preaching of Jonah (Matt. 11:20–21; 12:41; Luke 10:13; 11:32), and declared that heaven rejoices over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7, 10). The apostles, on their preaching missions throughout Galilee, “preached that people should repent” (Mark 6:12), and they continued to be true to this aspect of their Lord’s commission throughout the Book of Acts (Peter in Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; Paul in Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). The author of Hebrews indicates that “repentance from dead works” is a first principle of the doctrine of Christ (Heb. 6:1).
Its “Gift Character” As Procured by Christ’s Cross Work and Effected by Regeneration
As the response to God’s sovereign, effectual summons that was procured by Christ’s cross work (as is every spiritual blessing the Christian receives) and made effectual by his Spirit’s regenerating operations in the soul, repentance unto life is represented in Scripture as a gift of God. The Psalmist prayed: “O God, turn us … that we may be saved” (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19) and Ephraim and Jeremiah prayed respectively: “Turn me, O Lord, and I will be turned” (Jer. 31:18; Lam. 5:21). Peter declared that God exalted Christ to his own right hand as Prince and Savior “in order to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel” (Acts 5:31, emphasis added). Upon hearing Peter’s testimony regarding the conversion of Cornelius’s household, the Jerusalem church “glorified God, saying: ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has given [ἔδωκεν, edōken] repentance unto life’ ” (Acts 11:18, emphasis added). And Paul instructs Timothy that the Lord’s servant should gently correct the non-Christian opposition “in the hope that God may give [δώη, dōē] to them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25, emphasis added).
Its Distinction from Mere “Worldly Sorrow”
Godly sorrow for sin that leads to true repentance, characterized (1) in Acts 11:18 as “repentance leading unto life,” (2) in 2 Corinthians 7:10 as “repentance leaving no regrets and leading to salvation,” and (3) in 2 Timothy 2:25 as “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,” must be distinguished from what Paul calls in 2 Corinthians 7:10 “worldly sorrow [that] produces death.”
Paul’s “worldly sorrow [that] produces death” is amply illustrated by the sorrow of the rich young ruler and of Judas. The rich young ruler, when he heard Jesus’ requirements for discipleship, “became very sorrowful” (Luke 18:23). But his was a “worldly sorrow,” because, being “a man of great wealth,” he regarded his wealth as of greater value than the privilege of following Jesus. So he went away. Again, when Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned, “feeling remorse, he returned the thirty pieces of silver” (Matt. 27:3). But his was a “worldly remorse” because it did not lead to the “repentance leaving no regrets and leading to salvation.” Instead, it drove him to suicide. But to the Corinthians Paul writes:
I now rejoice, not because you were made sorrowful, but because you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance, for you were made sorrowful as God intended.… For the sorrow that God intends produces repentance leaving no regrets and leading to salvation; but worldly sorrow produces death. For behold what earnestness this sorrow that God intends has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what readiness to see justice done. (emphases supplied)
The Scriptures are clear that men may feel remorse over their sins for any number of reasons. But unless their sorrow for sin is their response to their sense of not only the danger of but also of the filthiness and odiousness of their sins as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, which then compels them so to hate their sins that they turn from them to God with full purpose and endeavor to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments, it must be judged as mere “worldly sorrow that produces death.” Godly sorrow, the sinner’s response to the Spirit’s regenerating work in his soul which normally accompanies the evangelical preaching of the doctrine of repentance, produces “repentance leaving no regrets and leading unto salvation.”
Summary of the Doctrine
“Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience” (Shorter Catechism, Question 87). As the root implies in μετανοέω, metanoeō, and μετάνοια, metanoia, (the most common words for repentance in the New Testament), it entails a radical and conscious change of view (the intellect), change of feeling (the emotions), and change of purpose (the volition) with respect to God, ourselves, sin, and righteousness. We acknowledge that we are sinners and that our sin entails personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness before God; we sorrow with a “godly sorrow” for the sins we have committed against the holy and just God; and we resolve to seek pardon and cleansing from God through the blood of Christ which alone satisfies the offended justice of God. So in turning from our sins in repentance we turn to Christ in faith for salvation.