Useful Things | February 16, 2020

Quotable

Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes the observation that the scene of the temptation [of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3] is the place of the first conversation in theology; it is “the first conversation about God, the first religious, theological conversation. It is not prayer or calling upon God together but speaking about God, going beyond him.”

While the narrative of Genesis to this point has employed YHWH (or Yahweh, or “Lord”) as what we come to know as the covenant name of God, the Serpent and Eve talk about him only as “God.” In other words, the Creator with whom they share relationship has now been reduced to “the deity.” When we talk about God in his “absence,” it becomes easy to distrust him. And when this happens, the possibility of sin is right before us.

This is especially appropriate to consider when thinking about the prohibition given by God. Satan worked to get Eve to focus on the negative, and he worked further to cast suspicion on the character of God. Satan insinuated that God must be petty or somehow threatened by the possibility that the humans could “know” good and evil and thus be “like God” (Gen. 3:5). In other words, God doesn’t want us to “know” good and evil, therefore he must be trying to keep something good for himself rather than share it with us.

[Gerhard] Von Rad notes that “with a father’s disposition God had purposed every conceivable kindness for man; but his will was that in the realm of knowledge a limit should remain set between himself and mankind.” But Von Rad also notes that the usage of yādaʻ (“to know”) here is important. Here yādaʻ is likely being used as it often is elsewhere in the OT (and indeed in Gen. 4:1, 17, 25 it is used to refer to sexual relations)—it is referring to much more than merely intellectual cognition of something; instead it refers to a personal, relational, experiential kind of knowledge.

The use of yādaʻ is important here because it seems to indicate the divine intentions. It is not as if God was wanting to keep Adam and Eve from the knowledge of good and evil because they might benefit from it so much that they might somehow threaten God’s status or reign! Far from it—God cordons off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by the prohibition because he desires to protect his children from it. He knows what Adam and Eve do not know; he knows that this kind of knowledge of good and evil will be nothing other than damaging to them. Much like a father who wants to protect the innocence of his children—much like he does not want them to be knowledgeable about, say, abuse or rape—so God graciously prohibits Adam and Eve from what he knows will harm them. The awful irony of temptation and sin is that so often we begin to distrust God’s word and doubt the sincerity or goodness of his intentions for us at exactly the point where he is trying to protect us. And again, as Bonhoeffer makes plain, this begins to happen whenever we think we can engage in theological discourse that is devoid of an attitude of trust or is cut off from prayer and worship.

— Thomas H. McCall, Against God and Nature: The Doctrine of Sin (Crossway, 2019), 121, 122.


Affluence & Consumerism Are Poor Substitutes for Human Flourishing

by Brett Kunkle

Happiness hasn’t always had the contorted meaning it now has in contemporary culture. The “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence wasn’t the unbridled pursuit of affluence, pleasure, and personal satisfaction. Happiness was found in a life well lived, characterized by wisdom, virtue, and character. The Old Testament writers had a word for it: shalom.

God’s prophets continually warned the people of Israel how life could go wrong. In contrast, they used the word shalom to indicate how life is supposed to be: a life in which human beings flourish. Cornelius Plantinga Jr. explains the Old Testament meaning of shalom:

The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.... Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.[1]

We get a vivid picture of shalom in Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he mediates day and night.

He is like a tree

planted by streams of water,

that yields its fruit in its season. (vv. 1–3)

Shalom represents human flourishing and is found in God’s plan of creation, redemption, and restoration.

The New Testament continues to paint this picture. The Sermon on the Mount is rich with the language of flourishing as Jesus examined the question of which life is the good life. In the Beatitudes, the Greek term used for “blessed” is makarios, which is akin to the Hebrew word shalom. According to Jesus, “blessedness,” the goal of Christian living, is human flourishing.

In God’s Story, human flourishing is grounded in God Himself. As the psalmist said, “For me it is good to be near God” (Ps. 73:28). He is our highest good, our ultimate end. Our souls are thirsty for fulfillment, but affluence is a false god unable to quench that thirst. Only God can truly satisfy our souls, as the writer of Psalm 42 declares, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (vv. 1–2). God is the one who fills us, not earthly goods.

The early church father Augustine tried to fill his life with the pleasures of the world, but when he found God, he concluded, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[2] For this reason, the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

We were designed in God’s image and made for relationship with him. We were also tasked with caring for His creation (Gen. 1:28–30). Certainly, God created good things for us to consume and enjoy (vv. 29–30), but that isn’t our final end. We’re also to give back, to steward and embellish God’s world by creating good things ourselves.

To be clear, pleasure isn’t the problem. All good cooks enjoy the food they prepare. But even more, they derive pleasure from seeing others enjoy it. When pleasure is our goal, rather than the by-product of a higher end, it becomes distorted. God created us with the capacity for pleasure because He is kind. However, because He made us creators and not merely consumers, we confuse the ends with the means when we live for stuff. We can love the good things God gives us, but our loves must be in the right order.

Wealth isn’t necessarily evil, but loving wealth more than God or others is. God has given some of His servants an amazing capacity to generate profit, and as they do, they lift others out of poverty. There’s nothing evil about that at all. We’re blessed to be a blessing to others. But when wealth or the accumulation of things becomes life’s pursuit, our loves are disordered.

Because we’re so tempted to confuse the ends and the means when it comes to possessions and wealth, Jesus gave us adequate warning:

·         Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19–21)

·         No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (vv. 24-25)

·         Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke 12:15)

Simply put, affluence and consumption are poor substitutes for God. Jesus put it this way: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23–25).

Jesus wasn’t giving a command; He was describing reality. We can accumulate all the riches of the world and never achieve true life. Jesus was explaining how we were made to flourish in God’s Story.

*Excerpted from the book A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World by Brett Kunkle and John Stonestreet and published by David C. Cook Publishers (June 2017), pp. 226-230.

Notes

[1] Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be:  A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 10.  

[2] Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick, Oxford World’s Classics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 1.1 (3).

Brett Kunkle is the founder and president of MAVEN (www.maventruth.com). He was an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students and co-authored A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World and A Student’s Guide to Culture. He received his Master’s degree in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology. Brett lives with his wife and five kids in Southern California.

Photo credit: Oscar F. Hevia on Visualhunt /  CC BY-NC-ND


Book Highlight

*Unless otherwise noted, descriptions are those provided by the publisher, sometimes edited for brevity.

Without a proper understanding of sin, there can never be a proper understanding of the gospel. Sin is opposed both to God’s will and to nature, leaving us in need of God’s grace and redemption. This comprehensive exploration of the doctrine of sin looks at what the Bible teaches about sin's origin, nature, and consequences, engaging with historical and contemporary movements. Dealing with difficult issues such as original sin, angelic sin, corporate sin, greater and lesser sins, and more, this book ends with a discussion on divine grace, which is the only hope for the problem of sin.

Table of Contents

Series Introduction
Preface
Abbreviations

  1. Introduction

  2. Sin According to Scripture: A First Look

  3. The Origin of Sin

  4. The Doctrine of Original Sin

  5. The "Sin Nature” and the “Nature” of Sin

  6. "The Wages of Sin": The Results of Sin

  7. "Where Sin Abounded": Sin and Grace

  8. Conclusion

Appendix: The Original Sinners
Scripture Index
General Index 

Endorsements

“Thomas McCall proves himself a knowledgeable, reliable, and congenial guide to the sad subject of human sin. Here you will find a vigorous and invigorating loyalty to, and defense of, the orthodox Christian tradition. McCall’s argument is firmly rooted in the biblical storyline, well conversant with the history of discussion, and philosophically careful. He shows respect to the various branches of Christianity, offering advice on how they can refine and improve their positions on issues where they differ from one another, and he strengthens their confidence in the large swaths of agreement between them. You can tell as well that McCall, the serious scholar, also loves God and his people, and wants us to aspire to holiness.”

— C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

“This book is a gift. Dealing with one of the more contentious issues in theology today, McCall offers a discussion that is judicious, clear, and thought-provoking from beginning to end. It comprehensively surveys the biblical material and historical discussions, deals fairly with a broad range of theological perspectives, and constructively addresses the most difficult questions raised by this much-maligned doctrine. And yet somehow it does all of this while remaining thoroughly readable throughout. I have long hoped to find a comprehensive and up-to-date survey of the doctrine of sin and its significance for theology today, and I think this is it.”
— Marc Cortez, Professor of Theology, Wheaton College Graduate School

Find Against God and Nature at Amazon, Crossway, and other major booksellers.

See more volumes in this helpful series (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) here.


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