Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Resolutions - Jonathan Edwards Style

With the beginning of 2008 tomorrow, many will begin work on their New Year's resolutions. While statistics suggest that less than 50% of resolutions survive January, the practice itself is not without some value. Although he did not write them in connection with the beginning of a new year, Jonathan Edwards wrote a list of 70 resolutions between 1722-23 (at the ripe age of 19-20!) that he wanted to shape his life. Some of the highlights include the following (the entire list can be viewed here:) :
1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God' s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

22. Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age, say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
But in reading through this list it is crucial to recognize how he introduces them:
"Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake."
Whether we make resolutions or not, may we recognize the necessity of divine grace and the empowerment of the Spirit in all that we do for his glory in 2008.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The New Perspective on Paul - Part 3

Today we resume our series on the New Perspective on Paul. The third basic premise is this:
Paul's problem with Judaism and the Mosaic Law is not legalism, but something else.

In the so-called traditional Reformation understanding of Paul, his problem with Judaism and the Mosaic Law is that it was used as a means of earning favor before God. But in light of the NPP's contention that first-century Judaism was not legalistic, they conclude that Paul's problem with the Mosaic Law and Judaism must rest somewhere else. But that is where the agreement ends, for in determining what that "something else" is the various NPP advocates part ways. E.P. Sanders, for example, argues that
What is wrong with the law, and thus with Judaism, is that it does not provide for God's ultimate purpose, that of saving the entire world through faith in Christ, and without the privilege accorded to the Jews through the promises, the covenants, and the law (Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, 155)
In other words, the problem is simply that "Judaism is not Christianity." James D.G. Dunn takes a different view:
The classic Protestant understanding of justification ... has missed or downplayed what was probably the most important aspect of the doctrine for Paul himself ... the fundamental critique of Israel's tendency to nationalist presumption, not to say racial pride." ("The Justice of God," 14)
So for Dunn the issue is the fact that the Mosaic Law excludes non-Jews from its righteousness.


1. The work of NPP scholars has forced a necessary reevaluation of the complex issue of Paul's view of the Mosaic Law. Although none of the NPP proposals are satisfactory, they have brought necessary correction to overly simplistic presentations of Paul's problem with the Mosaic Law.

2. Paul's "problem" with the Mosaic Law in my view is multi-faceted; it involves at least the following components. (a) The Law was not given to provide life but rather to reveal and confine sin. Thus any attempt to use the Law to experience eschatological life is doomed to fail (Gal 3:19-22). (b) The Law's requirement of perfection (Gal 3:10-12) and man's inability to achieve that results in a curse. (c) The Law was given to serve the Abrahamic promise until Christ the promised seed came; once he came the Law was set aside as the means by which God's people interact with Him (Gal 3:15-18).