Thankful Thursday: The Life Everlasting

Photo by Asif Jalal Rizvi

Today, I conclude my series of Thankful Thursday articles by reflecting upon the final words of the Apostles’ Creed: “the life everlasting”. This is the last thing we confess when we recite the words of the creed, and it seems to receive less attention than those that come at the beginning. Nevertheless, when we confess that we believe in everlasting life, we are declaring something that is infinitely important.

I previously wrote about the resurrection of the body. We sometimes view eternal life in such a limited sense that those two final lines of the creed hardly differ. Yet, the supernatural raising of our bodies from the dead is not the same as receiving eternal life. Men have longed for immortality since the Fall, but they would have done better to pursue a higher form of life rather than a longer one. That is what God offers us when He offers eternal life: not a continual existence in the same form, but an entirely higher form of existence. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Mediation

“High Priest Offering Incense on the Altar”, illustration from Henry Davenport Northrop’s “Treasures of the Bible”, circa 1894

What is the real purpose of a covenant between God and man? There are many different ways to answer that question, each of which would capture some aspect of God’s intent. However, I prefer to speak of covenants as a means of relationship between God and man.

Any relationship between an infinite Creator and finite creatures must necessarily be somewhat different than relationships between human beings, with which we are far more familiar. We do not have the capacity to grasp God in all His glory, so He must condescend to us in one way or another. Since man’s fall into sin, our relationship with our Creator has been complicated even further, for He is holy and just. Because none of us are capable of making ourselves holy, we need the supernatural actions of a holy God if we are to have fellowship with Him.

Both the Old Covenant (here I mean the Mosaic Covenant) and the New Covenant provide means for human beings to relate to God through a system of mediation. A mediator in the biblical sense is someone who stands between sinful humans and a holy God to make the relationship possible, and this necessarily requires some kind of payment for sin. As this relationship is at the heart of any covenant between God and man, we must ask ourselves a very basic question. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Types and Shadows

“The Scapegoat” by William Holman Hunt, circa 1854

Hello again! I hope you are enjoying these final days of November before the crush of December hits us all. It was good of you to return after that whole covenant household discussion.

One thing that we must determine when considering the differences between the Old and New Covenants is the significance of the types and shadows that existed under the former. The writer of Hebrews discusses this subject at length, and the way in which we interpret those words can have a major impact on how we view both covenants. Therefore, today’s question is,

What was the significance of the Old Covenant types and shadows?

There are five Greek words used in the New Testament that all seem to point to this idea of a “type”. The first is typos, which refers to a figure that is created by an impression. Metaphorically, it can refer to a form of something. The second is antitypos, which shares the same root and also refers to the process of forming something based on a pattern—but do note the prefix “anti”. The third is parabolē, which implies something that is compared to or has the likeness of something else. The fourth is hypodeigma, which can be a figure, sign, or example. The final such word is skia, which refers to a shadow, specifically in this case an image that is created from the shade of something else. (Any bolded English words in the block quotes of this article represent a translation of one of these five Greek words.) Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: Membership

“Achan is stoned to death”, illustration by Gustave Dore (Note the absence of the rest of Achan’s household.)

In the previous article, I discussed some basic principles of Reformed covenant theology (Covenant of Works vs. Covenant of Grace, substance vs. administration, etc.). I then provided a summary of how the New Covenant is described in scripture, with a particular emphasis on the times it was mentioned by the Old Testament prophets. To summarize, the New Covenant is new, it is eternal, it is wrapped up in a person, and it involves a true knowledge of God and His Law.

There are several more issues we should consider when attempting to determine if the Old and New Covenants have the same substance. (Here I must remind you that I am typically limiting the description “Old Covenant” in this discussion to the Mosaic Covenant, though I have no intention of ignoring the Abrahamic Covenant.) Today, I will consider another important question. Continue reading

Old Covenant vs. New Covenant: New Covenant Described

Illustration of the erection of the Tabernacle from the 1728 “Figures de la Bible”

The Christmas season is upon us, and it seemed fitting to me to give a gift to all my friends who are theology nerds: twelve days of discussion about the biblical covenants. In my corner of social media, this is without question one of the most debated theological topics, and too often we descend into tribalism, throwing quotations at each other from Spurgeon and Hodge. It is not unlike the scene after all the Christmas gifts have been unwrapped and the young boys build forts from the boxes, lobbing balls of discarded paper and bits of tinsel at one another.

“There has to be a better way,” I said to myself. Thus, an idea was born.

What I am about to release to you has involved a considerable amount of time and research, eating up my limited energies for much of the autumn. I set out with three goals: 1) Gain a better understanding of the biblical covenants. 2) Demonstrate that I have thought through these issues critically. 3) Provide a basis for this debate to continue in a more positive and constructive manner. (An unstated final goal was to create a stockpile of covenant articles equal to that of His Heidelness, which I might subsequently use to bombard unsuspecting Twitter followers.) Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Resurrection of the Body

On this third Thankful Thursday, I come to that penultimate line in the Apostles’ Creed: “the resurrection of the body”. Yes, I have been thankful for that truth this year, but explaining why requires me to talk about my body, and that is not something I normally discuss. Obviously, I do not want to draw undue attention to the form in which God chose for me to pass through this life. Yet, my body is a part of who I am, and in order to explain why I am thankful, I must first explain what I have suffered.

I never really cared for my body as a young person. Don’t get me wrong—I had no deep and abiding hatred of my pancreas. There wasn’t something about my lungs that displeased me. Rather, it was all about externals: my nose was too big, or my skin had too many blemishes, or my hair wasn’t full enough. I knew that I wasn’t the prettiest girl in the school. People rarely tell you these things, but you figure them out on your own. I had no confidence in my appearance whatsoever.

Then as I grew older, I found other reasons to dislike my body. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with scoliosis: a crooked spine. Not only that, but my left leg was shorter than my right leg and my feet were flat. Soon I was fitted for special shoes and required to do special exercises. There was some debate over whether I would need spinal surgery, but fortunately I was spared that. I managed to go through life with scoliosis without anyone being the wiser. It still gives me recurring back pain, and I wear a lift in my left shoe on account of the leg length difference, but apart from limiting my choices in footwear, these bodily flaws have not been too serious. Continue reading

There’s No One Like Me on Television

Television Children Boy People Child Home Tv

“There’s no one like me on TV.”

This thought occurred to me about a year ago. I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure it out, but it explains why I find it difficult at times to connect with the legions of shows on television and streaming services. As much as I might try to identify with those characters, I end up hitting a brick wall of one kind or another, for none of them are like me.

Certainly, there are women my age on television. Many of them have the same ethnic background. A few have similar facial features. But what about the other aspects of my life? Few shows are set in Midwestern towns like Dayton, Ohio. (I had a bit more luck when I lived in Washington, D.C.) Few of those female characters show a keen interest in history or politics, and positively none of them study theology. Now I am getting more to the point: how many of those women share anything like my religious ideals?

Thinking back to some of the shows I have watched over the years, none of them were good representatives of what you might call “evangelical America”. In fact, characters who hold to a form of Christianity—whether Protestant, Catholic, or something else—are frequently portrayed as abnormal and weird. They are also typically hypocrites. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Forgiveness of Sins

Today I continue my series in which I thank God for the final four things in the Apostles’ Creed, each of which has meant something special to me this year.

Part 1: Then

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,

Whose sin is covered!

How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,

And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

Psalm 32:1-2

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know that God forgives sins. From a very early age, I realized that I was a sinner who needed a savior, and that the savior was Jesus Christ. I knew that if I said, “I’m sorry. Forgive me,” He would make me clean.

The full internalization of that truth was another matter. Growing up, I was told most of the right things and did most of the right things. I put my faith in Jesus for salvation, was baptized at a young age, had nearly perfect church attendance, and spent the rest of the week at a Christian school. I knew for certain that I could not earn salvation by works, and that I must trust completely in the sacrifice of Christ. Even so, I never felt like I was one of the really good Christians: the people who closed their eyes when they sang, read the Bible constantly, led people to Christ, and went off to become pastors and missionaries. I did not have the same kind of emotional swells. Continue reading

Sexual Abuse isn’t just Hollywood’s Problem

Photo by Flickr user Prayitno

2017 may well go down in history as the year that Hollywood was revealed for what it really was all along. The past few weeks have brought us a torrent of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment against some of the leading names in American show business, from beloved Star Trek alum George Takei, to comedian Louis C.K. and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey, a host of big names are now fighting to deny (or in the case of Louis C.K., to apologize for) the accusations of misconduct that have been made against them. Then there is the man who practically runs the American film industry: Harvey Weinstein.

It was an open secret for years that Harvey Weinstein would use influence to get anything he wanted, but usually this was viewed in the context of film politics. Yes, Hollywood has a form of politics all its own. Since I was a teenager, I have been paying attention to the yearly series of self-congratulatory awards shows leading up to the Oscars. I have an idea of how the studios campaign for their films. At Miramax and then his own eponymous company, Harvey Weinstein built the most formidable campaign operation that the Oscars had ever seen. His ability to get his films into the winner’s circle was so impressive, one couldn’t help wondering if he was personally visiting Oscar voters in their retirement homes in order to twist their arms. (Yes, most of the voters are old, white, and male.)

There was no question that Weinstein behaved like a strong man, and yet his power attracted the friendship of anyone who was anyone. They all knew that he was pulling the strings. Hosts at award shows would joke about it openly. No one stopped to put two and two together and think, “If this is how this man behaves in general, might he be behaving this way toward the women in his life?” Actually, they did, but they were too terrified of crossing him to say anything. Weinstein had his fingers in so many aspects of the film industry that getting on his bad side was not a good idea for any up and comer. Continue reading

Thankful Thursday: The Communion of Saints

In this month of Thanksgiving, I have decided to do a short series of articles called “Thankful Thursdays” in which I will focus on four things that have been particularly encouraging to me this year in spite of my ill health and emotional ups and downs. When I considered what I should write about, it occurred to me that there could be nothing more perfect than the four things we declare at the end of the Apostles’ Creed: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. No foursome of blessings could more accurately capture what I am thankful for this year.

The communion I share with the Body of Christ has never meant more to me than it does at this moment in time. As I struggle each day to overcome my physical limitations, I am strengthened by the prayers of my fellow believers.  I find it odd that strangers should take time out of their days to remember my condition and pray for my healing, yet I have received such kind words not only from family and long-time friends, but also new friends and acquaintances around the world. Continue reading