My Kingdom Is Not of This World

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

– John 18:36 (NKJV)

John Calvin comments:

My kingdom is not of this world. By these words he acknowledges that he is a king, but, so far as was necessary to prove his innocence, he clears himself of the calumny; for he declares, that there is no disagreement between his kingdom and political government or order; as if he had said, “I am falsely accused, as if I had attempted to produce a disturbance, or to make a revolution in public affairs. I have preached about the kingdom of God; but that is spiritual, and, therefore, you have no right to suspect me of aspiring to kingly power.” This defense was made by Christ before Pilate, but the same doctrine is useful to believers to the end of the world; for if the kingdom of Christ were earthly, it would be frail and changeable, because “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Corinthians 7:31); but now, since it is pronounced to be heavenly, this assures us of its perpetuity. Thus, should it happen, that the whole world were overturned, provided that our consciences are always directed to the kingdom of Christ, they will, nevertheless, remain firm, not only amidst shakings and convulsions, but even amidst dreadful ruin and destruction. If we are cruelly treated by wicked men, still our salvation is secured by the kingdom of Christ, which is not subject to the caprice of men. In short, though there are innumerable storms by which the world is continually agitated, the kingdom of Christ, in which we ought to seek tranquility, is separated from the world.

We are taught, also, what is the nature of this kingdom; for if it made us happy according to the flesh, and brought us riches, luxuries, and all that is desirable for the use of the present life, it would smell of the earth and of the world; but now, though our condition be apparently wretched, still our true happiness remains unimpaired. We learn from it, also, who they are that belong to this kingdom; those who, having been renewed by the Spirit of God, contemplate the heavenly life in holiness and righteousness. Yet it deserves our attention, likewise, that it is not said, that the kingdom of Christ is not in this world; for we know that it has its seat in our hearts, as also Christ says elsewhere, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But, strictly speaking, the kingdom of God, while it dwells in us, is a stranger to the world, because its condition is totally different.

My servants would strive. He proves that he did not aim at an earthly kingdom, because no one moves, no one takes arms in his support; for if a private individual lay claim to royal authority, he must gain power by means of seditious men. Nothing of this kind is seen in Christ; and, therefore, it follows that he is not an earthly king.

But here a question arises, Is it not lawful to defend the kingdom of Christ by arms? For when Kings and Princes are commanded to kiss the Son of God (Psalm 2:10-12), not only are they enjoined to submit to his authority in their private capacity, but also to employ all the power that they possess, in defending the Church and maintaining godliness. I answer, first, they who draw this conclusion, that the doctrine of the Gospel and the pure worship of God ought not to be defended by arms, are unskillful and ignorant reasoners; for Christ argues only from the facts of the case in hand, how frivolous were the calumnies which the Jews had brought against him. Secondly, though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended; for the kingdom of Christ, being spiritual, must be founded on the doctrine and power of the Spirit. In the same manner, too, its edification is promoted; for neither the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences. Yet this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men. It results, however, from the depravity of the world, that the kingdom of Christ is strengthened more by the blood of the martyrs than by the aid of arms.

Notes on First Principles

I am slowly working through Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. As I do so, I will share quotes that I find intriguing and may want to reference later. I am reading this Latin edition and using Alfred J. Freddoso’s new English translation as needed.

In I, Q1, A6, Aquinas addresses the question of whether sacred doctrine is wisdom–utrum sit sapientia. Thomas affirms, but my interest is less in that as in the statements he makes regarding first principles:

Continue reading Notes on First Principles

Disagreement

Photo by Pressmaster on Pexels.com

Disagreements are no more unnegotiable natural forces than deliveries of the mistaken conscience are. They are openings for those who share a common faith to explore and resolve important tensions within the context of communion.

This kind of proposal is, of course, easy to mishear. It can be taken to mean that parties to disagreements must be less than wholly convinced of their position, ready to make room for possible accommodation. When really serious issues are at stake and talk of a status stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae begins to rumble like thunder, urging the search for resolution can seem like an invitation to capitulate, to concede essential points before beginning. It can seem as though Scripture is deemed to be inconclusive and ambiguous, so that either side is free to concede the possible right of the other’s interpretation. It can seem as though what is needed is an indefinite irresolution about everything important, in which there is no need for, and no possibility of, a decisive closure. But that is all a trick of the light. None of this is implied in the search for agreement. The only thing I concede in committing myself to such a process is that if I could discuss the matter through with an opponent sincerely committed to the church’s authorities, Scripture chief among them, the Holy Spirit would open up perspectives that are not immediately apparent, and that patient and scrupulous pursuit of these could lead at least to giving the problem a different shape—a shape I presume will be compatible with, though not precisely identical to, the views I now hold, but which may also be compatible with some of the views my opponent now holds, even if I cannot yet see how. I do not have to think I may be mistaken about the cardinal points of which I am convinced. The only thing I have to think … is that there are things still to be learned by one who is determined to be taught by Scripture how to read the age in which we live.

– Oliver O’Donovan, A Conversation Waiting to Begin, 32–33. Thanks to a friend for pointing out this quote to me.

Or as Jordan Peterson has put it, more succinctly:

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Nadab and Abihu, Sons of Moses

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

Rabbi David Fohrman gives an intriguing interpretation of Numbers 3:1–4. The text runs as follows (KJV):

These also are the generations of Aaron and Moses in the day that the Lord spake with Moses in mount Sinai. And these are the names of the sons of Aaron; Nadab the firstborn, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests which were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office. And Nadab and Abihu died before the Lord, when they offered strange fire before the Lord, in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had no children: and Eleazar and Ithamar ministered in the priest’s office in the sight of Aaron their father.

Rabbi Fohrman asks a number of questions that draw attention to some peculiarities of the text, such as:

Continue reading Nadab and Abihu, Sons of Moses

Back to Blogging

Photo by Micah Boerma on Pexels.com

It’s been a long time, but I am going to try to blog again with some level of regularity. I purged some posts from long ago that I don’t like anymore, updated the name and design, and have been thinking through how I want to use this space. For now the plan is to post about whatever I want, however I want, and see what happens.

Continue reading Back to Blogging

It’s Hard to Be Good

And so it is hard to be good: for surely hard it is in each instance to find the mean, just as to find the mean point or centre of a circle is not what any man can do, but only he who knows how: just so to be angry, to give money, and be expensive, is what any man can do, and easy: but to do these to the right person, in due proportion, at the right time, with a right object, and in the right manner, this is not as before what any man can do, nor is it easy; and for this cause goodness is rare, and praiseworthy, and noble.

– Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.9, https://bit.ly/3ipS0qd

On Baptizing Babies

In a previous post, I explained how I came to change my mind on infant baptism. That post was semi-autobiographical, attempting not so much to persuade others as to indicate some of my own thought-processes. I originally intended it just for friends and family members who may have heard that I became Presbyterian and wondered what that was all about. Unforeseen to me, it ended up having a much wider audience than I had originally envisioned. To date it is my most read blog post. No other posts even come close.

In it, I promised a future post in which I would “more directly explain my views on infant baptism, address some related issues, and share a fuller, annotated bibliography of resources I found helpful.” This is that post. Again, this is not my Treatise on Infant Baptism. I am not going to say everything that can be said. I wouldn’t even say that I am writing this with the primary intent of persuading others or making a full-fledged case. My goals are more modest. This will primarily be informative, aimed at helping interested readers understand how I view infant baptism, what I think it does, and what further resources may be consulted on this matter. Continue reading On Baptizing Babies

On Becoming Presbyterian

During seminary I became convinced of infant baptism. This might come as a surprise to some folks, since I have been somewhat discreet on social media about this development. This is mainly because I was still a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an active member at a Baptist church as I wrestled with this issue, and I did not want to appear divisive. But as of last October my wife and I joined a Presbyterian church here in Louisville, last December I graduated from Southern, and this May I came under care of the Ohio River Valley Presbytery in the PCA and began a one-year pastoral internship. So it now seems appropriate to write about this topic.

This post is a semi-autobiographical account of how I came to change my mind on this issue. Initially, the need for a post like this was impressed on me after a couple different people I know, upon hearing that Ivy and I have become Presbyterian, wondered if we had gone liberal. This is understandable, since the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America. But the notion that I have drifted leftward is mistaken. After graduating seminary, I am even more, not less, convinced of issues like the inerrancy of Scripture, male-only eldership, and the sinfulness of homosexuality. I am currently a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is a theologically and morally conservative Presbyterian denomination. Nothing on that front has changed.

More generally though, I wanted to write this post so that family and friends can have a better idea of what exactly has changed in my views and how that change came about. Continue reading On Becoming Presbyterian

George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

George Whitefield is a well-known figure who has been assessed from a number of different vantage points. Recent scholarship assesses the supposed impact he had upon commerce, the development of the “religious celebrity” persona, and in fostering conditions that would lead to the American Revolution. Thomas Kidd comes at Whitefield from another angle in his George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father: while not discounting the arguments of other approaches wholesale, he thinks that these “do not really focus on Whitefield’s primary significance or the way he viewed himself.”[1] Kidd argues that “George Whitefield was the key figure in the first generation of Anglo-American evangelical Christianity,” and his biography seeks to place him “fully in the dynamic, fractious milieu of the early evangelical movement.”[2] Eschewing both naive hagiography and cynical contempt, Kidd presents a balanced view of Whitefield both in his strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. Continue reading George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father

The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy

Few theological questions today gender such impassioned debate as the question, “For whom did Christ die?” Just about every Christian has a view on this issue, and likely holds to it quite strongly. The question itself can be understood in different ways. On the broad scale, the question can be read against the backdrop of universalist readings of the atonement versus more exclusivist readings of the atonement. The universalist understanding posits that Christ’s death is universal in application: the sins of all men are already forgiven through the cross. All that is left is for unbelievers to simply recognize that they are already forgiven and justified. The exclusivist understanding, typical among evangelicals, holds that Christ’s death is limited in application: it is applied only to believers.

More narrowly, within evangelicalism a different sort of debate with regard to the extent of the atonement occurs. This debate takes the shape of general atonement versus limited atonement, and it runs down a dividing line between Calvinist and Arminian views of soteriology. While both sides agree that the atonement is limited in its application to believers, they disagree on whether God effectually intends to save the elect alone through Christ’s atonement. Arminians deny this, while Calvinists affirm it. This debate has spawned a number of books, both scholarly and not-so-scholarly, and is a source of no small contention for the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S., which allows for both Arminian and Calvinist viewpoints in their membership. Continue reading The Extent of the Atonement and the Extent of Reformed Orthodoxy