Josh Philpot

Theology, the Church, and Music

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Farewell Gungor

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Yesterday, an article was published in World Magazine about the uber-hipster artists Michael and Lisa Gungor and their drift from biblical orthodoxy in their music. Michael Gungor in particular seems to have “lost” his traditional faith at some point along the road, choosing to express in his music a spirituality mixed with some form of doubt. Apparently, Gungor has teamed up with the king of doubt, Mr. Rob Bell himself, to write poetry for a few new EPs, also collaborating with Rachel Held Evans in expressing how “God is mother.” 

The drift from traditional biblical orthodoxy is evident in Gungor’s earlier songs too, and anyone with a keen theological sense could probably see where Gungor was headed. In his 2013 song, “Yesternite,” Gungor writes, “Yesternite the gods they disappeared from sight / the angels flapped their wings and took their songs to flight / the shadows lift their hands and praise the light.” The article in World Magazine points to Gungor’s description of these lyrics on his blog, where he uses “gods” as a general mythological construct to represent the stories that “we thought were true, but no longer are. Stories that we lived by, defined ourselves with, but can no longer believe in.” Regarding Adam and Even or the biblical account of the flood, Gungor admits that he has “no more ability to believe in these things then I do to believe in Santa Claus.”

The news is very disappointing and sad, especially since Gungor’s music is so rich and creative from a musical standpoint, even if Gungor’s lyrics are ambivalent on the theological issues he addresses in his songs. Gungor’s most popular song, “Beautiful Things,” is often sung in churches:

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

I guess all of this is now in doubt from Gungor’s perspective. But we should be wary of doubt as a spiritually helpful way to evaluate our convictions and traditions. Jesus counseled his disciples with regard to his real nature and his power over the sea, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matt 14:31). Gungor may not perceive what he is doing, but he’s actually teaching people doctrine with his ambiguous language and, in my view, belittling God by casting doubt on God’s word. This reminds me Matthew 15:8-9. Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, Jesus says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” 

Our convictions should rest in Jesus, whether we find him hard to believe or not. But the good thing is that Jesus is convincing, and he has given us the true story of the world and of our God. God does indeed make beautiful things out dust, and makes hope spring around us, and calls light out of chaos—through Jesus. And we should have faith in him and his word. His commandments are true and righteous altogether. Let’s not depart from them as Gungor has. 

Written by Josh Philpot

August 4, 2014 at 5:57 pm

Posted in Music, Theology, Worship

Reverberations of Exodus

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Peter Leithart offers the following critique of a new book, Reverberations of Exodus, which I bought recently but haven’t started:

What [the authors] miss is the cumulative inter-textuality of the Bible. If Joshua and Ezekiel are new Moseses who enact, somehow, new exoduses, then the New Testament allusions and echoes to exodus should reverberate across the whole [instead of in isolated texts]. When Jesus leads an exodus, he should be understood not just as new Moses but as new Moses-Joshua-Ezra-Ezekiel. By the time we get to the New Testament, exodus doesn’t strike a single note or an octave but a chord that reverberates, sometimes discordantly, throughout the Scriptures from the end to the beginning.

(Via Peter J. Leithart)

Written by Josh Philpot

July 15, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Christ the Educator

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One of my former professors, Jonathan Pennington, has an excellent article at the Gospel Coalition on Christ the Educator:

Among many other reasons, Jesus is beautiful because he is multi-faceted; he is not a flat character or a one-dot-on-a-white-canvas piece of minimalist art. He is multi-dimensional. We begin to glimpse this glory through the diverse titles the God-man bears and holds—Christ, Messiah, Anointed One, Savior, Friend, King, High Priest, Creator, Pantocrator (Almighty), Lord, Crucified One, Risen One, Son of God, Son of Man, Son of David, New Adam/Second Adam/Last Adam, King of the Jews, Man of Sorrows, Light of the World, Hope of All Nations, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Prophet, Apostle, Bread of Life, Rabbi, Paraclete, Lion, and Lamb. In this many-layered variety we get a hint of what Jonathan Edwards called the glorious juxtaposition of divine excellencies.

But there’s another title Jesus wears, even though few Christians today have uttered or considered it. He is Christ the Educator.

Rest the rest here.

Written by Josh Philpot

July 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Theology

Westerholm on Justification

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I recently read Stephen Westerholm’s new book, “Justification Reconsidered: Rethinking a Pauline Theme.” It is only 100 pages and easy to digest. Westerholm assesses all of the data in the New Testament on justification/righteousness and settles on the traditional view of justification by faith (as articulated by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, et al.), even in spite of recent challenges from N. T. Wright and James D. G. Dunn. In fact, I came away from the book with the thought that Westerholm is simply arguing for the plain sense of the relevant passages about the doctrine of justification. There is no need for revisionist interpretations. His final paragraph is very helpful: 

“[The traditional view of justification by faith] cannot be dismissed by the claim that the ancients were not concerned to find a gracious God (how could they not be, in the face of pending divine judgment?); or that it wrongly casts first-century Jews as legalists (its target is rather the sinfulness of all human beings); or that non-Christian Jews, too, depended on divine grace (of course they did, but without Paul’s need to distinguish grace from works); or that ‘righteousness’ means ‘membership in the covenant’ (never did, never will) and the expression ‘works of the law’ refers to the boundary markers of the Jewish people (it refers to all the ‘righteous’ deeds required by the law as its path to righteousness). Modern scholars are correct in noting that Paul first focused on language of justification in response to the question whether Gentile believers in Christ should be circumcised. They are right to emphasize the social implications of Paul’s doctrine of justification (what it meant ‘on the ground’) in his own day, and are free to draw out its social implications for our own. But the doctrine of justification means that God declares sinners righteous, apart from righteous deeds, when they believe in Jesus Christ. Those so made righteous represent the new humanity, the people of God’s new creation (rom 5:17-19).”

Written by Josh Philpot

May 19, 2014 at 9:28 pm

Tom Schreiner on the Differences between Biblical and Systematic Theology

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In the new issue of Themelios, Tom Schreiner writes a response to Gerald Bray’s critique of his biblical theology, “The King in His Beauty.” In the first few paragraphs he offers a clear and helpful overview for how biblical and systematic theology differ but complement one another. He also lambasts Bray for totally misunderstanding his book. I was at the panel discussion at ETS last November where Bray’s review was presented, so I’m glad to see Schreiner’s rejoinder here. Many of the attendees at that presentation were likewise confused with Bray’s response. In Schreiner’s own words, 

The fundamental problem with Bray’s review is that he misunderstands both my book and biblical theology. He seems to think that I am trying to write a systematic theology, for he emphasizes that biblical theology is only a prolegomenon to a systematic theology. Here’s the rub: I agree! Systematic theology is a culminating discipline that includes exegesis, biblical theology, historical theology, and philosophy. Bray critiques me as if I were attempting to write a culminating work, a systematic theology, and by doing so he veers off course from the outset of his review. I agree with Bray that Christian theology reaches its apex in systematics. I didn’t think anyone would read my book as if I were trying to compose an alternative to a systematic theology.

Nor is it evident that Bray understands what biblical theology is in distinction from systematics, or perhaps he believes there isn’t any place for biblical theology, because he doesn’t commend it in his review. We need both systematic and biblical theology, for in the latter the story of scripture is rehearsed, the narrative of scripture is unfolded for the reader. Such attention to the historical outworking of God’s plan (the establishment of his kingdom!) ensures that we are reading the scriptures contextually and canonically. For instance, Bray doesn’t devote much attention to the historical unfolding of God’s revelation in his book. But it is clear in reading the NT that the Mosaic covenant was an interim covenant, that it was meant to be in force for a limited period of time. We learn from this that it is imperative to read scripture epochally. We don’t offer sacrifices or wear clothes with only one kind of fabric since such regulations are part of the Sinai covenant, and we aren’t under that covenant since the new covenant has arrived in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, systematic theologians need biblical theology, for otherwise they may make claims that violate the intention and purpose of the texts cited. Biblical theology as a mediating discipline supports systematics. Systematics may stray from the scriptures in constructing doctrines, and biblical theology serves systematics by tying us to the biblical text and by ensuring that we interpret the scriptures in its epochal framework. The structures and themes unpacked in biblical theology undergird (or should undergird) the work of systematic theologians. Biblical theology, like systematics, plays a vital role in our understanding of the scriptures. Let’s take one example of what concerns Bray. He complains that I don’t unpack the Trinity, but he misconstrues my book and biblical theology. The Trinity is central to Christian theology, and any systematic theology that doesn’t make the Trinity prominent is woefully deficient. But I didn’t write a systematic theology, nor am I claiming that the work of biblical theology is a culminating discipline. Still, biblical theology provides the raw materials for the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that the Father, Son, and Spirit are all divine, while also emphasizing that the scriptures teach that there is only one God.

You can read Schreiner’s review of Bray’s “God is Love” here. The contrast between the two reviews is startling.

Written by Josh Philpot

April 22, 2014 at 1:47 pm

R.C. Sproul on Creationism and the Age of the Universe

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A friend sent me this video today (below), in which R.C. Sproul makes the point that having a high view of God’s revelation—both natural and special revelation—means that we can learn from non-believing scientists who are studying natural revelation. He illustrates this by pointing to the Copernican Revolution. Both Calvin and Luther rejected Copernicus as a heretic because of his argument that the earth is not the center of the solar system but revolves around the sun, which they said was contradictory to scripture. In this case the scientist was right and the biblical interpreter was wrong, and thus the church had to admit that they misinterpreted their understanding of scripture with respect to the solar system and reevaluate those texts which pertain to the topic. Sproul says that Christians will get a better sense of the truth from studying natural revelation than we do by ignoring natural revelation. However, if something can be shown to be definitively taught in the Bible (without question) that contradicts another theory that is based solely on natural revelation, then we must stand with the word of God. We can be shown to be a mistaken interpreter of the word of God, to be sure, but we don’t have to face that problem if we believe that both spheres are spheres of God’s revelation and that those spheres are compatible. All truth is God’s truth. If there is conflict, then somebody has to be wrong. But Sproul states that he doesn’t leap to the conclusion that it has to be the scientist because it may be the theologian who is wrong. It also may be that it is the scientist who is wrong and the theologian who is right. There are both fallible human beings interpreting natural revelation and fallible human beings interpreting infallible special revelation.

Written by Josh Philpot

March 4, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Where do we find wisdom?

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Proverbs 8 is a beautiful passage of scripture, although it’s very difficult to interpret. One of the central questions in that chapter is, “where can we find wisdom?” Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 8 as elsewhere in the book and is presented by the author (Solomon, I believe) as an extremely attractive, beautiful woman—Lady Wisdom. So where does one find such an attractive woman? The chapter gives details about finding her and also about the the places where she can be found:

  1. She is “on the heights, beside the way” (v. 2a)
  2. She is “at the crossroads” (v. 2b)
  3. She is “beside the gates in front of the town” (v. 3a)
  4. She is “at the entrance” (v. 3b)
  5. She is “among the paths of righteousness/justice” (v. 20)
  6. She is “at the beginning of Yhwh’s way” (v. 22)
  7. When God established the heavens, she was there (v. 27)
  8. She is “beside him [God], like a master workman” (v. 30a)
  9. She is “before him [God]” (v. 30b)
  10. She is always “rejoicing in his inhabited world” (v. 31)

What can we conclude from this list? Two things: 1) “Wisdom”—Lady Wisdom—is with God, and 2) she is amongst us in the world.

These concepts obviously have to do with God’s presence. Wisdom, therefore, is much like the “angel of Yhwh” in the OT. Wisdom is “with” God (indeed, the personified wisdom is God in some sense), but also in the world at the same time. To grasp wisdom, taking hold of her, not forsaking her, loving her, and prizing her highly (Prov 4:5-9), is to partake in the presence of God himself.

Written by Josh Philpot

December 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Old Testament, Theology