Discover more from The Raven's Writing Desk
A Framework of Mercy, Peace & Love
Jude 2 & a review of Covenantal & Dispensational Theologies from IVP
Firstly, apologies for there being no midweek newsletter this past week, we’ve been incredibly busy with the move and getting things ready in our new city. We’re all set to move in April, your prayers would be really appreciated. Here is the link for Wednesday’s episode of Consider the Ravens:
As the title says, we’re talking about Periods(!), going through Rachel Jones’ wonderful book: a Brief Theology of Periods - (Yes Really!)
In other news, my latest article for Gospel-Centred Discipleship came out this week, so be sure to check that out. It’s on the subject of Church Unity, following the theme at GCD this season, “the Ties that Bind us”:
A Framework of Mercy, Peace & Love
“May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 2
If you’ve been following this newsletter for long, or you’ve ever received an email from me, you’ll know that I sign off each one with the words, “Grace and Peace.” These are taken particularly from Paul’s writings and more generally from the rest of the bible and to a large extent they seem to some like an early church form of the phrase, “Thoughts and Prayers.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth, the reality is that there is real power behind these words and a truth they speak of which, if not echoed by the rest of the letter/email/newsletter, proves the writer to be a hypocrite.
Here’s what I mean, if I wrote the following letter, what would you think?
What is wrong with you! You are the worst person the world has ever known!
I wish you nothing but rotten food and a terrible life.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
Now… you might not believe that I truly want you to experience Grace and Peace if I wrote that. Right? If I’m committed, however, to conveying those things to you—so much so that I intend to continue writing it on most forms of communication—then I should be making sure that everything which leads up to them carries that same message. This would be true even if the contents were:
Critical: Book reviews, Editing articles for writers, Suggested Changes
Encouraging: Messages to my Wife, A letter/email to a friend
Professional: Work emails, article proposals
The point is this, these two words provide a framework for my communications, and the second verse of Jude, “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,” does the same for his epistle. There are moments of admonishment and correction, rebuke and reproof, but they all fall under these three wishes:
Mercy, Peace, Love.
The first point is mercy, a word I don’t think we use nearly as much as we ought to. For most of us the only time we’ve ever even heard the word is in the phrase, “Please, have mercy!” on some TV show or film, which is then shortly followed by something the effect of, “No.”
God’s mercy is one of his communicable attributes, meaning that it is both an attribute of God and something we can expect as Christians to see acted out, though imperfectly, in the church today. This is different from God’s incommunicable attributes, for instance immutability—the fact that God never changes—which is not something we share, you can read more about that attribute here:
Being an attribute of God, a communicable one at that, and also commanded at various times throughout the biblical canon, it’s a wonder that we don’t mention it more, so what exactly does it mean?
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible describes it like this:
“Specifically it designates that quality in God by which he faithfully keeps his promises and maintains his covenant relationship with his chosen people despite their unworthiness and unfaithfulness”
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, 1988, 2, 1440.
By extension then, we are able to be merciful, showing forgiveness and mercy to those who do not deserve it (and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6:12) Throughout the book of Jude, he is speaking to many who are either in danger of going astray, following after imposters and intruders in the church or potentially have already done so. He reminds them that it is not by their own works, nor their own righteousness that they have been saved, at the start of his first lesson he makes this explicitly clear, referencing the slaves who had been set free from Egypt, saying:
“Now I want to remind you, although you came to know all these things once and for all, that Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 5
It is clear here that the slaves had not earned their freedom, but that it was a gift from God. Conversely, he contrasts this with those who sought to rely on themselves and their own ways:
“In the same way these people—relying on their dreams—defile their flesh, reject authority, and slander glorious ones.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 8
As harsh as the language may sound at times, it’s paramount that we understand this.
We are depraved, we are sinful!
Why is this important? How can we be forgiven of our sins if we will not repent and how will we repent if we do not know ourselves to be sinful. No, we must know we are rotten sinners, repent of our sin and be clothed in the righteousness only God can bestow.
“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The New King James Version, (Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mic 6:8.
“Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), James 3:13-18
Are you wise in your own eyes, and if so, would you not rather have wisdom from above? James, Jude’s brother, lays out for us this differentiation:
Earthly Wisdom → Unspiritual, Demonic → Envy, Selfishness, Disorder, Evil practice.
Godly Wisdom → First Pure → gentle, compliant, full of mercy, unwavering, without pretence → the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace
Jude paints a similar picture, though through narrative.
“These people are dangerous reefs at your love feasts as they eat with you without reverence. They are shepherds who only look after themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by winds; trees in late autumn—fruitless, twice dead and uprooted.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 12
“But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting expectantly for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on those who waver; save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Jude 20–23
Praying and hoping for Mercy, Peace, and Love among all the people of God, Jude lays out before them a mirror and a painting, in the mirror, they are able to see the clear truth of their current situation, and in the painting, they see the goodness God wants them to live in. How important is it for our lives today, while Twitter fights, lack of discretion, and inter/intra-denominational rifts rage, how much better would it be if we as Christians were to seek peace with our brothers and sisters?
If we are not doing this, we’re looking directly into the mirror Jude is holding up for us, deciding we are in no need of the mercy of God and continuing to live as we were, eating without reverence, looking only after ourselves. Fruitless, twice dead and uprooted.
Finally, it’s important to see Jude’s love for the church. Though I usually use the CSB in this newsletter, I have to say that the translation of the word ‘ἀγαπητός’ (agapaytos, you may have heard the word Agape?) as ‘Friends’ is rather puzzling to me. I’m not a greek scholar by any stretch, I’ve really only just begun learning, however, it is usually translated as ‘Beloved’ and so the idea which ‘Friend’ conveys—anything from casual acquaintance to a lifelong companion—seems far, far too broad. It’s also, in some ways, too narrow. I might love someone I’ve never even been acquainted with but never call them friend, and I also wouldn’t call some of those I love the most my friend—I’m thinking here of my Brother, Grandparents and other family members for instance.
I’m making a fuss of this because the word, “Beloved,” pops up three times throughout the letter, earmarking key points as it does so:
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”
“But you, Beloved, bought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.”
“But you, Beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, awaiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.”
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jude 3, 17-18, & 20–21
Firstly, he explains that because of his love for them, though he earnestly wanted to write an entirely different letter, he instead needed to write one fighting for the faith! Secondly, that they themselves, his beloved, should recall the words of the Apostles, warning them against those who would come after to try and swallow up the Faith. Finally, in response, they should build themselves up on their most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep themselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.
That, that right there, my friends, is significant. My pastor growing up used to ask us to shout the word ‘Behold’ any time it came up in a scripture reading or sermon, there wasn’t much good theology in my church growing up, but that right there stuck with me. Any time I see the word behold in my bible, I take note, it grabs my attention. When we get to the word "‘Friend” in the book of Jude, replace it in your mind with the word ‘Beloved’ and take notice.
In full the final verses of Jude read as follows:
“But you, BELOVED, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, awaiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update, Jude 20–25
I love you → build yourself up in the faith → pray in the Holy Spirit → keep yourself in the love of God → wait on the mercy of our Lord to eternal life → have mercy on some who are doubting → save others, snatching them out of the fire → on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh… How?
Look to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling because you cannot do any of this in your own strength, and is able to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, because he died for you, and paid the price for your salvation! Who for? The only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
Before I Begin: I Saw the Light
A few years ago I served in a Church plant in Berlin, Germany, and we were asked to send a photo of our pastor to our founding Church. He spoke no German, and so we thought it would be high time to play a game with him.
We chose a bible verse, something like 1 Samuel 14:27, the final words of which translate as “und seine Augen wurden hell” and printed each word out on a card and got a few people, himself included, to hold a card up. Smiling, he held up the card which said, “Hell” on it. We sent the photo back to the church he’d previously served at for years and it was then used for quite some time in prayer meetings, newsletters and the like, he was not best pleased. We found it hilarious.
That wouldn’t happen within the English language though? Right? Well, if I held up a card with the word ‘Progressive’ on it what comes to mind? Is it positive, negative? Political, theological? To take it a step further, how many different meanings of that word do you think you could come up with if you had 10, 15, or 70x7 people in the room with you?
From the off, you need to be aware that not only are there words used in this book that hold different meanings from the ones you might be most familiar with, but also—whether they would openly say so or not—the authors differ on their own meanings of the words too, to one degree or another.
These words include, but I’m sure are not limited to progressive, traditional, covenant, and dispensations. What’s more, from time to time, the differences between theological convictions, as well as arguments for/against them, are somewhat obfuscated.
Remember: Words, even in the same language, do not always mean the same thing, even in the same profession and faith.
I want to say this from the start because if you’re already convinced that you should read this book, this is the most important thing you need to know before tackling it.
This book explores the differences between four major theological frameworks held primarily by those who would affirm the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, that the Bible hold ultimate authority, and that though creeds, confessions, elders, and deacons hold some authority, none on the same level as the Bible, not even close.
I won’t discuss the differences here, you should read the book to find out about those, but rather, as is characteristic of my reviews, I want to explain why and how you should read this book.
First of all, you should know that this shared conviction is of utmost importance to all of the authors, and all of them would affirm each other as brothers in Christ and servants of the King. Darrell L. Bock puts it like this:
“A theological system is an articulation of what most holds the Scripture together. In the case of the essays in this book, all of us are making a case for the view we think makes the most sense of the whole with the least number of problems. There are many judgments being made by all of us about what seems most coherent. This is very much an in-house, family discussion within evangelicalism. That needs to be remembered, since what we hold in common is in many ways far more important.”
Too often our differences—secondary differences, or worse still tertiary ones—keep us from saying things like Bock just said. To be clear, I’ve chosen Bock for two reasons:
I disagree with his theological position
He said it best and his essay was by far the most gracious
I have not chosen the theologian I most agree so I can illustrate this point by saying, “Look how well we do this in our camp,” I’ve chosen a brother who has, in my estimation, carried out his work here in the most gracious and ecumenical way, so I can say, “Look how well we as Christians, all of stripes and denominations, should do this.”
With that said.
Difference → Division? Why distinguish?
A book like this will not lead everyone to join hands, rejoice and sing Kumbaya together. For some, it will do the opposite, so why read it at all, don’t differences in opinion simply breed division? By no means.
Differences don’t cause division, people do.
My wife Anna and I are faced with something in the region of 1000 different decisions we need to make a week, and that’s a conservative estimate. Even if we say that 99% of the time we agree completely, that would still leave 10 decisions a week we would disagree on. If we get into an argument, is it:
a. The opinions fault?
b. Our fault?
Oh how I wish I could blame it on the opinions but we all know that’s just not the case. We are responsible for how we deal with those differences. This is especially important when one of us wants the desk to be 91cmx30cmx60cm and the other wants it to be 90cmx30cmx60cm (the great desk controversy of 2019) or one of us holds to Covenant Theology and the other to Covenant Theology + Credobaptism.
Is there a case to be made for eschewing the opinions that cause division entirely? It’s all a matter of worth. If you and I were given 100,000 pounds/dollars, it would be important to know what each of us thought we should do with it. We might come to different conclusions, but it's important that we understand why we think what we do, that we have good reasons for thinking so, and that we understand that the provision ultimately came from God. $100,000 is worth a lot, and I’m sure you would have opinions of what to do with it if you were offered it (watch Mr Beast’s videos on YouTube if you’re not convinced of that.) God, and the price Jesus paid so that you could come into a relationship with him is of so much more worth. If that is true, it should lead us to discover more of who He is, the depths of His love, the extent of His sovereignty, the words in His holy scriptures, the ways in which they fit together, and the ways in which they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong here, I have my contender for the most well-thought-out theological framework out of the four represented in this book, but it would be better that you pick this book up, read it, and go away confused but knowing that these four men love one another and love God and that’s the only thing you’re sure about, than simply read it and agree with what I say because I say it, or what Horton, Wellum, Bock, or Snoebeger think because they’ve said it.
“If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), 1 Corinthians 13:1-3