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On the logic of penal substitution

Packer, J. I., 1974. What did the cross achieve? The logic of penal substitution. Tyndale Bulletin 25:3-45.

The text of J.I. Packer’s 1973 Tyndale Biblical Theology Lecture (reference above, accessible here) is an exposition of his view of the atonement. It is a remarkable piece of writing by an extraordinarily widely read author, historically well informed, closely argued, written with conviction, and dealing with timeless truths that haven't changed since 1973. English usage, however, has changed in forty odd years, and Packer's diction is strange to the modern ear.

The published version is 43 pages long, and the notes below are perhaps a little less than a fifth of this length. Could I have summarised the text in fewer words? Maybe, but too much would have been lost. Packer’s argument is at times so dense that I often quote him verbatim. To do otherwise would be an injustice to him in a matter at the very centre of Christian faith.

(The headings below are mostly Packer'…

Science and Christianity are complementary

Alister McGrath, 2016. Enriching our vision of reality: Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue. London: SPCK.

McGrath’s intention in this book is to demonstrate a different relationship between Christianity and science from the one presupposed by the ‘Science vs Religion’ standoff. Christian belief and science are complementary, and, as his title says, together enrich our vision of reality. At the end of the book, McGrath says he has written it because he believes that the people best qualified to carry forward this enriched vision of the world are scientists who have a Christian faith. But it is not enough for individuals to enjoy this enriched vision. It is important to demonstrate that science and faith can be held together by practising scientists, in order to counter the myth that science and faith are at war.

There are more similarities, McGrath holds, between the methods of science and Christian theology than is commonly supposed. An important similarity is that they b…

The utter magnificence of God's creation

Today Ingrid and I were completely blown away by the beauty, the majesty, the utter magnificence of God’s creation.

We started our day at Binna Burra in the Lamington National Park in southeast Queensland. It sits high in the mountains (they may not be all that high, but they’re steep), and this morning we had clear views for miles into far away valleys and distant mountains under a spotless blue sky. As we drove down from Binna Burra to enter the Numinbah Valley, we could see the sharp-pointed peak of Wollumbin  (1156 m) or, as Captain Cook named it, Mount Warning. For much of this part of the journey we were driving along an extremely winding road, hugging the steep side of the mountain, with a precipitous drop on one side of the road or the other. In places, amazingly, the mountain dropped away on both sides of the road, and Ingrid (who long long ago studied geology) read the explanatory national park notices and discovered that we were driving along the rim of a shield volcano cal…

An off-topic post: Footnotes in Blogger

This is an off-topic post, but it might be useful to someone. Like others (to judge from various blog posts) I have struggled with creating Wikipedia-style footnotes in Blogger. I want a click on the footnote reference in my text to take the reader to the footnote itself at the bottom of the page. And I want a click on the footnote number to take the reader back to the footnote reference in the text. Finally I seem to have got it right.
A word of caution: you do this by inserting code in the HTML of your post (remember the two tabs ‘Compose’ and ‘HTML’: you need to click on the HTML tab). But once you have done this, you mustn’t go back and save/update from the ‘Compose’ tab, otherwise it will mess up the code you’ve inserted. This is a flaw in Blogger.
Another word of caution: if you don’t understand basic HTML coding, don’t try this.

CSS codeBefore I put Wikipedia-style footnotes in a post for the first time, I added a chunk of CSS code to Blogger’s internal CSS. You only need to do th…

How should we read the Bible?

Christian Smith, 2011, The Bible made impossible: Why biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press.

In his introduction Christian Smith explains, ‘By “biblicism” I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.’ (There is a short blog post on a related topic here.)

Smith’s book is a critique of biblicism, an analysis of what it is and why it exists (the author is a sociologist) and of the harm it does to evangelicalism in the USA by rendering it less Christ-centred than it could be. Central to his critique is the fact that biblicists try to treat the Bible as a book of rules, resulting in distorted readings of its texts. Ironically, given the claims of biblicists, different biblicist groups draw different conclusions from it, a problem that Smith labels ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism’ . …

How God became King

I’ve referred once or twice in this blog to N.T. (Tom) Wright's 2012 book, How God became King: Getting to the heart of the Gospels (London: SPCK).  What follows is a brief review I wrote for a book group I belong to. The book has a similar theme to McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel, but is work of exegesis, whereas McKnight's is one of exhortation.

Basic thesis: modern evangelical Christians tend to read the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament) in a less than adequate way.

(Liberal interpretations are even less adequate. Wright is very clear in asserting that the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension all occurred, and are not to be explained away. If anything, he suggests that we don't take them seriously enough, don't grasp their full import.)

What is an adequate reading of the gospels? One that sees them in the light of Jewish understandings at the period of the incarnation. (Wright is a historian.) One that sees them as the culmina…

Thinking about life after death

I've just turned 75, so perhaps that's why I’m more curious than I used to be about life after death. Recently I came across Scot McKnight’s 2015 book The Heaven promise: Engaging the Bible’s truth about life to come (London: Hodder Faith; synopsis here). That reminded me that in 2010 I had read Tom Wright’s 2007 Surprised by hope (London: SPCK), so I dug out my ‘notes’, if you can call them that: 28 pages on a 300-page book.[1]

Both books pay close attention to scripture, and their exegesis has the same theological result. Both look forward to the new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1) that will replace the current heaven and earth and in which God’s people will have new bodies like those of the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23) and live in God’s presence as they never can on the present earth. Both anticipate that after death and before God inaugurates the new heaven and new earth (a perfected version of the earth on which we live now), his people will …