For those of us whose theological home base is Paul, pondering First John is wonderful but strange. There's no contradiction between John & Paul, but the voice is astonishingly different. One major difference: I John is not structured by the "once lost, now saved" schema.
Where Paul frequently reminds his readers what they once were, what they left behind, how they have been transformed, what they have now turned to, John doesn't bring it up. In fact, John doesn't provide any terms or structures that even invite reflection on these things.
That old-vs-new structure is replaced, for the most part, by the dynamic of light vs darkness (which in turn is developed and applied via other categories, like love vs. hate). There's some salvation history (the darkness is passing), but no ordo salutis or conversion.
This Johannine way of thinking takes some getting used to. Among the benefits are its immediacy & simplicity. Questions like "if I am a Christian, why do I sin?" turn into "If I am in the light, why don't I walk in the light?" A bracing translation of concerns, to be sure.
Read properly, I John can be a special opportunity for people who became Christians at an early age. If you got saved at age 8, a testimony of having turned from sin or dead works to being new in Christ is spiritually true, but not a direct map onto your biography.
That is, you probably can't read Eph 2 "we were dead in trespasses" and directly map it onto your experience (at age 7!), the way some adult converts can. It takes some fancy footwork to confirm that this death-to-life structure is spiritually true; you fit your bio to the grid.
I John doesn't require, invite, or maybe even allow that kind of tension between autobiography & doctrinal understanding. It simply sets you in the presence of God, who is Light, & our propitiation. It then equips you w/a series of diagnostic tests (social, theological, moral).
For some readers (raised Christian & trained in Paul's categories), the result is shocking: they think John must be preaching perfectionism. They struggle to draw a line of conversion in the book, but nowhere they can draw one makes much sense.
I say, be patient & let I John have its perfect work. At the synthetic, systematic-theological level, Paul & John can be combined & harmonized just fine. But at the level of hearing from God via I John, we've got a message re: the word of life: "God is light, in him no darkness."

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More from @FredFredSanders

22 Jun
I remember being told in 5th grade that the distance from the Earth to the Sun was "one astronomical unit." I felt ripped off. Sure, it was easier to remember than "about 93 million miles" or even "8 light minutes," but it seemed so self-referential. (1/13) Image
What kind of measurement is that? Smart aleck that I was (you know, back then), I immediately filled out the rest of the solar system with tautological measures: Mars is one Martian unit away; Jupiter one Jovian unit; Pluto (you know, back then) one Plutonian unit. (2/13)
"One astronomical unit" also has to be further specified: it's the average distance (taking into account a 3% variance in Earth's distance from Sun during the year) between the centers, not the surfaces. And there it is, precisely one EarthToSun. (3/13)
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10 Jun
I'm writing up a report on how WB Pope translated over a dozen works of conservative German biblical scholarship in the 1850s (in his 30s, before publishing his own stuff). A brilliant strategic move, building up the kind of Bible work he wanted to interact with. GENIUS.
I found David Lincicum's 2018 articles on this "fight liberal German critical influence by translating lots of conservative German biblical work" movement. T&T Clark published many volumes from many scholars. One translator worth noting: Sophia Susannah Taylor (1817–1911)
Lincicum's entry on her in Oxford DNB says she translated 23 volumes over 35yrs! "Although she has been almost entirely neglected by subsequent scholarship, her productivity marks her as one of the most accomplished translators of theological literature in the Victorian period."
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8 Jun
Interpreting the cross as a revelation of innertrinitarian agony is a bad habit, & a recent one. What we ought to see on the cross is the human death of the divine Son, not a partial eclipse of the Father/Son relation. Reading WB Pope (about 150 years back) helps with this:
Pope says "the incarnate Redeemer, in these the days of His flesh, felt in all its purity & force the recoil of life from dissolution that belongs to human nature..." That is, the Son felt human death par excellence. "But death came not to Him after the common visitation of man."
I think a lot of modern preachers would reach, at this point, for a Father-Son claim (turned away, broke fellowship, etc). But Pope leans into the dissolution in the assumed nature: "No created being will ever know the agony that separated the soul & body of the Lamb of God."
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15 Feb
Here is a pretty good Trinity hymn by Joseph Hart (1712-1768). Hart is uneven as a hymn-writer (he can be didactic & predictable in way that makes you long for Watts & Wesley), but he has some excellent moments.…
He starts with the obligatory warning about what no created intelligence can fully comprehend about the Trinity, or even about the Trinity's work in salvation:
But moves quickly to his main point: Christian experience is firmly based on the work of the Trinity in salvation. This link between the nature of salvation and the triunity of God is the focus of the hymn.
Read 8 tweets
24 Dec 20
Christmas Trinity: Only the Son is incarnate, but the incarnation is the work of the whole Trinity. You can see why a distinction is helpful here: to recognize the undivided work of God toward us, but to specify the Son's incarnation exclusively.
Luther loved to use a homey image for this (one which he attributed to Bonaventure). The incarnation is like three girls putting a garment onto one of them: all three put it on, but only one has it put onto her.
Is it possible to be more precise? Well, although the work is undivided, the distinct persons are evident in the incarnation in a way that corresponds to their order of existence within the eternal relations: the Father unbegotten, the Son begotten, the Spirit proceeding.
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12 Aug 20
Benjamin Morgan Palmer (1818-1902) annoys me. His doctrine of salvation is so beautifully transparent to the doctrine of the Trinity that I just can't keep myself from quoting him. He really gets it: the way grace flows from God's eternal triune being. Exactly right.
Even when I don't quote Palmer verbatim, or footnote him, I've incorporated some of his way of putting things into my own formulations: grace is anchored in the triune relations, etc.
But wait: why would I avoid quoting, footnoting, or naming this author who is so good on this?
Because BM Palmer was an apologist for southern slavery. And not just a little: he was informed, active, & influential. He preached secession, he connected slavery to God's providential purpose for southern Christian civilization. All the way through; the whole catastrophe.
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