30 August 2006

Brainerd: Some Signs of Godliness

David Brainerd, the New England missionary to the Indians who died in his late twenties and lived for a while in the Edwards home, jotted down "Some Signs of Godliness" shortly before he died.

The distinguishing marks of a true Christian, taken from one of my old manuscripts; where I wrote as I felt and experienced, and not from any considerable degree of doctrinal knowledge, or acquaintance with the sentiments of others in this point.

1. He has a true knowledge of the glory and excellency of God, that he is most worthy to be loved and praised for his own divine perfections. Psal. cxlv. 3.
2. God is his portion, Psal. lxxiii. 25. And God's glory is his great concern, Matt. vi. 22.
3. Holiness is his delight; nothing he so much longs for, as to be holy as God is holy. Phil. iii. 9-12.
4. Sin is his greatest enemy. This he hates, for its own nature, for what it is in itself, being contrary to a holy God, Jer. ii. 1. And consequently he hates all sin, Rom. vii. 24. 1 John iii. 9.
5. The laws of God also are his delight, Psal. cxix. 97. Rom. vii. 22. These he observes, not out of constraint, from a servile fear of hell; but they are his choice, Psal. cxix. 30. The strict observance of them is not his bondage, but his greatest liberty, ver. 4-5.

--Works of Jonathan Edwards (Hickman ed.), II:441.

28 August 2006

Incisive Analysis of Emerging Church

Justin Taylor of Crossway Books has put together a very helpful analysis of the Emerging Church in an article for 9Marks. It is fair, balanced, and penetrating. Click here to view it (if it tells you "sorry, the page you requested is unavailable" just hit "Articles" and you'll see Justin's).

23 August 2006

A Call to Reformed Bloggers: Love

I want to say something to my fellow bloggers. I'm speaking specifically to those of you who love Christ and long to make a difference in our generation and who would describe yourselves (as I would) as Reformed, theologically conscientious, culturally engaging disciples of Christ.

First let me say that though I have just started this blog this week (so perhaps no one will read this anyway!), I have been reading blogs the past several years, and have enjoyed reading the blogs of several of you who do such an outstanding job of promoting the true interests of the Kingdom in culturally sensitive and biblically faithful ways. Yet there is often something missing in the Reformed Blogosphere, and we must constantly be called back to it since, despite being foundational, it is so counter-intuitive--even, it seems, for Christians. It is this: love.

I am a 5-point Calvinist. I love Calvin and the Puritans and Edwards and Lloyd-Jones and Piper. I refuse to water down rock-solid truth. I will say things I know will take criticism if I feel they must be said. I am not interested in sacrificing doctrine on the altar of felt experience. I am not wishy-washy. I enjoy theological arguing more than I probably should. I believe in the crucial value of the life of the mind. I intend, if God wills it, to pursue a PhD in New Testament next Fall. I am very discouraged with the minimizing of clear biblical ethics and critical, God-exalting theological categories evident in the writings of some members of the Emerging Church.

In short, I am not as naturally loving as some are, and I believe sharp theological categories and unambiguous doctrinal clarity and precise dogmatic formulation are utterly crucial to the vibrant health of Christ's Church--the Church, friends, not only the seminaries. And it is because I believe this--not in spite of it--that I must keep love at the core of what I am about, on the web and off.

Have you understood your heart? There is an instinctive reflex in the human heart which, when confronted with an idealogy or movement or individual or statement with which it disagrees, takes up arms to fight fire with fire. We want to beat them at their own game. If they argue a certain way, I'll argue right back at them the same way. I will win.

The tragic irony, counter-intuitive though it be, is that instead of winning a brother and edifying onlookers--some of whom may be unbelievers?--this method of disagreement simply causes defenses to go up all around as the chance for real progress slips, unnoticed, out the back door. I am not saying we ought to ignore mistakes brothers make in the ministry, whether in theology or praxis. I am saying that when we interact and defend truth, we do it in a certain way, being ever conscious--even suspicious--of our own motives and the true source of our zeal for God.

I know that those of you who have read this far into this post know the Scripture passages about love; I need not list them here. I know you have been captivated by the staggering love of a God who would become a worm to save worms. I know you believe love is important and that you want to make a difference with your life. So do I. Please listen, then: there is a way to disagree that is of the Spirit of Christ, and there is a way to disagree that is of hell. And the trouble is that hellish disagreement can feel so heavenly. We are right, after all. Truth is at stake! God is being dishonored by this person with whom I disagree. And again I say to you that it is because of this, not in spite of it, that we must respond in love--unyielding, uncompromsing, love. Look consciously for what is right and good in others. And when you do--when you treat others with respect and honor them as created persons whom God loves--that opportunity for fruitful exchange will come back in the front door and you will have won your brother and edified your onlookers. True, you may not convince him; but you will have been Christ to him in the way you treat him. And if you are indeed right and he is wrong, he will see it one day in the presence of Christ. And you will be vindicated. Until then: love.

Brothers, falsehood argued irenically is often more persuasive than truth argued ascerbically. Watch your tone. Look for the good. Love your brother--Calvinist or Arminian, Emergent or not, Auburn Avenue or not, Presbyterian or Baptist, Carson or McLaren, Piper or Boyd, Gaffin or Wright, Driscoll or Keller or Mahaney or Mohler or Bell or Chandler or McKnight or anyone who might align themselves with any of these (1 Cor 3:21-23).

Love, brothers. Love. Whatever else happens in your life, be one who loves. This will delight the Lord. And it may win you an audience you would not otherwise have had.


For the best sermon I have heard in a long time, Keller and Piper included, and on this very theme, listen by the link below to Zack Eswine's message "Finding Your Place in This World: Living and Loving Authentically." Dr. Eswine is assistant professor of homiletics at Covenant Theological Seminary. He preached this sermon in December 2005 at a Covenant chapel service. You can also find it by going to the seminary webpage (www.covenantseminary.edu/).


Faithfulness AND Relevance

In a June 17 post on the Together for the Gospel blog, Mark Dever writes:

"I think the most basic practical division among evangelical pastors today may be between those who pursue faithfulness and assume relevance and those who pursue relevance and assume faithfulness."

See http://blog.togetherforthegospel.org/2006/06/index.html for the rest of why he says this.

The insight of this, I think, is to recognize that no evangelical pastor or church declares they are uninterested in relevance or uninterested in faithfulness. None openly neglects either. All will say they want both. But practically in the pastor's or church's daily operations, while neither is outright shunned, one element is pursued while the other is assumed. This is exactly right.

Let us not only take this to heart but take it to our churches, which desperately need both faithfulness and relevance--indeed, at the end of the day, if we are not being relevant, we are not being faithful.

Taking Dever's comment to heart will go a long way, I think, toward clarity of thought on all manner of issues pressing the church today, not least conversations regarding the Emerging Church. And if those of us preparing for vocational ministry would conscientiously pursue, as Pastor Dever puts it, both faithfulness and relevance, assuming neither--in the Spirit-filled, prayer-drenched, Bible-perspiring way the New Testament prescribes--our culture would perhaps begin to stop yawning at the Christian Church.

22 August 2006

Free Seminary Classes: Covenant Worldwide

Friends, in light of the pressing need for theological education all over the world today, Covenant Theological Seminary has recently launched an initiative to get edifying resources into the hands of the saints, called Covenant Worldwide. This project has made every course offered in their M.A.T.S. degree (Master of Arts in Theological Studies) totally free. This includes classes on church history, systematic theology, biblical books--even a class on Calvin's Institutes and one on Francis Schaeffer. Lecturers include Dan Doriani, Hans Bayer, Robert Peterson, and Jerram Barrs. Go to:


There are about 20 classes, each with 30 or so lectures. For each lecture you can listen to an audio file, read a transcript of the lecture, and/or view a study guide. Also included are recommended readings.

This is an example of putting the Kingdom before institutional financial interests.

My Sin Meets the Infinite Fountain of Holiness

In describing the necessity that sin be punished in light of God's holiness, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) writes this:

"It does not become the Sovereign of the world, a being of infinite glory, purity, and beauty, to suffer such a thing as sin, an infinitely uncomely disorder, an infinitely detestable pollution. . . . If we could behold the infinite fountain of purity and holiness, and could see what an infinitely pure flame it is, and with what a pure brightness it shines, so that the heavens appear impure when compared with it; and then should behold some infinitely odious and detestable filthiness brought and set in its presence: would it not be natural to expect some ineffably vehement opposition made to it? and would not the want of it be indecent and shocking?" "Of Satisfaction for Sin" (Works, Hickman ed., II:566)

I praise God for Rick Warren's fight against AIDS and poverty and hunger. But you won't find that in The Purpose-Driven Life.

Read Warren's bestseller--it's helpful and edifying--after you read Edwards. Crackers will feed you, but they lose their appeal after a feast of prime rib.

If we're going to help the hungry, better to do it on a full stomach.

21 August 2006

Adolf Schlatter

One of the most neglected theologians of the past several centuries is Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938), the Swiss-born professor of New Testament at (mainly) Tuebingen in southern Germany (and my second favorite dead guy after Jonathan Edwards). One of the things I would love to foster through this blog is renewed interest in this important thinker and churchman who resisted the tidal wave of German liberalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--yet whose students largely died in the two world wars. Schlatter was a humble genius who let the biblical text speak for itself again and again. So from time to time I'll be posting thoughts and comments from his works.

One that I recently got a hold of is this: "Thinking is an act of worship, because truth is God's gift."

Schlatter, with Edwards, has helped me to see that cold theology is as much an oxymoron as warm felt experience sought apart from robust theology.

If you don't read German and are wondering where to start with Schlatter, begin with Werner Neuer's short biography, translated by Robert Yarbrough, professor of NT at TEDS (Neuer just published an 800-page biography in German, the first extensive, definitive biography of Schlatter). If you're hooked after that (you will be), head to Schlatter's 2-volume NT theology text: The History of the Christ (I) and The Theology of the Apostles (II). Andreas Koestenberger, NT professor at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, translated both volumes into English. For more bite-size portions of Schlatter, get the last of over 430 works Schlatter ever produced, called Do We Know Jesus? It is a collection of daily devotionals, translated by (you guessed it) Yarbrough and Koestenberger. From someone who has a general aversion to daily devotional works--are they at times a kind of "Scripture Lite" for those who prefer not to struggle with the sacred text itself?--I assure you that this is more profound than any other such writing (except perhaps My Utmost for His Highest).

Divinity on Display

In a series of lectures I recently listened to entitled "What is the True Church?" hosted by Covenant Theological Seminary in 1994, J. I. Packer gave this brief but to-the-point definition of God's glory: "divinity on display."

Can anyone improve on that in three words or less?

Justification and Prepositions

While much of the current discussion regarding justification is indeed rooted in differing understandings of what Scripture teaches, much of the confusion could perhaps be cleared away as we are increasingly conscientious of the prepositions we use. I suggest the following. These are nothing new--just reminders.

Justification is BY MEANS OF (dia) faith. (Rom. 3:22,25,26)

Justification is ON THE BASIS OF (epi) Christ's atoning work. (Rom. 3:24-25)

Judgment is ACCORDING TO (kata) works. (Rom. 2:6-11)

Explanatory comments:

1) Justification is not on the basis of faith: if it were, faith would then tragically become a new "work" by which a human earns justification. Justification is by means of faith: faith is that which accesses an utterly freely given, unearned declaration of permanent and irrevocable righteousness. Faith is not something I must muster up (inside myself); it is itself simply the impulse to look outside oneself. I say it would be tragic to see faith as the basis of justification for three reasons. First, even faith itself is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9). Second, such a view of faith as a work would create perpetual anxiety as to whether one's faith was adequate to truly justify, whereas the very meaning and genius of faith is that it allows one to look to something outside oneself for this approval. Third, and most importantly, seeing faith as a work detracts from the beauty of God's grace as one claims credit as a co-conspirator in one's salvation (Eph. 1:6,12,14).

2) Justification is not by means of Christ's atoning work: if it were, it would be impossible for one to know whether one was included in God's justifying grace (indeed, would it be impossible to be included in that grace?). Justification is on the basis of Christ's work, and is accessed by faith. Faith is the bridge God builds from my heart to Christ's work.

3) Judgment is according to works, not on the basis of works. That is, there is congruity between how we will be judged and what kind of life we have lived, but it is not a causal relationship.

4) Judgment, not justification, is according to works. Justification has everything to do with works and nothing to do with works--everything with regard to Christ's works (both a righteous life and a condemned death), nothing with regard to our works. This is not antinomianism, because I do not say salvation has nothing to do with works, but justification--that instantaneous event in which God declares a sinner who is void of any moral merit permanently and irrevocably innocent (negatively) and righteous (positively). Salvation, under which justification is subsumed, is indeed interested in works (a la James 2:14-26). Salvation is not salvation if unaccompanied by a changed life. Yet the proper way to frame this is not by saying justification is according to works. Justification is that part of salvation that is not in any way related to human works (except to say that it excludes them!). Judgment is according to works: at the final day when God judges every person, that judgment will be congruous with the manner in which we have lived our lives. But while a life of obedience inevitably follows justification (by vitue of one's union with Christ [Rom. 6:1-23] in which one's internal spiritual makeup is revolutionized and one's desires turned upside down), it is not in any way tied up with justification.

The reason it is so crucial we get justification right is that if we don't, two disastrous results will follow:

1) God in Christ will be robbed of the glorious beauty of his completely benevolent grace
2) You and I will be robbed of assurance that God has put us at rights with him entirely apart from anything we bring to the deal, except for our need

I write these things so that you and I will love Christ more desperately. If we do not--if instead we feel more prideful in our own successful theological articulation or in someone else's failed articulation--then we have utterly missed the point of theology. Theology is not for argument, ultimately. It is for doxology. It is to be argued, oh yes!--so that it can be rightly enjoyed.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died he for me, who caused his shame
For me who him to death pursued;
Amazing love, how can it be,
That thou, My God, shouldst die for me.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him, is mine;
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine
Bold I approach th' eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ my own!

20 August 2006

Addicted to God

The Puritan John Howe, in a series of 13 sermons on regeneration, said this:
"You see by this what a Christian is. And all will agree (no doubt) in the common notion, a Christian is one that believeth that Jesus is the Christ. But you see who are reckoned to believe to this purpose, such as are born thereupon another sort of creatures from what they were, and so continue as long as they live: and such as are heaven born, born of God by immediate divine operation and influence, a mighty power from God coming upon their souls, conforming them to God, addicting them to God, uniting them with God, making them to centre in God, taking them off from all this world."
--Edmund Calamy, ed., The Works of the Rev. John Howe (London: William Ball, 1838), 891, 896.

Two Kinds of Knowledge

The conviction fueling this site is that authentic Christianity is for every person and for the whole person. Some Christians are mainly interested in believing and defending right doctrine, but if this is all we care about we will become brittle and proud. Others of us are mainly interested in heartfelt affection and worship, but if this is all we care about we will become indifferent to biblical truth and blown about wherever our free-sailing emotions take us. My mission in life is to help people see not that these two—head and heart, theology and doxology—can coexist, but that they in fact feed off each other. They are mutually reinforcing. Right doctrine fuels—not competes with—Spirit-wrought, joy-filled, worship-igniting, obedience-producing experience.

So I'm thinking of a strawberry-rhubarb pie (my favorite). My guess is that few of us have ever baked a strawberry-rhubarb pie only to don a white lab coat, take out the microscope and Petri dishes, and proceed to deconstruct and examine the pie. No, the pie exists to be eaten—to nourish and to be enjoyed. This is what those of us who are preoccupied with doctrine must see. But that’s only half the point. Those of us preoccupied with felt experience must see that the pie will only come out right—will only be able to be enjoyed—if the recipe is correct. It must be baked at a certain temperature, for so long, with so much sugar, and so on.

The point is that we must neither stop short once attaining sound theology, nor skip such theology to get to experience. Rather, as Jonathan Edwards has taught me, the right recipe leads to nourishment and enjoyment. Right doctrine is frightfully important; without it, we may be experiencing something quite other than true, Spirit-led joy. But such doctrine, foundational though it be, is incomplete by itself: it exists to nourish and inflame. According to James 2:19, the devils possess more impeccable orthodoxy that we could ever hope to achieve. How then are Christians any different? Their orthodoxy fuels delight. Demons understand divine things with penetrating insight. Satan and his demonic host comprise a more orthodox group than the most doctrinally upright denomination in the world. Probably every denomination has at least some degree of error in some (however minor) point of doctrine. Not so the demons of hell. They are the best theologians in the universe. And if Satan be their pope, infallible he most certainly is. If Enlightenment thought is right in attributing preeminence to the cognitive over the affective, let’s sign up the demons to teach our next Evangelism Explosion seminar. Surely they understand the truth of the gospel better than anyone. But another way exists. For what makes demons fundamentally different from saints? Saints love God and demons hate him. Saints strive to promote holiness while demons strive to prevent it. Why? Because demons have not tasted the new inner relish for true beauty in holiness that the Holy Spirit has imparted to the regenerate. They have not heeded David’s summons to “taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps. 34:8). The theology of the devils is impeccably orthodox, but the absence of relish in God renders their right doctrine worthless and, indeed, all the more damnable. May we the Church not fall into the same trap, in kind if not in degree.

The flaw in my pie analogy, of course, is that too much pie is bad for you. Not so with devouring delectable doctrine. There is no gluttony in feasting on God.

Here's how Edwards puts it in a sermon called "The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth":

"There is a difference between having a right speculative notion of the doctrines contained in the Word of God, and having a due sense of them in the heart. In the former consists speculative or natural knowledge of the things of divinity; in the latter consists the spiritual or practical knowledge of them. Neither of these is intended . . . exclusively of the other: but it is intended that we should seek the former in order to the latter. The latter, even a spiritual and practical knowledge of divinity, is of the greatest importance; for a speculative knowledge of it, without a spiritual knowledge, is in vain and to no purpose, but to make our condemnation the greater."

Note that right doctrine is never an end in itself. It is a means. Doxology takes flight on the wings of theology. Knowledge is not the final goal, but an avenue to deeper depths of enjoyment of God. “We should seek the former in order to the latter.” Theology, like pie, is not meant for the Petry dish. It exists to be tasted and enjoyed—relished. Glorious truth about God that enters the human mind is never meant to stay there. Its appointed destination is the heart, where such truth, where God himself, is tasted and loved. Knowledge is for nourishment.

This is not to disparage theology, but rather to illumine its critical place in the life of the believer. Right doctrine is frightfully important, for if one does not have the right recipe, the pie will not be able to be enjoyed. Theology is utterly foundational. “We should seek the former in order to the latter,” says Edwards, not “we should skip the former to get to the latter.” Proper thinking about God, rooted in the Bible, is crucial. But correct doctrine it is not the goal of Christianity. Worship is the goal. Delighting in God is the goal. And in this delight—unlike that of strawberry-rhubarb pie—there is no sin of gluttony. Justification by faith, election, preservation of the saints, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on your behalf—these doctrines are not meant for the Petry dish. Though in every generation they must be defended with the intellect, they are mainly meant to be enjoyed with the heart. Churchgoers whose faith is wholly defined by holding to right theological data without accompanying delight short-circuit this process, damming up doctrine in the head and creating incomplete Christians—if Christians at all. When God grants a new inner relish, however, the Spirit demolishes the dam and this “speculative knowledge” pours into the heart to be nourishing and savored. The light of the sun exists not only to brighten but to warm, and neither exists without the other. This goes for both one’s own growth in grace as well as one’s relationships with others. It is the mission of every Christian parent, small group leader, Sunday School teacher, seminary professor, pastor, and missionary to inflame by informing.

Informational inflammation—not of the joints but of the heart—this is the goal of the Christian life. Though other subsidiary topics will be discussed as is relevant, this blog exists to spread this foundational truth.