30 September 2009
--C. S. Lewis, 'On Ethics,' in Christian Reflections (Eerdmans 1967), 46-47
HT: Jack Collins, Covenant Seminary
29 September 2009
[Food, clothing, companionship, and inspiring work] are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things--even lofty and unselfish things--then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail. When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God. We have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. . . .
[I]f we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides. Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all? If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
--J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? pp. 73-74
The Pharisees' blindness was not their error. 'If you were blind, you would have no guilt'--i.e. if you were merely blind, or, if you knew yourselves to be blind. The Pharisees' problem was not that they were blind but that they thought they weren't--'you say, "We see."'
The mystery of the gospel, so deeply counterintuitive: guilt is taken away not in claiming sight but in acknowledging blindness. All because the one Person who ever came into this world truly seeing allowed himself, on a little hill, to be made blind, so that you and I, blind, can see, for free.
28 September 2009
27 September 2009
The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, 'This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,' but He says, 'I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.' He says, 'No man can reach absolute reality, except through Me. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.' He says, 'If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise. If anything whatever is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away. If it is your eye, pull it out. If it is your hand, cut it off. If you put yourself first you will be last. Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right. Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Re-birth, I am life. Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole universe.' That is the issue.
--C. S. Lewis, 'What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?' in God in the Dock (1950), 160
24 September 2009
--Martin Luther, Treatise on Good Works, LW 44:64
"I have been hurt too deeply, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger; some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them." --Frodo Baggins (The Return of the King, p. 1006)
23 September 2009
The early church believed that with the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, the Day of the Lord had dawned. To elucidate and justify this belief they appealed to prophetic descriptions, not only of the Day itself, but of the essential elements in the process which led up to it. Here all the various prophetic descriptions are relevant; for the Day of the Lord is fulfillment, not merely in the sense that it is the end of a process whose stages may now be put out of mind. It is fulfillment in the sense that the true meaning of all the strange and often tragic experiences of God's people in via is now at last made clear and those experiences in turn give depth and richness to the Christian understanding of the consummation that Christ has brought.
--C. H. Dodd, The Old Testament in the New (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1963), 23; emphasis original
22 September 2009
I reject it. My response is: if by 'broken' you mean 'not triumphalistic or arrogant,' then, of course, amen and amen. But if by 'broken' you mean (as I think is often what is meant) remaining in a perpetual state of spiritual pursed lips, emotional languishing over sin, calling to mind one's failures, dwelling on one's shortcomings, this is not spiritual health but a victory for the enemy, the Accuser. That is not what Christ came to win for us. It is a hollow maturity that appears humble but in fact spits on the cross. It is actually a form of self-parading, a subtle way of drawing attention not to the Savior but to our own mock spirituality.
[T]o this day one encounters in the church a great many Christians who year after year complain about their sins but almost never enjoy the heartfelt joy in God through Christ nor ever arrive at a peaceful and quiet life of gratitude. . . . Those who encourage grieving over one's sins . . . are abandoning the gospel, which is the message of joy and gladness in God, and fail to do justice to God's grace and the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
[Real Christianity is] faith in the reconciliation accomplished in the blood of Christ, a quiet and childlike resting in the grace of the Lord, knowing oneself secure in the wounds of the Lamb, and a joyful and lively feeling of the love of the heavenly Bridegroom.
--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:158, 159-60
That last sentence has a world of wisdom in it, and is something I've just been coming alive to in recent months.
18 September 2009
17 September 2009
1:35 to 2:55, the close of Jordan's 21-minute acceptance speech into the basketball hall of fame this week.
Thanks, Mike, for the great memories, and thanks for the poignant display of the ugliness that comes from giving in to the tug in all our hearts to build our identity on Self rather than Grace. Had I been in your shoes, there is no doubt in my mind that apart from an intervening work of God I would be even more arrogant and empty than you are. May God grant you to become so miserable in the days ahead, as is clearly happening as the sun sets on your basketball career, that your heart awakens to humble yourself and seek the solid joys of Christ instead of the candy-like and empty pleasures of Self. If one day thirty years from now I'm pastoring a church in your neck of the woods and you attend as a broken-down old man, here is what I will say to you: We are both desperately wicked and equally deserving of God's unending punishment in light of the way we have consistently given him the finger and embraced instead the hollow pleasures of Self. But the God who created you and me and on whom we were meant to run became one of us and suffered to bring us back home to the one who will forgive us if we let him down and satisfy us if we trust him and seek joy in him--neither of which, as you now well know if you will only admit it, basketball can do.
You said many times in your acceptance speech that all that mattered to you was winning. I want you to know that Jesus Christ is the one person who walked this earth who truly deserved to win. And on the cross he allowed himself to lose, so that you and I can be part of the ultimate win. Lay down your self-worship and be free.
16 September 2009
Stand firm, like an anvil being struck with a hammer. . . . Understand the times. Wait expectantly for the one who is above time: the Eternal, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible; the Intangible, the Unsuffering, who for our sake suffered, who for our sake endured in every way.
In the letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius wrote these powerful words about how Christians should interact with unbelievers.
Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager to be imitators of the Lord, to see who can be the more wronged, who the more cheated, who the more rejected, in order that no weed of the devil may be found among you, but that with complete purity and self-control you may abide in Christ Jesus. (10.3)
And to the Romans:
Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil--let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ! (5.3)
[T]hough I am still alive, I am passionately in love with death as I write to you. My passionate love [for the world] has been crucified and there is no fire of material longing within me, but only water living and speaking in me, saying within me, 'Come to the Father.' I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love. (7.2-3)
15 September 2009
14 September 2009
Hulme is a rare blend of psychologically sensitive wisdom and common sense in dealing with complex fallen people, on the one hand, and doctrinally contoured, deep, robust theological conviction on the other--and he brings the two into constant dialogue in this book. This book is one of the factors in forming my new understanding of the gospel this past year. Here's a taste.
When a person's justification is dependent upon his sanctification it is not only justification that is jeopardized but sanctification as well. Since both the meaning of and the power for sanctification reside in the motive of love and this motive is created in the justification experience, it follows that if my sanctification is motivated also by the desire to earn or deserve, I have undercut sanctification at its incipiency because I have corrupted the love motive. (180)
There is a subtle temptation--a particular danger in counseling--for an individual to become egocentric in his endeavors toward growth. Having experienced a certain amount of progress, he may become enthusiastic in his efforts to gain more. Unknowingly he may assume an activist role that is doomed to defeat. He falls into the error of 'trying too hard' and becomes tense in his efforts to overcome irritation, moods, and among other things, tension. Finally, he may break down in complete frustration. What has happened is that self-improvement has become its own motive under the disguise of religious endeavor. . . . Sanctification is also by grace through faith. . . . It is the Holy Spirit himself that is to be sought, rather than his fruits. Growth is growth in grace. (193-94; emphasis added)
Sanctification by gospel!
12 September 2009
As someone who has grown up in and loves more than ever evangelicalism, I have understood the ultimate message of the Bible to be the grace that is mine as an individual sinner when I die. Through the influence of Tim Keller, N. T. Wright, Greg Beale, the major prophets, Romans 8, common sense, and a renewed understanding of the biblical story that moves not just from earth to heaven but from Eden to New Eden, this has been getting filled out the past few years.
The key person God is using to open my eyes to this right now is Herman Bavinck. Some have summed up his teaching with the three words: grace redeeming nature. Bavinck gives a wonderfully all-encompassing and cosmic and breathtaking vision of what God is doing in and in the wake of his historically climactic giving of Jesus Christ, between whose two comings, one lowly and one triumphant, we now live.
I'm learning that fully biblical 'redemption' is both individual and corporate, both existential and cosmic, both pardoning and recreating, both vertical and horizontal, both conscience-cleansing and world-cleansing, both wrath-removing and injustice-removing. These pairs ought to be viewed asymmetrically--the former grounds the latter in each case. But as I realize the ways I've neglected the latter, I want the Lord to help me move forward in my thinking and living with a more trenchantly biblical view of the redemption God is working right now.
By all this I do not mean (as Wright has at times unfortunately put it), that the gospel is about new creation and not what happens to me when I die. That would be just as lopsided. Nor must we simply say 'both/and.' The removal of your and my sin is fundamental to the biblical gospel in a way that the future eradication of earthquakes is not. Penal substitutionary atonement, that is, is the heart of the gospel in a way that includes other atonement models but places them in a derivative position. Moreover, the future life remains our great hope. But this future life, built on the solid foundation of the cornerstone smashed on our behalf, will be not an annihiliation of this world but a restoration of it, as physical as Adam himself only without the capacity to sin. That's why the picture at the top right of this blog evokes such longings.
Grace redeems nature. Nature is screwed up because of human sin (Rom 8:18-25); and for nature to be restored, human sin must be dealt with. Sin, wrath, justice, and forgiveness for the individual must remain at the center of the message of redemption. But the coming renewal that has dawned in Christ the firstfruits is not limited to the human heart but includes the sun, the trees, daffodils, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Wheaton Illinois, the Pacific Ocean, butterflies, birds, lions. 'The wolf and the lamb shall graze together' (Isa 65:25). All founded on a long weekend on an obscure hill in the Middle East twenty centuries ago.
Crisply put by Frank Thielman is his wonderful New Testament theology:
Mark brings his account of Jesus' suffering to a climax in the centurion's confession of Jesus' identity at the moment of his death (15:39). Here, for the first time in the narrative, someone finally confesses what the reader has known, what God himself has confirmed, and what the demonic world has fearfully recognized, but what everyone else has either failed to perceive or completely rejected--that Jesus was the Son of God.
--F. Thielman, Theology of the New Testament (Zondervan 2005), 67
Paul Barnett, in what is my favorite commentary on 2 Corinthians for theological reflection:
This verse is arguably the key verse of the apostolic excursus (2:14-7:4) and, indeed, of the entire letter. . . .
Powerfully and explicitly Paul declares that the world and history have been overtaken by God, that God's 'time,' his 'say of salvation,' has 'now' arrived. Everything that Christ has done as the cosmic, soteriological, and eschatological centerpoint is now affirmed by the word that covers all the ground of vv. 14-21--salvation.
--The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (NICNT), 318
11 September 2009
--Jonathan Dodson, describing his book Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship
07 September 2009
There is no other love so advantageous as love to Christ, and therefore none so pleasant. . . . Christ is already crowned with glory, and he will crown those who love him with glory too, so that they shall love each other eternally in the greatest glory. . . .
And in one word to sum up the whole, the love of Christ has a tendency to fill the soul with an inexpressible sweetness. It sweetens every thought and makes every meditation pleasant. It brings a divine color upon the mind, and spreads a heavenly fragrancy like a precious box of ointment. It bathes the soul with the dew of heaven, begets a bright sunshine and diffuses the beginning of glory and happiness in embryo. All the world smiles upon such a soul as loves Christ. The sun, moon and stars, fields and trees do seem to solace him. Such a mind is like a little heaven upon earth.
--Jonathan Edwards, The Glory and Honor of God: Volume 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, p. 254
05 September 2009
(1) In Matt 19:13-15, the little children are prohibited from coming to Jesus.
(2) In 19:16-22, the rich young man has a conversation with Jesus about how to attain eternal life.
(3) In 19:23-30, Peter and the disciples wonder what will be left for them, who, unlike the rich young man, have sacrificed all.
(4) In 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable about workers hired at different times throughout the day and yet are all paid a days' wage.
What's the point? The point is: in the kingdom, the one thing that qualifies you is knowing you don't and the only thing that can disqualify you is thinking you do.
(1) The disciples thought the children needed to qualify with age in order to gain Jesus' attention.
(2) The rich young man thought he needed to qualify with morality ('All these have I kept') in order to gain eternal life.
(3) Peter and co. thought they needed to qualify with sacrifice ('We have left everything...') in order to gain a reward.
(4) The early hired workers thought they needed to qualify with a full days' work, bearing the burden of the day, in order to gain a full days' wage.
They were all wrong. Take the middle two: the young man and Peter. Both viewed discipleship as a financial transaction. The young man decided it wasn't worth it and didn't go for it; Peter decided it was, and did. But both were treating discipleship by cost-benefit analysis. The gospel frees us from this by telling us that all we need is to know is our inherent disqualification and to resist the universal human proclivity to self-resource partial mitigation of that disqualification. How? How can it be that the only thing that it takes to qualify before God is to know we don't? Because Jesus died. We can put it in the terms of the four consecutive stories.
(1) We can have Jesus' undivided attention without qualifying with age or other social prerequisites, because in Gethsemane Jesus was rejected not by age-conscious disciples but by his own Father.
(2) We can have eternal life without qualifying with morality, because upon his ascension Jesus was the one person who could appear before God and really say, 'All these have I kept...'
(3) We can have the ultimate reward without qualifying with sacrifice, because in the incarnation Jesus truly 'left everything' and then on the cross made the ultimate sacrifice.
(4) We can have a full days' wage without qualifying with comparatively more work than others, because Jesus worked the whole day and 'bore the burden of the day' and then allowed himself to be denied his rightful wage by going to the cross.
Do you know your need? If not, you're out. If so, you're in. He died to make it that scandalously easy.
04 September 2009
The most helpful point for me personally was Timothy George's distinction during the Q&A between an 'ecumenism of accommodation' and an 'ecumenism of conviction.' The former is bad, the latter good; the former compromises, the latter unites around shared belief. Helpful. It is easy to have a bent either completely toward or completely against 'ecumenism'; but what kind of ecumenism are we talking about?
--A. W. Pink, quoted by Nick Batzig
Read the rest.
03 September 2009
Bavinck on faith:
[I]t occupies such a central place that it can be called 'the work of God' par excellence (John 6:29). It is the principle of the Christian life as a whole, the means by which we obtain Christ and all his benefits, the subjective source of all salvation and blessing. While through Scripture it binds us to the historical Christ, it at the same time lifts us up to the invisible world and causes us to live in communion with the Lord from heaven. Wherever faith may be rooted in human beings, it affects all our capacities and powers, gives us direction and guidance, controls our intellect and heart, our thinking and activity, our life and conduct. Christians are believers. Faith is mystical and noetic, receptive and spontaneous, passive and active, the opposite of all works and itself the work of God par excellence, the means of justification and the principle of sanctification, accompanying us throughout our lives and changing into sight only at death.
--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:121-22
02 September 2009
The gospel transforms us in heart, mind, will, and actions precisely because it is not itself a message about our transformation. Nothing that I am or that I feel, choose, or do qualifies as Good News. On my best days, my experience of transformation is weak, but the gospel is an announcement of a certain state of affairs that exists because of something in God, not something in me; something that God has done, not something that I have done; the love in God's heart which he has shown me in his Son, not the love in my heart that I exhibit in my relationships. . . . [T]he gospel is 'the power of God unto salvation' not only at the beginning but throughout the Christian life. In fact, our sanctification is simply a lifelong process of letting that Good News sink in and responding appropriately.
--Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life (Baker 2009), 77 (to be released Oct 1)
If you and I are not forgiving someone, no matter how right it feels, we are being outwitted by Satan.
01 September 2009
The gospel is the food of faith and must be known to be nourishment. . . . [J]ust as in the natural world every creature seeks the food that suits it, so the new life in the believer is always drawn toward the gospel, the word of Christ . . . as the basis of its support, as the food by which it is strengthened.
--Reformed Dogmatics, 4:96, 103
--James Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Eerdmans 2008), 374, in a 1997 essay
[In Phil 3:5] we move beyond question of confidence in ethnic identity to confidence in the extra commitment he had chosen to make by becoming a Pharisee. . . . [Phil 3:6] is now well beyond confidence in ethnic status. There is at least an element of self-achievement and of pride in self-achievement in both Gal 1:14 and Phil 3:6.
--James Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Eerdmans 2008), 478, 480, in a 2008 essay
It is not hard to see why D. A. Carson called Dunn's work 'historical revisionism' in Carson's 2005 lectures on the New Perspective at RTS.
--C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross-Centered Life, 113