30 April 2010

Lewis: Christian Fellowship

His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead within the Body, and any conception of Christian fellowship which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of court.

--C. S. Lewis, 'Membership,' in The Weight of Glory, 125

29 April 2010

Luther: Christ Not a Judge

Luther, preaching on John 3:17, 'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world'--

Christ assures us that He is not a judge. He is a Mediator, a Helper, a Comforter, a Mercy Seat, a Bishop, a Shepherd, a Brother, an Intercessor, our Gift, and our Deliverer--not a judge. He was given and presented to us so that we would not have to flee from Him.

But these wounds in our heart are not yet fully healed. By nature we are disinclined to trust in God. . . . I must still apply myself like a child to the study of these words, which assure me that Christ did not come to judge the world.

--LW 22:377

28 April 2010

Jesus Exegetes God

Who has seen him and can describe him? Or who can extol him as he is? Many things greater than these lie hidden, for we have seen but few of his works. (Sirach 43:31-32 [Sirach is a piece of hellenized Jewish wisdom literature from around 180 BC])

No one has ever seen God; the only [or 'only begotten'] God, who is in the bosom of the Father, has exegesato him. (John 1:18)

exegeomai = to tell, relate, explain, report, make known, reveal. It is the verb from which we get our English verb 'exegete.'

Jesus has exegeted the Father.

The Gospel Both Saves Us and Grows Us

The Gospel from Emmaus Church in Portland.

Thanks Cole.

Beale (3): One Adam after Another

The first Adam should have obeyed and subdued the entire earth, but he did not.

After the flood, Noah was commissioned to subdue the earth, but he had his own 'fall' in a garden-like environment, also in connection with the image of nakedness.

Subsequently, God creates a corporate Adam, Israel, who was to be obedient to God in the promised land, which the OT refers to repeatedly as 'like the garden of Eden.' They were to go out from the promised land and subdue the rest of the earth. Appropriately, Israel was called by Adamic names, like 'Son of Adam (Man)' and 'Son of God.' Israel had her 'fall' at the golden calf episode, the effects of which were devastating for the nation's destiny. Instead of subduing the earth, she was subdued by it.

Lastly, God raises up another individual Adamic figure, Jesus Christ, who finally does what Adam should have done, and so he inaugurates a new creation which will not be corrupted but find its culmination in a new heavens and earth. And his names 'Son of God' and 'Son of Man' also allude to him, not only as the Last Adam, but also as true Israel.

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)

27 April 2010

Christians Are Unbelievers

Not many Christians think of themselves as unbelievers. After all, we normally use the term to describe people who aren’t Christians at all. Most of us can happily sign up to the creeds of our church. But our problems rarely arise from a lack of belief in a confessional or theoretical sense, though this may be the case. More often they arise from functional or practical disbelief. The problems lie in the gap between what we believe in theory and what we believe in practice.


--Tim Chester, You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behaviour and Negative Emotions (IVP 2010), 82; sample chapter here

Luther: A Completely Fiery Atmosphere

'I am baptized on Christ, and I entrust myself solely to Him; for He is my Life, Salvation, and Wisdom.' Wherever such words proceed from faith, they generate a completely fiery atmosphere, which burns and pains the devil so that he cannot tarry. But if a person is without warmth about matters pertaining to God and salvation, as the common man does, then the devil merely laughs. But if your words are aglow in your heart, you will put the devil to flight.

--Martin Luther, preaching on John 3:16, in LW 22:357

Zahl: Imperatives Become Indicatives

'Neither do I condemn you; go, from now on sin no more.' --John 8:11

This is the one-way love of grace in the life of Christ. . . . 'Go on your way, and from now on do not sin again,' is not an imperative. It is a descriptive. Few who have ever been forgiven a crime possess the inward desire to offend again. It was obvious that she would not sin again. And if she did, she would be forgiven again; and the chances of her offending again would be reduced by half.

Under grace, imperatives become indicatives.

--Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans 2007), 40

Beale (2): Christ's Death and Resurrection

More from Beale's 'The Eschatological Conception of the New Testament.'

Christ's resurrection . . . placed him into the beginning of the new creation. The resurrected Christ is not merely spiritually the inauguration of the new cosmos, but he is literally its beginning, since he was resurrected with a physically resurrected, newly created body. . . .

Christ's death is not just any death but it is the beginning of the destruction of the entire world, which will not be consummated until the very end. . . .

[Ok: Who of you out there has thought of Christ's death not just as an atoning penal sacrifice on behalf of sinners, which is gloriously true, but also as the beginning of the end-time destruction of the world?]

In the light of what we have said so far, we can state the overriding idea of NT theology. . . . The idea is this: Christ's life, and especially death and resurrection through the Spirit, launched the glorious end-time new creation of God.

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)

26 April 2010

Luther's Stubborn Humility

[N]o one among us would like to see his true history inscribed on his forehead. But we all like to hear ourselves honored and extolled. No one of us thinks of saying: 'May God be merciful to me!'

If the sins known to my heart were published to the world, I would deserve the gallows. To be sure, the world now respects me. But if it really knew me, it would spit on me; for I would deserve beheading.

--Martin Luther, LW 22:403

25 April 2010

Lewis: Is Sexual Immorality the Worst Sin?

In September 1954 C. S. Lewis responded to a letter from a woman who had asked, 'Why has sex become man's chief stumbling block?' He wisely responded--

But has it? Or is it only the most recognisable of the stumbling blocks? I mean, we can mistake pride for a good conscience, and cruelty for zeal, and idleness for the peace of God, etc. But when lust is upon us, then, owing to the obvious physical symptoms, we can't pretend it is anything else.

Is it perhaps only the least
disguisable of our dangers?

--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:510; emphasis original

24 April 2010

Zahl: Grace in Practice

I've quoted several times from Paul Zahl's book Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (e.g. here, here, here). So I was delighted to discover this brief clip of Dr. Zahl talking about the book.

The clip represents Dr. Zahl well: bright, funny, at ease with himself, and, most of all, with a profound sense of grace.

Beale (1): Eschatological Sunglasses

The single most important essay I've read on the Bible is Greg Beale's 1997 Tyndale Fellowship presentation, initially his 1993 inauguratory lecture at Gordon-Conwell and later published by IVP in a collection of essays called The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology. In coming days I'm going to put up several quotes from the paper. Ponder them with me. I actually get physically energized when I reread this essay. Need to go lift weights or something.

Dr. Beale's big idea is that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, through the Spirit, launched the new creation longed for throughout the OT ever since the fracturing of the first creation. We are in the end-times; and every point of NT theology is thus inherently eschatological. The eschaton is now. Not perfectly, but really. Sound over-realized? Read the essay and see what you think.

Here's an early statement that sets the stage.

[T]he apostles understood eschatology not merely as futurology but as a mindset for understanding the present within the climaxing context of redemptive history. That is, the apostles understood that they were already living in the end-times and that they were to understand their present salvation in Christ to be already an end-time reality. Every aspect of their salvation was to be conceived of as eschatological in nature.

To put this another way, every major doctrine of the Christian faith is charged with eschatological electricity. Just as when you put on green sunglasses, everything you see is green, so Christ had placed eschatological sunglasses on his disciples so that everything they looked at in the Christian faith had an end-time tint.

This means that the doctrine of eschatology in NT Theology textbooks should not merely be one among many doctrines.

--Greg Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (ed. K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliot; IVP 1997), 11-52.

Off to the weightroom.

23 April 2010

Luther: He Himself Is This Bridge

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. --John 3:13

We did not ascend into heaven, but He is the one who descended and ascended and remained above. Now what are we to do? Must we despair?

No, for He shows us the way to ascend. He explains why He came into the world and how he constructed a good, firm, and solid bridge for us to ascend safely into heaven.
He Himself is this Bridge.

--Luther, preaching on John 3:13, in LW 22:331

The Deception of the Unregenerate Heart

Sam Storms' Signs of the Spirit is a good distillation of the wisdom of Jonathan Edwards' spiritual masterpiece, Religious Affections. (Though the subtitle doesn't indicate this, the last third of Sam's book adds a distillation of JE's Personal Narrative [found in this volume], which basically turns from the third person to the first person in JE's writing on true spiritual life, describing his own experience autobiographically.)

This was a good statement from Sam on understanding the human heart--

The unregenerate heart is quite capable of self-deception, self-flattery, and a self-confidence that leads it to heartily assert its safety with God.

True believers embrace the assurance of salvation with humility and caution, whereas the false assert it with a brazen confidence. . . . True believers, unlike hypocrites, are also keenly aware of their own sin and the potential it has for leading them into a false sense of security. It is also the case that Satan will leave a hypocrite in his false assurance (and perhaps even embolden him in it), whereas he may constantly attack the born-again believer lest the power of hope in his heart strengthen his commitment to holiness and purity of life.

--Sam Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections (Crossway 2007), 70, explaining the eleventh of 12 signs that don't necessarily point one way or another as to authentic spiritual experience

Carson: Jesus Climactically Recapitulates

A nice riff in the midst of D. A. Carson's review of Udo Schnelle's 2009 Theology of the New Testament (given orally at SBL this past November: see here)--

The NT writers variously insist that Jesus' body is the temple of God, that he is the lamb of God, the good shepherd, the true vine, the Passover sacrificed for us, that he is the ultimate David, the ultimate (Melchizedekian) priest, that the church is the royal priesthood, that Jesus in some way recapitulates Israel's history, that the exodus is in some ways paradigmatic, and so on and so on.

--D. A. Carson, 'Review Article: Locating Udo Schnelle's Theology of the New Testament in the Contemporary Discussion,' JETS 53 (2010): 140

22 April 2010

Pink on Unsurrendered Religion

'One thing you lack.' --Mark 10:21

His fatal deficiency may be described in a variety of ways. He had no conviction that he was a ruined, lost and Hell-deserving sinner, no consciousness that he was a spiritual leper in the sight of God, no realization of his utter helplessness to better his condition. Though religious, he was still in nature's darkness, and therefore, his affections were not raised above the vanities of this world. There was no love for God within him; and consequently, he was unwilling to deny himself, abandon his idols, and give God His rightful place in his life--serving, pleasing, and enjoying Him. He lacked a real and unreserved surrender of his heart to God.

Is that the case with you, dear reader?

--A. W. Pink

HT: Eddie Harper

21 April 2010

Good Point

Dave Kraft: You might not achieve all you dream of, but you most certainly will not achieve anything you don’t dream of.

The 10 Commandments Are in Force

Any guesses as to which theologian made the following remarks?

[T]he Ten Commandments are still in force and do concern us Christians so far as obedience to them is concerned. For the righteousness demanded by the Law is fulfilled in the believers through the grace and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom they receive. Thus all the admonitions of the prophets in the OT, as well as of Christ and the apostles in the NT, concerning a godly life, are excellent sermons on, and expositions of, the Ten Commandments.

Formerly I found that I had no delight in the Law. But now I discover that the Law is precious and good, that it was given to me for my life.

The Law . . . is not to be discarded; for if we cast the Law aside, we shall not long retain Christ.

That's right. Martin Luther.

Caricatures, while existing for a reason, die hard.

(LW 22:39, 144, 146)

Such Is Our Nature and Frame

[T]he duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned, why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

--Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (ed. John E. Smith; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 115

Hulme: Gospel Growth

One of the most helpful books in bringing me deeper into the gospel is William Hulme's little book Counseling and Theology. Hulme was a Lutheran prof of practical theology at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul back in the 50s. The book is a fascinating integration of, on one page, an explanation of the theological relationship between justification and sanctification and, on the next, dialogue from a real-life counseling case study of someone who couldn't overcome dependence on people-approval (see also here).

Here's how he concludes his chapter on 'The Means of Growth.'

The more one is able to love, the more he develops the qualities of integration and adjustment to reality that mark the mature person. . . . If our sanctification is allowed to become confused with our justification, then our motive for pleasing God is no longer one of love and gratitude, but one of earning and deserving. Hence we have the entrance of a self-interest motive into our living which is a deterrent rather than an incentive to growth.

Justification must come first and be completed experience, since the sanctification process is dependent upon the mindset which results from it.

Each time the sinner is drawn to the cross in new repentance, he gains a deeper appreciation of the gift of forgiveness. This ever-increasing gratitude for the righteousness which is imputed unto him becomes the motive in his own righteousness. Because he knows that he is accepted of God by grace, his tension is released and he is free to love. . . . [T]he justification experience must precede that of sanctification to make either of them possible. (pp. 200-201)

20 April 2010

Edwards: All Beauty a Reflection of God's Beauty

Consider this: 'All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams' shining forth from God.' And this: God is 'the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty; from whom all is perfectly derived, and on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent.' Just as the Sun is the source of all light, God is the source of all life and beauty.

Ponder the images: God as an eternal fountain that overflows with beautiful waters of life; God as the sun that radiates beams of life throughout the universe.

--James Byrd, Jonathan Edwards for Armchair Theologians (Westminster John Knox 2008), 138-39; quotes are of Edwards

19 April 2010

17 April 2010

Luke 24: Reversing the Curse

Yesterday during a panel discussion here at Wheaton's Theology Conference, N. T. Wright made a passing comment on a fascinating biblical-theological connection that I had never seen before.

In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus walks on the road to Emmaus with two professing followers of God, explaining to them that the whole Bible is about him. They don't get it, however--at least, not until the rather oddly delayed moment of dinner later that evening.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized [lit. 'knew'] him.
(Luke 24:30-31)

The timing of the whole thing is strange. Why were their eyes opened at dinner and not at the Bible study?

Because Jesus is reversing the ancient curse, and Luke wants us to see it. In Genesis 3, the serpent comes to two professing followers of God, and offers them dinner.

. . . she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. (Gen 3:6-7)

The phrase in the Greek OT (the Septuagint) and the New Testament are almost identical. 'And their eyes were opened, and they knew.' Both pairs were offered food and, upon eating it, were ushered into a new moral universe.

Adam and Eve took the offered food, disobeying God, and now, tragically, 'knew' the curse of evil, plunging the whole human race into darkness. The two Emmaus road disciples took the offered food, receiving Christ, and now, wonderfully, 'knew' the reverse of the curse.

Grace Delomishes and Creates

Grace has a domino effect. It is at the bottom of the house of cards that is human identity. It is the ground floor of our striving after love. When grace comes in, when it rewrites the script, when its light shines in the basement of the house that is ourselves, unbuilt to God, grace demolishes and creates. It does what it promises.

Unlike the law, which produces the opposite of what it demands, grace succeeds. It produces the fruit, to use the New Testament metaphor, of a law-congruent life.

--Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans 2007), 41

16 April 2010

One-Way Love

What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. . . .

Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. . . . It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold. . . .

Grace is one-way love. That is the definition [of grace] for this book. Grace is one-way love.

--Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans 2007), 36 (emphasis original)

HT: Brian Martin

15 April 2010

Instructions for Warfare: Avoid Heart-Melters

And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, 'Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.' (Deut 20:8)

These are part of the instructions for warfare God gave Israel upon engaging their enemies in battle. Though I don't plan on handing out 22's to the small group I lead and marching down to the Wheaton Mormon temple, this text is every bit as meaningful today. I want to surround myself with men of courage, not men of timidity. I think of courageous brothers like Joab Rico, Brian Martin, Greg Beale, Zack Eswine, Acts 29 pastors. Time spent in the trenches with the courageous stirs up courage. Time spent with the fainthearted reinforces faintheartedness.

And the greatest key to courage is time spent with the Courageous One himself, who emptied himself, endured the cross, and scorned the shame. Remember Peter and John before the religious PhDs of the day.

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

You Settle with Him, Devil!

Little is gained against the devil with a lengthy disputation; but a brief word and reply such as this is effective: 'I am a Christian, of the same flesh and blood as my Lord Christ, the Son of God. You settle with Him, devil!' Such a retort would soon make him depart.

--Martin Luther, preaching on John 1:14, 'and the word became flesh,' in LW 22:106

14 April 2010

All Is Wrapped up in Him

Early on in Communion with God, John Owen describes 'three things in general wherein . . . personal excellency and grace of the Lord Christ consists.'

The first is that Christ is 'fit to save.' The second is that he is 'almighty to save.' The third is Christ's

excellency to endear, from his complete suitableness to all the wants of the souls of men. There is no man whatever, that has any want in reference to the things of God, but Christ will be to him that which he wants. . . . Is he dead? Christ is life. Is he weak? Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Has he the sense of guilt upon him? Christ is complete righteousness. . . .

Many poor creatures are sensible of their wants, but know not where their remedy lies. Indeed, whether it be life or light, power or joy, all is wrapped up in him.
(p. 94)

The ultimate key to spiritual health is not our having-it-together-ness. The key is awareness that we don't have it together. Knowing our 'wants,' says Owen. Not qualifying; knowing we don't.

Covenant Seminary Faculty Addition

Page 22 of the current Covenant Magazine describes Bob Yarbrough's return to Covenant Theological Seminary.

Good news for Covenant.

13 April 2010

The Flock of the Fainthearted

May a merciful God preserve me from a Christian Church in which everyone is a saint!

I want to be and remain in the church and little flock of the fainthearted, the feeble, and the ailing, who feel and recognize the wretchedness of their sins, who sigh and cry to God incessantly for comfort and help, who believe in the forgiveness of sin.

--Martin Luther, preaching on John 1, in Luther's Works, 22:55

Marital Counsel for Dummies

If you touched your wife as much as you touch your iPhone your marriage would be in a much better spot.

--Justin Hyde

12 April 2010

John Owen's Single Pursuit in Life

Owen concludes his discussion of the love between Christ and his saints by describing his treatment as

but a little, from him who has the least experience of it of all the saints of God; who yet has found that in it which is better than ten thousand worlds; who desires to spend the residue of the few and evil days of his pilgrimage in pursuit of this--in the contemplation of the excellencies, desirableness, love, and grace of our dear Lord Jesus, and in making returns of obedience according to his will: to whose soul, in the midst of the perplexities of this wretched world, and cursed rebellions of his own heart, this is a great relief, that 'He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.'

--Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 241-42

Be Who You Are

The (imperative) ten commandments are famously preceded by the (indicative) reminder, 'I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' But this rhythm of grace/response, gospel/obligation, is pervasive throughout both OT and NT. Was struck today by the way Deuteronomy 14 opens:

'You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not . . .' (Deut 14:1)

Ephesians 5:1 is a clear NT counterpart: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 1 Peter and 1 John are replete with the same notion.

Here's who you are; be who you are.

11 April 2010

A Mediator

There is no arbiter between us
[lit. there is not a man between us to judge/decide]
who might lay his hand on us both.

Let him take his rod away from me,

and let not dread of him terrify me.

Then I would speak without fear of him,

for I am not so in myself.

--Job 9:33-35 (cf. 33:23-24)

There is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ.
--1 Timothy 2:5

We are not so in ourselves. Without an arbiter, we speak with fear of him; dread of him terrifies us. Without a mediator, his rod is on us. Jesus the mediator lays a hand on both God and us. He takes his nail-scarred hands and clasps together our hand with God's happily outstretched arm.

Praise God.

Satan's Inadvertent Suicide

Martin Luther on the practical spiritual help that Christ's deity gives believers in the war against sin and Satan--

[I]f, as God's Son, He sheds His blood to redeem us and cleanse us from sin, and if we believe this, rubbing it under the devil's nose whenever he tries to plague and terrify us with our sins, the devil will soon be beaten; he will be forced to withdraw and to stop molesting us.

For the hook, which is the divinity of Christ, was concealed under the earthworm. The devil swallowed it with his jaws when Christ died and was buried. But it ripped his belly so that he could not retain it but had to disgorge it. He ate death for himself.

This affords us the greatest solace; for just as the devil could not hold Christ in death, so he cannot hold us who believe in Christ.

--Luther's Works, 22:24

The Army Grows: Nathan Luther Ortlund

08 April 2010

Lewis: Cultivation, not Castration, of Masculinity

C. S. Lewis has a fascinating little essay in God in the Dock called 'Priestesses in the Church.' In it he's addressing a 1950s Anglican/Episcopal issue, but the relevance to today's church scene is striking. Lewis argues that the office of priest should be open to men only. At one point (p. 238-39) he says:

It is painful, being a man, to have to assert the privilege, or the burden, which Christianity places upon my own sex. I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us are . . . to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform not the wearer. . . .

We men often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter.

07 April 2010

Too 'Gospel-Centered'?

. . . I delivered to you as of first importance . . . --1 Cor 15:3

There has been a wave of books, blogs, messages and movements in recent years calling, in various ways, for the church today to be (more) 'gospel-centered.'

Publically, I think of Ray Ortlund, Zack Eswine, Tim Keller, Sovereign Grace, Acts 29, the Gospel Coalition, Jared Wilson, Joe Thorn, Jonathan Dodson, Paul Tripp, David Powlison, Jerry Bridges, Mike Bullmore, D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, Covenant Seminary, Tullian Tchividjian, and many others (see e.g. here). Privately, I think of friends like Brian Martin, Nate Conrad, Dan Orr, and Jim Lane, who have personally helped me understand the gospel as the engine (keeping us going), not the runway (getting us off the ground at conversion and landing us in heaven at death but unnecessary in between), to life and theology.

In more recent days, though, some are raising the question of whether this is getting a bit out of hand, asking whether we can emphasize the gospel to the exclusion of other things, and, perhaps most of all, simply expressing a general cynicism about the current trendiness of being gospel-centered (whatever 'gospel-centered' means--I use the phrase here to refer to viewing the gospel not as something beyond which Christians graduate but which rather remains the heartbeat of life, to be not only confessed doctrinally and evangelistically but also appropriated emotionally and psychologically, the non-negotiable of all non-negotiables, summed up best biblically in 1 Cor 15:3-4).

There are three possible responses to the current trendiness of being 'gospel-centered.'

1. Uncritically dismiss it due to its trendiness.

2. Uncritically absorb it due to its being embraced by others we know or respect; vicariously feed on others' excitement without personally digesting it ourselves.

3. Consider what it means, and whether it is biblical; ponder what is true in it; ask why it is trendy.

The last option is the way of wisdom. Before either dismissing it or absorbing it, let's consider it, test it, and, if we find that in fact deeper awareness of sin and sin's healing in Christ is indeed the place to start and end every day happily and humbly, pass it on.

Remember, trendiness is not bad in itself. Justification by faith alone was suddenly trendy among significant church circles in the 1520s and 30s. Thank the Lord for all those who neither uncritically dismissed it nor uncritically absorbed it but personally wrestled with it, saw it in their Bibles, found fresh liberation, and passed it on.

05 April 2010

Luther on John 14:6

'I am the way.' --John 14:6

Christ is not only the Way on which we must begin our journey, but He is also the right and the safe Way we must walk to the end. We dare not be deflected from this. . . . Here Christ wants to say: 'When you have apprehended Me in faith, you are on the right way, which is reliable and does not mislead you. But only see that you remain and continue on it.' . . . Christ wants to tear and turn our hearts from all trust in anything else and pin them to Himself alone.

--Martin Luther, sermon on John 14:6, in Luther's Works, 24:47, 48, 50

Luther is teaching me that the Christian life can easily be boiled down into two simple steps.

1. Trust in Christ
2. See #1

04 April 2010

Owen: Christ's Greatest Joy

It is the gladness of the heart of Christ, the joy of his soul, to . . .


Reside with his Father, in heaven?

See justice vindicated as his enemies are judged?

Bask in the worship of the angels?

See the saints dutifully obey him?

It is the gladness of the heart of Christ, the joy of his soul, to take poor sinners into relation with himself. He rejoiced in the thoughts of it from eternity. . . . It is the main design of the ministry of the gospel, to prevail with men to give up themselves to the Lord Christ, as he reveals his kindness in this engagement.

--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 101, 100

03 April 2010

Zack Eswine Reminds Us . . .

. . . of the three ways to live.

Zack is pastor of Riverside Church
in St. Louis.

Luther: Ruined with Christ

If we perish then Christ the Almighty Ruler of the world himself must suffer with us. Even if this cause were to collapse, I would much rather be ruined with Christ than rule with Caesar.

--Martin Luther, in 'Sayings in Which Luther Found Comfort,' in Luther's Works, 43:172 ('this cause' = the sixteenth-century Reformation)


'By his stripes we are healed.' --Isaiah 53:5

Study and Prayer

Study yourself to death, and then pray yourself alive again.

--Adam Clarke, in C. H. Spurgeon, who calls it 'a wise sentence' (Lectures, 316)

Not Great Talents that God Blesses

How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God's sword, His instrument--I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

--Robert Murray McCheyne, quoted in C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Zondervan 1954), 8

02 April 2010

Lewis: 'I Was Decided Upon'

In May 1963--six months before he died--C. S. Lewis was interviewed in his office at Cambridge. It's a fascinating 7-page interchange.

At one point he was asked about his account in Surprised by Joy of his conversion, kicking and screaming, the most reluctant convert in all of England. The interviewer asked whether Lewis felt that he had made a real decision that day. Lewis responded--

I would not put it that way. What I wrote in Surprised by Joy was that 'before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice.' But I feel my decision was not so important. I was the object rather than the subject in this affair.I was decided upon. I was glad afterwards at the way it came out, but at the moment what I heard was God saying, 'Put down your gun and we'll talk.'

Interviewer: That sounds to me as if you came to a very definite point of decision.

Lewis: Well, I would say that the most deeply compelled action is also the freest action. . . . I chose, yet it really did not seem possible to do the opposite.

--'Cross-Examination,' in God in the Dock, 261

01 April 2010

Luther: The Closeness of Christ

'I am the bread of life.' --Jesus (John 6:35)

Christ is closer to you through His Word than your son with his arms entwined around your neck. To come to Christ does not necessitate a long journey. It is not necessary for you to go to St. Iago or Rome. . . . No, you come to Christ when you believe in Him. Then He is with you and very close to you. He lies right before us, in front of our eyes and ears, so that we can see and hear Him. Just believe in Him, and then you have eaten Him and come to Him. --Martin Luther, preaching on John 6:35, in Luther's Works, 23:42-43

A Word . . .

. . . from our friend Bryan Chapell at Covenant Seminary.


'This act could be the most important message Dr. Piper has ever proclaimed.'

Preachers and Justification

Satan's strategy is to whisper when you are down. . . . For Spurgeon, it is the doctrine of justification personally applied and experienced that Satan seeks to undo in the Lord's preachers. Spurgeon exhorted Christians that they must expect that when they lose sight of their sense of justification, when they are conscious of sin and feel unfit to minister before God, 'just then,' the enemy 'will come to accuse' them.

--Zack Eswine, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C. H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching (Christian Focus 2006), 208; quotes Spurgeon's

Satan the Coward

Satan is a great coward. He will generally meddle with God's people when they are down. I find that when I am in good physical health, I am not often tempted of Satan to despondency or doubt; but whenever I get depressed in spirit, or the liver is out of order, or the head aches, then comes the hissing serpent.

--Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Zack Eswine, Kindled Fire: How the Methods of C. H. Spurgeon Can Help Your Preaching (Christian Focus 2006), 207