31 December 2010

Standing on the Bible?

When the well-known twentieth-century conservative scholar A. Schlatter was considered for a professorial appointment to the university in Berlin, he was asked by a churchman on the committee whether, in his academic work, he 'stood on the Bible.'

Schlatter's reply: 'No, I stand under the Bible!'
--Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, and Charles Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown (B&H, 2009), 52

I should add that Schlatter did receive this appointment and one deciding factor was the university's desire to have someone on the faculty opposite Adolf von Harnack. While Schlatter wound up having a very positive relationship with him, Harnack was the poster-boy of the day for Ritschlian liberalism that read the Bible as inspiring spiritually but fictitious historically. That was the culture into which Schlatter was heading when he stood before that august committee and proclaimed his submission to the Bible.

(P.S. Can't help but quote Packer's blurb for this NT Intro: 'juicy pastoral reflections, and lashings of masterful common sense.' I think someone should compile all of Packer's blurbs into a book--this may be a multi-volume project--and then get some good blurbs for the Packer blurb collection.)

29 December 2010

Resolutions and Grace

Jonathan Edwards, diary, January 2, 1723:
Dull. I find by experience, that let me make resolutions, and do what I will, with never so many inventions, it is all nothing, and to no purpose at all, without the motions of the Spirit of God: for if the Spirit of God should be as much withdrawn from me always, as for the week past, notwithstanding all I do, I should not grow; but should languish, and miserably fade away. . . .

It is to no purpose to resolve, except we depend on the grace of God; for if it were not for his mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next. . . . [Yet] all things shall work together for our good; not knowing in what way, indeed, but trusting in God.
The next weekend, grace broke through.
Saturday, January 12. In the morning I have this day solemnly renewed my baptismal covenant and self-dedication, which I renewed when I was received into communion of the church.

I have been before God; and have given myself, all that I am and have, to God, so that I am not in any respect my own: I can challenge no right in myself, I can challenge no right in this understanding, this will, these affections that are in me; neither have I any right to this body, or any of its members: no right to this tongue, these hands, nor feet; no right to these senses, these eyes, these ears, this smell or taste.

I have given myself clear away, and have not retained anything as my own. I have been to God this morning, and told him that I gave myself wholly to him. I have given every power to him; so that for the future I will challenge no right in myself, in any respect. I have expressly promised him, and do now promise almighty God, that by his grace I will not.

I have this morning told him, that I did take him for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as if it were; and his law for the constant rule of my obedience; and would fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life. And did believe in Jesus Christ, and receive him as a prince and a Savior; and would adhere to the faith and obedience of the gospel, how hazardous and difficult soever the profession and practice of it may be. . . .

This I have done.

And I pray God, for the sake of Christ, to look upon it as a self-dedication; and to receive me now as entirely his own, and deal with me in all respects as such; whether he afflicts me or prospers me, or whatever he pleases to do with me, who am his. Now, henceforth I am not to act in any respect as my own.
--Letters and Personal Writings, in Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 16, pp. 760, 762-63

'I have given myself clear away.'

Let's go there, by his grace, in 2011.

'No, the team is not going to be the most important thing to me'

I happened to go to church with a friend in Tampa several years ago, when Tony was with the Bucs, and saw the whole Dungy family get baptized upon professions of faith. Very moving. I've always admired the way Tony carries himself in an NFL culture of performance, pressure, and pride. In other words, of normal human people, like me.

Whose Feet Am I Washing?

I am rebuked; helped.
If we have the world's mentality of wanting the foremost place, we are not qualified for Christian leadership. This mentality can . . . fit us for being a big name among men, but it unfits us for real spiritual leadership.

To the extent that we want power we are in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit has no part in us. Christ put a towel around Himself and washed His disciples' feet. We should ask ourselves from time to time, 'Whose feet am I washing?' Some churches have made foot-washing into a third sacrament; members wash each other's feet during their worship service. While most of us think it is a mistake to make this a sacrament, let us admit that it is 10,000 times better to wash each other's feet in a literal way than never to wash anybody's feet in any way.
--Francis Schaeffer, No Little People (Crossway, 2003), 69

28 December 2010

Paperback Works of Edwards

Readers may be interested to know that the Yale University Press critical edition of Jonathan Edwards' works (the font of which is far superior to that of the un-critical 1834 Hickman edition) is putting these volumes into paperback. I got my copy of Religious Affections today and am pleased with it. At least volumes 1, 2 and 4 are now available in paperback.

I point this out because these paperback volumes will be available for the merciful price of around $20 each--10 to 20% of the cost of the hardback copies.

There is of course the fully searchable text of all 26 volumes available for free online. I still shake my head at this. And for searching purposes this online venue is wonderful. But for those, like me, who want to be able to hold, feel the weight of, mark up, and (yes) smell their books, you can now do so for the price of a tank of gas.

More info here.

Nate Larkin at Covenant Seminary

Nate Larkin recently gave a few talks at Covenant Seminary. Nate was a pastor with a porn addiction who has boldly laid bare his life for the sake of serving and helping others. He lives in Franklin, Tennessee and authored this book.

Would you like to hear the testimony of a man who spent twenty bucks on a hooker on his way to church to lead a candlelight service on Christmas Eve?

Honest, frightening, chastening, hope-giving.

Here's a bit more from Nate.

Much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God

Hope for each of us, and a call to fresh total surrender to God:
Consider the mighty ways in which God used a dead stick of wood. 'God so used a stick of wood' can be a banner cry for each of us. Though we are limited and weak in talent, physical energy, and psychological strength, we are not less than a stick of wood. But as the rod of Moses had to become the rod of God, so that which is me must become the me of God. Then I can become useful in God's hands. The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people.
--Francis Schaeffer, No Little People (Crossway, 2003), 25

27 December 2010

Warfield on True Self-Sacrifice

'Let this mind be in you . . .' --Phil 2:5

Warfield on Phil 2:5-11:
We need to note carefully . . . that it is not self-depreciation, but self-abnegation, that is thus commended to us. If we would follow Christ, we must, every one of us, not in pride but in humility, yet not in lowness but in lowliness, not degrade ourselves but forget ourselves, and seek every man not his own things but those of others. . . .

We cannot be self-consciously self-forgetful, selfishly unselfish. Only, when we humbly walk this path, seeking truly in it not our own things but those of others, we shall find the promise true, that he who loses his life shall find it. Only, when, like Christ, and in loving obedience to His call and example, we take no account of ourselves, but freely give ourselves to others, we shall find, each in his measure, the saying true of himself also: 'Wherefore also God hath highly exalted him.'

The path of self-sacrifice is the path to glory.
--B. B. Warfield, 'Imitating the Incarnation,' pp. 6, 8

Isn't this, in essence, exactly what Paul was commending Timothy and Epaphroditus for in the latter half of Philippians 2?

God get us there.

26 December 2010

The Heavenly Wine Was Too Strong

Parkinson Milton, diary entry of October 26, 1874--
My soul was, at times, in a burning rapture, almost too ecstatic for this tabernacle. Again and again I repeated the words for which such as in the martyrs glowed, dying champions for their God. The truth is, I had to cease doing so, feeling that the heavenly wine was too strong for the earthly vessel. Oh, when mortality shall be swallowed up in life! I burn for Christ. This soul I offer, Christ, in flames to Thee, joy unspeakable and full of glory.
--quoted in Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms (Crossway, 2005), 129

Histories and Fallacies

Recently enjoyed Carl Trueman's Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faces in the Writing of History. It's a well-written little book that explores how to do history, with reflections on: navigating between naive claims to historical neutrality on the right and cynical denial of any stable historical objectivity on the left (ch. 1); the frameworks we all bring to our study of history and how, though necessary and positive, such grids can give us historiographical blinders (ch. 2); various kinds of historigraphical anachronisms (ch. 3); and fallacies historians can commit (ch. 4).

History is not technically my field (New Testament is) but I am fascinated by and love studying history. Yet this is the first book I've read on how to study and write history. I am helped. I would like to become a more astute history student, and this book (esp. the first and last chapters) opened my eyes to mistakes I have been making in how I view history and draw connections between events. Actually, I think I've committed every historical fallacy listed in ch. 4.

Also, the book is rich in implications for biblical studies students. In some ways it feels like an abbreviated version of Is There a Meaning in This Text? filtered through a historical rather than a literary grid (esp. ch. 1). The final chapter's helpful list of historical fallacies is akin to the flavor and strategy of this book, though directed not to exegesis but historiography. Many of the insights and cautions of Carl's book carry over transparently into biblical studies--which is itself inherently historical. My work on the New Perspective, for instance, could hardly be less historically driven and in need of historiographical sophistication.

The writing is clear and though this is a book that becomes dense at points (the extended interaction with Christopher Hill's Marxism in ch. 2 could have made the point with half the words), a consistent string of interesting examples from history keep the pages turning. And Carl writes with a kind of robust sense of conviction which refuses to footnote every assertion in an effort to anticipate all possible objections--evidence of courage, and refreshing.

Here's one bit that made me smile. After writing, 'Radical postmodern relativists who reduce all history to tropes or aesthetics and who want to debunk the claims of any approach to the past as being "more true" than any other often do so on ethical grounds: the white heterosexual male history must be dethroned because it helps to perpetuate the oppression of the Other, whether the Other is women, blacks, gays, etc.', Carl footnotes:
Interestingly enough, the Other is rarely defined by such postmoderns in terms with which the middle-class intelligentsia would be uncomfortable: members of the Ku Klux Klan, Holocaust deniers, serial killers, and collectors of other people's toenail clippings would all seem to have first-class claims to having been marginalized and written out of the dominant narratives of this world; but none, so far as I know, enjoys the support of a significant postmodern lobby group. (53 n. 16)
On another note, Stacey and I were remarking today how merciful God has been to us. Goodness. Challenges, disappointments--of course. We're not in Isaiah 65 yet. But the lovingkindness of the Lord, in Christ and in a thousand ways flowing from that supreme blessing, is inexplicable to us. It has come home to us afresh this holiday season.

24 December 2010

Glory to God!

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'
--Luke 2:8-14

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
'Behold your God!'
--Isaiah 40:9

23 December 2010

Books, People

We must not live in the world of books, but in the world of real people. Yet, all that is worth saying to them of lasting value comes from books.
--William Still, The Work of the Pastor (Christian Focus, 2010), 101-2

22 December 2010

Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose

Charles Wesley, 'Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose':
Jesus, my all in all thou art
My rest in toil, my ease in pain
The healing of my broken heart
In war my peace, in loss my my gain
My smile beneath the tyrant's frown
In shame my glory, and my crown

In want my plentiful supply
In weakness my almighty power
In bonds my perfect liberty
My light in Satan's darkest hour
In grief my joy unspeakable
My life in death, my heaven in hell
Is there anything more wonderful, more stabilizing, in life? Anything?

21 December 2010

Reformation and Revival

Francis Schaeffer:
Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival.

Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast with one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian's life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is not complete without revival.

May we be those of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world in which we live may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and a Spirit-filled life.
--No Little People (Crossway, 2003), 74

And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. --Acts 13:52

A Word in Season for Us All

Udo Middleman, close associate, fellow pastor, and friend of Francis Schaeffer, describing Schaeffer:
He was not slick. He revolted against false appearances of leadership, growth statistics, and any show, in which he saw the dangers of pretense, performance, and praise of men. He had been there and found it dishonest, dangerous, and finally condemning.
--Francis Schaeffer, No Little People (Crossway, 2003), 14

Presuming on Grace

R. C. Sproul, reflecting on Luke 13:1-9:
I wonder if we really are amazed by grace? I think we express more amazement at God's wrath than at His mercy. We've come to the place, I think, in our religious thinking where we assume that God will be merciful, that God will be kind, that God will be gracious, and so we're not surprised whenever we experience His kindness. . . .

One of my favorite illustrations about the dilemma that we face with respect to understanding God's mercy goes back to the early days of my career as a teacher in college and seminary. One of my first teaching assignments was to teach 250 freshmen a required course on "Introduction to the Old Testament." Here I had 250 students assembled in a large lecture hall, very uncomfortable, trying to communicate with so many students at one time. I had to print up in advance the requirements for the course because I'd already learned, very quickly, that college students are all budding Philadelphia lawyers. You have to "dot your i's and cross your t's" to make sure that the assignments are clearly set forth. I gave them a published syllabus and told them what their requirements would be. I said, "We have three very small papers, book report type things, that are required during this semester. The first one is due at noon on September 30, the on second October 30, and the third on November 30. Now here's the way it goes: I want these finished, on my desk at 12:00 noon on the appointed times unless you are physically confined to the hospital or the infirmary or there is a death in the immediate family." We had to spell out all this sort of thing for the college students. I said, "Does everybody understand the assignment?" They said, "Oh, yes indeed."

So, September 30 came around and 225 of my students brought their papers in and presented them dutifully at the proper time. 25 of these poor souls had failed to complete their assignments and they were scared to death. These were freshmen, just making the transition from high school and they were in a posture of abject humility. They said, "Oh Professor Sproul, please don't give us an 'F' for this grade." I had told them that if they didn't get their paper in on time they would get an "F" for that assignment. They said, "Please give us some more time, give us one more chance." They were begging me for grace, for mercy. They wanted an extension. I said, "Okay, I'll give you an extension. But don't let it happen again. Remember the next assignment is October 30. I want those papers on time." They said, "Absolutely. They will be there."

October 30 came around. 200 of my students came and put their term papers on my desk. 50 of them were now assembled outside in terror because they hadn't planned their time properly, and were not prepared. So once again these students came to me pleading. They said, "Oh Professor, we didn't budget our time properly. It's mid-term, we have so many assignments all coming in at the same time, so many pressures, it's Homecoming. Please give us just one more chance." They begged me with earnest faces and I was a soft-hearted guy and I said, "Okay, okay. I'll give you one more chance, but don't let it happen again." You know what they did? They began to sing spontaneously, "We love you Prof. Sproul, oh yes we do." So I was the most popular professor in the school for 30 days.

But 30 days later the third paper came due. This time 150 students came into the classroom with their papers prepared and the other 100 came in as casual, as cavalier, as you can imagine. They didn't have their papers, they weren't worried in the slightest, and I said to them, "Where are you term papers?" They said, "Hey Prof, don't worry about it. We'll have it for you in a couple of days, no sweat." I stopped them right there in their tracks and I took out that dreadful little black book and I took out my pen and I said, "Johnson, where's your term paper?" He said, "I don't have it Professor." So I wrote an "F" in the book. "Greenwood, where's your paper?" "I don't have it, sir." I put "F" in the book. What do you think was the response of those students? Unmitigated fury. In one voice they called out, "THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

I said, "What was that? Johnson, did I just hear you say that's not fair?" He said, "Yes, that's not fair." He was furious. I said, "Okay. I don't ever want to be thought of as being unfair or unjust. Johnson, it's justice that you want?" He said, "Yes!" I said, "Okay, if I recall, you were late the last time, weren't you?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Okay. I'll go back and change that grade to an 'F'." So I erased his passing grade and gave him an "F." I said, "Is there anybody else that wants justice?" Nobody wanted justice. Do you see what has happened here? The first time they were pleading with me in utter, pathetic humility, and I said sure. The second time they begged. By the third time, not only did they begin to assume mercy, but they began to demand it. They assumed now that I was obligated to be gracious to them.

Friends, that's what we do with God.
This essay was brought to my attention by Bruce Ware in the wonderfully helpful post assembled by Justin Taylor, which lists a selection of helpful essays, with links, as recommended by some of today's evangelical leaders. I encourage readers to bookmark the page and work through several of the pieces that catch your eye. It is rich.

That Forest of Spears

B. B. Warfield, commenting on Phil 2:5-8:
God can feel; God does love. We have Scriptural warrant for believing, as it has been perhaps somewhat inadequately but not misleadingly phrased, that moral heroism has a place within the sphere of the divine nature: we have Scriptural warrant for believing that, like the old hero of Zurich, God has reached out loving arms and gathered into His own bosom that forest of spears which otherwise had pierced ours.
--'Imitating the Incarnation,' p. 6

20 December 2010

A Model of Public Discourse

Our brother Denny Burk alerts us (via Russell Moore) to a fascinating hour-long conversation between two articulate Princeton University profs, conservative Robby George and progressive Cornel West.

1. I have never viewed anything like this. It is generally hard for me to rise beyond ambivalence toward today's cross-party dialogues, but this is a striking exception. Have you ever viewed such mutual respect and brotherly disagreement between two public intellectuals? There is a whole tone to the conversation of which moments such as 59:20-40 are just one example. A joy to watch. The discourse here involves no straw men or ad hominem attacks or yelling or braggadocio, and almost no interruption. A model for left and right alike. Can someone send this to both Bills, O'Reilly and Maher?

2. Both men appear to be believers (George a Roman Catholic and West a Baptist). This alone, though often implicit in this dialogue, gives significant overlap and sharing of foundation that would not otherwise be there.

3. As an example: I was surprised and encouraged to see both men make frequent reference to the image of God. In a conversation the thrust of which is the basis for human rights and civil justice, at several points each appealed to the imago dei and the dignity, honor, and inherent worth that comes solely from that, and which is true of all humans. Amen.

4. At times many of us who have been so helped by Piper and others may cringe when these two men (especially George) emphasize that humans are the end, not the means. No! we respond. God is the end. True enough. But let us be discerning and distinguishing here. The alternative to humans being the end, with which they are disagreeing, is not God as the end but the system. They are not saying: people are the ultimate end, not God. They are saying: people are the ultimate end, not the economic or political system. With this we can happily agree.

5. At key moments, nevertheless, massive questions were raised that cry out for an explicitly biblical answer, an answer that economic systems simply cannot provide. The two men both spoke more than once of the fact that people are 'cracked vessels,' implicitly endorsing a biblical understanding of sin. Good. Yet in the 36th minute when George asks where the greed and misery comes from he answers, 'the loss of faith in human beings as being anything more than material beings.' Cornel West, for his part, repeatedly argued that the current market-system fails because it promotes human greed.

To both I would say that the only final answer to these problems is the gospel. Perhaps both believe this and it simply was not appropriate in this venue to voice it? Still, to George I would say: Fundamentally, we do not need to lift our eyes from seeing humans as material creatures to creatures with souls. We need to lift our eyes from seeing humans as material creatures to creatures with souls gone horribly wrong. To West I would say: the blame for human greed as channeled through market capitalism is not the market system itself any more than a computer itself is to blame when a man hacks into bank accounts and steals money while online. The computer channels the problem, and the right computer with the right online checks in place will greatly alleviate the problem. But what is needed is a change of heart on the man's part.

My comments do not, of course, answer the question of which system is better. But I do not believe this question can be finally and meaningfully answered without recourse to the Christian gospel.

As Lewis (whom both men admire) has taught us, we need democracy not because every human is so good that he or she deserves a say but because every human is so bad that none of us may be entrusted with unchecked power. Certain economic structures and social systems may either accelerate or ameliorate societal problems, and let us have instructive, civil engagement about such things as is appropriate. But the final answer is for the government to be upon his shoulders (Isa 9:6).

6. It is truly remarkable to hear West self-consciously ignore the fate of the unborn as he fights to rescue the poor and helpless and defenseless. Like a Coast Guard diver self-consciously ignoring those who can't swim at all as he fights to rescue those who can only doggy paddle.

Warfield to His Seminary Students

From his 1911 address 'The Religious Life of Theological Students,' in the course of commenting on the great privilege of spending all day studying the Bible in all its glory and technicality:
The very atmosphere of your life is in these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God!

Do you know what this danger is? Or, rather, let us turn the question--are you alive to what your privileges are? Are you making full use of them? Are you, by this constant contact with divine things, growing in holiness, becoming every day more and more men of God? If not, you are hardening!

And I am here today to warn you to take seriously your theological study, not merely as a duty, done for God's sake and therefore made divine, but as a religious exercise, itself charged with religious blessing to you; as fitted by its very nature to fill all your mind and heart and soul and life with divine thoughts and feelings and aspirations and achievements. You will never prosper in your religious life in the Theological Seminary until your work in the Theological Seminary becomes itself to you a religious exercise out of which you draw every day enlargement of heart, elevation of spirit, and adoring delight in your Maker and your Saviour.
The whole thing can be read online. Justin quotes another stirring excerpt.

The Wrath of God

Mark Twain, after reading Jonathan Edwards:
Edwards' God shines red and hideous in the glow from the fires of hell, their only right and proper adornment. By God, I was ashamed to be in such company. (quoted by Gerald McDermott here)
The Bible:
'As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you. I will gather you and blow on you with the fire of my wrath, and you shall be melted in the midst of it. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you shall be melted in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the LORD; I have poured out my wrath upon you.' (Ezek 22:20-22)
Mark Twain should have seen where his real problem lay.

When we are born again, we are turned into people

Doug Wilson, reflecting on Jesus' late-night talk with Nicodemus--
Regeneration is not an esoteric doctrine. It is not something we are allowed to postpone discussion of until later. It is the sine qua non of being able to discuss anything later. If a man is not born again, he will not be able to see the kingdom, much less sit down in that kingdom to learn the things that Jesus said were so far beyond us now.

This is because when we are born again, a dramatic miracle happens. When we are born again, we are turned into people.

Italics original.

19 December 2010


Francis Chan:
I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn't be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. . . .

There was a time when I got excited over a crowd showing up to hear me preach, but those days are long gone. Now I deeply desire that the Spirit of God would do things that I know are not of me and that cannot be faked or accounted for by human reason.
--Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (David Cook, 2009), 142

18 December 2010

Possible to God

What though I cannot break my chain
Or e’er throw off my load,
The things impossible to men
Are possible to God.

Bound down with twice ten thousand ties,
Yet let me hear Thy call;
My soul in confidence shall rise,
Shall rise and break through all.

Thou canst o’ercome this heart of mine,
Thou wilt victorious prove;
For everlasting strength is Thine,
And everlasting love.
--Augustus Toplady (1740-1778), 'What Though I Cannot Break My Chain'

17 December 2010

'Doctrine is in order to life'

--B. B. Warfield; quoted in Fred Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010), 562

Elsewhere Warfield wonderfully elaborates:
If such be the value and use of doctrine, the systematic theologian is preeminently a preacher of the gospel; and the end of his work is obviously not merely the logical arrangement of the truths which come under his hand but the moving of men, through their power, to love God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves; to choose their portion with the Saviour of their souls; to find and hold Him precious; and to recognize and yield to the sweet influences of the Holy Spirit whom he has sent.

With such truth as this he will not dare to deal in a cold and merely scientific spirit, but will justly and necessarily permit its preciousness and its practical destination to determine the spirit in which he handles it, and to awaken the reverential love with which alone he should investigate its reciprocal relations. (ibid.)
Richness of doctrine, richness of experience. Mutually reinforcing.

Duane Litfin's Charge to Phil Ryken

At the installation of Wheaton's new president, here's how the former president opened his charge. Before you read it, consider--with five minutes and one thing to say to Wheaton's next leader, what would you say?
My exhortation for you, Phil, is so simple that at first blush it sounds like not much more than a cliche. But on the basis of my seventeen years as Wheaton's president, I can assure you it is no such thing; it is the very opposite of a cliche. My charge to you is: Make your presidency an exercise of love.

In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul offers up some of the most profound observations to be found anywhere in Scripture. I have learned over my tenure at Wheaton--sometimes the easy way, sometimes the hard way--that what the Apostle describes in this iconic passage is precisely what Wheaton College most needs from you.
Hard to think of a more important thing to say.

16 December 2010

Ten Times Worse

A Crossway book that had until this week slipped under my radar was a little collection of nine Lloyd-Jones sermons on the psalms called Seeking the Face of God.

The first sermon is on Psalm 14 and the theme that 'the fool says in his heart, "there is no God."' It is an apologetically driven sermon arguing for why God is a very reasonable belief and that it is fools who deny him, not fools who believe in him.

In the second sermon Lloyd-Jones does something interesting. He goes to Psalm 50 to show a complementary truth. In Psalm 50 the problem is people showing up to offer sacrifices when their hearts aren't in it at all. This is another kind of fool, though more insidious and self-deceived. Lloyd-Jones kicks off his series on the psalms in this way to show with a one-two punch that while God-denying pagans are fools, God-affirming churchgoers whose hearts are not engaged are even greater fools.

He says:
It may surprise some of you to hear me, a Christian preacher, saying a thing like this, but I am almost persuaded that the chief problem today is not the problem of people who say there is no God and who are in the world. It is the problem of people who go to the house of God in a purely technical manner. They go there, but why? Because it is the thing to do. They attend a church as a matter of duty.
Just when I begin diagnosing in my mind people I know who do this, Lloyd-Jones rightly says:
God knows, we have all been guilty of this; we may still be guilty.

Why do we come to God's house? What really is the character of our worship when we come to analyze it? Is it not true that in exactly the same way as God's people of old, we feel that we gain merit by doing it?

Probably thousands of people still go to church on Sunday morning, and then they are finished; and they have done it, as it were, so they can go and do anything else they like now--write family letters, play games, read the Sunday newspapers, look at the television, watch some exciting thing here or there. They have been to church on Sunday morning, and that is all.

That was exactly the position of these children of Israel. It was formal, it was mechanical. . . .

Let me repeat: Ten times worse than being outside and saying, 'There is no God at all' is going to God and to His house in a formal manner only.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms (Crossway, 2005), 32-33

You Must Be Born Again

Words from Stephen Charnock, 300 years ago, that could have been written today:
If regeneration be so necessary, then how much to be lamented is the ignorance of this doctrine in the world? And strange and sad it is that it should be so little considered. The common talk is of serving God and reforming the life, but who of a thousand speaks of the necessity of a new nature? It is a sad case that, when a doctrine is so clear, men should be so stupid and deludingly damn themselves; that they should be so sottishly ignorant of this who have Bibles in their hands and houses, yet not understand this, which is the great purpose for which God even sent the Scripture among the sons of men.
--The Doctrine of Regeneration (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board, 1840), 84-85

A New Commentary Guide

This looks like a helpful resource: John F. Evans' A Guide to Biblical Commentaries & Reference Works (9th ed.), published by Doulos Resources. Evans teaches in Nairobi, Kenya.

He surveys commentaries, commentary series, and other biblical research tools up through 2010. He also provides recommendations for a small personal reference library of biblical resources as well as a large one.

A few endorsements:
"John F. Evans’ A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works is an indispensable handbook for scholars, preachers, and serious students of the Bible." --Hassell Bullock, Wheaton College

"Evans' A Guide to Biblical Commentaries and Reference Works is an indispensable handbook for scholars, preachers, and serious students of the Bible." --Gary Burge, Wheaton College

"Evans' annotations of the NT commentaries are very impressive. My New Testament seminary students need this book. This will be immensely helpful for their research on papers and for deciding which commentaries to buy for their future pastorates." --Robert Cara, Reformed Theological Seminary

"It is exceptionally well done and far better than anything else I have seen! The introductory material is excellent. It seems to me to be something that will help a lot of students and pastors, and even professors!" --Donald Hagner, Fuller Seminary
Purchase options are: $14.95 through the rest of 2010 ($16.95 in 2011) in print edition, or a PDF of the book for $8.95 (permanently). For a 20% discount off the print edition or 10% off the PDF, order the book at Doulos Resources eStore and add this code:
The book has a website with more information here.

A Vigorous and Masculine Delight

John Smith, 17th century Cambridge theologian, commenting on Proverbs 3:17:
Religion [= authentic Christianity] is no sullen stoicism or oppressing melancholy, it is no inthralling tyranny exercised over those noble and vivacious affections of love and delight, as those men that were never acquainted with the life of it may imagine; but is full of a vigorous and masculine delight and joy, and such as advanceth and ennobleth the soul, and does not weaken or dispirit the life and power of it, as sensual and earthly joy so, when the soul, unacquainted with religion, is enforced to give entertainment to these gross and earthly things, for the want of enjoyment of some better good.
--Select Discourses (London, 1821; originally published 1660), 448

HT: Wilson Kimnach

15 December 2010

The Opposite of Biblical Christianity

Ken Wilber, a 'mind-blowing' author according to Rob Bell:

A few things:

1. This guy couldn't be more Kantian if he tried. In all the ways we don't want to be like Kant.

2. The lady whispering 'I-am-ness' at 3:09 is both laugh-worthy and tear-worthy.

3. The reference to Exodus 3:14 is a hijacking of what that text, and the whole biblical revelation of God, means.

The epistemology, anthropology, and theology propounded here is the opposite, the precise opposite, of biblical Christianity.

I might add a fourth comment--what Ken needs to hear from the Christian community is disagreement with compassion, not disagreement with scorn.

HT: Theoblog

Owen: Gospel Doctrine, Gospel Experience

John Owen:
When the heart is cast into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth; . . . when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the things abides in our hearts; when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for--then shall we be garrisoned, by the grace of God, against all the assaults of men.

And without this all our contending is, as to ourselves, of no value. What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense of sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? . . . Let us, then, not think that we are any thing the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel . . . unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him.
--quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 217-18

The Most Amazing Verse in the Bible

According to our brother Sam Storms.

14 December 2010

Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Five observations.

1. Fifty years ago in Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray explained that our salvation includes both what happened 2,000 years ago (historically) and also what happens today (existentially). There is both a 'then' and a 'now' to our salvation. Galatians 2:20 brings them both together. 'Christ gave himself for me' and 'the life I now life in the flesh I live by faith.'

2. As in Romans 6, just as Jesus died and was raised, those in union with Jesus have died and been raised. As Richard Gaffin put it: if the apostle Paul were to host a 21st century prophecy conference, and in the Q&A someone asked when the resurrection of the dead would take place, Paul would answer: it's already begun. Jesus is the firstfruits, the first installment, the initial ingathering of a great and inevitable harvest, and we have died and been raised in him. Not by sight, but by faith.

3. So personal! '. . . who loved me and gave himself for me.” Charles Wesley exulted in how intimately personal this text is. A disciple of Jesus doesn’t just say John 3:16 (God loved the world) but also Galatians 2:20 (God loved me).

4. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is dying. It is a ‘faith-death.’ It is casting ourselves on Christ and his work on our behalf, releasing all self-production, self-parading, self-performance, self-striving, self-accumulations, self-securities; abandoning the frantic, furious anxieties of both selfish disobedience and selfish obedience, for liberating surrender to Jesus. If you’re living with fears and bondage, there is one relevant question. Have you died? Later in Galatians Paul will say that 'those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh and its passions' (5:24). Not: those who belong to Christ have confessed, or struggled against, or wounded the flesh and its passions. They have crucified these passions. Crucified.

5. But it is a death-unto-life. '. . . the life I now live . . .' Faith-death leads to a faith-life. The only life worth living. The only life that is truly life.

Halfway Christianity Is Miserable

I am renewed in re-reading this, from Dad reflecting on his dad, from a few years ago.

Justification and Regeneration

A recent book that may slip under most of our radars is Charles Leiter's Justification and Regeneration. Leiter is a pastor in Kirksville, Missouri, here. The book was published last year by Granted Ministries (which offers to give their books away on a pay-as-you-can basis). It treats both justification and regeneration from an evangelical and Reformed perspective, though the title is a bit misleading as about 90% of it is about regeneration.

Leiter writes clearly and founds all he says on Scripture. He is not prolix but tidy, and is particularly good at using illustrations. Another strength is the way he self-consciously places both justification and regeneration within the broader soteriological rubric of union with Christ, a salvific framework which I believe is not only richly biblical but also under-recognized. It was good to see Justin Taylor's reminder of the importance of union with Christ a few days ago.

While Leiter does a good job of explaining the radical newness of regeneration--something that we do not hear enough about today--the book suffers from a general over-optimism that fails to truly grapple with ongoing sin in the life of the Christian. Also, the book is overitalicized and over-exclamation-marked! The stupendous subject matter, to be sure, calls for exclamation, so doubtless this critique is in part due to the coldness of my own heart in being annoyed. Another weakness is a few unjustified and unfortunate swipes at the NIV (pp. 91, 93) that, along with the general tone, gives the book a bit of an entrenched, tribalistic feel.

But I'm glad I read the book and would commend it to others for use in the local church.

13 December 2010

'He could have made new ones cheaper'

--Puritan Thomas Goodwin, reflecting on Christ's love for his people, which met us when we were God's enemies and died to restore us as God's friends; quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, 208

Happy 156th, Herman! See You Soon

Today is Herman Bavinck's birthday. He was born December 13, 1854. (Thanks, Tony Reinke)

In tribute to the man who has meant as much to me the past year and a half as any other dead guy, I want to pass along a fascinating vignette from Ron Gleason's wonderful biography that has just been published.

Herman was significantly influenced by his father (who of us isn't?), Jan, who was gifted for pastoral ministry but as a young man lacked the money to get the necessary theological training. Gleason recounts:
The pressing desire to become a minister on the one hand and the very obvious lack of the necessary financial means to reach that goal on the other hand created a conflict and an obstacle for which Jan saw no solution. Clearly, if he were to pursue theological studies, something very unusual would need to happen to resolve the problem for him. Nothing short of divine intervention as needed.

Seeing no answer to the financial dilemma, Jan took an apprenticeship position in a nearby village to help pay the bills and feed the family. Three years would pass before God would intervene. The opportunity Jan had been patiently waiting for came very unexpectedly on January 17, 1845, and it was a monumental event in his life.

On that cold winter day . . . the congregations of the Hannover region held a classis meeting (the Reformed counterpart to a Presbyterian presbytery meeting). There were 22 delegates present at the home of a local farmer. . . . At this particular meeting, Pastor Sundag informed the brothers that he could no longer physically bear the arduous preaching responsibilities alone and asked the classis to appoint a candidate from the churches to receive [paid-for] instruction in theology with a view to preparation for service in the pastoral ministry. After many years of faithfully preaching to numerous congregations, Sundag was in desperate need of rest.

Though sympathetic to Sundag, the classis hesitated in granting his request. They were unsure about their ability to find a suitable candidate. They decided to vote on the matter of moving forward with Sundag's request. When the vote was tallied, there was a tie--eleven to eleven! The men then knelt in prayer and asked the Lord's guidance in casting a lot to decide the matter. They called in one of the girls who was helping to serve and prepare meals and asked her to draw the lot. The slip of paper she drew read, 'For.' With the decision made, the men of the classis began to discuss their choice of a candidate.

Five candidates had informed the classis they were interested in theological studies. . . . Three of the candidates were eliminated during further discussion in the meeting. Two candidates remained: Frederik Huisken and Jan Bavinck. After more intense discussion and detailed interviews of both candidates, the classis move to a vote concerning the choice of the candidate. Once again, the vote was a tie--eleven to eleven. The young woman from the kitchen appeared again to break the tie by lot. Our 'mysterious young lady' chose the slip of paper on which was written the name 'Bavinck.'

This act of God's providence carried out by a simple, young woman from the kitchen whose name has remained unknown gave Jan Bavinck the opportunity for which he had been waiting and longing. It opened the door for him to begin his theological studies. It was an event that would profoundly affect the course of Dutch church history.
--Ron Gleason, Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian (P&R, 2010), 10-12

11 December 2010

Whitefield's 1740 Letter to Wesley

Fascinating letter from Goerge Whitefield to John Wesley (HT: Borrowed Light). You'll remember that both these Englishmen were used mightily by God in the eighteenth century revival, and both were Anglican (turned Methodist) in terms of their ecclesiastical convictions, with much overlap in their theology. While Wesley is commonly regarded as the father of Methodism, Dallimore's magisterial 2-volume biography argues that Whitefield is more accurately seen as its founder, despite Wesley's undeniable organizational genius and ecclesial entrepreneurialism.

They differed, however, on some key soteriological matters. In this letter Whitefield seeks to convince Wesley of the errors of his Arminianism. (See Iain Murray on the background to the letter here.)

Note the tone with which Whitefield writes: brotherly, courteous, mourning over the need to disagree, mindful of his own fallibility. Loving. 'I am sure,' writes Whitefield at one point, 'I love you in the bowels of Jesus Christ, and think I could lay down my life for your sake; but yet, dear Sir, I cannot help strenuously opposing your errors upon this important subject.'

This is a model for us, brothers.

One bit especially struck me. Whitefield responds to Wesley's charge that election destroys the foundation for love and humility by saying,
Dear Mr. Wesley perhaps has been disputing with some . . . narrow-spirited men that held election, and then he infers that their . . . narrowness of spirit was owing to their principles? But does not dear Mr. Wesley know many dear children of God, who are predestinarians, and yet are meek, lowly, pitiful, courteous, tender-hearted, kind, of a catholic spirit, and hope to see the most vile and profligate of men converted? And why? Because they know God saved themselves by an act of his electing love, and they know not but he may have elected those who now seem to be the most abandoned. . . .
I beg you would observe that your inference is entirely set aside by the force of the Apostle's argument, and the language which he expressly uses in Colossians 3:12-13: 'Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering . . .'

Here we see that the Apostle exhorts them to put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, etc, upon this consideration: namely, because they were elect of God. And all who have experientially felt this doctrine in their hearts feel that these graces are the genuine effects of their being elected of God.

Read, consider, and grow, with me, into maturity.

Can I Be Saved amid Continued Moral Failings?

Loads of wisdom here from our friend David Powlison.

10 December 2010

Ed Welch on Addiction, Fear, and Depression

'Addiction is about love.'

On fear:

And some final seasoned wisdom from our brother and teacher on depression.

Owen's Last Letter

From John Owen's last letter, dictated the day before he died in 1683--
I am going to him whom my soul hath loved, or rather who hath loved me with an everlasting love; which is the whole ground of all my consolation.
--quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 2010; repr.), 351 n. 64

Botanical Biblical Theology

God placed mankind in a fruitful, lush garden, out of which he was kicked (Gen 2-3).

At important points in the developing story we hear of a world-tree (Dan 4) and a vine with many branches (Ezekiel 17), and of a coming Branch who will sprout from David’s line and restore God’s people (Isa 11; Jer 23; 33; Zech 6).

Christ arrives on the scene and not only teaches that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that becomes a huge tree (Mark 4:30–32) but also declares himself to be the vine (John 15:1), in whom we bear fruit. And along the way of faith, we are beset with 'thorns' (2 Cor 12:7-10) that ultimately make us more, not less, fruit-bearing (John 15:2).

Could it be that the very reason there is such a thing as botany--the very reason there is such a thing as a tree--is so that God might give one more picture to his people of his great salvation?

Only One Motive

An excerpt from a 1984 letter by the late Jack Miller, Philadelphia pastor and father of the wonderful Sonship ministry/movement and then World Harvest Mission--
What I finally came to as I walked and prayed for you is the old, old story of getting the gospel clear in your own hearts and minds, making it clear to others and doing it with only one motive--the glory of Christ.

Getting the glory of Christ before your eyes and keeping it there--is the greatest work of the Spirit that I can imagine. And there is no greater peace, especially in the times of treadmill-like activity, than doing it all for the glory of the Lord Jesus. Think much of the Savior's suffering for you on that dreadful cross, think much of your sin that provoked such suffering, and then enter by faith into the love that took away your sin and guilt, and then give your work your best. Give it your heart out of gratitude for a tender, seeking, and patient Savior. Then every event becomes a shiny glory moment to be cherished--whether you drink tea or try to get the verb forms of the new language.
--C. John Miller, The Heart of a Servant-Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (ed. Barbara Miller Juliani; P&R, 2004), 22

Staying Fresh When Life Is Hectic

Some excellent wisdom from this handsome chap (Gen 3:15b comes to mind), youth pastor here, on remaining fresh before the Lord and alive to his purpose and grace while handling the overwhelming busyness into which our lives tend to snowball.

A few excerpts I found helpful:
Am I living in my gifting and visiting my areas of weaknesses, or am I living in my weaknesses and only visiting my gifting? If we never step outside of our comfort zones and work on things we are not naturally good at, we become lopsided and eccentric. But living in our weaknesses is not sustainable over the long haul. . . .

God is calling me into a new season of life, in which I will not get to read as much as I would like, and as much as I have in the past. I can truly say that I embrace that calling with joy, because I will now learn in new ways (like how to lead, and how to preach), and the point of life is not knowledge, it's Jesus. As I surrender my passions for study to Christ and his purposes for me, I find life opening in new ways and am conquering old fears and experiencing true joy. . . .

There is a difference between starting out the day with the peace of Christ guarding my heart, and starting out the day rushing at my tasks like William Wallace rushing at the British with a battle axe. . . . [N]ot walking out my front door down to my office until I have thoroughly reflected on the fact that my sins are forgiven makes a difference. There is fresh energy in that reality every day. If it seems stale, I think about who God is to forgive, and what sin has been forgiven, and how it came to pass that it could be forgiven, and what joys I know because it is forgiven. It makes the difference for the rest of my day.
I am instructed, encouraged, and even a bit rebuked.

The whole thing is worth reading and reflecting on.

09 December 2010

Packer: How He Got Writing in the 1950s

A delightful personal recounting of how he got going writing books.

If he be thine enemy, it is no matter who is thy friend

Richard Baxter, Puritan pastor and author:
Consider that he is almighty, and there is no resisting him. . . . If he be thine enemy, it is no matter who is thy friend; for all the world cannot save thee, if he do but condemn thee. . . . [T]hy life is always in his hands, thou canst not live an hour without him, thou canst not fetch a breath without him, nor think a thought, nor speak a word, nor stir a foot or a hand without him . . . no love can be great enough, and no praises can be high enough, and no service can be holy and good enough for such a God.
--Richard Baxter, Works, II:589; quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 2010; repr.), 168-69

The Unwritten Code

In Tolstoy’s 1869 novel War and Peace, a story of early nineteenth-century Russia under threat of invasion by Napoleon, an unimpressive second lieutenant named Boris Drubetskoi searches out the socially significant Prince Andrei. Requesting the prince’s whereabouts from other officers, Boris receives only condescending snubbing from these military superiors. Boris enters a room and discovers Prince Andrei impatiently listening to an older, much-decorated Russian general who wants desperately to win Andrei’s attention and favor. The prince, however, is finding himself bored with this over-eager general and, upon noticing Boris, promptly leaves the general and, with relief on his face, sidles over to Boris for a more enjoyable chat.

Tolstoy writes:
Boris at this instant clearly understood what he had suspected before, that in the army there was, above and beyond the fact of subordination and discipline as laid down in the code, and which they in the regiments knew by heart, and which he knew as well as anyone else—there was another still more essential form of subordination, one which compelled this anxious general with the purple face to bide his time respectfully, while Captain Prince Andrei, for his own satisfaction, found it more interesting to talk with Ensign Drubetskoi. More than ever Boris decided henceforth not to act in accordance with the written law, but with this unwritten code.
It does not require military experience to know exactly what Tolstoy is describing. The 'unwritten code' offers acceptance, welcoming, approval. Such approval is powerfully intoxicating when extended and painfully crushing when withheld.

In the gospel of grace, the power that this unwritten code exerts on all of us is unmasked and exposed as the fraud that it is. For the gospel declares that we are, already, and apart from any social prerequisite we bring to the table, in. This is poignantly clear in Luke's Gospel, where time and again the outsiders of the day are welcomed by Jesus and the insiders of the day are alienated. What Boris needed was not the unwritten code; he needed the Gospel of Luke. As do we.

--Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (trans. Nathan H. Dole; 4 vols.; New York: Crowell, 1932), 1:301; HT: C. S. Lewis, 'The Inner Ring'

Tozer: The Source of True Unity

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
--A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Camp Hill, Penn.: Christian, 1982), 80.

God's Goodness

Exactly six months ago I started working for Crossway. It has been one more remarkable gift of grace to me. I shake my head at how kind God has been.

At least four times just this week Stacey and I have wondered aloud at the goodness of God in bringing me here. It's not the new earth, we're all screw-ups, and when I walk in the door the Crossway sin-ometer rises. But I don't deserve to work with these people. Thought I admired them before; having seen it on the inside, that admiration has escalated. It's an unusual company.

God trains-with-hardship (paideuo) those he loves, and he will do that for me, as in some small ways he already has. But serving here has not been part of that.

08 December 2010

Apologetics for the 21st Century

I'm enjoying Louis Markos' new book, Apologetics for the 21st Century. Thank you for this book, brother!

I find myself more at home in a presuppositionalist apologetic approach, whereas Markos endorses a more evidentialist approach (e.g. 105-6). And at times some bits on hell made me cringe (e.g. 60). But it is a wonderful exploration of the apologetics of C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, and Francis Schaeffer, explaining in very accessible terms how these writers argued for Christianity and then bridging their arguments into contemporary discussions such as the new atheism. Outstanding.

I commend the book and thank Louis for serving us in this way. It would serve well as a book to work through with, say, a small group of college students as part of a campus ministry.

Here's a nice excerpt that is representative of the flavor of the book. Markos is discussing Lewis' argument for the existence of God and heaven in light of human desire.
In the conclusion of his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis, expanding on his argument by desire, offers what I consider the finest apologetic for the immortality of the soul. Is it not odd, Lewis asks, that we are continually surprised by the passage of time? We see someone we have not seen for years and are surprised to see that he has grown; we find it impossible to believe that the children we bore have 'suddenly' matured into adults and left us to start their own families. . . .

Given the fact that we have never known anything but past, present, and future and that time is the element in which we live, it is strange indeed that its passage should come to us as a perpetual surprise. Our continual shock at its passage, Lewis suggests, is tantamount to a fish being surprised by the wetness of water. That, of course, would be a strange thing, since water is the element in which a fish lives out its existence.

But it would not be a strange thing if that fish were destined someday to be a land animal. If our surprise at the passage of time teaches us one thing, it is this: we were not made for time but for eternity, for another mode of existence in which all abides in a perpetual present. (p. 27)

To Whom I Owe

I serve You and worship You that I may be happy in You, to whom I owe that I am a being capable of happiness.
--St. Augustine, Confessions; quoted in David Naugle, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans, 2008), 21

Learning to Lead as Followers of Jesus

Some nice video clips from our friends at Covenant Seminary of a long-running weekday morning Bible study hosted at the seminary. Teachers of this particular study sequence are Bob Burns, Brad Matthews, David Chapman, and Greg Perry.

Come to Jesus

Adoption: Pitied, Protected, Provided For

Westminster Confession of Faith 12.1:
All those that are justified, God vouchsafes,
in and for His only Son Jesus Christ,
to make partakers of the grace of adoption,
by which they are taken into the number,
and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God,
have His name put upon them,
receive the spirit of adoption,
have access to the throne of grace with boldness,
are enabled to cry, Abba, Father,
are pitied, protected, provided for,
and chastened by Him as by a Father:
yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption;
and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

A Test of Spiritual Vitality

Being amazed by God's grace is a sign of spiritual vitality. It is a litmus test of how firm and real is our grasp of the Christian gospel and how close is our walk with Jesus Christ. The growing Christian finds that the grace of God astonishes and amazes.
--Sinclair Ferguson, By Grace Alone: How the Grace of God Amazes Me (Reformation Trust, 2010), xiv

07 December 2010

A Thought on 1 Corinthians

Is there not an implicit affirmation of living in light of the gospel every day as believers in the fact that 1 Corinthians is the letter where Paul says he resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified (2:2), yet it is also the letter that addresses a greater amount of practical, every-day church matters than any other?

Paul not only resolutely knew nothing but Christ, evidently, but also resolutely handled things like sexual immorality, lawsuits among believers, marriage, idol-meat, the Lord's Supper, head coverings, speaking in tongues, the bodily resurrection, fundraising.

Isn't this evidence that to handle such everyday things well is a result of, not an alternative to, gospel-centeredness?

No Other Rest

We should come to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was willing to be disfigured from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, covered in wounds, whipped time and again, who bore the crown of thorns, who was nailed up on the cross, whose side was pierced. This is how we are healed; this is our true medicine with which we must be content and to which we must lend our affection, knowing that never in any other way can we find rest, but that we would be tormented and tortured to hell if Jesus Christ did not console us and appease the wrath of God toward us.
--John Calvin, preaching on Isaiah 53:4-6

The Center of the Old Testament

Bruce Waltke:
[T]he center of the OT, the message that accommodates all its themes, is that Israel’s sublime God, whose attributes hold in tension his holiness and mercy, glorifies himself by establishing his universal rule over his volitional creatures on earth through Jesus Christ and his covenant people.
--An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan, 2007), 144

Not Called to Channel Another Preacher

A good word for young preachers, teacher and writers from our friend Yancey Arrington. An excerpt:
In this world of podcasts, sermon downloads, and online messages, many a young preacher is exposed to different styles of preachers he admires. If he isn’t careful, that healthy admiration in front of the computer can turn into an unhealthy imitation behind the pulpit.

We aren’t called to channel another preacher through us, but to rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

This doesn’t mean you can’t learn from other preachers. On the contrary, you can and should. Just be careful you are learning from other preachers in order to be a better you, not a poorer version of them.


06 December 2010

The Question of Questions for Preachers

Our brother Zack Eswine:
I was reminded today of an old out of print volume by a forgotten preacher. The English is old but the question for us who preach is paramount.

"The habit of regarding sermons as mere works of art, is hardening both to preacher and hearer; making the former an iron automaton that speaks mechanically; the latter a leviathan to which 'sling-stones become stubble.' The question of questions is this: Dost thou O, Spirit of Life, deny, or dost thou vouchsafe thy gracious presence? For without Thee the greatest of our sermons will be but little better than the Fisherman's sword, or the Son of Thunder’s prayer for lightning; but with Thee, the smallest of our preachments will be an authentic successor of the apostle Peter's Pentecost sermon, and thus mightily serve to fulfill the Patmos visions of St. John the Divine. Enable us then, first of all, to answer this life-and-death question."

The life and death question in his mind was this: 'Is the Spirit of Jesus with us in our preaching or isn’t He?' If the answer is no, then our preaching is nothing more than human art, empty of any other purpose or power. If He is, then even the weakest of our preachings can become, in His hands, the power to change a soul and a generation.

Carson, the Gospel, and Q&A

A combustible triad! Helpful stuff here from Donald Arthur Carson from a recent Coalition event in Los Angeles.

Justification: Instinct with Life

Machen, 1925:
I am not at all ashamed to speak, even in this day and generation, of 'the doctrine of justification by faith.' It should not be supposed, however, that that doctrine is an abstruse or intricate thing. On the contrary it is a very simple thing, and it is instinct with life.

It is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul--the question: 'How shall I be right with God; how do I stand in God's sight; what what favor does he look upon me?'

There are those, it must be admitted, who never raise that question; there are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men, but never with the question of their standing before God; there are those who are interested in what 'people say,' but not in the question what God says. Such men, however, are not those who move the world; they are apt to go with the current; they are apt to do as others do; they are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race.

The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men, and becomes interested in the judgment of God.
--J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, 163

05 December 2010

An Ocean without Shores or Bottom

Edwards, commenting on 'the God of all comfort' in 2 Cor 1:3--
There is no true comfort to be found anywhere else but in God. There are a great many other things that men hope to find comfort in. They seek it in riches. They seek it in luxury and in sensual pleasures, but 'tis not to be found in any of these things. God is that spring from whence issues the pure stream of comfort where the thirsty may satisfy their longing souls and the weary may find rest. This fountain is an ocean without shores or bottom, enough to satisfy the most capacious and enlarged desires.
--Jonathan Edwards, 'That God Is the Father of Lights,' in The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (B&H, 2003), 350