29 September 2006

JE on Zeal

I'm reading Edwards again these days and also thinking about zeal in the thought of the apostle Paul, specifically in Romans 10:2. It was fun to read this today and see the two come together. And it's another good statement of the kind of thing I would like to promote through this site.

Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from the information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light or actual knowledge. The child of God is graciously affected, because he sees and understands something more of divine things than he did before, more of God or Christ, and of the glorious things exhibited in the gospel; he has some clearer and better view than he had before, when he was not affected: either he receives some understanding of divine things that is new to him; or has his former knowledge renewed after the view was decayed: Rom. 10:2, “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.”

--Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, Part 3, Sign #4

27 September 2006

Bock: Emerging/Emergent

As of Sept. 22, Darrell Bock has completed his review and diagnosis of 9 traits of the Emerging Church. An excellent discussion.

Luke Timothy Johnson: The Dual Failures of Evangelicalism and Liberalism

John Armstrong cites a penetrating statement by Luke Timothy Johnson (right), a biblically faithful catholic NT scholar at Emory, on the failures of both evangelical conservatism and theological liberalism. It resonates with me partly because of what I posted below about human trafficking.

"[Conservatives] pay a remarkable amount of attention to some small point of self-definition, compared to the attention they give to the heart of the gospel. Worse, they are often preoccupied with external signs of conformity but neglect the evidence of abuse and corruption around them. The classic example is their public opposition to sexual immorality accompanied by their blindness toward economic injustice. And because they set their boundaries by what is nonessential rather than what is essential, they repel those outside (and some of those within) who despair at their consistent habit of straining the gnat while swallowing the camel.

"At the other extreme, some groups lack any real sense of boundaries. They do not answer the question 'What does it mean to be a Christian?' clearly, and offer little sense of what is demanded of the individual Christian. They have explicitly or implicitly assimilated to the world of Modernity, have resisted the creation of strong boundaries in favor of openness to the world, and have aligned themselves politically with the forces of change within culture rather than with the forces of resistance. They define Christainity in terms of acceptance and inclusion, and regard boundaries as barriers."

Here's a link to Johnson's book from which the quote is taken, The Creed.

26 September 2006

Sex Trafficking and Truth

A series of circumstances has opened my eyes on repeated occasions recently to the reality and horror of child sex trafficking. It is no longer an isolated problem in Thailand. New York, Philadelphia, and Boston are becoming hubs too. And I'm wondering how to help. Somehow I want to team with Justice for Children International. Watch this introductory video they've done and see if it hits you as it did me.

This ministry, the Lord is showing me, is the kind of thing true theology fuels. Love for people. Compassion. This is the point of doctrine: that it might flow into the head (to be understood), down into the heart (to be enjoyed), and out through the hands (to be lived). It is a tragedy that theological liberals have historically outdone the evangelical church in fighting injustice--a tragedy because they are doing it on a defective foundation. They do not love the truth, I think to myself.

I wonder if the greater tragedy is that those who do love the truth have stood by. But I do not wonder who is closer to the heart of Jesus. Maybe we need a new definition of truth. Or maybe we conservatives just don't know him who said he is the truth as well as we thought.

". . . let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth . . ."

25 September 2006

Broadus: Calvinism

At the end of a post on Calvinism in the SBC, Tom Ascol, director of Founders Ministries, writes that John Broadus defined Calvinism as "that exalted system of Pauline truth which is technically called Calvinism, which compels an earnest student to profound thinking, and when pursued with a combination of systematic thought and fervent experience, makes him at home among the most inspiring and ennobling views of God and the universe He has made."

I love this definition both because it speaks of the importance of "fervent experience" joining hands with sound doctrine, and also because it reminds us in the last phrase that Calvinism is not so much about constructing a rational, systematic, well-oiled machine consisting of 5 interlocking elements as it is about seeing God in Scripture as supreme over all and allowing that to trickle down into theological particulars.

SBC Legalism?

In January, Illinois pastor Steve McKoy wrote a good letter to his fellow Baptists regarding the existence and dangers of legalism. All of us seminarians and young pastors would be wise to reflect on what he says and what we see reflected in our hearts and denominations (for me, the Presbyterian Church in America). Though it is most visible in the SBC right now due to the alcohol controversy, every Christian is a recovering legalist and every denomination is prone to this infection.

At the same time, I am thankful for the Lord's mercy in helping much (not all) of the PCA see and love the centrality of grace for life and ministry.

Also, as the Lord frees us from our legalistic impulses and mindsets and liberates us to engage culture as Jesus desires (and exemplified) in ways that are incarnationally culturally relevant while unapologetically theologically precise, it would be the supreme tragedy and irony if, in doing so, we pridefully look down on older, traditional, culturally aloof congregations or denominations. Such an attitude would be proof that we had not, in fact, elevated grace as central, but rather our understanding of grace as central. And that's an error difficult to detect.

21 September 2006

JE's Not-So-Blank 'Blank Bible'

Two of our brothers at the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale created a JE blog back in March of this year. They are offering a 20% discount on all the (expensive!) Works, including the most recent installment (vol. 24), Edwards' 'Blank Bible' (pictured), in which he filed thin paper leaves between the pages of a Bible and made personal comments on the entire Scripture throughout his life from 1731 onward. It is over 1,400 pages and $200 at Amazon. The JE blog also has an interesting 6-minute video clip explaining this publication, as well as the section on Galatians in PDF form.

This publication is testimony, I think, to Edwards' 28th resolution:

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

Bock on Emerging/Emergent

Darrell Bock is in the midst of seeking to understand and respond to 9 emphases of the Emerging Church as described by emergers themselves (Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger). It is a very helpful discussion. He's completed 7 of the responses, taking them one at a time.

11 September 2006

"The Cranial and the Cardiological"

This morning I was listening to a series of preaching lectures by Robert Smith, associate professor of homiletics at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He said almost exactly the reason why this blog exists. In the midst of a series of lectures on the preacher as both an "exegetical escort" (head) and a "doxological dancer" (heart), he remarks:

"The cranial and the cardiological must be married!"

I said almost because it could have been improved by explaining that the cranial is the fuel for the cardiological; it is not only that the two must co-exist, but that they are mutually reinforcing. One cannot exist on its own any more than the light of the sun can reach us without its heat coming along, too.

But that's a minor point. I love the way Dr. Smith puts it.

To listen to the lectures, delivered at Covenant Seminary in Fall 2005, click:

Here for Lecture 1;
Here for Lecture 2;
Here for Lecture 3.

Substance, Style, and Compromise: Engaging Culture as the Church

As I continue reflecting on the emergence of Emergent and company, and how I will lead in the local church in the coming years as God gives opportunity, I am continually confronted with my own reactionary traditionalism which is set in its own ways to the neglect of engaging culture as Christ would have me. So I'm trying to get a framework for ministry which is both faithful and relevant, remembering Mark Dever's comment (see below) that the fundamental dividing live among pastors today is between those who pursue relevance and assume faithfulness and those who pursue faithfulness and assume relevance (the latter of which I myself am breaking free from).

Here is where I am right now: As regards substance, no compromise. As regards style, every compromise.

To use Dever's categories, no compromise on faithfulness but every compromise on relevance. In theology dogmatism, in practice latitude. In what we believe, hold fast; in how we express that belief, hold loosely.

Practically, then, we must allow no drifting in things essential. We must clearly teach from the pulpit penal substitutionary atonement; justification by grace alone through faith alone; the centrality of the glory of God; the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer's account; the utter sovereignty of God in all things; God's exhaustive foreknowledge of all events, including the sinful actions of will-endowed creatures; the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible; miracles and other supernatural phenomena as real in the Bible and real today; the inability of unregenerate human hearts to believe in and love Christ; God's election of his people before they are born and have done anything good or bad; Christ's death as savingly effective for these, his people; the inevitable willingness and desire of the human heart to cherish and live for Christ in the wake of God turning their heart of stone into a heart of flesh; and the necessary final entrance into God's glorious presence of those who have had such heart surgery.

In substance, no compromise.

On the other hand, we must allow every freedom in things peripheral, or non-essential. For the sake of our unbelieving world and culture, and in the pattern of the incarnation of Christ himself, and in the footsteps of the Apostle who became all things to all people (1 Cor 9), we must provide clear freedom for questions such as worship style; degree of liturgy involved in local church services; forms of expression (hands lifted, hands not lifted, etc.); preaching length and style (conversational, manuscript-reading, etc.); evangelism methods (one-on-one, street preaching, the degree to which a relationship must exist before presenting gospel truth, etc.); method and mode of baptism (paedo-baptism, baptistic; sprinkling, immersion; note I did NOT say that baptism is peripheral, but how it is done); water or wine, bread or crackers in the Lord's Supper; and the question of the function of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in the Church today.

In style, every compromise.

One reason this is so hard for us, I think, is that we all tend to have a bent one way or the other: we either have an inclination to never compromise, or to always compromise. One or the other is our 'default' mode of operation. Left in neutral, we inevitably slide toward either dogmatism or latitude. We all lean toward the error of either no compromise in doctrine or practice, on the one hand (pride-fueled), or the error of every compromise in practice and doctrine on the other (fear-fueled). And what I am suggesting is that we have one attitude toward doctrine/substance but the opposite attitude toward practice/style.

Maybe this sounds like ecclesiological schizophrenia. How can we have two different mindsets within one person? Shouldn't we just be content with how God has naturally wired us?

It's a good question. I've wrestled with it myself. And yes, we should praise God that he has created each of us to uniquely, in different ways, image forth his Son. But as I have reflected I am coming to see that the two are in fact inextricably joined, because if our doctrine is true, biblical substance, this itself will lead to latitude in style. Robust theology is the root, not the enemy, of liberty in practice. This is because at the heart of true doctrine is grace, a grace that gets worked out in all manner of ways practically speaking, not least in an issue like worship style in church. To sing of grace while resenting how the church is singing it is an oxymoron. If we truly live out a biblical theology, we will allow for any change in practice, in the name of cultural accommodation, so long as it does not tamper with the essentials.

Finally, then, is this in the Scripture? Yes.

"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath [style]. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ [substance]." -Col 2:16-17

"Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong [substance]. Let all that you do be done in love [style]." -1 Cor 16:13-14

Substance, no compromise: 1 Cor 8:5-6
Style, every compromise: 1 Cor 8:7-13

Substance, no compromise: Gal 1-4
Style, every compromise: Gal 5-6 (cf. "freedom," 5:1f)

God help us to be those who love sound doctrine and, as a result, allow for every freedom in how that doctrine expresses itself. In substance, no compromise. In style, every compromise.

05 September 2006

God IN ______

One of the reasons I love Jonathan Edwards is that he reminds me that life is not about God AND ______ so much as God IN ______. In other words, Christ is not one more element to fit into an already packed schedule--one more item on a growing list of priorities. Knowing Christ means seeing all of life in a new way, with new glasses. Jesus Christ gives meaning to all priorities, not only heading the list but coloring every one with new and exciting meaning. To become a Christian is, in a sense, to make all of life sacramental. "From him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom 11:36). It is not God AND job, family, sex, friends, food, rest, driving, buying a home, reading a book, drinking coffee--it is God IN these things.

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love fo God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them. --'God Glorified in Man's Dependence'

When a saint dies, he has no cause at all to grieve because he leaves his friends and relations whom he dearly loves; for he doth not properly leave them, he enjoys them still in Christ, because every thing that they love in them, and love them for, is in Christ in an infinite degree, whether it be nearness of relation, or any perfection and good received, or love in us, or a likeness in dispositions, or whatever is a rational ground of love. --'Heaven' (Miscellaneous Observations)

God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean. --'The Christian Pilgrim'