29 February 2008

Hillsong: From the Inside Out

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." --Matt 23

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." --Ezek 36

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead..." -1 Pet 1:3

28 February 2008

Above All Corruption

Read this today in Edwards' sermon 'Christ Exalted', and grateful for it as I am working my way through a period of snowballing pride in my life:

Here is matter of exceeding great encouragement for all sinful miserable creatures in the world of mankind, to come to Christ. For let them be as sinful as they will, and ever so miserable; Christ, in the work of redemption, is gloriously exalted above all their sin and misery.

How high soever their guilt has risen, though mountains have been heaping on mountains all the days of their lives, till the pile appears towering up to heaven, and above the very stars; yet Christ in the work of redemption appears gloriously exalted above all this height. . . . Though they see dreadful corruption in their hearts; though their lusts appear like giants, or like the raging waves of the sea; yet they need not despair of help; but may look to Christ, who appears in the work of redemption, gloriously above all this corruption.

Longer title: Jesus Christ Gloriously Exalted above All Evil in the Work of Redemption

22 February 2008

Bricks without Straw

Today I read Exodus 5, about Moses and Aaron first confronting Pharaoh and the order to make bricks without straw. There's a remarkable lesson there, to which I know I will return in future years.

Moses was unalterably, unequivocally, irrefutably called to this job to bring God's people out from Egypt. But the first attempts to do so resulted in complete and utter failure. On first attempt, in fact, things got worse. Pharaoh ordered that the Hebrews make the same amount of bricks, but with no straw provided; they must gather it for themselves. Israelite leaders are beaten for not making quotas.

The lesson? Initial failure in a task is no measure of calling. In fact, things may get worse. Immediate results are to be gauged appropriately, not ignored. But they are quite secondary. They are not definitive. They are largely irrelevant. What must Moses have been thinking by the end of Exodus 5?

The answer? Faith and patience. Christ is enough. The promises aren't going anywhere.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6:11-12)

21 February 2008

Hillsong United: Fire Fall Down

(former video expired)

Why the Spirit?

Well, one massive reason is in 1 Corinthians 2:12:

But we have not received the spirit which is of the world but the Spirit which is from God, in order that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

I am a charismatic wannabe - I pray regularly for tongues, e.g. (and have not yet received it!). I have no doubt that God heals miraculously today; every day, I suspect. And so on. But what those of us who love the supernatural working of the Spirit in his more visibly startling manifestations must remember is that the NT paints a portrait in which these things are secondary: not irrelevant, not to be ignored, but secondary (note 1 Cor 13). The gifts of the Spirit must never eclipse the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). Better to be a loving cessationist than a proud charismatic. (But of course, best of all to be a loving charismatic!)

And I love how Paul puts it here in 1 Cor 2. The reason we have received the Spirit, he says, is in order that we might understand grace. The Spirit illumines the gospel. Pneumatology is for theologically-informed doxology.

Is it not possible for us to be truly born again Christians, experiencing the full manifestations of supernatural gifts in our lives, but be living largely moralistically, not living in wonder at the gospel? That was probably a problem in Corinth (1 Cor 12-14!). That is definitely a problem today.

God grant us a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, in both fruit and gifts--in that order.

20 February 2008

"Faintest spark of trust"

God's ardor for [his people] is in no way diminished, and whenever the faintest spark of trust appears in them, his breath is there to fan it into flame.

-John Oswalt, Isaiah (NICOT), 1:665.

18 February 2008

The Impotence of Liberal Theology

An ER clip for pastors and all Christians. Hardly ever do we find the ultimate questions being asked in brutal honesty on television. Here is a powerful exception. I couldn't have drawn the script up better myself.


14 February 2008

Corinthians and Galatians

I started reading 1 Corinthians today. Chapter 1 is, for me, one of the most powerful portions of Scripture.

A thought struck me as I read it: In spite of the Corinthians' extreme worldliness, utter pettiness, they receive a glowing commendation in the opening paragraph of the letter. (That's a point worthy of reflection in itself--Pastor Paul, knowing full well from reports from those in Chloe's household of the silliness and divisiveness in Corinth, nevertheless looked for the good among the people there! There is a mound of practical pastoral and relational wisdom there. The most difficult people we know need us to point out to them the islands of beauty in them. C.J. Mahaney has helped me see this.)

But what struck me today is the contrast between 1 Cor and Galatians, which opens up with Paul lambasting the "foolish" (3:1) Galatians. The remarkable thing here is that if you and I were to spend a few weeks visiting the Galatian church(es), and then headed west for a few weeks in Corinth among the church there, outward appearances would suggest precisely the opposite letter introduction was called for.

The Galatians had it together. They were moral people. They were intelligent. They were all on the same page. They were scrupulously pressing on for more faithfulness, more obedience. They had their ethical ducks lined up. And they had even managed to hang on to the best parts of Judaism, like circumcision (please note sarcasm).

The Corinthians, on the other hand, were a mess. I spent a year of my life trying to understand 2 Corinthians, and it is just remarkable how dysfunctional these people are. From 1 Cor 5 we know a man was sleeping with his dad's wife, and the Corinthians had no problem with it. They're also claiming various apostles as their own--"I am of Paul, I am of Apollos," etc. In 2 Cor 10-13 Paul comes at them with both barrels blazing and just lets them have it.

But how does he open Galatians? With unequalled rebuke. How does he open Corinthians? With warm commendation.

I note: the Corinthians got lots of things wrong. Sexuality, finances (2 Cor 8-9), the relative importance of dreams and visions, strife and division. In Paul's words, not many of them were of noble birth. But despite all the problems, they got one thing right: the gospel. The Galatians, on the other hand, got lots of things right: obedience, meticulous morality, powerful sacrifice (they would have given Paul their eyes if need be, 4:15). But they got one thing, the most important thing, wrong: the gospel.

You and I are getting a lot of things wrong today, only a fraction of which we are aware. But let's make sure we get one thing right: the counterintuitive gospel, which declares that any attempt to help out our standing with God only infects that standing rather than helping it.

10 February 2008

NPP: 7 Pillars

Though I'm still new to the discussion, I see seven broad characteristics uniting those advocating the "New Perspective on Paul," better labeled either the New Perspective on Judaism or the New Perspectives on Paul.

1. Against a widely accepted reading of Second Temple Judaism as a religion of legalistic works’ righteousness, Second Temple Judaism is understood as fundamentally a religion of grace, inducting one into the people of God solely by God’s merciful election and thereafter providing means of atonement for transgressions.
2. An appreciation for Paul’s burden for unity among Jews and gentiles rather than Jewish exclusivism must be renewed.
3. Misplaced reliance upon Jewish social identity markers are the heart of what Paul sees as problematic with the Judaism by which he is surrounded and to which he responds (especially in Romans and Galatians).
4. The Reformation provided and promulgated an unsatisfactory reading of Paul, mistakenly viewing Paul either in light of existential anguish over a stricken conscience or through the lens of sixteenth-century Roman Catholicism rather than that of true first-century Judaism.
5. Interpreters of Paul must assiduously avoid reading both Paul and ancient Judaism through modern Western society’s over-individualized bias rather than in the strongly corporate categories in which Paul and his fellow-countrymen actually thought.
6. Romans 9-11 is reestablished as integral, if not climactically central, to Romans.
7. Post-Holocaust ethnic sensitivities must be kept in mind when reading Paul, especially in light of some anti-Semitic pre-Holocaust Pauline interpretation.

08 February 2008

God of This City

A new Passion CD is out: God of This City (Feb 5, 2008). Amazon has a sampler of the songs.

Calvin: Zeal according to Knowledge

This morning I discovered the following statement from Calvin, which expresses so well the fueling conviction of this blog. Commenting on Acts 18:25 (about Apollos being “fervent in spirit” as he preached), Calvin writes that Apollos

was inflamed with a holy zeal to teach. Doctrine without zeal is either like a sword in the hand of a madman, or else it lies still as cold and without use, or else it serves for vain and wicked boasting. . . . Therefore, that doctrine shall be unsavory which is not joined with zeal. But let us remember that Luke puts the knowledge of the Scripture in the first place, which must be the moderation of zeal, for we know that many are fervent without consideration, as the Jews did rage against the gospel, by reason of a perverse affection which they did bear toward the law. . . . Therefore, let knowledge be present that it may govern zeal.

Knowledge fueling zeal; non-doctrinal zeal, on the other hand, suspicious. Yes!

06 February 2008

Huckabee: Ephesians 5

This is one more reason why I respect Mike Huckabee and would love to see him in the White House, as well as why he will never get there.

Stott: Reasserting a Biblical Anthropology vis-a-vis NPP

In light of recent discussions on this blog I was frascinated to rediscover this statement from John Stott last night, from p. 29 of his Romans commentary in The Bible Speaks Today series (emphasis original):

[O]ur fallen human nature is incurably self-centred, and pride is the elemental human sin, whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self-righteousness. If we human beings were left to our own self-absorption, even our religion would be pressed into the service of ourselves. Instead of being the vehicle for the selfless adoration of God, our piety would become the base on which we would presume to approach God and to attempt to establish a claim on him. The ethnic religions all seem to degenerate thus, and so does Christianity. In spite of the learned literary researches of E. P. Sanders, therefore, I cannot myself believe that Judaism is the one exception to this degenerative principle, being free from all taint of self-righteousness. As I have read and pondered his books, I have kept asking myself whether perhaps he knows more about Palestinian Judaism than he does about the human heart.

Someone buy that man a drink.

05 February 2008

Carson: Pastor as Son of God

D. A. Carson's talk on "The Pastor as Son of the Heavenly Father" from this morning's pastor's conference in Minneapolis is up.

Best quote: Dr. Carson paraphrasing Jesus to the Pharisees in John 8: "Let me tell you who your daddy is."

04 February 2008

Augustine: Holiness Lost

The holiness of the chaste perishes one way if they commit adultery; it perishes another way if they become proud.

--Augustine, Sermons, 354.4

03 February 2008

C.J.: Galatians 3

Just an excellent message on the opening verses of Galatians 3 by C.J. Mahaney.

I am thankful for the many things I have learned from the New Perspective(s), but this message, in my opinion, goes far deeper, is more faithful to the mind and heart of the apostle, and is vastly more helpful, than anything I have yet read by advocates of the New Perspective on Galatians 3.

Our problem is not, fundamentally, exclusivism. That is a symptom of something far deeper and more hideous. I'm becoming more and more convinced of this.

Immanuel Church: Nashville

Ah ha! The website for a very exciting young church is finally up. And makes me want to put some coffee on.

02 February 2008

Two Kinds of Sermon Listening

I'm thinking, as my own hyper-critical attitude has been brought to my attention as I listen to sermons (or lectures, but especially sermons), that there seem to be two ways to listen to a sermon: external and internal. Critical (yes, yes, beyond the appropriate doctrinally critical eye one must always have turned on) and incarnational.
I tend to be the former. I want to be the latter (which is how I would want people to listen to me!). External listening analyzes, stands over, deconstructs, gauges, judges, and compares. Internal listening submits, sits under, exercises humility, receives, refuses to self-justify, and heeds no matter how incompetent the preacher or how mature the listener. The external listener stands outside the message; the internal listener gets inside it.

If we were all internal, incarnational listeners, the most famed preachers could learn and be edified by the most struggling seminarian, while the struggling seminarian would not despair in the light of, but receive the encouragement of, the famed preachers. Pride and discouragement would both be dealt with in one blow, and all would sit together under God's Word as little children, irrespective of worldly accolades and theological degrees.

Calvin: Our Relentless Enemy

Rediscovered this today in the Institutes:

We have been forewarned that an enemy relentlessly threatens us, an enemy who is the very embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare. We must, then, bend our every effort to this goal: that we should not let ourselves be overwhelmed by carelessness or faintheartedness, but on the contrary, with courage rekindled stand our ground in combat. Since this military service ends only at death, let us urge ourselves to perseverance. Indeed, conscious of our weakness and ignorance, let us especially call upon God’s help, relying upon him alone in whatever we attempt, since it is he alone who can supply us with counsel and strength, courage and armor.

Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.13.

Mark 4 - Seeds

As you have doubtless caught on, I'm reading Mark these days!

I was reflecting on the parable of the sower in mark 4 and thinking that the second and third seeds are precise opposites. The first is the seed on the path which Satan steals. The second is seed on the rocky ground, which doesn't survive difficulties. The third is seed around which thorns come up. The last seed is fruitful.

The second seed is fruitless because of difficulty; the third seed is fruitless because of ease. One is barren due to "afflictions and persecutions," the other due to "the cares of this world."

It is not difficult for me to recognize which of these is a greater personal danger.

01 February 2008

Boice: Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism overestimated what it could do in five years and underestimated what it could do in twenty years.

--James Montgomery Boice, as quoted by Mark Dever, Together for the Gospel panel discussion, 2006 (video available here)

Bultmann: Boasting

Bultmann got a lot of things wrong. But he got a lot right, too. As I've been reading him for the first time in any sustained way in recent days, I find his understanding of Paul much more satisfying than Sanders, Dunn, and co. For example:

The attitude of sinful self-reliance finds its extreme expression in man’s ‘boasting.’ It is characteristic both of the Jew, who boasts of God and the Torah (Rom. 2:17, 23), and of the Greek, who boasts of his wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-31). It is also a natural tendency of man in general to compare himself with others in order to have his ‘boast’ thereby (Gal. 6:4).

--New Testament Theology, 1:242

Yes: there is a universal human tendency toward moral self-establishment of which Sanders appears to be completely ignorant, as much as he has helped us all in putting away once and for all a distorted, one-sided view of Early Judaism.

Gospel Coalition Interviews

Fascinating and encouraging series of interviews of those associated with The Gospel Coalition.

Mark 3 - Lord, Liar, Lunatic?

Many of us grew up being taught C. S. Lewis' famous argument for the deity of Jesus that he could not have been merely a "good teacher" - someone who said the kinds of things he said could only be one of three things: a lunatic and therefore insane, a liar and therefore evil, or Lord and therefore God incarnate. These are our only options.

I noticed that in Mark 3 we seem to have all three options presented to us as the readers.

In v. 11, the unclean spirits who see Jesus confess "You are the Son of God" (Lord).

In v. 21, Jesus has gone home and when a crowd gathers his own family decides, "He is out of his mind" (lunatic).

And in v. 22, the scribes assert, "He is possessed by Beelzebul" (liar/evil).

I recognize that since Lewis' time, and even the generation before, a fourth option was often taken: legend. Sure, some have said, if Jesus said the things the Gospels record, we was either a Lord, a liar, or a lunatic--if Jesus said the things the Gospels record. So in one sense this is far from a fool-proof argument.

Still, it makes the very important point that Jesus did not come merely to teach. As Pascal said, if Jesus came merely to teach, he has done nothing except erect a standard none of us can come anywhere near. But he did not come merely to teach, but to make us what he teaches we should be. His ministry is not only didactic; it is transformational. Not only external, but internal.

Finally, I note: his family got it wrong. The religious PhD's of the day got it wrong. The devils of hell got it right.