31 October 2008

Reformation Day

Today is Reformation day: the day Luther nailed his blistering theses to the Wittenburg church door.

Join me in pausing at some point today and thanking God for re-awakening his people 500 years ago to the shocking and humiliating and life-giving depths of the gospel, a re-awakening without which my own heritage, my own family, and my own life would doubtless be covered over in moralizing confusions to this very day.

Saviour King: Acoustic

"Hope which was lost now stands renewed."

"As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double." --Zech 9:11-12

30 October 2008

Giving Away All We Own?

Robert Gundry on the rich young ruler and the mistaken conclusion that every Christian must sell all he or she has (Zacheus, remember, sold half of what he had, not all, and was commended by Jesus--the issue is, do you use your wealth, be it however great or small, for kingdom purposes):

That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.

--Matthew: A Commentary (1982), 388, quoted in Craig Blomberg, Matthew, in NAC, 299

28 October 2008

Alcorn: Pro-Children

What would you think if a politician said "I'm not pro-rape, I'm simply prochoice about rape. And though I would not choose to rape a woman, I believe that every man should be free to rape a woman if that is his personal choice." And what would you do if that politician promised the rape lobby that if he is elected president, the "first thing I would do" is to sign legislation that would invalidate all the state laws that restrict rape in any way?

Grateful for Randy Alcorn's penetrating reflection regarding the upcoming election.

HT: Monergism

Machen: Christianity and Liberalism

Carl Trueman's recommendation in a recent Themelios was the final motivation I needed to pick up Christianity and Liberalism, Machen's plea for self-describing Christians to recognize the worlds-apart difference between (supernatural) Christianity and (de-supernaturalized) Liberalism/Modernism. Read it on a plane to and from Mexico and, though I would certainly not call it the second most important book a theological student could read, I loved it. Now I'm working through Ned Stonehouse's biography, the style of writing of which is not my taste, but is opening up Machen to me as, of course, no one else would be able to do (Stonehouse was a student and then colleague of Machen's at Westminster).

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

[T]he things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending. (8)

Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith. (51)

Human affection, apparently so simple, is really just bristling with dogma. (55)

Christian experience is rightly used when it helps to convince us that the events narrated in the New Testament actually did occur; but it can never enable us to be Christians whether the events occurred or not. (72)

When we come to see that it was no mere man who suffered on Calvary but the Lord of Glory, then we shall be willing to say that one drop of the precious blood of Jesus is of more value, for our salvation and for the hope of society, than all the rivers of blood that have flowed upon the battlefields of history. (128)

And finally, a statement that stands in direct contrast to some recent Christians writers emphasizing the love of God to neglect of God's wrath:

Religion cannot be made joyful simply by looking on the bright side of God. For a one-sided God is not a real God, and it is the real God alone who can satisfy the longing of our soul. (134)

27 October 2008

Sacred Joking

It is absolutely useless and absurd to tell a man that he must not joke about sacred subjects. It is useless and absurd for a simple reason: because there are no subjects that are not sacred.

-G. K. Chesterton, Lunacy and Letters, quoted in R. F. Castleman, "Surprise, the Essential Nature of Grace," Them 31 (2006): 77

15 October 2008

Out For A Week

I am taking one week off from blogging and will resume, Lord willing, Wed, Oct 22.

14 October 2008

The Doctor: Life in the Spirit

Another musty volume inherited from my grandfather that I dusted off this week, reading it when I just can't bring myself to plow through the latest NT monograph convinced works of the law equals social boundary markers, is Lloyd-Jones' Life in the Spirit. It is a series of sermons on Eph 5 and 6 preached at Westminster Chapel in 1959-60. The first five sermons are on more general "life in the spirit," from 5:18, "do not get drunk on wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit." Then he goes into the more specific applications to husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves.

These opening sermons are dynamite. I have not myself been able to get much profit out of listening to Lloyd-Jones. Bores me to tears. I just can't pay attention. It's no one's fault but mine. But reading him is invariably profitable. I would even say exhilarating, at least at this point in my development. I find myself thinking this week, in fact, that I have been largely neglecting and sidelining the reality of the Holy Spirit in my life. God helping me, that ends here and now.

Here's one quote from the first message, entitled "The Stimulus of the Spirit." As applicable in 2008 Wheaton, Illinois as it was in 1959 London, England. Ponder this and apply it to your own heart.

[M]orality is in many ways the greatest enemy of Christianity. It is your good moral men who today are the greatest enemies of the Cross of Christ; and therefore they are to be denounced. Christianity is not mere morality, or the absence of certain things in the life of man. There is nothing, surely, that does greater harm to the Christian faith than just that view of it. I am emphasizing this point because I am increasingly convinced that so much in the state of the Christian church today is to be explained chiefly by the fact that for nearly a hundred years the church has been preaching morality and ethics, and not the Christian faith. It is this preaching of the 'good life', of being 'a good little gentleman', and of viewing religion as 'morality touched by emotion' . . . that has been the curse. Such men have shed the doctrines; they dislike any idea of atonement, they dismiss the whole notion of the miraculous and the supernatural, and ridicule talk about re-birth. Christianity to them is that which teaches a man to live a good life. . . . (p. 19)

12 October 2008

Machen on (Post?)Modernism

This afternoon I picked up Machen's What Is Faith? - mainly because of the smell. It's the original 1925 edition, with a bland, dark blue cover, browning pages and the smell of a musty 1940s office in some conservative church. Which is exactly where it sat--I inherited it from my grandfather who was a pastor from the 40s to the 80s.

The striking thing is not how outdated the book is, though, but how relevant. It is remarkable how well-worn some trends within evangelicalism are despite the appearance of innovation, creativity, and freshness.

For instance, Machen describes Modernism like this:

Obviously this temper of mind is hostile to precise definitions. Indeed nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than an insistence upon definition of terms. Anything, it seems, may be forgiven more readily than that. Men discourse very eloquently today upon such subjects as God, religion, Christianity, atonement, redemption, faith; but are greatly incensed when they are asked to tell in simple language what they mean by these terms (13-14).

It is remarkable that the next snippet is describing not the postmodern but the modern mind. I've been taught that, with standout exceptions like Schleiermacher, this was most emphatically not what Modernism was, but here's a testimony from someone who lived and breathed it, having tasted it in both America and Germany (Marburg, no less!):

The depreciation of the intellect, with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in which men neither know anything nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion . . . (23)

Or how about this one, remarkably similar to what we hear in today's pluralistic age:

Theology, it is said, is merely the necessarily changing expression of a unitary experience; doctrine can never be permanent, but is simply the clothing of religious experience in the forms of thought suitable to any particular generation. (28)

And finally, on the ecumenical ethos of the day that hates controversy and avoids it at all cost - the last sentence is the quote of the week for me:

Loyalty to church organizations was being substituted for loyalty to Christ; Church leaders who never even mentioned the centre of the gospel in their preaching were in undisputed charge of the resources of the Church; at board meetings or in the councils of the Church, it was considered bad form even to mention, at least in any definite and intelligible way, the Cross of Christ. A polite paganism, in other words, with reliance upon human resources, was being quietly and peacefully substituted for the heroism of devotion to the gospel. (40-41)

I conclude: postmodernism must be studied and understood by today's church leaders. But it must not be overemphasized. Fallen humanity probably errs in predictable historical cycles. Machen can help us here. In reading him, I not only understand his time better, I understand my time better.

11 October 2008

Edmund Clowney:

"You have to see, ultimately, the book of Lamentations as Christ's cry from the cross."


--Q+A on redemptive-historical preaching

Isaiah 65 Proleptically

Great pictures, Sam.

"The wolf and the lamb shall graze together . . ."

Good Guidelines...

...for blogging etiquette.

Gospel Coalition Conversation

Fascinating hour-long conversation, in 6 segments, between Carson, Piper and Keller posted this week at Facebook from the Gospel Coalition gathering this past April (don't need to be a facebook member to view).

10 October 2008

Third Use

The third use of the law sees the law--God's commands, the imperatives of Scripture--as a sign-post, not an engine.

Moule on Rom 10:3

"For not knowing the righteousness of God and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to the righteousness of God . . ." H. G. C. Moule writes:

They aspired to acceptance. God bade them submit to it. In their view, it was a matter of attainment; an ascent to a difficult height, where the climber might exult in his success. As He presented it, it was a matter of surrender, as when a patient, given over, places himself helpless in a master healer's hands, for a recovery which is to be due to those hands alone, and to be celebrated only to their praise.

--p. 267, italics orig., of his 1896 Romans commentary, handed down to me from my grandfather's library last year.

Yarbrough: Salvation Historical Fallacy

Finally finished digesting this fascinating book. Here are a few representative quotes that penetrate to the heart of Yarbrough's burden.

A definition of salvation history:

Salvation history is the totality of reality seen as history which interprets ostensibly immanent phenomena as the historically visible expression of God's personal sovereign purpose. (113)

A quote about Oscar Cullmann, perhaps the main proponent (along with Albertz and Goppelt) of a salvation historical approach to NT theology in the 20th century:

Cullmann argues . . . from New Testament evidence that "the announcement of redemption cannot be separated from the history of redemption itself." This general line of argument is to be found also in Hofmann, Schlatter, and Cullmann. . . . A result of his conclusion is, in contrast to prevalent views in new Testament criticism which separate New Testament faith from its historical moorings, to bring faith and cognitively apprehensible data back into mutual proximity. Just because the New Testament message is theologically appraised, this does not mean that its temporal or historical dress is superfluous or even detrimental to understanding it aright. The message of the New Testament books is bound up inextricably in their time-conditioned mode of transmission. Their theological content is of a piece with the historically conditioned expression of it. (208)

A strikingly relevant statement by Cullmann on the impotence of Bultmann and de-historicized neo-Kantianism in serving the church and transforming people. Cullmann speaks of

the danger that one is concerned only to speak in the contemporary idiom, and in doing so does not strive to preserve unadulterated the message itself at every transposition into a modern form of expression. Whenever one does not continually take such pains, it comes about that Christians, instead of proclaiming to the world the message which is strange to it, say to the world only that which they already say, and in part say better. Our witness of salvation in Christ should be understandable to the world, but it should truly remain a witness. In this way the world will more likely prick up its ears than if we say to it that which it already knows apart from us. (257)

A fascinating statement from Albertz on the counterintuitive nature of NT theology (quotes are Albertz's, italics are mine):

Albertz sees implicit in the New Testament message a consistent theme, namely that "the divine wisdom shatters the wisdom of man." The parables, e.g., "distance themselves immeasurably from rational deliberation"; again and again Jesus' message is "that God, contrary to expectations, is totally different than that which men in their cleverness imagine." Jesus' teaching and proclamation comprise "the overturning of [human] wisdom." Albertz concludes: "Intrinsic [to grasping the New Testament message] is that all of Jesus' wisdom sayings seek to be understood as revelation and speech of a divine wisdom which transcends and inverts human wisdom." (308-9)

I'm now reading the second volume of Goppelt's New Testament theology (1982) for follow-up, which is helpful, though not as much as I'd hoped--but, thankfully, extremely brief and to the point (too brief at times), since it is simply his teaching notes put in published form on account of his early death.

09 October 2008

Gathercole: Works of the Law

This sentence is worth the price of the book in Gathercole's Where Is Boasting? in commenting on Rom 3:27f and 9:30f (disagreeing that 'works of the law' should be limited to circumcision, sabbatarianism, and food laws)--

Israel did not focus on certain commandments at the expense of others but rather on the commandments at the expense of faith in the promises.

--p. 229

08 October 2008

McKnight on McLaren

Scot McKnight's reflections in the latest CT on Brian McLaren's two most recent books, The Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change, is very good. Though I disagree that Willow Creek and Saddleback show trends of the emerging church (the EC is, in part, a reaction against precisely the kind of large, slick, de-iconized, corporate-feel megachurch these two congregations embody), I found the rest of the essay right on. Dr. McKnight rightly swallows the meat and spits out the bones, as an old seminary prof of mine would say. As one whose first instinct is to spit out everything when I read McLaren, I found the article helpful. (If you want to know what McLaren says in the 2 books, just get one--they say the same thing.)

Here's the best section, commenting on McLaren's portrait of the cross.

Emergents believe that penal substitution theories have not led (as they should have) to a kingdom vision. What I have been pondering and writing about for a decade now is how to construct an "emerging" gospel that remains faithful to the fullness of the biblical texts about the Atonement, and lands squarely on the word kingdom. [French philosopher Rene] Girard said something important about the Cross; so does McLaren. But they aren't enough.

The most stable location for the earliest understandings of the Cross, from Jesus all the way through the New Testament writings, is the Last Supper—and not a word is said there about violence and systemic injustice. Other words are given to explain the event: covenant, forgiveness of sins, and blood "poured out for many." Insight into the Cross must start here. In fact, I question whether a cross that only undoes violence is enough to create liberation, peace, and a kingdom vision. Can McLaren's view of the Cross create the emergent understanding of kingdom?

07 October 2008

Mike Ovey Interview

Mike Ovey, head of Oak Hill College in London, on his vision for the school:

We want to be a college which is known for its students growing in faith. Faith is an interesting idea. It captures, in its biblical sense, both knowledge and trust. It’s something that involves both the head and the heart and so we want to be a college where people are grounded, confirmed and increased in what they know of God and his will through his word, but where their hearts and affections are correspondingly warmed towards him. Faith involves both.

It would be wonderful if our graduates took out into the churches where they are working that kind of faith: clear heads that know the truth and hearts that are passionate about Jesus and making him known.

Here's the whole thing.

Single-Issue Voting

Sarah Geis:

An inexcusable justification for Obama support is rapidly gaining popularity. Those who adopt this commonly championed yet false case that abortion is no more important than other issues must be set straight, especially during a political campaign as monumental as this. Hip, trendy, and deliberately contra-Religious Right, the argument typically takes this form:

Abortion is a single-issue.
Single-issue politics is naive and wrong.
Therefore we should not vote based upon the abortion issue.

I agree with the whole (short) post.


Joseph and Success

The LORD was with Joseph . . . (Gen 39:2)

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love . . . (Gen 39:21)

. . . because the LORD was with him. (Gen 39:23)

I tend to see God's presence in my life in direct proportion to the success I experience (as I naturally, intuitively, in my silly fallen way, define 'success'). I am learning, as I read through Genesis these days, that there is probably an inverse proportion between the felt success of my life and the Lord's presence. God was with Joseph--therefore he suffered.

So conspicuous in word and deed in the early chapters of Genesis, God seems to have disappeared throughout the Joseph story. But this story is teaching me that God's silence is not equivalent to his absence. God's felt silence is, in a strange way, confirming of his presence.

Dunn Responds

James Dunn has responded to Richard Bauckham on the question of eyewitness testimony and oral tradition in the Gospels.

06 October 2008

Two Kinds of Repentance

The false penitent is driven. The true penitent is drawn.

--Jonathan Edwards, "God Stands Ready to Forgive Any Sinner upon his Heartily Confessing and Forsaking his Sin," in The Blessing of God: Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards, p. 143

03 October 2008

Preaching Lectures

Dad's three messages from Southern Seminary's preaching lectures are available. I have found them all to be extremely helpful. Deconstructive in all the right ways, upbuilding in all the right ways. If you teach or preach the Bible or are preparing for doing so, I cannot think of a more fundamental--and counterintuitive--message than what Dad says, especially in his first and third lectures.