22 December 2008

Merry Christmas

No blogging this week as I'm spending the next several days with family here in Wheaton.

20 December 2008

Rutherford's Theology

Here's a fascinating-looking book about someone I know next to nothing of (HT: Ref21).

18 December 2008

The Incarnation: Blasting Our Expectations

And the word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . -John 1:14

In his opening prologue, John upends both Greek and Jewish core worldview assumptions. Greek thought assumed anthropological dualism--division between body (bad) and soul (good). Jewish thought assumed theological monotheism--one God, the Creator, who stands above creation, never to dirty himself by getting too close to it. John blasts both the Greek view of man and the Jewish view of God.

To Greeks, John says: the word became flesh. The old lines drawn between the inferior material and the superior immaterial are forever abolished. D. A. Carson comments:

If the Evangelist had only said that the eternal Word assumed manhood or adopted the form of a body, the reader steeped in the popular dualism of the hellenistic world might have missed the point. But John is unambiguous, almost shocking in the expressions he uses: the Word became flesh.

To Jews, John says: This fleshly man was somehow, himself, Yahweh. Here's how C. S. Lewis puts it:

Among the Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he has always existed. He says he is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since he was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

It is Christmas, our celebration of the incarnation. What tired old ways of thinking about God is it time for you and me to shed this year? Have we tamed God over the course of time? Perhaps it is time to let the lion out of the cage again in our heart--to frighten us when he roars at us, to melt us when he dies for us. After all, as that erudite theologian Mr. Beaver puts it, 'he's not safe--but he's good.'

17 December 2008

Google Books

Looks like Google Book Search, which I use incessantly, is getting a facelift.

16 December 2008

Mourning for Sins Begins at Home

"You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." -Matt 7:5

In passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. -Rom 2:1

And tonight I read this:
It will be but mere mockery to pretend to humiliation for the sins of the land and nation if we all the while hold our own sin as a sweet morsel under our tongues and hug it as a dear friend in our bosom. Mourning for sins begins at home. -Jonathan Edwards, p. 200 of this volume of sermons

One manifestation of pride in my life is a marked internal disparity between the speed with which I note the faults of others and the slowness with which I note my own faults. As the gospel continues to sink in, one result I want to see more of is slowness in noting the faults of others and haste in seeing my own. I am quick to note evidences of grace in my life and sins in others; I am slow to note evidences of grace in others and sin in my life.

This doesn't mean to consider others faultless. Jesus admitted my brother does indeed have a speck in his eye. But the log is the issue. When I see the sins of others, I too often remind myself how typical it is, congratulate my own avoidance of such a thing, place myself over them, put it in my mental spotlight; in truth, I rejoice at it. When I see my own sins, I excuse it, emotionally compensate for it with what I deem to be my strengths, stifle it.

In 2009 I want to be quicker to mourn my own sins and to note evidences of grace in others, and slower to note others' sins and evidences of grace in myself.

Fernando Ortega: Still Beside Me

"If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." -Ps 139:8

Two People I Love

"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God." -Heb 13:7

" . . . honor such men." -Phil 2:29

Today I give thanks to God for my pastor and his wife, Chris and Karen Hodge. Chris and Karen moved to the Chicago area two years ago when Chris took the helm at Naperville Presbyterian Church. Their stated mission at NPC is to help us "infect all people with joy in God's glory and passion to become like him." (Can you improve on that?)

I am grateful for Chris because he understands and loves the gospel; he has a big vision of God; he loves his people; he preaches God's Word rather than his own ideas; he is not a people-pleaser but a people-lover and a people-challenger. All praise to God.

I am grateful for Karen because she is able to engage others' worlds in ways most of us fail to do; she has determined that she will rejoice in the Lord whatever the circumstances; she has loved my wife in remarkable ways; she has courageously used her teaching gifts in the local church and around the country. All praise to God again.

So, Stacey and I were on a date last night and reflecting on how grateful we are for Chris and Karen, and it gives me joy to share our thankfulness for them with anyone who might stumble across this blog today.

15 December 2008

Together for the Gospel Live

Just got the Together for the Gospel Live album, on this recommendation. Wow.

The first link above gives samples of all tracks and three free downloads.

12 December 2008

The Power of the Cross

O to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain
Written on Your face,
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Ev'ry bitter thought,
Ev'ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry.

O to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

--Keith and Kristyn Getty

11 December 2008

The Key to Luke

This week in a class at church we're looking at Luke, and I hope to show that the key to this Gospel is the surprising way, possible only in the cross ('he set his face toward Jerusalem'), outsiders become insiders and insiders outsiders. Scribes, Pharisees, lawyers, teachers of the law: out. Women, gentiles, lepers, tax collectors, younger sons: in. It's all over the place. In reading G. B. Caird's little commentary, I found this helpful section:

All [Jesus'] tenderness of heart and mastery of description are called into play as he presents to us the cavalcade of witnesses who can testify to the presence of the kingdom because they have discovered in Jesus the friend and champion of the sick, the poor, the penitent, the outcast, of women, Samaritans, and Gentiles. 'Blessed are you poor'; 'bring quickly the best robe'; 'this man went down to his house justified'; 'her sins, which are many, are forgiven'; 'salvation has come to this house'; 'he gave him to his mother'; 'ought not this woman . . . to be loosed from this bond'; 'he had compassion and bound up his wounds'; 'now he was a Samaritan'; 'not even in Israel have I found such faith.' (p. 37)

We'll be focusing on the deliberate contrast between Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1-2. Both have an angel appear to them and tell them they'll be having a kid shortly. Both have reason to be surprised, as Elizabeth, Zechariah's wife, is old, and Mary is a young virgin. But Zechariah responds in disbelief, and Mary with (puzzled) faith.

The surprise is that we would have bet on Zechariah to come through as the faith-filled one every day of the week and twice on Sunday: he was a man, married, and a priest (of the Aaronic line no less), a grizzled old saint and servant who had served God all his life. And the angel met his in the temple! Mary was a woman, young, and unmarried. On top of that, for Zechariah to have a kid would have been great news. For Mary to have a kid meant disgrace, as it would appear to be the result of immorality. The insider is out, the outsider is in.

Good news for Dane Ortlund--in my best moments, I see that I, in my sin, am an unmitigated outsider, turned, in Christ, to become an insider.

10 December 2008


Just discovered this fascinating webpage and organization, with which I deeply resonate.

09 December 2008

Resources for Life

Covenant Seminary has revamped their ministry resources page. It's now called Resources for Life.

Also, many M.A. classes have been made totally free by the seminary for downloading through iTunes. A few I've benefited from are David Calhoun on Calvin's Institutes, David Chapman on NT Theology and History, and Hans Bayer on Paul.

08 December 2008

Tradition vs. Traditionalism

I think it was Jaroslav Pelikan who defined tradition as the living faith of the dead, as opposed to traditionalism, which is the dead faith of the living.

--Doug Wilson

Postmodern Conservative

I could hardly state my own epistemology better.

I would call myself a postmodern conservative. I am postmodern in that I believe that every worldview begins with specific presuppositions (Cornelius Van Til) or basic beliefs (Alvin Plantinga), is best understood as a distinct narrative (e.g., the biblical worldview is creation, fall, and redemption), and is unable to objectively prove itself to someone who refuses to be convinced. I am postmodern because I concede that everything we know is filtered through our unique perspective. And yet I am conservative because I believe that our finite and often flawed thinking is able to know the truth about God, ourselves, and the world.

I am also conservative because I believe that right doctrine matters as much as good behavior, and in fact the latter only truly proceeds from the former.

Full interview here. Thanks for doing this Justin.

I'm reminded (by the last sentence of the first paragraph) of how Vanhoozer helpfully puts it in a few of his books: our knowledge of God and ourselves is neither absolutist (extreme modernism) nor anarchic (extreme postmodernism) but adequate (not exhaustive, yet sufficient).

05 December 2008

Divine Favor's Paradoxical Prerequisite

From Luther's 95 Theses, here's #63, concerning Christ's statement that the first will be last and the last first:

The gospel destroys those things which exist, it confounds the strong, it confounds the wise and reduces them to nothingness, to weakness, to foolishness, because it teaches humility and a cross. . . . [I]t is not surprising that this saying of Christ is most odious to those who desire to be something, who want to be wise and mighty in their own eyes and before men, and who consider themselves to be ‘the first.’

--LW 31:232.

I'm working on a project currently called 'Strength through Weakness: Divine Favor and Its Paradoxical Prerequisite,' tracing a theme all through the Bible: the theme of paradox, the counterintuitive way in which God blesses people, the way the weak triumph and the strong are shamed. I detect two sub-strands: (1) God's approval comes to those, counterintuitively, who admit they ought not to have it; and (2) God's power comes to those, counterintuitively, who divest themselves of self-dependent effort. In other words, at the inauguration and in the course of the Christian life, both positionally and existentially, in justification and sanctification, new birth and growth, the initial blessing and ongoing blessing, God for us and God in us--in both dimensions, God's favor comes not to those who think they qualify but to those who know they don't. It's shot all through the Bible. And still sinking in to my own heart.

Riverside Church in St. Louis

Has a new website. Looks great.

C. S. Lewis: Television

I think I know what Lewis would have said (had he lived in our digital age) to TV (especially commercials) and billboards and ads while checking email or buying groceries or sitting on an airplane. I think he would have said what he said when talking about "Progress or Creative Evolution": they

bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven. . . . [And] lest your longing for the transtemporal should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. . . .

Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.

--pp. 30-31, "The Weight of Glory" in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, Touchstone edition

04 December 2008

The Self-Filter

"Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven." --Matt 18:3

My son Zachary is two and a half. I'm starting to see what Jesus meant.

For fallen people, part of the process of growing up into adolescence is the increasing emergence of self-consciousness. As we become teens, we become more and more aware not only of our world but also of ourselves. And over several years, we construct a self-filter.

The Self-Filter is a kind of social and emotional strainer that reminds us, before everything we say or do or decide: "Hey, be careful now. Don't forget others will be watching. Let's consider how this word/action/decision is going to be received, how others will respond to it, how they will react. So don't go overboard. Hedge your bets. Look out for number one. Remember, the most important thing is not the truth or propriety or benefit to others of what you're about to say or do, but how it will reflect on you."

And slowly, Self rises to the forefront. And imperceptibly, joy wanes.

"Unless you turn and become like little children . . ." Zach doesn't have the filter yet. Whatever he's thinking or feeling is clear as day. This can be a big pain - if he's unhappy, there's no ability for him to stifle that, as we stoic adults do. But if he's happy - and he usually is - it is a joy that is utterly unfettered by thoughts of self. Sometimes he starts saying silly things over and over with a smile on his face. Other times he starts telling me a story (yesterday it involved a baby monkey stealing bananas from a hissing snake, complete with monkey and snake sounds). Other times he just starts dancing around the kitchen, laughing. He loves dancing. Other times it means getting lost in Winnie the Pooh books. The point is: he's not aware of himself. There's no mental mirror. He's not self-conscious. He is a little child.

"Unless you turn." I would like to be more like that. Is not the life of discipleship, the life of sanctification, moving from the adolescence of debilitating self-consciousness - many Christians die never having shed this - to the adulthood of childhood? To the maturity of childlikeness? An odd paradox. But possible, in the gospel. And it is what life in the new earth will be. Imagine. All of us will have shed the horrid Self-Filter and will be free of ourselves, free to lose ourselves in Christ and in lifting up one another. In the gospel, we can start to experience it now.

On that day, we'll love dancing. The joy will be uncontrollable, and the filter will not be holding us back.

03 December 2008


I'm looking forward to this imminent book on one of the center doctrines of the two Great Awakenings, though largely sidelined today: the new birth.

Just last night I was reading Joseph Alleine's An Alarm to Unconverted Sinners from the 17th century, on the new birth, and pondering how out of place his (biblically central) message sounds when placed next to today's Christian literature and preaching.

I wonder how current justification and faith/obedience debates would be tilted if regeneration were brought more synthetically into the discussions.

02 December 2008

How Was David Forgiven?

Think of the kings of Israel and contemplate their deeds: whoever among them feared Torah was delivered from troubles; and these were the seekers of Torah whose transgressions were forgiven. Think of David who was a man of righteous deeds and who was therefore delivered from many troubles and forgiven.

--4Q398 lines 24-25, a letter written within the Jewish community at Qumran, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'

--The Apostle Paul, Rom 4:4-8

Incidentally, in line 31 of this same fragment the writer of this Qumranite letter reflects on his readers' devotion to Torah and writes that "it will be counted to you for righteousness," using the very same three-word string that is found in the Hebrew of Gen 15:6, speaking of Abraham's being counted righteous apart from his deeds. (The only other place in the OT where the two words for "count/reckon" and "righteous" occur in tandem is Ps 106, speaking of Phinehas' righteous action.)

The Qumran community got a lot right. When you read the scrolls next to Jubilees or 2 Baruch or 4 Ezra or other Jewish intertestamental writings, you see that the Qumranites had a deeper grasp of mankind's depravity, the greatness of God's mercy, the beauties of obedience, and the sovereign rule of God.

But their gut instinct, and yours and mine, as to how God relates to his people, is: obey, and you will be counted righteous. Performance leads to an (earned) verdict.

Paul's post-Damascus gut instinct--the gospel--is: be counted righteous, and you will obey. A (free) verdict leads to performance.