28 February 2009


A few people have asked about the title of this blog recently, so: we must have the right recipe to make a pie (strawberry-rhubarb is my favorite), yet the pie exists to be eaten and enjoyed; similarly, we must have right doctrine, yet it exists to be enjoyed--specifically, to enable enjoying God.

Some of us tend to love the recipe, yet we then take a piece of the pie and place it on a Petry dish and put on the lab coat and analyze it under a microscope and consider ourselves successful chefs. Others of us are of the ilk that loves to eat pie but we tend to neglect getting the measurements just right that the recipe calls for.

We must get the recipe right; the way to maximally enjoy the pie is not by circumventing the cookbook but by observing it, learning it, knowing it. But it is one thing to know how to bake a pie, and another to know how it tastes. To know the recipe and not enjoy the pie betrays the very reason for the recipe.

27 February 2009

Delighting in Unbelievers

Why did Jerram Barrs come to teach at Covenant Seminary 20 years ago?

I came to teach at Covenant because I felt constrained by the Lord to be of some service in helping men and women who are going into ministry to love non-Christians rather than to be afraid of them, to delight in building friendships with unbelievers rather than retreating from them . . .

This is not propaganda--he teaches it and does it. It's one reason I bless God for bringing me to Covenant Seminary in 2002. And I would like to become more like this.

Read more here.

The Treasures of the Trial

'Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer'
Keith Getty

Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love You even more.

Let the treasures of the trial
Form within me as I go -
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne.

Hear sample here at the Getty's website.

26 February 2009

The 'Christification' of the OT

I continue to learn more about the relation between the testaments in Greg Beale's seminar on the OT in the NT. It is a fascinating topic and this seminar has been very helpful. I'm thankful for the foundation that was laid in biblical theology and the united storyline of the Bible during my five years at Covenant Seminary. Still, this class is taking those conversations to the next level. I am grateful.

One book I read this week was Christopher Stanley's Arguing with Scripture, on Paul's rhetorical use in his quotations of the OT. I found it too frustrating to try to say anything here about it without falling into sin of some kind. I'll just acknowledge it was very disappointing.

On the other hand, Hans LaRondelle's The Israel of God in Prophecy proved much more fruitful this week and I'm happy to quote a few statements from LaRondelle, whose book is meant to be a rebuttal of dispensationalism but which has lots of good stuff even if one has already settled for oneself the legitimacy or illegitimacy of dispensational biblical theology.

As the appointed representative of Israel, Jesus recapitulated--that is, he repeated and consummated--God's plan with Israel, and through Israel, with man. He deliberately went over the same ground in order to conquer where Israel had failed. (64)

And, on the transformation of the land promise to the patriarchs--

An underlying principle seems to govern Christ's applications of Israel's promises: the removal of the old ethnic restriction among the new-covenant people entails the removal of the old geographic Middle East center for Christ's Church. Wherever Christ is, there is the holy space. This is the essence of the New Testament application of Israel's holy territory. For the holiness of old Jerusalem, the New Testament substitutes the holiness of Jesus Christ. It 'christifies' the old territorial holiness and thus transcends its limitations. This should not be regarded as the New Testament rejection of Israel's territorial promise, but rather as its fulfillment and confirmation in Christ. (142)

24 February 2009

But God

The gospel in two words: "But God."

But God remembered Noah . . . (Gen 8:1)

But God will ransom my soul . . . (Ps 48:15)

But God raised him on the third day . . . (Acts 10:40)

But God, who comforts the downcast . . . (2 Cor 7:6)

But God, being rich in mercy . . . (Eph 2:4)

But God. I have given the Lord every reason to say and. I hated him. Gave him the finger. He should have said and. He said but. And would have sent me to hell. But sent Christ to earth and heaven to me. All praise to him.

This thought formed while listening to a sermon, typically refreshing and helpful, from Zack Eswine, entitled "Ministry as a Human Being," on 2 Cor 5, preached Feb 15 2009.


I am in the Pastorals again (1-2 Tim, Titus), which for me are the most personally precious section of Scripture in this season of life as a young male preparing for what Timothy and Titus were doing when Paul wrote to them. What if the Apostle wrote me a letter in February 2009? I don't have to wonder. These three letters are as close as anything in the Bible to what he would have said.

What is striking me is the repeated emphasis on the tongue. Paul won't leave it alone. One of the dimensions of the critical importance of using our mouths in a life-giving rather than a life-sucking way is to be gentle.

23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. --2 Tim 2:23-25

Is it me or do we not think about this much, hear about it much? I would like to think about it more and cultivate more gentleness in the way I use words. When discussing the Bible or theology in a doctoral seminar, or with a stranger at Starbucks, or with a new believing friend who thinks differently, it is easy to confuse passion for the truth with passion for myself, the latter of which is far more common yet which always feels like the former. One way forward, straight from the Apostle, the same man who wrote Gal 1 and 2 Cor 10-13: cultivate gentleness.

Turning Faith into Its Opposite

We must always come back to what faith truly is, resisting the tendency to turn it into its opposite. Faith is looking trustingly to Christ rather than ourselves. Yet as soon as I begin to self-contemplate and consider the relative strength of my faith, I have aborted faith itself! Assessing what we bring to the table is the opposite of faith--and this includes assessing the strength of our faith. We assess the strength of Christ, period. As as we do so, that is faith.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Schlatter. At age 85 in 1937, in the last of over 440 written publications, as Germany was sliding into moral chaos, Schlatter wrote:

We . . . must not attain righteousness by viewing our faith as a particularly meritorious type of conduct, as though through our faith we could persuade God to acquit us and to take us into his kingdom. The effective power of faith does not attach to the inner procedure that takes place in us when Jesus' Word makes us believe. Faith rather is rendered effective through the One in whom we believe, because he gives us everything he promises us.

--Adolf Schlatter, Do We Know Jesus? (trans. Koestenberger and Yarbrough; Kregel 2005), 109

23 February 2009

Grove Chapel, London

I am enjoying and benefiting from Mark Johnston's sermons at Grove Chapel in south London these days. Follows the text, centers on Christ, illustrates effectively, loves his people. Podcast is available.

20 February 2009

I Charge You

Could Paul have given a more solemn final charge to his young, timid, and sickly seminary student Timothy at the end of his first letter to him than this?

13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, 14 to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will display at the proper time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Tim 6:13-16)

The nagging question is: what is "the commandment" at the center of Paul's charge (v. 14)? Bill Mounce's commentary on the Pastorals in my favorite, despite coming as it does in one of my least favorite commentary series, WBC. I am convinced by what he writes, and stirred. He says "the commandment" encompasses

Timothy's commitment to Christ and his ministry, a commitment to preach the gospel that included righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and meekness . . . and a commitment that demanded perseverance until the Lord returned.

--Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, 357

18 February 2009

A Transfer of Revelation

Just got Bauckham's Jesus and the God of Israel, a reprint of the 60-page God Crucified along with a number of other essays on NT christology, arguing in various ways that the NT writers understood Jesus to be part of the divine identity of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. Only read one essay so far; found it typically fascinating. Here's a quote (p. 267) from it ("God's Self-Identification with the Godforsaken in the Gospel of Mark").

The rending of the veil of the temple, if we read it in parallel with the rending of the heavens in Mark's account of Jesus' baptism (1:10), signifies revelation. It signifies that this godforsaken death is the climactic event of revelation in the Gospel narrative. More than that, it transfers the place of God's presence from its hiddenness in the holy of holies to the openly godforsaken cross of the dead Jesus.

The Whole OT Gathered Up

My favorite passage from France's Jesus and the OT. Each of these assertions is footnoted with references from the Gospels.

Jesus' types are drawn from a wide range of aspects of Israel seen in the OT. . . . he uses persons in the OT as types of himself (David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jonah). . . ; he refers to OT institutions as types of himself and his work (the priesthood and the covenant); he sees in the experiences of Israel foreshadowings of his own; he finds the hopes of Israel fulfilled in himself and his disciples and sees his disciples as assuming the status of Israel. . . .

In all these aspects of the OT people of God Jesus sees foreshadowings of himself and his work, with its results in the opposition and consequent rejection of the majority of the Jews, while the true Israel is now to be found in the new Christian community. Thus in his coming the history of Israel has reached its decisive point. The whole of the OT is gathered up in him. He himself embodies in his own person the status and destiny of Israel, and in the community of those who belong to him that status and destiny are to be fulfilled, no longer in the nation as such.

--Jesus and the Old Testament, 75-76, emphasis original

17 February 2009

Jesus = Israel

[I]n Jesus the destiny of Israel finds its completion. 'The resurrection of Christ is the resurrection of Israel of which the prophets spoke.' It is not so much that Israel is a type of Jesus, but Jesus is Israel.

--R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 55, emphasis original (quoting C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures, 103)

16 February 2009


Struck by this today. In giving Rev. Timothy instructions for his pastoral duties, Paul says this of the widows in the church:

She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives. -1 Tim 5:5-6

It's the last phrase that bites my heart. More literally it's: 'the self-indulgent, living, has died.' Feeding Self feels like life; it is death. Denying Self feels like death; it is life.

I am no widow but that is helpful.


God gave a very good time hanging out this weekend with the college group at Grace Church of Dupage and pressing into God together. I'm grateful for Chris McGarvey's leadership there, along with faithful servants Drew and Scott and others, and the good things that took place in the hearts of several of us, myself included.

12 February 2009

Our Ransom

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. --Isa 43:1-5 ESV

As a brief follow up to the previous reflection - today I am meditating on Isaiah 43. It is deep roots for storm-tossed trees and a wide foundation for tottering towers.

I mention it because it makes the same connection between the gospel and fear. All through Isaiah 40-53 the Lord forbids fear (Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth? Isa 51:12-13). Yet here in the opening verses of ch 43 God establishes this exhortation in the firmest of all foundations.

In between two commands not to fear (vv 1, 5), he roots this courage in the fact that he has redeemed us (v. 1). We are precious to him (v. 4). He loves us (v. 4). He is with us (v. 5). He will bring us home to him (v. 5).

But how do we know? How can we be sure of all these things? Because of verse 4. "I give Egypt as your ransom." The word used here for ransom is kopher, one of the most theologically loaded words in the OT. It means atonement, ransom, the price paid to buy back a life (BDB 497-99). It is used all through the Pentateuch to describe how sin is atoned for in the Israelite sacrificial system--all epitomized, finalized, consummated once and for all in the great Sacrifice, the great Atonement, the Ransom of all ransoms. How can we be sure of Isaiah 43:1-7? Christ died. God said he gives Egypt as a ransom. He did far more than that. He gave himself as a ransom.

Well did the hymnist, drawing on verse 2 of this text, write in 1787:

When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I shall be with thee thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress

10 February 2009

Justification and Fear

Our tendency in our evangelical churches and our evangelical lives is to believe in and uphold and love justification by faith (i.e. justification by simply refusing to self-justify) but then to move on to other ideas and strategies when it comes to our emotional life and the daily pressures that do not lie directly in the "moral" realm.

This is a great mistake.

Take fear, for instance. Why do get anxious? Because we are afraid that our functional god will condemn us--not justify us--if we fail it. So for example, we are fearful of not succeeding in a job, or not impressing someone we respect, or failing the test, or botching the sermon, or missing the shot. We fantasize about succeeding in those real life situations and have nightmares about failing. Why do we do that? Because we have not let the radioactive nature of the doctrine of justification by faith destroy our malignant idolatries. Sensing our inadequacy we set up our career, our relationships, our studies, our public speaking, our athletic abilities as functional gods to which we are looking for justification--to know we're okay. More than any other human drive, we all want to know, simply, that we are okay. And there is a concrete security in mixing in some self-achievement to get there.

But it is an insecure security, because it rests on performance. What I'm wondering is: what if we went into the interview, the conversation, the classroom, the pulpit, the game, already okay? Already justified. Not just theologically, but emotionally. Not just in our mind but in our gut. And what if the one who had declared us okay knew our inadequacy far more deeply than we do--yet had still, not in a grumpy voice but with singing (Zeph 3:17), justified us? That would be a relief and a courage no self-achievement could ever touch.

And it can be ours. How? By simply opening ourselves up to it. Christ was the one person who ever lived who was, from the womb, "okay." "Justified." But he allowed himself to be made un-okay, he allowed himself to fail, so that you and I, failures, can be fully justified--not just declared okay in the presence of God, but also in the presence of the many idolatries that beckon our worship throughout life.

If you have been justified theologically, have you also been justified emotionally?

Luther understood this. Here's what the irritable churchman says in his Romans commentary on 9:30-10:4.

One who believes in Christ is secure in his conscience; he is righteous and, as the Scripture says, "bold as a lion (Prov 28:1). And again: "Whatever shall befall the righteous shall not cause him anxiety" (Prov 12:21). . . .

All this means: one who believes in Christ does not hasten or flee; he is not frightened, because he fears nothing; he stands quiet and secure, founded upon a firm rock, according to the teaching of the Lord in Matt 7:24. But one who will not believe in him . . . will flee, yet he will not be able to escape when tribulation and anxiety and, above all, the judgment of God assail him. (Luther: Lectures on Romans, ed. W. Pauck, 282-83)

I took a doctoral seminar on Pauline justification last year; I think it's only in recent days that I'm finally figuring out what justification means.

09 February 2009

Disobedient Obedience

Two illuminating, convicting, and related quotes from this week's reading.

It is inexpressible, and almost inconceivable, how strong a self-righteous, self-exalting disposition is naturally in man. What will he not do and suffer, to feed and gratify it? . . . Some are abundant in talking against [legalism], who do but little understand the thing they talk against. A [legalistic] spirit is a more subtle thing than they imagine, it is too subtle for them. It lurks, and operates, and prevails in their hearts, and they are most notoriously guilty of it, at the same time, when they are inveighing against it. --Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, 295-96 (Hendrickson edition)

The guilt of the Jews, as the apostle understands it, does not by any means appear to be guilt: hence it has been called "mysterious." "For this guilt is actually of a totally different kind that that which the natural man was able to comprehend. When we uncover the guilt of both common humanity as well as the covenant people, so it is usually a 'moral' guilt, a failure in the ethical duty. But precisely here is the paradox of an excessive ethical effort as the essence of guilt" (Gaugler 2:79). It is a guilt . . . that is exactly their zeal for God, as the pious Jew understands and practices it . . . it is not only not able to create salvation, but is punishable resistance against the very salvation-accomplishing deeds of God. --Otto Kuss, Der Romerbrief, 3:750, commenting on Rom 10:2 ("they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge"); Kuss had earlier explained that this is not a Jewish problem but one which was "true of the life of mankind everywhere"

07 February 2009

A Visceral Gospel

Here's the question I'm chewing on today: Is the gospel, to me, at any given time, theoretical or visceral?

Bryan Chapell articulated that distinction for me as I walked in to school today listening to my iPod.

Running Cross Country

There are two ways to live. One is to run laps. Same, same, same, over and over again. The other way is to run cross country, into new territories you've never known before.

See the whole thing.

Jesus before Pilate


Let me ask you: With whom do you most identify in the events of this dark day? Of the many onlookers and participants in these scenes, whose actions are most like your own, if somehow you were there?

For some it might be Peter, weeping bitterly in the predawn hours as the weight of his denial of the Lord bore down upon him. For others it might in some way be the passerby Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry Jesus' cross for Him. Others would identify with the women who were the followers of Jesus. . . . Some would perhaps choose Mary, His mother, who was "standing by the cross of Jesus," enduring such pain. Or the disciple John, who also was "standing nearby" and whom Jesus spoke to from the cross. Or the penitent thief, who from his own cross cried out to the Savior in faith, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Or the centurion who, after watching how Jesus died, was moved to say, "Truly this was the Son of God!"

But let me tell you whom I identify with.

I identify most with the angry crowd screaming, "Crucify Him!"

That's whom we should all identify with. Because apart from God's grace, this is where we would all be standing, and we're only flattering ourselves to think otherwise. Unless you see yourself standing there with the shrieking crowd, full of hostility and hatred for the holy and innocent Lamb of God, you don't really understand the nature and depth of your sin or the necessity of the cross.

--C.J. Mahaney, Living the Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, 86-87

06 February 2009

Outrageous Mercy

What the heart is to the body, the cross is to our faith. What the foundation is to a building, the cross is to our Christian thought and practice.

--William Farley, Outrageous Mercy: Rediscovering the Radical Nature of the Cross (P & R, 2009), 16

05 February 2009

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

My dear friend Brian Martin recently made me aware of Christian Smith's fascinating book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, published by Oxford University Press in 2005. Smith is a sociologist who taught at UNC Chapel Hill for a number of years before moving in 2006 to Notre Dame.

His thesis, the fruit of several hundred personal interviews with American teens of all races and religious backgrounds, is that the general ethos of our young people is best described as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." This consists of five things:

1) "A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
2) "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." ("Moralistic")
3) "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." ("Therapeutic")
4) "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." ("Deism")
5) "Good people go to heaven when they die." (pp. 162-63)

Along the way, Smith makes several other repeated points, such as: contrary to common teaching, today's youth are not seeking to be spiritual rather than religious, but rather are found most commonly to adhere to conventional forms of religiosity; teens are rarely able to clearly articulate their beliefs; most feel strongly they ought not to push their view onto someone else; Catholic teens are especially prone to moralistic therapeutic deism; and youth have learned this not on their own, but from adults, so this is not a problem isolated to young people.

So much to say in response to all this, but I mainly just want to point out how this so strikingly nails both my own heart and our culture and how we will all think apart from our great and glorious and counterintuitive gospel. The gospel itself--that "Christ died for our sins," 1 Cor 15--that the one thing that qualifies us is knowing we don't, because of Christ--that the way up is down--that instead of us needing to work our way up to God, God came down to us--deconstructs all five pillars of what Smith outlines.

As one example among dozens, one teen said: "I think religion is important for people to have. All religions are meant for people to better themselves. That's one way that someone can try to be a better person, through organized religion." (p. 126) This is not a shallow form of the gospel; it is the antithesis of the gospel. It is not Christianity Lite; it is un-Christianity. Christianity begins with the premise that we are helpless rebels in need of 100% help from an outside source--and that all it takes is admitting this helplessness, and we're in. It tells us to reject religion.

Sin, I am learning, is not my biggest problem. There's a perfect answer for that: Christ. Obedience is my biggest problem. Because obedience--in form, not substance, that is--obedience that is not "from the heart" (Rom 6:17)--has a subtle way of blinding me to my need for that answer.

So thanks for pointing this out to me Brian, and I hope anyone who reads this, especially those in Christian leadership of some form, will consider Smith's reflections, which ought to be no surprise if we know our Bibles, as a way of better understanding those to whom we speak and write and how to intersect this way of thinking with the gospel.

See also here and here.

04 February 2009

The Gospel: C.J.

I am helped by C.J. Mahaney's autobiographical reflections on centralizing the gospel in our teaching and preaching.