27 February 2010

The Fourth Gospel: Theology or History?

[W]hat most Johannine scholars have notably failed to take seriously is that the Gospel's theology itself requires a concern for history.

--Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple (Baker 2007), 14; emphasis original.

26 February 2010

Enough Evil

There is enough evil in my best prayer to damn the whole world.

--John Bunyan

HT: Andrew Lisi

Outlining James

Outlines of James tend to swivel between hopelessly complicated or forced structures on the one hand and frustrated resignation at the prospect of discerning any structure at all on the other. Carson and Moo suggest what in my mind is a nice middle way, and believable. Within the broader compass of a formal letter (with opening, body, and conclusion), they suggest four sections:

1. Trials and Christian maturity (1:1-18)
2. True Christianity seen in its works (1:19-2:26)
3. Dissensions within the community (3:1-4:12)
4. Implications of a Christian worldview (4:13-5:11)

A sensible break-up if one wanted to teach a four-part Sunday School lesson or preach 8 to 10 sermons, but not much more, on the letter.

--D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, Introduction to the New Testament (2d ed.; Zondervan 2005), 620-21

25 February 2010

The Gospel's Liberating Reversal

Our intuition: the bad in my life is due to another, the good in my life is due to me.

God's revelation: the bad in my life is due to me, the good in my life is due to another.

HT: my wife


[A] man can with confidence boast in Christ and say: 'Mine are Christ's living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.' Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride's and she all that is his--for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh.

--Martin Luther, sermon entitled 'Two Kinds of Righteousness,' quoted in Cornelis P. Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspective on Paul (Banner of Truth 2006), 41

24 February 2010

A Proper Gospel Way

Obey God and do the works of the law by gospel principles and means. This is the rare and excellent art of godliness, in which every Christian should be a skilled expert. Many people labor for years trying to live a godly life. However, they give it up in shame and confusion because they never understood this holy art. They never tried to attain true godliness in a proper gospel way.

Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ (Wipf & Stock 2005), 167-68; emphasis original

I'm grateful to Dan Orr for pointing me to this book.

23 February 2010

Good Eschatology

An email from my 3-year-old Zachary today, taken down by his amanuensis (my wife):

I love you Daddy. I hope you serve God. And if you trust Jesus, then you can live forever in the new land. Dear Zachary. Bye!

Romans: Basically Targeted to the Individual

Couldn't agree more with Doug Moo's judicious conclusion to the chapter on Romans in the Carson/Moo intro to the NT:

[R]ecent scholarship on Romans emphasizes the 'people' question in Romans: what the gospel means for the relationship of Jews and Gentiles in salvation history and in the church. And this emphasis is a needed corrective to the neglect of this issue in some traditional approaches. But as is so often the case in academia, the pendulum has swung too far. Paul's gospel has important implications for the relation of Jews and Gentiles. But Romans 1-8 makes clear that Paul's gospel is still basically targeted to the individual human being, locked up under sin and in need of the redemption available only in Jesus Christ. While justification by faith is not the theme of the letter, we should not forget that it is nevertheless a critical component of Paul's presentation of the gospel. To be 'justified' is to be declared right with God. This verdict, Paul insists in Romans, is a manifestation of pure grace on God's part and therefore can be attained by sinful human beings only through faith. The contemporary theological climate offers challenges to this Reformation understanding of 'justification by faith' at a number of points, but a careful reading of Romans reaffirms its truth and reminds us of its critical importance for the power of the gospel.

--D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (2d ed.; grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 410-11.

20 February 2010

Not Made of Stone

Calvin was not made of stone, and if there are Reformed Christians who are, they are not Calvinists.

Herman Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, p. 254

HT: David Calhoun

I Told Me So

This book looks fascinating.

The Language of Life

Scripture is a book for all humanity, in all its ranks and classes, in all its generations and nations. . . . It speaks in the language of common discourse, understandable to the simplest folk, clear for the educated and the uneducated alike. It uses the language of perception, which will always continue to have its place alongside that of science and the academy. . . . It is old, without ever aging; it always remains young and fresh; it is the language of life.

--Herman Bavinck (unreferenced; quoted in this nice introduction to Bavinck)

19 February 2010

Fear Sin More Than Failure

As Stacey and I near the end of our time at Wheaton and consider various vocational options, that's something I want to be sure to do.

18 February 2010

Not from Heaven but from Hell

There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience that is more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal; though it be an excellent virtue, a heavenly flame, when it is pure: but as it is exercised in those who are so little sanctified, and so little humbled, as we are in the present state, 'tis very apt to be mixed with human passion, yea, with corrupt hateful affections, pride and uncharitable bitterness, and other things that are not from heaven but from hell. (Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in Yale ed. of Works of Jonathan Edwards, 4:460)

I'm wrapping up a dissertation arguing, in essence, that the Apostle Paul, based on Rom 10:2, Gal 1:14 and Phil 3:6, would agree with that statement.

In a 1743 letter to Thomas Prince in Boston, Edwards put it this way: the degree of grace is by no means to be judged of by . . . the degree of zeal. (ibid., 556)

17 February 2010

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Thanks, Tullian, for articulating the most important thing I've learned during the course of my PhD--ignited by Berkouwer's Faith and Sanctification, culminating what I'd been hearing from dad for years (e.g. here or here) but never had ears to truly hear, coinciding with what my brothers have been learning (e.g. here or here), filled out by Tim Keller's preaching, developed theologically for me by Luther, Bavinck, Hulme, and Goldsworthy, commended to my fellow grad students last month, and gloriously driven home by text after text in the New Testament that seem to have been added to my Bible only in the past year and a half (e.g. here, here, here, here, here)!

15 February 2010

Edwards: Death Leaves No Joy Behind

When a saint dies, he has no cause at all to grieve because he leaves his friends and relations that he dearly loves, for he doth not properly leave them. For he enjoys them still in Christ; because everything that he loves in them and loves them for, is in Christ in an infinite degree

--Jonathan Edwards, Miscellany 'h', in Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale), 13:167

In the Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

--Genesis 1:1

The Creator God originates everything in the ultimate sense of 'origination'. . . . It is strictly inaccurate to say that before the work of creation there was 'nothing' for 'nothing' is a spatial and temporal concept: it implies space void of object, and time void of event. Before creation there was 'not even nothing,' for it was with the material substrate of the universe that space and time sprang into being. Before that, there was only God.

--Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Kregel 2004), 158

14 February 2010

C. S. Lewis: Dying

In a letter to an American woman named Mary Willis Shelburne on June 28, 1963, five months before Lewis himself died--

Think of yourself as a seed patiently waiting in the earth: waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener's good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cock-crow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter.


--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1434 (emphasis original)

12 February 2010

Frame: Going to Seminary

HT: www.goingtoseminary.com

Owen: God's Love

We are then, I say, to eye it, to believe it, to receive it, as in him; the issues and fruits of it being made out to us through Christ alone. Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all our refreshment actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up to the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, is but the beam, the stream; in which though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. Would believers exercise themselves in this, they would find it a matter of no small spiritual improvement in their walking with God.

--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 52

11 February 2010

Not in Vain (1 Cor 15:58)

To J. R. R. Tolkien

The Kilns
H. Quarry
24 Dec 1962

Thanks for your most kind letter. I know one can at best only wound, not kill, the dragon. All my philosophy of history hangs upon a sentence of your own, 'Deeds were done which were not wholly in vain.' . . .


--Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1396

There was sorrow then too, and gathering dark, but great valour, and great deeds that were not wholly vain.

--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book 1, ch. 2


This thought came home to me while shooting hoops today at the Wheaton gym, listening to Dad's January 17 sermon: Most Christians think we're born unreligious and become religious when we come to Christ. Just the opposite is the case. We're born religious and become unreligious when we come to Christ.

Repentance unto Knowledge

. . . so that God might grant them repentance unto knowledge of the truth . . .
--2 Tim 2:25

Not: knowledge of the truth leading to repentance
But: repentance leading to knowledge of the truth

Paul knew that soft-heartedness fueled understanding; understanding does not necessarily fuel soft-heartedness.

Having trouble with predestination? The absolute sovereignty of God over every detail of your life? The offer of full forgiveness? God's governing will over earthquakes?

Have you tried repenting?

I believe in order to understand.
--St. Augustine, Sermon 43, Works III/2, p. 242

10 February 2010

The Grand Theme

Jesus . . . is himself the grand theme of the 'story-line' of both Testaments, the focal-point giving coherence to the total 'picture' in all its complexities. . . .

[T]he OT is Jesus predicted; the Gospels are Jesus revealed; Acts is Jesus preached; the epistles, Jesus explained; and the Revelation, Jesus expected. He is the climax as well as the substance and centre of the whole. In him all God's promises are yea and amen.

--Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock: An Old Testament Background to Our Understanding of Christ (Kregel 2004), 22

Death Thwarted

Canadian pastor Michael Pahl taunts death. Amen Michael!


The Church Today

Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Seminary, reflects on encouraging trends in the church and three recent books on the church.

09 February 2010

Dort: Sanctification by Gospel

This past year I've been returning to the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort (the so-called 'Three Forms of Unity'). Simply magnificent documents. Not a word is wasted; Bible-saturated; reverent toward God; careful; unafraid to say the hard truth, however humanly counterintuitive it might be, if Scripture leads them there; and wonderfully encouraging, strengthening. Anyhow here's how the Canons of Dort (which gave us our five points of Calvinism) express the gospel's role in 'perseverance of the saints.'

God's Use of Means in Perseverance
And, just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and also by the use of the sacraments. (V.14)

08 February 2010

'Of Works'

In that remarkable passage, Romans 9:30-10:4, Paul says that Gentiles have attained righteousness, a righteousness of faith, while Israel has not attained righteousness because they sought it 'as of works.' (From 9:11-12 and 11:5-6, the previous and the next reference to 'works,' we understand that works here refers to human contribution [in 9:32, obedience to Mosaic law] set opposite to divine grace--including, but not limited to, those works that set one off from the nations).

In Galatians 3, Paul uses the same phrase, 'of works.' In 3:10 he says that 'as many as are of works of law are under a curse.' The ESV glosses that as 'all who rely on works of the law.' That's a sensible paraphrase, but more woodenly it simply speaks of those who are 'of works.'

I've been puzzling over this and I think there's a striking insight here that we usually read right over. Paul doesn't say Israel sought righteousness by doing works or that those who do works are under a curse. Doubtless there is overlap here and doing is included to some degree; but he speaks of being of works.

How about you? What are you of? Not: what do you assent to doctrinally; what are you of. As the gospel sinks in more and more deeply as we walk with God, one of the first outer shells of our old life that the gospel pierces is the doing of works unto approval. But there is another, deeper level--instinct level--'of-ness' level--that must be gradually deconstructed and shed, too--being of works. I can go through the whole day trumpeting the futility of doing works to please God, all the while saying the right thing from an 'of works' heart.

To be of works is not to fall short. It is to march in the wrong direction. It isn't running to the office only to come up a few blocks short; it is running without realizing a ride had been freely provided. Not breaking a rule but playing the wrong game. Coming to Christ is not acknowledgment of our inability to be perfect. It is throwing our entire mode of existence onto the scrapheap in surrender. And finally finding freedom.

A Shadowy Happiness

Christ said it was difficult for 'the rich' to enter the kingdom of heaven, referring, no doubt, to 'riches' in the ordinary sense. But I think it really covers riches in every sense--good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have. All these things tend--just as money tends--to make you feel independent of God, because if you have them you are happy already and contented in this life. You don't want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness as if it could last forever.

But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness. Consequently he may have to take all these 'riches' away from you: if He doesn't, you will go on relying on them.

-C. S. Lewis, 'Answers to Questions on Christianity,' in God in the Dock, p. 52

The Centrality of the Gospel

If the gospel is merely assumed, while relatively peripheral issues ignite our passion, we will train a new generation to downplay the gospel and focus zeal on the periphery. It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is urgently needed is to be prophetic from the center.

--D. A. Carson, 'The Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:1-19),' p. 2

This was an orally delivered lecture given at the Gospel Coalition in May 2007 and is the best essay-length summary of what the gospel is I know of. See also Dr. Carson's 'The Biblical Gospel' from the 1996 For Such a Time as This.

04 February 2010

a Brakel: Joy

[J]oy consists in a delightful motion of the soul, generated by the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers, whereby He convinces them of the felicity of their state, causes them to enjoy the benefits of the covenant of grace, and assures them of their future felicity.

--Wilhelmus a Brakel

HT: Anthony Selvaggio

Grace and Truth

I come back to Hans Bayer's lecture again and again to be reminded of how to disagree with the New Perspective.

Bavinck on Faith: Pouring Joy into the Heart

It's hard to beat Bavinck's careful, biblically-saturated, historically sensitive, no-more-longwinded-than-it-needs-to-be, warm-hearted theology. Here's some good stuff on faith in the course of moving from justification to sanctification.

Sinners are justified by faith alone. . . . The gratitude and joy that filled their hearts upon receiving all these benefits drove them to do good works before the thought that they had to do them even crossed their mind. For the faith by which they accepted these benefits was a living faith, not a dead one, not a bare agreement with historical truth, but a personal heartfelt trust in the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In justification that faith of course manifested itself only from its receptive side because in this connection everything depended on the acceptance of the righteousness offered and bestowed in Christ. Yet, from its very inception, and at the same time as it justified, it was also a living, active, and forceful faith that renewed people and poured joy into their hearts.

Actually, therefore, it was not faith that justified and sanctified, but it was the one undivided and indivisible Christ who through faith gave himself to believers for righteousness and sanctification, who is imputed and imparted to us on the part of God, and whom we therefore from the beginning possess in that faith as Christ for us and in us. From its very beginning, faith was two things at once: a receptive organ and an active force.

--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:242-43; see also here

03 February 2010

On Tiptoe

The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

--Romans 8:19

Creation is on tiptoe, awaiting that very revelation.

--Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (NSBT 25; IVP 2009), 231

01 February 2010

Virtue's Foundation

Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.

--Robert E. Lee (M. Fellman, The Making of Robert E. Lee, p. 250)

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up. . . .

--the Apostle Paul, Acts 20:32

But . . .

But now, apart from law . . . (Rom 3:21)

But when he . . . was pleased to reveal his Son to me . . . (Gal 1:16)

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

The wonder of the gospel--God looked down and saw our hard-heartedness, and did not say therefore. He said: But.

We think: I fail God. Therefore.
He says: You're right. But.

Elliot Letters

The Billy Graham Center archives releases previously unknown letters from Jim and Elizabeth Elliot.

Back in the Saddle...

...after a very good January. Hope you are well and refreshed in the gospel as we enter February 2010. Hard to believe it's February already. One month closer to death; one month closer to Christ!