28 May 2010

A Recipe for Despair

With Jesus and determination
I will do my best
With Jesus as my strength
I'll do my best
He'll do the rest

--the tape (yes, tape) in the background that my 3-year-old is listening to as I am on the computer


You must die before you die. There is no chance after.

--C. S. Lewis, Till We have Faces

26 May 2010

Luther: Adopted by God

Get a load of this. In John 1:12, the apostle writes that 'to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.' On August 25, 1537, Martin Luther entered a pulpit in Denmark to fill in for a friend and preached on this text.

No man, no matter, who he may be, can ponder the magnificence sufficiently or express it adequately in words. We poor mortals, who are condemned and miserable sinners through our first birth from Adam, are singled out for such great honor and nobility that the eternal and almighty God is our Father and we are His children. Christ is our Brother, and we are His fellow heirs (Rom 8:17). And the dear angels, such as Michael and Gabriel, are not to be our masters but our brothers and servants. . . .

This is a grand and overpowering thought! Whoever really reflects on it--the children of the world will not, but Christians will, although not all of them either--will be so startled and frightened by the thought that he will be prompted to ask: 'My dear, can this really be possible and true?'

. . . [T]he world rates it a much higher honor and privilege to be the son and heir of a prince, a king, or a count than to be the possessor of God's spiritual goods, although by comparison all these are nothing but poor bags of worms and their glory sheer stench. Just compare all this with the ineffable dignity and nobility of which the evangelist speaks. . . . If we really believed with all our heart, firmly and unflinchingly, that the eternal God, Creator and Ruler of the world, is our Father, with whom we have an everlasting abode as children and heirs, not of this transitory wicked world but of all God's imperishable, heavenly, and inexpressible treasures, then we would, indeed, concern ourselves but little with all that the world prizes so highly; much less would we covet it and strive after it.

Indeed, we would regard the world's riches, treasures, glories, splendor, and might--compared with the dignity and honor due us as the children and heirs, not of a mortal emperor but of the eternal and almighty God--as trifling, paltry, vile, leprous, yes, as stinking filth and poison.

--Luther, preaching on John 1:12, in LW 22:87-89

Quit trying to get discovered. Just quit it. The inheritance is coming.

You've already been discovered.

Believing Is Coming

'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.' --John 6:35

Believing in Jesus is not agreeing with him, it is coming to him. Not nodding; walking.

25 May 2010

Resting in Christ's Finished Work Today?

Just asking.

Iain Murray on Expository preaching

Good food for thought from Iain Murray on the weaknesses of making (consecutive) expository preaching the sole method in preaching.

Wright: Through Death and Out the Other Side

[Rembrandt's 1648 'The Supper at Emmaus']

N. T. Wright on the intercanonical connection between Gen 3:7 ('and their eyes were opened, and they knew') and Luke 24:31 ('and their eyes were opened, and they knew [him]')--both of which describe two people who have just eaten.

Luke, echoing that story, describes the first meal of the new creation. . . . [T]he long curse had been broken. Death itself has been defeated. God's new creation, brimming with life and joy and new possibility, has burst in upon the world of decay and sorrow.

Jesus himself, risen from the dead, is the beginning and the sign of this new world. He isn't just alive again in the same way that Jairus's daughter, or the widow's son at Nain, were. They, poor things, would have to face death again in due course. He has, it seems, gone through death and out the other side into a new world, a world of new and deathless creation.

--Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (SPCK 2001), 296

Luther: Two Kinds of Evil

[T]he devil seduces man in two ways. He either lures him to the left, so that he believes nothing at all; or he entices him to the right, where he plagues him with holiness and human wisdom.

--Martin Luther, LW 22:313

23 May 2010

Lewis: Leaving the Land of Dreams

On Friday, June 28, 1963, C. S. Lewis wrote a letter to his long-time American correspondent, Mary Willis Shelburne. She had been suffering. He closed--

Think of yourself just 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.

--The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis (Cambridge University Press), 3:1434

Jesus Is Interesting (Not the Dos Equis Guy)

Jonathan Acuff:

Why is Jesus the most interesting man in the world?

1. His birth was announced by a powerful supernova star, not a cheap greeting card.

2. As a child, he used to go to the temple to teach old men.

3. He once celebrated a 40 day fast by headlocking the devil himself into verbal submission.

4. He is known to go for long walks. On water.

5. When his friend Lazarus died, he didn’t bring him flowers, he brought him back to life.

Read the whole list.

Bible Summaries

Is Titus 3:4-7 the best summary statement of the soteriology of the New Testament? I would say 'the theology of the NT' but it doesn't mention Gentile-inclusion. Yet if we're talking strictly soteriology, this seems to pretty much cover it all--

4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

And, stepping even further back, is there a better summary statement of what the whole Bible is about than Ephesians 1:7-10, particularly v. 10?

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite [anakephalaiosasthai - to sum up, recapitulate, gather together, organically synthesize, bring under a single head/kephalos; see Rom 13:9!] all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

22 May 2010

Beasts in the Bible

Genesis 1-2 - Adam in Eden with authority the beasts

Genesis 6-9 - Noah in the ark with authority over the beasts

Isaiah 65 - a vision of the new earth shows the beasts at peace with one another

Daniel 7 - the Son of Man given authority over the (4) beasts

Zephaniah 2 - godless nations become the haunts of wild beasts

Mark 1 - Jesus in the wilderness hanging with the beasts

Revelation 13 - the ultimate Beast wreaks havoc

Revelation 19 - this Beast conquered by . . . a Lamb

21 May 2010

Interview with Tim Chester on Gospel Growth

Readers of this blog know that one of the reasons it exists is to blow the trumpet for gospel-centered living and enjoyment of justification as a critical though counterintuitive way we move forward in sanctification. The gospel is not a ticket in to Christianity but the food that nourishes us our whole lives long as Christians.

Tim Chester's You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions is a wonderful resource helping us understand how we live such a life. It is saturated in the Bible, informed by church history, psychologically penetrating, personally honest, and, best of all, rooted in (not merely mindful of) the gospel of grace. It was published by InterVarsity in the UK in 2008 and has recently been released by Crossway here in the States.

Tim is part of the leadership at the Crowded House, co-director of the Porterbrook Network, and director of the Northern Training Institute. He's co-author, with Steve Timmis, of Total Church, and a regular blogger at www.timchester.co.uk.

He kindly agreed to answer some questions about the book and the role of the gospel in Christian growth.

Tim, what's the big idea of You Can Change?
I think what I'm trying to do is to show how change takes place through faith. I want to move people away from just focus on behaviour because if we focus on behaviour then our efforts to change will always tend toward legalism. Instead I want to focus on the heart because where our hearts lead, our emotions and behaviour will follow.

But I want to make these ideas practical for people. I guess the basic idea is this. Behind every sin is a lie. We believe that sin offers more than God. So the key to change is recognizing that God is bigger and better than anything sin offers. That's not easy or straightforward. It's a day by day challenge to look to God, to find hope and help and satisfaction in him.

In some ways I tried to write the antidote to self-help books in the form of a self-help book!
Who have been the main three or four living influences on your understanding of how we change as believers?
There are some obvious people: Tim Keller, John Piper and the guys at CCEF. I think also of my community in The Crowded House with whom I have worked on these issues, both at a theological and practical level. My breakthrough moment came when expounding Romans 1 in my church - realising the way that sinful behaviour flows from exchanging the truth of God for a lie and worshipping created things rather than the Creator. That's how I arrived at my claim in the book that our twin problem is trusting lies (the false promises of sin) instead of trusting the word of God, and worshipping, desiring, treasuring things more than we treasure God (which is idolatry).
For thoughtful, theologically untrained Christian readers, what is the single best book by a dead guy you would recommend that supports and reinforces what you've tried to do in You Can Change?
It would have to be John Owen. I suggest people read him in the abridged and simplified paperbacks which are published by Banner of Truth. I remember getting frustrated reading his book The Holy Spirit because Owen never seemed to tell me what I needed to do. This is how it happens, he would say, and I was waiting for a prescription to follow. But he would then describe the work of the Spirit in me. Only about three-quarters of the way through did I catch on that this was the point! That said, the book I would start people off with is The Mortification of Sin - not a snappy title, but pure gold.
What have you found to be the most common misunderstanding Christians have about how growth takes place?
That we're saved by faith, but then grow by law. That's the idea Paul is countering in Galatians, yet it's still with us today. Some people say that Paul rejects the law as a means of salvation, but say we still need it for sanctification. But that, it seems to me, is precisely what Paul's opponents were saying in Galatia. So in 2:15-16 when Paul says "we know that a person is not justified by works of the law" he is appealing to what he and his opponents have in common. But the logic of this, he goes to suggest, is that I shouldn't "rebuild what I tore down." Or in 5:3 he says that if you are going to include some role for the law then you need to keep the whole law and that means you are severed from Christ. How then do we live and continue and grow as Christians? Paul's answer is life in the Spirit and "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (5:18).
Many of us have grown up in an evangelicalism that loves and preaches and defends justification by grace alone through faith alone, yet either implicitly or explicitly suggests that once we are justified we "move on" to the hard work of sanctification, grateful for our justification yet functionally leaving it behind. Justification gets us off the ground at conversion in the past and lands us in heaven in the future, yet has little relevance in the present. You Can Change helpfully deconstructs and corrects this idea (e.g. pp. 26, 45, 75, 107). How would you articulate the connection between justification and sanctification as it relates to Christian growth?
It's important to begin by saying that they are different. Sanctification is the process of change in which we become more like the Lord Jesus. Justification is our standing before God (our being right with God). Sanctification is gradual and has its ups and downs. Justification is a completed act. It was completed at the cross. Whatever is happening in my Christian life, my standing before God is secure and unchanging because it rests entirely on the finished work of Christ. It is not in my power to affect that standing - for good or ill! There's a lovely line in the Augustus Toplady song, "A Debtor to Mercy Alone," which goes: "More happy, but not more secure, the glorified spirits in heaven." Sadly it's often amended in modern versions. The point is that Christians who have died and are now in heaven with God may be more happy than we are, but they're not more secure. Our standing is as sure as theirs. If we merge sanctification and justification then that assurance is lost.

But neither are justification and sanctification unrelated. Sanctification takes place as we believe the truth of justification. When we stop feeling the need to prove ourselves to God, then we are free to serve him for who he is - not for what we think we might get from him.

That said, I don't think justification is the only truth we need to believe to grow, nor do I think a failure to believe it is the only reason we sin. In You Can Change I identify four truths about God (the four Gs as some have characterized them):
  • God is great - so we don't have to be in control
  • God is glorious - so we don't have to fear others
  • God is good - so we don't have to look elsewhere
  • God is gracious - so we don't have to prove ourselves
All our sinful behavioural and negative emotions stem from a failure at a functional level to believe one of these truths. So they're a great diagnostic tool - both for ourselves and when pastoring others. But more importantly, they offer hope. Learning to have faith in these areas offers the real prospect of change through faith. It means we are speaking good news to people and that's what we're after - gospel-centred change. Legalism says, "You must not . . ." The gospel says, "You need not . . . because God is bigger and better than sin."
From where I sit, it seems there is something of a gospel renewal taking place in diverse segments of Evangelicalism - increasing numbers of books, blogs and preachers blowing the trumpet for fresh freedom in the gospel of grace for believers. From where you sit in the UK, do you sense something similar?
Yes, I do. I think some key influences (in no particular order) are: Tim Keller with his emphasis on the gospel being the A-Z of Christianity rather than the ABC. (2) John Piper with his emphasis on enjoying God and the pursuit of joy as the driver of change, duty, discipline and the willingness to embrace suffering. (3) CCEF with their emphasis on the centrality of the heart as the shaper of behaviour. (4) The missional church movement with its emphasis that all of life and church needs to be shaped around mission.
If there's one thing you want readers of You Can Change to retain long-term, what is it?
An ability to connect their everyday struggles and temptations with faith in the God of the Bible so that they experience his word as good news on a Monday morning as well as a Sunday morning. And I want people to recognize that the life of obedience is the good life - not the life we have to put up with to get a ticket to heaven.
Thanks for taking time to answer these questions, Tim, and, most of all, for writing the book. God bless your continued ministry.

19 May 2010

Pascal's Christocentricity

Jesus Christ whom both Testaments regard, the Old as its hope, the New as its model, and both as their center.

--Pascal, Pensees 740, quoted in Roger Nicole, 'The Canon of the New Testament,' JETS 40 (1997): 202

18 May 2010

Stupid PhDs vs. Wise PhDs

Very helpful (typically re-orienting) stuff from Piper on the value of PhDs to pastors (transcript).

A few thoughts.

1. First and last thing to be said: amen.

2. Good night, what a gift to the Church Piper is.

3. The motives that move young, ambitious seminarians to do PhDs are always mixed. They just are. The depths of self-seeking impulses run deep, and lie below even our perception of our own hearts. I believe God is calling me into some kind of pastoral/preaching/teaching ministry, and I can say two things with confidence as I wrap up a PhD in biblical theology at Wheaton: one, I had pure motives doing this degree that were genuinely wanting to exalt Christ, and two, I had selfish motives that were just as certainly wanting to exalt myself. Ugh. It is easy, so easy, to imbibe worldly standards of what matters and paint those standards with Christian language without exposing the ugly, Corinthian-like essence of that self-promoting value system. My point: Piper is right to raise questions about the value of PhDs to pastoral ministry. This is my main response to this video.

I don't think this needs to be all we say, though. A few other thoughts come to mind that might be helpful as others consider whether to do a PhD en route to the pastorate.

4. I suspect Piper's own PhD has had positive benefits that are hard to articulate always. Are there some in wider academia, for instance, who gave his critique of Wright on justification a more patient hearing knowing the author had a doctorate?

5. Dr. Piper addresses the 'what we learn' benefit of PhDs but ignores the 'how we learn' benefit. I can already see how my PhD has forced me to develop (for instance) better critical thinking skills. I was making arguments in my dissertation knowing Doug Moo would be reading it the next month and pointing out all the holes. It wasn't only what I learned but how I learned--how to write, how to argue, how to think.

6. Another question to be mindful of is how a PhD might strengthen others, not only us. I'm hoping my dissertation gets published, for two reasons. One, I'm a self-loving sinner with unmortified infatuation with my own name. Two (more cheerily), my work exposes weaknesses in the theology of James Dunn and I would love to see fewer pastors and teachers buy Dunn's commentaries in light of my dissertation. I would be happy to help Dunn's stuff go out of print a bit sooner. Not because he's 180 degrees wrong on everything. Of course not. But because he's an influential writer who fuzzies what the gospel is, confusing essence and implication, vertical and horizontal, individual and corporate, the moral and the social. But that's another post.

7. Around the middle of his response, Dr. Piper remarks that if there are PhD programs that really do help people learn and grapple with the Bible more broadly (rather than spending years amassing knowledge of what a plethora of pagan scholars think about a single verse or something), then that might make a PhD pastorally helpful. For those considering PhDs and pastoral ministry yet sobered by Piper's good words, my own experience here at Wheaton has done just that. I spent three years studying the word 'zeal' in just three different verses, but that required studying, for example, the whole OT background to zeal. I did a doctoral seminar with Greg Beale on the NT's use of the Old that was critical in helping me put the whole Bible together. I sat in on a class on Calvin's theology. I wrote under a supervisor who helped me in countless ways understand Paul and his theology, well beyond the three verses I soaked in for three years. I know the Bible better. That's why I wanted to do a PhD, and that desire was met. On top of that Wheaton is shorter than other places that also want you to learn the whole Bible well.

8. See #1!

Christ's Climactic Fulfillment in John

A good preliminary statement as Andreas Koestenberger launches into a discussion of christology in John's Gospel--

[T]he question is not so much whether Jesus was the Son of Man, or the prophet like Moses, or the Messiah, and so on, and, if so, exactly what this meant for John; but rather that for John, as for Jesus, in Jesus all of these figures found their culmination. . . .

Thus, it is John's message that in Jesus, all the various scriptural messianic predictions and typology converged, not only in his life but most signally in his death (John 19:24, 27, 28) [and resurrection!]. Thus it misses the point to argue that one messianic figure is more central in John's portrayal of Jesus' identity than another. In a very important sense, John's message is that in Jesus all of salvation history finds its climactic fulfillment.

--A. Koestenberger, A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters (Zondervan 2009), 317

17 May 2010

Hear Jim Elliot Preach


HT: James Grant

Eswine: Post-Preaching Battles

A true-to-life and helpful post from Zack Eswine, pastor of Riverside Church (EPC) in St. Louis.
The after-sermon is often a spiritual battlefield. "How often on Lord’s-day evenings," Spurgeon observes, "do we feel as if life were completely washed out of us! After pouring out our souls over our congregations, we feel like empty earthen pitchers which a child might break." (Lectures, Zondervan, 156). For this reason, it is perhaps our most vulnerable moment in the preaching event. . . . Perhaps prayer is needed more when the sermon ends.

It is as if when we opened God’s Word and began to speak from it, we fired the first shot or tripped the alarm to alert our enemy that we are on the move. Fiery darts, hollowed-out emotions, misplaced identities, idols that do not want eviction, such things rise to fight the one who dares stand and speak for God.
Read the rest.

If you weren't aware, Zack has just begun a new blog for preachers--Preaching Barefoot.

Owen: What Streams of Grace!

How many millions of sins, in every one of the elect, every one of which were enough to condemn them all, has this love overcome! What mountains of unbelief does it remove! Look upon the conversation of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities, wherewith his life is contaminated, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this be not to be admired. And is it not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, do flow from it every day! This is our Beloved . . .

--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus 2007), 113

16 May 2010

New Creation in the Gospel of John

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning [en arche] God created the heavens and the earth.
John 1:1 - In the beginning [en arche] was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Genesis 2:7 - Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into [enephysesen] his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
John 20:22 - 'As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.' And when he had said this, he breathed on [enephysesen] them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'
The big-picture point of John 20:22ff is not simply that the disciples now receive the Spirit, henceforth to walk in love and power, being transformed from within (perhaps in a proleptic pre-Pentecost way). That is of course true, wonderfully true. But the whole-Bible point is that in Jesus, and the branches who are in him the true vine (John 15-->Isa 5!), humanity is being re-Adam-ized.

God breathed on Adam, sending him to fill and subdue the earth. Adam failed. God breathed on a second Adam, and this successful Adam then breathed on his own, sending them to re-fill and re-subdue the earth.

It's called the church. Count me in.

HT: Andreas Koestenberger, A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters (Zondervan 2009), 400

Stewart: Justification Sanctifies

[S]anctification is not a new thing, but simply the unfolding, by the operation of the Spirit, of something already present. It is God's justifying verdict itself which sanctifies. . . .

It is precisely because God waits for no guarantees but pardons out-and-out, because He dares to trust a man who has no claim or right to trust at all--it is because of this that forgiveness regenerates, and justification sanctifies.

--James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion (New York: Harper, 1935), 258, 259-60

15 May 2010

Beale (7): New Creation Recapitulating Creation

More macro-dot-connecting from Dr. Beale's 1997 essay.

[T]he approach in this essay has attempted to root every aspect of New Testament Theology in the Old testament, especially the notion of new creation as the recapitulation of the original creation of Genesis 1, but on a grander scale. The recapitulating story line of the new creation theme is:

(1) Chaos of pre-creation state and creation/commission of Adam, followed by fall;

(2) Chaos of deluge and re-creation/commission of Noah, followed by fall (sins of Noah and his sons);

(3) Chaos of Egyptian captivity and plagues of de-creation (see here), followed by re-creation (at exodus)/commission of Israel (anticipated by commission of patriarchs) followed by fall (golden calf)
(4) Chaos of captivity in Babylon and in Israel's own land, followed by recreation/commission of Jesus the True Israel (in his life, death, and resurrection), followed by no fall of Jesus as Last Adam, and followed by his successful consummation of initial re-creation in eternal new heavens and earth.

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)

Wow. Takes Me Back to High School. Love it Just as Much Now.

If you can listen to thirty seconds of this without smiling you are either unregenerate or DEAD.

I expect to find Kirk Franklin on Spurgeon's iPod in the new earth.

Audio Interview with Tim Chester

Here (on his books You Can Change, The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness, and Total Church).

I'll be giving a brief review of You Can Change in the days ahead.

14 May 2010

Luther: This One Doctrine

[I]n my heart there rules this one doctrine, namely, faith in Christ. From it, through it, and to it all my theological thought flows and returns, day and night; yet I am aware that all I have grasped of this wisdom in its height, width, and depth are a few poor and insignificant firstfruits and fragments.

--Martin Luther, preface to Galatians, quoted in Wilhelm Dantine, Justification of the Ungodly (trans. E. W. Gritsch and R. C. Gritsch; Saint Louis: Concordia, 1968), 13

The Most Important Thing in Life

A reminder from Zack Eswine, from a Covenant Seminary chapel a few years ago.

It would not be unwise for me to listen to this message once a month the rest of my life.

13 May 2010

Lewis: Faith-Belief and Argument-Belief

[I]f I may trust my personal experience no doctrine is, for the moment, dimmer to the eye of faith than that which a man has just successfully defended.

--C. S. Lewis, 'The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club,' in God in the Dock (Eerdmans 2002; repr.), 128

Luther: Faith

Faith is entirely different from what people imagine. Faith must be a living document, a seal, a signet, a conviction so strong that one is willing to forsake all for it. There God comes to you and makes His dwelling in your heart, converting it into heaven and Paradise.

--Martin Luther, preaching on John 3:33, in LW 22:474

Stephen Smallman's The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus

It's a very good book, published last year by P&R ($9.99 from WTS books, $10.39 new from Amazon). I think a friend of mine is close to surrendering his life to Christ and when he does, this is the book I will give him because it truly does start at the beginning: early chapters address what the Bible is, what prayer is, what the gospel is; one finds encouragements not to get hung up on Bible passages that are confusing; the book includes introductions to people like Martin Luther and C. S. Lewis and sidebar definitions of faith, free will, regeneration, etc.

I've been looking for the right book to have a group of seminary-type guys read on discipleship, and this is not the book--too basic for that. But for truly new believers it would be great. Steve (if I may) uses Mark and Romans as his two templates for building a basic structure of discipleship for his readers.

Happily, one consistent note that is struck is that the gospel is not only to be passed on to unbelievers but also fed upon by believers (see pp. 69, 76, 79, 80, 215-16). That's something that has been coming home to me the past few years and, it seems, is forming something of a groundswell among my generation across American evangelicalism. Steve has himself been heavily influenced by Jack Miller in this regard (the founder of Sonship and the Philadelphia New Life churches, and the one from whom Jerry Bridges got his wonderful 'Preach the gospel to yourself every day' mantra).

Steve includes a wonderful little entre into biblical theology/redemptive history (without using those labels) on pp. 52-54 (with a nice chart on p. 53). And the appendices are helpful, especially the list of further resources.

Thanks for providing us with this great resource, brother!

* * * * *

See Steve's website here.

Find a bit more on Steve from Chris Arnzen here.

Note Justin Buzzard's appreciative interview with Steve about the book here.

12 May 2010

Biblical Discipleship

[T]he life of being a disciple is never presented as adding Jesus to the life I am already living, but turning to Jesus to walk a new path.

--Steve Smallman, The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus (P&R 2009), 28; italics original

Denney: The Only Cure for Self-Trust

James Denney (pictured), expounding 2 Corinthians 1:9 a century ago--

It is natural . . . for us to trust in ourselves. It is so natural, and so confirmed by the habits of a lifetime, that no ordinary difficulties or perplexities avail to break us of it. It takes all God can do to root up our self-confidence. He must reduce us to despair; He must bring us to such an extremity that the one voice we have in our hearts, the one voice that cries to us wherever we look round for help, is death, death, death.

It is out of this despair that the superhuman hope is born. It is out of this abject helplessness that the soul learns to look up with new trust to God.

--The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New York: Armstrong, 1905), 24-25; see here

HT: Sam Storms (p. 211)

Forde: The Gospel Explodes Our Conditional Thinking

More cause for rejoicing from our friend Gerhard--

The gospel of justification by faith is such a shocker, such an explosion, because it is an absolutely unconditional promise. It is not an 'if-then' kind of statement, but a 'because-therefore' pronouncement: Because Jesus died and rose, your sins are forgiven and you are righteous in the sight of God! It bursts in upon our little world all shut up and barricaded behind our accustomed conditional thinking as some strange comet from goodness knows where, something we can't really seem to wrap our minds around, the logic of which appears closed to us. How can it be entirely unconditional? Isn't it terribly dangerous?

. . . [W]e really are sealed up in the prison of our conditional thinking. It is terribly difficult for us to get out, and even if someone batters down the door and shatters the bars, chances are we will stay in the prison anyway! We always seem to want to hold out for something somehow, that little bit of something, and we do it with a passion and anxiety that betrays its true source--the Old Adam that just does not want to lose control.

--Gerhard Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Fortress 1982), 24; italics original

A New Social World

The Bible, both explicitly and implicitly, upends the social hierarchies that make qualitative judgments over people, putting them in their place based on birth and accomplishment.

In a rabbinic prayer, for example, a Jewish man would thank God that he was neither a Gentile nor a slave nor a woman.

Explicitly, these are the three very barriers Paul breaks down in Galatians 3:28--in Christ Jesus 'there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.'

Implicitly, these are the three identities of the core group of the church plant at Philippi in Acts 16--the Gentile Philippian jailer, a slave girl whose demon is exorcised, and Lydia the female businesswoman.

11 May 2010

Forde: Sail into the Storm of Free Grace

Helpful medicine when you're feeling defeated: find a Lutheran talking about justification. Here's Gerhard Forde on the shocking freeness of justification by faith alone:

[S]tick with it and sail into the storm with all guns blazing. 'We have to do something, don't we?' NO! In fact that is no longer the question. Now the question becomes, 'What are you going to do now that you don't have to do anything?' Theology based on the [Augsburg Confession] is not interested in 'something'; it is after everything.

A pastor friend related an interesting reaction from a teenager to [this notion]. . . . [I]t seemed to tell him he could do anything he wanted to do! Now what is one supposed to say to that? The most immediate reaction, I suppose, would be to jump in on the defensive and thunder, 'No! No! No!--of course not, you can't do whatever you want to do!'

But think for a moment. Perhaps then the whole battle would be lost. One must sail into the storm. Should one not rather say 'Son, you are right. You got the message. The Holy Spirit is starting to get to you.'

But is that not dangerous? . . . Is it not 'cheap grace'? No, it's not cheap, it's free! 'Cheap grace,' you see, is not improved by making it expensive. . . . It's free. Now free grace is dangerous, no doubt about it. . . . We might not survive such free grace. It might ruin us. But Jesus told us that long ago: 'To him who has, more will be given, but from him who has not, even that will be taken away.'

There is indeed a danger.

--G. Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Fortress 1982), 33-34; italics original

Beale (6): Eschatology Is Protology

More from Beale's eye-opening 1997 essay, which is forming the skeleton of his forthcoming 1,00 page biblical theology of the New Testament--

[T]he upshot of [this] entire essay is that, though 'eschatology' is used in a variety of ways, I am defining it, not merely as the end of redemptive or cosmic history or the goal of Israel's hopes or the goal of the individual saint's hopes, but as an 'already and not yet new creation in Christ,' and all other things associated with eschatology are to be understood in inextricable relationship with this notion of 'new creation.' . . .

Eschatology is protology, which means that the goal of all redemptive history is to return to the primal condition of creation from which mankind fell and then go beyond it to a more heightened state, which the first creation did not reach. The goal of returning to the primal state of creation in an escalated new creation is the engine which runs the entire eschatological program.

Up to the present time, this has not been acknowledged adequately as the basis of a New Testament Biblical Theology.

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)

10 May 2010

Forde: Our Perennial Discomfort with 'Faith Alone'

Just got in the mail Gerhard Forde's 1982 Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life, the thesis of which is that the reason justification by faith has experienced such historical turmoil is the failure of its adherents to incorporate the notion of dying and rising with Christ into explications of what is otherwise a 'merely' legal doctrine. Looks like it will be fascinating. Forde taught systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul from the 60s to the 90s; he passed away in 2005.

This early statement rang true--

'But, don't we have to
do something?'--the question always bubbles to the surface out of deep moral and self-protective undercurrents. . . .

Even when we attempt to stick with
faith alone we are usually driven to define, qualify, and hedge about the faith of which we speak so that no one will get the 'wrong idea.' Of course we don't mean just any old faith, we mean really believing; we mean a really sincere, heartfelt trust, we mean a living, active faith, a faith which comes after deep and despairing repentance--all that 'adverbial' theology. Before we are through we have so qualified and modified faith as to make it even less obtainable than the justice we failed to reach by the law!

--Gerhard Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Fortress 1982), 9-10; italics original

07 May 2010

Why Read Dead Guys?

C. S. Lewis:

[W]e need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present. . . .

A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

--'Learning in War-Time,' in The Weight of Glory (Touchstone 1996), 48-49

06 May 2010

Beale (5): The Plagues as De-Creation

The new Exodus . . . is another metaphor for new creation. The plagues on Egypt which begin the process of the Exodus are designed to indicate a de-creation and situation of chaos from which Israel can emerge through the division of water and earth as a new humanity on the other side of the Red Sea. Just as Israel was a corporate Adam . . . so their inheritance of the promised land was to be none other than what God had promised to Adam if he had obeyed: full possession of the Garden of Eden, and by extension the ends of the earth. This is why the land promised to Israel is also referred to as the Garden of Eden (Isa 51:3; Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3; cf. Isa 65: 21-23 LXX).

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997)

How Do We Long for Heaven When it Means No More Sex, NFL, Corona, Sushi, and Backrubs?

C. S. Lewis' breathtaking answer:

Let us construct a fable.

Let us picture a woman thrown into a dungeon. There she bears and rears a son. He grows up seeing nothing but the dungeon walls, the straw on the floor, and a little patch of the sky seen through the grating, which is too high up to show anything except sky.

This unfortunate woman was an artist, and when they imprisoned her she managed to bring with her a drawing pad and a box of pencils. As she never loses the hope of deliverance, she is constantly teaching her son about that outer world which he has never seen. She does it very largely by drawing him pictures. With her pencil she attempts to show him what fields, rivers, mountains, cities, and waves on a beach are like.

He is a dutiful boy and he does his best to believe her when she tells him that that outer world is far more interesting and glorious than anything in the dungeon. At times he succeeds. On the whole he gets on tolerably well until, one day, he says something that gives his mother pause. For a minute or two they are at cross-purposes. Finally it dawns on her that he has, all these years, lived under a misconception.

'But,' she gasps, 'you didn't think that the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?'

'What?' says the boy. 'No pencil marks there?'

And instantly his whole notion of the outer world becomes a blank. For the lines, by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it. He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines, that of which the lines were merely a transposition--the waving treetops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve. The child will get the idea that the real world is somehow less visible than his mother's pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible.

So with us. 'We know not what we shall be'; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like pencilled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.

--C. S. Lewis, 'Transposition,' in The Weight of Glory, 85-86

05 May 2010

Ministry Equipping with Re:Train

An invitation from Acts 29 director Scott Thomas.


Zahl: Justification Heals Idolatry

. . . who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. --Romans 4:25

St. Paul is saying that human beings need to be justified, which means that human beings need to live a non-accused life. . . . [T]he whole human drama of finding false hope in secondary things is a form of flight from that accusation.

--Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (Eerdmans 2007), 44

John 3: The Omnipotence of Grace

Nicodemus: 'We know that you are a teacher having come from God. For no one is able [dunatai] to do these signs that you do unless God is with him.'

Jesus: 'I tell you, unless someone is born again, he is not able [dunatai] to see the kingdom of God.'

Nicodemus: 'How is a man able [dunatai] to be born, being old? He is not able [dunatai] to enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, is he?'

Jesus: 'I tell you, unless someone is born not only of water but also of the Spirit, he is not able [dunatai] to enter into the kingdom of God. . . . The Spirit blows where it wills. . . .'

Nicodemus: 'How is it possible [dunatai] that these things are so?'

In Jesus, all intuitive and reasonable limits and prerequisites to what is humanly possible (dunatai) are swept away as we are ushered into a new universe of possibilities in which God and his happy omnipotence of grace--not we and our puzzled 'But . . .'--defines how real Life takes place.

04 May 2010

Beale (4): Adam, Israel, Jesus, & Ousting Satan

Continuing a series of posts on fascinating insights from Greg Beale's 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' which argues that the center of the New Testament is that Christ's death and Spirit-empowered resurrection constitute the beginning of the glorious end-time, latter-day new creation, note how Jesus' exorcisms fit into this picture.

Christ's ministry of casting out demons was an expression of his beginning, though decisive, defeat of Satan, who had brought creation into captivity through his deception of Adam and Eve. This is the significance of the parable of the binding of the strong man (Matt. 12:29). Of course, his victory over Satan's temptations in the wilderness was the basis for His subsequent victories over the demons. It is certainly not coincidental that in resisting the Devil in the wilderness He is depicted by the Gospel writers as doing what Israel should have done in their wilderness wanderings, and even what Adam should have done in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when Jesus exorcised demons, he was doing what Adam should have done in Eden by casting out the Devil and his forces.

--G. K. Beale, 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology,' in The Reader Must Understand: Eschatology in Bible and Theology (IVP 1997); italics added

Hulme: The Healing of the Divided Will

William Hulme was a wonderfully insightful, biblical, thoughtful, gospel-dominated man who taught pastoral counseling at a Lutheran seminary fifty years ago. In a 1981 book on pastoral counseling that incorporates the gospel, he wisely writes--

Paradoxically, the pursuit of the power to effect change ends in the acceptance of our powerlessness. . . .

It is hard on one's pride to admit defeat. We prefer to say that we could succeed if we really wanted to--or if we really worked at it--and these illusions may hold us together. . . .

Yet the illusion of the omnipotence of the will overlooks the obstacle of the divided will. The end of doubleness does not come through willpower but through reconciliation with our divisions. The Good News which Paul extols is that God has reconciled us to himself through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ so that we might be reconciled also within ourselves and with our neighbors. As we bottom out--'O wretched man that I am!' (Rom 7:24)--the old self that was kept alive by illusions, dies. In Pauline terms we are crucified with Christ. . . .

The will that emerges is not the old, locked into an immobilizing polarity, but a new will which is empowered by faith. Since this is a repeated experience in the dynamic of personal development, and not a once-for-all overcoming, the death of the old is more proleptic than final, for it is still present to harass the new. But the relationship that we have with the Spirit of God through our reconciliation is a dynamic support for continuous renewal.

--William E. Hulme, Pastoral Care and Counseling: Using the Unique Resources of the Christian Tradition (Augsburg 1981), 25-26; italics original

03 May 2010

Preaching Barefoot

Zack Eswine, pastor of Riverside Church and former professor of homiletics at Covenant Seminary, has started a preaching blog.

Zack is a precious brother and has much to teach us, especially those of us learning to preach.

Charlie Hall: Hookers and Robbers

'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' --Mark 2:17