31 October 2010

Thoughts on the Last Two Chapters of the Bible

The Bible is incredible.

One place that has been opening up to me in recent weeks is Revelation 21-22, John's vision of the new heavens and new earth. In particular I'm seeing how the last two chapters of the Bible envision a recapitulating (summing up) restoration of the world created and diseased in the first three chapters of the Bible.

Gen 1:1 speaks of heaven and earth, Rev 21:1 of a new heaven and a new earth.

In Gen 3:8 God walks in the garden, in Rev 21:3 speaks of God once again dwelling with man.

In Gen 2:18 the Lord sees that man has no helper suitable for him, and gives him a bride; in Rev 21:9 we hear of 'the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,' culminating a recurring theme throughout the Bible of the people of God as God's wife.

In Gen 1:16 God makes the greater light and the lesser light; in Rev 21:23 'the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it . . .'

In Gen 2:10 a river flows out of Eden; in Rev 22:1 the angel shows John 'the river of the water of life . . .'

In Gen 2:9 we hear of a tree of life--so also in Rev 22:2, 14, 19.

In Gen 3:14, 17 the serpent and the ground beneath man is cursed; in Rev 22:3 we hear that nothing will be cursed any longer.

In Gen 1:28 God told mankind to rule and exercise dominion over the earth; in Rev 22:5 we learn that the saints will indeed reign forever and ever in the new earth.
What a hope. The world will one day be what it was meant to be.

And it is through Jesus, is it not, that each of these categories of Genesis winds its way to Revelation?
Through Jesus the heavens and earth were made, and through him they are being remade (Col 1:16, 20).

In Jesus God dwells with man (John 14:23).

Jesus is the true Bridegroom (Mark 2:19).

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12).

Jesus is the source of true living water (John 4:10).

Jesus is the real, life-giving tree (John 15:1).

Jesus is the source of all blessing, because he submitted to the greatest curse (Matt. 27:46).

Jesus is the King, the permanently-reigning Son of David (Luke 18:38).

Immanuel Church, Nashville

One reason I am encouraged about what is happening for the sake of the gospel today is our brother Dan Orr. Dan has just joined my wonderful dad in Nashville at Immanuel Church, an Acts 29 plant begun three years ago.

Dan and I graduated from Wheaton College together in 2001. Since then he has been serving with Young Life here in Wheaton while chipping away at an MDiv at TEDS. He and his wife and their two kids moved to Nashville a few months ago to work with Dad and Immanuel for the sake of the gospel and God-sent revival. Dan blogs at It's a Beautiful Gospel.

I love Dan Orr. He walks humbly with the Lord and cherishes the gospel of grace, understanding better than most of us the all-encompassing liberation that comes from the gospel. He works hard. He knows life is short. He refuses to project himself as anything other than what he is. He says what he means and means what he says. He is hilarious. He is courageous.

So I am thrilled Dan has joined Dad. These are two men I love and admire and I cannot imagine a more exciting church to be part of right now. Say a prayer today for Immanuel and continue, with me, to expect great things from God for and through his Church in days ahead.

29 October 2010

Themes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Chicagoland Lewis readers may want to be aware that Will Vaus, author of The Hidden Story of Narnia, will be on campus here at Wheaton on November 5-6.

On the 5th he'll lecture on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. On the 6th--I love it--he's going to give a kid-friendly talk on themes from Dawn Treader.

Details here.

Over-Preparation Can Be Self-Trust

If I can’t work hard and then leave the results to God, that shows I am ultimately trusting in myself, not Him. Especially in my sermon preparation, I am learning that over-preparation can be a form of self-trust.
A good word for us all in this post from my brother Gavin.

28 October 2010

What's the Least I Can Do?

That's the question we all tend to roll out of bed asking. What's the least I can do here? What's the minimum requirement? What bar do I have to meet, after which I can do what I want to do?

It's the question Peter asked with respect to forgiveness--what's the least number of times I can forgive before finally having the right to stop forgiving? (Matthew 18:21-35)

It's the question the Pharisees asked with respect to marriage--what's the least excuse I can have for divorcing my wife? (Matthew 19:1-12)

It's the question the rich young man asked with respect to morality--what's the least I can do to have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16-22)

C. S. Lewis insightfully writes:
Our temptation is to look eagerly for the minimum that will be accepted. We are in fact very like honest but reluctant taxpayers. We approve of an income tax in principle. We make our returns truthfully. But we dread a rise in the tax. We are very careful to pay no more than is necessary. And we hope—we very ardently hope—that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on. ('A Slip of the Tongue,' in The Weight of Glory [Touchstone 1996], 140).
The alternative?

'But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.' --Matthew 6:33

'. . . how shall he not also with him graciously give us all things?' --Romans 8:32

Taxpaying obedience is miserable. Quit dividing your time between you and God. Kill your self-preservation instinct. Kill it. Galatians 2:20.

Violent all-out surrender is our only rest; our only real, solid joy.

27 October 2010

First Lecture in 'Jonathan Edwards and the Church' Series

This looks like an interesting event to kick off the Jonathan Edwards and the Church series--George Marsden speaking on Edwards and beauty, and Colin Smith responding, November 3 at TEDS.

Details here.

26 October 2010

What, Essentially, Is Reformed Theology?

In a word, Reformed theology is fundamentally about grace. . . .

At its heart, Calvinism is simply a lens that magnifies a persistent theme in the narrative of God's self-revelation: that everything depends on God. Everything is a gift.
--James K. A. Smith, Letters to a Young Calvinist (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2010), 14


This wonderful book is a short, accessible series of 23 letters, each a few pages long, written from the perspective of an older saint who is helping walk a younger man into the Reformed faith. The two consistent themes throughout the book are (1) Reformed theology is inherently self-contradictory if it breeds pride, and (2) there is much more to Reformed theology than the five points.

Our brother Justin Taylor has another nice excerpt from the book here. Dr. Smith briefly introduces the book at his blog here. Tullian helpfully comments on one of the main themes of the book here.

Resurrection, Justification, and Union

A nice statement on the connection between Christ's resurrection and our justification from Cornelis Venema's The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ, which engages the New Perspective from the angle of historical and systematic theology. Venema is president of Mid-America Reformed Seminary and did his PhD on Calvin at Princeton. Commenting on Romans 4:25, Venema says:
[T]he resurrection of Christ represents the justification and vindication of believers. Since Christ bore the consequences of sin on behalf of his people on the cross, his resurrection was God's declaration of both his and his people's righteousness. The great and complex event of Christ's death and resurrection constitutes the basis for the positive verdict of justification for all who are in union with him through faith. In the death of Christ, the trespasses of his people were punished; in the resurrection of Christ, the justification of his people was declared. The justification of believers occurs by virtue of their participation in the reality of Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf.
--Cornelis Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Banner of Truth 2006), 44

25 October 2010

Our Whole Life Long

Bavinck, in the midst of exulting in Luther's doctrine of justification:
God's grace and it alone is the object of a Christian's trust, at the beginning of a Christian's conversion and similarly to the end of one's life.
--Reformed Dogmatics, 4:196

P.S. If you don't like Bavinck, you might want to stay away for a few weeks! I'm working on a paper on Bavinck's view of justification so I'm immersed in the great Netherlander at the moment.

The Gospel's Strange Inversion

Intrinsically the saints are always sinners; extrinsically, therefore, they are always justified. Hypocrites, on the other hand, are always [viewing themselves as] intrinsically righteous; extrinsically, therefore, they are always sinners.
--Martin Luther, LW 25:257; quoted in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:194

Theology is Holy Work

A theologian is a person who makes bold to speak about God because he speaks out of God and through God. To profess theology is to do holy work. It is a priestly ministration in the house of the Lord. It is itself a service of worship, a consecration of mind and heart to the honor of His name.
--Herman Bavinck, in his inaugural lecture at the Free University of Amsterdam in 1902, succeeding Abraham Kuyper as Professor of Theology; quoted in E. Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck, 79

24 October 2010

The Hobbit

Peter Jackson will be directing. Release date is December 2012. Partial cast listed here.

HT: Drew Harrah

23 October 2010

Clips from a Classic

'Is this corn hand-shucked?'

'Your death therapy cured me you genius, your death therapy cured me you genius . . .'


What Were Bavinck's Lectures Like?

A former student recounts:
His classes met in the morning. Before he began his lecture, usually at 9 a.m., he stood near the stove and we gathered around him and asked him questions. We touched upon all kinds of subjects--an article by Dr. Kuyper, a novel that appeared recently in one of the modern languages, socialism, psychology--anything. And when he answered us he proved to be well informed, and usually he placed the subject in the light of the great principles of the Word of God. Then we were treated to a brief improvisation and learned much. After that, glancing at his watch, he would say, 'Gentlemen, it is time to begin.' Then he led us in prayer, and lectured dogmatics.

He spoke in such a way that we often forgot to take notes as we were supposed to do . . . and just listened to his enthusiastic presentation of the subject.
--account given by Idzerd Van Dellen in his In God's Crucible: An Autobiography (Baker 1950), 42-43; quoted in Eric Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck (Reformation Heritage 2008), 14

I love that last sentence.

Does 'Seed' in Galatians 3:16 Denote Christ or the One Family of God?

Our brothers Jason DeRouchie and Jason Meyer of BCS suggest the former, against N. T. Wright's suggestion of the latter, in a recent SBJT.

HT: Theoblog

22 October 2010

What Is 'Radically Gospel-Centered'?

From our friend Geoff Ziegler, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Hinsdale, Illinois.

Thanks, Reverend

My pastor, Chris Hodge, gets up every week and strives with all his might to open up the Bible and give us gospel grace. Usually we are a sea of unresponsive faces, with only sporadic encouragement for him. And he keeps getting up and doing it again. What a guy.

Your pastor does it, too.

'Honor such men.' (Phil 2:29)

Spiritual Face-Plants Are Not a Thing of the Past

A wonderful, heartening post from our brother Josh Rogers, the fourth in a series of four. He begins--
After years of self-induced, spiritual stress, I finally realized God wasn't the shin-kicking, cosmic scorekeeper I had imagined.

For the first time since I was a kid, I knew my salvation was secure, and obedience seemed like an opportunity, rather than an obligation. I was a changed man, a Jesusy flower child, feeling saved all over again.

Most importantly, now that I was experiencing an abundant life in Christ, I figured I wouldn't even want to sin anymore. Of course, I knew that I might periodically fall into sin, but I thought it would only be a minor distraction most of the time.

I was finally learning to walk on my own, and the days of embarrassing, spiritual face-plants were over.

If only.
Read the rest. Thanks Josh.

21 October 2010

Packer on Justification

As understood by the Reformers and their followers, and by Paul as I read him, [justification] is theological, declaring a work of amazing grace; anthropological, demonstrating that we cannot save ourselves; Christological, resting on incarnation and atonement; pneumatological, rooted in Spirit-wrought faith-union with Jesus; ecclesiological, determining both the definition and the health of the church; eschatological, proclaiming God's truly final verdict on believers here and now; evangelistic, inviting troubled souls into everlasting peace; pastoral, making our identity as forgiven sinners basic to our fellowship; and liturgical, being decisive for interpreting the sacraments and shaping sacramental services.

No other biblical doctrine holds together so much that is precious and enlivening.
--J. I. Packer et al, Here We Stand: Justification by Faith Today (Hodder and Stoughton 1986), 5; quoted in Anthony Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Eerdmans 1994), 153

The Threat of Years

William Barclay:
The years have a way of taking our ideals away, of making us satisfied with less and less, of lowering our standards, of accustoming us to defeat. . . . There is no threat so dangerous and so insidious, as the threat of years to a man’s ideals.
--William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Westminster 1960); 245-46; HT: Kent Hughes, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Crossway 2000), 260

Older men often speak, with a knowing smile, of the naive idealism of younger men.

Maybe the diagnosis of error is being directed to the wrong generation.

If the Bible's pervasive teaching of strength through weakness, victory through defeat, is true, then maybe the disillusioning setbacks that pile up over the years of a life are meant to stoke, not extinguish, youthful idealistic dreams of a supernatural life, a life that is a miracle, a life not explainable by the world's categories.

O for more naive idealism.

One reason I love my dad is his steadfast refusal to let the years of life beat out of him a longing for and belief in and vision of what God might do in his generation, and through his own life.

Wallis/Brooks Debate: Does Capitalism Have a Soul?

Next Thursday, the 28th, Jim Wallis and Arthur Brooks will debate capitalism and morality here at Wheaton College. Michael Gerson will moderate. The debate begins at 7:00 p.m. in Edman Chapel and is free and open to the public.

Details here.

20 October 2010

A Faithful Friend

'There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.' --Proverbs 18:24

Christ is 'a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.' And in order to prove this from facts, we appeal to such of you as have had him for a friend. Will you not, each of you, at once give your verdict, that this is neither more nor less than an unexaggerated truth?

He loved you before all worlds; long ere the day star flung his ray across the darkness, before the wing of angel had flapped the unnavigated ether, before aught of creation had struggled from the womb of nothingness, God, even our God, had set his heart upon all his children.

Since that time, has he once swerved, has he once turned aside, once changed? No; ye who have tasted of his love and know his grace, will bear me witness, that he has been a certain friend in uncertain circumstances. . . .

You have often left him; has he ever left you? You have had many trials and troubles; has he ever deserted you? Has he ever turned away his heart, and shut up his bowels of compassion? No, children of God, it is your solemn duty to say 'No,' and bear witness to his faithfulness.
--'A Faithful Friend,' in Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon (New York: Sheldon, Blakeman & Co., 1857), 13-14

Physical Books Will Be Gone in Five Years

According to expert Nicholas Negroponte in this video. [HT: Challies]

Bear in mind this dude is excited about sending 100 laptops (each with 100 e-books on them) to a village in Africa that, he is pleased to announce, is so primitive it has no electricity.

Evidently these laptops have some serious battery life.

Gospel Transformation

This looks like an excellent resource for leading a small group or church-based class into an awareness of how the gospel of grace continually changes us.

Table of Contents here.

Sample unit here.

Gospel Transformation comes from our friends at World Harvest Mission, founded in the late 1970s by Jack Miller.

HT: Already Not Yet

The Fellowship of the Unashamed

A young pastor from Zimbabwe:
I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit's power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made; I'm a disciple of His! I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. . . . I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus.
--quoted in R. Kent Hughes, 1001 Great Stories and "Quotes" (Tyndale House 1998), 61-62

To Live Is Christ (Trip Lee)

Is anything in the history of church hymnody as richly Bible-saturated as this?

Dead Sea Scrolls Going Online

Story here.

HT: Theoblog

19 October 2010

The One Single Chord

In volume 3 of his Reformed Dogmatics Herman Bavinck discusses the doctrine of salvation and the gospel's subversive announcement of grace, which is in contradistinction to every other religion. Along the way Bavinck footnotes a fascinating excerpt from a speech given over 100 years ago by professor Max Muller (pictured) before the British and Foreign Bible Society:
I may say that for 40 years, as at the university of Oxford I carried out my duties as professor of Sanskrit, I devoted as much time to the study of the holy books of the Easy as any other human being in the world. And I venture to tell this gathering what I have found to be the basic note, the one single chord, of all these holy books--be it the Veda of the Brahmans, the Purana of Siwa and Vishnu, the Qur'an of the Muslims, the Sendavesta of the Parsis, etc.--the one basic note or chord that runs through all of them is salvation by works.

They all teach that salvation must be bought and that your own works and merits must be the purchase price. Our own Bible, our sacred book from the East, is from start to finish a protest against this doctrine.

True, good works are also required in this holy book from the East, and that even more emphatically than in any other holy book from the East, but the works referred to are the outflow of a grateful heart. They are only the thank offerings, only the fruits of our faith. They are never the ransom of the true disciples of Christ.

Let us not close our eyes to whatever is noble and true and pleasing in those holy books. But let us teach Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims that there is but one book from the East that can be their comfort in that solemn hour when they must pass, entirely alone, into the invisible world. It is that holy book which contains the message--a message which is surely true and worthy of full acceptance, and concerns all humans, men, women, and children--that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
--Quoted in Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:491 n. 1

18 October 2010

Sinclair Ferguson: Preaching Lectures

Audio for the 2010 Preaching Lectures at Covenant Theological Seminary, given this past week by Sinclair Ferguson:
Thoughts for a Young Preacher: 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8
Lecture 1: Thoughts on the Preacher and Christ
Lecture 2: Thoughts on Preaching Christ
Lecture 3: Thoughts on Preaching Christ from the Old Testament

1 Timothy 6:4 and Blogging

. . . an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people . . . --1 Timothy 6:4b

Hard to imagine a text more relevant to the blogosphere.

In context, Paul is describing someone 'puffed up with conceit' who doesn’t promote 'the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness' (6:3-4a). And he says that this kind of person has a 'craving for controversy.' Interesting phrase. This person has a weird impulse within him that enjoys 'quarrels about words' (lit. ‘word-wars’). The result--'envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.'

How well we know this in blogdom! Of course the internet and blogs did not create the problem. But they do exacerbate the problem, giving a disturbingly natural platform to act out what 1 Timothy 6 warns against.

A few thoughts.

1. I see it in me. The first thing this text confronts me with is not what I find in others but what I find in me. When I come across something I disagree with online, or when someone disagrees with me, there is a dark, perverted impulse deep within that boils up and actually enjoys locking horns with another brother. I'm not talking about an honest love for truth, though that is sometimes there. I'm talking about simply wanting to win. It's the online equivalent of Mutombo's obnoxious finger-wag after swatting some guard's lay-up.

2. There is a difference between reluctantly engaging in controversy and eagerly engaging in controversy. 'Craving' it, as Paul says. Are you distressed, even a little bit, when you have to cross another brother? Or is it emotionally intoxicating? Do you salivate over an imminent argument?

3. The man writing 1 Timothy 6 publicly rebuked the rock of the church over a point of doctrine (Galatians 2). Conclusion: 1 Timothy 6 is not advocating the end of all 'quarrels about words.' It is advocating the end of all sick enjoyment of quarrels about words.

4. Some bloggers, of various theological persuasion, are acting out the tragedy of 1 Timothy 6 while thinking they're acting out the triumph of Galatians 2. How easily craving for controversy is mistaken for love for truth. There is a place for honest self-examination here, friends--not morbid introspection, but honest self-examination. A good diagnostic is: If I realized I was wrong in some matter after a series of back-and-forths in a comment thread, which would be greater, my disappointment at having 'lost' or my gratitude at having learned something?

5. To the degree that this post irks you, to that degree you need to hear it.

6. There's a connection between one's felt sense of full and free justification by faith and one's impulse to have the last jab in a comment thread. The reason we must have the last word, must defend ourselves and our name, must win, is that we don't really believe the gospel. We say we do; we even think we do. But we aren’t viscerally convinced that our personal worth is already fully secured without any contribution from us. It is functional semi-Pelagianism that makes us obnoxious online. We feel more approved before the mirror and before the world if we can inject a dose of self-generated vindication into our sense of worth. How deeply ironic, then, that it is often those most zealous for reformed doctrine who most need to hear 1 Timothy 6. We receive the gospel of grace with one arm (our doctrine) while stiff-arming the gospel with the other arm (our hearts).

7. The results of controversy-craving that Paul lists are so true to life, especially online life, aren't they? Take 'slander.' The internet is the most merciless machine for promoting slander in the history of the world. When else could someone (anyone) write whatever he wanted about whomever he wanted, press a button, and have it instantly and universally available without any filtering or time lapse or peer review necessary whatsoever?

Or 'evil suspicions.' Blogs and blog commenting breed suspicion. Peering through (not at) others' words, trying to discern what they really meant. We do it all the time.

8. I believe there is a common root heart issue from which both pornography viewing and online obnoxiousness emerge. In both cases 1) it is usually a man 2) who logs on to his computer, 3) is most prone to fall into this sin when tired or depressed, 4) feels personally inadequate, 5) is spurred on in this online activity by not having to truly engage another human being but instead has no relational demand placed upon him, 6) generates self-identity and bolsters his own sense of vaunted masculinity through his time online, 7) finds the activity addictive, immediately satisfying yet only leaving him hungry for more, 8) underestimates how much damage he is doing to himself and to others, and 9) logs off feeling a little more dirty.

At the end of a long day one guy looks at porn, another blasts away at the emergents or traditionalists or Arminians or Calvinists or cultural transformationists or two-kingdom people or multi-site advocates or single-service advocates or gospel tweeters or gospel tweet avoiders or presuppositionalists or evidentialists or charismatics or cessationists or 24-hour day creationists or framework folks or ESV-ers or NIV-ers. . . . Is not the dynamic of the heart, at root, the same? Could it be that porn-viewing and blog sniping, despite one feeling unrighteous and the other righteous, is the exact same immaturity channeled in a different direction?

Oh, one final similarity: both porn-viewing and blog sniping can be utterly redeemed--utterly redeemed--through penitent, grace-bathed, fault-confessing, pride-admitting, excuse-refusing contrition before Christ.

Hope for me.

17 October 2010

A 'Yes, Grace . . . But' Disposition

Yes! Thanks to Tullian for this wise and penetrating reflection on the wonderful imbalance, the glorious unfairness, of grace.

The Gospel Is Not a Second Chance

A good word from our brother Dan Orr.

Dan loves Christ and has a gut-level understanding of the supreme centrality of the gospel of grace in all of life. It's a beautiful gospel indeed, my friend.

16 October 2010

'He shall bruise your head' (Gen 3:15)

David VanDrunen is helping me see the way (even the first) Adam was both a king and a priest. For instance--
The first Adam was commissioned to exercise dominion as a king (Gen 1:26-28) and to guard the holy garden of Eden as a priest (2:15), which means that when the serpent appeared, Adam should have asserted his authority, vanquished him, and protected the holy temple of Eden. Now God announces in Genesis 3:15 that what Adam failed to do would be accomplished by one of Eve's own offspring. This offspring would assert authority over the enemy and vanquish him, inflicting not a minor blow but a mortal wound to the head. So this is the original gospel message: a Son of Adam will do what Adam should have done in the first place. A second and last Adam is coming.
--Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Crossway 2010), 49-50

Mortally Afraid of Pride

For Calvin the passive virtues of submission, humility, patience, self-denial, cross-bearing stand in the foreground. Like St. Augustine, Calvin is mortally afraid of pride, whereby man exalts himself above God. His strong insistence upon the inability of man and the bondage of the will is not for the purpose of plunging man into despair, but in order to raise him from his lethargy and to awaken in him the longing for what he lacks, to make him renounce all self-glorying and self-reliance and put all his confidence in God alone.

Calvin strips man of everything in order to restore unto him all things in God.
--Herman Bavinck, Calvin and Common Grace (trans. Geerhardus Vos; Westminster 1996; originally written in 1909), 23

Interesting--Bavinck, writing on Calvin, mentioning Augustine, in a work translated by Vos!

15 October 2010

What the Doctrines of Grace Foster

Humilitas [humility] . . . grows on the root of election.
--Herman Bavinck, Calvin and Common Grace, 24

Sinclair Ferguson: By Grace Alone

Buy the book here.

JJ Sherwood briefly reviews the book at TGC Reviews here.

Historicity of Genesis

Covenant Seminary has posted the Fall 2010 Francis Schaeffer Lectures. Jerram Barrs and Jack Collins spoke on human origins and the historicity of Genesis.


Annie Dillard:
Once, a man shot an eagle out of the sky. He examined the eagle and found the dry skull of a weasel fixed by the jaws to his throat. The supposition is that the eagle had pounced on the weasel and the weasel swiveled and bit as instinct taught him, tooth to neck, and nearly won.
Dillard reflects:
I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. . . . Seize it and let it seize you up aloft even till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter, loosened over fields, over fields and woods, lightly, thoughtless, from any height at all, from as high as eagles.
--Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (Harper 1988), 66, 70 (HT: Kent Hughes, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, 154-55)

'One thing have I asked of the LORD . . .' --Psalm 27:4

'One thing is necessary . . .' --Luke 10:42

'One thing I do . . .' --Philippians 3:13

We Are Strangers Here

C. S. Lewis:
We must simply accept it that we are spirits, free and rational beings, at present inhabiting an irrational universe, and must draw the conclusion that we are not derived from it. We are strangers here. We come from somewhere else. Nature is not the only thing that exists. There is 'another world,' and that is where we come from.

And that explains why we do not feel at home here. A fish feels at home in water. If we 'belonged here' we should feel at home here. All that we say about 'Nature red in tooth and claw,' about death and time and mutability, all our half-amused, half-bashful attitude to our own bodies, is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures.

If this world is the only world, how did we come to find its laws either so dreadful or so comic? If there is no straight line elsewhere, how did we discover that Nature's line is crooked?
--'On Living in an Atomic Age,' in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 78-79; emphasis original

14 October 2010

Bavinck on Acts 2

After the creation and the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the third great work of God. . . .

At the creation the morning stars sang, and all the children of God shouted with joy. At the birth of Christ a multitude of heavenly hosts raised a song of jubilation to God's good pleasure. On the birthday of the church, the church itself acclaims in many languages the great works of God.
--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:500, 503

13 October 2010

An Infinite Ocean

Edwards, preaching on Psalm 21:4:
His essence being love, he is as it were an infinite ocean of love without shores and bottom, yea, and without a surface. . . .

Those that God is pleased to make the objects of his love, let them be who they will, or what they will—never so mean, never so great sinners—they are the objects of a love that is infinitely full and sufficient.

And therefore nothing that they need, nothing that they ask of God, nothing that their desires can extend themselves to, nothing that their capacity can contain, no good that can be enjoyed by them, is so great, so excellent that God begrudges it to them.
--'The Terms of Prayer,' in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 19, Sermons and Discourses: 1734-1738, 780-81

12 October 2010

Sierra Madre Congregational Church . . .

. . . just outside Pasadena, California has just been blessed with a new youth pastor.

Gavin graduated from Covenant Seminary a year ago and the internship at CHBC last year. He preached his first sermon this past Sunday, an excellent message on Luke 15 (podcast here).

Way to go Reverend!

I Think My Wife's a Calvinist

And a slightly different concern, paternal rather than marital.

This is Brandon Milan.

HT: Theoblog

Our Setbacks, God's Springboards

A good word from our brother Justin Buzzard on how to process the deep disappointments of life.

The conclusion:
Cheer up. Our God is not asleep. He is wide awake, a wide-awake Father with his eyes fixed on his sons and daughters. And he is wise. Sometimes he must allow our plans to blow up and our dreams to crash and burn in order to give us new and better plans, bigger and better dreams. Our setbacks may be God’s springboards, springboards for a new life that God knows is best for us.

The Wrong Kind of 'Equality'

Envy, bleating 'I'm as good as you', is the hotbed of Fascism.
--C. S. Lewis, 'Democratic Education,' in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 36

Perennial Dangers to the Church

Over at the Sharefaith blog today I share a few thoughts on some threats to the church in the book of Acts, threats that provide wise instruction for us today. Thanks for the kind invitation to participate, Daniel Threlfall!

Jonathan Edwards, Theologian of Love

'A Divine and Supernatural Light,' 'God Glorified in Man's Dependence' and 'Heaven Is a World of Love' are classics, wonderful, and hard to beat, but my favorite Edwards sermon so far is 'The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,' based on 1 John 4:16. Deeply moving, and igniting of all sorts of longings and joys. The sermon also expresses as well as any the couple of themes most central, in my opinion, to the heart of Edwards' theology and ministry.

It's included in the second of the two volumes of sermons transcribed by Michael McMullen and published by B&H.

Here are a few extracts. Best read slowly.
The soul of the true saint longs to see more of God, the glory of God, and the beauty of Jesus Christ. . . . The soul of the saint longs to be like God, to have more of God in his heart . . . longs to have communion with him and can't be satisfied with anything short of the full enjoyment of God. (p. 303)

The joy that a saint has in God and in a Redeemer is unspeakable. The unspeakableness of it seems to be a special property that belongs to it. There are no words to express that kind of sweetness or humble exultation that arises from the sensible presence of God to the soul that is filled with divine love. (304)

The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love. (305)

This divine principle [of love] is a lamp, a sacred flame lit up in the soul. (309)

What more pleasant life can there be than a life of love? (310-11)

Light is not true that is not accompanied with love. Light without warmth is false light. (312)

There is nothing so contrary to the nature of the devil as love, for he is a spirit who is full of malice. He can easier imitate what is in the head than what is in the heart. (314)

He who turns and chooses Christ, Christ will not reject him. That is all that Christ waits for--to have sinners willing. (316)

The heart of a godly man doth freely choose God and Christ for his portion. Take away all torment and set hell aside and he could and might have his choice and he would choose God rather than anything else. If the godly man might have his choice either to live always in this world in the enjoyment of all manner of worldly prosperity or else in God's time die and go to heaven to dwell forever there in the enjoyment of God and Jesus Christ, he would choose the latter. (324)

He who has true divine love desire[s] to be emptied of himself that God may fill him. He loves to renounce his own honor that Gd may have honor. He loves to renounce his own righteousness that God may have glory. He loves to be low that God may be high. (325)

They who love God set their hearts on the secret of happiness which will never fail them, and they will be happy to all eternity in spite of death and hell. (328)

He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection. (332)

Labor to live a life of love. (333)

God has been great to many earthly princes in the outward possessions and riches and honor to which he has advanced them. But God has done more for you than for all the kings and potentates of the earth met together in that outward glory. Their towns and kingdoms are but dirt and dung in comparison of what God has given to you. (338)

God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it. . . . He is come down from heaven and has taken upon him the human nature in purpose, that he might be near to you and might be, as it were, your companion. (339)

Let these considerations influence you to the love of God and Jesus Christ, to love them with a superlative and love nothing contrary to them, and love nothing above them, and love nothing equal to them, and love nothing along with them with any parallel love. And express your love by doing for them, by being willing all your days to labor and suffer for the glory of God. (341)

11 October 2010

They Never Avoid a Thousand Criticisms

John Calvin on the realities of pastoral ministry:
None are more exposed to slanders and insults than godly teachers. This comes not only from the difficulty of their duties, which are so great that sometimes they sink under them, or stagger or halt or take a false step, so that wicked men find many occasions of finding fault with them; but added to that, even when they do all their duties correctly and commit not even the smallest error, they never avoid a thousand criticisms. . . .

[T]he more sincerely any pastor strives to further Christ's kingdom, the more he is loaded with spite, the more fierce do the attacks upon him become. And not only so, but as soon as any charge is made against ministers of the Word, it is believed as surely and firmly as if it had been already proved. This happens not only because a higher standard of integrity is required from them, but because Satan makes most people, in fact nearly everyone, over credulous so that without investigation, they eagerly condemn their pastors whose good name they ought to be defending.
--commenting on 1 Timothy 5:19

Dad wisely reflected today on the need for a culture of grace. Surely one manifestation of a culture of grace is happily thinking the best of people and only with great reluctance detecting the bad, rather than suspiciously thinking the worst of people and only with great reluctance detecting the good. Especially when our pastors are in view.

Two Ways to Be Addicted

Gerhard Forde:
The addict . . . may be addicted either to the substance in question or to his own obsession with quitting and become a 'dry drunk.' . . .

We must come to confess that we are addicted to sin, addicted to self, whatever form that may take, pious or impious. . . .

One can be addicted either to what is base or to what is high, either to lawlessness or to lawfulness.
--On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Eerdmans 1997), 16, 17, 27


A God-Sized Vision

Eagerly anticipating this book on revival by our brothers Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, available in a few weeks.

Tim Keller writes, 'The importance of spiritual revival and the necessity of conversion is being questioned in many evangelical and Reformed circles. I'm so glad that this book is appearing now, as a witness both to how God has worked in the church in the past and what he can do in the future.'

I cannot read Edwards' accounts of what happened in the 1730's and 40s without longing for it to happen again today. Beginning in me.

Edwards: The Light of the Glorified Christ

Jonathan Edwards reflects on what believers' eyes will be like in their new and glorious existence in the new earth. (Have you ever considered how not just your body in general but distinct parts of your body will be glorified?)
'Tis not likely that, when they come to have bodily eyes again, they will see by such gross and slow rays as we see by in this world. 'Tis not likely that the light of heaven will be the same with the light of the kitchen and dungeon of this lower world.

The light that is emitted from the glorified body of Christ, the external sun of the heavenly world, is not the same sort of light with that which is sent forth from our sun. The light of this sun is darkness to it, his beams are very gross, stale, dull, heavy things in comparison of them. 'Tis probable that the saints in heaven will have a full sight of the glorified humanity of Christ, from one end of heaven to the other, and 'tis not probable that it will be by such rays of light as we see things. 'Tis probable also that they will be able to see from one side of the universe to the other, from heaven to hell; but 'tis not likely it will be by such slow rays of light, that are several years traveling from the fixed stars to this earth. The glorified body of Christ will shine forth on this world at the day of judgment, with the same light, and in the same glory, with which it shines in heaven; for he will then appear in his greatest glory on that great occasion when he shall come in the glory of his Father to be glorified in his saints and admired in all that believe. He will then shine in a different sort of light than the sun, so that the sun shall be turned into darkness before him.
--Miscellany 926, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol 20 (Yale University Press, 2002), 169-70

In case you didn't catch that--Edwards thinks believers in the new earth will be able to see across the entire universe since Christ, not the sun, will be lighting the whole universe, and the light emitted by Christ's glorified body must be far faster than the speed of light in a solar system lit up by our sun.

'No mind has conceived what God has prepared . . .' --1 Cor 2:9

Nice Haircut

HT: Lighthearted Calvinist

08 October 2010

On Gospel Tweets

A slew of nice ones from Tullian. A few more from Paul Tripp, via Timmy Brister. And 95 of them in an A29 contest last summer.

Jake Belder registers some concern over them.

Linking to Jake, Anthony Bradley expresses in World even more disdain for them.

Jared Wilson responds to Anthony.

Jake fires away once more.

A few quick thoughts.
1. Don't know Jake, but I continue to learn from and am blessed by all these men. We are on the same team! So easily forgotten.

2. O the wisdom of God--a four-year-old can understand the gospel, and an elderly saint at the end of a lifetime of wondering at it is only just beginning. Tweet-able and inexhaustible at the same time.

3. Didn't Paul put the gospel in less than 140 characters in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4? And Romans 10:9? And Peter, in Acts 16:31?

4. There may be valid frustrations in the way some tweet the gospel (though I've read the above pieces and have yet to see any), but you have a much bigger problem if you can't do it at all.

5. It's one thing to see issues with gospel tweets that really are unwittingly subversive to the biblical gospel, and to graciously identify them. It's another thing simply not to like gospel tweets. One is a truth issue, one is a taste issue. The latter is not responsible journalism.

Tragic Irony

John 18:28:
They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.
Carson comments:
The Jews take elaborate precautions to avoid ritual contamination in order to eat the Passover, at the very time they are busy manipulating the judicial system to secure the death of him who alone is the true Passover.
--D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John (PNTC; Eerdmans 1991), 589

The Puritans and the Bible

J. I. Packer:
Puritanism was, above all else, a Bible movement.

To the Puritan the Bible was in truth the most precious possession that this world affords. His deepest conviction was that reverence for God means reverence for Scripture, and serving God means obeying Scripture. To his mind, therefore, no greater insult could be offered to the Creator than to neglect his written word; and, conversely, there could be no truer act of homage to him than to prize it and pore over it, and then to live out and give out its teaching. Intense veneration for Scripture, as the living word of the living God, and a devoted concern to know and do all that it prescribes, was Puritan’s hallmark.
--‘The Puritans as Interpreters of Scripture,’ in A Quest for Godliness (Crossway 2010; repr.), 98; cf. 113, 122

No truer act of homage. To prize it and pore over it. Intense veneration.

'And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock . . .' --Matthew 7:24

Are Christians Supposed to Be Morally Superior to Non-Christians?

My brother Eric has a good answer, in five points.

His conclusion:
Perhaps we could agree: holiness of life is imperative for Christians; but the one thing we're supposed to be reflecting to the world is not our own moral lives, but Jesus himself, a friend and savior of sinners, who will readily, happily forgive and heal and rebuild and restore anyone, so that sin stops, the desert blooms, and wicked people change, to their own great happiness?

Either Both or Neither

If we will not carry the cross, we shall never wear the crown.
--J. C. Ryle, Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Mark, 169
Cross and crown, death and resurrection, humiliation and exaltation lie on the same line.
--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4:423

07 October 2010

12 Ways to Subvert Gospel Truth

In our teaching and writing. Good words from our brother Justin Holcomb.

06 October 2010

A Few Thoughts on N. T. Wright's After You Believe

Earlier this year the bishop’s After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters was released, joining Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope to form a trio of semi-popular pieces straightening out what Wrights deems in need of adjustment in current Protestant Christianity.

After You Believe
is an exposition of Christian virtue:
My contention in this book is that the New Testament invites its readers to learn how to be human [in a way] which will both inform our moral judgments and form our characters so that we can live by their guidance. The name for this way of being human, this kind of transformation of character, is virtue. (18)

Virtue is what happens when wise and courageous choices have become 'second nature.' (21)
The dominant refrain throughout the book is that Christian virtue is a matter of forming habits, habits that lead to character transformation.

This is not a review but three brief comments after reading the book--a strength, a weakness, and a note on Wright more broadly.

First a strength.

N. T. Wright has helped a generation of believers shed an adolescent view of a boring future afterlife floating about in disembodied ethereal existence, and mature into the wonderful biblical vision of God’s coming restoration of Eden and renewal of this world, ruled by a redeemed humanity of incorruptible though fully ('trans'-)physical bodies, of which Jesus himself is the first installment. (Who knew Randy Alcorn and N. T. Wright would find in one another such a vocal ally?) As with much of his writing, Wright helpfully incorporates into this book on virtue the biblical vision of a renewed and restored cosmos, a word in season to us all and a revolution for some.

This clarity on the solid and substantive future awaiting believers is one piece of a larger strength of Wright’s, that of putting the whole Bible together. He reads and expounds all of Scripture with the first two and last two chapters always in mind, connecting the dots for us to see where and how history began and where and how it is headed. Wright clarifies, for example, how God is currently on a mission to restore (not leave behind) this earth (we English-speakers could have gotten this from Bavinck a hundred years ago had we known Dutch!), or how the New Testament fulfills the Old and the Old prepares for the New. Even here, of course, discerning readers will want to exile some of Wright’s intercanonical suggestions; but there is much to gratefully receive.

Second, a weakness.

After You Believe eviscerates the heart of healthy Christian cultivation of virtue. Indeed, large swaths of the book, including the opening chapters, contain nothing specifically Christian. In this book, biblical labels often cover pagan substance.

That's a strong statement, and it is dangerous and difficult to generalize, and I am certainly reading Wright with my own theological framework, and there are undoubtedly out-of-balance elements in my own theological outlook, and I bless God for all Wright has taught me. But his is a castrated view of Christian virtue and will prove correspondingly fruitless. The center, the engine, the key--pick your metaphor, I'm talking about the gospel of grace--is missing.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that there seems to be something of a gospel recovery currently underway in the Christian West. By this I have in mind not only recovery of what the gospel is doctrinally but also recovery of how the gospel helps us functionally. Wright’s book is a striking example of the kind of thinking that lacks this renewed emphasis (an emphasis being rediscovered, not discovered, today). After You Believe is a good and godly attempt to ignite authentic Christian living that nevertheless fails to provide the crucial resource for such living. Divorced from gospel grace, strenuous moral activity--even when done in an effort to depend on the Spirit, which is imperative--can only make us smug in success or fearful in failure.

To be sure, I have my own very particular view about where virtue comes from. In short, I believe the same Christ-clinging, self-divesting faith that justifies us is the faith that sanctifies us. To speak in Sanders-ese, I believe in covenantal charism: get in by grace, stay in by grace. I believe we have very little awareness how law-marinated our hearts really are, and how our fears and anxieties and short-temperedness and envy are simply the fruit of this, and how the great task of the believer is to re-believe each day the shocking, even scandalous, freeness of God's favor, because of and in communion with his Son. More to say but I move on to keep this brief.

Wright wants his readers to cultivate virtue-producing habits; he expounds the moral triad of faith, hope and love; he reminds us of the ninefold fruit of the Spirit; he helps us recover the neglected significance of the Holy Spirit; he draws on long and venerable ethics traditions tracing back to Aristotle. Well and good. The problem is not what is here but what's not. Nowhere are we exposed to the New Testament’s teaching that the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus, the same gospel that got us off the runway at conversion and which will land us in the pearly gates at death, is the heart of what keeps us moving forward in the air in the meantime—as indicated, for instance, in 2 Peter 1, the very NT passage most transparently concerned with the cultivation of virtue (arete, vv. 3 and 5).

The very title articulates the error: After You Believe. After? Isn't the Christian life the beginning of sustained and ever-deepening belief? I understand--the point of the title is simply to address what happens after conversion. Fair enough. Yet the title does reinforce the false and unhelpful and widespread assumption that one believes in Christ at conversion and then moves on to the hard work of virtue-cultivation.

Third, a general comment.

Wright continues, to his own self-professed dismay, to prove a uniquely polarizing figure. A clump of Christians on one end of evangelicalism have knee-jerk suspicion simply in finding Wright’s name on the cover; a clump on the other end receives the words of Wright as one (very small) step shy of holy writ. There is wisdom, however, in neither overcautiously resisting everything nor greedily gulping down everything but rather (as with any writer) swallowing the meat and spitting out the bones.

Corinthian factionalism is in our blood today no less than the mid-50’s A.D. 'I am of Cephas,' 'I am of Paul,' 'I am of Apollos'--'I am of Wright,' 'I am of Piper,' 'I am of Barth,' 'I am of _______.' But all things are ours. Learn from them all, filter it through Scripture, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, blend humble love with conviction-fueled courage, and emerge helped. Let's be mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14:20).

There is much that is insightful and illuminating in After You Believe. Far better, though, to give a young believer zealous to cultivate character and virtue is Luther’s Treatise on Good Works or Walther Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification or volume 4 of Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics or Berkouwer’s Faith and Sanctification or Gerhard Forde's Justification by Faith or Mike Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life or Tim Chester’s You Can Change or anything by Jerry Bridges or Bryan Chapell or Paul Tripp.

It is grace that changes us.

Our brother Trevin Wax has a more charitable and more positive response here. Mike Horton also briefly reviewed the book over at CT.

John Gerstner on Justification

Wish I could have sat in this guy's classes. In seminary I listened to his 24-tape lectures series on Jonathan Edwards. Fascinating. While I found myself quibbling with him at points, I love Gerstner's sense of conviction. So rare today.

Theology is not boring because theology is boring. Theology is boring because theologians make it boring. Gerstner wasn't one of them.

Packer: Spiritual Authority

From the essay 'The Practical Writings of the English Puritans,' in A Quest for Godliness:
Spiritual authority is hard to pin down in words, but we recognise it when we meet it. It is a product compounded of conscientious faithfulness to the Bible; vivid perception of God's reality and greatness; inflexible desire to honour and please him; deep self-searching and radical self-denial; adoring intimacy with Christ; generous compassion manward; and forthright simplicity, God-taught and God-wrought, adult in its knowingness while childlike in its directness.

The man of God has authority as he bows to divine authority, and the pattern of God's power in him is the baptismal pattern of being supernaturally raised from under burdens that feel like death.
--J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway 2010; repr.), 77

Luther on Pride

In expounding the first commandment Luther says there are two parts to it, one positive and one negative--one, praising and trusting God alone, and two, not being prideful.

On the second part:
The second work of this commandment is to be on one's guard, to flee from and to avoid all temporal honor and praise, and never to seek a name for yourself, or fame and a great reputation, so that everyone may sing your praises and talk about you. This is an exceedingly dangerous sin, yet the most common of all, and unfortunately too little attention is paid to it. So deeply is all human nature sunk in the evil of its own conceit and self-confidence . . . that everyone wants to be looked up to and not be the least no matter how insignificant he may be.

Now the world regards this terrible vice as the highest virtue, and this makes it extremely dangerous. . . .

If a man had nothing else to do except the second work of this commandment, he would still have to work his whole lifetime to fight this vice which is so common to us all, so deceiving, so slippery to grasp, and so insidious that it is difficult to drive it out.
--From 'A Treatise on Good Works,' in Luther's Works, 44:42-43

01 October 2010

That We Might Live

Athanasius (298-373) on the incarnation:
He descended that he might raise us up, he went down to corruption, that corruption might put on immortality, he became weak for us, that we might rise with power, he descended to death, that he might bestow on us immortality, and give life to the dead. Finally, he became man, that we who die as men might live again, and that death should no more reign over us.
--'Festal Letter,' 10:8; quoted in Thomas G. Weinandy, Athanasius: A Theological Introduction (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 96

Such grace defies our categories, does it not? 'The Word became flesh.' Not 'created' flesh, though that's true. 'Became' flesh. Moderate grace would have said: I’ll meet you halfway. I’ll grant you a ladder and give you strength to climb it. I’ll help you become what you were meant to be.

Defiant grace said: I’ll become what you were meant to be.

The Real Dividing Line

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, reflecting on his experience as witness to and victim of the forced labor of the Soviet concentration camps during the Lenin/Stalin era:
The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
--The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (3 vols.; New York: Harper & Row, 1974–1978), 1:168

A Beautiful Exchange

I've been enjoying the new Hillsong album.

Here's one of the tracks.