30 November 2010

What Doctrine Is For

Needed to hear this today from Calvin:
Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart. . . .

To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. . . .

[Let us] detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers.
--Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.6.4

Power in Us, Power from Us

[I]f the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.
--John Owen, The True Nature of a Gospel Church, in Works 16:76; quoted in J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Crossway, 2010), 117; emphasis original

Why Did the Gospel Writers Care about History?

There are certain writers on the New Testament to whom I return time and again: Keener, Carson, Wright, Beale, Watson, Moo, Hurtado, Fee. From these men I learn not only about the NT but how to study the NT. Perhaps most important for my own development the past five years, at least in certain ways, is Richard Bauckham.

In re-reading Jesus and the Eyewitnesses--probably the best book strictly in the area of NT studies I've yet read--Bauckham interacts with Dunn's sociologically-controlled explanation of the early Christians' concern for accurate history. Bauckham writes:
The early Christian movement was interested in the genuinely past history of Jesus because they regarded it as religiously relevant.

But why should this have been the case? Dunn offers a sociological explanation. . . . It was for purposes of self-identity that Christians transmitted Jesus traditions and wrote Gospels. While this explanation has the advantage of cross-cultural comparison, it is lacking in the cultural specificity necessary for an adequate explanation. Early Christians were less concerned with self-identity than with salvation, though the two are in their case closely related. Jesus was more than the founder of their movement; he was the source of salvation.

Moreover, this salvation was understood within the thoroughly Jewish context of Christian origins. It was fulfillment of the promises made by the God of Israel to his people Israel in the past. It was a new chapter--the decisive, eschatological chapter--in God's history with his people and the world. The events of Jesus' history were charged with all the history-making significance of the activity of Israel's God.

Thus, at the deepest level, it was for profoundly theological reasons--their understanding of God and salvation--that early Christians were concerned with faithful memory of the really past story of Jesus. The present in which they lived in relationship with the risen and exalted Christ was the effect of this past history, presupposing its pastness and not at all dissolving it.
--Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006), 277-78; paragraph breaks added

The Discomfort of the Justified Life

Jerry Bridges:
God wants us to find our primary joy in our objectively declared justification, not in our subjectively perceived sanctification. Regardless of how much progress we make in our pursuit of holiness, it will never come close to the absolute perfect righteousness of Christ that is ours through our union with him in his life and death.

So we should learn to live with the discomfort of the justified life. We should accept the fact that as still-growing Christians we will always be dissatisfied with our sanctification. But at the same time, we should remember that in Christ we are justified. We are righteous in him.
--Jerry Bridges, 'The Discomfort of the Justified Life,' in Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification (ed. Ryan Glomsrud and Michael Horton; Modern Reformation, 2010), 94

29 November 2010

Next Friday

To Serve Is to Suffer

I find this short CT essay by our brother Ajith Fernando, director for Youth for Christ Sri Lanka, insightful, convicting, clarity-renewing, strengthening.

One fascinating observation is that Christians in the West ought not to think that suffering only happens to Christians in the East, because committed ministry always brings suffering, and such ministry takes place in both West and East.

An excerpt:

Several people have sympathized with me, saying it must be hard and frustrating to serve in a country wracked by war and hostile to evangelism. Indeed, we have suffered. A few months ago, one of our staff workers was brutally assaulted and killed. But I think the biggest pain I have experienced is the pain I have received from Youth for Christ, the organization for which I have worked for 34 years. I can also say that next to Jesus and my family, Youth for Christ has been the greatest source of joy in my life. Whether you live in the East or the West, you will suffer pain if you are committed to people. This is suffering that can be avoided. We can avoid pain by stopping the relationship or moving on to something more "fulfilling." But what do we lose?

Some years ago I was preparing a message on commitment while traveling in the West. Within the space of a few days, three people told me how they or someone close to them had left a group or a person because of problems. One had left an unhappy marriage; another, a church; another, an organization. Each person described his leaving as a merciful release from suffering. But I could not help asking myself whether, in each of these cases, the Christian thing to do would have been to stay and suffer.

HT: Geoff Ziegler

As if They Had Created Themselves

What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods'--could set up on their own as if they had created themselves--be their own masters--invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.

And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history--money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery--the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.
--C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3

Unmediated Authority

The prophets: 'Thus says the Lord . . .'

Jesus Christ: 'Truly I say to you . . .'

'Long ago . . . God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . .' --Hebrews 1:1-2

HT: Dan Doriani

27 November 2010

Asks No More

Let us wonder! Grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s door;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles and asks no more.
--John Newton

Wesley's Argument for the Divine Origin of the Bible

John Wesley once argued that the Bible is written by either good men, bad men, or God.

1. It can't have been written by good men, because good men would not have deceitfully claimed time and again, 'Thus says the Lord.'

2. It can't have been written by bad men, because bad men wouldn't have spent so much time commending virtue and discouraging vice.

3. Therefore it must have been written by God.

--adapted from A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century, 228

Why I Am Not an Arminian

That's the title of a 2004 IVP book by Robert Peterson and Mike Williams. (They preferred the positive title Why I Am a Calvinist but the publisher wanted to retain balance with the simultaneously written Why I Am Not a Calvinist by Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell).

Peterson and Williams hit a home run and I find it to be one of the clearest and most persuasive defenses of Reformed soteriology available. But what is most striking about this book is its tone. From the start, Peterson and Williams refuse to castigate their Arminian interlocutors, repeating time and again that they all share in a common faith and are brothers in the Lord. Having sat in classes with both of these men I can attest that what they write is how they live.

Here are a few excerpts from the introductory chapter. I commend the whole book.
By and large, Calvinists feel duty bound to attack Arminianism at every opportunity. And far too often the debate between Calvinists and Arminians has failed to glorify God, promote understanding or honor one another as fellow members of the body of Christ. It is our aim, however, to treat our Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ as we would want to be treated. . . .

The Arminian Christian believes that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh to save sinners and that the saving work of Christ comes to the sinner by way of the grace of God received through faith. Whatever issues relevant to salvation we disagree upon, let us agree on this: the Calvinist and the Arminian are brothers in Christ. Both belong to the household of faith. The issue of debate is not between belief and unbelief but rather which of two Christian perspectives better represents the biblical portrayal of the divine-human relationship in salvation and the contributions of both God and man in human history.

Christians may disagree with each other, and disagree profoundly over issues close to the center of the faith, yet affirm one another as fellow believers. For some on both sides, we are sure that this might seem to subtract from the seriousness of the divide between Calvinism and Arminianism. We do not seek to disvalue the issues of contention. They are real and important. . . . But neither do we want to overestimate the debate. In the division between Christianity and Islam, the Arminian is our brother. . . .

With all of the foregoing in mind, we will seek to write under a number of self-imposed strictures that we hope will help us in addressing the issues of the contention without adding to the strife of the debate. Far too often, polemical works are not actually targeted at the other side of the debate. That is to say, they are not aimed at engaging the other side in discussion, or at seeking to persuade the other of the plausibility or truth of the author's own position. Many of the discussions we have read--from both sides of the debate--seem to be written to those who already agree with the author. The point often seems to be one of arming one's own troops, giving them ammunition for future firefights.

We will not follow this strategy. We write as Calvinists to Arminians, as persons who hold the Word of God precious and worthy of our most careful reflection to other believers who share that same commitment of the heart. (from pp. 10-14)

The point here, I say for neither the first nor the last time on this blog, is not to be a Calvinist and also to be really, really nice. That's not enough. It's not merely a both/and. It's an if/then.

Haughtily held Calvinism is inherently self-contradictory and betrays Arminian functional belief beneath a veneer of Calvinist doctrinal belief. If we are confessing Calvinists and yet are impatient, splintering, divisive, condescending, or emotionally elitist, etc, then we're not really Calvinists. It doesn't matter what we say we believe. We don't really believe it's all--all--of grace.

To lack grace in our living is to deny grace in our theology.

What God Has Joined Together

Dutch ethicist Jochem Douma, echoing one of Herman Bavinck's deeply held convictions:
Domatics without ethics is empty; ethics without dogmatics is blind.
--quoted in Ron Gleason, Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian (P&R, 2010), 112

26 November 2010

Always Wishing You Could Get into That Dream Again

Here the Beaver's voice sank into silence and it gave one or two very mysterious nods. Then signaling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, it added in a low whisper--

'They say Aslan is on the move--perhaps has already landed.'

And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don't understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning--either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again.

It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside. Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.
--C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, ch. 7

25 November 2010

Much to Be Thankful For

'Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.'

--1 Thessalonians 5:18

24 November 2010

New Perspective Corporatism

Doug Moo:
My quarrel with new perspective advocates is often not so much over what they say but about what they do not say--or, perhaps better, the overall balance that they give to certain issues. Romans, for instance, is without doubt deeply concerned with the 'people' or 'national' question: how God's grace in Christ embraces both Israel and the Gentiles - as Paul announces the theme in 1:16, 'first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.' But this national breakdown follows and explicates the immediate recipient of the salvation which Paul's gospel both proclaims and effects: 'everyone who believes.' Individual human beings here and, I would assert, in Romans generally are the immediate concern of Paul. . . . New perspective advocates, I think, exchange background and foreground in their overall reading of Romans.
--Douglas J. Moo, 'Israel and the Law in Romans 5-11: Interaction with the New Perspective,' in Justification and Variegated Nomism, 2:188

Make up Your Mind about What Matters

I recently asked four brothers: What would you rather have--

One billion dollars deposited into your checking account when you roll out of bed in the morning


the assurance of Isaiah 43: 'But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you."'

Which one?

One billion dollars, or those two verses?

Remember, you can do a lot of good with a billion dollars.

As for me, if you told me that you were going to deposit that money in my account tomorrow, and I knew you were being truthful, and in return those two verses are going to be cut out of my Bible and wiped from my memory, while I could retain the remaining 99.99% of the Bible, I respond: no thank you.

Keep your money.

I want the real thing.

Lewis: A Team of Two

C. S. Lewis has a fascinating essay called 'Modern Man and His Categories of Thought' in which he explains that we must change our evangelistic practices due to the changing presuppositions of modern people.

Written at the request of Bishop Stephen Neill in 1946, it could have been penned yesterday, and reads as if it were.

I may say more about it later, but here's the wonderful closing to the essay, in which Lewis reminds us that the need for God-sent awakening in evangelism transcends all cultural particularities and clever evangelistic strategies--
Before closing, I must add that the limitations of my own gifts has compelled me always to use a predominantly intellectual approach. But I have also been present when an appeal of a much more emotional and also more 'pneumatic' kind has worked wonders on a modern audience. Where God gives the gift, the 'foolishness of preaching' is still mighty.

But best of all is a team of two: one to deliver the preliminary intellectual barrage, and the other to follow up with a direct attack on the heart.
--C. S. Lewis, 'Modern Man and His Categories of Thought,' in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 66

23 November 2010

The Heart of Our Electing God

While you are now increasingly interested in theology and doctrine, don't forget that you were loved into the kingdom of God. And such love is closer to the heart of our gracious, electing God than any cool, intellectual grasp of the details of predestination.
--a letter to a young convert to the Reformed tradition, in James Smith, Letters to a Young Calvinist (Brazos, 2010), 78; emphasis original

Ron Gleason's Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian

After three aborted Amazon orders I thought the Lord was against me in my efforts to get my hands on the first definitive English-language biography of the grouchy Netherlander--especially when I walked up to the P&R booth at ETS last week only to have my initial joy dashed when told that the two copies they had were for display purposes only. Never have I been so sorely tempted to break the eighth commandment.

I stand vindicated, however, with the book now resting on my desk, where I will guard it violently if necessary.

Looks fantastic. Thanks for serving us in this way, Ron.

So Vastly Wonderful

A. W. Tozer:
God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.

[True] worship . . . can never come from a mere doctrinal knowledge of God. Hearts that are 'fit to break' with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eye upon the majesty of Deity. Men of the breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to nor understood by common men.
--The Pursuit of God (Christian Publications, 1982), 40-41

Why Was Jeremiah Written?

In the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 'Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin.' (Jer 36:1-3)
Most of Jeremiah is searing denunciations of the nations--and of God's own people. But chapters 30 to 33 are an island of consolation and comfort, promises of restoration. And this is the point of the whole prophecy, as the opening lines of Jeremiah 36 indicate (cf. 36:7). Jeremiah is written not mainly for denunciation, but for forgiveness and comfort.

22 November 2010

Satan's Scripture

Money is Satan's scripture, through which he works in the world, just as God does everything through the true Scripture.
--Martin Luther, Off the Record with Martin Luther: An Original Translation of the Table Talks (ed. and trans. Charles Daudert; Hansa-Hewlett, 2009), 97

21 November 2010

Conference Reflections

Just back from ETS, IBR, and the first bit of SBL. A few random reflections:

1. A wonderful opportunity to be at these events. It is a quite incomparable convergence of biblical and theological thinkers.

2. Reminded of what a privilege it is to be part of the Crossway team. In years past Crossway has always been my favorite publisher to visit. To have a small part in helping this company move forward in its strategic mission is a privilege, and lots of fun. I could not respect Lane Dennis more than I do.

3. Every year I go to fewer papers. The real value of these conferences is not the data I take in but the old friends I see and the people I meet.

4. There's something about these conferences I just loathe. The preening and parading of self, the snubbing of 'nobodies' and the glad-handing of 'somebodies.' Yuck. I want to continue to kill such impulses in my own heart.

5. The book exhibit is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating to see all the good books available. Depressing to see all the good books I will never have time to read. (One of the truly heavenly dimensions to the new earth will be the elimination of the tyranny of time. No more late or early, no more hurriedness, no more deadlines, no more concern of how best to spend my short little life. We'll have all the time in the world.)

6. I don't think we made much progress on justification (the theme of the conference). Wright said he has never said final judgment is on the basis of works, which isn't quite true, as Schreiner pointed out a few moments later. But this 'nuance' (Wright's word) is a step forward nonetheless. (See Denny Burk's good thoughts, to which Wright responds in the comments.) Thielman and Schreiner were both a bit more positive toward reading the NT with the understanding that first-century Jews considered themselves still in exile. Beyond this, the three pretty much agreed to disagree.

7. Schreiner was magnificent: clear, courageous, courteous. Thielman was his usual gracious, articulate self. Wright was interesting and instructive but once again felt the need to be sure everyone was aware of all the false things he has been 'accused' of, which got a bit wearisome. But I was helped much by all three. Each is a gift to the church.

8. One point that I wish had been made more clearly by either Schreiner or Thielman was that the deepest, truest impetus toward the unity Wright centralizes is the understanding of justification that sees the main human problem to be a vile sinner's rightful condemnation by a holy and just God, and that sees the main solution to be the moral one of forensic acquittal.

By making justification itself mainly about unity, Wright does not simply emphasize one (horizontal) blessing instead of another (vertical) one. He loses both. The vertical ignites the horizontal. Try to reverse the direction and you lose both.

9. A particularly telling moment was when the three men were asked the very basic question of how one becomes a Christian. I invite correction here if I am misrepresenting Wright; I didn't write it down at the time. But his answer was something like: 'By the Spirit, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the crucified and risen Lord of the universe, and, by the Spirit, realize that he is making all things new, and cast your lot in with him.'

What struck me in that moment was that there was nothing in his response about sin. What Wright said is true but insufficient. If an unbeliever lay dying and this was what was said to him, would the unbeliever hear the gospel? Becoming a Christian isn't centrally about picking the right team to be on but contritely confessing you've been on the wrong team all along.

I don't become a Christian by yielding loyalty to Christ any more than I become a Chicago Bear by yielding loyalty to Lovie Smith. In each case one must first qualify--in the latter case by athletic ability, in the former by sin-confessing, self-divesting faith.

19 November 2010

Self-Despair and Faith

[T]he index of the soundness of a man's faith in Christ is the genuineness of the self-despair from which it springs.
--J. I. Packer, 'The Puritan View of Preaching the Gospel,' in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 2010; repr.), 170

17 November 2010

Cover Story of Today's USA Today

'Generation's Sports Icons Are Feeling Their Age'
Erik Brady
Larry Csonka tells a story about a reunion of his 1972 Miami Dolphins some years back. They spent hours trading stories about their aches and pains and hobbled knees. Then they boarded a bus bound for a night game to be trotted out for halftime huzzahs.

Csonka enjoyed the illusion of time travel as he rode in that darkened carriage. 'The same guys who had always jawed at each other were jawing at each other,' he says. The voices hadn't changed. And for an instant it was like we stepped back to 1972 all over again.

'Then the bus pulled up, and the lights came on. And lo and behold'--here he pauses to laugh--'all those athletic young men had turned into old farts again.'

Baby Boomers always fancied themselves as special and different in the flower of their youth. But as Boomers leave middle age for senior citizenry, they're finding that, in one regard, they are the same as all preceding generations--growing old one day at a time.

Csonka's undefeated Dolphins have gone from Super Bowl to superannuated in what seems the blink of a bus light.
Sober truth from an honest article.

In Christ, time will one day lose its vicelike grip on us.

16 November 2010

Puritan Preaching = Christ-Centered Preaching

J. I. Packer:
The Puritans did not regard evangelistic sermons as a special class of sermons, having their own peculiar style and conventions; the Puritan position was, rather, that, since all Scripture bears witness to Christ, and all sermons should aim to expound and apply what is in the Bible, all proper sermons would of necessity declare Christ and so be to some extent evangelistic.
--'The Puritan Vision of Preaching the Gospel,' in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Crossway, 2010; repr.), 165-66


From our brother Justin Buzzard.

15 November 2010

Off to Atlanta

For ETS and IBR. Sporadic posting this week.

No Matter What One Says

Our Lutheran friend Gerhard Forde:
The problem lies in the fact that the Old Being will not and cannot hear gospel no matter what one says. The Old Being will only use whatever is said as part of the protection, solidification in the causa sui project, and translate it into or see it as a ratification of the legal system. That is, the Old Being will turn whatever one says into law.
--Gerharde O. Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Fortress, 1982), 92; emphasis original (causa sui = cause of itself, i.e. self-salvation)

That Inimitable Rabbi Duncan

John ('Rabbi') Duncan, 18th-century pastor in Scotland and professor of Old Testament at the University of Edinburgh:
Every unconverted Arminian is a Pelagian and every unconverted Calvinist is an Antinomian.
--quoted in Iain Murray, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth 1995), 68 n. 1

Here are a few other nice ones from Rabbi Duncan:
I am first a Christian, next a catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a paedobaptist, and fifth a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse this order.
Hyper-Calvininsm is all house and no door. Arminianism is all door and no house.

14 November 2010

To Whom Thanks Is Due

I would like to hereby thank this scintillating chap for helping me finally figure out (due to my unusually skinny wrists) how to remove the links from a watch my wife just gave me.

And may I say that I especially appreciated his use of a magnifying glass at about 1:00.

2:40 to the end is priceless.

Thanks Joe Fisher. Watch fits nice and snug, my friend.

13 November 2010

The End Is Now

Is this how you read the New Testament?
When we turn to the New Testament, we pass from the climate of prediction to that of fulfillment. The things which God had foreshadowed by the lips of His holy prophets He has now, in part at least, brought to accomplishment . . . The supreme sign of the Eschaton is the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church. The resurrection of Jesus is not simply a sign which God has granted in favour of His son, but is the inauguration, the entrance into history, of the times of the End.

Christians, therefore, have entered through the Christ into the new age . . . What had been predicted in Holy Scripture as to happen to Israel or to man in the Eschaton has happened to and in Jesus.
--William Manson, 'Eschatology and the New Testament,' in Scottish Journal of Occasional Papers 2 (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1953), 6

When we read something in the NT like 'Behold, now is the day of salvation' (2 Cor 6:2), that's not mainly a call for heightened evangelistic intensity. It is mainly an eschatological statement. The 'day of salvation' in its Isaianic context was a reference to the coming day of the Lord. The end of the ages has come. The latter days are now. We have been in the latter days for 2,000 years! (The best resource here is Greg Beale's 'The Eschatological Conception of New Testament Theology' in this 1997 book.)

Every Datum of Reality

Jesus is the reason for creation and therefore interprets the ultimate significance of every datum of reality. In other words, every datum can be related to its reason in Christ. . . . [N]o datum in the universe exists in isolation from Christ and his interpretation of its ultimate meaning.
--Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation (IVP, 2006), 252

12 November 2010

There Is a Difference between Needing to Divide and Loving to Divide

'Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.' --Titus 3:9

Bryan Chapell wisely comments:
We struggle with these commands to 'avoid . . . dissensions' because we know there are things worth disputing, and because it seems divisive to separate from divisive people.

Two perspectives may help.

First, Paul is speaking about ministry priorities. His words require us to examine whether controversy and argument about secondary issues become primary concerns in our ministries. If so, then our priorities require realignment.

Second, there is a difference between needing to divide and loving to divide. A divisive person loves to fight. The differences are usually observable. A person who loves the peace and purity of the church may be forced into division, but it is not his character. He enters arguments regrettably and infrequently. When forced to argue, he remains fair, truthful, and loving in his responses. He grieves to have to disagree with a brother. Those who are divisive by nature lust for the fray, incite its onset, and delight in being able to conquer another person.
--R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus: To Guard the Deposit (Crossway, 2000), 364

Your Soul, Your Greatest Concern

English pastor Matthew Mead, in 1788:
Christ is precious, as being the Redeemer of precious souls. The promises are precious, as making over this precious Christ to precious souls. Faith is precious, as bringing a precious soul to close with a precious Christ, as he is held forth in the precious promises.

O! take heed that thou art not found overvaluing other things, and undervaluing thy soul. Shall thy flesh, nay, thy beast be loved, and shall thy soul be slighted? Wilt thou clothe and pamper thy body and yet take no care of thy soul? This is as if a man should feed his dog, and starve his child. . . . O! let not a tottering perishing carcass have all your time and care, as if the life and salvation of thy soul were not worth the while.
--Matthew Mead, The Almost Christian: or, The False Professor Tried and Cast, 13-14

Christ is Grace

Bryan Chapell, commenting on the phrase 'the grace of God has appeared' in Titus 2:11:
Grace is not some abstract doctrine or theological construct. Grace comes as Christ does. Grace is as personal as he is. In fact, Christ is grace. The unmerited favor of God is what Jesus is about, but it is also who he is. We should thus see grace as a personal action by a personal God who saved us from our helpless condition out of pure love.
--R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus: Guard the Good Deposit (Crossway 2000), 339

Sinclair Ferguson has made the same point, as Tony Reinke shows us.

'My Empire of Dirt'

Johnny Cash, 'Hurt' (originally done by Nine Inch Nails):

I am more relieved than words can express that Jesus Christ is unraveling all the hurt and failure of the world and of my own life. Take a sigh and relax.

HT: Brian Martin

The Real Christ

There's a wonderful, refreshing sanity to the writing of William Still, pastor in Aberdeen, Scotland of a church for over fifty years. In The Work of the Pastor he recounts:
I had been 'going at it' one Sunday evening about living your whole life in Christ and for Christ, and one chap, because he thought that I must live my whole life on my knees, came to me, wringing his hands, because he was not being as holy as he thought he ought to be.

I said to him, 'You foolish boy, do you think this means winding yourself up into a kind of robot existence, forever clicking your heels before a ruthless sergeant-major Christ? You have got it all wrong. Christ is a world of being, not a set of rules. You live your life in Him, you are naughty in Him, alas, as well as good in Him. You have fun there as well as seriousness. You must learn that Christ is no mere censor, but a Saviour who saves us by gaining our trust and confidence more and more, and letting us live our total life in Him. He is much more concerned about where we are going, than about how far on we have got.'

This chap's Christ was a drill sergeant and he thought that was what I was advocating. No: I was thinking of a Christ who would be with him when he went off the deep end and betrayed his fallen self and made an ass of himself, and, in private, denied his own, true, holy nature. A Christ who was always kindly, always there, not to his sin, but to him. (48-49)

11 November 2010

How Not to Read the Bible

Esteemed New Testament scholar Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, commenting on Paul's writing of Philippians--
The degree of Paul's self-absorption at this point in his career is remarkable. . . . One wonders what the Philippians made of Paul's call for unity and reconciliation [Phil 4:2-3], when he exhibited nothing but contempt for those at Ephesus who disagreed with him?

. . . A further indication of Paul's self-absorption is his citation of a magnificent Christological hymn [Phil 2:6-11], which is perhaps the most damning condemnation, albeit implicit, of his egocentric attitude.
--Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford University Press 1996), 224-25

Of course, it is easier to call Paul egocentric when you reject Ephesians 3:8 and 1 Timothy 1:15 as pseudepigraphical--but then, one wonders, why would an imitative admirer of Paul speak in such castigating terms of the apostle?

I eagerly await the day this book goes out of print. It is an awful book. Not because we should treat Paul as if he never sinned but because it is a striking example of what it means to study the Bible by standing over it rather than sitting under it. (I took a class with Murphy-O'Connor two years ago at Notre Dame and briefly reflected on it here.)

Murphy-O'Connor is playing academic games with the text. Like a drowning man studying the words 'HOLD ON HERE' on the side of a life preserver thrown to him, questioning whether such words were really written by the Coast Guard.

Training in Doctrine

English reformer John Bradford, in a statement frequently quoted by George Whitefield:
Let a man go to the grammar school of faith and repentance, before he goes to the university of election and predestination.
--quoted in Iain Murray, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth 1995), 116

10 November 2010

Packer: Doctrine, Life

We rightly repudiate the common view that doctrine does not matter so long as one is upright in life; but if we let our reaction drive us into the opposite extreme of supposing that one's life does not matter so long as one is theologically 'sound' ('a good Calvinist,' we say), then the beam in our own eye will be worse than the mote in our brother's.
--J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan View of the Christian Life (Crossway 2010; repr.), 108-9

For His Own Sake

'If God is for us, who can be against us?' --Romans 8:31

That does not mean that faith in God will bring us everything that we desire. What it does mean is that if we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides.

Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all? If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
--J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith?, 74

09 November 2010

Renewal Ministries: New Website

Thirty years ago my grandparents started Renewal Ministries as a way to channel their desire to refresh other believers in the Lord. My parents have long shared that same burden, so it was a natural fit for my parents to inherit that ministry this year. The new website is here.

05 November 2010

How in the World Is Proverbs Christ-Centered?

1. Great question. Still trying to figure that out. Long way to go.

2. Reading the whole Bible through the lens of Christ is what Jesus himself demands. Jesus said our whole OT was about him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). He said Moses wrote about him (John 5:39-46). We have to deal with that.

3. Reading the whole Bible with a Christ-lens doesn't preclude gleaning from the Bible moral instruction for wise living. While there is a priority between these two (Christ's person/work in all Scripture, and moral instruction), it is not an absolute either/or.

4. Have you ever kept a single chapter of Proverbs for a single week? A single day? Can you identify one proverb you have unfailingly incorporated your whole life long?

There's only one way those failures are forgiven.

5. I believe Jesus alluded to himself as Wisdom in Matthew 11:19 and Matthew 12:42. Might he have had the book of Proverbs in mind? From another angle: if it was through Jesus that the world was made (John 1:1ff; Col 1:15-17), and if personified Wisdom was right there at creation (Prov 8:22-31), should we not correlate Jesus and Wisdom in some deeper, cosmic, and intercanonical sense?

6. Jesus kept the proverbs himself. Every one. He lived wisely. Perfectly wisely. So if believers are united to him, in him, and his righteousness is fully ours (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21), isn't his keeping of the proverbs--in the most important sense if not the only sense--ours?

'Dane you scoundrel that isn't in Proverbs!' To be sure. And remember #3 above. But as evangelicals who believe the Lord himself ultimately is the Author of this Book--and I do believe this, with all my heart--we are not to read Proverbs in isolation from Genesis and Mark and Colossians any more than we read chapter 4 of a Tom Clancy novel in isolation from chapter 1 or 8 or 15. That would be an insult to Tom.

* * *

So, to follow up on the previous post, how in the world is Proverbs Christ-centered? It isn't. The Bible is Christ-centered. And the Bible is a whole. And Proverbs is part of the Bible. Therefore while I think it is unhelpful to say Proverbs 'centers' on Christ, Proverbs is part of a whole trajectory the very meaning of which is: Jesus. Apart from Christ, therefore, it's very hard to see how Proverbs is more than handy tips.

I'd be very curious for this old chappy to weigh in here--one of my favorite preachers, who happens to be wrapping up a series on Proverbs at the moment. Correct and instruct us here Pop, and rebuke if necessary!

So thankful for the Bible.

Reflections on Christ-Centered Bible Reading

Jesus is not only the most important figure in the Bible, he is the key that unlocks it all, the light that illumines it all, the organizing principle, the climax prepared for and then presented. Jesus is the point of the whole Bible.

Remove Jesus from Bible, and you don’t have a hero hall of fame with one of the portraits missing; you have a dark room without the light turned on.

C. S. Lewis famously said,
I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
The same point Lewis makes about Christianity and the world could be made about Christ and the Bible. Calvin helpfully said in the Institutes that the OT is the shadows, the NT is the substance. The whole OT is preparation for Jesus; the whole NT is proclamation of Jesus.

In stepping back and taking stock of the whole Bible, several things come immediately to mind in considering how Jesus makes the whole Bible click into place.
The OT has God create the whole world simply by speaking it into existence with his word. Jesus came and John says that he was the Word.

The OT calls for a man to leave dad and mom and cleave to his bride. The NT calls this a great mystery and says ultimately this is to echo Jesus and his bride.

The OT has God redeeming his people from Egypt, leading them out of bondage after passing over his people as long as they took refuge under the blood of a lamb. Jesus redeemed his people from sin, leading them out of bondage by being the Lamb and providing his own blood, so that God would pass over those who take refuge under him.

The OT has Israel tested for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus was tested for 40 days in the wilderness.

The OT has God send bread from heaven to feed the people, to be received by faith. Jesus came and said he was the bread who came down from heaven to feed the people, to be received by faith (John 6).

The OT has a tabernacle and then a temple, a physical building that was the presence of God and a place for people to meet with God, with restricted access. Jesus said he was the temple (John 2), a physical body that was the presence of God and a place for people to meet with God, with unrestricted access.

The OT recounts at length the sacrifices offered on the altar to atone for the people's sins. Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb, offered on the cross to atone for the people's sins.

The OT had generation after generation of priests, who oversaw the atoning work of sacrifice, but who also needed to make atonement for themselves. Jesus was the great priest who achieved the atoning work of sacrifice and didn’t need to atone for himself.

The OT speaks of Israel as a vine that does not produce fruit (Ps 80; Isa 5; Jer 2; Hos 10). Jesus said, 'I am the vine . . . and he who abides in me bears much fruit' (John 15). (See this book!)

The OT longed for a king, a coming ruler, descended from David, born in Bethlehem, to come and restore the people of God. Jesus was that king, who came and restored the people of God, giving them the restoration not that they expected but that they really needed.

04 November 2010

Indicatives, Imperatives

Are not the indicatives of the Bible the engine, and the imperatives the steering wheel?

You can't drive a car without the steering wheel. Impossible. But the steering wheel provides no propulsion. The engine, while it needs the steering wheel for guidance, is what propels.

Thoughts for Those Considering Blogging

Pastor Todd Wilson wisely reflected (this Spring) on good and godly blogging after a conversation with (who else?) Justin Taylor.

Sexual Detox: A Guide for Guys Who Are Sick of Porn

This looks like a helpful little resource to be aware of, from our discerning brother Tim Challies. It's short (30 pp), to the point, wise, and downloadable for free.

Tim writes:
I know that the issue of pornography is spoken about so often in Christian circles that it is in danger of becoming cliche. But it is a reality we cannot avoid or overlook. The purpose of this booklet is not to say, 'quit porn' as much as it is to say, 'look what porn is doing to your heart.' I hope that this message will help you first see that you do need to quit looking at porn and, second (and even if you’ve already broken free) that you need to find a new way of looking at sex. Just quitting, while it is the right thing to do, is not enough. You need to replace the lies with truth. (p. 8)
The book can be read online as a PDF here.

Ecclesial Theology

A brief video from our brothers involved in the SAET.

03 November 2010

My Creed Is Jesus Christ

In his first sermon ever at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon declared:
I would propose . . . that the subject of the ministry of this house, as long as this platform shall stand, and as long as this house shall be frequented by worshippers, shall be the person of Jesus Christ. I am never ashamed to avow myself a Calvinist. . . . but if I am asked what is my creed, I think I must reply--'It is Jesus Christ.'

My venerable predecessor, Dr. Gill, has left a body of divinity, admirable and excellent in its way; but the body of divinity to which I would pin and bind myself forever, God helping me, is not his system of divinity or any other human treatise, but Jesus Christ, who is the sum and substance of the gospel; who is in himself all theology, the incarnation of every precious truth.
--Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Kregel 1992), 288

Two Ways We See Inaugurated Eschatology in the New Testament

Inaugurated eschatology--that is, all the hopes and dreams and promises of the Old Testament, which the Jews expected to happen on the final day at the end of history, have begun in the middle of history, in Christ. The future has been launched back into the present. Jesus is the 'firstfruits,' the new order of humanity, and in him the eschaton has arrived--not fully, but decisively.

1. One way we see this is the NT's referencing salvation not only in future but also in present terms.
The NT says we will be saved (Acts 15:11; Rom 10:9), but it also says that we have been saved (Rom 8:24; Eph 2:5, 8).

The NT says we will be adopted as God’s children (Rom 8:23), but it also says that we already have been adopted (1 John 3:1).

The NT we will be raised (2 Cor 4:14), but it also says that we already have been (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1). (And remember Gaffin's good word about what it means to be raised 'spiritually' in 1 Cor 15)
2. Another way we see inaugurated eschatology is by reflecting on the OT's eager anticipations, its neck-straining longings, its forward-leaning tilt.

From the perspective of the OT, many world-shaking events were to take place in the eschaton, in the last days. Here are a few of the things that the OT anticipates taking place at the end of history:

  • Messiah would come;
  • God's enemies would be defeated;
  • sin would be judged once and for all;
  • the nations would stream to Jerusalem;
  • the dead would be raised;
  • God's people would be vindicated;
  • and God's new-age kingdom would be ushered in.

I note: the NT teaches that every one of these things has happened.

  • Messiah has come (John 4:25-26);
  • God’s enemies were decisively 'triumphed over' at the cross (Col 2:13-14), and even the second Adam's exorcisms (driving demons out of people) were a middle-of-time execution of what Adam failed to do (driving a demon out of Eden);
  • sin was judged once and for all, at the cross--the cross was the end-time judgment on sin, all funneled down onto one man (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 5:9);
  • the Gentiles are now gathered in as never before (Rom 15:8-27);
  • in Christ, the dead have been raised--Colossians and Ephesians say we have been 'raised with Christ';
  • God’s people have been vindicated--they have been justified (Rom 5:1)--the end-time declaration has been announced in the present;
  • and Jesus said that the kingdom is here (Mark 1:15).

02 November 2010

Gospel-plus Thinking Is a Human Reflex

Despite the clarity of Scripture, gospel-plus attitudes exist in every church or Christian organization. Regularly in our counseling rooms, homes, and pews are those who really believe that because they do not measure up in some dimension, they are not as valuable to God as someone else or as valuable they could be. Gospel-plus thinking is virtually a human reflex.
--Bryan Chapell, in Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus: Guard the Good Deposit (Crossway 2000), 310

Trying to Get Back in to Eden Ever Since

Man has been trying to get back into Eden ever since he went out of it. That is the whole history of civilization. That is the whole meaning of philosophy and all political thought and all the blueprints of utopias at all times and in all places--man trying to get back into paradise.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Gospel in Genesis: From Fig Leaves to Faith (Crossway 2009), 20

'As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.' --1 Corinthians 15:22

01 November 2010

Did Anyone's Pumpkin Beat This?

From my friend Phillip Mayberry, pastor of this church in North Carolina, and deep lover of the grace that is in Christ. Thanks Phillip.

Galatians and the SBJT

A nice slate of essays on Galatians in the current Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. A few of the essays are available here.