29 September 2011

What Christless Success Does to Us

ESPN.com on Walter Payton--
They called him Sweetness, but Chicago Bears great Walter Payton had a dark side, according to a biography to be released Oct. 4.

An excerpt of Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman will appear in the Oct. 3 issue of Sports Illustrated and describes the Hall of Famer as suicidal, abusing pain medication and dealing with a crumbling family situation.

Payton, who retired as the then-all-time leading rusher in NFL history after the 1987 season, was depressed and suicidal in the mid-1990s. Pearlman cites a letter to a friend in which Payton said he imagined himself killing those around him and then turning a gun on himself.

"Walter would call me all the time saying he was about to kill himself, he was tired," Payton's longtime agent Bud Holmes said, according to SI.com. "He was angry. Nobody loved him. He wanted to be dead."
HT: Steve McCoy

28 September 2011

I Love This

The Overlooked Pastor

An outstanding word from our brother Zack Eswine.

Zack begins by reflecting on Paul's words, 'With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel' (2 Cor 8:18).

Most of us who serve all of our lives in ministry will not be asked to speak at a conference or write a book or give a radio interview. For the majority of us, our ministries are a long obscurity among the local and unheard of. In a celebrity and consumer oriented church culture this fact can take its toll on a pastor. We wear down as the autograph lines always form outside another's door and never our own. It is no wonder that amid these cultural pressures even Jesus preachers can be tempted to use their ministries as a means to compete with and outshine others. The thought of an overlooked life knocks the wind out. Maybe this is why I come back to these sentences of Paul.

After all, when Apollos preached the place was packed. But when Paul came to preach people slept in. Seats were left vacant. It was hard to find enough volunteers for the nursery on the mornings Paul preached. The apostle was simply unimpressive. Closeness to God and measures of generational influence were tied to the towers of oratory, spectacular influence and gathered crowds. Why bear with Paul when you could go down the street as it were and hear Apollos?

The whole thing is worth unhurried, non-email-checking reflection.

27 September 2011

Calvin Defines Faith

After explaining that biblical 'faith' is not less than doctrinal conviction yet must also include a settled reliance (fiducia), too, Calvin concludes--
Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
--John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.2.7


Among the seven deadly sins of medieval lore was sloth--a state of hard-bitten, joyless apathy of spirit. There is a lot of it around today in Christian circles; the symptoms are personal spiritual inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians' initiative and enterprise. Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all about the ways of God in providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn't.
--J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 95-96

That last sentence sobers me.

26 September 2011

Q & A with Jonathan Edwards

A few questions on the Christian life . . . I requested one- to two-word answers only.
Jon, what ignites the Christian life? How does it all get started?

JE: New birth.

Having begun, what then is the essence of the Christian life? What's the heart and soul of Christian living? What is most definitive of it?

JE: Love.

What is the fuel for the Christian life? How do we keep loving? What's the non-negotiable of all non-negotiables that will keep us going?

JE: Joy.

Where do I go to get this joy? How can I find it? What, concretely, sustains it, through all the ups and downs of life?

JE: The Bible.

But as I go to the Bible, what do I do with it as I read? How do I own it, make it mine, turn it into this joy-fueled love?

JE: Prayer.

What then is the overall flavor of the Christian life? How would you describe the aroma, the feel, of following Christ?

JE: Pilgrimage.

If joy, Bible, prayer, and all the rest go in, all under the flavor of pilgrimage, what comes out? What is the result of Christian life?

JE: Obedience.

Broadening out our scope, then, how do we make sense of the all this in a macro way? What is the context for the Christian life?

JE: Redemptive history.

What then, finally, does all this funnel into? What, above all else, is the hope of the Christian life?

JE: Heaven.

Called to the Pastorate?

The points--

1. Do you have a strong and recurring desire to pastor?

2. Do you have the required gifts?

3. Do others confirm it? (including: are you a life-giver or a life-taker?)

4. Does an opportunity present itself, as you pray and soak in the Word?

24 September 2011


Were it not for my precious family, I would have no problem--none--with dying tomorrow and going to be with Him.

Matthew 16:18

Church website here.

22 September 2011

Upside-Down Comfort

If you feel that you are empty, if you feel you are nothing, if you feel you are poor and wretched and blind, if you hate your inclination to sin and have any suspicion of a feeling of self-loathing and hatred, you can take it from me that you have eternal life, for no one ever experiences such things until the life of God comes into his or her soul.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in God: Studies in 1 John (Crossway 1995), 109; quoted in Tony Sargent, Gems from Martyn Lloyd-Jones: An Anthology of Quotations from 'the Doctor' (Paternoster 2007), 113

21 September 2011

Owen: Sanctification

I recently stumbled onto a collection of papers from the 1981 Westminster Conference in London, over which Martyn Lloyd-Jones presided throughout the 1970s. One helpful essay is by Daniel Webber and is entitled 'Sanctifying the Inner Life.' Webber quotes this definition of sanctification given by John Owen. Can it be improved upon?
Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.
--Daniel Webber, 'Sanctifying the Inner Life,' in Aspects of Sanctification (Westminster Conference, 1981), 45; quoting Owen, Works, 3:386

Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation

This looks like an interesting little get-together, in Chattanooga in a few weeks, on how we should understand Genesis 1-2.

20 September 2011

The Real Lions' Den

The final few days of Jesus' earthly life share remarkable parallels with Daniel's brush with the furry felines in Daniel 6.

Both Daniel and Jesus . . .
. . . are lonely faithful Israelites who find themselves in a land under Gentile rule (Dan 6:1);

. . . are filled with God's Spirit (Dan 6:3; Luke 4:1, 14);

. . . are conspired against by ill-meaning, jealous men of influence (Dan 6:4; Matt 26:3-4);

. . . are above reproach, making it impossible for their antagonists to find fault with them (Dan 6:4; Matt 26:59-60);

. . . are found guilty through treachery (Dan 6:4-9; Matt 27:20);

. . . pray to God, alone, before the impending arrest (Dan 6:10; Matt 26:36);

. . . are presented to a Gentile ruler who would prefer to side with the accused (Dan 6:14; John 19:4);

. . . have a stone rolled over the opening of where they have been placed (Dan 6:17; Matt 27:60);

. . . are, against expectation, found alive in the morning (Dan 6:19; Matt 28:5-6)

. . . are brought up out of a hole in the ground where the stone has now been removed (Dan 6:23; Matt 28:6);

. . . convince a Gentile observer that they were blameless (Dan 6:22-23; Mark 15:39).
There is one great difference, of course. Daniel was spared; Jesus was not. From one perspective, of course, both Daniel and Jesus were unjustly accused, arraigned, and placed in a hole out of which they both miraculously arose in full vindication. Yet the fearful demise to which Daniel was handed over never overtook him. He escaped. He was spared. The fearful demise to which Jesus was handed over did overtake him (Mark 14:34; 15:24). He did not escape. He was not spared.

I'm not saying Matthew or any of the other Gospel writers had Daniel 6 in mind as they wrote. Maybe they did, maybe not. For myself, I find it hard to imagine that the thought never crossed their mind, in light of how well all four obviously knew their Bibles.

But even if they didn't consciously write of Jesus' passion against the backdrop of Daniel 6, must we not remember that Jesus himself recapitulates--repeats and sums up in a supremely heightened moment of redemptive climax--all the mighty acts of God recorded in the Bible, and indeed all of human history, and, even more than this, as Goldsworthy has argued, all reality (Greek readers, note the use of anakephalaioo in Eph 1:10)? If so, must we not, soberly yet openly, anticipate that there may be redemptive-historical connections that become clearer with the passing of time, while no more real than than they always were? Is there not much that we can view from our vantage point in history which may be beyond the conscious awareness of the biblical writers, yet which is nevertheless latent in what these biblical authors wrote? Was not the Bible, and history, written by human authors and by a divine Author? Does not God work in identifiable patterns that snowball down through history--out of which an entire discipline (typology) has arisen?

I believe that as a Christian I must read Daniel 6 in the knowledge that there was someone who was thrown into a den of lions and torn to shreds. The real lions' den. Daniel prayed in his room, and was thrown into the den, but spared--only, ultimately, because Jesus prayed in the garden, was denied and thrown into the den, and not spared.

When Jesus went to the cross he was punished so that you and I can know that whether we are spared the lions or eaten, whether circumstantial hell breaks loose over our lives or not--and in some way, at some time, it will--it can only be for our good, out of love, not for our punishment, out of wrath.

The only lion that could ever truly harm us has been de-fanged (Col 2:15; 1 Pet 5:8). The fangs of condemnation sank into another.

19 September 2011

What Can and Cannot Change in Our Relationship with God

I found this helpful, from Bryan Chapell's Holiness by Grace, beautifully reprinted this month from Crossway--

In a chart entitled 'Our Relationship with God,' Dr. Chapell lists what can change and what cannot change. Clarifying.

What Can Change
  • our fellowship
  • our experience of his blessing
  • our assurance of his love
  • his delight in our actions
  • his discipline
  • our sense of guilt

What Cannot Change
  • our sonship
  • his desire for our welfare
  • his actual affection for us
  • his love for us
  • our destiny
  • our security

--Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Crossway, 2001), 196

'The Truth about Evangelicals'

Interesting piece in USA Today this morning. Not least in seeing how non-evangelicals view evangelicals. Also because I consider myself as evangelical as one could be, and I fail to see myself in this piece. But some encouraging things said too. It's by Jewish columnist and author Mark Pinsky.

On the one hand, Pinsky has had it with the left's relentless suspicion and caricaturing of evangelicals. He says--
I'm as left wing a Democrat as they come, and I have lived among and reported on evangelicals for nearly 20 years. Let me tell you, this sensational, misleading mishegas has got to stop.
On the other hand, Pinsky describes evangelicals in ways that the fathers of evangelicalism (Graham, Ockenga, Stott, Packer, Henry) would disown. 'Most evangelicals accept some form of evolution,' 'most evangelicals are comfortable with the notion of theological tolerance and religious pluralism,' and so on. Hmm.

Pastoral Ambition

A wonderful word from Zack Eswine.

18 September 2011

Turretin on Gospel Growth

Francis Turretin (1623-1687):
As faith is the instrument of justification by receiving the righteousness of Christ, so it is the root and principle of sanctification, while it purges the heart and works through love. Justification itself (which brings the remission of sins) does not carry with it the permission or license to sin (as the Epicureans hold), but ought to enkindle the desire of piety and the practice of holiness. . . . Thus justification stands related to sanctification as the means to the end.
--Institutes of Elenctic Theology (3 vols; P&R 1994), 2:692-93

17 September 2011

Diognetus: Imputation

Was imputation taught in the early post-canonical church? Here's the very early (mid-second century?) and anonymous Epistle to Diognetus:
In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
HT: H. D. Williams, 'Justification by Faith: A Patristic Doctrine,' JEH 57 (2006): 654.

The Only Source of Rest

Luther on Galatians 3:6--
A Christian is both righteous and a sinner, holy and profane, an enemy of God and yet a child of God.

Those who do not know the true manner of justification will not admit such opposites. But we must teach and comfort the afflicted sinner, saying,

"Brother, it is not possible for you to become so righteous in this life that you feel no sin at all. Your body cannot be clear like the sun, without spot or blemish. You have wrinkles and spots—and yet you are holy. You will say, 'How can I be holy when I have and feel sin in me?' Your feeling and acknowledging your sin is a good sign. Give thanks to God, and do not despair. It is one step toward health when the sick person acknowledges his infirmity. 'But how can I be set free from sin?' Run to Christ, the physician, who heals those who are broken in heart and saves sinners. Do not follow the judgment of reason, which tells you that he is angry with sinners. Kill reason, and believe in Christ. If you believe, you are righteous. . . . The sin that remains in you is not laid to your charge but is pardoned for the sake of Christ, in whom you believe and who is perfectly just. His righteousness is your righteousness, and your sin is his sin."
--Martin Luther, Galatians (Crossway, 1998), 134

16 September 2011

Hearing the Music of the Gospel

Here's how Keith Johnson, director of theological education for Cru, opens his outstanding essay on Christ-centered Bible study:
Imagine yourself in a large house in which those who are deaf and those who can hear are living together. In one of the rooms, you see a guy sitting in a chair, listening to music on his iPod. Rhythmically, he's tapping his foot, drumming his thighs, jutting out his chin, and swaying to the beat. His entire body moves in response to what his ears are hearing. It’s obvious that he's enjoying himself and listening to a pretty good song.

A few minutes later, one of the deaf persons enters the room. Seeing the guy listening to the music and rocking out, he thinks, that looks like fun! I think I'll try that. So he sits down next to him and begins to imitate him. Awkwardly at first, he tries drumming his thighs, jutting his chin out, and swaying to the music just like the guy with the iPod. With a little practice, he begins to catch onto it. By watching and trying, he begins to mirror the others guys actions pretty closely. But although he eventually gets better at keeping time, he concludes that it’s not as much fun or as easy as it initially seemed (especially the chin jut--very difficult to do when you’re not actually hearing the music)

After a while, a third person enters the room and watches this scene. What does he see? Two people apparently doing the same thing, apparently listening to the same thing. Is there a difference? Absolutely, the first guy hears the music and his actions are a natural response to the music's rhythm and melody. The second guy is merely imitating the outward actions. Being deaf, he's not listening to anything.

There's an important spiritual parallel here. The dance (outward actions) represents the Christian life, while the music represents the grace of the gospel.
HT: Justin Taylor

He Loves Life into Us

One of my favorite passages from Owen's Communion with God, enjoyed with some dear brothers around a Wheaton College cafeteria table last night.
The love of Christ, being the love of God, is effectual and fruitful in producing all the good things which he wills to his beloved. He loves life, grace, and holiness into us; he loves us also into covenant, loves us into heaven. . . .

How many millions of sins, in every one of the elect, every one of which were enough to condemn them all, has this love overcome! What mountains of unbelief does it remove! Look upon the conversation of any one saint, consider the frame of his heart, see the many stains and spots, the defilements and infirmities, wherewith his life is contaminated, and tell me whether the love that bears with all this be not to be admired. And is it not the same towards thousands every day? What streams of grace, purging, pardoning, quickening, assisting, do flow from it every day! This is our Beloved . . .
--John Owen, Communion with God (Christian Focus, 2007), 113 (for those considering buying the book, this is the edition to get)

14 September 2011

What Must God Be Like?

If he creates, with such attention to detail, these tiny creatures?

Carried up into the Trinity

I think the cry of Jesus, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' indicated that God in His great love was willing to allow the division which came between God and man in the Fall to be carried up into the Trinity itself and there conquered.
--Francis Schaeffer, 1970s letter, quoted in Letters of Francis Schaeffer (ed. Lane Dennis; Crossway, 1985), 127

13 September 2011

Preachers and Oysters

Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students:
I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear.' Let us not fall under the same condemnation.

Galatians 2:21 - The Cross Is Not a Joke

. . . if justification were through law, then Christ died in vain. -Galatians 2:21

Luther comments:
Are we to allow this horrible blasphemy that the divine Majesty, not sparing his own dear Son, but giving him up to death for us all, should not do all these things seriously but as a sort of joke? I would rather see all the saints and holy angels thrown into hell with the devil. My eyes will see only this inestimable price, my Lord and Savior Christ. He ought to be such a treasure to me that everything else is as rubbish in comparison. He ought to be such a light to me that when I have apprehended him by faith I should not know whether there is any law, any sin, any righteousness, or any unrighteousness in the world. For what are all things that are in heaven and earth compared with the Son of God, Christ Jesus my Lord and Savior, who loved me and gave himself for me?
--Martin Luther, Galatians (Crossway, 1998), 114

12 September 2011

Why We Are Still Drawn to the Old Testament Stories

George Guthrie of Union University asking, Bruce Waltke answering.

More here.

Should We Look for Literal Fulfillments of OT Prophecy?

Really enjoying Chris Wright's Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament these days. Clear and accessible without compromising substance. Wright began to get very popular at Covenant Seminary right as I was leaving that school, so I didn't read much of him then and haven't read much of him subsequently.

Here's another good word, this one on interpreting the Bible 'literally' as he draws out the difference between 'prediction' and 'promise' in the Bible--
In our own day, there are those who look for future fulfillments of OT promises in a manner as literal as the original terms themselves. They expect to see things happening literally in the land of Israel, with a tribal division like Ezekiel describes. From the same prophet, they look for a rebuilding of the temple and reconstitution of the priesthood and sacrificial system. Or a battle between biblically identifiable enemies. Or Gentile nations on actual pilgrimmage to the present physical Jerusalem. Or a revival of the throne of David.

There is a wide variety of such interpretations of prophecy held by many sincere Christian people. However, such expectations seem quite wide of the mark. Sometimes they simply make the mistake of taking literally what the Bible always intended figuratively even in its original form. But at other times they fail to see the living and 'transformable' quality of promises which were probably understood quite literally at the time of their giving. Just because the gift turns out to be a motor car doesn't mean we should try to argue that the promise of a horse was only meant figuratively. A horse was meant and a horse was expected. But the changed circumstances and the progress of history enabled the promises to be fulfilled in a different and superior way, without emptying the promise either of its purpose (to give a means of transportation), or of its basis in a relationship of fatherly love.

To expect that all the details of OT prophecies have to be fulfilled literally is to classify them all in the category of flat predictions which have to 'come true,' or be judged to have failed. Certainly . . . the OT did make predictions and they were fulfilled with remarkable accuracy--as in the case of Jesus's birth in Jerusalem. But . . . Matthew's understanding of promise and fulfillment goes way beyond mere prediction. To insist on literal fulfillment of prophecies can be to overlook their actual nature within the category of promise, with the potential of different and progressively superior levels of fulfillment. To look for direct fulfillments of, say, Ezekiel in the 20th-century Middle East is to bypass and short-circuit the reality and the finality of what we already have in Christ as the fulfillment of those great assurances. It is like taking delivery of the motor car but still expecting to receive a horse.
--Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (IVP, 1995), 76-77

The phrase 'different and progressively superior levels of fulfillment' is particularly worthy of reflection.

The Gateway Gospel vs. the Pathway Gospel

When Jesus told his disciples that he himself was 'the way' (John 14:6), he meant not just 'direction' in some general sense (though not less than that). By using this word, and judging from the context, Jesus seems to have meant something more--that he is the pathway, the road, the trail along which we journey through life. The same word is used earlier in John, for example, in John the Baptist's cry to 'Make straight the way of the Lord' (1:23).

Reflecting on Jesus' words 'I am the way,' Martin Luther wrote:
Christ is not only the way on which we must begin our journey, but He is also the right and the safe way we must walk to the end. We dare not be deflected from this. Here Christ wants to say: 'When you have apprehended Me in faith, you are on the right way, which is reliable. But only see that you remain and continue on it.' Christ wants to tear and turn our hearts from all trust in anything else and pin them to Himself alone.
For Luther, and for Luther’s Lord, the gospel of grace—that startling announcement of legal perfection, because of the work of Another, that defies all our intuitions about what God is like—is not the gateway into the Christian life but the pathway of the Christian life.

What’s the difference?

Galatians helps us.
The Gateway Gospel results in the sharp word from our church leaders—'I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ are are turning to a different gospel' (Gal 1:6). The Pathway Gospel is the ever-sustaining lifeblood of Christian living, calling us to never desert the grace of Christ.

The Gateway Gospel tells us to graduate on from the gospel. The Pathway Gospel tells us to 'walk in step with [orthopodeo—'straight-foot'] the truth of the gospel' (Gal 2:14).

The Gateway Gospel is to begin with the Spirit and then grow in the flesh. The Pathway Gospel is to begin in the Spirit and then grow in the Spirit (Gal 3:2–3).

The Gateway Gospel leaves behind slavery momentarily. The Pathway Gospel leaves behind slavery permanently (Gal 4:8–9).

The Gateway Gospel frees us today and then sends us back to 'a yoke of slavery' tomorrow. The Pathway Gospel frees us today and then invites us to 'stand firm' in that freedom (Gal 5:1).
Stepping away from the explicit language of Galatians, perhaps we could say:
The Gateway Gospel forgives our past sins and sets us on a new road of doing more and more for Jesus. The Pathway Gospel forgives our past, present, and future sins and sets us on a new road of enjoying more and more what Jesus has done for us--igniting real doing on our part.

The Gateway Gospel gains our doctrinal allegiance yesterday. The Pathway Gospel feeds our hungry heart today.

The Gateway Gospel gives us a burst of energy for a season. The Pathway Gospel gives us a dear friend for the whole journey.

The Gateway Gospel leaves us exhausted, frustrated, and bitter. The Pathway Gospel leaves us relaxed, liberated, and gentle.

The Gateway Gospel saves us from our sins. The Pathway Gospel saves us not only from our sins but also from all our other saviors.

The Gateway Gospel draws us to the idea of forgiveness. The Pathway Gospel draws us to the person of Jesus.

The Gateway Gospel is Jesus in black-and-white. The Pathway Gospel is Jesus in 3-D.

The Gateway Gospel tells us to march. The Pathway Gospel invites us to dance.

The Gateway Gospel is, ultimately, a lecture. The Pathway Gospel is a song.
'As for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them . . .' --Galatians 6:16

Jonah: The Depths of Grace

This looks like a great little resource--a study guide on Jonah from our brother Stephen Witmer on Jonah in a series edited by Tim Chester, published by the Good Book Company, available in the U.S. on October 1.

The Good Book Company will offer a 40% discount for five or more copies from the Good Book Company site, using the code GBGJ.

10 September 2011

Boasting in the Cross

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. -Galatians 6:14

The Christian not only glories in the cross, he glories in the cross alone. He glories in nothing else. . . . There is an exclusiveness about it, which means that to the Christian this is the chief thing in history, the most important event that has ever taken place. It means that to him there is nothing which comes anywhere near it in significance. It means that he rests everything upon this, that this means all to him, that he is what he is because of this. He glories in it.

I want to ask a question to all Christian believers. Are you glorying in the cross? Or are you just saying, Of course, I always believe, I always have believed, I was brought up to. Can you speak like that about the cross?

The test of the Christian is that he glories in it, he exults in it, he boasts of it. It is everything to him, without it he has nothing. He owes all to this, this cross is the center of his universe in every respect. This is what is meant by boasting.
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross: God's Way of Salvation (Crossway, 1986), 54-55

09 September 2011

Inclusive and Exclusive Place-taking

In his study on atonement in Mark in the NSBT series, Peter Bolt makes a very helpful distinction, a distinction not always clearly kept in mind in theological discourse on the work of Christ.
The debate whether Jesus' death is a penal substitutionary atonement often includes discussion of whether Jesus died as a substitute as well as a representative. [Daniel P.] Bailey has suggested that, since both these terms are now heavily loaded, often with theological prejudice, a way through the debate might be to follow the German usage of the word Stellvertretung, or 'place-taking.' The Messiah is involved in both inclusive and exclusive place-taking.

He inclusively takes the place of Israel, in that he is one of them and shares in their distress in solidarity with them. When the nation suffers under God's wrath, he suffers with the nation. But the fate of the nation is also tied up with the Messiah. Just as the tribes of Israel participated 'in David' and benefited from God's promises attached to him and his line (2 Sam 7) and the blessing that flowed from them (2 Sam 19-20), so the people of the Messiah participate in him and benefit from the blessing of God attached to him. In other words, drawing upon this conception of his role as Messiah, when Jesus suffers he takes the place of Israel exclusively in that, he, the one, suffers for the many, as their substitute so that they do not need to suffer.
--Peter G. Bolt, The Cross from a Distance: Atonement in Mark's Gospel (NSBT 18; IVP, 2004), 70; also 132, 141

Seems to me that several defective views of atonement, historically, are due to emphasizing one of these, the inclusive or the exclusive, to the neglect of the other.


For the record, I will continue to delete anonymous, incoherent, or unedifying comments.

It's my blog, so I decide what is incoherent or unedifying.

A Paragraph of Theology Every Christian Should Digest

The first paragraph in Book 3 (of 4) of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book 3 deals with salvation, or redemption applied).
We must now examine this question. How do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son--not for Christ's own private use, but that he might enrich poor and needy men? First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. For this reason, he is called 'our head' (Eph 4:15), and 'the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). We also, in turn, are said to be 'ingrafted into him' (Rom 11:17), and to 'put on Christ' (Gal 3:27); for, as I have said, all that he possesses is nothing to us until we grow into one body with him. It is true that we obtain this by faith. Yet since we see that not all indiscriminately embrace that communion with Christ which is offered through the gospel, reason itself teaches us to climb higher and to examine the secret energy of the Spirit, by which we come to enjoy Christ and all his benefits. (III.1.1., McNeill/Battles edition)
I wonder if that is the most important extra-biblical paragraph on soteriology ever written.

08 September 2011

Augustine Online

A nice collection of free online talks on Augustine collected by Marc Cortez.

How to Have a Conversation as a Christian

My brother Eric--
The two great commandments in Mark 10--to love God undividedly and to love our neighbors as ourselves--do not only meet us as obligations. They are invitations to come out of ourselves into that fullness of life and joy which our Creator means for us to have.

Every sin involves a turning inward, away from God and my neighbor. Even if "turning inward" doesn't entirely describe that sin, an essential part of every sin is the elevation of Self to the diminishment of God and neighbor. When I steal, if I hate, if I covet, or break any other commandment, that is part of what is going on.

The next time you have a conversation, try an experiment: as much as you can, put aside what you want to say, how you might be tempted to interrupt, and your own projects for today. Rivet your attention on the person opposite you. There stands before you, potentially, a god or a monster, one who will be glorified with the Lord's own glory such that you'd be tempted to worship them if you saw it; or someone which, if Self gets the upper hand, will become so shriveled and ugly your skin would crawl if you could see it. You know how when you're listening to someone and you check your watch to see what time it is? The direction and momentum of your attention shifts. Do the opposite of that: keep the direction of your attention straight toward them, and upward to God. Pray silently (even if the other is blathering about something completely trivial) that whatever this person needs or wants might arise in the conversation.

There are a thousand non-verbal clues we give off about the complexity of fears and hopes inside. We do it unconsciously; it comes off us like a scent. Look for the clues. Listen for the subtext. There's always another layer of meaning beneath any statement. Wait on God to bring to light that satisfying and liberating word or verse from Scripture which that other needs to hear, and which will bless you too.

It sounds exhausting to do this, but it's actually deeply exciting and invigorating.
Read the rest.

How Can Christ's Work Atone for More than One Person?

After all, if Jesus was a single person, and only died and rose again once, shouldn't his saving work only be vicariously transferable to one other single person, if justice is to be maintained?

No, says Herman Bavinck--
When the Socinians say that . . . Christ could make satisfaction only for one person and not for many, inasmuch as he only bore the punishment of sin once, this reasoning is based on the same quantitative calculation as the 'acceptation' of Duns Scotus and the 'superabundance' of Aquinas.

For though the sin that entered the world through Adam manifests itself in an incalculable series of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, and though the wrath of God is felt individually by every guilty member of the human race, it is and remains the one indivisible law that has been violated, the one indivisible wrath of God that has been ignited against the sin of the whole human race, the one indivisible righteousness of God that has been offended by sin, the one unchangeable eternal God who has been affronted by sin.

The punishment of Christ, therefore, is also one: one that balances in intensity and quality the sin and guilt of the whole human race. . . . That punishment, after all, was laid on him who was not an individual on a level with other individuals but the second Adam head of the human race, both Son of Man and Son of God.
--Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 3:402

07 September 2011

Meet a Man Who Is Dear to Me

And who marvelously models what he commends.

Seems Such a Little Thing

It seems such a little thing to mix the law and the Gospel, faith and works; but this does more mischief than human reason can conceive, for it not only blemishes and obscures the knowledge of grace, but it also takes away Christ, with all his benefits, and utterly overshadows the Gospel. . . . The cause of this great evil is our flesh, which, being immersed in sins, sees no way of getting out except by works and therefore wants to live in the righteousness of the law and rely on its own actions. Therefore, it is utterly ignorant of the doctrine of faith and grace, without which it is impossible for the conscience to find rest and quietness.
--Martin Luther, Galatians (Crossway, 1998), 52

Gospel Indicatives and Imperatives

A nice reflection, from a counseling perspective, by Rob Green.

HT: Scientia et Sapientia

06 September 2011

The Permanent Pulsation of the Soul

The next to last page of Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
The mass of humans have been forced to be happy about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. A human is more himself, is more humanlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live.
--G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (repr.; Ignatius, 1995), 166.

Jesus and the Old Testament

Chris Wright:
The New Testament delights to portray Jesus as the one in whom the reality of the scripture promises is found, even in surprising ways. . . .

It was only as the church reflected on their experience of Jesus in the light of the resurrection that they came to see, as Paul put it, that 'all the promises of God are Yes in Christ.' He was the singular seed of Abraham, through whom that seed would become universal and multi-national. He was the one in whom all nations would be blessed. . . . He was the passover lamb protecting God's people from his wrath. His death and resurrection had achieved a new exodus. He was the mediator of a new covenant. His sacrificial death and risen life fulfilled and surpassed all that were signified in the tabernacle, the sacrifices and the priesthood. He was the temple not made with human hands, indeed he was Mount Zion itself, as the focus of the name and presence of God.

He was the son of David, but his Messianic kingship was concealed behind the basin and towel of servanthood and the necessity of obedience unto death.
--Christopher J. H. Wright, Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament (IVP, 1995), 74-75

The Two Adams

From a fascinating and illuminating little book by Knox Seminary professor Warren Gage--
Only the wisdom of God could appoint death as the way to life (Gal 2:20), the ultimate irony of curse transformed into blessing (Gal 3:13-14). It was by the death of the last Adam that the serpent of old encountered death and the first Adam found life. The nails that pierced the feet of Christ would bruise the heel, but they would crush the head of the serpent (1 Cor 2:8). The last Adam wore the thorns of the first Adam, but by these wounds he was healing his people (Isa 53:5). Christ knew the nakedness of Adam, but by this shame he was clothing his people in righteousness (Gal 3:27). For the first Adam the tree of knowledge brought death. But the last Adam knew death upon the tree bringing life (1 Pet 2:24). Adam had made a grave of a garden, but Christ would make a garden of a grave (Luke 24:5).
--Warren A. Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Eisenbrauns, 1984), 46-47

04 September 2011

03 September 2011

Justification and Human Brittleness

Luther, lecturing on Galatians 1 in 1531--
If I had not been taught by these examples of the church in Galatia, and others, I would never have believed that people who had started by accepting God’s Word with such joy could be overthrown so quickly.

The matter of justification is brittle—not in itself, for it is most sure and certain, but in respect to us, within us. I myself have experienced this, for I sometimes wrestle in hours of darkness. I know how often I suddenly lose the beams of the Gospel and grace. It is as though thick dark clouds obscured them from me. So I know about the slippery place in which we stand, even if we are experienced and seem to be surefooted in matters of faith. . . .

So, let every faithful person work hard to learn and retain this doctrine: and to that end, let us pray humbly and heartily, and study and meditate continually on the Word.
--Martin Luther, Galatians (Crossway, 1998), 57-58

When Book Titles Get too Clever for Their Own Good

A publisher's description of a new release:
What does the Bible really say about gender, the ethics of submission, and male-female roles? In this book, well-regarded theologian Alan Padgett offers a fresh approach to the debate. Through his careful interpretation of Paul's letters and broader New Testament teaching, the author shows how Christ's submission to the church models an appropriate understanding of gender roles and servant leadership. As Christ submits to the church, so all Christians must submit to, serve, and care for one another. Padgett articulates a creative approach to mutual submission and explores its practical outworking in the church today, providing biblical and ethical affirmation for equality in leadership.
I think I understand the point of the title, in light of the NT's theme of Christ serving the church in love, and giving an example of humility.

But the play on Ephesians 5:24 is unwise and perhaps veers close to blasphemy.

02 September 2011

Reversing the Whole Course of History

The kingdom of God is at work not in general but at a precise point, in a person, in Jesus, in his words and sovereign deeds. . . . As divine Man and true Adam he is engaged in reversing the whole course of the history of Adam.

He has conquered Satan in the desert; he has bound the strong man and is beginning to pillage his domain. By his healing miracles, by stilling the storm and raising the dead, he stands forth as King of creation. When he says 'But I say unto you . . .' he places himself above Moses as the Lord of the Torah, who is both fulfilling and transcending all that the ancient covenant promised. A greater than Solomon is here: the wisdom of God embodied in a Person; more than Jonah: here is the true prophet who has been speaking in all previous prophets. . . .

In a word, in him the new world of the resurrection makes an irruption into the old.
--Theo Preiss, Life in Christ (Studies in Biblical Theology 13; Allenson, 1952), 68

What Kind of Online Culture Are We Cultivating?

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.
--Proverbs 27:2

Something tells me it wouldn't cut it for Carson's NSBT series, but someone needs to develop a biblical theology of marketing and advertisement.

Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are fantastic tools with unprecedented potential for strategic, efficient kingdom instrumentality. A pastor in Scotland can write a blog post and within seconds a believer in India can read that post and be strengthened.

But as Peter Parker's Uncle Ben would remind us, 'With great power comes great responsibility.' And the amount of self-foregrounding that takes place on these media--by Christians--by pastors--is troubling. Promotion of our own books, letting everyone know where we've been and whom we've met, drawing attention to what others are saying of us--how easily we become Corinthians and employ the world's mindset for ostensibly kingdom purposes.

What are we doing, brothers? I am asking myself no less than you.

What if we made up our minds to refuse to quietly electronically parade whatever accomplishments the Lord grants? What if we let the Lord decide who knows of us and what we've done? What if every post, tweet, and FB update was passed through the fine filter of Matthew 23:12?

What are we of? What's driving us? Is this how true faith acts, faith in a God who one day 'will disclose the purposes of the heart' (1 Cor. 4:5)?

'Get a life, Dane. Quit the alarmism. I'm just trying to spread the gospel by alerting others to resources. Is it really a problem if that includes some of my own stuff?'

Maybe. Maybe not. That's between you and the Lord. There is certainly some gray in this conversation, it's not all black and white; there's room for wisdom here, not simplistic rules. And I have in mind individual 'marketing'; corporate marketing is, I think, in another category. But as far as your own personal online presence, why not determine to honor the Lord by getting up each day, keeping your hand to the plow, and letting him sort out who knows about you and what you've done? When you're unsure as to whether or not something is self-promoting, why not err on the side of blessed obscurity, to which God loves to draw near?

We are increasingly cultivating an online evangelical culture of self-projection. Trying our hardest, of course, not to look like we're self-promoting. This is not where God's power lies.

Large Petitions

John Newton--
Come, my soul, thy case prepare
Jesus loves to answer prayer
He Himself has bid thee pray
Therefore will not say thee nay

Thou art coming to a King
Large petitions with thee bring
For His grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much

01 September 2011


Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor.

5:48-6:28, in particular, smells of Eden. Makes me want to live well.

'Not Many of You Were Wise...' (1 Cor. 1:26)

'I thank Your Ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers: their doctrines are most repulsive, strongly tinctured with Impertinence and Disrespect towards their Superiors, in perpetually endeavouring to level all ranks and do away with all Distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the Common Wretches that crawl the Earth. This is highly offensive and insulting; and I cannot but wonder that your Ladyship should relish any Sentiment so much at variance with High Rank and Good Breeding.'
--The Duchess of Buckingham, in the 1750s, when invited by Lady Huntingdon to hear George Whitefield preach; quoted in Hugh Martin, The Seven Letters: Christ's Message to His Church (London, 1956), 107