Monday, March 30, 2015

The Art of Life

C. S. Lewis:
I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made; just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.
—C. S. Lewis, "Why I Am Not a Pacifist," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 79.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Great Original

"God is the Author of authors" (Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 47).

What It Is to Read

"To read is to fraternize with the great minds of the past" (Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? 46).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Redemption: Deliverance at Cost

In The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris argues cogently concerning the redemption-language background for the usage in the New Testament. Of this book as a whole, D. A. Carson recently said in a classroom exposition of Rom. 3:21-26 that the book is a "must read." He added, "sell your shirt for it" if you must. And I can see why. 

Here's Morris's summary of that redemption-language background:
We see then, that in Greek writings generally, in the Old Testament, and in Rabbinic writers, the basic idea in redemption is the paying of a ransom price to secure a liberation. Circumstances may vary, for the word applies to the freeing of a prisoner of war, or of a man under sentence of death because his ox has gored a man, or of articles in paw, or of a slave seeking manumission. But always there is the idea of payment of a ransom to secure the desired effect. 
When God is the subject of the verb we noticed a difference, for it is inconceivable that He should pay a ransom to men, and in those passages there tends to be a greater stress on the idea of deliverance than on the means by which it is brought about. Yet even here we saw that the Old Testament writers were not unmindful of the meaning of the words they were applying to God's dealings with His people, for they think of Him as delivering at some cost. Clearly the metaphor was one with point. 
—Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 29.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Christian Fellowship Worthy of the Name

Speaking of the "sinless Redeemer" and his body, the church, Lewis says this:
His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead within the Body, and any conception of Christian fellowship which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of court.
—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 164.

A New and Deadly Disease

Lewis:
A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion. . . . But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.
—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 162.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Starved for Solitude, Silence, and Privacy

"We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship."

—C. S. Lewis, "Membership," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 160.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fellowship with Christ

"To become a Christian means to have fellowship with Christ in all that He has accomplished for us."

—Sinclair Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014), 62.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This is Wencel baby number four at eight weeks, measuring 1.6 centimeters and presenting with a heart rate of 163 beats per minute.



Almost needless to say, but always good to express, we're grateful to God for his kind and creative handiwork, and for sustaining this little life.

Christian Love

"Love of benevolence is that disposition which a man has who desires or delights in the good of another. And this is the main thing in Christian love, the most essential thing, and that whereby our love is most of an imitation of the eternal love and grace of God, and the dying love of Christ."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 213.

Christian Kindness

"To be kind is to have a disposition freely to do good. Whatever good is done, it is no proper kindness in the doer of it unless it be done freely."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 211.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Paul the Maverick

Speaking of how to view the apostle Paul, New Testament scholar Michael Bird suggests five images: persecutor, missionary, theologian, pastor, and martyr. But then he adds one more that wouldn't normally come to mind, and comments upon it.

Here's what he says:
We might now add another image: maverick. Paul was regarded by many Jewish Christians as a meddlesome nonconformist, by Jews as a blasphemous apostate, and by Roman authorities as a mischievous nuisance. There is no doubt that Paul was a controversialist and we we may even speak of his abrasive personality (cf. Gal. 2:11-14; Acts 15:35-41). 
—Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission, and His Message (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008),

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Importance of Practicing What You Preach

In a section showing how "a Christian spirit disposes persons freely to do good to others," in the fourth sermon in his sermon series Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards speaks about an essential element in doing good to others as we seek to instruct them in the things of Christianity.

Here's the essential element:
Persons may do good to others' souls, which is the most excellent way of doing good. . . . Men may do good to others' souls by . . . setting them good examples, which is a thing the most needful of all and commonly the most effectual of any for promoting good to others' souls. This must accompany those other means of doing good of others' souls, of instructing, counseling, warning and reproving, and is needful to give force to those means and to make them take effect. It is the most likely thing to render them effectual of anything whatsoever. And whatever warnings or reproofs are given without an answerable example, they will not be very likely to take effect. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 207.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love (3)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
                                Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                                From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                                If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                                Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                                I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                                Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                              Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                               My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                               So I did sit and eat.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 178.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Controlled by Culture or Christ?

Commenting on the situation in Corinth that Paul is confronting in 2 Cor. 10:1ff, Professor Carson draws out this important contemporary application:
There will always be some who are controlled by a lightly "Christianized" version of their own culture: i.e., their controlling values spring from the inherited culture, even when such values are deeply pagan and not Christian. Christian language may be there; yet the control lies, not with the gospel, but with the pervasive values of the surrounding society and heritage. At that point Paul is inflexible.  
As far as Christians are concerned, wherever there is a clash between cherished inherited culture and the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the former that must give way and accept modification and transformation. Failure at this point calls in question one's allegiance to the gospel. Unreserved commitment to the priorities of the inherited culture, with select elements of Christianity being merely tacked on, brings with it Paul's inevitable conclusion that the Jesus being preached is "another Jesus," the gospel being proclaimed is a "different gospel," and those who proclaim such an Evangel are "deceitful workmen masquerading as apostles of Christ" (2 Cor 11:4, 13) 
Moreover, those professing Christians who, like the Corinthians, show themselves to be profoundly sympathetic to this non-Christian orientation of values must at very least examine themselves again to see if they really are in the faith (13:5). 
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 40–41.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Leader and Led Alike Both Bear the Load of Responsibility

Addressing some of the crucial lessons to be learned from Paul's passionate pen in 2 Corinthians 10–13, Professor Carson speaks to one of the more important lessons, in my estimation, for the contemporary church.

Here's his insight:
Individual Christians and local churches alike must take responsibility for the styles of leadership they follow. If it is true that Christian leaders are responsible before God for the teaching they provide, the models they display, and the directions they take, it is no less true that Christians and Christian assemblies are responsible for choosing what and whom they will emulate.  
The problems at Corinth depicted in 2 Corinthians 10–13 would never have arisen if the Corinthian church had handled the intruders in a mature and biblical fashion in the first place. That they failed to do so reflects their spiritual immaturity, their unsettling inability to perceive that the norms of their own society were deeply pagan and not to be nurtured in the church. 
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 28.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dullness

Why do I languish thus, drooping and dull,
                    As if I were all earth?
O give me quickness, that I may with mirth
                           Praise thee brimfull!

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 107.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Difficulty of Discernment

"It is always much more difficult for Christians to detect a fundamentally sinful attitude in other Christians than in pagans—especially if that attitude is endemic to contemporary society, thereby reducing or eliminating the 'shock' force of that sin."

—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to Maturity: An Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 20.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Nature

         Full of rebellion, I would die,
         Or fight, or travel, or deny
That thou hast ought to do with me.
                           O tame my heart;
                   It is thy highest art
To captivate strong holds to thee.

If thou shalt let this venom lurk,
And in suggestions fume and work,
My soul will turn to bubbles straight,
                            And thence by kind
                    Vanish into a wind,
Making thy workmanship deceit.

O smooth my rugged heart, and there
Engrave thy rev'rend law and fear;
Or make a new one, since the old
                           Is sapless grown,
                  And a much fitter stone
To hide my dust, than thee to hold.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 39–40.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Marvellous Case Study in Christian Leadership

Commenting on 2 Corinthians 10–13, and speaking of how Paul handled the crisis in Corinth generated by the accusations of intruders and interlopers, Professor Carson reflects:
Probably Paul would not even have bothered to answer these and other charges had not the gospel itself been at stake. The interlopers who were leading the Corinthian church astray were not only personally ambitious, they were preaching what Paul discerned to be a false gospel, another Jesus (2 Cor. 11:4). That left Paul no alternative but to enter the fray; and the way he does this, with wisdom, wit, humor, irony, winsomeness, yet also anguish, hurt, and stunning emotional intensity, constitutes a marvellous case study in Christian leadership and the maintenance of Christian values and priorities.
—D. A. Carson, From Triumphalism to MaturityAn Exposition of 2 Corinthians 10–13 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 4.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

All Authority, All Nations, All Allegiance

The following is the corporate prayer we prayed this morning at New Covenant Church. And two great texts from Matthew's gospel shaped this prayer: Matt. 28:18-20, the Great Commission; and Matt. 22:37-40, with the great command. 

The Prayers at NCC (3/8/15)

Our Lord Jesus, Lord of glory, we are gathered this Lord’s Day in your name, “name above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Because of your obedience even unto “death on a cross . . . God has highly exalted [you]” (Phil. 2:8-9). And so we bend the knee before you, we bow before you, and confess you are “Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11). 

We are gathered in your presence, our risen King, as your blood-bought bride, ransomed from among the nations, indwelt by your Spirit. And in your majestic presence this Lord’s Day, we consider our world. We consider the powers of the earth that strut their stuff: China and Russia; Japan and Iran; India and Korea; Germany and France and Britain; and most powerful of all, the United States.

And we consider, O sovereign Christ, how you are above all earthly powers, ruling over every nation as King of kings and Lord of lords. All these “nations are as a drop from a bucket” before you; they “are accounted as dust on the scales,” like breath, without weight, “as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:15-17).

O risen and exalted Christ, supreme over all, "all authority in heaven and on earth" is yours! (Matt. 28:18). And your potent atonement put away all our sins, and the sins of all your people—forever! By your blood you purchased us, and made us yours. And Lord of all, you have commanded us to disciple the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them (Matt. 28:19-20). Empower us, we pray, to do what you have commanded.

And so as we give ourselves to making disciples, we ourselves eagerly desire to obey all your commands. And with crystal clarity you taught us to give our utmost attention to the great command—to love God heart, soul, mind and strength (Matt. 22:37-38; cf. Mark 12:30). Fill us then, we cry out, with the fullness of your Spirit, so that we would be enabled supernaturally to love God with the very love with which you yourself loved God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit in the days of your flesh. Fill us, we pray, fill us with love divine.

And surely, Lord Jesus, if we are to make disciples and teach them to obey all you have commanded, surely you would have us teach a supreme love for God, finding ultimate satisfaction in him and his will, delighting in him and doing his good pleasure. Surely you would have us evangelize others and mentor others and serve others right up into fulfilling the great command—love for God "with all [our] heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind" (Matt. 22:37).

So fill us, O risen Jesus, with a love that longs to imitate God’s self-giving love—that we might love our neighbors even as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39), and love them with a divine love right up into a supreme satisfaction in God.

Help us, we pray, O risen Christ, to do this in the strength you supply (1 Pet. 4:11). “Not by [human] might, not by [human] power, but by [your] Spirit” (Zech. 4:6). That in everything God may get the glory (1 Pet. 4:11).

You have promised, Lord, saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). These words are more precious to us than jewels, sweeter than honey to our taste. Thank you for this promise, Lord. Thank you.

It is to you, Lord of all, we pray, gathered in your name.

Amen.  

(For the title of this prayer, see Douglas O'Donnell's short article on the melodic line of Matthew's gospel.)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Love and Imitation

"It is the nature of love, or at least love to a superior as such [e.g., God], even to incline and dispose to imitation. A child's love to his father disposes him to imitate his father, and especially does the love of God's children dispose them to imitate their Heavenly Father."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 193–194.

Now read Eph. 5:1-2; 1 Cor. 11:1; and Phil. 3:17.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

All of a Piece

Powlison:
Our struggles and temptations are more alike than different. An elderly man facing a health crisis is tempted to worry in ways similar to the high school senior waiting for the answer to her college application. Our circumstances can be vastly different, but the human heart tends to respond to hard things by anxiety, irritation, and pleasure-seeking. It is in those places we learn to cry out for mercy to the living God who hears and is near.
—David Powlison, "Where Do You Start," CCEF Now (2007): 3.

Don't Be Afraid

"'Do not be afraid' is the most frequent command in the Bible."

—David Powlison, "Where Do You Start," CCEF Now (2007): 3.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Is a Christian?

Amid much confusion in the modern world about what it means to be a Christian (yes even, lamentably, in "Christian" churches), I offer this simple and straightforward three-fold description. It's not the only way to put it, but it's an important way: a way that gets right to the heart of the matter, as I see it, and as I believe the Bible teaches us.

Here it is. Christians are those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who are joined to the risen Jesus, and who follow Jesus wherever he goes and directs.

So, to be a Christian—a saint, a holy one, called of God—is, first, to be one who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 10:13; cf. Acts 2:21; 9:14). Christians call on the name of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus, seated at God's right hand, having paid for sins by his death, coming again in power and glory. That's what makes us Christians. He is preached as Lord of all, perceived to be Lord over all, and then called upon as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Now I know that both what this calling on his name consists in and an accurate knowledge of the one who is being called upon are not at all secondary or peripheral considerations. They're crucial. And so, for example, and briefly, I'll state what is involved here: it includes consciously calling in faith and trust on the name of the one who is God become man, who died a substitute death for sinners under God's just judgment, and who rose from the grave triumphant and exalted as King and Savior and Judge of the nations—our righteousness, treasure, wisdom, new creation, everlasting hope. And so, although there much more to be said in this vein, nevertheless, one basic and compressed way of describing Christians in the matrix of right belief is by saying Christians are those who call on the name of the risen Lord Jesus (understanding that "name" in the ancient world carries with it the sense of one's character and authority; we might say, the name conveys who the person really is).

Second, to be a Christian is to be a person united with Jesus; or, which is the same thing, to be a person united with Jesus' body, the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-27; Col. 1:18). John 15:1-11 describes this union as "abiding in" Jesus as branches organically connected to a vine. The letters of Paul routinely speak of Christians being "in Christ," or being blessed "with Christ," or with some such similar expression. The occurrences of this participation language are too numerous to cite here. Reading through any of Paul's epistles will provide the perspective, but a good place perhaps to go first is Rom. 6:1-11 and 8:1-39, and then perhaps Ephesians and Colossians. Christians, then, have been joined to Jesus. And the New Testament teaches us abundantly that this happens by faith and baptism, in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit.

Third, to be a Christian—a person set apart for God—is to be one who follows the Lord Jesus in faith and obedience, in child-like trust and willing submission. That is to say, Christians are disciples of Jesus, sitting at his feet as learners, hanging on his every word, doing what pleases him. We Christians thus set ourselves to "follow the Lamb wherever he goes" (Rev. 14:4). And while many texts could be cited to point out how calling Christians "followers of Christ" is an apt description, a sample from the book of Acts will do, where the first Christians are frequently simply referred to as "disciples." See Acts 6:1, 2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 25, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:20, 22; 15:10; 16:1; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 9, 30; 20:1, 30; 21:4, 16.

Well, now, there you have it: Christians are those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus, who are joined to the risen Jesus, and who follow him as his disciples.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

It's just my opinion, but the only place skinny jeans look good is on a toddler.

(And even with the sloppy-joe stain on the "sweet stuff" t-shirt, she still pulls off curly cuteness.)


And while I'm generally against more regulation, someone needs to act fast and make a law banning skinny jeans on young men.

(I hesitated calling them "men," but decided to be generous and charitable.)

Man under the Law

"Man under the law lives in a state of tension. He knows what is right; he approves what is right; but he lacks the power to do what is right."

—F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 331.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Christian Long-suffering

Edwards on Christian meekness, from a sermon on 1 Cor. 13:4 in his justly famous series Charity and Its Fruits:
If men after they are offended and injured speak reproachfully to their neighbor, or of him to others, with a design to make others think worse of him, to the end that they may gratify that bitter spirit which they feel in themselves for the injury their neighbor has done them, that is revenge. He, therefore, who exercises Christian long-suffering towards his neighbor bears injuries from him without revenging or retaliating, either with revengeful deeds or bitter words. He bears it without doing anything against his neighbor or gratifying a bitter resentment, without talking with bitter words to him, without showing a revengeful spirit in the manner of his countenance, or air of his behavior. He receives all with a calm, undisturbed countenance, still manifesting the quietness and goodness in his behavior towards him, both to his face and behind his back.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 189.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Obama a Christian? A Muslim?

I'm tired of talk about whether Obama is a Christian or Muslim. I mean, seriously? A Christian? C'mon. Not if the New Testament is the standard. And a Muslim? Really? Not if serious Muslims are the standard. Not if there needs to be a sort of serious commitment to the Quran.

So I wish the media would just quit this nonsense, and I wish (hoping against hope) that the masses could just see the obvious and move on. Obama is a secularist. Through and through. This is not difficult, people.

And in this regard he's more American than he is anything else. Secularism is his operating worldview, plain for all to see, out there in the open every day, staring at us in the face, despite the occasional nod to Christ or public respect for Islam.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Justification Reconsidered

I just finished Stephen Westerholm's Justification Reconsidered. It's a cogent and concise overview of Paul's understanding of justification over against modern misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and mishandlings of the doctrine of justification. Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to understand the basics at play in present-day discussions.

So Much for a Wandering Mind

"Depend on it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

—J. Boswell, Life of Johnson, 167 (as cited in F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 313).

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


—Rudyard Kipling

(Source.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Smear and Censure

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) and John Calvin (1509–1564), two of the world's most prominent pastor-theologians, speak eloquently to the pervasiveness and ugliness of the commonest of sins—slander.

Commenting on Jas. 1:26, Calvin says this:
When people shed their grosser sins, they are extremely vulnerable to contract this complaint. A man will steer clear of adultery, of stealing, of drunkenness, in fact he will be a shining light of outward religious observance—and yet will revel in destroying the character of others; under the pretext of zeal, naturally, but it is a lust for vilification. This explains his desire to distinguish the honest worshippers of God from the hypocrites, and the bloated pharisaical pride that feeds indulgently on a general diet of smear and censure (The Epistles of James and Jude, 274). 
Edwards, in a sermon on 1 Cor. 13:4 in his famous series Charity and Its Fruits, describes this all too common injury:
Some injure others in their good name, by reproaching them, or speaking evil of them behind their backs. Abundance is done in this way. No injury is so common as this. . . . Some injure others by making or spreading false reports of others, and so slandering them. And others, although what they say is not a direct falsehood, yet a great misrepresentation of things, represent things in their neighbors in the worst colors, and strain their faults, and set them forth beyond what they are, and speak of them in a very unfair manner. A great deal of injury is done among neighbors by uncharitably judging one another, putting injurious constructions on one another's words and actions (Ethical Writings, 187).
—John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke Volume III and The Epistles of James and Jude (vol. 3 in Calvin's New Testament Commentaries; transl. A. W. Morrison; eds. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrrance; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 274; Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 157–158.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preaching Free of Charge—Because Grace Is Free

My gratitude to God, and esteem for D. A. Carson, increases by the day. I'm currently taking his course on Acts, Paul, and the General Epistles at TEDS. This morning Professor Carson walked us through 1 Corinthians 9 and Paul's radical commitment to the Gospel.

And in the course of this lecture, I found out that Carson has no speaking fee when he travels round the world to teach and preach. When asked what he charges or expects for his services, he simply says, "Nothing. It's free." He made a vow to God years ago that he'd never accept or turn down a speaking engagement based on money.

And that's right: the Gospel is free of charge. Grace is free. And those who show it forth in their living as well as speak it in their preaching hold forth the gift of God most powerfully. The Gospel embodied in deed powerfully attests to the Gospel held out in word.  

I praise God for Professor Carson, and for ministers who model free grace in their own lives. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paul Raw

Speaking of the Corinthian correspondence:
No part of the Pauline corpus more clearly illuminates the character of Paul the man, Paul the Christian, Paul the pastor, and Paul the apostle than do these epistles. He thereby leaves us some substance in his invitation to imitate him, and thereby imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). 
—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 450.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Twenty-First Century Face of Feminism

Over at National Review, Mary Eberstadt has just penned an insightful piece on what is going on with feminism today. Please do have a look. And please don't let the provocative language in the beginning keep you from pressing on to the end. It gets more and more insightful as it presses on.

Here's a snippet:
Feminism has become something very different from what it understands itself to be, and indeed from what its adversaries understand it to be. It is not a juggernaut of defiant liberationists successfully playing offense. It is instead a terribly deformed but profoundly felt protective reaction to the sexual revolution itself. In a world where fewer women can rely on men, some will themselves take on the protective coloration of exaggerated male characteristics — blustering, cursing, belligerence, defiance, and also, as needed, promiscuity.
You can read the whole article (definitely worth doing) here. Which is the same place above where I urged you to go on ahead and have a look.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants

This recent piece by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic is easily the most helpful piece I've read on ISIS. While acknowledging fully that I am a novice on matters of Islam and the world's political affairs, it appears that this piece contains substantial explanatory power and betrays unusual care, clarity, and accuracy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition, ca. 1436

For a concise exposition of this painting, see pages 65–69 in Art and Music: A Student's Guide, by Paul Munson and Joshua Farris Drake.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Antithetical to Ecclesiastical Unity

"A church full of people who are hungry to impress others and climb a little higher up the scales of social approval will not be a church characterized by deep spiritual unity."

—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 428.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Precious in the Sight of the LORD Is the Death of His Saints

The following is what my wife Emily wrote yesterday as she reflected on the home-going of her grandpa Peter Wolfert:
Today I’m thanking God for the life of Grandpa Peter, who departed to be with Jesus early Friday morning. He married my grandma when I was in college and was such an encourager to me through each new step I took as an adult. Most of all, he encouraged me through his love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One Christmas he and I were discussing a message on “Comfort and Joy,” and he shared how the word "comfort" always reminded him of the Heidelberg Catechism. He then recited question one: “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” Answer: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” To hear that spoken with such faith and conviction from a ninety-two-year-old saint has left an indelible mark on my life.

Thank you, Jesus, for the encouragement of the saints who’ve gone before us! I look forward to rising one day with Grandpa Peter triumphant over death because we belong to Jesus. And I can’t wait to see his glorious resurrected body in the new heavens and new earth!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Womb of Theology

"Mission is the mother of all theology" (M. Kahler, as cited in Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul, 20).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Upsetting the World with the Gospel

On his second missionary journey, Paul (with Silas) preached Jesus as the Christ with good effect in a synagogue of the Jews in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3). This spawned jealously among some Jews who then stirred up men of the rabble to form a mob (Acts 17:4-5). Before the city authorities, this mob leveled a charge against Paul and his companions.

Well, what was the charge? Luke tells us in Acts 17:6-7. And F. F. Bruce paraphrases that charge:
These men who have upset the civilized world have now arrived here, and Jason has harbored them. Their practices are clean contrary to Caesar's decrees: they are proclaiming a rival emperor, Jesus (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 225).
I find this charge more than a little intriguing. Whatever the particulars of his proclamation in Thessalonica, Paul must have focused on Jesus as Lord (as in so much of the proclamation recorded in Acts). Jesus is Lord. His is risen and exalted and reigning. Now! Already! And so that's what the apostles preached. And this meant they routinely found themselves in a head on collision with local authorities, who found their message subversive to their own inflated authority.

Now, such charges are almost never brought against Christians today. And I submit that the reason for this is simply that we preach a different gospel than did the apostles. We don't proclaim Jesus as Lord, given all authority in heaven and on earth. But we should. And when we do, we should not be surprised when the authorities take notice and betray their panic.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

O Sovereign Lord, King of the Nations

What follows is a recent prayer offered up at New Covenant Church in Naperville, IL. On the morning we prayed this corporate prayer, we were interceding for missionaries and for the persecuted church around the world. For obvious reasons, the missionaries' identities will be obscured in the prayer below by using curly brackets, like this: {     }. 

The Prayers at NCC

Our gracious God, the great Giver of good gifts, you have poured into our laps to overflowing. We receive the gifts you’ve given us, with gratitude, and we offer back to you a portion of these gifts in worship. We offer our resources in worship for the cause of Christ, and for the work of his kingdom. Get glory for yourself, we pray, through the Gospel going forth, and make us glad in the gladness of others receiving your free grace.

O Sovereign Lord, King of the nations, thank you for the privilege of partnering with {our missionaries} for the sake of your Name among the nations. We praise you for renewing and refreshing [them] while in {_____}, and we praise you for providing work for [our brother] where he can get to know and serve multiple people.

As [they] now settle in among the “People of the Plains,” O Great God, Our gracious God, give favor with local and government officials in the northprovide a place to live nearby gospel partners; grant grace, light, and power for wise living in a foreign land; grant grace and endurance for learning the local culture and adapting well; give grace as they move into a new city with new and unknown challenges; grant grace for [our brother] in his new job to speak the word of grace with power.

And as we remember our persecuted siblings around the world, in Burma and China, in India and Egypt, in Iran and Iraq, and elsewhere, especially in the ten-forty window, we remember your word, O Lord: “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” And we remember how your servant the apostle Peter taught us not to “be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon [the church] to test [us], as though something strange were happening to [us]. And we remember how Jesus himself taught us: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you”; “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you.”

And yet, we cry out with the cries of those souls slain for the Word of God and for their witness: “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge [the blood of the church]?” How long? And we hear you telling us to wait until the full number of the martyrs spill their blood in witness to the Lord Jesus.

So we pray for the endurance of the saints around the world, for perseverance for those suffering for their faith in Christ. Keep them from fearing what they are appointed to suffer. Help them “to be faithful unto death, [knowing that you] will give them the crown of life.” May they be enabled by divine grace to “hold fast to [the name of Jesus].” May they remember and believe your word that “the one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”

We pray also, O Sovereign Lord, for our patient endurance. And we ask you to give us the grace we need to imitate the faith of the martyrs and of our brothers and sisters who steadfastly “keep the commands of God and hold fast to the testimony of Jesus.” For our Lord Jesus is worthy of all our worship, and all our devotion. And it is in his worthy name we pray. 

Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Soul Itself Becomes a Precious Jewel

The meeting house where Edwards
preached "Charity and Its Fruits"
Jonathan Edwards' sermons on 1 Corinthians 13, preached in 1738, in Northampton, MA, shortly after the fervors of the first "Great Awakening" had passed, are a precious treasure for the Christian Church. Whenever I return to Charity and Its Fruits, I find myself simultaneously devastated and invigorated. I say "devastated" because Edwards' preaching on what real faith looks like as it works itself out in love leaves me feeling my shortcomings considerably more than the much less probing preaching common in the church today, preaching that rarely disturbs the comfortable, and comforts the disturbed. And I say "invigorated" because of how life-giving and renewing and refreshing is Edward's vision of the Christian life. It is beautiful, excellent, altogether lovely. It is life-giving, since it is itself swallowed up in the life of God.

And so I wish in this place to give my reader a flavor of what I'm talking about. The following excerpt comes from the second sermon in the series, entitled: "Love More Excellent than Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit." And here Edwards is distinguishing between the "ordinary" (by which he means what all Christians are ordinarily given in the gift of the Spirit) and "extraordinary" (by which he means "miraculous") gifts of the Spirit. One paragraph ought to be enough to send you off longing and panting for more. Note especially the last two sentences of the quoted material below, where Edwards is illustrating his point.
This blessing of the saving grace of God is a quality inherent in the nature of him who is the subject of it. This gift of the Spirit of God, working a saving Christian temper and exciting gracious exercises, confers a blessing which has its seat in the heart; a blessing which makes a man's heart and nature excellent. Yea, the very excellency of the nature consists in it.  
Now it is not so with respect to those extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. They are excellent things, but not properly the excellency of a man's nature; for they are not things which are inherent in the nature. For instance, if a man is endued with a gift of working miracles, that power is not anything inherent in his nature. It is not properly any quality of the heart and nature of the man, as true grace and holiness are. And though most commonly those who have these extraordinary gifts of prophecy, speaking in tongues, and working miracles have been holy persons, yet their holiness did not consist in their having these gifts; but holiness consists in having grace in the heart; grace and holiness are the same thing. 
Extraordinary gifts are nothing properly inherent in the man. They are something adventitious. They are excellent things; but they are not properly excellencies in the nature of the subject, any more than the garments are which he wears. Extraordinary gifts of the Spirit are, as it were, precious jewels, which a man carries about him. But true grace in the heart is, as it were, the preciousness of the heart, by which it becomes precious or excellent; by which the very soul itself becomes a precious jewel.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 157–158.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weeping for Joy Over That Blessed Building

I'm slated to give my testimony ("pilgrim story," or "life story," as they call it) in my formation group at TEDS. Actually, were I not sick, I would be doing that today. But instead I'll be telling next week, not this week, what great things the Lord has done for me.

Well, as I have been thinking a little about my conversion to Christ, I went back to find the church building where the risen Lord Jesus met me in the Gospel. The people who folded me in and nurtured me there no longer meet there. I'm not sure who does. But just seeing the building, where grace came down on my sinful soul, after not being there for quite some time, brings me to tears. I'm weeping for joy!

If you click on the link and take a look at the building, it won't have for you, of course, the emotional pull that it has for me. But nevertheless I post the link to that blessed place where Christ redeemed my life from the pit. I would have posted a link to a view from the front of the building, but someone is in the front painting at the time of the picture! Moreover, in any case, the side of the building is where I always walked as I headed to the front of that blessed place to meet the Lord Jesus and his people week by week.

I hope shortly, as I've been hoping to do for some time, to post my conversion story. It should be up by next week.

(Update: Well, I've not gotten it up as of 2/25/15, due to too much press and the tyranny of the urgent, as well as an unwillingness to give up bouncing around with my little girl in generous quantities. Yet I still hope to post my testimony in the coming weeks. Lord willing.)

(Another update: So it's now 4/21/15, and I've still yet to complete my personal testimony for a post here. I've got to admit, due in large part to a fleeting and unstable memory, that putting together an overview of what the Lord did in my life has proved more demanding than originally I thought it would be. Moreover, I prefer not to think about myself or write about myself at any length, even if it is about what God has done in my life. And so I shall return to trying to finish this half-finished testimony when God moves me again to think about what great things he's done for me, and when, of course, Providence provides a season to do so.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tracing the Kingdom of God Theme Across the Canon

What follows is my all too brief attempt to trace out the kingdom of God theme as it unfolds in Scripture. Since this was produced for a graduate course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, there were space constraints imposed that limit the scope and detail of my treatment (at certain points, the footnotes fill out a thought somewhat, and suggest where more unpacking might occur). I hope to produce something far fuller and more detailed as Providence allows. Nevertheless, here is, I believe, the basics of this theme as it unfolds in Scripture.

The Kingdom of God in the Canon

The theme of “the kingdom of God” occupies enormous space in recent scholarly discourse.[1] Numerous scholars have noted how well this theme may integrate biblical theology.[2] Yarbrough labels this theme as “all-important.”[3] Waltke speaks of the “in-breaking of God’s rule” as the center of the Old Testament (OT).[4] I myself would contend that the kingdom of God functions centrally in the unfolding of salvation-history.[5] But finding a center in Scripture is not the focus of this brief paper. Rather, this paper proposes to trace out this “all-important” theme across the canon as it unfolds corpus by corpus. Finally, then, I shall attempt to tease out tersely a few implications and applications.

Although the phraseology “the kingdom of God” does not occur in the OT,[6] the idea pervades the whole.[7] Numerous texts speak of God’s kingdom (e.g., Pss 103:19; 145:11–12; Dan 4:34). Similarly, scores of texts speak of God as king or of God’s throne (e.g., Pss 24:10; 99:1, 4; Isa 6:1, 5; 66:1). The kingdom of God as it comes into clear view in the New Testament (NT) clearly depends on the notion of royal rule in the OT.[8], [9]

The Pentateuch’s Anticipatory Witness

The witness of the first five books of the Bible is one of anticipation. We see no explicit references to the “kingdom of God,” but intimations crop up repeatedly in this block of Scripture. Moreover, the whole framework within which the witness unfolds is one of God’s lordship over the cosmos in creation, in providence, and in promised redemption.[10] This lordship language links up conceptually as well as semantically with the idea and reality of God as king over all and with the kingdom theme that develops in the Bible’s storyline.[11]

Since he created all things (Gen 1:1), God rules supremely as King over his creation, and to him alone belongs all allegiance.[12] Although God gives dominion to his image-bearers (Gen 1:26–28) in Eden, their dominion never escapes the bounds of his sovereign will, but is always subject to it (Gen 2:17).[13] The Garden of Eden thus serves as the basic framework for the kingdom theme.[14] But defying their King, humanity succumbs to Satan’s seduction to be like God and plunges into rebellion and ruin, as Genesis 3 tragically recounts. And so Adam and Eve and their future progeny forfeit dominion in paradise. Yet their rebellion and resultant ruin do not utter the last word. For God promises redemption through the seed of the woman (3:15). Already, then, there is a suggestion of regaining what was lost.[15] After the fallout of the Fall (Genesis 4–11), Abraham and his progeny then become the locus of God’s promise of redemption (Genesis 12ff). Among God’s promises to Abraham and his offspring, kings shall come (Gen 17:6, 16; 35:11).[16] This coming of kings comes in keeping with the promise of nationhood made to Abram (Gen 12:2), which “assumes a political and regal destiny.”[17] Gen 49:8–12 then narrows the anticipation of dominion down to Judah. And so Genesis intimates the rise of a royal dynasty.[18]

The formation of Israel as a theocratic nation ruled by YHWH comes as an exceedingly important development.[19] Exod 19:1–6 depicts Israel at Sinai entering into covenant with YHWH, who makes her “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,”[20] if she will obey his voice. So this watershed brings into sharper focus the ilk of kingdom developing in redemptive history: priests ruled by the righteous word of their sovereign covenant King.

Two other crucial texts in the Pentateuch’s witness need to be surveyed: Num 24:3–9, 15–19 and Deut 17:14–20.[21] In Numbers 22–24, we read of Balak’s summons of Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam’s third oracle (24:3–9), drawing upon imagery from Eden and the Exodus, foretells of the triumph of Israel over adversaries through her king, and harks back to the royal figure of Gen 49:8–12.[22] Num 24:14 introduces the fourth oracle, and also looks back to Genesis 49, with a reference to what will happen “in the latter days” (בְּאַחֲרִ֥ית הַיָּמִ) “in the latter days.”[23]

In these latter days, “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the head of Moab . . . [and] exercise dominion” (Num 24:17–19), recalling the seed (Gen 3:15), the kings (17:6, 17), and the blessing (49:8–12). The texts cited thus far from Genesis–Numbers anticipate Deut 17:14–20.[24] When the people enter the promised land and ask for a king, they may have one—so long as God chooses him, and he is an Israelite (17:15). But he must not amass military might, marry many wives, or accumulate excessive wealth (17:16–17). Positively, the king must give himself to the Torah and observe it, “that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (17:18–20).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Not Separating What God Has Joined Together

"Teaching about the resurrection of Jesus is inadequate if it does not incorporate the notions of heavenly exaltation and eternal rule. In other words, resurrection and ascension belong together in Christian theology."

—David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 152.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Philosophy in the Ancient World

"In the ancient world, philosophy means something like what we mean by 'worldview.'"

—D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 33.

One of the Most Important Books a Christian Can Read

Regarding Thomas Sowell's book A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles, Justin Taylor says this: "I would still submit that it may be one of the most important books a Christian can read to understand what is going on in today’s culture when it comes to political struggles."

Taylor's entire post may be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

O Father of Lights, Keep Us, Help Us, Save Us

The following is the corporate prayer we prayed at New Covenant Church this morning. It is shaped by Jas. 1:13–25.

The Prayers at NCC (1/11/15)

O Father of lights, Giver of every good gift, we know you are never tempted with evil. Never. We know this, Father. For you are unchangeably holy, unchangeably pure, unchangeably bright with ineffable light. In a word, you are good. Always good. And so we confess this Lord’s Day, your unqualified goodness.

But we, Father, we are not good, at least not good in and of ourselves. Not by nature. By nature, we are dark and evil. And, unlike you—the unchangeable God—we are fickle, erratic, unsteady, unstable, prone to wander. Lord we feel it! Prone to leave the God we love. We falter; we fail. We are often deceived by darkness. We are even, we confess, at times deceived into thinking that we are not prone to being deceived.

And so we confess our need for you to keep us from being deceived. Keep us, Father, from being duped by the Devil. Keep us from being deceived by the enemy within. Our pristine first parents, Adam and Eve—they were deceived. They believed satanic lies about you. They were deceived by devilish slander of your Word. They distrusted your infinitely trustworthy goodness. And they disbelieved your good Word.

So we ask you to keep us from trusting in our own wisdom. Keep us by your good Word from being deceived. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from [you,] the Father of lights.” And “with [you] there is no variation or shifting shadow.” Of your “own will [you] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of [your] creation”—the new creation broken into this present world in the risen and exalted Lord Jesus.

And so in his risen life, participating in the new creation in Christ, we pray that we would be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; [knowing that] the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” We believe this, want to trust this. So help us to be ever ready to listen, especially to your Word. Slow to speak, that we might be ever ready to hear a word from you. And swift to hear, and slow to speak, that we might also be slow to anger.

And so, with your help, Father of lights, help us to "put away all moral filth and rampant wickedness" from our speech. All slander. All backbiting. All carping. All criticism. All fault-finding. Help us to put it all away, according to your Word: all harsh speech, all snide remarks, every lash of the tongue, every cutting, critical word. All, away! And help us, then, Father, to “receive with meekness the implanted Word [of God], which [alone] can save our souls.”

Save our souls, O God! Save us this morning by your Word! And make us “doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.” Make us doers who act. May New Covenant Church become known as a church that does the Word! May we become, and be known as, the church that hears the Word of God and straightaway, without delay, does it! May we, being no hearers who forget but doers who act, may we thus “be blessed in our doing.”

Through our Lord Jesus we ask and pray, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interpreting James

How shall we interpret the book of James? Among other things that could be said (say, for example, about the genre of James), here is an important word from one of my former professors:
Perhaps no greater mistake can be made in interpreting James than to read his letter in the light of Paul. James, we must remember, is writing . . . before Paul had written any of his letters and probably has no direct knowledge of Paul's teaching. James must be read against the background of the OT, Judaism, and the teaching of Jesus—not the apostle Paul. 
—Douglas J. Moo, The Letter of James (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 83.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who You Are Alone, You Are

 "A season calling for the exercise of our minds in thoughts of the omnipresence and omnisicence of God is made up of our solicitudes and retirements. These give us the most genuine trials whether we are spiritually minded or no. What we are in them, that we are, and no more."

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 375.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Can "Conservative" Churches Be Liberal?

Ray Ortlund thinks so. And explains how here. 

Here is a portion of that post:
The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible. They like the Bible. They want their preacher to use the Bible. They have home Bible studies. What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them. They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors. The Bible is revered, in a way. But it is not the decisive factor. It is only one voice among others.

This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction. In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here. It isn’t biblical.” That simple clarity just doesn’t exist in such a church. There is no authority towering over all else, rallying the people to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Only the Word of God, received with meekness, can prevent a church from sinking lower and lower into mediocrity, irrelevance, conflict and sheer boredom.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Power of One View

"One spiritual view of the divine goodness, beauty, and holiness, will have more efficacy to raise the heart unto a contempt of all earthly things than any other evidences whatever."

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 359.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Owen's Little Finger Full of Theology

J. C. Ryle:
I am quite aware that Owen's writings are not fashionable in the present day. . . . Yet the great divine . . . [has] more learning and sound knowledge of Scripture in his little finger than many who depreciate him have in their whole bodies. I assert unhesitatingly that the man who wants to study experimental theology will find no books equal to those of Owen.
Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, as cited in Sinclair Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen (Sanford, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014), 43.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nothing Less than a Heart Transplant Will Do

Stephen Dempster:
Even though the prophets were preachers of repentance and social reform, it is wrong to think of them as the ancient equivalents of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Their shared dream of a better society was not based on an optimistic reading of human nature. Rather, they saw human beings as fundamentally flawed, with sin engraved on the tablets of their hearts (Jer. 17:1). Just as Ethiopians and leopards could not change the colour of their skins, so human beings could not change their sinful nature (Jer. 13:23). . . .  
Jeremiah and Ezekiel shared the conviction that human effort could never suffice to save Israel; its heart was too corrupt. What was needed was a heart transplant, the gift of a new heart which had Yahweh's Torah written all over it (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26–27). Nothing less than a transformation of human nature was required.
NDBT: 124–125.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Goal of Gifts

"The gifts of the Spirit serve diverse means for a single end: to make visible the lordship of Jesus Christ as crucified and raised, and to build up the whole community" (A. C. Thiselton, NDBT: 301).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Caesar Is Not Lord

"Mark's opening verse makes the Gospel's purpose clear: 'The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God' (Mk 1:1, ESV). The evangelist has very carefully chosen his language, for it deliberately echoes the language of the imperial ruler cult, as seen in the Priene inscription in honour of Caesar Augustus: 'the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good news'" (C. A. Evans, NDBT: 269).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Mark of the Disciple

Vos: 
This reliance of faith is not confined to the critical moments of life, it is to be the abiding, characteristic inner disposition of the disciple with reference to every concern. To trust God for food and raiment is as truly the mark of the disciple in the kingdom as to depend on him for eternal salvation (Matt 6:30).
—Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 183.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Birth and the Supremacy of God

"In the new life which follows repentance the absolute supremacy of God is the controlling principle. He who repents turns away from the service of mammon and self to the service of God."

—Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 174–175.

The Fallout of a Lack of Love for God

"Where the love of God is absent, there an idolatrous love of the world and of self enters, and a positively offensive and hostile attitude towards God results."

—Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 173.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Homeless Refugee with a Price on His Head

"The gospel of Jesus the Messiah was born, then, in a land and at a time of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Banish all thoughts of peaceful Christmas scenes. Before the Prince of Peace had learned to walk and talk, he was a homeless refugee with a price on his head."

—N. T. Wright, Matthew for EveryonePart One, Chapters 1–15 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 14.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hold Your Peace

Bad to the bone Bible. Bad to the bone pastor. Bad to the bone band.


Bad to the bone 
Bad to the bone
B-B-B-B-Bad
B-B-B-B-Bad
B-B-B-B-Bad
Bad to the bone 

Head over to Canon Press for some background to this b-b-b-b-bad to the bone video. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

One in Three, Three in One

"I cannot think about the One without being instantly surrounded by the splendour of the Three, nor can I discern the Three without being immediately drawn back to the One" (Gregory, On Holy Baptism, Oration 40.41).

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grace Come in the Flesh: Come Again, Lord Jesus

The following is the corporate prayer prayed at New Covenant Church this morning. It is shaped by Tit. 2:11–14.

The Prayers at NCC (11/30/14)

O God our Savior, your word tells us—“the grace of God has appeared.” Your grace has appeared. It has appeared “bringing salvation to all people.”

We marvel at this. We bless you for this. And we pray this would land on us with full force and great effect this Advent season. We ask for Christmas to lay hold on us as it ought. For your grace has appeared, appearing in person, coming in the flesh, bringing salvation.

O God our Savior, your word also tells that this grace that has appeared, that it instructs us, it trains us, trains “us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.” By your grace incarnate, O God, help us to live holy and heavenly lives.

And as we seek to live well-trained in this grace that has come in your Son, we pray for you to help us to wait for and look for “the blessed hope”—hope outstripping every other hope—“the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

We love your appearing, O Lord of glory, and we long for you to appear again in glory. We wait for you to come again, King Jesus, Desire of the nations, Lover of our soul, our Exceeding Joy. By your grace incarnate, help us to wait for you above every other kind of waiting.

How could we do otherwise, Lord? How could we wait for anything else? Wait for the next vacation? Wait for the new home? Wait for retirement? Wait for promotion? Wait for recognition? How could we do that? How could we wait like that? We would wait for you all our dying days, “our great God and Savior,” our Lord Jesus. Help us to wait with this sanctified waiting.

We want to wait this way, because you gave yourself “for us to redeem us from all lawlessness,” delivering us from defying God, doing it our way, not loving you heart, soul, mind, and strength; you gave yourself for us, Lord Jesus, delivering us from disregarding neighbor, making much of ourselves, not loving neighbor even as we love ourselves. Continue to deliver us, we ask, from all lawlessness, deliver us through your dying incarnate grace.

And, help us to wait, O Lord, for your coming again in glory, because you also gave yourself for us in grace “to purify for yourself a people for [your] own possession, [a people] zealous for good deeds.” And so as your purified people, as your purchased and cherished possession, beautify us for yourself with the adornment of good deeds. Make us zealous, our God and Savior, for good deeds that adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in everything, everywhere, at all times. 

For it is to you we pray, O Lord, and it is for you we wait. Come again, we pray, and turn faith into sight. Turn longing into seeing and savoring. Come again, Lord Jesus. Come.

Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Our Besetting Sin

Doug Wilson:
Evangelicals are nice, there is no getting around it. It is our besetting sin. That means about the worst thing you can tell us is that we are being mean to somebody. Maybe that meanness is turning someone away from Jesus. Our niceness is the steering wheel that we always want to put our critics behind.
A Hailstorm of Cotton Balls

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Unintelligible to Man Magnifying Man

"The kingdom is a conception which must of necessity remain unintelligible and unacceptable to every view of the world and of religion which magnifies man at the expense of God."

—Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 83–84.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jesus Teaching about the Kingdom of God

Geerhardus Vos answers why Jesus uses the language "kingdom of God" (when it was not used in the OT) and why we might be prone to misunderstand him:
The main reason for the use of the name by Jesus lies undoubtedly in this, that in the new order of things God is in some such sense the supreme and controlling factor as the ruler in a human kingdom. The conception is a God-centered conception to the very core. In order to appreciate its significance, we must endeavor to do what Jesus did, look at the whole of the world and of life form the point of view of their subserviency to the glory of God. The difficulty for us in achieving this lies not merely in that we are apt to take a lower man-centered view of religion, but equally much in that by our modern idea of the state we are not naturally led to associate such an order of thing with the name of a kingdom.
—Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 83–84.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Future of World Evangelism

Hafemann:
S. Douglas Birdsall, the executive director of the Lausanne Movement, has said in public presentations and private conversation that part of his motivation as he works to bring about the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, 2010, is that "the worst thing that could happen to the future of world evangelization is to bring in 100 million new 'converts' like the last 100 million, since their superficiality obscures rather than reveals the glory of God."
 —Scott J. Hafemann, "The Kingdom of God as the Mission of God," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 251, f.n. 19.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Is the Kingdom of God within You?

How shall we render ἐντὸς ὑμῶν in Lk. 17:21? The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the phrase: “The kingdom of God is among you.” Some translations (though not generally modern ones) have rendered the phrase “within you” (e.g., KJV, NKJV). “The kingdom of God is within you.”

Initially you might not think the question important enough to ask. But the question is important because how one answers this question shapes, to one degree or another, how one understands the nature of the kingdom of God. In the past taking the passage as “the kingdom of God is within you” was sometimes all-determining for how the kingdom of God was understood. It was sometimes thought of as an entirely or dominantly internal reality. 

But is this correct? Is the kingdom of God in Lk. 17:21 an internal reality experienced by those who embrace the Lord Jesus in saving faith? Or is it an external reality in some sense? “The kingdom of God is in your midst” (ESV).

Writing in 1903, Geerhardus Vos says this about rendering Lk. 17:21:
“In your midst” deserves the preference for two reasons: first, because it suits best the purpose of the question of the Pharisees, which was as to the time of the coming of the kingdom, not as to its sphere, and because of the unbelieving Pharisees it could scarcely be said that the kingdom was “within” them. Our Lord means to teach the enquirers that, instead of a future thing to be fixed by apocalyptic speculation, the coming of the kingdom is a present thing, present in the very midst of those who are curious about the day and the hour of its sometime appearance.[1]
I think Vos got it right over a hundred years ago, mainly by doing contextual exegesis. For reasons similar to those adduced by Vos, no doubt, modern translations almost invariably go with a translation such as "in your midst" or "among you." And so, at least in this passage, the kingdom of God is an external reality, not internal. How was this so? Well, the King was among them. The promised Davidic king, the Lord Jesus, King of God's everlasting promised kingdom, had come. And his presence inaugurated the coming of the kingdom of God.



[1] Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church (New York: American Tract Society, 1903), 52–53.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why God Allows Corruption in Us

"The end why God suffers any corruption to be such a snare and temptation, such a thorn and brier, is to awaken the souls of men out of their security, and to humble them for their pride and negligence."

—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 359.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fallout of a Failed Ecclesiology

"What is called 'American civil religion' is the product of a failure of ecclesiology."

—Peter J. Leithart, The Kingdom and the Power: Rediscovering the Centrality of the Church (Phillipsburg: New Jersey, P&R, 1993), xii.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Secret Things Belong to the Lord

Wilson:
During our Sabbath dinner liturgy, the grandkids are asked a bunch of questions, and among the questions I ask are these—"Do you love God? Are you baptized? Is Jesus in your heart? Will you take the Lord's Supper tomorrow?" Now looking at the sixteen kids who are answering those questions, if someone were to press the question—"But when did Jesus come into their hearts?"—the answer is that it is absolutely none of our business.
—Douglas Wilson, Against the Church (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2013), 71.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sentimentality Abhorred and Defined

What is sentimentality? My wife and I dislike it intensely, think it's all too common where it should be less common, and wish we could banish that gushy goo from hearts and replace it with true religious affections. (To prevent misunderstanding, let it be said that we do not wish to despise feeling, no, not at all, only feeling distorted and abused. In other words, we want feeling clothed and in her right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus.) And yet, till now, we've not exactly been able to explain precisely what sentimentality is, and precisely why it's so repulsive. The dictionary definition is too vague to satisfy. So we've only been able to say, "Look, there it is again. And it's cockeyed, isn't it?" Or something along similar lines.

So, then, how shall we define sentimentality? Recently I came across a good definition by Leonard Nathan as recorded in Ted Kooser's The Poetry Home Repair Manual. And here it is: sentimentality is "a kind of disproportion between excessive feeling and its object."

Now that's a darn good start. I like it a lot. But it still needs some reworking to take into account why a disproportion exists, namely, by speaking to the worth of the object in view, and to take into account that worth in relation to the worth of other objects, not least the most worthy. Moreover, it seems to me, one also needs to ask whether the affection or feeling corresponds to the object not only in terms of proportion but also in terms of kind of feeling. Is the feeling even fitting for the object?

So reworking the helpful basic definition given by Nathan with more nuance and theological underpinnings will make the definition complete and Christian. But I leave for another time the task of filling in these details and fleshing out my suggested needed additions.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Man's Chronic (Dis)Ability to Manufacture Idols

"There is absolutely nothing that God can give us that we are incapable of turning into an idol."

—Douglas Wilson, Against the Church (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2013), 114.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The King and His Kingdom

In his stimulating book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, apparently following Karl Ludwig Schmidt (TDNT 1:589), refers his readers to some parallel expressions in some parallel passages in the Synoptics: Matt 19:27; Mark 10:29; and Luke 18:29. 

He sees the parallel expressions “for my name’s sake” (Matthew) and “for my sake and for the gospel” (Mark) and “for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Luke) as equivalent. Hoekema points out what he sees as a similar phenomenon in Acts, where he similarly takes “the kingdom of God” and the “name of Jesus Christ” (8:12) as equivalent expressions and “the kingdom of God” and “teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ” (28:31) as likewise equivalent.

Now although I do not think these parallel expressions are exactly equivalent, as Hoekema proposes, yet we can say with confidence that they speak to gospel realities that are tightly tied together. And herein lies an important insight then that answers a not uncommon question: Why is it that the epistles speak so infrequently of the “kingdom of God” (or simply “kingdom”)[1] when it looms so large in the Gospels? 

Hoekema points us to what I think is a good partial answer in the dictionary article in volume 1 of TDNT. Schmidt avers there that the reason why the epistles appear to speak so infrequently of the kingdom of God in comparison with the Gospels is that the expression “kingdom of God” (or the like) found in the Gospels is stressed implicitly by reference to the Lord Jesus Christ in the epistles.[2] And so, as it turns out, the epistles refer implicitly quite a lot to the kingdom of God as they speak of King (the Lord) Jesus. 

If this is on track, and I think it is indubitable, what this means is that we ought often (always?) to think of the kingdom when we read of the “Lord Jesus” or the “Lord Christ” or similar phraseology. The kingdom does, then, after all, loom really large in the epistles, which is what we might expect since it is a great going concern right through the whole of Scripture. 


[1] In the ESV, fifty-three times for “kingdom of God” in the Gospels (fifty-three for the “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew) and 124 times for “kingdom” in the Gospels, over against only eight times in the epistles for “kingdom of God” (all in Paul) and eighteen times in the epistles for “kingdom.” (This data comes from Robert W. Yarbrough, “The Kingdom of God in the New Testament: Matthew and Revelation,” in The Kingdom of God, eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 99–100.)
[2] Schmidt, TDNT 1:589.