Saturday, July 4, 2015

Why Do the Nations Rage?

"My country, right or wrong," is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, "My mother, drunk or sober."—G. K. Chesterton

And now for a catchy little ditty based on Psalm 2.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

For God's Sake

Kidner, commenting on Ps. 119:2: “Note here what is implicit throughout the psalm, that Scripture is revered for being his ( or ‘thy’) sayings, and God’s servants thereby seek him, not the book for its own sake” (Psalms 73-150, 424). 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The High Christology of James

In Jas. 1:1, James is a slave both of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the same breath, he tells us—on the face of it—that his bondservice to Jesus Christ is one and the same as his bondservice to God. And so without making any distinctions here (other than that two distinct persons are in view), James puts the Lord Jesus Christ on the same plane with the God of Judaism and the Hebrew Bible.

James, as a Palestinian Jew conversant with the Septuagint (he cites it routinely: see, e.g., Jas. 4:6 GNT and cf. the LXX and MT), knew of course that the designation κύριος was used throughout the Septuagint to translate the divine name, YHWH. And of course, as a leader of the early church, he also took part in confessing Jesus as Lord of all in the fullest sense. And so this is high Christology indeed, despite what many have said of James’ lack of Christology.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Church's Deposit of Doctrine

Vanhoozer:
Doctrine refers to the deposit of authorized teaching entrusted to the church's care (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14), yet it is more than a body of knowledge. It is instruction whose aim is to form, inform, and transform disciples into doers who can speak, act, and think the way Christ did. Doctrine serves as a finishing school for disciples by helping them to view their lives as Christ did his, as caught up in the great drama of redemption. Doctrine, then, is not simply an inert body of knowledge; rather, it intends an active bodily doing. Church without doctrine to direct it is dazed and confused; yet doctrine without the church to embody it is arid and empty. 
—Vanhoozer, Kevin J, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 4.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pauline Prayer Patterns

"It is remarkable that in all of his writings Paul's prayers for his friends contain no appeals for changes in their circumstances."

—Timothy Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), Kindle Edition, 19.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Attending to Our Own House

Peter J. Leithart, at First Things:
Orthodox Christianity has lost all cultural potency in the United States.  
No one defending traditional marriage before the court dared raise the fundamental question: Who creates marriage, God or the state? Theology has no public standing, no persuasive force in the culture at large. 
Obergefell is another nail in the coffin of the Protestant establishment. It’s not the first nail, or the last. It may be the one that snaps the lid closed. 
What to do? For starters, Don’t panic. The church began as a disestablished minority, and that’s where much of the global church is. Early Christians were accused of incest; we can endure being treated as bigots. Been there, done that. 
Then: Don’t pretend. We should stop acting like an exiled Tsar, hoping for the coup to put us back in the Winter Palace. 
We should instead double our efforts to form an alternative public among the churches. 
That means we stop veiling our convictions behind a publicly-approved idiom antithetical to orthodoxy. We can’t defend marriage without talking about God who joins a man and woman; we shouldn’t try. And we might as well say it plainly: We oppose gay marriage because we believe homosexual acts are sinful, and we believe that for biblical and theological reasons. Unbelievers already know it. Let’s admit it. 
Some Christians aren’t convinced that the Bible prohibits homosexual acts. Let the Courts and the States go where they will. It’s absurd to urge the country to affirm Christian marriage until we’re united on the question. Given today’s disarray, that’s the work of a century or more. 
Churches must take responsibility for marriages and families. The argument that we need to protect marriage for children is true in principle, laughable in practice. In sections of America, marriages aren’t steady enough to protect anyone. The best argument for traditional marriage is a thriving traditional marriage. 
Creating an alternative public sounds like a plan to intensify the culture war, but it’s the opposite. Culture war continues because, in response to our displacement, we’ve tried to politick our values back on top. We failed, but for the church this is a skirmish in a spiritual war crossing millennia. We have the luxury of patience. 
Attending to our own house is now our best strategy for evangelization and prophetic witness. It’s also the way of peace, perhaps the only way of peace remaining.

How to Respond to a Lawless Decision

Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, over at First Things:
How shall we respond to a lawless decision in which the Supreme Court by the barest of majorities usurps authority vested by the Constitution in the people and their elected representatives? By letting Abraham Lincoln be our guide. Faced with the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, Lincoln declared the ruling to be illegitimate and vowed that he would treat it as such. He squarely faced Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney’s claim to judicial supremacy and firmly rejected it. To accept it, he said, would be for the American people “to resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Today we are faced with the same challenge. Like the Great Emancipator, we must reject and resist an egregious act of judicial usurpation. We must, above all, tell the truth: Obergefell v. Hodges is an illegitimate decision. What Stanford Law School Dean John Ely said of Roe v. Wade applies with equal force to Obergefell: “It is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” What Justice Byron White said of Roe is also true of Obergefell: It is an act of “raw judicial power.” The lawlessness of these decisions is evident in the fact that they lack any foundation or warrant in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution. The justices responsible for these rulings, whatever their good intentions, are substituting their own views of morality and sound public policy for those of the people and their elected representatives. They have set themselves up as superlegislators possessing a kind of plenary power to impose their judgments on the nation. What could be more unconstitutional—more anti-constitutional—than that?

The rule of law is not the rule of lawyers—even lawyers who are judges. Supreme Court justices are not infallible, nor are they immune from the all-too-human temptation to unlawfully seize power that has not been granted to them. Decisions such as Dred Scott, Roe v. Wade, and Obergefell amply demonstrate that. In thinking about how to respond to Obergefell, we must bear in mind that it is not only the institution of marriage that is at stake here—it is also the principle of self-government. And so we must make clear to those candidates for high offices who are seeking our votes, that our willingness to support them depends on their willingness to stand, as Abraham Lincoln stood, for the Constitution, and therefore against judicial decisions—about marriage or anything else—that threaten to place us, to quote Jefferson, “under the despotism of an oligarchy."

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Is Theology?

“Theology is the art and science of living well to God. Stated more fulsomely: theology is the serious and joyful attempt to live blessedly with others, before God, in Christ, through the Spirit.” 

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), xiv.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Sum of All Good

"The sum of all those good things in this life, and the life to come, which are purchased for the church is the Holy Spirit."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 353–354.

Narratival Doctrine, and Doctrinal Narrative

Horton:
Separated from its dramatic narrative, doctrine becomes abstract, like mathematical axioms. However, if we focus only on the Christian story (the tendency of some narrative theologies), we miss crucial implications of that plot and the inner connections between its various sequences.
—Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 21.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Biblical Interpretation on the Inside

Vanhoozer:
According to Hans-Georg Gadamer, interpretation is like entering into the “play” of the text, which “always involves something like performing the drama, for the player who takes the play seriously interprets it from within, by belonging to and playing a part in it."
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 4.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Great Omission

"Jesus' Great Commission remains as urgent as ever, even if many churches operate with a tragically abbreviated version only, baptizing Christians into the triune name but failing to teach them to obey everything that Jesus commanded."

—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), xiii.

Knowledge Precedes Love

Vanhoozer on the great command:
Note that it is only after Jesus says something about God's nature ("the Lord our God, the Lord is one" [Mark 12:29]) that Jesus then formulates the Great Commandment. The imperative (to love God above all things) follows from the indicative (God is above all things, and therefore most to be treasured.)
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), xii.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Manuscripts of the Elder President Edwards

A bit of biographical perspective from Tryon Edwards’ Introduction to Jonathan Edwards' Charity and Its Fruits:
PERHAPS no person ever lived who so habitually and carefully committed his thoughts, on almost every subject, to writing, as the elder President Edwards. His ordinary studies were pursued pen in hand, and with his notebooks before him; and he not only often stopped in his daily rides by the wayside, but frequently rose even at midnight to commit to paper any important thought that had occurred to him. 
As the result of this habit, his manuscripts are probably more thoroughly the record of the intellectual life of their author than those of any other individual who has a name in either the theological or literary world. These manuscripts are also very numerous. The seventeenth century was an age of voluminous authorship. The works of Bishop Hall amount to ten volumes octavo; Lightfoot's, to thirteen; Jeremy Taylor's, to fifteen; Dr. Goodwin's, to twenty; Owen's, to twenty-eight; while Baxter's would extend to some sixty volumes, or from thirty to forty thousand closely printed octavo pages. The manuscripts of Edwards, if all published, would be more voluminous than the works of any of these writers, if possibly the last be excepted. And these manuscripts have been carefully preserved and kept together; and about three years since were committed to the editor of this work, as sole permanent trustee, by all the then surviving grandchildren of their author.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 125.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Grace in the Soul

"Grace in the soul is the Holy Ghost acting in the soul, and there communicating his own holy nature."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 332.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Childlike Fear versus Slavish Fear

"A childlike fear differs from a slavish fear in this, that a slavish fear has no love in it."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 331.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

True Thankfulness

"True thankfulness is no other than the exercise of love to God on occasion of his goodness to us."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 331.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Eighth Day New Creation

In Gen. 17:12, we read that all the children in Abraham's household were to be circumcised on the eighth day. But why the eighth day? Well, the text doesn't say explicitly. That is, the text of the immediate context doesn't give direct commentary. But with seven days of creation in the narrative background, it is hard not to suspect why, and hard not to see that the broader context does provide a plausible answer implicitly. Is it not likely that the eighth day symbolizes the new creation, on which there is a cutting away of the old? 

And likewise baptism, typified by the ark passing through the ancient flood (1 Pet. 3:21), symbolizes the new creation. Just as Noah and his family entered the new creation through the waters of judgment, so also the one baptized with Christian baptism passes through the waters of judgment (dying with Christ, who was judged) into the new creation kingdom of God.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Apply as Needed

"It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers."

—C. S. Lewis, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 154.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Good Reminder

"There are two sorts of outsiders: the uneducated, and those who are educated in some way but not in your way."

—C. S. Lewis, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 152–153.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interpreting Scripture Theologically

Douglas Sweeney:
Edwards tried to interpret the Bible theologically. He handled it not as a collection of antiquarian artifacts, but as the living Word of the God who calls himself "I Am." Thus he studied it both as scholars study sets of primary sources (to understand the lives of those whom they were first put to writing) and—in a manner more important to his daily pastoral ministry—as priestly theologians study the oracles of God (to understand his will for those who still have ears to hear). This sets him apart from many modern Western biblical scholars, whether Christian or non-Christian. For higher criticism has ruled the roost in modern biblical studies, shaping the ways that even pastors think of preaching Sunday sermons. 
For several generations, learned preachers have been taught to think primarily as historians, explaining sermon texts by reference to their ancient, social contexts. Only later, if at all, have they been taught to expound their sermon texts in light of the whole canon, or the history of redemption, no matter how far apart the Bible's human authors stood. There are notable exceptions to this homiletical rule. But most of the time, when modern preachers have made theological moves they have become rather nervous. Scholars caution them to scrutinize the structural viability of the bridges that they build between the ancient worlds of Scripture and the worlds of their parishioners. Historians know better than to make great leaps of faith without sufficient natural evidence that one can survive the fall. Better to keep one's sermon fixed up the lessons of the past than attempt to unite—awkwardly—such patently different worlds. 
But Edwards rarely worried about the bridges he built. He spent a great deal of time doing historical exegesis. He knew the Bible's contents better than most scholars, past or present. He knew the bulk of them by heart, in fact, as evidenced by the constant use of Scripture in his speech as well as the blanks pervading his sermon notes where Bible verses should be. (Rather than take the time to copy Bible verses into his manuscripts, Edwards frequently substituted long, squiggly lines, trusting his memory to provide the missing text while he was preaching.) Nonetheless, he spent the lion's share of his time—every week—interpreting Scripture theologically, preaching it doctrinally (with trust in its transcendence and an unapologetically synthetic methodology), and applying it explicitly to the lives of those around him. 
—Douglas A. Sweeney, "Edwards and the Bible," in Understanding Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to America's Theologian (ed. Gerald R. McDermott; New York: Oxford University, 2009), 70–71.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

True Humility

In "Grace Tends to Holy Practice," preached in 1738, Edwards says this of true humility's tendency:
True Christian humility of heart tends to make persons resigned to the will of God, patient and submissive to his holy hand under afflictions, full of awful reverence towards the Deity, ready to treat divine things with great respect, and of a meek behavior towards men, condescending to inferiors and respectful towards superiors, gentle, easy to be entreated, not self-willed, not envious, but contented with his own condition, of a peaceable and quiet spirit, not disposed bitterly to resent injuries, but apt to forgive.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 304–305.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Breadth and Depth of the Fear of YHWH

The parallel descriptions in Ps. 33:18—“those who fear him,” and “those who hope in his steadfast love”—show something of the breadth and depth and width of the meaning of the fear of YHWH. It is not just trembling before YHWH, or trembling at his Word. It is that. There’s really no doubt about it. But the fear of YHWH is a more expansive concept as well, as many have noted.

In Ps. 33:18, hope is at the heart of the fear of YHWH, as the parallel expressions make clear. Other texts could be adduced to support other aspects of the fear of YHWH, such as trust and delight. Yet, while noting that the texture of this term is indeed important for rightly understanding the fear of YHWH, noting this richness ought never to come at the expense of the trembling element—which undoubtedly belongs to the essence of the fear of YHWH. As many passages amply attest.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Missionary Oath

"Missionary, first, do no harm." This is what I'm calling the Missionary Oath. And I've come up with it mainly with so-called "short-term missions" in mind.

You've doubtless heard of the Hippocratic Oath. A modern translation of the classical version, originally in Greek, may be found here.

The popular modern summary of this oath today, wrongly attributed to Hippocrates (though some think that the substance of a part of the Hippocratic Oath is at least somewhat summarized by it), goes like this: "First, do no harm."

So: "Physician, first, do no harm." I would likewise suggest that churches adopt—especially for "short-term missions" work—the missionary form of this: "Missionary, first do no harm." And then each missionary would take this oath: "I, said missionary, do promise, to the best of my ability, first to do no harm."

Why, you might ask, is this necessary? Well, the reasons why are well documented: "Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips"; "Toxic Charity"; and "When Helping Hurts."

And one of the remedies for addressing problems with "short-term missions" work would be for far more robust training and educating to prepare people to—above all else—do no harm. After which training and education the said trainee would swear the Missionary Oath.

Monday, May 11, 2015

In a Way that Hurts Abominably

C. S. Lewis:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to re-build that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He's doing. He's getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and which doesn't seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. 
—C. S. Lewis, Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God (London: Centenary, 1944), 48.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Family Meal

Yes, the Lord's Supper is the family meal of the church of God in Christ. And so there ought to be a visible, tangible expression of this on Sunday morning.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

God-Centered Anger

In "Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit," preached in 1738, Edwards speaks of what God-centered anger looks like:
If men's own private interest was not what men sought, but the glory of God and the common good chiefly, then their spirit would be much more stirred in God's cause than in their own. And they would not be prone to hasty, rash, inconsiderate, immoderate and long continued wrath for injuries to themselves. They would in a great measure forget themselves for God's sake, and Christ's sake; and the end, at which they would aim in their anger, would not be making themselves feared, or getting their own will, but God's glory, and others' good.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 279.

Anger in Relationship to God

"Love to God is opposite to a disposition in men to be angry at others' faults chiefly as they are affected and injured by them; it disposes them to resent them more as they are against God."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 278.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sinful Anger versus Godly Anger

Edwards, from "Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit," preached in 1738:
Persons sin in their anger with respect to the occasion of anger when their spirits are stirred at the faults of others chiefly as they affect themselves, and not as they are against God. We should never be angry but at sin. This should always be the evil which we oppose in our anger; and when our spirits are stirred to oppose this evil, it should be as sin, or chiefly as it is against God. If there be no sin, then we have no cause to be angry; and if there be a fault, or sin, then the sin is infinitely worse as it is against God than as it is against us, and therefore requires more opposition upon that account. Persons sin in their anger when they are selfish in it. Men are not to act as their own or for themselves singly, for they are not their own, as has been lately shown. When a fault is committed, wherein both God is sinned against and they are injured, they should be chiefly concerned and their spirits chiefly moved against it as it is against God, as they would show themselves to be more concerned for God's glory than their own temporal interest.
All anger in men is either a virtue or a vice. There is no middle sort which is neither good or bad. But there is no true virtue or goodness in opposing sin unless it be opposed as sin. The anger which is a virtue is the same which is called "zeal." Our anger should be like Christ's anger. He was like a lamb under personal injuries. And we never read of his being angry but in the cause of God against sin. So we read, Mark 3:5, "He looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts." Thus anger may be unsuitable and unchristian with respect to the occasion or cause of it.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 276–277.

What Is Anger?

Here's a definition of anger, slightly modified from Jonathan Edwards:

"An intense, earnest, and passionate opposition of one's spirit to any real or perceived evil or fault."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 272–273.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Reports versus Stories

 "Reports convey information. Stories create experience. Reports transfer knowledge. Stories transport the reader, crossing boundaries of time, space, and imagination. The report points us there. The story puts us there."

—Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008), 124.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Strategic Attentiveness

I'm on a bit of a blog binge today. And so here's another post, this one by Alan Jacobs, in response to Rod Dreher's and David French's posts, in which Jacobs suggests pursuing "a strategic attentiveness to the institutions and forms of life within which Christians can flourish" in the face of the cultural seismic shifts underway.

What ought this "strategic attentiveness" look like? Jacobs give us his inclination in answering the question: "My own inclination . . . is to think that our primary focus should be on the two chief modes of Bildung: paideia and catechesis."

You should probably read first the pieces to which Jacobs is responding (which you may find within Jacob's post). I point up Jacobs' post because it sums up, clarifies, and points the way forward best.

Evangelizing the Cemetery

Mark Dever's post "How to Survive a Cultural Crisis" over at The Gospel Coalition is well worth your time to read.

Here's one choice quote from point one of seven that he makes:

"The whole Christian faith is based on the idea that God takes people who are spiritually dead and gives them new life. Whenever we evangelize, we are evangelizing the cemetery."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

An Telling African Proverb

"Until lions have their historians, the hunter will always be the hero of the story."

—As recalled by Michael W. Goheen, Introducing Christian Mission Today: Scripture, History and Issues (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2014), 28.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Selfishness Defined

"There are [those] who in their love to their own happiness place their happiness in good things which are confined and limited to themselves exclusive of others. And this is selfishness."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 257.

Friday, April 24, 2015

He Won for Us Forgiveness, Adoption, and Glory

Packer:
The notion which the phrase "penal substitution" expresses is that Jesus Christ our Lord, moved by a love that was determined to do everything necessary to save us, endured and exhausted the destructive divine judgement for which we were otherwise inescapably destined, and so won us forgiveness, adoption, and glory.
—James I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," in Celebrating the Saving Work of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 1 (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster), 105.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Was Christum Treibet

"Luther was right in applying the criterion was Christum treibet [whatever promotes Christ], but wrong in not recognizing that the Epistle of James also 'promotes Christ' by its practical application of the Sermon on the Mount."

—Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford, 1997), 244, n 30.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Is a Christian?

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

—C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 182.

Real Forgiveness

Lewis:
Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.
—C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," in The Weight of Glory (New York: HarperCollins, 1980), 181.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Standing in Awe of God's Word to Face the Foe

In Ps. 119:161, princes sit plotting against the psalmist. His strategy to combat this was unusual (at least it is likely to seem so to us). It was not military (at least not mainly). Instead, he stood in awe of God’s Word. He revered God’s Word. God's wonderful Word still held him and dominated his thinking and outlook—despite immense external pressure.  

And so, likewise, it ought to be, whatever we might find ourselves facing, as we face an array of foes. Whether these foes be civil, or legal, or religious, or local, or even familial, standing in awe of God’s Word and revering God’s Word ought to be the primary posture of the godly who would not be overwhelmed by the foe faced, but more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Room for Any Reserve

Commenting on Mark 12:30, Edwards says (italics mine for emphasis):
Here is contained in these words a description of a right love to God; and they teach us that they who love him aright do devote all to him, all their hearts, and all their souls, all their mind and all their strength, or all their powers and faculties. Surely, a man who gives all this wholly to God keeps nothing back, but devotes himself wholly and entirely to God. He who gives God all his heart, and all his soul, and all his mind, and all his powers or strength, keeps nothing back; there is no room for any reserve. All who have true love to God have a spirit thus to do. This shows how much a principle of true love to God is above a selfish principle. For if self be devoted wholly to God, then there is something above self which influences the man; there is something superior to self which takes self and makes an offering of it to God. A selfish principle never devotes self to another; the nature of it is to devote all others to self. They who have true love to God, love God as God, and as the supreme good; whereas the nature of selfishness is to set up self for God, to make an idol of self. That being which men respect as God, they devote all to. They who idolize self devote all to self, but they who love God as God devote all to him. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 261–262.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Christians Are Open Books

"Non-Christians do not read the Bible; they read Christians."

—Christopher W. Morgan, A Theology of James: Wisdom for God's People (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010), xiii.

The Canonical Context of the Psalms

In a paper titled "Towards a Canonical Reading of the Psalms," Gordon Wenham asks and answers the question, "what is the canonical context in which we read each psalm?"

His answer, at least as a starting place, seems to me to be a very good answer. Here's what he says:
I tend to think three canonical contexts are more important than others. 
First, there is the canonical context of the whole Psalter. . . . [It] is imperative to read one psalm in the context of the whole collection and in particular in relation to its near neighbors.  
Second, there is reading the psalms in the context of the Jewish canon, the Hebrew Bible.  The psalms themselves invite this by their frequent reference to historical figures and episodes from the past. . . .  
Third, of course, the psalms need to be read in the context of the Christian canon of Old and New Testaments. The Psalms are the book of the Old Testament most quoted in the New Testament: it appears that the early Christians inhabited the thought world of the psalms, so that any biblical theology that would be Christian must read the psalms in this context. 
—Gordon Wenham, "Towards a Canonical Reading of the Psalms," in Canon and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 347–348.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christian Public Leadership

Edwards:
Especially will a Christian spirit dispose those who stand in a public capacity, such as ministers and magistrates and all public officers, to seek the public good. It will dispose magistrates to act as the fathers of the commonwealth with that care and concern for the public good that the father of a family has for the family, watchful against any public dangers, forward to improve their power to promote the public benefit, not being governed by selfish views in their administrations, seeking only or mainly to enrich themselves, or make themselves great, and advance themselves on the spoils of others as wicked rulers very often do. 
A Christian spirit will dispose ministers not to seek their own, not merely to seek a maintenance, aiming to get whatever they can out of their people to enrich themselves and their families, and to clothe themselves with the fleeces of their flock. But a Christian spirit will dispose them mainly to seek the good of their flock, to feed their souls as a good shepherd feeds his flock, and carefully watches over it, to lead it to good pasture, and defend it from wolves and others beasts of prey. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 261–262.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Models for Theologizing

 Packer:
The whole study of Christian theology, biblical, historical and systematic, is the exploring of a three tier hierarchy of models: first, the "control" models given in Scripture (God, Son of God, kingdom of God, justification, adoption, redemption, new birth and so forth—in short, all the concepts analysed in Kittel's great Wörterbuch and its many epigoni); next, dogmatic models which the church crystallized out to define and defend the faith (homoousion, Trinity, nature, hypostatic union, double procession of the Spirit, sacrament, the supernatural, etc.—in short, all the concepts usually dealt wiht in doctrinal textbooks); finally, interpretive models lying between Scripture and defined dogma which particular theologians and theological schools developed for stating the faith to contemporaries (penal substitution, verbal inspiration, divinization, Barth's "Nihil"—das Nichtige—and many more.
—James I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve? The Logic of Penal Substitution," in Celebrating the Saving Work of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer Volume 1 (Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster), 93–94.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Next Great Heresy

Chesterton back in 1926, speaking with real insight into real states of affairs:
For the next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back . . . The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.
—G.K. Chesterton, "The Next Heresy," in G.K.’s Weekly, June 19, 1926.

HT: Our Transgressive Daisy Chain

Now That's a Good Question

"'I was born gay!' 'Gender is a social construct!' Hmmmm . . . which is it?"

—Doug Wilson, Our Transgressive Daisy Chain

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Gospel Spirit

"A Christian spirit and a gospel spirit are the same. That is the spirit to which the Christian revelation tends."

—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 247.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Christian Spirit Is a Humble Spirit

In the sixth sermon of his famous sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13—Charity and Its Fruits—Jonathan Edwards preached on verses 4–5 and humility. The doctrine of the sermon is this: "a Christian spirit is a humble spirit." And then Edwards defines what humility is.

He says, "Humility may be defined to be a sense of our own comparative meanness, with a disposition to a behavior answerable thereto."

And then he unpacks this by speaking to its primary relationship and to the phenomenon of false humility:
Humility does primarily consist in a sense of [one's] own meanness as compared with God or a sense of the infinite distance between God and us. . . . There is no true humility without this. However sensible persons may be of their meanness as compared with some of their fellow creatures, yet there is no true humility without a sense of their meanness before God. 
Some men seem to have a low opinion of themselves as compared with other men from melancholy, or from the meanness of their circumstances, or from their natural constitution, or from some other cause, who know nothing of that infinite distance which is between God and them; and therefore, though men may be ready to look upon them as humble-spirited men, yet they have no true humility; for that which above all other things concerns us to know of ourselves is what we are before God. . . . And if we are ignorant of our meanness as compared with him, the most essential thing and that which is original in true humility is wanting. 
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 233–235.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Priest Pronounces One Clean or Unclean

I just read through Leviticus 13 before going into work today. What can all of this clean and unclean business possibly mean, not least for twenty-first century persons?

For my part, I'm convinced that the main reason the Lord gave the likes of Leviticus is to give us categories for understanding the gospel, for understanding ourselves as sinful, for understanding his holiness, and for understanding his provision in the Christ.

What struck me as of interest in Leviticus 13 as I read it this time is that it is the priest who pronounces one clean or unclean. Here yet again, then, do we have another category given for apprehending the gospel—Christ is the ultimate priest who takes on the role of the one who declares one clean or unclean.

Go have a look. Check it out, here and there and everywhere in the Gospels, including in the upper room where Jesus declares his disciples clean (John 13). He is the ultimate priest to which all other priests point, and he alone has the prerogative of declaring you or me to be clean. 

The Ground of the Being of Meaning

Kevin Vanhoozer:
The author's will acts as a control on interpretation. Thanks to an author's willing this rather than that, we can say that there is a definite meaning in texts prior to reading and interpretation. As God's will structures the universe, so the author's will structures the universe of discourse. The author is thus the ground of the "being" of meaning. 
—Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 47.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Envy's Opposition to Others

Edwards:
Envy may be defined, a spirit of opposition to others' comparative happiness, or to the happiness of others considered as compared with their own. The thing to which envious persons are opposed is the comparative relation between that state of honor or happiness which others have, or may have, and their own state.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 219.

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.