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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bible-Only Folk in Danger of Joining a Cult

"The kind of biblicism that learns nothing from the great councils is in danger of becoming cultic."

—D. A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 108.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Living the Paradox of Grace

How can one be sad and glad at the same time? Is that even possible? Isn't that a contradiction?

No. No, it's not. Grace gets you there.

If you've never experienced the "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" of 2 Cor. 6:10, going deeper in the Gospel of God will bring you to that strange place that only grace can take you.

It's a good place to be in this broken and battered world with so much pain (though brief and light) and yet with so much hope (everlasting in scope) promised to it by a gracious God through his Son who loved this world and gave himself for it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

We Are Beggars

Luther two days before he died:
Nobody can understand Virgil in his Bucolics, unless he has been a shepherd for five years. Nobody can understand Virgil in his Georgics, unless he has been a plowman for five years. Nobody can understand Cicero in his Epistles unless he has lived for twenty-five years in a large commonwealth. Let no one think he has sufficiently grasped the Holy Scriptures, unless he has governed the churches for a hundred years with prophets like Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ, and the apostles. Don't venture on this divine Aeneid, but rather bend low in reverence before its footprints! We are beggars! That is true.
—Martin Marty, Martin Luther: A Life (New York: Penguin, 2004), 185.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Covenant of Grace as Theological Construct

There are some today who desire to purge the church of any notion of a covenant of grace (for a traditional description of this covenant, see, for example, WCF, Chapter 7). For, these biblicists say, no such covenant is mentioned explicitly in Scripture. And this is true. The words "covenant of grace" are not found in the Bible. That's correct. And even covenant theologians who affirm a covenant of grace agree about the lack of this language in Scripture.

And yet, if the concept is there in Scripture—that is, if conceptually, if as a theological construct, the notion or reality exists—I can't see why we ought to quibble much over the matter. And in the same vein, I also can't see why any would want to criticize those who prefer not to use the language of "covenant of grace" if the reality or concept is affirmed.

For my part, I have no problem with speaking of a covenant of grace. In effect, it is God's pledge in grace for an everlasting relationship with his people joined to Jesus that is manifested in all his gracious covenants. In other words, the covenant of grace holds together and sums up all God's gracious dealings with man via covenants. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Message of the Whole Bible

Many scholars, as many of you are no doubt familiar, have proposed a "center" to the whole Bible. There is nothing like consensus in this matter, and many believe that the attempt to find a unifying center is the errand of folly.

Well, here goes my tentative junior attempt at suggesting a unifying center for the whole Bible:

The Bible, both the Old and New Testaments together, narrates and declares the grace-filled good news of the new creation kingdom of God, promised and fulfilled in King Jesus, the Son of God, as crucified and risen, and in his redeemed people, by the Spirit of God—all to the glory of God the Father, who is all in all. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Minds Really Exercised with Delight in Heavenly Things

Let us not mistake ourselves. To be spiritually minded is, not to have the notion and knowledge of spiritual things in our minds; it is not to be constant, no, nor to abound, in the performance of duties: both which may be where there is no grace in the heart at all. It is to have our minds really exercised with delight about heavenly things, the things that are above, especially Christ himself as at the right hand of God.
—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), 344–347.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Do You Love, Trust, and Serve?

What constitutes a god? Martin Luther's answer, as he reflected on the first commandment in his larger catechism, was "whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol." We wish to confirm this view, but also to emphasize love and service: a god is that which one loves, trusts, and serves above all else.
—B. S. Rosner, "Idolatry," NDBT: 575.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Picking Up Inner-canonical Hermeneutical Distinctives

The kind of biblical theology that is profoundly grounded in tracing out the Bible's plot-line is intrinsically more likely to pick up . . . inner-canonical hermeneutical distinctive[s] than either systematic theology or those kinds of biblical theology that rarely ask diachronic questions.
—D. A. Carson, "Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology," NDBT: 98.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Music Drives the Devil Away

I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.
—Martin Marty, Martin Luther (New York: Penguin, 2004), 114.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Do You Rejoice In?

D. A. Carson:
THE STORY IS TOLD of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the most influential preachers of the twentieth century. When he was dying of cancer, one of his friends and former associates asked him, in effect, “How are you managing to bear up? You have been accustomed to preaching several times a week. You have begun important Christian enterprises; your influence has extended through tapes and books to Christians on five continents. And now you have been put on the shelf. You are reduced to sitting quietly, sometimes managing a little editing. I am not so much asking therefore how you are coping with the disease itself. Rather, how are you coping with the stress of being out of the swim of things?”  
Lloyd-Jones responded in the words of Luke 10: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (10:20 – though of course Lloyd-Jones would have cited the King James Version).
—D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, Volume 1 (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), February 24.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What's Wrong with the World?

At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the editors of the Times of London asked several eminent writers to contribute pieces under the theme "What's wrong with the world," G. K. Chesterton replied,

    Dear Sirs,
    I am.
    Sincerely yours,
    G. K. Chesterton

—D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 35–36.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Glory and Refuse of the Universe

"What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe!" (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 34).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Take and Eat as Verbs of Salvation

Commenting on "she took . . . and ate" in Gen. 3:6, Derek Kidner says: "So simple the act, so hard its undoing. God will taste poverty and death before 'take and eat' become verbs of salvation" (Genesis, 68).

Friday, September 12, 2014

More than a Little Cockeyed

"The world we live in today puts more value on sea turtle eggs than on the human embryo" (R. C. Sproul, Everyone's a Theologian, 100).

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Faith and Love Acting Themselves in Spiritual Thoughts and Affections

John Owen:
It is a vain thing for any to suppose that they place their chiefest happiness in being for ever in the presence of Christ, who care not at all to be with him here as they may. And the only way of our being present with him here is, by faith and love acting themselves in spiritual thoughts and affections. And it is an absurd thing for men to esteem themselves as Christians who scarce think of Christ all the day long. . . . 
A little further on, he gives directions for fixing our thoughts on Christ:
Would you, then, think of Christ as you ought, take these two directions: First, pray that the Holy Spirit may abide with you continually, to mind you of him, which he will do in all in whom he doth abide, for it belongs unto his office; and, second, for more fixed thoughts and meditations, take some express place of Scripture wherein he is set forth and proposed, either in his person, office, or grace unto you.
—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), 344–347.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rejecting the Godness of God

Christopher Wright comments on Gen. 3:22:
God accepts that humans have indeed breached the Creator-creature distinction. No that humans have now become gods but that they have chosen to act as though they were—defining and deciding for themselves what they will regard as good and evil. Therein lies the root of all other forms of idolatry: we deify our own capacities, and thereby make gods of ourselves and our choices and all their implications. God then shrinks in horror from the prospect of human immortality and eternal life in such a fallen state and prevents access to the "tree of life." God has a better way to bring humanity, redeemed and cleansed, to eternal life. 
At root, then, of all idolatry is human rejection of the Godness of God and the finality of God's moral authority. The fruit of that basic rebellion is to be seen in many other ways in which idolatry blurs the distinction between God and creation, to the detriment of both.
—Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005), 164.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Idolatry of the Self

Iain Provan:
The fundamental idolatry described by the Bible lies also at the heart of the varied modern idolatries: the idolatry of the self. The self is set at the center of existence as a god; ultimate significance is found in god-like individual autonomy, self-set goals and boundaries. The sacred is defined in the first instance in relation to the self. The shadow of Nietzsche looms large. Self-expression and self-actualization are important themes in this religion, and evident in every corner of society from the advice columns of newspapers and magazines to schools, where sometimes the point no longer seems to be to learn things but to 'find oneself' and to be the best person that one can be. We are constantly urged, in fact, to believe in ourselves and to better ourselves—in our individual choices and actions, and in accordance with our personal ambition, to make and to remake ourselves in our own image, or in some other human image of perfection. We are invited to pursue the body beautiful, to take control of our personal health and fitness, to invent our own value and belief systems, with a view to gaining personal fulfillment. We are given ever-increasing permission to ignore and, if necessary, to dispense with whatever and whoever stands in our way in this quest, be it life in the womb, children, husbands and wives, the poor, foreigners, or the aged. 
—Iain Provan, "To Highlight All Our Idols: Worshipping God in Nietzsche's World," Ex Auditu 15 (1999): 33.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Dealing with the Old Testament in Isolation from the New

In his influential popular-level book According to Plan, Graeme Goldsworthy comments on an unhappy development in Old Testament Studies:
Over the years Christian scholars have developed specialization in either Old or New Testament studies. The trend has been toward a study of the Old Testament in and of itself. This is not a Christian approach to the matter. Christians in increasing numbers have written books on the Old Testament, which hardly even mention the fact that the New Testament exists. It has become a common feature of theological and Bible college curricula that the Old Testament is dealt with in complete isolation from the New Testament. 
So he concludes: "There seems to be a failure in allowing the New Testament to determine how we relate the Old Testament to Christ."

This is lamentable. And of this tendency and failure there needs to be repentance.

Monday, September 1, 2014


In his course notes for a lecture on systematic theology that J. I. Packer gave in 2009 at Regent College, he says that "theology as an activity is prior to theology as a set of tenets which the activity produces."

He calls this activity theologizing.

He further defines what theologizing is by asking and answering the question: "What is theologizing?" Packer answer: "Asking and answering questions about God and his relation to created realities."

Then he asks: "Why theologize?" Answer: "Because faith both needs and seeks understanding."

Vintage Packer.

—J. I. Packer, "The World of Systematic Theology," in Class Notes, Systematic Theology Overview, from Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., Winter, 2009.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Central Theme of Scripture

"[T]he central theme of Scripture is the kingdom of God defined simply as God's people in God's place under God's rule."

—Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical TheologyHermeneutical Foundations and Principles (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), 75.

(I record this for the record, so to speak, but I confess that this seems reductionistic to me.)

A Unified Salvation History on Display in the Gospels

"Even a cursory survey indicates that each of the Gospels is firmly yet distinctively embedded in Israel's story through its respective selection and use of OT texts."

—Brian Rosner, "Salvation, History of," DTIB: 714–717.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Real Theologian

"The only man who should be counted a real theologian is he who can build up men's consciences in the fear of God."

—John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (eds., Torrance, David W., and Torrance, Thomas F; trans. Smail, T. A.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 353.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Symbiosis between Biblical and Systematic Theology

I cite Goldsworthy's judgment here with the utmost and highest esteem and approval:
For a theologian to pursue a biblical theology implies some kind of already existing dogmatic framework regarding the Bible. Biblical theologians who insist that we do not need dogmatics simply have not examined their own presuppositions about the Bible. The issue is not really that of which comes first, dogmatics or biblical theology, because they are interrelated and involve the hermeneutical spiral. Because of the symbiotic relationship between them, I do not think it is possible to be competent in one without the other.
—Graeme Goldsworthy, Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012), 42.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Is Biblical Theology?

In his justly praised and highly regarded Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, Geerhardus Vos tells us what biblical theology is: "Biblical Theology is that branch of Exegetical Theology which deals with the process of the self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible" (5).

Note well the key words "process" and "self-revelation." Process speaks to the temporal aspect of biblical theology, its unfolding of revelation across time. Self-revelation, which many rationalists will deny, speaks to how this unfolding of biblical theology is God's witness to himself and his ways in the history of the outworking of his redeeming love in the Son of God.

How does it differ, you might ask, from systematic theology? Vos tells us this as well, and does well in his telling of it:
Biblical Theology occupies a position between Exegesis and Systematic Theology in the encyclopaedia of theological disciplines. It differs from Systematic Theology, not in being more Biblical, or adhering more closely to the truths of Scripture, but in that its principle of organizing the Biblical material is historical rather than logical. Whereas Systematic Theology takes the Bible as a completed whole and endeavors to exhibit its total teaching in an orderly, systematic form, Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive pre-redemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon (v–vi).
—Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1948).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Some of Calvin's Practical Statements on the Atonement

Whether Calvin believed in what came to be called in later Protestant theology "limited atonement" or "particular/definite redemption" is debated. My interest at the moment is not in that debate. At present I only wish to produce here two statements made by Calvin to his Genevan church in the course of his exposition of the Beatitudes in 1560.

I will place the statements of interest in italics and bold, but I include a good part of the paragraphs in which they come to provide some context.

Calvin on Matt. 5:7:
Mercy  does not simply consist of compassion toward those I have been describing—the thirsty, the hungry, the sick, the hurt, and the oppressed. It requires us also to bear with the infirmities of those who, in themselves, deserve to be spurned. Of course, here as elsewhere, we must observe the balance which we find in Scripture. When we show mercy to those who have erred, we must never indulge them by outright flattery, nor ignore their wrongdoing so that it grows even worse. We should show pity when we see that our neighbors are still subject to many weaknesses, and we should be patient with them, not in order to imitate them but to rebuke their faults with kindness. We should never gloat as many do who laugh and smirk over someone else's misfortune. Instead, we should mourn and say, 'How said, that poor man has given offense to God.' It should distress us to see someone perishing who has been so dearly redeemed by Christ's precious blood; it should distress us to see God's righteousness transgressed and his glory diminished (46).
And on Matt. 5:9:
Imagine someone who takes care not to stir up trouble or annoy anybody, and who instead tries hard to please everyone: whether he is given a hard time or not; he will gently put up with many wrongs rather than make a fuss. Even so, we are bound to follow our Lord's precept here, and strive for peace in every place. So it is not enough to refrain from violence, ill-will or injury to others: when someone is in the wrong, we must resist; when innocent people suffer affliction, we should support them as much as we can, bringing them help and relief. When we see two people at odds with each other, we should feel pity for two souls redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but who are in danger of perdition. We should grieve when victory goes to the devil, who is the prince of discord, and when God, who is the author of peace, is shut out. That thought should make us want to put an end to quarrelling (54–55).   
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006).

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Claims of Caesar, The Claims of Christians

N. T. Wright writes: 
In these ‘pastoral’ letters Paul regularly refers to Jesus with a title the Roman world used for Caesar: ‘saviour’. Caesar claimed to have rescued, or ‘saved’, the world from chaos, war and anarchy. The early Christians claimed that Jesus had saved it from the ultimate chaos of sin and death. The new world had broken into the old, summoning it to grow up and discover what it was meant to be.
N. T. Wright, Paul  for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 142.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Refreshing Thoughts of Freedom from Sin's Reach

It belongs unto the true notion of heaven, that it is a state wherein we shall be eternally freed from sin and all the concernments of it; but only [through] the exaltation of the glory of God's grace in Christ by the pardon of it. He that truly hates sin and abhors it, whose principal desire and design of life is to be freed from it so far as it is possible, who walks in self-abasement through a sense of his many disappointments, when he hoped it should act in him no more, cannot, as I judge, but frequently betake himself for refreshment unto thoughts of that state wherein he shall be freed from it, and triumph over it unto eternity. This is a notion of heaven that is easily apprehended and fixed on the mind, and which we may dwell upon unto great advantage and satisfaction of our souls. 
—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), 333–334.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Expect Persecution

St. Paul tells us [2 Tim. 3:12] that anyone desiring to live a holy life in Jesus Christ must expect persecution. God, it is true, will certainly give respite from time to time, but we cannot avoid making many enemies. Satan has many allies in this world: possessed by his spirit, they cannot endure the light of the gospel or allow God to rule over them as one might rule over children. We must therefore defend the cause of the gospel and bear witness to the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ, even if it means unremitting struggle with a large number of people, including those who pretend to be believers and who claim to be of the same religion.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 59.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Indiscriminate Peace Not Enough

Let us fight for the cause of righteousness, that is to say, for what is just. It is not enough to make an indiscriminate peace. The basis of peace is the recognition that God rules among men: his rule joins us together so that we serve him with one accord. . . . Indiscriminate peace is different. Today, for example, when disputes arise, would-be know-it-alls who bravely play the role of peacemaker rush to reach a settlement—any kind of settlement—without first considering who is right and who is wrong. 'Come on,' they say, 'let's divide down the middle.'
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 56.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Laboring in Love to Keep the Peace

Calvin commenting on what it means to be a "peacemaker" in Matt. 5:9:
Meekness is part of being peaceable. If we are patient, it will not be our fault if we do not live in harmony and peace with other men. Why else do men inflict such suffering on one another, and war among themselves, and fight like cats and dogs, if not because they are impatient? No one can bear to be wronged, and we are so addicted to self-interest that we demand instant satisfaction: if we do not get it, we immediately take off the gloves. Then come recrimination and hostility, which turn to mortal hatred and the wish to kill and murder, with no one being spared. That is how impatience prevents men from living peaceably together; that is why we consciously chafe and fret, and why each of us is a devil to his neighbor. We must learn, then, to cultivate patience, and so to lay aside self-interest and reputation that we readily forgive the wrongs done to us. That, I believe, is how we can be peaceable. 
For the rest, it is not enough for us to avoid giving people cause to injure or trouble us. We must do whatever we can to keep the peace among ourselves. That is what we must do, even if it means suffering loss as a result or surrendering some of our rights. For peace should be so precious to us—God after all commands it—that nothing else should matter to us.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 54.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Israel: A People Faithful to YHWH

J. Gordon McConville:
The story of the prophetic books involves re-thinking who 'Israel' is. The prophets sometimes speak of a 'remnant' in order to show how the story of Israel is advancing (Isa. 10:20-23; Jer. 5:10; Joel 2:32 [3:5]). They also sometimes picture reunion of Israel, north and south, in a way that cannot be meant in a plain historical sense (Ezek. 37:15-17). In other words, 'Israel' is redefined in the prophets as a people that remains faithful to Yahweh. That people, however, is still heir to all the ancient promises that first called a people out of Egypt.
—J. Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), xxiv.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Moved by Love

Helping others amounts to nothing unless we are moved by a love which comes from the heart, and which bids us bear our share of the misfortune we see around us. And because God has bound us all together, no one can turn away and live only for himself. There is no room here for the indifference which promises tranquility and the pleasures of a comfortable life: we must enlarge our affections as the law of love requires. 
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 43.

What Is Mercy?

What is pity? Briefly put, it is nothing else but the pain we feel at someone else's sorrow. A man may be healthy and content, with plenty to eat and drink, and safe from any threat of danger. When, however, he sees his neighbor in distress, he is bound to feel for him, to share his sorrow, to shoulder some of his burden and so lighten the load. That is what mercy is.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 42.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Truly Astounding

The prophetic literature packs quite the potent punch. It is heavy hitting, sparing none, not least the leadership of the ancient or modern church. Recently the prophet Isaiah has reminded me of this. Chapter 29, for example, goes after the leadership of Jerusalem.

It ought always to remind the people of God that—when judgment begins with the household of God (1 Pet. 4:17)—God starts with the leadership. Every leader's knees should begin each day knocking and trembling under the prophetic word.

Speaking of the establishment leadership of Isaiah's day, here's a sample of quality commentary on a portion of Isaiah 29 by a faithful modern day commentator:
In order to justify their actions they have to deny God's right to tell them what to do and, by implication, claim that it is they who are wise and he (their Maker!) who knows nothing (16): all of this (take note) while retaining their religious titles and the meticulous observation of the externals. It is truly astounding what depths of inconsistency religious people are capable of, especially in positions of leadership, where backroom decisions and policies all too often belie the faith in God that is professed in the pulpit. 
—Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 125.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Staggering Statement about George Whitefield's Influence

I have not read much written by George Marsden. But what I have read seems to indicate, to me at least, that he tends to be understated and reserved in his assessments. Which makes the following assessment of Whitefield all the more staggering, even shocking:
George Whitefield not only changed Jonathan Edwards's life; he changed American history. His influence was so great that he ought to be considered as one of America's leading founding fathers. One reason he is not, of course, is that he was not an American, but remained based in England, even though he visited America a remarkable seven times and died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1771. Another reason why he is not as well remembered as others who shaped early America is that he was a religious figure, not a political one. Nonetheless, during his lifetime he was almost certainly the best-known person in the colonies, even more widely known among ordinary Americans than was his friend Benjamin Franklin. He was the first celebrated "star" in an emerging popular culture that, lacking hereditary aristocracy, would be particularly susceptible to stars. Not only was he famous: Whitefield revolutionized American religion, and hence much of American life. 
—George Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 60.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

They Never Know a Moment's Peace

Commenting on Isa. 57:20 in a sermon on Mt. 5:5-7 and Lk. 6:20-21, Calvin remarks:
Only those blinded by vanity, lies, and prejudice will fail to see how true Isaiah's prophecy is. We all know how it is with those who prey like wolves upon their fellow-men, who rob and devour and who, out of arrogance and pride, try to gain all they can. They never know a moment's peace. They may own the earth, they may be mighty lords, yet, wherever they tread, they are like dead men. For all their castles and fortresses and well-armed guards, the fact remains they are in prison. In the open field and with a numerous escort, they are insecure, in a constant state of fear and trembling.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 35.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fearless Courage and Unyielding Resolution

Two things that are exceeding needful in ministers, as they would do any great matters to advance the kindgom of Christ, are zeal and resolution. The influence and power of these things to bring to pass great effects is greater than can well be imagined: a man of but an ordinary capacity will do more with them, than one of ten times the parts and learning without them: more may be done with them in a few days, or at least weeks, than can be done without them in many years. Those that are possessed of these qualities commonly carry the day in almost all affairs. Most of the great things that have been done in the world of mankind, the great revolutions that have been accomplished in the kingdoms and empires of the earth, have been chiefly owing to these things. The very sight or appearance of a thoroughly engaged spirit, together with a fearless courage and unyielding resolution, in any person that has undertaken the managing any affair amongst mankind, goes a great way towards accomplishing the effect aimed at. . . . 
When the people see these things apparently in a person, and to a great degree, it awes them, and has a commanding influence upon their minds; it seems to them that they must yield; they naturally fall before them without standing to contest or dispute the matter; they are conquered as it were by surprise. But while we are cold and heartless, and only go on in a dull manner, in an old formal round, we shall never do any great matters. Our attempts, with the appearance of such coldness and irresolution, won't so much as make persons think of yielding: they will hardly be sufficient to put it into their minds; and if it be put into their minds, the appearance of such indifference and cowardice does as it were call for, and provoke opposition. 
—Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening (vol. 4 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. C. C. Goen; New Haven: Yale University, 1972), 508–509.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Facts of Christianity Meaningless apart from Their Doctrinal Significance

If, then, we are to affirm that Christianity consists of facts, wholly separated from those ideas by which these facts obtain their significance and meaning and which it pleases us to call "dogmas"—what shall we do but destroy all that we know as Christianity altogether? The great facts that constitute Christianity are just as "naked" as any other facts, and are just as meaningless to us as any other facts, until they are not only perceived and understood, that is, until not only they themselves but their doctrinal significance is made known to us.
—Benjamin B. Warfield, "The Right of Systematic Theology" (vol. 2 in Selected Shorter Writings; ed. John E. Meeter; Phillipsburg: P&R, 1973), 237.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Every Family a Little Church

Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church, consecrated to Christ, and wholly influenced and governed by his rules. And family education and order are some of the chief of the means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual. If these are duly maintained, all the means of grace will be likely to prosper and be successful.
—Jonathan Edwards, "Farewell Sermon" (vol. 1 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Edward Hickman; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), ccvi.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Wildest, Most Violent of Persecutors Transformed

N. T. Wright on 1 Tim. 1:15-16:
God has taken the wildest, most violent of blaspheming persecutors, and has transformed him into not only a believer but also a trusted apostle and evangelist. If God can do that, there is nobody out there, no heart so hard, no anger so bitter, that it remains outside the reach of God's patient mercy.
—N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 12.

Friday, July 11, 2014

We Imagine We Are Doing Wonders

Commenting on how the man Christ Jesus spent the entire night in prayer before calling his twelve disciples as apostles (Lk. 6:12-13), Calvin upbraids our listlessness and lifelessness in prayer:
He prayed so earnestly. Not as we are accustomed to pray, carelessly and as a mere formality: he spent the whole night in prayer. Notice how this rebukes our own lazy and cold practice of prayer. We imagine that we are doing wonders when we pray morning and night; we feel we are being suitably spiritual despite the many distractions which get in our way. But it is a very different pattern which our Lord sets for us here. He keeps watch until daybreak, concerned and in distress of soul until he finds rest in God, laying before him his many cares for the church. . . . 
Let us therefore learn to discipline ourselves when we feel lethargic and have only half a heart for prayer—or worse, when the will to pray is but one-tenth or one-hundredth of what it should be. Let Christ's example be a spur inciting us to amend our leisurely approach to prayer. At the very least let us groan before God, asking him to forgive our faults; for these might shut the door to him, deny us access, and prevent our prayers being answered.
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 9.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Called of His Own Good Pleasure

Preaching in the early 1560s on the call of the twelve apostles in Mk. 3:13-19 and Lk. 6:12-19, Calvin speaks powerfully of God's gracious calling:
When God calls us to positions of prominence or responsibility, he does so of his own good pleasure, and not, as we imagine, because he considers us more capable than others. His aim is to humble us, by showing that everything depends on his grace and not on human merit. Now if this is true of temporal preferments, how much more does the principle apply to our eternal salvation! When God adopts us as his children in order to make us members of our Lord Jesus Christ and sharers in his heavenly glory, what credit can men possibly claim for themselves?
—John Calvin, Sermons on the Beatitudes, transl. Robert White (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), 6.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Sassiness of Theology

Packer on the "sassiness" of theology:

"I define the sassiness of theology as an unwillingness to keep quiet when God is misrepresented and revealed truth is put in jeopardy."

—J. I. Packer, Honouring the Written Word of God: Collected Shorter Writings on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture (Vancoover: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 54–55.

Knowledgeable Ignorance

"Let us not be ashamed to submit our understanding to God's boundless wisdom so far as to yield before its many secrets. For, of those things which it is neither given nor lawful to know, ignorance is knowledge; the craving to know, a kind of madness."

—John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeil, transl. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox), 2:957.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ungodly Ministers in the Lowest and Hottest Hell

I think there is a great deal of reason from the Scripture, to conclude that no sort of men in the world will be so low in hell, as ungodly ministers: everything that is spoken of in Scripture as that which aggravates guilt and heightens divine wrath, meets in them; however some particular persons, of other sorts, may be more guilty than some of these.
—Jonathan Edwards, The Great Awakening (vol. 4 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. C. C. Goen; New Haven: Yale University, 1972), 506–507.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Is Theology?

John Frame defines theology as "the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life." This definition includes the three perspectives—normative, existential, and situational—that he says "we can bring to bear on many theological questions." Frame adds, "In my definition of theology, those three perspectives are Scripture (normative), persons (existential), areas of life (situational)."

—John Frame, Systematic TheologyAn Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 8.

Grist for the Theologian's Mill

John Frame on theologizing:
Academic and technical theology should not be valued over other kinds. The professor of theology at a university or seminary is no more or less a theologian than the youth minister who seeks to deal with the doubts of college students, or the Sunday school teacher who tells OT stories to children, or the father who leads family devotions, or the person who does not teach in any obvious way but simply tries to obey Scripture. Theoretical and practical questions are equally grist for the theologian's mill.
—John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 8.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Our Little Elisha

We just got confirmation from Emily's OB/GYN about what we really already knew a few days ago: we have lost another baby (for now, anyway; we fully expect to see him or her on the last day). And we have named this little one "Elisha," which in Hebrew means "God is salvation." How you say the name depends on whether our baby is a boy or girl. It's the difference between the long i sound (boy, like the OT prophet's name) and the long e sound (girl, the way Elisha is sometimes used today for females).

Again, as when we lost (temporarily) our last baby Anastasis to death's clutches, we confess we're not without hope. No, we confess we're more than conquerers through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37). Death cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39). So with great confidence we confess our great hope: resurrection from the dead in the risen Lord Jesus. And we also confess God's goodness and greatness in our lives amid pain and loss. The peace of God indeed passes all understanding, and he is guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).

God is good. Always good. God is on his throne. Always reigning supreme. That's our story, and we're stickin' to it. And we love him more, not less, after this brief loss—a loss that we believe is actually gain for Elisha (Phil. 1:21). We had heard of God by the hearing of the ear, but now our eye sees him (Job 42:5). Blessed be his name forever and ever! He is God, not of the dead, but of the living! (Lk. 20:38).

Monday, June 30, 2014

How the Early Church Multiplied

Acts 9:31 states one of a handful of summary statements that Luke provides periodically throughout the book of Acts. And I just wish to point out a simple observation about the biblical balance of the work wrought by the Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus among those earliest of disciples.

Take a look at what we're told about how the church multiplied in Acts 9:31. It did not multiply merely "in the fear of the Lord." Nor did it multiply merely in "the comfort of the Holy Spirit." But "walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, [the church] multiplied."

And that is the biblical balance we must pray down and seek. If we say what we need is "the fear of the Lord," that's well and good. But if "the comfort of the Holy Spirit" is missing, something huge is missing for multiplication. If we say what we need is "the comfort of the Holy Spirit," well and good as well. But if "the fear of the Lord" is missing, something crucial is missing for multiplication of the church of God.

So it's a both/and, not an either/or thing. Biblical balance. Let's seek it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Not So Fast

J. I. Packer:

"The conclusions supposed to have been established by last-century biblical criticism were really the presuppositions on which it was based. Therefore they cannot be held to have been proved by biblical criticism at all."

—J. I. Packer, Honouring the Written Word of God: Collected Shorter Writings on the Authority and Interpretation of Scripture (Vancoover: Regent College Publishing, 1999), 54–55.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Means of Grace, the Trials of Life, and God's Everlasting Building Project

What are the means of grace? One could answer this question in different ways. One way to look at it is to see the means of grace as the setting up of nails, the placing of them up to the planks your life. And then God-sent, God-assigned trials are the hammers that drive those nails down deeply into the boards of your life, ensuring that you are fastened tightly into God's everlasting building, a glorious building, one that cannot be shaken, eternal in the heavens.

Thus the means of grace by themselves often don't go down very deep; but without them the nails are never set up to go in at all. So the means are absolutely essential. Without them the boards of your life will not be held fast to God's building. But the means of grace without real-life trials are only the preliminary steps to be taken to build the building. It doesn't get built without hammers—the trials and tribulations of life. The means of grace need to be driven down deeper week to week, month to month, year by year, until God's construction project comes to a glorious completion.

And it will. God is always good, always on his throne. So rejoice always amid God-assigned trials and give thanks in all circumstances, not least the most difficult. That is where the real theologizing is done in any case. That is, as Luther taught us long ago, what makes a real theologian. Which is simply to say—that is where we go deep in the all-satisfying knowledge of God.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reading Wright and Recommending Reading Wright

A good word from Doug Wilson on reading N. T. Wright:
Because of the way Wright articulates certain biblical truths — truths that some of his conservative critics would much rather avoid — reading him can be valuable. I would recommend that any pastors who can read him discerningly do so. But I don’t think it is a good idea to promote his books in our congregations because the clean up costs just aren’t worth it.
I agree. Now I read Wright fairly regularly, because there's good stuff there. But I agree with Wilson that not everyone can wade through it well and separate the wheat from the chaff. Those who appreciate Wright rightly ought to know to whom to recommend his books and to whom not.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Dimensions of the Kingdom of God

The phrase "kingdom of God" or "kingdom of heaven" is a difficult one to define. This is because the Bible never quite provides a definition, certainly not a comprehensive one, and because the phrase is multivalent. So one needs to see how the terminology is used in differing contexts to build up an understanding of this thick theological phraseology. And since it is such an important phrase and reality—indeed one might argue that it is the supreme reality of time and eternity—we ought to labor to understand it, even if the Bible never gives a definition of it, but rather speaks of it somewhat enigmatically and allusively.

I want to submit, however difficult it is to define "the kingdom of God," that the phraseology, considered comprehensively, has already and not-yet aspects that both work out in two different, even if overlapping, dimensions. Those two dimensions have to do with God's saving reign in the church and—no less importantly, yet less frequently acknowledged—with God's reign over the world generally. For the first dimension, see texts like Rom. 14:17, or Col. 1:13. For the second, see, for example, Matt. 28:18.

Now that reign of God—both in the church and in the world generally—is mediated through the risen King Jesus in the present age. In the one dimension, that of the church, there is an already-and-not-yet element to it. The church is transformed, and so God's reign in grace is manifested there wondrously, though without full transformation. Full transformation of God's people awaits Jesus' return and the eschaton. Likewise, in the other dimension, that of God's rule through Christ over the whole world, there is also only partial transformation now. Full transformation of the world generally also awaits the eschaton when the earth will be covered with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Fullness of the Godhead

Now God's internal glory, is either in his understanding or will. The glory or fullness of his understanding is his knowledge. The internal glory and fullness of God, having its special seat in his will, is his holiness and happiness. The whole of God's internal good or glory, is in these three things, viz. his infinite knowledge, his infinite virtue or holiness, and his infinite joy and happiness.  
Indeed there are a great many attributes in God, according to our way of conceiving them: but all may be reduced to these; or to their degree, circumstances, and relations. We have no conception of God's power, different from the degree of these things, with a certain relation of them to effects. God's infinity is not properly a distinct kind of good, but only expresses the degree of good there is in him. So God's eternity is not a distinct good; but is the duration of good. His immutability is still the same good, with a negation of change. So that, as I said, the fullness of the Godhead is the fullness of his understanding, consisting in his knowledge; and the fullness of his will consisting in his virtue and happiness.
—John Piper, God's Passion for His GloryLiving the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 243–244.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Torah of YHWH in Psalm 1

So often so many, in my view, interpret wrongly the phrase “the torah of YHWH” (תוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה) in Psalm 1. It is often taken simply to mean “the instruction of YHWH.” No one, to my knowledge, really doubts that the word “torah” (תּוֹרָה) does in fact often simply mean "instruction." That much is clear.

However, in Psalm 1, which sets the agenda for the whole Psalter, should we understand “the torah of YHWH” simply to mean “the instruction of YHWH”? I doubt it. I’ll not reproduce the argumentation of Mark D. Futato in his excellent handbook Interpreting the Psalms, but I will provide his conclusion, with which I joyfully concur in my inner being. He says:
So the תוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה in Psalm 1 naturally refers to the Five Books of Moses. When we combine the sense of תּוֹרָה as ‘instruction’ with תוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה as the Five Books of Moses, we conclude that the book of Psalms invites believers to meditate on the Five Books of Moses[1] as a source of instruction for experiencing the joy/blessings (v. 1) and prosperity/success (v. 3) held out in Psalm 1.
— Mark D. Futato, Interpreting the PsalmsAn Exegetical Handbook (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 61–62.

[1] Italics mine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One of the Great Tragedies of Our Time

David Wells:
This, in fact, is one of the great tragedies of our time, that evangelicals have lost their spiritual status as outsiders to the culture, those who march to a different drummer and have the capacity to think about their world in ways that are completely different from what is taken as normative in it. So many consequences derive from all this . . . [such as] the matter of being salt and light in society.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 170.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The All-Comprehensive Gift of God's Good Spirit

Chapter 7 of Andrew Murray's spiritual classic With Christ in the School of Prayer is delicious and delightful to the soul that longs for more, more, more of God.  The chapter is titled "The All-Comprehensive Gift" and instructs on God's good gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask for him (Lk. 11:13).

Murray says this of this inestimable gift held out simply for the asking (and, as an aside, don't miss the implications for eduction of our children):
We can easily understand the unspeakable worth of this gift. Jesus spoke of the Spirit as "the promise of the Father," the one promise in which God's fatherhood revealed itself. The best gift a good and wise earthly father can bestow on a child is his own spirit. This is the great object of a father in education—to reproduce in his child his own disposition and character. If the child is to know and understand his father, if he is to enter into all his will and plans, if he is to have this highest joy in the father and the father in him, he must be of one mind and spirit with him. It is impossible to conceive of God bestowing any higher gift on his child than his own Spirit. God is what he is through his Spirit; the Spirit is the very life of God. Just think what it means for God to give his own Spirit to his child on earth (53–54).
Given the value, then, of the gift, what naturally flows from recognizing this?
This truth naturally suggests that this first and chief gift of God must be the first and chief object of all prayer. The one necessary element in the spiritual life is the Holy Spirit. All the fullness is in Jesus. His is the fullness of grace and truth from which we receive grace for grace. The Holy Spirit is the appointed intermediary whose special work is to convey Jesus and everything there is in him to us. He is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (55).
To entice one still more, and to urge one to ask the Father as directed by the Lord Jesus, Murray tells us who this Spirit is:
He is the Spirit of grace, who reveals and imparts all of the grace there is in Jesus; of faith, who teaches us to begin, go on, and increase in believing; of adoption and assurance, who witnesses that we are God's children, and inspires our confiding in him and our confident, "Abba, Father!"; of truth, who leads us to accept each word of God in truth; of prayer, through whom we speak with the Father so that we may be heard; of judgment, who searches our hearts and convicts us of sin; of holiness, who manifests and communicates the Father's holy presence within us; of power, who makes us testify boldly and work effectively in the Father's service; of glory, who is the pledge of our inheritance and prepares us for the glory to come (56). 
—Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (Springdale, PA: Whitaker, 1981), 53–59.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Trying to Do for Ourselves What Only God Can Do

David Wells:
The language of the self is not interchangeable with human nature. They are two entirely different things. The self is the way we think about ourselves when we are inhabiting a psychologized universe. Human nature is how we think of ourselves in a moral universe, and, as understood in the imago Dei, it is how we think of ourselves in God's universe. This is our entry into a Christian worldview. . . . This substitute language of the self, with the whole overlay of techniques that goes with it, is a false trail, a dead end. 
Why is this? May I gently suggest that the reason is that the essence of pride is finding in the self what in fact can only be found in God. So pride leads us to think much about the self and much of the self. We imagine that within ourselves we have power enough, wisdom enough, and strength enough to find our way out of our own painful realities. Inevitably, though, very finite preoccupations are substituted for those that are eternal. Here is the "autonomous self" at work. 
The self movement has tapped into this by offering self-mastery through the right technique. It encourages us to think much about the self and much of the self. It is an industry that lives off of and for pride. As such, it offers a way to dissolve all the internal aches and heal all the internal wounds that life inflicts as we try to do for ourselves what in fact only God can do.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 167–168.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Majesty of Grace Lost on a Psychologized Evangelicalism

David Wells:
The majesty of God's forgiveness is lost entirely when we lose what has to be forgiven. What has to be forgiven is not just what we do but who we are, no just our sinning but our sinfulness, not just our choices but what we have chosen in place of God. This belief in our inherent innocence is belied by the kind of life we all experience, and, more importantly, it is also contradicted by Scripture. When we miss the biblical teaching [concerning sin and sinfulness], we also miss the nature of God's grace in all its height and depth. In biblical faith it is God's grace through Christ that does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In this kind of psychologized evangelicalism, grace works only around the margins of our self. It completes the bit that we cannot quite get done by ourselves. 
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 167.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Glory of God

Jonathan Edwards:
All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God's works, is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. . . . The thing signified by that name, the glory of God, when spoken of as the supreme and ultimate end of all God's works, is the emanation and true external expression of God's internal glory and fullness; meaning by his fullness . . . God's internal glory, in a true and just exhibition, or external existence of it. 
—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 242.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The "Idiocy" of an Open Mind

C. S. Lewis:
An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside [natural law] there is no ground for criticizing either [natural law] or anything else.
—C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 48.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Parting with All for Christ's Sake—and Meditation on Heavenly Things

When our Saviour requires that we should part with all for his sake and the gospel, he promiseth a hundredfold in lieu of them, even in this life—namely, in an interest in things spiritual and heavenly. Wherefore, without an assiduous meditation on heavenly things, as a better, more noble, and suitable object for our affections to be fixed on, we can never be freed in a due manner from an inordinate love of the things here below.
—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), 329.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Men Without Chests

C. S. Lewis:

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

—C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 16.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gospel Hope

Owen on our heavenly and holy hope:
Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment. . . . Gospel hope is a fruit of faith, trust, and confidence; yea, the height of the actings of all grace issues in a well-grounded hope, nor can it rise any higher (Rom. 5:2-5). 
Now, the reason why men have no more use of, nor more benefit by, this excellent grace, is because they do not abide in thoughts and contemplation of the things hoped for. The especial object of hope is eternal glory (Col. 1:27; Rom. 5:2). The peculiar use of it is to support, comfort, and refresh the soul, in all trials, under all weariness and despondencies, with a firm expectation of a speedy entrance into that glory, with an earnest desire after it. Wherefore, unless we acquaint ourselves, by continual meditation, with the reality and nature of this glory, it is impossible it should be the object of a vigorous, active hope, such as whereby the apostle says "we are saved." Without this we can neither have that evidence of eternal things, or that valuation of them, nor that preparedness in our minds for them, as should keep us in the exercise of gracious hope about them.
 —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), 321–322.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Apostolic Proclamation

A good friend and I have been noting for years the centrality of the resurrection in apostolic preaching (particularly in Acts). And yet Evangelicals tend to stress the cross in the proclamation (not that the cross ought not to be right at the heart of preaching!).

Craig Blomberg notes the apostolic focus as well:
Throughout the book of Acts, early Christian preachers announce not the crucifixion, as we might have expected from Mark, but the resurrection as the central feature that gives Jesus' life and death significance (e.g., Acts 2:24-36; 13:30-37; 17:18; 23:6).
—Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 162.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Due Meditation on Things Unseen and Eternal

Commenting on 2 Cor. 4:16-18, John Owen instructs the twenty-first century and our worldliness:
Not to faint under the daily decays of our outward man, and the approaches of death thereby, to bear afflictions as things light and momentary, to thrive under all in the inward man, are unspeakable mercies and privileges. Can you attain a better frame? Is there any thing that you would more desire, if you are believers? Is it not better to have such a mind in us than to enjoy all the peace and security that the world can afford? One principal means whereby we are made partakers of these things is a due meditation on things unseen and eternal. . . .
Without doubt, the generality of Christians are greatly defective in this duty, partly for want of light into them, partly for want of delight in them; they think little of an eternal country. . . . Men do not exercise themselves as they ought unto thoughts of things eternal and invisible. It were impossible, if they did so, that their minds should be so earthly, and their affections cleave so as they do unto present things. He that looks steadily on the sun, although he cannot bear the lustre of its beams fully, yet his sight is so affected with it that when he calls off his eyes from it, he can see nothing as it were of the things about him; they are all dark unto him. And he who looks steadily in his contemplations on things above, eternal things, though he cannot comprehend their glory, yet a veil will be cast by it on all the desirable beauties of earthly things, and take off his affections from them. 
 —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), 318.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Know Yourself, Your Relief, and Your Savior

Owen on how to stand against temptations:
There are three things required unto this duty, and spiritual wisdom unto them all. First, know what are the especial temptations from whence you suffer, and whereby the life of God is obstructed in you. If this be neglected, if it be disregarded, no man can maintain either life for peace, or is spiritually minded. Second, know your remedy, your relief, wherein alone it doth consist. Many duties are required of us unto this end, and are useful thereunto; but know assuredly that no one of them, not all of them in conjunction, will bring in relief, unto the glory of God and your own peace, without application by faith unto him who "is able to succour them that are tempted." Wherefore, third, herein lies your great duty with respect unto your temptations, namely, in a constant exercise of your thoughts on the love, care, compassion, and tenderness of Christ, with his ability to help, succor, and save them that do believe, so as to strengthen your faith and trust in him; which will assuredly prove successful and victorious. 
 —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), 316–317.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Many Thoughts on Things Above

It is our duty greatly to mind the things that are above, eternal things, both as unto their reality, their present state, and our future enjoyment of them. Herein consists the life of this grace and duty [to be spiritually minded]. To be heavenly minded—that is, to mind the things of heaven—and to be spiritually minded, is all one; or it is the effect of being spiritually minded as unto its original and essence, or the first proper actings of it. . . . Nor do I understand how it is possible for a man to place his chief interest in things above, and not have many thoughts of them.
—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), 317.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Called to Inherit and Bestow Blessings

God is a God of blessing. He delights to bless. He has undertaken—at the price of his Son's life—the greatest undertaking of the cosmos: the commitment to bless this sorry and sinful world through the seed of Abraham. And he will see to it that his word concerning blessing is confirmed and fulfilled!

Thoughout the whole of Scripture, we see the prominence of blessing. God blesses men. (Read the Pentateuch.) Men bless men. (Read the Pentateuch again.) Men bless God. (Read the Psalms.) God blesses his peole that his people might be a blessing that the world might bless God (Ps. 67:1-7).  The Lord Jesus gave his disciples the beatitudes (Mt. 5:3-12), blissful blessings for those who follow him faithfully. And we're commanded to bless and curse not (Lk. 6:28; Rom. 12:14). For we were called for the express purpose that we might inherit a blessing (1 Pet. 3:9). We are a people of blessing.

So it is good and right, then, not least in order to imitate our heavenly Father, to bless our children who grow up under our care, to bless one another, and to bless those who curse us. In my house, I bless my little girl, Ariana, mainly as she goes to bed. But I'm also routinely blessing her (and her mother) along the way.

Here are just a few of the blessings of Scripture I have memorized or am memorizing for planned and spontaneous use as I seek to be a man and means of blessing to my household and to others:

"The LORD bless you and keep you;
  the LORD make his face to shine upon you
                    and be gracious to you;
  the LORD lift up his countenance upon you
                    and give you peace" (Num. 6:24-26).

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 15:13).

"May the God of peace be with you all. Amen" (Rom. 15:33).

"The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you" (Rom. 16:20).

"Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you" (2 Thess. 3:16).

"Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jd. 24-25).

I merely scratch the surface. There are blessings literally strewn everywhere in Scripture. So let us lay them up and bless our homes, bless one another, and be a blessing to the world.

We are blessed! Blessed be his holy name! And blessed be those who seek his face, who seek the face of the God of Jacob, who seek the blessing of the world, seeking that blessing on mission with the God of all blessing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Faint in the Day of Adversity

David Wells:
In the older world we left behind, people thought of adversity as inevitable. Adversity was a consequence of the fall for those of a Christian outlook. But even for non-Christians it was never seen as an unexpected intruder in life. It was never thought that life should be without pain. Pain, disease, setbacks, disappointments, and wrong done to us were all seen as part of our life in this world, part of its texture, a thread woven with all the other threads through the fabric of our daily experience. Adversity was seen, even, as a necessary component in life. 
Today we resent adversity as an interruption in our pleasure seeking, a rude disruption of our opportunities and our sense of calm. It is a gross injustice. Why should bad things happen to good people? Where is the justice of that? We are entitled to better. Indeed, we are demanding better! Adversity of any kind is unacceptable. 
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 161.

I'm reminded of Prov. 24:10.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reinforcing Our Natural Self-centeredness and Self-absorption

Speaking of the transition to the new therapeutic world we inhabit, David Wells comments:
The downside to this self-worked therapy, of course, is that this constant taking of internal inventory only reinforces our natural self-centeredness and self-absorption. That, at least, is my view. But it is not the view of those who inhabit this therapeutic universe, which seems to be almost everybody else, even in the evangelical church.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 161.

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Life! Life! Eternal Life!"

I just came across this sentence again, though not while reading Pilgrim's Progress this time, but in a book on writing sentences, and its power falls heavily on my heart afresh, with the weight of the worst burden you've ever borne, only without any burden at all, but with lightening, releasing, freeing efficacy, lifting up to the heights of heaven's highest joys.

"Now he had not run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began crying after him to return, but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! Life! Eternal life!"

How many times do we—Christian brother, Christian sister; you alone know this—need to plug our ears even to near and dear relations, not to mention the pleas of this planet's impure allure, and run on, crying, "Life! Life! Eternal life!" refusing to listen to low and perishing things, things of vanity and not of eternity?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Argument and Flow of Colossians

What follows comes from a paper I produced for Professor G. K. Beale in 2010 for his New Testament Theology class (one of the best classes I have ever taken):

Col. 1:1-2: Paul and Timothy greet the faithful saints in Christ at Colossae with grace and peace from God their Father. 
Transition:  Because the Colossians are faithful saints in Christ in response to the gospel of grace, Paul and Timothy have reason for gratitude to God, expressed in vv. 3-8.
Col. 1:3-8:  Constant thanksgiving is offered to the Father for gospel fruitfulness—faith in Christ and love in the Spirit—because of the heavenly hope of the gospel of grace.
Transition:  Based on manifest fruit, prayer is offered in v. 9ff for still more fruit.          
Col. 1:9-14:  Constant prayer is offered for the saints to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all Spirit-given wisdom so as to walk worthily of the Lord in his kingdom.
Transition:  Col. 1:15-20 specifies who the Son mentioned in v. 14 is. 
Col. 1:15-20:  The Son in whom the fullness of God dwells and who images forth God is Lord of Creation and Recreation and will therefore have the supremacy in everything.
Transition:  Having made peace by the cross, the results are spoken of in vv. 21-23.
Col. 1:21-23:  God reconciled the formerly alienated Colossians through the death of the Son to present them holy, faultless, and blameless before him.
Transition:  After speaking of becoming a minister of the gospel, Paul explains the design of his Christ-shaped, joy-filled sufferings.
Col. 1:24-29:  Paul’s joyful sufferings in the gospel for the church fulfill the prophetic word of God among the Gentiles—the mystery of Christ in them as the hope of glory. 
Transition:  In 2:1-5 Paul tells more specifically why he has been agonizing and toiling.
Col. 2:1-5:  In view of false teaching, Paul’s joyful struggle aims at encouraging the saints’ hearts unto gospel understanding and continued good order and firmness of faith in the Christ in whom reside all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Transition:  Paul’s exhortation in 2:6-7 accords with the aim of his struggles in 1:24-2:5. 
Col. 2:6-7:  Paul urges a grateful walk with reference to Messiah Jesus as the Lord of all.
Transition:  After urging the Colossians how to walk, Paul shows the way to continue that walk by issuing a warning to avoid what would lead away from Christ.    
Col. 2:8-15:  Do not be taken captive away from Christ in whom is the fullness of the deity and in whom you have been filled when you died and rose with him.
Transition:  On the basis of what was achieved through Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul confidently exhorts the Colossians concerning shadows and substance.
Col. 2:16-19:  Let no one judge you concerning shadows that have their substance in Christ, nor let anyone disqualify you of the prize through not holding fast to the head.
Transition:  Verse 20 refers back to the condition of believers’ dying with Christ to the old world (vv. 11-12) as the basis for exhortation in v. 20ff.  
Col. 2:20-23:  Since you died with Christ to the elements of the world, do not submit to the doctrines of men that are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Transition: Col. 3:1 now refers back to the condition of believers’ rising with Christ (2:12-13) as the basis for exhortations in 3:1f.
Col. 3:1-4:  Seek the things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Transition:  Col. 3:5ff is an inference based on dying, rising, and being glorified with Jesus in vv. 1-4. 
Col. 3:5-11:  Put to death and put away the deeds of the old man because you have put on the new man who is being renewed according to the image of Christ—who is all.
Transition:  Verses 12ff give another inference based on having put off the old man and having put on the new man—where Christ is all. 
Col. 3:12-17:  As God’s holy and loved people, wear clothes that fit the new man, doing all—whether in word or deed--in the name of the Lord Jesus. 
Transition:  Verse 17 gives the general injunction, and 3:18-4:1 give specific injunctions that focus on deeds in Jesus’ name.
Col. 3:18-21:  Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus: serve the Lord Christ in the home!
Transition:  Verse 17 gave the general injunction, and v. 22ff continue the specific injunctions that focus on deeds in Jesus’ name. 
Col. 3:22-4:1:  Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus: serve the Lord Christ in society!
Transition:  Col. 4:2-6 continues to work out the general injunction given in 3:17, now focusing on words in Jesus’ name in relation to prayer, evangelism, and outsiders.   
Col. 4:2-6: Continue steadfastly in prayer for gospel proclamation and walk and speak wisely for gospel witnessing.
Transition:  The verses that follow elaborate upon the concerns of apostolic ministry.
Col. 4:7-9:  The faithful brothers will make known Paul’s circumstances.
Transition:  The following verses continue to expand upon apostolic ministry concerns.
Col. 4:10-17:  Gospel greetings, concerns, and love are extended from gospel workers. 
Transition:  After greetings from others, Paul himself adds his personal touch.
Col. 4:18:  Paul himself greets them in chains and extends the grace benediction.

One Sentence Exegetical Summary:  In the face of cosmic opposition, God is bringing about the promised new-creation kingdom of his Son through the apostolic gospel in order that the Lord Jesus might be pre-eminent in all things.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Cry in Every Rod of God

Commenting on Mic. 6:9, Owen pleads:
There is a call, a cry in every rod of God, in every chastening providence, and therein [he] makes a declaration of his name, his holiness, his power, his greatness. This every wise, substantial man will labour to discern, andd so comply with the call. . . . If, therefore, we would apply ourselves unto our present duty [being spiritually minded], we are wisely to consider what is the voice of God in his present providential dispensations in the world. 
 —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), 308.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Election not Based on Good or Bad Works

In Rom. 9:11, "works" are clearly construed as the doing of either "good or bad." That's important, not least in the light of the claims of the proponents of the new perspective on Paul (NPP). The NPP folks take "works" in Paul's vocabulary to refer to the "boundary markers" or "ethnic badges" of circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath that would distinguish Jews from Gentiles. But Rom. 9:11 provides a crystal clear instance of Pauline usage of the "works" vocabulary where the meaning cannot be reduced to mere "boundary markers" or "ethnic badges."

No, the ethnic badge bit just will not work here. Here "works" are construed by Paul in broad moral, behavioral terms—the doing of either "good or bad." And that includes the gamut of human behavior after being born. Moreover, since he chooses Jacob and not Esau, we are also looking at the period of redemptive history prior to the given of the torah. That's also important. Being a good reader of redemptive history in Scripture (and being an inspired apostle of the risen Jesus as well), Paul understands that God's election of Jacob and not of Esau does not depend on their good or bad moral behavior. Not even a little. And so the implications for our understanding of justifcation—as Paul makes evident (e.g., Rom. 8:30; 9:33-10:4; 11:7)—are equally clear, and enourmously important. As in, eternally important; as in, one's status on the last day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Only Lawyers

David Wells:
America has more lawyers than the rest of the world combined. In his famous Harvard address, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn observed that it is a terrible thing to live in a country, like the former Soviet Union, where there are no laws. But, he went on to say, it is also a terrible thing to live in a country where there are only lawyers. That is what we have in America. Only lawyers. 
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 159.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Hale and Hearty Amen!

Here's a good word from Peter Leithart's blog over at First Things: 
One of my complaints against contemporary Protestantism is that it is nowhere near word-based enough. Protestant churches are often not Bible-based, but our-favorite-handful-of-texts—based or Bible-interpreted-through-confession—based.
To which I add my hale and hearty—amen!

Only, I want to add: if I had the opportunity, I'd want to remind Leithart that most so-called "Protestants" don't even have a confession, have never read a full confession, and are led by men (and, now, oftentimes women) who eschew confessions of any sort, especially of the ecumenical and historic varieties. So methinks that Leithart has a target closer to home for him than for most evangelicals. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Future of Protestantism in the Light of the New Birth and the Gospel

For those who watched the live steam of The Future of Protestantism (which was edifying, but not nearly as insightful as I had hoped), and those in the orbit of this discussion, here is a sensible and sturdy take on it all.

Wilson's response was roughly mine (minus the postmillenialism bit). I also found each participant saying things with which I am very sympathetic, and each man contributing something important to the discussion. However, I also want to know what a robust evangelical doctrine of the new birth (and the utter necessity of the new birth) has to contribute to this discussion.

Along with this ought to go an articulated gospel that clearly defines justification according to Scripture. Since justification in Christ is so often set forth in Scripture as the basis for our unity (see, for example, Galatians), I want to make sure we get it clear in our minds, and hold it fast in a Pauline fashion.

If, for example, Peter had not repented when corrected by Paul, but had continued down that path of making something other than faith in Christ as the basis of our unity, I dare say Paul would have called Peter a "so-called brother," at best.

In other words, I thought that the conversation emphasized ecclesiology over soteriology. And I don't see this in Scripture. I think each has to have its proper emphasis in order to support and strengthen the other. But soon as one is emphasized to the detriment of the other (as Protestants and Catholics are each guilty of doing, each in their own way), we shall soon lose both the pure Gospel and a healthy Church.

I hope this discussion continues, goes deeper still, and  spreads out wider into broader Christendom.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Self, Self-Esteem, and Social Maladies

Since the 1960s, the self has been at the center. David Wells pens about a consequence of this sad state of affairs, and a significant problem:
Virtually all educators and psychologists appear to have agreed with this. Not only so, but there is now widespread public support of the myth that poor self-esteem explains bad behavior, failing academic work, acting up, antisocial attitudes, violence, divorce, racism, and the entire drug culture. All of this is rooted in a loss of self-esteem. Indeed, so pervasive is this myth, so impervious is it to the facts, that much educational policy has been confidently funded, at both the federal and state level in the United States, to address this matter. 
The problem is that study after study over the last four decades has been unable to show any correlation between low self-esteem and all the social maladies that have supposedly followed. Nevertheless, the myth is now so well established, preserved in place by so great a public desire to keep it there, by so large an industry with an interest in its preservation, that it borders on heresy to question it.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 156.