Friday, February 27, 2015

Justification Reconsidered

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

So Much for a Wandering Mind

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

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

If

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

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

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

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


—Rudyard Kipling

(Source.)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Smear and Censure

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

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Preaching Free of Charge—Because Grace Is Free

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Paul Raw

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Twenty-First Century Face of Feminism

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

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What ISIS Really Wants

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden's Deposition, ca. 1436

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Antithetical to Ecclesiastical Unity

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

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

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

The following is what my wife Emily wrote yesterday as she reflected on the home-going of her grandpa Peter Wolfert:

Today I’m thanking God for the life of Grandpa Peter, who departed to be with Jesus early Friday morning. He married my grandma when I was in college and was such an encourager to me through each new step I took as an adult. Most of all, he encouraged me through his love for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Womb of Theology

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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Upsetting the World with the Gospel

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

O Sovereign Lord, King of the Nations

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

The Prayers at NCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Soul Itself Becomes a Precious Jewel

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

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

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Weeping for Joy Over That Blessed Building

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tracing the Kingdom of God Theme Across the Canon

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

The Kingdom of God in the Canon

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

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

The Pentateuch’s Anticipatory Witness

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Not Separating What God Has Joined Together

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

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

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Philosophy in the Ancient World

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

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

One of the Most Important Books a Christian Can Read

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

Taylor's entire post may be found here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

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

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

The Prayers at NCC (1/11/15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interpreting James

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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who You Are Alone, You Are

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

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Can "Conservative" Churches Be Liberal?

Ray Ortlund thinks so. And explains how here. 

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Power of One View

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Owen's Little Finger Full of Theology

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nothing Less than a Heart Transplant Will Do

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Goal of Gifts

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

Friday, December 12, 2014

Caesar Is Not Lord

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Mark of the Disciple

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

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Birth and the Supremacy of God

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

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

The Fallout of a Lack of Love for God

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Homeless Refugee with a Price on His Head

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

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hold Your Peace

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


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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

One in Three, Three in One

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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grace Come in the Flesh: Come Again, Lord Jesus

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

The Prayers at NCC (11/30/14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Our Besetting Sin

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Unintelligible to Man Magnifying Man

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jesus Teaching about the Kingdom of God

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Future of World Evangelism

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Is the Kingdom of God within You?

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

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

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

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



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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why God Allows Corruption in Us

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

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Fallout of a Failed Ecclesiology

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

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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Secret Things Belong to the Lord

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sentimentality Abhorred and Defined

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Man's Chronic (Dis)Ability to Manufacture Idols

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The King and His Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Owen:
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?

Rosner:
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

Carson:
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

Luther:
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

Theologizing

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

Owen:
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

Calvin:
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

Calvin:
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

Calvin:
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?

Calvin:
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.