Monday, March 31, 2014

The Limitations of Reason in Discerning Teleology

Toward the end of his life, Jonathan Edwards wrote one of his most important works—The End for Which God Created the World.

The bare bones broad outline for this "dissertation" is as follows:

I. Explanation of Terms and General Positions
II. Chapter 1: What Reason Teaches in This Affair
III. Chapter 2: What Holy Scripture Teaches about the End for Which God Created the World 

The section explaining terms and the first chapter on reason display close, careful, and acute argumentation. That is, really tight, profound reasoning. Yet, at the beginning of chapter 2, Edwards (America's greatest philisophical mind) says this fitting word about the limits of reason:
Indeed, this affair seems properly to be an affair of divine revelation. In order to be determined what was aimed at or designed in the creating of the astonishing fabric of the universe which we behold, it becomes us to attend to and rely on what he has told us who was the architect that built it. He best knows his own heart, and what his own ends and designs were in the wonderful works which he has wrought.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 419.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watch Me!

D. A. Carson:
Do you ever say to a young Christian, "Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!" If you never do, you are unbiblical. After all, the apostle Paul can write elsewhere, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1). Many things are learned as much by example as by word. Paul understood this point. He therefore grasped that his responsibility was not only to teach the truth but to live it, precisely for the sake of stamping a new generation. . . . Do we not recognize the principle when we encourage parents so to live that they model godly virtues to their children? It's not just what the parents say, it's what they do. 
—D. A. Carson, From the Resurrection to His Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days (Christian Focus, 2010), 26-27.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

World Vision's Credibility Destroyed

Doug Wilson:
World Vision is a parachurch diaconal ministry. This means that the qualifications for leadership apply, and not just the qualifications for fellowship. And this means that the leaders of World Vision cannot just announce one day that a practice that God declared to be an abomination is now all right with them, and then two days later (after their financial support started to evaporate) drop that position like a hot rock, and yet remain qualified to provide moral leadership. They blew a huge hole in their credibility. Leadership being what it is, they can receive full and free forgiveness — but the hole is still there. The hole is still there because God wants it still there.

They destroyed their credibility, not me. The first step in restoring that credibility is to receive forgiveness. The second is behave in a way that shows that they understand that destroying their own credibility is what they did. The third is to recognize that credibility is something that is built over time, in the very nature of the case. They can’t just “have it back.” The next thing they should do is start accepting resignations. They sinned in a number of different ways, but one of the big ones is that they demonstrated that they were and are untrustworthy.
You can read the whole post here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unacceptable Answers in God's Universe

D. A. Carson on Job 40:8-14:
It is important to recognize that God does not here charge Job with sins that have brought on his suffering. He does not respond to the "whys" of Job's suffering, nor does he challenge Job's defense of his own integrity. The reason he calls Job on the carpet is not because of Job's justification of himself, but because of Job's willingness to condemn God in order to justify himself. In other words, God does not here "answer" Job's questions about the problem of evil and suffering, but he make it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in God's universe. 
—D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering & Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 172.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Are We Just a Nation of Nutters?

"In America, we have one-third of the world's psychiatrists, two psychotherapists for every dentist, and more counselors than librarians."

—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 140.

What Sin Is at Its Core

"Sin is trying to quench our unquenchable soul-thirst anywhere but in God. Or, more subtly, sin is pursuing satisfaction in the right direction, but with lukewarm, halfhearted affections (Rev. 3:16)."

—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 81.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Far Too Easily Pleased

C. S. Lewis:
The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (SanFrancisco: HarperCollines, 2001), 25–26.

Friday, March 21, 2014

One Principal End of Prayer

One principal end of [the duty of prayer] is to excite, stir up, and draw forth, the principle of grace, of faith and love in the heart, unto a due exercise in holy thoughts of God and spiritual things, with affections suitable unto them. Those who design not this end in prayer know not at all what it is to pray.
—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), 284.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Innocent Suffering in Job and the Suffering Savior Substitute

I'm becoming convinced that one of the main reasons for the existence of the book of Job is to preserve a category in the world's consciousness for innocent suffering, not least prior to the coming of the Christ. Clearly Job's three "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2), or three stooges, as I recentlly heard a preacher call them, don't have any categories for innocent suffering, righteous suffering. No, their theological system is tight, tight, tight. For them, if you are suffering, and if God is just, then you must have sinned somehow to bring on God's just judgment. Sounds reasonably logical, doesn't it? But it's all wrong, as the book of Job makes crystal clear.

To steer us clear, then, of the error of these three stooges, God has given us the book of Job. And he's done this, I'm sure, in part at least, to preserve a category for innocent suffering in our minds, in order that we might make sense of the good news he'd be sending in his sinless Son. Having a category for innocent suffering is essential if we are to see and embrace the suffering savior substitute for who he is. He suffered the wrath of God. Yet he knew no sin (1 Pet. 2:22). He was cursed of God as he hung on that Roman tree (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). But the curse was due us for sinning at the tree in Eden. He suffered innocently, suffered righteously, not unlike Job, at the hands of satanic malice, but in a way that goes way beyond Job's suffering and Job's righteousness. For Christ alone is the only true sinless sufferer, and Christ alone bears God's just judgment for us. And so he's the only true mediator between God and man, who can argue our case, standing in our place, pleading our cause, wearing our righteousness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Keeping the Gospel Central

In a message titled "What is the Ministry and Mission of the Local Church? Foundations from the Pastoral Episles," D. A. Carson says that understanding the inestimable value of the Gospel means . . .
. . . keeping the Gospel central. Not keeping preaching central. Or keeping ministry central. Keeping the Gospel central. The preaching is a means to an end. The preaching is not an art form to be admired. Nor is it atomistic. It is a way of declaring the whole Gospel of God, by the power of God, for the transformation of God's people. So maintain a [firm] grasp on the value of the Gospel.
You may watch the whole message here. It is an outstanding message on the priority of the Gospel in the local church.

Monday, March 17, 2014

God Must Make It Burn

"Parents can only work knowledge, God must work grace; they can only lay the wood together, it is God who must make it burn; a parent can only be a guide to show his child the way to heaven, the Spirit of God must be a loadstone to draw his heart into that way."

—Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment, Kindle edition.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Are Christians Called to Be Uber Nice?

Doug Wilson:
For many compromised Christians, the uber-value is that we must be “nice.” This is assumed to be a universal value, but because an antithesis is necessarily pervasive in and through all things, some things must be rejected. So whenever someone on the “side of history” gets really nasty, he must cover for himself by posing as a victim — he reacted this way because somebody else wasn’t very nice to him. The baker wouldn’t bake him a cake with a swastika, Confederate flag, crossed AK-47s, two grooms on it. So the sin of not being nice is located with the perpetrator of the hate crime, and everybody downstream from that ostensible sin gets to be vicious. 
So Christians must not be nice, as though that were some kind of stand-alone value. Politeness is not what we are called to — Jesus was frequently quite impolite. He made a whip to clear the Temple. In Matthew 23, He gave the Pharisees the dressing down of a lifetime. He upset synagogue rulers for healing people on the Sabbath instead of doing something suitably religious. The Son of God came to live among us, and did so in such a way as to get crucified by all the respectable people. Was Jesus nice?
For the whole post, head over here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jack Spratt on the First Law of Dietetics

The good Doctor on dietetics:
Now you will often come across people who advocate ways of living or methods of treating diseases which completely ignore that [no two of us are alike], and which are therefore obviously wrong. I have often said that the first fundamental law of dietetics is just that old word which tells us that:   
          Jack Spratt could eat no fat,
          his wife could eat no lean.
Quite right! It is amusing in one sense but on the other hand it is a very vital, fundamental principle for dietetics. Constitutionally Jack Spratt and his wife are different, and to suggest that the same diet would be the best for both persons is to be guilty of a fundamental fallacy.  
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Hannibal: Granted Ministries), 9.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Expository Exultation Over the Glories of God in His Word

What is preaching? Piper provides this alluring definition:
Christian preaching, as part of the corporate worship of Christ's church, is expository exultation over the glories of God in his word, designed to lure God's people from the fleeting pleasures of sin into the sacrificial path of obedient satisfaction in him.
—John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 39.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Real Value of the Psalms

The simplest description of the five books of Psalms is that they were the inspired prayer-and-praise book of Israel. They are revelations of truth, not abstractly, but in terms of human experience. The truth revealed is wrought into the emotions, desires, and sufferings of the people of God by the circumstances through which they pass. 
It is because that is such a true description of them that the Psalms have always proved to be a great source of solace and encouragement to God's people throughout the centuries—both the children of Israel and the members of the Christian Church. 
Here we are able to watch noble souls struggling with their problems and with themselves. They talk to themselves and to their souls, baring their hearts, analysing their problems, chiding and encouraging themselves. Sometimes they are elated, at other times depressed, but they are always honest with themselves. That is why they are of such real value to us if we also are honest with ourselves. 
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Hannibal: Granted Ministries), 9.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Song of Songs Read Along the Bible's Storyline

Stephen Dempster on how to read the Song of Songs along the Bible's storyline:
In the light of the larger storyline and the prophetic commentary, notably Jeremiah and Hosea, the love between the two human lovers points to the relationship between Yahweh and Israel at the beginning: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me, and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown" (Jer. 2:2). . . . 
Short of its literary context, the song [of Songs] could be almost pornographic. But the context of the canon both restricts the meaning to the context of marriage and expands it to include the relationship between Yahweh and Israel. When reading this text, the reader hears Jeremiah's oracle, Ezekiel 16, and Hosea 1–3. There is the reminder of the passionate and fiery love that Yahweh had for his people before the crisis [of exile]. . . .
He concludes, quoting Karl Barth:
The little text of the Song of Songs looks to the end of the larger Text, of which it is a part, when "Yahweh and His people are together and are one flesh."
—Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 207–208.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Riches and Honor Nothing to Him

Pius IV, hearing of Calvin's death, exlaimed:

"Ah, the strength of that proud heretic lay in this, that riches and honour were nothing to him."

—David McIntyre, The Hidden Life of Prayer: The Life-blood of the Christian (London: Christian Focus, 2010), 106.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Basics of Greek Aspect Theory

Due to relatively recent advancements, aspectual theory has become an important consideration for anyone working in the Greek New Testament. I have no intention here to canvass the issues, debates, and positions on aspect theory. What I want to do instead is simply provide a perspective on aspect as presented by my first-year Greek instructor Professor Jon Laansma. It has proved to be a valuable reference point for me as I continue to think about Greek verbs and poke around in discussions of aspectual theory. Professor Laansma was one of the clearest teachers I've ever had, communicating his subject matter with crystal clarity, never leaving me in doubt about what he was talking about and what I needed to know.

What follows comes from the handouts Professor Laansma gave to his first-year Greek class at Wheaton College in 2007:
Aspect: the speaker's presentation of an action to the hearer. It is a matter of choice (it is subjective). It is a matter of how one chooses to talk about an action. Aspect does not describe an action realistically. It does not tell us that an action is or was actually ongoing, momentary (i.e., punctiliar), and so on. It only presents the action from a certain viewpoint. 
Laansma then describes the different kinds of aspect:
Imperfective aspect [present and imperfect tenses]: presents the action as a process; looks at the action from the inside, as if we are watching the action unfold. "I am hitting the ball." We cannot infer from the use of this aspect alone, however, that the action was or is of an ongoing nature (although it may often be). The action could be "point-in-time"—such as "to hit the ball"—but presented as a process, contemplating the action as if watching it happen. 
Perfective aspect [aorist tense]: presents the action as a simple and undifferentiated whole; looks at the action from the outside, as if we see it all at once. "I studied four years." We cannot infer from the use of this aspect alone that the action was or is momentary or point-in-time, although it may be. In fact, this aspect tells us the least about the nature of the action itself. 
Stative aspect [perfect and pluperfect tenses]: presents the action as an entire state of affairs coming to fruition; looks at the action as if from both the inside and the outside. "I have hit."
Future aspect [future tense]: presents the action from the viewpoint of expectation or intention, implying futurity in most contexts. 
Describing how the imperfect tense (imperfective aspect) and the aorist tense (perfective aspect) often function in the literature, Laansma says this:
Some grammarians argue that what distinguishes the imperfect and present tenses is not time (present vs. past) but space (foreground vs. background; here vs. there; nearness vs. remoteness). What is not debated is that the imperfect tense is usually used in narrative contexts for background (vs. foreground) action, and it usually refers to past-time action. Like the imperfect tense, the aorist tense [perfective aspect] is used most often in narrative literature to refer to background material (though it is extremely common throughout the NT), usually with a past-time reference. Yet the aortist tense is also used for present and even future time action, as well as for timeless statements. The time reference of aorist tense verbs is therefore dependent on context, and the aorist tense is not a past time tense. The decision of time-reference depends on word choice and context.
Lastly, he says this of the stative aspect:
The stative aspect expresses the speaker's personal choice to present the state of the (grammatical) subject from the speaker's viewpoint. The focus is broadened from the action of the verb as such to a whole state of affairs dependent on that action and in which the subject of the verb is involved. Thus we have in our mind's eye not merely the action happening on the street [as with the perspective of the imperfective aspect; Laansma is deploying a parade analogy here], but the whole complex of arrangements and events surrounding the parade [the view of the parade master]. It is this complex state of affairs that is analogous to the perspective taken with the stative aspect. This aspect draws the most attention to the action of the verb and thus demands careful attention whenever used.
There you have it. Greek aspectual theory basics. Thanks Professor Laansma!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The First Effect of the Power of God in Regeneration

The first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration is to give the heart a divine taste or sense, to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the divine nature.
—Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Grace, in Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith (vol. 21 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Sand Hyun Lee; New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 509.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sage Advice on Daunting Reading Lists

In their classic How to Read a Book, Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren provide (in Appendix A) their recommended reading list of great books.

Though it would doubtless be helpful to some to reproduce that list here, instead I simply want to record some of Adler and Van Doren's sage advice about approaching such a list (and send you off to purchasing and reading the book and list for yourselves):
The list is long, and it may seem a little overwhelming. We urge you not to allow yourself to be abashed by it. In the first place, you are likely to recognize the names of most of the authors. There is nothing here that is so recondite as to be esoteric. More important, we want to remind you that it is wise to begin with those books that interest you most, for whatever reason. As we have pointed out several times, the primary aim is to read well, not widely. You should not be disappointed if you read no more than a handful of books in a year. The list is not something to be gotten through in any amount of time. It is not a challenge that you can meet only by finishing every item on it. Instead, it is an invitation that you can accept graciously by beginning wherever you feel at home.
—Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 348.