Friday, May 30, 2014

The "Idiocy" of an Open Mind

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

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

When our Saviour requires that we should part with all for his sake and the gospel, he promiseth a hundredfold in lieu of them, even in this life—namely, in an interest in things spiritual and heavenly. Wherefore, without an assiduous meditation on heavenly things, as a better, more noble, and suitable object for our affections to be fixed on, we can never be freed in a due manner from an inordinate love of the things here below.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 329.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Men Without Chests

C. S. Lewis:

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

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

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gospel Hope

Owen on our heavenly and holy hope:
Hope in general is but an uncertain expectation of a future good which we desire; but as it is a gospel grace, all uncertainty is removed from it, which would hinder us of the advantage intended in it. It is an earnest expectation, proceeding from faith, trust, and confidence, accompanied with longing desires of enjoyment. . . . Gospel hope is a fruit of faith, trust, and confidence; yea, the height of the actings of all grace issues in a well-grounded hope, nor can it rise any higher (Rom. 5:2-5). 
Now, the reason why men have no more use of, nor more benefit by, this excellent grace, is because they do not abide in thoughts and contemplation of the things hoped for. The especial object of hope is eternal glory (Col. 1:27; Rom. 5:2). The peculiar use of it is to support, comfort, and refresh the soul, in all trials, under all weariness and despondencies, with a firm expectation of a speedy entrance into that glory, with an earnest desire after it. Wherefore, unless we acquaint ourselves, by continual meditation, with the reality and nature of this glory, it is impossible it should be the object of a vigorous, active hope, such as whereby the apostle says "we are saved." Without this we can neither have that evidence of eternal things, or that valuation of them, nor that preparedness in our minds for them, as should keep us in the exercise of gracious hope about them.
 —John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 321–322.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Apostolic Proclamation

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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Due Meditation on Things Unseen and Eternal

Commenting on 2 Cor. 4:16-18, John Owen instructs the twenty-first century and our worldliness:
Not to faint under the daily decays of our outward man, and the approaches of death thereby, to bear afflictions as things light and momentary, to thrive under all in the inward man, are unspeakable mercies and privileges. Can you attain a better frame? Is there any thing that you would more desire, if you are believers? Is it not better to have such a mind in us than to enjoy all the peace and security that the world can afford? One principal means whereby we are made partakers of these things is a due meditation on things unseen and eternal. . . .
Without doubt, the generality of Christians are greatly defective in this duty, partly for want of light into them, partly for want of delight in them; they think little of an eternal country. . . . Men do not exercise themselves as they ought unto thoughts of things eternal and invisible. It were impossible, if they did so, that their minds should be so earthly, and their affections cleave so as they do unto present things. He that looks steadily on the sun, although he cannot bear the lustre of its beams fully, yet his sight is so affected with it that when he calls off his eyes from it, he can see nothing as it were of the things about him; they are all dark unto him. And he who looks steadily in his contemplations on things above, eternal things, though he cannot comprehend their glory, yet a veil will be cast by it on all the desirable beauties of earthly things, and take off his affections from them. 
 —John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 318.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Know Yourself, Your Relief, and Your Savior

Owen on how to stand against temptations:
There are three things required unto this duty, and spiritual wisdom unto them all. First, know what are the especial temptations from whence you suffer, and whereby the life of God is obstructed in you. If this be neglected, if it be disregarded, no man can maintain either life for peace, or is spiritually minded. Second, know your remedy, your relief, wherein alone it doth consist. Many duties are required of us unto this end, and are useful thereunto; but know assuredly that no one of them, not all of them in conjunction, will bring in relief, unto the glory of God and your own peace, without application by faith unto him who "is able to succour them that are tempted." Wherefore, third, herein lies your great duty with respect unto your temptations, namely, in a constant exercise of your thoughts on the love, care, compassion, and tenderness of Christ, with his ability to help, succor, and save them that do believe, so as to strengthen your faith and trust in him; which will assuredly prove successful and victorious. 
 —John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 316–317.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Many Thoughts on Things Above

It is our duty greatly to mind the things that are above, eternal things, both as unto their reality, their present state, and our future enjoyment of them. Herein consists the life of this grace and duty [to be spiritually minded]. To be heavenly minded—that is, to mind the things of heaven—and to be spiritually minded, is all one; or it is the effect of being spiritually minded as unto its original and essence, or the first proper actings of it. . . . Nor do I understand how it is possible for a man to place his chief interest in things above, and not have many thoughts of them.
—John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 317.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Called to Inherit and Bestow Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Faint in the Day of Adversity

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

I'm reminded of Prov. 24:10.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reinforcing Our Natural Self-centeredness and Self-absorption

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Life! Life! Eternal Life!"

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

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

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

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Argument and Flow of Colossians

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

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

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Cry in Every Rod of God

Commenting on Mic. 6:9, Owen pleads:
There is a call, a cry in every rod of God, in every chastening providence, and therein [he] makes a declaration of his name, his holiness, his power, his greatness. This every wise, substantial man will labour to discern, andd so comply with the call. . . . If, therefore, we would apply ourselves unto our present duty [being spiritually minded], we are wisely to consider what is the voice of God in his present providential dispensations in the world. 
 —John Owen, The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded (vol. 7 in The Works of John Owen; ed. William H. Gould; Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1994), 308.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Election not Based on Good or Bad Works

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

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

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Only Lawyers

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Hale and Hearty Amen!

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

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

Saturday, May 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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