Monday, June 30, 2014

How the Early Church Multiplied

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 27, 2014

Not So Fast

J. I. Packer:

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

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Reading Wright and Recommending Reading Wright

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

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Dimensions of the Kingdom of God

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Fullness of the Godhead

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Torah of YHWH in Psalm 1

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

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

[1] Italics mine.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One of the Great Tragedies of Our Time

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

Monday, June 9, 2014

The All-Comprehensive Gift of God's Good Spirit

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

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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Trying to Do for Ourselves What Only God Can Do

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Majesty of Grace Lost on a Psychologized Evangelicalism

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Glory of God

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