Thursday, December 17, 2015


                       Holiness on the head,
               Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
               To lead them unto life and rest.
                       Thus are true Aarons dressed.

                       Profaneness in my head,
               Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
               Unto a place where is no rest.
                       Poor priest thus am I dressed.

                       Only another head
               I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live not dead,
               Without whom I could have no rest:
                       In him I am well dressed.

                       Christ is my only head,
               My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev'n dead;
               That to the old man I may rest,
                       And be in him new dressed.

                       So holy in my head,
               Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
               But lives in me while I do rest),
                      Come people; Aaron's dressed.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 164.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

PRAYER: A Pattern for Praying

The following is a pattern for praying that I've developed to help me and my wife to pray biblically and cover the ground that prayer should cover (even if not all at once in a single prayer):

PPraise: Or, we might say, adoration.[1] Praise and adore and exalt and magnify and glorify God for who he is, as the triune God of eternal glory (the essential/ontological Trinity); and for what he’s done, as Father, Son, and Spirit for our redemption (the economic Trinity/the Gospel). That is, worship God and give him glory for his nature and character (theology proper) and for planning and carrying out the glorious drama of redemption in fulfillment of his promises (the Gospel of God).

RRepent: Or, we might say, confession. But we’re also going beyond confession at this place in PRAYER. In addition to confessing our sin(s) at this point, we are also doing the hard heart-work (or hard heart work) before the Lord to renounce all rebellion against the King. Our confession and repentance here find their full expression in Y (yearning) and E (exert) below where we complete our turn from sin toward God, Christ, holiness, righteousness, godliness, truth, and love. And our repentance and confession ought to include both personal and corporate sins (or private and public), starting with the private, but then moving on to public sins (both national and ecclesiastical). We certainly see examples of both in Scripture (e.g., Psalm 51 and Dan. 9:3–20).

AAcknowledge: Or, we might say, thanksgiving. At this place in prayer, acknowledge all God’s benefits (Ps. 103:2). The supreme blessing, of course, is the pardon of our sin(s) (Ps. 103:3). Acknowledging this blessing fittingly follows confessing and renouncing our sins in the last place in PRAYER (R—repent). But we ought not to forget any of God’s provisions (e.g., daily bread, Matt. 6:11). And so we ought to thank God both for his free forgiveness and for his plentiful provision.

YYearn: Or, we might say, supplication. Yearning expresses what comes next in our acronym, and it gets at our great goal and good, namely, fellowship with God. I think yearning goes beyond the supplication of ACTS, or at least it focuses what we're seeking more specifically in a Godward way. And up to this point, if we’ve been praying at all, we’ve been enjoying fellowship with God. But in this place in PRAYER—yearning—we give ourselves even more to God. We want to seek to cultivate at this point a loving longing for the Lord (e.g., Pss. 42:1–2; 63:1). And our longing ought to be expressed similarly to the psalmist’s in Psalm 119, where there is longing to know and understand God’s covenant communication to his children (e.g., “Make me to know . . .” and “Teach me . . .” and so on throughout the whole of Psalm 119). God has made himself and his mind known. And so the psalmist’s love affair with the Lord of his life is a love affair with the law of the Lord. It is an intense desire to know and do God’s will. And alongside this longing for knowing and understanding, and indeed as a natural outworking of it, comes a longing for closer walk with God. “O for a closer walk with God!”[2] We know that “it is good to be near God” (Ps. 73:28). And we know that a sweet fellowship with the living Lord is so often spoken of in Scripture metaphorically as walking with God (e.g., “Noah walked with God,” Gen. 6:9). And no small part of this is our depending on him who is the Giver of good gifts to provide all we need, to provide "our daily bread."

EExert: Or, we might say, effort. This place in PRAYER goes even further beyond the ACTS formula than did the previous places in PRAYER.[3] And it is the move from being on our knees to doing good deeds in step with turning from the sin(s) we’ve confessed and forsaken and in step with the yearning we’ve expressed for a closer walk with God. Here we are readying our hearts—and hands and feet!—to get up and go out into our world “in the strength that God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11). We are readying ourselves to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” knowing that “God works in us, both to will and to work his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Our prayer in the yearning part of PRAYER no doubt slides easily into this part where our hearts are eagerly embracing faith and obedience and asking God for his strength and grace to do what pleases him.

RRejoice: Or, we might say, joy or delight. And perhaps you’re wondering why PRAYER finishes this way. PRAYER, if it’s praying in the Spirit, will probably be punctuated throughout with rejoicing in God and the Gospel. But I include rejoicing here, not just to finish the acronym, but because (as Paul puts it) it is safe for us (Phil. 3:1). Joy is so essential a part of the life of the disciple of Christ and child of God that we ought routinely to recall and practice it as a spiritual discipline. If Paul can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4; cf. 1 Thess. 5:16), well, then, we really should rejoice in the Lord always. And perhaps there’s no better place to remember this than in prayer as we’re getting off our knees and moving out into the troubles and distresses of our circumstances. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Here, then, is a snapshot of PRAYER for your mind's eye (or perhaps to place in your Bible on a post-it note):

PPraise: glorify God for who he is (God’s nature and character), and for what he’s done (the good news in Christ).
RRepent: confess and renounce sin(s), both personal and corporate, both private and public.
AAcknowledge: recognize God’s pardon and provision, and give him thanks.
YYearn: long for the Lord, seeking understanding of his works, will, and ways, straining after a closer walk with God in them.
EExert: get up and go out into the world in the strength that God supplies.
RRejoice: “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

One caveat is in order before signing off. Please keep in mind that this acronym is intended as an aid to prayer, not as the law of the Medes and Persians. It is intended to assist with the various elements of praying and thus ought not to be worn like a straight jacket. In other words, don’t feel like you need to go back to R (repent) if you yearned (Y) before you acknowledged (A), or feel like you need to confess if you’ve left an element out. Prayer is personal, and it is particular to one’s situation and God’s guiding. But I do believe PRAYER covers the basic range of our communion with God, I seek to practice it myself, and I commend it for your consideration. 

[1] As in the familiar ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). You’ll note the similarity of PRAYER to ACTS, which is also a good guide, but you'll also see how PRAYER fills out and focuses prayer a bit differently.
[2]  William Cowper, “O for a Closer Walk with God” (No. 534) in the Trinity Hymnal (Suwanee, GA: Great Commission, 1990).
[3] And I really do believe that PRAYER, though similar to ACTS, does go beyond ACTS and fills out more what prayer ought to be, yes, including those elements (PRAY: Praise, Repent, Acknowledge, Yearn) that are so similar to ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Divine Impassibility

There was a day when the impassibility of God was impassible. That is, it was assumed as something we simply knew about God's being. But that day appears to have passed: now it seems that the mass of men and women in the know (those who think and write about such things) want to affirm as basic theology the passibility of God. And by this they mean that God feels pain and suffers emotionally as one who is subject to the free agency of others and the vicissitudes of a broken and battered world mired in tragedies.

The first step we must take, in order to decide whether or not we ought to walk in lockstep with these people on the passibility path, is one in the direction of definition. Specifically, we need to define what we mean by suffering and by emotions.

If by emotions (or we might say passions) we mean, for example, that God "loses his cool" from time to time, or "flies off the handle" (as they say), or becomes overwhelmed, or is overtaken by sorrow unexpectedly, or the like, we must assert emphatically that God has no such emotions or passions. God is the sort of being who, although experiencing emotions analogous to ours, never experiences them apart from his deliberate and sovereign choosing in line with all his perfections. And in this sense—at least vis-à-vis fallen creatures—God is sui generis. There is none like unto him, as the King's English told us hundreds of years ago.

Now, if by suffering we mean, for example, that God experiences pain inflicted upon him from without, as a passive subject of hurt or harm done to him, unable to avoid the pain or keep himself from experiencing emotional hurt, well, then, again we must assert unequivocally that God experiences no such suffering. God is "above it all" in this sense. He's out of the reach of any harm or pain that might be inflicted upon him. The aseity of God and the absolute freedom of God are unassailable. God's Godness is immutable. All that he is, he always is (God's simplicity). And no one can take his serenity or joy from him. Or anything belonging to his essential nature, for that matter.

So, at some level, in some sense, we really do need, then, to affirm the impassibility of God. For if we don't, we shall end up de-godding God. But, in doing this, let us never forget, if we go along with the cool crowd in the direction of divine passibility, we shall only be de-godding God in our idolatrous minds (for in truth God is beyond our attempts to domesticate him). And in this reducing God to the size of a giant human, we shall lose all our hope and joy. For a god who is unable to avoid pain that a creature throws his way is a god who cannot save us in our plight either. He can only commiserate with us in our misery as one subject to a similar misery. And so, it turns out, such a god is not God at all.

Yet, we must say more. Even while we seek to steer quite clear of reducing God to our size, we must also steer equally quite clear of the god of the philosophers, a deity who is stoical and untouched in any sense whatever by our pathetic condition. We must not head off in the other unbiblical direction and confess a god who commands us to "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15) while he himself is unmoved by our tears. No, we ought not to suppose that the God who lives is the sort of being who puts our tears in his bottle (Ps. 56:8) without any feeling for us in his doing so. "Jesus wept" (Jn. 11:35). The God who reveals himself in Scripture is a God who grieves (e.g., Gen. 6:6; Eph. 4:30). Yet he does so (and this point is crucial) as one who embraces the grief willingly, in total control, without his perfections being altered in any way, without a loss of sovereign serenity and volcanic joy.

Immediately an objection comes to mind. (That bubble over your head gives it away.) You say: "But how can it be that God really experiences grief if he never loses his peace and joy?" To which I reply: it must be something like what Paul says redeemed humans can experience in 2 Cor. 6:10. It must be like Paul's "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing," but without any creaturely limitations or imperfections, and without God ceasing to be all that he is in his triune glory. If we can be both sad and glad simultaneously, why can't we get our minds around a being far more resourceful than we are doing the same? And doing it far better than we do, with far more integration and consistency of character. I can't see why God couldn't be infinitely glad and yet choose to embrace sorrow in some way akin to the sorrow we suffer. It seems to me that the biblical presentation of God necessitates this sort of stance and way forward in our walk with God (for after all, we're going to walk with him along the path of life, and not with those who seek to assault his glory, aren't we?).

It is important at this point to elaborate on and elucidate (one hopes) the element of choice in God's being who and how he is. Since I've now claimed twice in this post that God chooses as one completely in control of all things at all times (including his emotional or affectional life), we need to think a little how this can be so. How can it be that God would choose to experience certain emotions in response to his nearness to his creatures? We all know that you don't just turn on an emotion like you do the light switch in the entryway to your home. Right, not just like a switch. Agreed. It's not mechanical like that. But perhaps we also need to think about whether or not we're thinking about controlling our emotions entirely rightly. After all, God does command emotions in Scripture. A lot. And how could he dare do this unless there is some capacity for doing what he commands, or some culpability for not doing what he commands?

I've already mentioned one such passage (Rom. 12:15). If God commands us to "weep with those who weep," presumably there is such a thing as choosing thoughtfully to respond to others with an appropriate emotion that fits the situation. To point out only a few others, we're commanded to "rejoice always" (Phil. 4:4), and this includes even tough times. We're commanded to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44), which emotionally is not easy for reasons with which we're all familiar. And, to cite only one more, we're enjoined to be grateful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), which really can't sincerely be done with a sour attitude. So, if we are to be subject to God's mind on these matters, we must say that at least for those renewed according to God's Spirit there is a capacity to "turn on" (to stay with the light switch illustration) certain emotions.

And so now, perhaps we can see, on analogy with what we're required and enabled to do, God himself chooses to embrace certain emotional responses that are fitting and meaningful as he relates to his creatures. If his word speaks to what we're required to be and do in line with imitating who he is (and it does), then it ought to be clear that God himself behaves similarly to what he requires of us. That is, God, for example, weeps with those who weep, as it is fitting to respond this way according to his infinite perfections and wisdom.

Lastly, we need to take a look—the longer and harder the better—at the cross of Christ. For there God's glory shines most brightly. And there we see the divine Son of God suffering at the hands of sinners. On those Roman gallows hung the God-man like a damned malefactor, tortured by mere mortals, spit upon by their hatred, mocked and ridiculed by fools, all the while suspended stark naked because they chose to strip him in their malice with the volitional and legal powers they possessed as free agents. And yet, Jesus taught us that no one took his life from him, but he laid it down of his own accord (Jn. 10:18). Moved by love, he suffered the cross because he wanted to do it in obedience to his Father (Phil. 2:8) and to redeem his people (Gal. 3:13). So, yes, he experienced pain. But he did not do so as one who was merely the subject of circumstances and volitions that neither he nor his Father could thwart. No, they planned it. They foreordained that the Son would suffer (Acts 2:23; 4:28). But they were by no means passive or helpless in this. No, as the church fathers used to say, Jesus was even then reigning from the cross.

Therefore, we should continue to affirm that God is impassible. But we should not do so in a way that, for example, mutes the testimony of Scripture that God took to himself suffering by embracing a body in order to die. And we must also affirm that he experiences emotions on analogy with ours, but without any imperfections tainting the emotion, and without any diminution to any of his perfections. Surely there is mystery here. But if we're Christians at all, we've already come to grips with many such mysteries, mysteries that we glory in. We know the incarnation is true, but can't fathom how it can be true. The mechanics, so to speak, are beyond us. We know man made upright rebelled against God, because God has revealed this to us. But we can't for the life of us see the depths to how it can be so. How on earth did a righteous man do unrighteousness? Yet, there it is, from the mouth of God. And so we bow low. And submit in faith.

And so it is with the nature and character of God. We know certain characteristics about him are true, because he's revealed these, but we don't foolishly pretend or suppose we're getting to the bottom of these things. "The finite cannot contain the infinite." God is God, and we are not.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Years ago Emily and I purposed to record things for which we’re thankful each Thanksgiving. And although we’ve not always recorded these each year, for various reasons, I think we’ve always recounted our thankfulness in one fashion or another every year since we married. We’re renewing our effort this year to record our gratitude, to write it down or type it out, for the sake of looking back at a later date at the gratitude God put in our hearts on account of his goodness.

As we’ve purposed to do this, we’ve also wanted to divide up our gratefulness into two categories: those things for which we’re grateful that we have in common with others who are not in the grace of Christ but who oftentimes possess the same things by common grace; and those things for which we’re grateful that we have only as gifts of supernatural grace through the grace of God in Christ.

So, first, five things for which I’m thankful that God gives to Christians and non-Christians alike:

1. I’m thankful for coffee and wine. I could’ve made these two separate categories, but since they’re both beverages I put them together. Besides, they form an inclusio of gratitude on each day. So, first, the coffee. I’m thankful for coffee. I don’t just say this on account of the buzz one gets from the joyful java. No, I actually really, really like the way it tastes. But, lest I give the wrong impression, I also like well the way coffee helps to kick start the day. And for my gratitude at day’s end, I’m also grateful for wine, and specifically, red wine (merlot’s my favorite). But I’m not picky about this. We get the cheap table wine from Jewel ourselves. And it’s a delightful way to unwind and end the day.

2. I’m grateful for family, grateful for both of our families. As in any family, we’ve had our ups and downs. And yet, even so, there’s nothing and nobody like family. And our families are all in all, in any event, really wonderful. We’ve been greatly blessed by our families, especially our sacrificial and generous parents, who have outgiven us and modeled what it means to give yourself away for your children. Our families are the sort of gifts from God that are seen to be the inestimable gifts they are only with more years of doing life and with having a family ourselves. We bless God for them, and bless them before God. 

3. God has given me work for over sixteen years now. And I can’t honestly say that I love everything about my work (e.g., the endless paperwork, the constant changes in insurance coverage and all that entails, etc.). But I can honestly say that there are elements about it that I am very grateful for. And of course I’m grateful for the way it provides for our growing family, even as I’ve continued to pursue graduate work now for many years and needed to be part-time through much of this.

4. Emily and I have now been married for over eight years. And they’ve been eight years of God’s goodness to me. I could just as easily have put my marriage in the supernatural grace category, because I have a marriage blessed by the gospel of Christ and shot through with many covenant mercies. But I put it here because many nonbelievers enjoy God’s good gift of marriage, and enjoy its all too often untold benefits. My wife is easily the most loyal person in my life (which is of course the way it ought to be in a good marriage). She likewise outgives me, and no doubt always will. She’s been by my side for over eight years in steadfast covenant love, and I have every reason to believe that she’ll be there in all loyalty for fifty more years if we live that long.

5. Children do not come automatically to those who desire them. This we know well, personally from our own experience, as well as through the experience of friends. And so it’s fitting to remember God’s kindness to us in giving us now two children who have survived to do covenant life together with us. We’re exceedingly grateful for our two beauties and minis: Ariana Dalissa and Grace Felicity.

And, now, five things for which I’m thankful that God has given us as those joined to Jesus by his grace:

1. I’m grateful for the indwelling Holy Spirit, poured out from the risen Jesus, who sheds God’s everlasting love abroad in our hearts, and bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. I’m grateful for his presence and ministry of leading and guiding into the truth and in paths of righteousness for the sake of the Name.

2. I’m grateful for the resurrection of God’s Christ, in whom we too shall rise from the dead. If God raised Christ, he will also raise us. Facing death and aging in our families and in our world, the preciousness of the promise of bodily life in Christ beyond the grave has become all the more precious with each passing year.

3. I’m also grateful for the local church. Despite all the faults of the church in America (including those we ourselves bring into it), it is still the place where God moves in mercy and might. And Emily and I have received ten thousand untold mercies by being a part of the ordinary life of a local church for many years now.

4. The word of God is a treasure to me. And this year, at the forefront of my gratefulness for the Scriptures is how it has the capacity to provide a coherent worldview that is beautiful and true and good. The Bible is not merely a book of timeless truths (though there is timeless truth in it). It is certainly not just a book of rules or principles for life (though there are without question principles for living). The Bible is revelation from God. And this revelation comes in a great drama of redemption that shows us God’s work, will, and ways in countless ways. The Bible is an extraordinary book. And this year I’m grateful for how this extraordinary book shapes our worldview, giving us wisdom for living our lives in this world that God created and governs, and not the one that people wished existed.

5. Lastly, I’m thankful for the free forgiveness of my many and great sins. I’m a bad man. I’m lost and undone apart from God’s free grace. And so I’m grateful this year that God’s grace pursues me all my days, reaches down and grabs a hold of me when I’m not reaching up, and keeps me for the day of redemption, for the day of everlasting joy. Again and again God works in my life to free me up to look away from self and false saviors to the only one who can deliver me from real guilt and God’s wrath—namely, Christ crucified, risen, and exalted.

Monday, November 23, 2015

You May Safely Ignore the Philosophers, but not the Theologians

The things of divinity not only concern ministers, but are of infinite importance to all Christians. It is not with the doctrines of divinity as it is with the doctrines of philosophy and other sciences. These last are generally speculative points, which are of little concern in human life; and it very little alters the case as to our temporal or spiritual interests, whether we know them or not. Philosophers differ about them, some being of one opinion, and others of another. And while they are engaged in warm disputes about them, others may well leave them to dispute among themselves, without troubling their heads much about them; it being of little concern to them whether the one or the other be in the right.

But it is not thus in matters of divinity. The doctrines of this nearly concern everyone. They are about those things which relate to every man's eternal salvation and happiness.
—Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1739–1742 (vol. 22 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Harry S. Stout; New Haven: Yale University, 2003), 92.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Grace Felicity Wencel

"We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 15:11). This was the testimony of the apostles at the Church's first council in Jerusalem around 49 A.D. And it is our testimony, the Wencel's witness, along with countless millions. From first to last, we live our lives, and we receive our salvation from sin and God's wrath, as a free gift. It is all of grace! Ephesians 2 puts it like this: it "is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not of works, in order that no one should boast" (vv. 8–9). That is, except in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).

And as partakers of the covenant of grace bought by Jesus' freely shed blood, we are constantly conscious that all we enjoy in this life comes to us from the gratuitous goodness of our triune God, who is the "God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10). And this includes not least of all the children God has given us, as we have asked him for these gifts for his glory.

And so on October 24, 2015, at 3:30 in the afternoon, in Joliet, IL, at Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center, the hospital where I work, God brought forth from Emily's womb our fourth child, a gorgeous girl, whom we have named Grace Felicity Wencel. Grace is from the Greek New Testament "charis," which refers to God’s free favor. Felicity derives from the Latin "felicitas," and means "happiness."

Now Grace Felicity is named "Grace" for two main reasons. First, as noted, we live our lives, and have our all, through the free grace of God in Christ. But, second, we have also named her Grace because she is a special gift to us after losing to death's clutches our second and third children (named Anastasis and Elisha, respectively).

Consequently, we know full well that Grace's being conceived and sustained and brought forth into this world, healthy and whole, are not a given. We do live, after all, we're reminded daily, in a broken and fallen world. We know therefore that possession of life for Grace comes to us through the sheer goodness and good pleasure of God, a God who is sovereign over all, a God who is Lord of the womb and Lord of the tomb. And last, though by no means least, we know that salvation from her sins and from God's just judgement—a salvation freely held out to her in Jesus' death and resurrection according to God's everlasting covenant—this salvation, from first to last, from top to bottom, from head to toe, from cradle to grave, from womb to tomb, from first breath to first death, from dust to glory, is all of it of the sheer graciousness of God.

And so standing in grace (Rom. 5:2), we receive from God's good hands, the hands of a loving heavenly Father, our beautiful tiny gift, specially crafted by a Master Maker—Grace Felicity Wencel. And now it's clear why we've named her “Grace.” She's a gift to us from God, and she's dependent on God's good Gift, even as we are. And perhaps, then, you've also perceived why it is that we've given her the middle name "Felicity." As already said, Felicity means "happiness." O the happiness! In our minds this middle name indicates the happiness that overtakes one touched by God's free favor reaching down when the sinner is not reaching up, and it points to the portion of one who is the object of God's free selective favor—divine grace!—a favor freely bestowed before the foundation of the world in Christ. O the happiness! And it also speaks to the happiness God has given us as Grace's parents, in the gift of her life, a life to be offered back up to him in our joy and for his glory.

Now, Grace Felicity Wencel, we shall address you directly. This comes from the hearts and faith of your parents. We would have you know the following, our heart’s desire, and also our prayer to God:

Our precious Grace Felicity Wencel, you are indeed a gift from God to your parents. And we are so thankful for you. In fact, we are doubly thankful, thankful for your physical life, but thankful even more for God’s gracious promise to you of eternal life in Jesus Christ your Lord. We pray that you will never doubt, not for a moment, not for the blink of an eye, the favor of our heavenly Father toward you in his Son. We pray that you will never doubt that God holds out to you freely the justification that is "by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24).

Grace Felicity, you have been born into a covenant home, your parents are recipients of God's free favor, and so grace is already pouring forth from heaven over your life. You are "holy," according to God's Word (1 Cor. 7:14). All you need do is receive it, receive grace, that is, by receiving Christ. Receive him just like you are now receiving all you need from your parents, without a hint of deadly doing, without trying to earn what comes freely to you, coming through those (your parents) who possess far less resourcefulness than your heavenly Father possesses.

And, remember, Grace, even your receiving the grace of God through faith is a gift of God. Faith itself is a gift. It's not something you can work up on your own (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). God has designed it this way, so that you'll never be able to brag about being saved through your own good sense, your own biological pedigree, or your own autonomous willing. No, you are entirely dependent on God’s Gift. Dependent on God's grace!

And you need to know—because your parents' lives know it full well—that grace is sovereign. It is God's doing. Just as you didn't choose your parents, so also your salvation from sin does not come by your own choosing. It comes because God's grace pursues you, it goes after you, it lays hold on you, it will follow you all of your days (Ps. 23:6; ask your daddy about the translation of the Hebrew here). Knowing God as your parents do, and how he has reached down and grabbed hold of us when we weren't reaching up after him, it is our prayer (and expectation!) that God's grace will grab a hold of you and be your portion forever.

And you need to know, our dear daughter, that this is what we've prayed for from the moment that God formed you in the womb. For all we know (and it wouldn't surprise us in the least), God's grace has already transformed you and given you new life. John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb at the voice of the mother of the Christ (Lk. 1:41). And in Psalm 22 David said this, speaking to God: "You are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God" (vv. 9–10).

So we, your mother and I, pray earnestly that you will never try to earn God's acceptance. If you ever dare do that, you will "nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21). We pray that you will regularly recall that by the grace of God you are who you are (1 Cor. 15:10). We also pray that you will know deeply in your own life that grace is not just pardon but also power, so that grace toward you will not prove vain, but be seen in your bodily labors, in your good deeds (1 Cor. 15:10). And so may you never receive the grace of God in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

Soon you will be baptized. We, your parents, will do this in obedience to the Lord Jesus who commanded us to make disciples, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that [he] commanded" (Matt. 28:19–20). And we shall regularly remind you of the meaning of your baptism. You have been baptized into Christ and into his death (Rom. 6:3). You have been clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27). And, having been baptized, you belong to Jesus, since you have died with Christ. And since he rose from the dead, you are to walk in the newness of his life (Rom. 6:4).

And now—Grace Felicity Wencel—we "commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" by faith (Acts 20:32; cf. 26:18).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Word of God and Your Nation

"Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people."

This proverb comes from the Christian Scriptures. Specifically, it comes from the old covenant holy writings that were part of the canon of the old covenant community (Prov. 14:34). That it has relevance to every nation, however, and not just the theocratic nation of Israel, observe those two words "any people." 

In a nation that has come to embrace a notion of the separation of church and state that drives faith into the inner recesses of your private heart, to be confined there for you to think sweet thoughts about it, but never to come out into public view, we see that God's holy Word messes with our hair. It knocks us off balance. It rearranges the furniture. It instructs us—as a nation, as a people—in righteousness. 

And so, if you're following this simple lesson so far, if our nation exalts sin, and spurns righteousness, it is a reproach to us. There is no neutral sphere within which American can cast off the Word of God and the righteous requirements of the Maker of heaven and earth.

Monday, November 2, 2015

What God-Centeredness Looks and Sounds Like

The emanation or communication of the divine fullness, consisting in the knowledge of God, love to God, and joy in God, has relation indeed both to God and the creature: but it has relation to God as its fountain, as it is an emanation from God; and as the communication itself, or thing communicated, is something divine, something of God, something of his internal fullness; as the water in the stream is something of the fountain; and as the beams are of the sun. And again, they have relation to God as they have respect to him as their object: for the knowledge communicated is the knowledge of God; and so God is the object of the knowledge: and the love communicated, is the love of God; so God is the object of that love: and the happiness communicated, is joy in God; and so he is the object of the joy communicated. In the creature's knowing, esteeming, loving, rejoicing in, and praising God, the glory of God is both exhibited and acknowledged; his fullness is received and returned. Here is both an emanation and remanation. The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God, and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God; and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair (End for Which, in WJE 8:531).

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reformation Day, n.

In the vein of Ambrose Bierce's The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary:

Reformation Day, n. That one day of the year when Protestants pull out and dust off the seven or so Latin phrases they know (learned from R. C. Sproul), which had lain dormant since last October 31.

This devilish definition was thought up by a junior devil who has been taking cues from Bierce's entertaining forays into lexicography.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Edwards as Interpreter in an Enlightenment Context

The following quotation accurately describes my own experience and understanding both of Edwards and the current state of affairs in modern biblical studies. Having recently completed a master's degree in biblical exegesis, it is one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Edwards.
Edwards tried to interpret the Bible theologically. He handled it not as a collection of antiquarian artifacts, but as the living Word of One who calls himself "I Am." Thus he studied it both as scholars study sets of primary sources (to understand the lives of those for whom they were first put to writing) and—in a manner more important to his daily pastoral ministry—as priestly theologians study the oracles of God (to understand his will for those who still have ears to hear). This sets him apart from many other Western biblical scholars, whether Christian or non-Christian. For higher criticism has ruled the roost in modern biblical studies, shaping the ways that even pastors think of preaching Sunday sermons. 
—Douglas A. Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought (InterVarsity, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 96.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Blessing of YHWH in Jesus' Blood

The Songs of Ascents (120–134) are among my favorite portions of Scripture. And Psalm 128 is one of my favorites among these songs. These songs were likely sung while the Israelites were in Babylonian exile when they made their pilgrimage several times a year to Jerusalem for the great old covenant feasts.

Psalm 128 sings about what it means to be blessed. Psalm 128 promises blessing. It promises blessing to "the man who fears YHWH, the one who walks in his ways" (v. 1). Then that blessing is spelt out (v. 2): satisfaction in work ("you shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands") and peace everywhere ("it shall be well with you"). This sort of blessedness speaks directly to the curse—and is something of a reversal of it! Held out hundreds of years before the Christ came and bore the curse in his own body (Gal. 3:13).

The blessing flowing to the one who fears YHWH is further described in v. 3: a fruitful family, with fruitful wife and children ("your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table"). This blessing comes from Zion (v. 4), where God dwells, the city of the great King. And the psalmist prays and the people sing for this man who fears YHWH to have long life and see Jerusalem's prosperity and his grandchildren, and for peace to be upon all Israel (vv. 5–6).

This is the blessing of YHWH for those who fear his great and good name. And that fear to which these great promises come was purchased in the new covenant bought with Jesus' blood (Jer. 32:36–41; Lk. 22:20). So all praise to King Jesus, the true Israelite, the true Jew, the man who feared YHWH fully and faithfully!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Scripture Coming into Its Own

"A doctrine develops when the need arises. It was precisely because of the conflict over the locus of authority in the church that the doctrine of Scripture came into its own in Reformation confessions and Post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics"[1] (Vanhoozer, "Holy Scripture: Word of God; Word of Christ; Sword of the Spirit," Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, October 14, 2015).

[1] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 152.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

You Don't Need to Be Protestant, But . . .

One does not have to be a Protestant, of course, to be a Christian. However, the Reformation Protestants have a vital and enduring contribution to make to the catholic church, and it concerns sola scriptura. A church that no longer acknowledges the supreme authority of God’s word written is in danger of straying from God's will, misidentifying Jesus Christ, even missing the gospel. 
—Kevin Vanhoozer, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, October 8, 2015).

Monday, October 12, 2015

Christianity: An Unfolding Drama

The Christian faith is, first and foremost, an unfolding drama. Geerhardus Vos observed, "The Bible is not a dogmatic handbook but a historical book full of dramatic interest."[1] This story that runs from Genesis to Revelation, centering on Christ, not only richly informs our mind; it captivates the heart and the imagination, animating and motivating our action in the world (The Christian Faith, 19).

[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 17.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Our Cultural-Linguistic Location in Christ

"Each of us is conditioned in our hearing and reading of God's Word by our cultural-linguistic location. Nevertheless, the most decisive cultural-linguistic location for the covenant people is 'in Christ,' under the normative authority of his Word" (Horton, The Christian Faith, 201).

It Happens All Too Often

"It is possible to hold a high view of biblical authority and sufficiency in theory while yielding a magisterial role in practice to sociology, politics, marketing, psychology, and other cultural authorities" (Horton, The Christian Faith, 200).

Monday, October 5, 2015

Unmistakable Marks of Glory

The final goal of the blessed life, moreover, rests in the knowledge of God. Lest anyone, then, be excluded from access to happiness, he not only sowed in men's minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.
—John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.5.1

Friday, October 2, 2015

Do It Again!

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daises alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), 36–37.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Just Listen to the Syrian Monk and Get Over Yourself

"It seems rather a waste of time to spend, say, five years working out a position, only to find that it has already been done by a Syrian monk in the fifth century."

—Peter Berger, as recorded in Kevin Vanhoozer's lecture, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, September 16, 2015).

Prayer's Privilege and Power

Prayer is also a way of active participation in the Son's fellowship with the Father. Praying "Our Father" with Jesus and asking for God's kingdom to come is one of the chief means of centering our heart and minds on the truly real. Prayer is also linked to the efficacy of the word, especially in situations of spiritual warfare where the dramatic conflict for hearts and minds takes place. To put on Christ is to put on "the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11), and in his inventory of this armor Paul juxtaposes the "sword of the Spirit" ("the word of God") with praying "in the Spirit" (Eph. 6:17–18). It was through prayer that Jesus had the strength to say, "Not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42).
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 135.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

No Other Drama

Preaching is a means of grace because it presents, and makes present, Christ and what is in Christ. In so doing, it reminds listeners who they are and prepares them for their role in the ongoing drama of the Christ. It accomplishes these ends not primarily by informing congregations about systems of theology but rather by forming disciples, and it forms disciples by transforming the interpretive frameworks by which they lead their lives. Gospel preaching takes subevangelical thought captive, exposing the emptiness of other narratives that seek to colonize our imaginations. Gospel preaching speaks forth the true story of the world: that all things "are from him and through him and to him (Rom. 11:36). To preach Christ is to exhort disciples not to live in the world as if some other story were true. For the disciple, there is no other drama (Gal. 1:6–7): there is only the call to follow Christ.
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 132.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why Study Systematic Theology?

Randy Alcorn on why churches should study systematic theology. I've been saying this sort of thing for years and years. I'm fully convinced that systematic theology would wonderfully equip and strengthen the church in a whole host of ways.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What Is a Worldview?

Many attempts to explain what a worldview is fall short of doing the phenomenon justice. And part of the problem is that the word itself (which suggests how we view the world and hence primarily intellectual involvement) points us in the wrong direction. But if the concept doesn't include more than one's mental furniture, or mere mental outlook, it is woefully lacking. (Another problem is that there's also no better word on offer at the moment.)

So how ought we to define "worldview"? And specifically, how should we define a worldview that attempts to connect with the true, the good, and the beautiful, and attempts to comport with reality? I'm acknowledging that some worldviews don't attempt to approximate ultimate reality or logical coherence or epistemic loveliness. In other words, I'm pointing out that there are defective worldviews. But I want, and I want others to want, to pursue a worldview that really does make sense of all things and accounts for the entirety of life lived on the stage of our world, and not one we wished existed.

So here's my attempt: A worldview (a sound one, more or less) is a comprehensive understanding of reality in word and deed. It includes the culture of a group or people. And the elements that make it up are narrative, catechesis, liturgy, and lifestyle.

Theses four aspects of worldview I've identified here I learned from N. T. Wright and Doug Wilson. These elements cover the ground of word and deed necessary for achieving a biblical worldview that is theologically satisfying and faithful. And, as you can see, I refuse to reduce understanding worldview to one's way of looking at the world, though of course such is included in my definition.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pastors, Their Congregations, and Reading Culture

"Pastors have to help their congregations read culture so that we know what forces are trying to shape us. I believe that culture is in the business, 24/7, of spiritual formation: the only question is, What form does it want our spirits to assume?"

—Kevin Vanhoozer, "Methods, Norms, and Sources: How to Do Theology" (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, September 16, 2015).

Four Fake Grammar Rules

Here are four fake grammar rules you needn't bother about. And this seems just about right, though I might wish to quibble a little about infinitives. And perhaps a little about pronouns. But not much.

I will add that students ought to learn diligently the general rules of grammar before breaking and flouting them. One needs to know the rules first before one can break them well.

But, let it be said, writing is an art and not a hard science. And so style comes into play, to one degree or another, even in formal writing.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Communion with Christ at the Holy Supper

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand th'eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

—Horatius Bonar (1808–1889), "Here O My Lord I See Thee Face to Face," Trinity Hymnal, 378.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Lord of the Whole Wood

Obama is not a Muslim. Let's get serious. But nor is he a Christian. Do not be deceived. He's a secularist through and through. His religion is American civil religion. And he likes to use Christ for his political purposes. Just like many other politicians. But King Jesus is no politician's puppet. He's the Lord of the whole wood, I tell you. And if you're not sure of this, just ask Mr. Beaver. He'll tell it to you straight up, no political pandering, no civil prevarication, no expedient equivocation, no waffling or sidestepping the matter.