Monday, August 31, 2015

Making the Gospel Visible

If Kevin Vanhoozer is right (and I think he is) in saying—"The church is the place not only where the gospel is heard but also where it is seen" (Faith Speaking Understanding, 170)—then surely we ought to give attention to those parts of discipleship or body life that highlight most brightly the visibility of the gospel. Doesn't it follow? Surely it does.

And so we should ask: in what parts of discipleship does the Gospel shine most brightly and visibly? I think the answer, if Scripture is allowed to be our guide, is simple and straightforward: the Lord's Supper, and Christian marriage. Yes, that's right. The Lord's Supper, because it is the Gospel made visible (and tasteful, and tangible, and fragrant) in the corporate, communal life of the fellowship of the redeemed. And Christian marriage, because it too makes the Gospel visible (as Ephesians 5 teaches) in a most poignant manner, in the form of a living parable that points to the greatest of all stories.

There are other ways no doubt that the Gospel becomes visible to disciples in process of becoming "little Christs" (as C. S. Lewis put it) and to a watching world. But I believe the Lord's Supper and Christian Marriage are the two main ways set forth by the Bible for making the gospel perceived with bodily eyes as well as the eyes of the heart. And so I also believe these two ways ought to be underlined in discipleship.

To this we should also add a cruciform life, where the sufferings of Christ for the good of others are seen in the lives of his members (e.g., Gal. 6:17). It is certainly significant, but I don't include it alongside the other two because suffering is more or less visible depending on calling and circumstances. In other words, in any given week or month, you may or may not see much suffering for Christ in the lives of Christians in a given church. But you should always see the Gospel made visible in marriage and the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Gospel Visibility and Formation

Local churches would do well to give an even greater role and prominence to the Lord's Supper, perhaps by celebrating it on a weekly basis. If preaching is weekly, why not also the Lord's Supper, a visible word of the gospel, especially when we have an explicit dominical command, "Do this" (Luke 22:19)? Indeed, regular celebration of the Lord's Supper may also be a means of responding to another dominical command, "Make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19), since Communion can be a powerful means of spiritual formation: "It focuses the church's attention on the core realities of the Christian faith: the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the return of Jesus Christ."[1] To get the Lord’s Supper right is thus to grow in understanding of the whole drama of redemption.
—Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 166.

[1] John J. Davis, Worship and the Reality of God, 165.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

How Reliable Are Psychology Studies?

The Atlantic recently published How Reliable Are Psychology Studies? It's an illuminating article, well worth your time, with helpful and encouraging suggestions and directions for a way forward.

The Word Made Flesh: God's Self-Revelation

D. A. Carson:
The emphasis of the Prologue, then, is on the revelation of the Word as the ultimate disclosure of God himself. That theme is dramatically reinforced by the remarkable parallels between v. 1 and v. 18, constituting an inclusio, a kind of literary envelope that subtly clasps all of 1:1-18 in its embrace. Thus ‘in the bosom of the Father’ is parallel to ‘with God’; ‘the unique one, [himself] God’, is parallel to ‘was God’; and to say that this unique and beloved Person has made God known is to say that he is ‘the Word’, God’s Self-expression.
The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: 1991), 135.

Friday, August 28, 2015


I call "piety" that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.
—John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.2.1

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Consulting the Communion for All of Christ

While the local church is a true church, it is not the whole church. It may feel like a blow to our ecclesial pride to admit it, but the truth of the matter is that no single Christian community communicates the fullness of the gospel or of what is in Christ. Local churches (and even denominations) would thus do well to consult the broader communion, historical and geographic, of the saints to see how other communities are acting out what is in Christ.
—Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 167.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Creation Care in Perspective

It is not unusual for (post)modern evangelicals to sound the alarms arm in arm with the secularists about the pending doom of creation if we don't act fast. It's commonplace, at least in my quarters of evangelicalism. And it's not that I am against stewardship of God's creation, but I do want to speak against what I perceive to be a lack of proportion and priorities.

I do believe that Christians should be good stewards of creation. But we need a focusing of our priorities. And so let's begin with creatures created in God's image who are eternal beings, and who are killed by the millions in our nation. It seems mentally and spiritually imbalanced to get bent out of shape over creation and not care much about God's image-bearing creatures who are taken to the slaughter in abortion clinics near you.

Now of course I realize that politically one issue is accepted and encouraged by many secularists (creation care), while the other isn't (civil rights of unborn children). And so therein lies the challenge. It's easy to go along with creation care in our culture—unless we're talking about the crown of creation, namely, human beings.

Many evangelicals are zealots when it comes to saving the planet (whatever that means), but these same evangelicals often just don't appear to care much about the unborn who are slaughtered by the millions, butchered for profit, with their parts sold cooly and calmly for grand and noble purposes (like buying a lamborghini). 

Perhaps even worse, many just don't want to get into it because it involves swimming against the tide culturally and politically. It involves cross-bearing. And that's uncomfortable to our tender little evangelical hearts. If we stand up for the unborn, in Jesus' name, we just might not be accepted. And above all we can't have that.

So, yes, let's be good stewards of creation. But let's not let secularists define for us how this looks. And surely the crown of creation—image-bearing human beings—ought to be the focus of our energies and efforts in caring for creation. God cares more about human beings than he cares about trees and lions. (Not doubt about it. Not afraid to say it. But, at the same time, this is not the same thing as saying he doesn't care about trees and lions at all.) And perhaps once we've stopped shedding so much human blood our hearts might be in better shape to think and act straight about trees and lions and the like.

How could anyone argue otherwise? Well, actually, no one, so far as I know, is arguing that caring for creation while ignoring creatures is the way to go. Yet the relative neglect of concern for the unborn among creation-care types should give us pause before following their lead. When these folks start giving themselves to the most vulnerable and most valuable among God's creation, God's beloved image-bearers, then perhaps we should pay a little more attention to what they're saying. Perhaps then their hearts will be in the right place to speak wisdom about creation care.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Redemptive Communication

A redemptive strategy for engaging readers and hearers is summed up in these six communication tasks:

1. Know the people with whom you are speaking.
2. Love them genuinely.
3. Enter into their questions, their defining experiences, their terminology.
4. Retell their story in a fuller way than they are able to tell it, creating dissonance.
5. Show and tell the truth of God and his gospel of Christ in a fresh and personally relevant way.
6. Hold open a door of invitation to come in.

—David Powlison, "Giving Reasoned Answers to Reasonable Questions," Journal of Biblical Counseling 28, no. 3 (2015): 5–6.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting a New Testament Vision for Your Marriage

"We must recover the New Testament's vision for marriage as an aspect of discipleship and as a reflection of God's unbreakable faithfulness" (Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 155).

Disciples of Christ and Marital Fidelity

"One of the most important ways disciples act out the reconciliation that is in Christ is by practicing marital fidelity" (Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 154).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Peaceful Planned Parenthood Protest

I participated in a peaceful Planned Parenthood protest today in Aurora, IL, which was part of a nationwide protest effort. It went well. There was an outstanding turnout.

It almost makes me want to become a Roman Catholic again. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters are leading the way in this greatest of civil rights issues of our times. I'm proud of them.

To my Protestant brothers and sisters, I'll say what one local Presbyterian minister said publicly to the Protestants in the crowd: "We've got a lot of catching up to do."

However, this is not a Christian concern only, though of course many Christians are concerned precisely because of our beliefs and convictions: we value all human life as bearing the image of God, and as given incalculable worth by God himself. 

But we want all Americans who stand for the civil rights of all people—all people, regardless of their age or stage of life, including life in the womb—we want all Americans, whether Christian or not, to join in this greatest of all social justice issues. You won't want to be on the wrong side of history on this one.

So let's follow the lead of the Roman Catholic Church and fight for the life of the weakest and most helpless in our society (which, not incidentally, oftentimes includes the women who are taken advantage of for their babies' body parts to sell).

Friday, August 21, 2015

Healing and the Messiah

In John 9, we read of the healing of a man born blind. We also read of the opposition of the Jewish leadership to Jesus, and of the fear of some of this Jewish leadership.

After the man who was born blind was healed, his parents were asked by the Jews who it was who had healed him (Jn. 9:19). And they were afraid to name Jesus (9:20–22), because "if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue" (v. 22).

Confess Jesus to be Christ? By saying he had healed a man? Given him sight? Yes. Apparently confessing this healing would have been bound up with a confession of the coming of the Messiah. And likewise in Matthew’s account (chapters 8–10), the healing ministry of Jesus signals the coming of the King and the kingdom of God.

Now go and read Isa. 35:4–6. The King has come, and his kingdom has dawned. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Entering into the True Story

"Instead of asking how the text 'applies' to us in our day and age as if the important thing is to discover how the text relates to our world, it is better to think in terms of inserting oneself into the world of the biblical text, which is the true story of our world" (Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 133).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Great Knowledge Alone Can Never Save

This is why I read Jonathan Edwards:
Whatever clear notions a man may have of the attributes of God, and doctrine of the trinity; the nature of the two covenants, the economy of the persons of the trinity, and the part which each person has in the affair of man's redemption; if he can discourse never so excellently of the offices of Christ, and the way of salvation by him, and the admirable methods of divine wisdom; and the harmony of the various attributes of God in that way; if he can talk never so clearly and exactly of the method of the justification of a sinner, and of the nature of conversion, and the operations of the Spirit of God, in applying the redemption of Christ; giving good distinctions, happily solving difficulties, and answering objections; in a manner tending greatly to the enlightening the ignorant, to the edification of the church of God, and the conviction of gainsayers; and the great increase of light in the world: if he has more knowledge of this sort than hundreds of true saints, of an ordinary education, and most divines; yet all is no certain evidence of any degree of saving grace in the heart.
—Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1743–1758 (vol. 25 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Wilson H. Kimnack; New Haven: Yale University, 2006), 616.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The New Way of Fasting in the New Covenant Era

Have you ever read Mark 2:18–22 and scratched your head wondering what on earth Jesus is talking about? I have. Repeatedly. What do his illustrations illustrate? What's with these garments and wineskins? Why does Jesus give us these illustrations when he speaks of fasting? And what do they mean? How do they apply?

Some scholars, sensing a disconnect, suggest that verses 21–22 didn't originally belong with verses 18–20, or that perhaps they ought to be taken as an independent bit of instruction. But such suggestions undoubtedly miss Jesus' point, miss the connection, misunderstanding biblical theology, the gospel of the kingdom, and the nature and relation of the covenants. And so we need not posit the kinds of things scholars are apt to posit when they cannot see how a passage hangs together.

Furthermore, some scholars, who grant a connection, think the old is Judaism, and the new is Christianity. Though there is undoubtedly some truth to this, inasmuch as Judaism was a way of practicing the old in the first century when Jesus gave this instruction, yet it focuses too narrowly on one slice of what Jesus is addressing. John and his disciples are also part of the old (v. 18), however we understand the old. And John and his disciples, we have no reason to doubt, practiced, more or less, old covenant spirituality, and did so in a way that was no doubt God-glorifying. So they point to some practices that align more nearly with faithful old covenant spirituality. But Jesus, to whom John points, goes beyond old covenant spirituality, and supersedes it. And thus viewing the old as narrowly referring to the Judaism of the first century doesn't quite seem to get at the contrast between the new that Jesus' brings over against the old that's gone before.

So here's how I think it works. The illustrations of verses 21 and 22 seem clear enough. The new cannot be put on the old; the new does not fit into the old. The new rips the old; the new bursts the old. The new in some sense is distinct from the old. That's plain. Isn't it? But what's not as plain is how these illustrations illuminate how we're to practice fasting—and, particularly, fasting in the new covenant era.

So, how shall we understand these illustrations with respect to fasting in the new covenant era? Well, I think I've finally understood Jesus, after years of head scratching, and here's my attempt to answer the question. Think it over, and you judge for yourself whether or not you think I've got it right.

You cannot fast the way the saints fasted in the old covenant era. That fasting did not focus on the Bridegroom the way fasting in the new covenant era does. "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day" (v. 20, italics mine). Is this simply saying that disciples will resume fasting again? No, no. That misses the new element. Fasting in the era of the new covenant purchased with Jesus' blood is Christ-centered. It's oriented on the gospel of the kingdom, a kingdom that dawned in the coming of the incarnate King, a kingdom that comes in all its fullness in his coming again in glory with the holy angels.

So fasting after Christ's first coming longs for Jesus' return. It yearns for the King to bring the kingdom in all its glorious fulness (Matt. 6:10). It strives for God's will to be done on earth as it is being done in heaven (Matt. 6:10). It wants—more than it wants anything—for God's name in Christ to be hallowed and adored and praised and blessed and esteemed above all else (Matt. 6:9). And it pants after the river of God's pleasures that passes through the new Jerusalem (Rev. 22:1–2; Ps. 36:8–9), that is, for God's Spirit poured out in fullness in a new heavens and new earth.

Fasting in the old covenant era did not look like this. And so the new way of fasting, if it does not go beyond the garments and containers of the old, rips and bursts the old. The old is old: it cannot wear the new, cannot contain the new. The new is new: it needs new garments, needs new wineskins. The glory of gospel garments far exceeds the glory of the old garb. The glory of gospel fine wine far exceeds the glory of the old wine. The old had glory; but the new far greater glory. And so it must go on in a new way, a new and living way, centering on Jesus, focusing on the his coming kingdom, longing for the fullness of his fellowship. Having been given the engagement ring in the gift of the Spirit, the new way of fasting longs for that Wedding of all weddings.

We might even be able to extrapolate and make applications more broadly to spiritual disciplines generally: the spiritual disciplines of the old covenant era cannot wear or carry the spiritual disciplines of the new. Christ's coming changes everything. The old had its place in God's plan. And it still does, as it continues to point forward to the realities of the new, as it continues to provide the categories for embracing the King and his new covenant kingdom. But now, with the cataclysmic coming of the new age into and driving out the old, the new age and her crowned King must be the center of all our devotion.

"Then they will fast in that day" (Mark 2:20). Now is "that day." Now is the day of salvation. Now is on the edge of eternity. So come, Lord Jesus. Come! For you we wait. For you alone we long. For your glory we pray. Sweep us off our feet, and take us over the threshold of the new Jerusalem into the everlasting kingdom of God. Forever, and ever. Allelujah! Maranatha!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Paul's Salutations

Prof. Beale:
It is generally acknowledged that Paul's introductory thanksgivings (and pray/blessing) contain the major themes to be developed throughout the epistle and that Paul's conclusions have the similar function of summarizing these major themes (see O'Brien, 1977; Weima, 1994).
—G. K. Beale, 1–2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 24.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Usage in Context Determines Meaning

D. A. Carson:
The wealth of possible backgrounds to the term logos in John’s Prologue suggests that the determining factor is not this or that background but the church’s experience of Jesus Christ. This is not to say the background is irrelevant. It is to say, rather, that when Christians looked around for suitable categories to express what they had come to know of Jesus Christ, many that they applied to him necessarily enjoyed a plethora of antecedent associations. The terms had to be semantically related to what the Christians wanted to say, or they could not have communicated with their own age. 
Nevertheless, many of the terms they chose, including this one, had semantic ranges so broad that they could shape the term by their own usage to make it convey, in the context of their own work, what they knew to be true of Jesus Christ (cf. Boice, p. 163). In that sense, as helpful as the background study may be, it cannot by itself determine exactly what John means by logos. For that information, while thinking through the background uses, we must above all listen to the Evangelist himself.
The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: 1991), 116.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Life for Yours, or Your Life for Mine

With the recent revelations and growing scandal vis-à-vis Planned Barrenhood, Doug Wilson continues to write to keep the troops moving apace. Here's a snippet from his latest foray:
God created the world, and He configured it in such a way that there are only two possible ways for persons to interact. They may follow the example of the Lord Jesus, and say “my life for yours,” or they may walk in the way of Cain, who slew his brother, saying “your life for mine.” Those are the only possible options, and for sinners the former way is closed to us and impossible unless the free grace of God intervenes. But when it intervenes, we are then able honestly (albeit imperfectly) to say “my life for yours."
And a little further on:
Everyone in authority — like kings, or parents — has been placed in a position where they will use their authority in line with their fundamental creed. And remember, that creed is either grounded in the gospel, and is “my life for yours,” or it is grounded in self, and must therefore necessarily be “your life for mine.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What Is Being in a Covenant of Exclusive Love with God Like?

"The covenant is like a marriage: the blessing is communion, but the condition is faithfulness" (Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 104).

What Is a Covenant?

A covenant is a "relationship involving an oath-bound commitment" (Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 132).

What Is a Covenant?

"A covenant, in its normal sense, is an elected, as opposed to natural, relationship of obligation under oath" (Hugenberger, Marriage as a Covenant, 11).

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Humility in the Modern World

What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.
—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1995), 36–37.

Friday, August 7, 2015

On Christian Martyrdom: Jesus Is Lord

To be a martyr is first and foremost to be a witness, one who indicates, in life or death, what is in Christ. Martyrdom is indeed the authentic vocation of followers of Jesus and, indeed, of all human creatures and followers of Jesus: to bear witness to the great things God has done in all creation and pre-eminently in the history of Jesus Christ. Unlike Heidegger, who believed that authenticity was a matter of always being prepared for one's death scene, Christians must always be prepared to bear witness in the courtroom drama of world history, where the most important judgment to be made is whether Jesus is Lord. 
—Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking UnderstandingPerforming the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 70.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Context of All Biblical Interpretation

Each particular verse of Scripture has many contexts: the verses on either side, the book it is part of, the section of Scripture in which it is found, other passages dealing with the same topic, other books by the same author, other books (even extrabiblical books) of the same genre, other writings that come from the same setting. In the end, however, the most important context of any verse is the Bible as a whole.
—John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2013), 55.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Rationalistic Madmen

"The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason" (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 24).

Original Sin

"Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved" (G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 19).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Task of Doctrine

“It is the task of doctrine to direct disciples to fill empty spaces and empty moments with redemptive speech and action. At its best, theology helps form us into people who can walk across the stage of world history like Christ” (Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 47).