Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Self, Self-Esteem, and Social Maladies

Since the 1960s, the self has been at the center. David Wells pens about a consequence of this sad state of affairs, and a significant problem:
Virtually all educators and psychologists appear to have agreed with this. Not only so, but there is now widespread public support of the myth that poor self-esteem explains bad behavior, failing academic work, acting up, antisocial attitudes, violence, divorce, racism, and the entire drug culture. All of this is rooted in a loss of self-esteem. Indeed, so pervasive is this myth, so impervious is it to the facts, that much educational policy has been confidently funded, at both the federal and state level in the United States, to address this matter. 
The problem is that study after study over the last four decades has been unable to show any correlation between low self-esteem and all the social maladies that have supposedly followed. Nevertheless, the myth is now so well established, preserved in place by so great a public desire to keep it there, by so large an industry with an interest in its preservation, that it borders on heresy to question it.
—David Wells, The Courage to Be ProtestantTruth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 156.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What Is Narrative?

A narrative is a selective record of a series of events that uses shared conventions to convey the author's communicative intention in an engaging manner. In the case of the biblical narratives, this communicative intention is usually a theological one, and the author understands the events described as having actually taken place.
—Peter T. Vogt, Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009), 48.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Long Sunday Afternoon Nap

Among God's greatest creational gifts (conjugal love, toddlers, indoor plumbing, coffee, cheese, salt, beer) is undoubtedly the long Sunday afternoon nap.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Psalm 119 as Touchstone of Biblical Spirituality

In his Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded, John Owen labors in chapter 4 to answer the question, how may we "know when we abound in spiritual thoughts, so as that they may be an evidence of our being spiritually minded"?

His answer, in part, focuses on Psalm 119:
I answer, in general, among other Scriptures, read over Psalm 119 with understanding. Consider therein what David expresseth of himself, as unto his constant delight in and continual thoughts of the law of God; which was the only means of divine revelation at that season. Try yourselves by that pattern; examine yourselves whether you can truly speak the same words with him, at least if not in the same degree of zeal, yet with the same sincerity of grace.
Then he answers an objection. But, "You will say, 'That was David.'" Owen replies:
But as far as I know, we must be like him, if ever we intend to come to the place where he is. It will ruin our souls, if when we read in the Scriptures how the saints of God express their experiences in faith, love, delight in God, and constant meditation on him, we grant that it was so with them, that they were good and holy men, but it is not necessary that it should be so with us. These things are not written in the Scripture to show what they were, but what we ought to be.
 —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), 301.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wise Love No Simplistic Pursuit

"The challenge of love, of course, is that it is so multi-faceted. It runs the gamut from taking a bullet for someone to kicking them out of your house."

—Ed Welch, "Boundaries in Relationship," in JBC Must Reads: On Relationships (CCEF: 2013), 63.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Responding to Criticism in Marriage with Gospel-Grounded Humility

Over at CCEF you'll find good counsel (as usual) from David Powlison on responding to criticism in marriage.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Mother Phobia of All Phobias Conquered in Christ

Speaking of the implications of Christ's victory in the cross over Satan, Sinclair Ferguson discusses these under four headings: theology, doxology, ministry, and missiology. Under the rubric of ministry, he says this about the significance of Heb. 2:14-15 for pastoral counseling:
The thesis of the author is that through the fear of death men and women are subject to lifelong bondage. Our deepest fear, the fear of death, is a mother phobia which gives birth to all the phobias of life. "An overdose of fear," writes Calvin, with insight, "comes from ignorance of the grace of Christ." The angst of man, and many of the spiritual neuroses of our day, must therefore be analyzed in these terms as aspects and symptoms of bondage to Satan, or as aspects of his malevolent efforts to hinder Christian believers and to rob them of their joy in Christ. The ministry of the Word, and the work done confidentially in pastoral counseling, must accordingly be sensitive to this whole dimension of Christian life and warfare, and provide "precious remedies against Satan's devices."
Christ is not offered to us in the gospel as a panacea for our fears. But he is a deliverer from that bondage to Satan which engenders the fear of death and gives rise to all manner of other fears. Pastoral counseling must always therefore have the one great fear in view, and Jesus Christ the deliverer as the divinely appointed remedy. We need to appreciate at the deepest level the fact that the words "fear not" were so frequently on his lips.  
—Sinclair Ferguson, "Christus Victor et Propitiator," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 187.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The last two stanzas of Herbert's "Easter":

     The Sun arising in the East,
     Though he give light, and th' East perfume;
     If they should offer to contest
     With thy arising, they presume.

     Can there be any day but this,
     Though many suns to shine endeavour?
     We count three hundred, but we miss:
     There is but one, and that one ever.

—George Herbert, The Complete English Poems (New York: Penguin, 1991), 37.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Satan Already Bound by the Strong Man!

Speaking of the implications of Christ's victory in the cross over Satan, Sinclair Ferguson discusses the implications under four headings: theology, doxology, ministry, and missiology. Under the rubric of missiology, among other things, Pastor Ferguson writes this weighty word:
There is a final implication of Christ's victory over Satan. Through the jugdment of Satan and his being cast out, all men are now to be drawn to the Savior—that is, men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. In some definitive sense we can say that since Christ has finished his work, and in the light of his death, resurrection, ascension, and the gift of the Spirit, Satan is already bound and the undeceiving of the nations has begun (Rev. 20:2-3). This is implied in the wording of the Great Commission. All authority in heaven and earth is now Christ's; we are to penetrate "all nations" with the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20). Satan has been overcome. Jesus has asked the Father for the nations as his inheritance in accordance with the promise of Ps. 2:8. He has poured out the Spirit on all flesh to bring it to pass, and now waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
—Sinclair Ferguson, "Christus Victor et Propitiator," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 187.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Is an "Evangelist" in the NT Sense?

D. A. Carson:
I have come to suspect . . . that we are in danger of reading back into the Greek word εαγγελιστς [e.g., 2 Tim. 4:5] what the English transliteration "evangelist" means. If instead we understood εαγγελιστς in terms of its cognates εαγγλιον and εαγγελζω, then a εαγγελιστς is simply someone who proclaims the εαγγλιον, the gospel. If we are not thinking of "the gospel" in some simplistic or reduced sense, then an "evangelist" (in the Greek sense), precisely because he or she focuses on proclaiming the gospel, will inevitably provide at least some such proclamation to outsiders, and thus be doing evangelistic work, the work of an "evangelist" in the contemporary sense. Nevertheless, such an "evangelist" will still be proclaiming the gospel even when such proclamation is not directed toward outsiders with the aim of their conversion. In short, an "evangelist" in the New Testament sense is simply a gospel-preacher, an announcer of the gospel.
—D. A. Carson, "What Is the Gospel?—Revisited," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 166.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One of the Most Urgent Needs Today

D. A. Carson:
One of the most urgently needed things today is a careful treatment of how the gospel, biblically and richly understood, ought to shape everything we do in the local church, all of our ethics, all of our priorities.
—D. A. Carson, "What Is the Gospel?—Revisited," in For the Fame of God's Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 165.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Narrative Reading of the Longer Ending of Mark's Gospel

Here is another paper I produced at Wheaton College, this time for a class on New Testament criticism under Professor Nick Perrin. It seems like an appropriate post for holy week.


I am not a King-James-only Christian (though I have a high regard for the King James Version). I embrace, by and large, the approach to textual criticism called “reasoned eclecticism.” And yet I shall argue that the long ending (LE) of Mark 16 is at least as likely the original ending to Mark’s Gospel as is the short ending (SE), and slightly to be favored, given the present evidence, on the grounds of external evidence and literary-critical analysis.[1] Delving into the literature on Mark’s ending, one immediately faces bewilderment, not unlike that of the disciples, not only over the complexity of the matter, but also over the varieties of opinions and, even more, over the lofty pontifications of many, all the while standing on a great deal of speculation, guesswork, and uncertainty. Possessing only fragments of the total evidence, dogmatic assertions of one view as solely plausible seem a bit much. We are dealing in probabilities. So I shall speak of probabilities, confessing the tentativeness of my own conclusions at this beginning point of entering the fray of Mark 16 debates. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Evidence of Degeneracy of the Christian Religion

All the flagitious [villainous] sins that the world is filled withal are not a greater evidence of the degeneracy of the Christian religion than this is, that it is grown unusual, yea, a shame or scorn, for men to speak together of the things of God. It was not so when religion was in its primitive power and glory, nor is it so with them who really fear God and are sensible of their duty.
—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), 292–294.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Double Duty of Christians

Speaking on the imperatives to "flee" and "pursue" in 2 Tim. 2:22, John Stott says this basic word we Christians ought always to keep before us:
This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. 
—John R. W. Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1973), 75. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Together for the Gospel

All of the T4G messages for the 2014 conference are now available.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Law Is not For the Righteous

One of the most important texts in the NT (I do not hesitate any longer to say it), and one of the more neglected texts in the NT (at least as far as preaching and teaching go), is 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Its importance, I'm convinced, has yet to be adequately grasped by much of the Church. And its importance is directly related to how it views the function of the law ("law" here certainly referring chiefly to the Pentateuch) and how it concieves of the plane on which the Christian life is to be lived out.

Now before I get to the main point of the text, I want to acknowlegde that all texts are constrained by contexts. That's no less true for this text than any other. I say this because this very text before us can be mishandled and misappropriated if applied to the wrong context in the wrong way (after all, Paul pens this text in this context, and not in another, or all others, for that matter). So let us not forget what Paul is dealing with in Ephesus, namely, men teaching divergent doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). These men wanted to set up shop as the licensed handlers of the law, even though Paul tells us that, with respect to the law at least, they didn't know up from down, didn't have a clue, didn't get it (as they say), though they sure acted like they had gotten it (1 Tim. 1:7).

Without delay, then, on to the main point of the text. Verses 8–11 are one sentence in the Greek with a fairly simple structure. The basic structure reads this way (the other elements are supportive or elaborative): "Now we know that the law is good . . . knowing that the law is not laid down for the righteous, but for [the unrighteous] . . . and whatever else contradicts sound doctrine . . ." (translation mine). Did you hear that? The law is not for the righteous. Isn't that clear? But it is for the unrighteous (described in the list that follows). Isn't that also clear? And the unrighteous and their unrighteous ways are said to be contradicting sound doctrine. They are the ones who need to hear the law. But those who live in line with the sound doctrine, that is, the righteous—they don't need the law. It's not laid down for them. Isn't this what the text is saying?

So what Paul is saying here appears to be quite plain, and yet many Reformed folks (and especially theonomistic types) won't acknowledge what is out there in broad daylight. And I highly suspect they cannot see the apostle's clear assertion because of their systematics (which I by and large love and hope I would shed my blood for). To be fair, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that they have nobly tried to do the work of systematizing all the biblical texts without handling fairly and accurately texts like this one.

So the plain out-in-the-broad-daylight teaching (for all to see, it seems to me) is that the law of God—holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12)—was never given for the righteous. That's not why God gave the law. If you are righteous, if you are living righteously, you don't need the law of God. (At least not in one very important sense pointed out here by the apostle of grace.) No, it's not meant for you, O righteous. It's meant for the unrighteous, the unholy and ungodly, the sinner and worldling. The lawless need the law. But those who are fulfilling it (e.g., Rom. 13:8-10) don't need it. At least not for the purpose of making them righteous!

This has implications for what's called "the third use of the law" in Reformed circles. And the main one is that we are not sanctified by the law. It's powerless to make us righteous. Oh, it still has a function, alright (e.g., Matt. 5:17-20). Not one jot or tittle passes till all is accomplished (as an aside, note the eschatalogical language in Matt. 5:17-20). But it is not God's primary instrument for changing us into the likeness of Christ. No, that's accomplished by "sound doctrine" that accords with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God" (1 Tim. 1:11). If you are living under the almighty sway of the good news of God's joyful glory, the law has done its job, and hardly has any work to do anymore.

And so the plane on which the believer's life moves is sound doctrine. But what is that sound doctrine? Is this sound doctrine the ten commands? Well, that's not quite how Paul puts it, now is it? Is it Mosaic legislation? Is it a list of rules? Statutes? Precepts? Commands? Well, I don't dare say that a believer's life moves on a plane that is out of step with God's commands or the ten words or the Mosaic pattern. But going to these commands and demands of the law is not where Paul goes when he speaks of what is "opposed to sound doctrine" (1 Tim. 1:10), what kind of life is not like the life that is lived in line with sound doctrine.

No, but by "sound doctrine" Paul means what accords with (we might say, what flows from) not so much the law (though that is true!), but with "the Gospel of the glory of the happy God." That's more to the point. If the life is lived out on the Gospel plane, it will be a life of love flowing "from a pure heart and a good conscience and an unfeigned faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). And love driven along by the engine of the Gospel of a Vesuvius-like God who explodes with happiness and blessedness has no truck with the lawlessness of 1 Tim. 1:9-10. And so it also has no need for the law.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Machen Faces Modernism in Faith

From Taylor's 10 Key Events on fundamentalism and evangelicalism in modern America, this is key event number 6:

Machen Defends the Faith against Modernism (1929-1937)

In 1929, J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)—a brilliant Reformed New Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, who had studied under Adolf Schlatter in Germany—left the school after it reorganized its curriculum, having opened the door (in Machen’s view) to modernist compromise. He would then found Westminster Theological Seminary (1929) and later The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (1936) after he was tried and found guilty for continuing his Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM), designed so that money contributed by orthodox Presbyterians would end up going to support likeminded orthodox Presbyterian missionaries rather than modernist Presbyterians like Pearl Buck (1892-1973).

Machen was a non-dispensational example of conservative dissent. He did not particularly care for or embrace the “fundamentalist” label, but he understood that their belief in premillennialism (while in error, in his judgment) was an error of a different kind than that propagated by the modernists.

In 1923 Eerdmans published Machen’s landmark book Christianity and Liberalism, arguing that modernistic liberalism was not a sub-species of Christian orthodoxy but rather a different religion that must be rejected once and for all. For example, he wrote, that the “Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all” (p. 52).

When Machen died in 1937 at the age of 55, after a bout with pneumonia, it marked the passing of an era in 20th century fundamentalist-evangelicalism.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fashioning Sentences: Only One Rule

In chapter 2, "Why You Won't Find the Answer in Strunk and White," of Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence, Fish says that there's really "only one error to worry about" in our fashioning of sentences—"the error of being illogical."

And so he gives, then, this "one rule to follow": "make sure that every component of your sentences is related to the other components in a way that is clear and unambiguous (unless ambiguity is what you are aiming at)."

—Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 20.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Pastoral Function of Theology

J. I. Packer:

"It is vital to realize that truth is for people, and therefore, the pastoral function of theology is ultimately primary."

—Donald J. Payne, "J. I. Packer's Theological Method," in J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 64.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spirtually Minded Praying

How may we know that our prayers pour forth from an internal fountain of grace, that is, from new life within imparted by the Spirit of God, and thus know that we are truly spirtually minded in our prayers?

This is my restatement of a question John Owen asks in his incomparable and soul-satisfying work on The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded. And here are what I regard as some highlights of his answer, which I give to help us discern whether or not we are spirtually minded in our prayers.

But before I give these highlights, I want to answer an objection. I can hear someone saying, "Well, now, isn't prayer itself an expression of spiritual mindedness?" And the answer is, "Well, it depends." Think (to point to only two examples that come to mind) about what the Lord Jesus teaches about hypocritical and unacceptable praying in Mt. 6:5-8 and in Lk. 18:9-14.

Now, then, for the highlights of Owen's answer:

First, Owen says that we are assured generally that "whoever believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself" (1 Jn. 5:10). "Sincere faith," he says, "will be its own evidence" (292).

Second, it is an evidence that grace within is at work in spiritual thoughts and desires when the soul finds sweet spiritual satisfaction in spiritual disciplines and duties such as prayer. Not to put to fine a point on it, Owen challenges our lukewarmness in asserting that "this holy complacency [satisfaction], this rest and sweet repose of mind, is the foundation of the delight of believers in this duty" (292).

He then adds, the spiritually minded "do not pray only because it is their duty to do so, nor yet because they stand in need of it, so that they cannot live without it, but they have delight in it; and to keep them from it is all one as to keep them from their daily food and refreshment" (292–293).

Alright, so delight is the essential matter in this matter. But how does it arise? What brings it about? I mean, we can't just turn it on, can we? Owen says that this delight in prayer of which he is speaking arises from the following three things:

First, it arises from "the approach that is made unto God therein. It is in its own nature an access unto God on a throne of grace (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-20); and when this access is animated by the actings of grace, the soul hath a spiritual experience of a nearness in that approach" (293).

Second, this soul-satisfaction arises "from the due exercise of faith, love, and delight, the graces wherein the life of the new creature doth consist" (293).

Third, it arises "from the testimony of conscience, bearing witness unto our sincerity, both in aims, ends, and performances of the duty" (293–294).

Owen then rounds off this instruction by saying, "Hence a gracious repose of mind and great satisfaction do ensue" (294).

—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), 292–294.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Read Everything by David Wells

Read everything by David Wells. Everything. As soon as you can. And more than once. He's perhaps the top cultural and ecclesiastical analyst and critic in the evangelical world today. Here is one man's testimony of Wells' influence on him personally, and a review of Wells' most recent book. I concur with the commendations. Only I'd put the commendations far more strongly. Wells stuff is tops.

I cannot express too strongly how helpful David Wells' writings have been to me after I was hurled into the morass of modern evangelicalism through my conversion, not knowing what I was being thrown into, and then discovering that it was a chaotic morass some years later. Without Wells I just might have departed from the faith entirely, or at least lost any sanity I might possess. 

So in some ways I feel like I owe my ongoing perseverance in faith and my ongoing ability to cope with the present state of affairs in modern evangelicalism to the insightful and incisive pen of Wells. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Greek NT "Utter Chaos"

Struggling to know exactly how to translate a portion of a Pauline epistle this morning, I consulted an authoritative grammar, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature by Blass, Debrunner, and Funk (known as BDF). Here's what BDF said (§§ 467):

“The construction 1 T 1:3ff. is reduced to utter chaos by interminable insertions and appended clauses.”

Well, small wonder, then, that I had a little trouble. "Reduced to utter chaos," they say. The authorities on these matters call this tough bit of text "utter chaos."

It probably just needs a verb supplied from the context, as it seems all English translations have done. In any case, I find it encouraging that the authorities and the experts note the difficulties at precisely the point where I myself am finding difficulties.  

A Supreme Regard for the Supreme Being

Edwards speaking of the supreme regard due God as an exceedingly fitting thing:
To determine, then, what proportion of regard is to be allotted to the Creator, and all his creatures taken together, both must be as it were put in the balance; the Supreme Being, with all in him that is great, considerable, and excellent, is to be estimated and compared with all that is to be found in the whole creation: and according as the former is found to outweigh, in such proportion is he to have a greater share of regard. And in this case, as the whole system of created beings in comparison of the Creator would be found as the light dust of the balance (which is taken no notice of by him that weighs) and as nothing and vanity; so the arbiter must determine accordingly with respect to the degree in which God should be regarded by all intelligent existence, and the degree in which he should be regarded in all that is done through the whole universal system; in all actions and proceedings, determinations and effects whatever, whether creating, preserving, using, disposing, changing, or destroying. And as the Creator is infinite, and has all possible existence, perfection and excellence, so he must have all possible regard. As he is every way the first and supreme, and as his excellency is in all respects the supreme beauty and glory, the original good, and fountain of all good; so he must have in all respects the supreme regard. And as he is God over all, to whom all are properly subordinate, and on whom all depend, worthy to reign as supreme head with absolute and universal dominion; so it is fit that he should be so regarded by all and in all proceedings and effects through the whole system: that this universality of things in their whole compass and series should look to him and respect him in such a manner as that respect to him should reign over all respect to other things, and that regard to creatures should universally be subordinate and subject.
—Jonathan Edwards, Ethical Writings (vol. 8 in the Works of Jonathan Edwards; ed. Paul Ramsey; New Haven: Yale University, 1989), 423-424.