Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Love this!

From Ray Ortlund's blog at The Gospel Coalition:

“There are certain things which have to be said over and over again, of necessity, and yet this is the marvel and the wonder of the cross, that however many times a man may preach about it, he has never finished preaching about it. There is always something fresh to say, always something new. There is a great central message that is always there, but nothing is so wonderful as to see that one thing in different ways . . . . During these twenty-six years in my Westminster pulpit there have been times when in my utter folly I have wondered, or the devil has suggested to me, that there is nothing more for me to say, that I have preached it all. I thank God that I can now say that I feel I am only at the beginning of it. There is no end to this glorious message of the cross, for there is always something new and fresh and entrancing and moving and uplifting that one has never seen before.”

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Cross (Westchester, 1986), pages 155-156.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reinke encourages reading

From Tony Reinke's blog Miscellanies, an encouragement to continue reading:

In an old message delivered on July 12, 1981, John Piper said:

“What I have learned from about twenty-years of serious reading is this. It is sentences that change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two. I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Secret Prayer

Matthew 6:6 — But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

These words of our Saviour are plain, and to be taken literally. Here we have a positive precept for every Christian to pray alone. Closet duties declare sincerity. The more sincerity, the more the soul will be faithful in the closet.

Secret prayer is not the hypocrite's ordinary walk or trade.

When we pray in public, there are many things that might bribe and provoke the carnal heart: pride, vain-glory, applause or a great name.

In private prayer, there is no such influence. God will reward his people outwardly for their faithfulness in secret.

God in the great day will recompense his people before all the world, for every secret prayer, tear, sigh, and groan from his people. In that day, he will declare to men and angels how often his people have poured out their souls before him in secret places, and will accordingly reward them. Ah, Christians! If we really believed this, how we would be in private prayer more frequently and more abundantly.

Thomas Brooks

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Gospel: Not a Path between Legalism and Lawlessness.

I recently read a blog entry by Justin Taylor where he performed a Q&A with Tullian Tchividjian, the author of "Surprised by Grace".

Tchividjian (and I thought Thabiti's last name was tough to pronounce!) has alot of interesting things to say about grace and the law, when asked if he thought the gospel was middle ground between legalism and lawlessness he responded with this:

This seems to be a common misunderstanding in the church today. I hear people say that there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid: legalism and lawlessness. Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, or rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace. Therefore, in order to maintain spiritual equilibrium, you have to balance law and grace. Legalism and lawlessness are typically presented as two ditches on either side of the Gospel that we must avoid. But I’ve come to believe that this “balanced” way of framing the issue can unwittingly keep us from really understanding the gospel of grace in all of its depth and beauty.

I think it’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel —legalism, but it comes in two forms.

Some people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on (you could call this “front door legalism”).

Other people avoid the gospel and try to “save” themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (you could call this “back door legalism”).

This is an interesting thought. Paul never seemed to motivate obedience with the law, he motivated people to obedience with the gospel... the law simply informs us of what sin is and how sinful we are... looking at ourselves in the mirror (as James 1 describes in talking about looking into the law) isn't the motivator to change, it's simply there to show us we ought to change... the gospel motivates to to actually change.

The end of the Q&A had this great quote, which is what I will close with: We are justified by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone, and God sanctifies us by constantly bringing us back to the reality of our justification.

The full blog entry containing the interview can be read here:

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed - Post 7

Chapters 12 and 13 of Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed were under consideration for this installment of Reading the Classics with Challies.

The previous 2 chapters were tough slugging, but these two were a delight to read! What a writer! I was 'tweeting' as I was reading and my vast horde of followers (15) were privy to a Sibbes-a-palooza! Here are the tweets that chapters 12 and 13 generated:

  • Grace conquers us first, and we, by it, conquer all else; whether corruptions within us, or temptations from outside us. Sibbes
  • Let us assure ourselves that God's grace ... is stronger than man's free will in the state of original perfection. Sibbes
  • Christ as king brings in a commanding light into the soul and bows the neck, and softens the iron sinew of the inner man... Sibbes
  • We learn likewise that men of an ill governed life have no true judgment. No wicked man can be a wise man. Sibbes
  • There must be grace to alter the bent and sway of the will before it will yield to be wrought upon by the understanding. Sibbes
  • Sibbes on the gracious man: "His life is a commentary on his inward man. " from The Bruised Reed
  • The same Spirit who enlightens the mind inspires gracious inclinations into the will and affections and infuses strength into the whole man. Sibbes
  • God, indeed, uses carnal men to very good service ... He works by them, but not in them. Sibbes
  • The whole conduct of a Christian is nothing else but knowledge reduced to will, affection and practice. Sibbes
  • ... no man's judgment is the measure of things further than it agrees to truth stamped upon things themselves by God. Sibbes
  • God has put an eternal difference between light and darkness, good and ill, which no creature's conceit can alter ... Sibbes
  • Truth is truth, and error, error, and that which is unlawful is unlawful, whether men think so or not. Sibbes
And I was being selective! As you can see, I was thoroughly edified by this reading! There was much more to consider from chapters 12 and 13, but I will share and comment on only two more passages.

First, the following excerpt describes the process through which the Holy Spirit works in the inner man:
This will teach us the right method of godliness: to begin with judgment, and then to beg of God, together with illumination, holy inclinations of our will and affections, that so a perfect government may be set up in our hearts, and that our knowledge may be `in all judgment' (Phil. 1:9), that is, with experience and feeling. When the judgment of Christ is set up in our judgments, and thence, by the Spirit of Christ, brought into our hearts, then it is in its proper place and throne.
From this we see that godliness begins with judgment which is a function of the mind and knowledge; it begins with the head. From the head it moves to the heart thereby influencing our affections and our wills. From the head, to the heart, and then on to our hands is the way I first heard it from Bruce Ware. In case any suggest that this is reducing Christianity to a intellectual pursuit, consider this admonition by Sibbes,
Not that judgment alone will work a change. There must be grace to alter the bent and sway of the will before it will yield to be wrought upon by the understanding. But God has so joined these together that whenever he savingly shines on the understanding he gives a soft and pliable heart. For without a work upon the heart by the Spirit of God it will follow its own inclination to that which it loves, whatever the judgment shall say to the contrary.
Clearly, the process is a continual one which, however, begins with the head, moves to the heart, and results in the work of our hands.

The other passage which I could not leave out of this post is as follows:
Failings, with conflict, in sanctification should not weaken the peace of our justification and assurance of salvation. It matters not so much what ill is in us, as what good; not what corruptions, but how we regard them; not what our particular failings are so much as what the thread and tenor of our lives are, for Christ's dislike of that which is amiss in us turns not to the hatred of our persons but to the victorious subduing of all our infirmities.
I love this! This is assurance; it's not about me and what I do, but rather, it is about Christ and what He has done! It matters not what ill is in me; that is a good thing because there is a lot of ill. "Such is the goodness of our sweet Saviour that he delights still to show his strength in our weakness."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't Be A Statistic: Letter to the Rising Generation - Part 1

This is a blog-version of the opening week in my new youth ministry series called: "Don't Be a Statistic", which is based on a collection of sermons by Jonathan Edwards called: "To the Rising Generation".

I am really excited about this series, which launches next week, and I thought I would post the lessons one by one up here to invite feedback and to help in working out my own thought about each of Edwards sermons. (For those of you that enjoy reading dead authors as much as I do, isn't it exciting to think of a group of 25-30 teenagers learning from Jonathan Edwards for 6 weeks?!)

Week One: The First Fruits.

"And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and walked in the ways of David his father; and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet a boy, he began to seek the God of David his father" (2 Chronicles 34:2-3)

In the above text we see three things in the text:

1. Josiah did that which was right in the sight of the LORD. There is a great difference between doing that which is right in the site of men and doing what is right in the site of the Lord. (1 Samuel 16:7)

2. How he did that which was right in the site of the Lord: He (a.) walked in the ways of his father and (b.) did not stray to the left or right. This doesn't imply he had no failings, in fact we know by scripture he did, but it implies he was universal in his obedience to God, not particular (obeying what he thought was more important or what he thought he had the strength to obey).

3. There is special attention given to the fact that he sought God in his youth.

STATISTIC: (statistics taken from Barna Research Group, and available at

78% (or almost 4 out of every 5) of Christians under the age of 21 claim they will, "take their faith more seriously in their adult years".

73% (or nearly 3 out of every 4) of people under the age of 21 who claim to "have no interest in faith or religion", claim they will look into "spirituality and religion" when they are going to start a family.

In my own teenage experience and in my 4 years of active youth ministry leadership I have, over and over, ran into a very apethetic, very dangerous mentality that as young people we can (and will) sin now and repent later.

We think that it is too hard to live a pious life now, that temptation is too great and our wills are too weak to dedicate ourselves to righteous living as young people. We tend to think we will, either at the time of marriage, or when we start having kids, eventually get more serious about our faith and begin developing holy habits later in life.

There are two main difficulties to this thinking:

First of all, history teaches us that this rarely works. According to a recent study done by the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University, 71% of adults over the age of 40 claim to be "of the same mentality and discipline in regards to spiritual living and understanding" as they were in their early twenties! This is a remarkable statistic. In other words, most adults over the age of 40 are on par with where they were spiritually as a youth/young adult.

The second fault in the "sin now repent later" mentality is our assumption that it makes little or no difference to God whether we come to saving faith and desire to serve God whole-heartidely now or later in life.

In the verse we opened with the third thing we observe from the passage is that there was special attention given to Josiah because he "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" while in his youth.

We are told in the first verse of this chapter that Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, therefore he was 16 years old when he began to seek after the God of his Father (David). This seems to be the main reason for the special commendation found within these verses: that he would seek God in the years of his youth.

In a sermon titled "Early Piety is Especially Acceptable to God" Jonathan Edwards states: "any Excellent Endowments & Qualifications seem to be peculiarly amiable in those that are in their youth . They are more taken a notice of by men in such than in others. So it is in natural endowments: when a young person appears forward and of prompt and promising abilities, this is much taken notice of. So it is in moral qualifications: if a young person be sober and remarkeable for moral motives, it makes them especially lovely in the sight of men. It seems to have a peculiar loveliness in that age... and when a young person has not only morality, but true grace, this is especially lovely in the site of God Himself. It is most peculiarly pleasing and acceptable to Him."

Why is this so?
Edwards gives us a variety of reasons, let's focus on 3 of them in particular:

Reason #1: All that we have, we owe and should give to God, but He is especially pleased when we give Him our best.

Edwards says, "Those who are pious early dedicate the flower of their life to God. Our youth is on several accounts the best part of our lives. The nature is in its bloom, farthest from any decay; then the body is most lively, active and beautiful, and the powers of the mind are in many respects sprightly. And it is very pleasing to Godwhen persons offer Him such a sacrifice as themselves in their youth."

Think about Abel, whose sacrifice God looked upon with favour. It was looked upon with favour because it was the first of his flock (Genesis 4:4). Or think about the principle we still call tithing when the children of Israel were commanded to bring their first ripe fruits and offer them to God. (Exodus 22:29) Offering our lives to God at a young age and living for Him from the beginning follows the principle of giving God our first fruits.

I know it's tough, so did Edwards, "The devil is sensible that when persons give their youth to God, this is peculiarly to God's honor; and therefore he ever seeks to rob God of this honor and to assume it to himself."

So Satan strives, by all possible means to tempt young people to give their youth over to their lusts, their depraved passions, their curiosity and their rebellion. It is a small victory for the devil if he can distract young people with sin long enough that when they offer themselves to God, they are offering an old, tired mind and body, worn out in service to sin so that there is nothing left for God but Satan's leftovers. This is similar to the sacrifice Cain offered, which God did not look upon with favour.

This is why we always see a battle against the young employed by Satan. Every generation is more wicked and depraved than the one before. Molech swallowed the babies of those that desired to sacrifice to the devil for worldly gain in the Old Testament, and today we see young people trapped in strife, bitterness, rebellion, lust and violence.

Reason #2: It is especially pleasing to God because it is appropriate that we would begin our lives with God.

Again, Edwards writes: it is exceedingly most suitable that we should begin our lives honoring God... All things should begin with God for He is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the creator of all things, the foundation of all being and all good and he alone is worthy of most excellent praise.

...To begin our lives with God is but a suitable acknowledgement of our origin, of the God who has formed us."

Here is the point, when a creature is made, his or her first respects ought to be to thier maker, thier creator. Since God has created us as rational beings, our first exercise of reason ought to be given to God.

Reason #3: When a person is pious at a young age not only is more of their lives dedicated to God, but a great deal of sin is prevented.

"When persons are pious early more of their life is given to God than if they began later; doubtlessly then they offer a better sacrifice than those who give God less of their lives... by this means a great deal of sin is avoided and prevented."

When people don't give their youth to God but spend it in sin and service to the devil there are countless terrible things done , to the sinner, to those they are sinning against and most importantly to God, against whom is the greatest sin.

How much sin, animosity, emotional and spiritual scarring would be prevented if we learned to fear and obey the Lord when we are young? So much rebellion, ingratitude and contempt of God would be prevented.

"And as God hates sin and is of purer eyes than to behold evil (Habakuk 1:13), and cannot look on iniquity, so early piety must be peculiarly acceptable to Him on this account because it prevents so much sin and gives Him so much more of our lives."


First of all, if we know God is especially pleased in godly youth, then we know he is ready and willing to bestow the grace necessary to overcome the schemes of the enemy. If you lack the wisdom or the faith to follow God in your youth you should pray and ask God for both (James 1:6). He does not ask us for something and then leave us ill-equipped to fulfill it.

Secondly this is why we have each other. We need to seek the approval and support from other brothers and sisters who have the same desires that you have. There is no sense seeking early piety if you will not resolve to be unpopular in wordly terms. Non-Christians at school WILL think it's strange, they WILL try to persuade you otherwise... we must recognize this as the very scheme of the enemy to counteract your desire to serve God at a young age.

If Only

If only all reviews and critiques of each other's work could be done in such a gracious and loving way. This is a great read, not only for the content but also for the way in which both sides tackle the concerns.

Quotes from The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit

These quotes come from chapter 3; A Discovery to the Men of the World, Whereby They May See that Their Spirits Are Not Like the Spirits of Godly Men. If that isn't a puritan chapter title, I don't know what is! This particular chapter can be found in The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit by Jeremiah Burroughs (Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit: Delivered in a Treatise on Numbers 14:24. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995. Print.)

The point of this chapter is summed up succinctly in the chapter's opening sentence, "Hence, let the men of the world see there is a great difference between their spirits and the spirits of the godly." (57) From there, Burroughs continues to elaborate on the differences in their spirits.
Perhaps your lands, your houses may be worth something, but what are your hearts worth? They are worth nothing, full of chaff and dross. They are like children's pockets, full of stones and dirt, while the spirits of the godly are storehouses of the most choice and precious treasures. (58)

How many men or women have fair, comely bodies, a good complexion, and are beautifully dressed up, but within their spirits are most ugly and horrid, full of filth, full of venom and loathsome distemper? (58)

If the Lord should give men a view of the horrid deformity and filthiness of their spirits, it would amaze them and sink their hearts in woeful horror. (58)

If men's bodies were deformed, and ran with loathsome issues and putrefied sores, how dejected would they be in their own thoughts! But certainly this spirit defilement is worse. If men's bodies were so putrefied that they bred vermin continually, how grievous would it be to them? Their spirits have these loathsome diseases upon them by which they are infinitely more miserable. If they had such a distemper of body that their excrements came from them when they knew not of it, this would be accounted a grievous evil. But their spirits are so corrupt that much filth comes from them and they know not of it. Many of them are so deeply putrefied in their spirits that they usually swear and speak filthily and know not of it. (59)

Soul diseases, of all disease, are the greatest evils and usually prove deadly. Yea, the least spirit-corruption would certainly prove deadly were it not for the application of that blood that is more precious than ten thousand worlds. (59)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sam Storms Sermons

In our small group we have been taking a look at spiritual gifts. The last two meetings we listened to a couple of Sam Storms sermons. These sermons seem to be from a mini-conference or weekend at Sovereign Grace Church in Apex, North Carolina.

There are four sermons and their titles are:
  1. He Is Able
  2. The Gift of Tongues
  3. Gifts of the Spirit
  4. 24 Reasons To Be a Continuationist

We have only listened to #2 and #4. They are both good messages, but the sermon on tongues is particularly so. The sermons can be listened to or downloaded here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Christianity and Liberalism I - Doctrine I

This is my second post on Christianity and Liberalism by J Gresham Machen. In Chapter 1 of his work, entitled 'Doctrine', he makes a compelling argument that Christianity cannot be separated from doctrine. As a quick overview, in this chapter Machen skillfully counters those who erroneously feel:
1. Doctrine is irrelevant because all doctrine are basically the same
2. Doctrine is irrelevant because Christianity is a "life" not a "doctrine"
3. The early church did not have doctrine
4. Paul created doctrine apart from or different from the early church
5. Rather than have doctrine we should go "Back to Jesus"

He concludes with 2 warnings about what adhering to the doctrinal basis of Christianity does not mean:
1. It does not mean that if doctrine is sound it makes no difference about life
2. In insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important.

Early on in reading this chapter, I realized I had a different idea of "doctrine" than Machen. I'm still wrestling with the subtlety of the difference but I think it is a significant difference nonetheless. Here's the difference:

Cherry: Christian doctrine is the belief or set of beliefs held and taught by the Christian church
Machen: Christian doctrine is historical events and the meaning of those events

For the record, I like Machen's definition better than mine.

The differences in our definitions might become more obvious with the following quotes which I found compelling. They are used to punctuate two of the sections mentioned above but here they are in isolation (emphasis mine):

"Christ died for our sins," said the primitive disciples, "according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name "gospel" or "good news" implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine. "Christ died"-that is history; "Christ died for our sins"-that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried" - that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me" - that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church

Machen continues to weave the 'definition of doctrine' into the 'defence of doctrine' throughout this chapter. I find his definition more robust than mine because it quickly points out the common areas that are attacked in Christian beliefs - the historicity of the events, the meaning of those events and the need for both.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sanctification from Justification

I came across this gem while browsing Dane Ortlund's blog Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology.

Stewart: Justification Sanctifies

[S]anctification is not a new thing, but simply the unfolding, by the operation of the Spirit, of something already present. It is God's justifying verdict itself which sanctifies. . . .

It is precisely because God waits for no guarantees but pardons out-and-out, because He dares to trust a man who has no claim or right to trust at all--it is because of this that forgiveness regenerates, and justification sanctifies.

--James S. Stewart, A Man in Christ: The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion (New York: Harper, 1935), 258, 259-60

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hidden in Christ

I have been reading through Colossians in my devotions and have been really enjoying a commentary by Douglas Moo as a complimentary reading. The Letter to the Colossians and to Philemon (Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2008. Print.) has been very helpful and edifying as a resource.

Today I read through the following passage;

Colossians 3:1-4

Put On the New Self

3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Of the many interesting, thought provoking, spirit-building concepts in these verses, the one that caught my attention was pertaining to being 'hidden in Christ'. I really appreciated the excerpt below that Moo has written about this idea.

As we noted in our comments on 1:26, this "hidden"/"revealed" motif is fundamental to the widespread Jewish apocalyptic worldview. According to this perspective, many things relating to God and his purposes exist in the present, but because they are in heaven, they are hidden from human sight. But the apocalyptic seer is given a vision of these things, things that will one day be revealed as they come to pass and are seen by people on earth. So, Paul suggests, at the present time our heavenly identity is real, but hidden. We have certainly not been physically transported to heaven; nor do we, who belong to the heavenly realm, look any different from those around us who still belong to this world. Verse 4 affirms that this will one day change. In the meantime, our true status is veiled; and though we may not look any different than those around us, Paul's point in this context is that we certainly need to behave differently. (250, emphasis mine)

I really appreciated Moo's focus on the working out of our salvation in practical terms that originated in a very mysterious and spiritual truth. Yes, we are hidden in Christ. And yes, that is a powerfully true reality for which we can be grateful. But, though we are seated at the right hand of God in Christ, we live and act on earth and are required to think and act as the citizens of heaven that we are.

Friday, May 21, 2010

CJ Mahaney on "Christian Therapy"

Well as Jude pointed out in a recent post, I "used" to post on this blog!

I have resolved on several occasions to "get back into" the habit of blogging, I do find it helpful, valuable, and certainly a worthwhile discipline. So here I go again.

I am planning to blog over the next week or so, a 6 part series I recently created for the youth ministry at our church called: "Don't be a Statistic". It links real statistics about Christians in general, and more specifically Christian teenagers to a sermon by Jonathan Edwards in his compilation called "To the Rising Generation".

The point of the series is to challenge my youth to pursue God whole-heartidely now in a generation that has a "sin now, repent later" mentality.

Anyway, the point of this post is to vocalize my intent to get back into this habit and to invite feedback about the series as I post on it.

I also wanted to share a youtube clip I really enjoyed. The background music is distracting and I wish it wasn't there, but CJ's talking about the danger of worldly phycology that is going on in the church... I love this man:

Chandler on spiritual gifts

Peter Cockrell had an interesting post on his blog Already Not Yet. It is a video of Matt Chandler speaking about spiritual gifts. Our small group has been studying spiritual gifts and it has been an interesting a beneficial journey.

Matt Chandler on being a reformed charismatic without much of a seatbelt from Adrian Warnock on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed - Post 6

This 6th post concerning The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes is developed from the 10th and 11th chapters. In the final paragraphs of chapter 11 Sibbes discusses the relationship between Justification and Sanctification. I have included this whole section below.


This also shows that those are misled that make Christ to be only righteousness to us and not sanctification, except by imputation, whereas it is a great part of our happiness to be under such a Lord, who was not only born for us, and given to us, but has the government likewise upon his shoulder (Isa. 9:6,7). He is our Sanctifier as well as our Saviour, our Saviour as well by the effectual power of his Spirit from the power of sin as by the merit of his death from the guilt thereof; provided these things are remembered:

1. The first and chief ground of our comfort is that Christ as a priest offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father for us. The guilty soul flies first to Christ crucified, made a curse for us. Thence it is that Christ has right to govern us; thence it is that he gives us his Spirit as our guide to lead us home.

2. In the course of our life, after we are in a state of grace, if we are overtaken with any sin, we must remember to have recourse first to Christ's mercy to pardon us, and then to the promise of his Spirit to govern us.

3. And when we feel ourselves cold in affection and duty, the best way is to warm ourselves at this fire of his love and mercy in giving himself for us.

4. Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. The constraint that he lays upon his subjects is that of love. He draws us sweetly with the cords of love. Yet remember also that he draws us strongly by a Spirit of power, for it is not sufficient that we have motives and encouragements to love and obey Christ from that love of his, whereby he gave himself for us to justify us; but Christ's Spirit must likewise subdue our hearts, and sanctify them to love him, without which all motives would be ineffectual.

Our disposition must be changed. We must be new creatures. They seek for heaven in hell that seek for spiritual love in an unchanged heart. When a child obeys his father it is from reasons persuading him, as likewise from a child like nature which gives strength to these reasons. It is natural for a child of God to love Christ so far as he is renewed, not only from inducement of reason so to do, but likewise from an inward principle and work of grace, whence those reasons have their chief force. First we are made partakers of the divine nature, and then we are easily induced and led by Christ's Spirit to spiritual duties.

A few comments concerning this passage:
  • I found his first point, #1 above, quite profound. Even Christ's right to govern us is found in the cross. Though He is God the Son, and we were created for Him and by Him, nevertheless it is His work on Calvary to which He points for His right to govern us. The cross.
  • Christ governance and our sanctification should go hand-in-hand; with justification comes sanctification. This is the point made in #2 above. His forgiving grace is followed immediately by his governing rule in our hearts. How often we try and separate what "God has joined together."
  • In point #4 Sibbes shows us that we have been given the Spirit of love but also the Spirit of power; love for justification and power for sanctification. Where would we be without the Holy Spirit?
  • It is the renewed heart, the regenerated life, that is the only soul capable of obeying Christ. Thus, our regeneration must precede our justification which in turn must precede our sanctification. Fortunately for us, both regeneration and justification were a one-time event giving us hope for our sanctification

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's better than a good friend?

A good friend who buys you books!

As mentioned, I recently blogged a bit from a book that Chris, a fellow blogger on this site, bought me at T4G. But Chris isn't the only friend I have who buys me books. Nathaniel, who if memory serves me correctly used to post up on this site, also got me a book at T4G: The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit by Jeremiah Burroughs (Burroughs, Jeremiah. The Excellency of a Gracious Spirit: Delivered in a Treatise on Numbers 14:24. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995. Print.)

In the first chapter of this book by this well-known puritan, we are introduced to the following 'doctrine' which Burroughs will go on to explain and defend: It is the excellency of godly men to be men of other spirits, of choice spirits, differing from the common spirits of the world.

Burroughs uses the term "men of other spirits" because of the verse in Numbers that reads, "But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land whereinto he went; and his seed shall possess it." (Numbers 14:24)

Burroughs focuses on the 'otherness' of Caleb's spirit; what it was that made it different from those who brought back a negative report from the promised land.

Burroughs begins by differentiating the godly man's spirit from the spirit of the ungodly:
  1. "First, this other spirit has other principles, a better principle than the principle of the world." (6)
  2. "Second, this other spirit works by another rule." (8)
  3. "Third, it is "another spirit," that is, employed about other things." (9)
  4. "Fourth, this spirit is carried to other ends." (11)

Of these first four points, I found the fourth point most engaging. Here are a few quotes from that section.
At the highest point, the most excellent of the heathens, who had the most brave spirits the world had in their time, aimed no higher than to work according to reason, to satisfy the dictates of rational principles and a natural conscience. (11)

It is the glory of God to be the first cause and last end, and to work from Himself and for Himself. (11)

God has made the world so that He might have some creatures to make Him the highest and last end of all. (11)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Apple, Macs, and Steve Jobs ... iWhatever!

I'm not a big fan of Apple and all of their 'stuff'. But I have to say, this post by Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds has me rethinking my stance:

Pete from Grace City has a post about Steve Jobs, Apple, and porn. An excerpt:

Jobs has argued that he wants his portable computer devices to not sell or stock pornography.

When a critic emailed him to say that this infringed his freedoms, Jobs emailed back and told him to buy a different type of computer.

Steve Jobs is a fan of Bob Dylan. So one customer emailed him to ask how Dylan would feel about Jobs’ restrictions of customers’ freedoms.

The CEO of Apple replied to say that he values:

‘Freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin’ and some traditional PC folks feel their world is slipping away. It is.’

The interlocuter replied:

“I don’t want ‘freedom from porn’. Porn is just fine! And I think my wife would agree.”

In the most revealing line, Steve Jobs dismissed the critic thus:

“You might care more about porn when you have kids.”

Pause for a moment and consider what the above emails represent.

The CEO of one of the wealthiest, most successful international companies, responds to the email of a customer. Business prospers on the mantra ‘The customer is always right.’ Business wants the customers’ money.

But in this case, over the moral issue of pornography, Jobs is happy to tell customers to buy a different product. He argues that children and innocence ought to be preserved—and that trumps the dollar.

Google (with their motto ‘Don’t be evil’) rake in billions through pornography. Ranks of employees spend their time categorising and arranging advertising for pornography. (I know, I spent some time discussing the difficulties posed to a Christian who worked in their UK HQ.) Pornography is huge business, yet here is the CEO of Apple telling the pornography businesses to take their dollars elsewhere.

Good for Jobs.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that one cannot access such things on an iPhone. If this is a temptation for you, you might want to consider something like the free app, x3watch, recommended by Andy Naselli in his post on filtering software and other apps.

Update: Just remembered a link that might be of interest (though it doesn’t have to do with the issue of porn and Apple.) Here’s an open letter that Josh Harris recently wrote to Steve Jobs, thanking him for his work and inviting him to worship the Savior.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Great post at The Puritan's Woodshop

this was posted at The Puritan's Woodshop:

Charles H. Spurgeon understood that just because our minds cannot get a grip on the harmony of truth it does not mean that they are simply contradictory. He sees God predestinating and the responsibility of man as harmonious. He writes in his autobiography:

“That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory, but they are not. The fault is in our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and I find that in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other. I do not believe they can ever be welded into one upon any earthly anvil, but they certainly shall be one in eternity. They are two lines that so nearly parallel, that the human mind which pursues them farthest will never discover that they converge, but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.” (C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography: Volume 1: The Early Years; Banner of Truth; page 174)

I think Spurgeon had it right here. All truth meets at the cross.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Godly Jealousy by K. Erik Thoennes - Conclusions

Having finished Godly Jealousy by K. Erik Thoennes(Thoennes, K. Erik. Godly Jealousy: a Theology of Intolerant Love. Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005. p216), I will share some of Thoennes material from the the final chapter of the book. In this chapter he makes some concluding remarks that help the reader sum up the major themes of the book.

Thoennes narrows his work down to four main conclusions:
  1. the theocentric perspective at the heart of godly jealousy
  2. the legitimacy of this deeply felt godly emotion
  3. the rejection of religious pluralism
  4. limitations and applications

Here are some quotes from the concluding material:

"We have seen that God's primary goal in human history, a goal for which he is intensely jealous, is his own glory and honor. This jealousy is foundational to all godly jealousy. God desires the fidelity of his people because he loves them, but ultimately because he is most glorified when they ascribe to him the honor that belongs to him alone." (258)

"Any cause of Scripture is part of the greater purpose of displaying God's glory. God is righteous, and therefore values above all else what is of ultimate value." (258)

"God's jealousy for his glory does not conflict with his love. God is unique in that he alone is able to perfectly love while seeking his own glory. God's perfect justice and love necessitate his own self-exaltation." (259)

"God's ardent interest in his own glory and honor is a part of his eternal nature. However, before creation, God's jealousy would have not had occasion for expression. The perfect expression of relationship within the triune godhead would have left no place for God's jealousy to be provoked. After creation, God's jealousy is provoked by his finite creatures who deny him his rightful honor.From God's jealous reaction to Satan's rebellion ... to the final, violent reclaiming of his kingdom ... this jealous reaction to an abrogation of his honor is present throughout the history of redemption. God's intense desire to protect his own glory ... is not a peripheral or accidental attribute. It is a necessary attribute of his divine nature and a necessary aspect of divine love." (275)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Edwards on Election

Make God the peculiar object of your praises. The doctrine shows what great reason you have to do so. If God so values you, sets so much by you, has bestowed greater mercy upon you than on all the ungodly in the world, is it too little a requital for you to make God the peculiar object of your praise and thankfulness? If God so distinguishes you with his mercies, you ought to distinguish yourself in his praises. You should make it your great care and study how to glorify that God who has been so peculiarly merciful to you. And this, rather, because there was nothing peculiar in you differing from any other person that moved God to deal thus peculiarly by you: you were just as unworthy to set by as thousands of others that are not regarded of God, and are cast away by him forever as worthless and filthy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

By Faith

Now faith is 'the assurance of things hoped for'. It helps to be content before we receive our distant and future comforts. A Christian has tasted how sweet God is in Christ, therefore he groans after the full enjoyment of him. Faith is, in every way, as sure as actual fulfilment, though not as sweet. In faith, a believer waits as long as God has anything for him to do in this world, upon this security of faith. It is true he is in a strait, and his desires press him, yet he will wait. Thus St. Paul:'I am hard pressed ... to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better' (Phil. 1:23-24). Many men say they believe this, but alas, how does that belief influence him? Does it affect him like things that are present and enjoyable do? Alas, in general, things temporal work more upon us that things eternal, and the things visible than things invisible. A small matter will prove to be a temptation, and a little pleasure or profit will greatly motivate us. We do not have half the seriousness in spiritual things as in earthly. Surely men do not cherish heaven since they labour and care for it so little. Alas! They live as if they have never heard of such a thing, or do not believe what they hear, since every toy and trifle is preferred before it. If a poor man understood that some great inheritance was bequeathed to him, would he not often think of it, and rejoice in it and long to take possession of it? The promise of eternal life is left with us in the gospel, but who puts in for a share? Who longs for it? Who takes hold of it? Who gives all diligence to make sure of it? Who desires to go and see it? O, that I might be dissolve, and be with Christ! If these hopes have so little an influence on us, it is a sign we do not cherish them more in our hearts.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed - Post 5

This is, as the title mentions, the fifth post of this series of Reading the Classics with Challies. We are reading The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes and this post concerns itself with chapters 9 and 10. More specifically, this post concerns itself with a short section of chapter 9 though this week's reading included both 9 and 10.

The section with which I and this post am concerned is introduced by Sibbes as such, "From what has been said it will not be difficult, with a little further discussion, to resolve that question which some require help in, namely, whether we ought to perform duties when our hearts are altogether averse to them." This question, of whether or not to perform duties if we don't feel like it, is a question that I have often thought about. My inclination has usually been to do the duty and work the details out later. Well, perhaps Sibbes can help me work out some of the details.

Sibbes declares that we should persist in our duties and gives us 4 reasons why he believes thus. The first reason he explains by writing, "Our hearts of themselves are reluctant to give up their liberty, and are only with difficulty brought under the yoke of duty. The more spiritual the duty is, the more reluctance there is. Corruption gains ground, for the most part, in every neglect." Basically, according to this puritan author, our heart are corrupt and will always be reluctant to fulfill duties and we should therefore lean towards persisting in them. He adds that neglect of duties can only lead to corruption increasing. Pretty straightforward counsel if you ask me. Sibbes concludes, "therefore it is good to keep our hearts close to duty, and not to listen to the excuses they are ready to frame"

Sibbes second point is framed, "As we set about duty, God strengthens the influence that he has in us." the act of persisting in our duties avails ourselves to God's gracious influence. This may be particularly true when we don't feel like it: "God often delights to take advantage of our averseness, that he may manifest his work the more clearly, and that all the glory of the work may be his, as all the strength is his."

Third, Sibbes suggests that obedience without the benefit of feeling good about it indicates true obedience. "Obedience is most direct when there a nothing else to sweeten the action. Although the sacrifice is imperfect, yet the obedience with which it is offered is accepted." A duty done in obedience despite an unwilling heart is not frowned upon by God.

Fourthly and finally, Sibbes writes, "What is won as a spoil from our corruptions will have as great a degree of comfort afterwards as it has of obstruction for the present." Though we may inwardly resist the continuing in our duties, the rewards in persisting will recompense the difficulty in performing. sibbes goes on, "Feeling and freeness of spirit are often reserved until duty is discharged. Reward follows work. In and after duty we find that experience of God's presence which, without obedience, we may long wait for, and yet go without." Sibbes finishes this point with an analogy, "As in sailing the hand must be to the helm and the eye to the star, so here we must put forth that little strength we have to duty and look up for assistance, which the Spirit, as freely as seasonably, will afford." The Spirit will help us with our meager attempts at persisting in our duties.

According to this puritan, we should persist in our duties despite our heart's aversion to them because: our hearts will always resist them and if we succumb where would we be left; God can work on us as we obey him in the performance of our duties; obedience is direct when we don't feel like doing our duties but do them anyway; and there will be reward for persevering.

This has brought some clarity to the question we started with. At least, it has for me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Phineas and Religious Pluralism

"Perhaps the most important application for the contemporary Christian of Elijah's confrontation with the Baal prophets is the absolute rejection of religious pluralism that it portrays."

(Thoennes, K. Erik. Godly Jealousy: a Theology of Intolerant Love
. Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005. p216)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Gospel Coalition's Vision for Ministry - part 5 and Conclusion

The excerpt below is from the Gospel Coalition's Theological Vision for Ministry. See part 3 and 4 here.

V. What is gospel–centered ministry?

It is characterized by:

  1. Empowered corporate worship.

    The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel–centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God’s people receive a special life–transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ–centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God.

  2. Evangelistic effectiveness.

    Because the gospel (unlike religious moralism) produces people who do not disdain those who disagree with them, a truly gospel–centered church should be filled with members who winsomely address people’s hopes and aspirations with Christ and his saving work. We have a vision for a church that sees conversions of rich and poor, highly educated and less educated, men and women, old and young, married and single, and all races. We hope to draw highly secular and postmodern people, as well as reaching religious and traditional people. Because of the attractiveness of its community and the humility of its people, a gospel–centered church should find people in its midst who are exploring and trying to understand Christianity. It must welcome them in hundreds of ways. It will do little to make them “comfortable” but will do much to make its message understandable. In addition to all this, gospel–centered churches will have a bias toward church planting as one of the most effective means of evangelism there is.

  3. Counter–cultural community.

    Because the gospel removes both fear and pride, people should get along inside the church who could never get along outside. Because it points us to a man who died for his enemies, the gospel creates relationships of service rather than of selfishness. Because the gospel calls us to holiness, the people of God live in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus the gospel creates a human community radically different from any society around it.

    Regarding sex, the church should avoid both the secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of it. It is a community which so loves and cares practically for its members that biblical chastity makes sense. It teaches its members to conform their bodily being to the shape of the gospel—abstinence outside of heterosexual marriage and fidelity and joy within.

    Regarding the family, the church should affirm the goodness of marriage between a man and a woman, calling them to serve God by reflecting his covenant love in life–long loyalty, and by teaching his ways to their children. But it also affirms the goodness of serving Christ as singles, whether for a time or for a life. The church should surround all persons suffering from the fallenness of our human sexuality with a compassionate community and family.

    Regarding money, the church’s members should engage in radical economic sharing with one another—so “there are no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). Such sharing also promotes a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.

    Regarding power, it is visibly committed to power–sharing and relationship–building among races, classes, and generations that are alienated outside of the Body of Christ. The practical evidence of this is that our local churches increasingly welcome and embrace people of all races and cultures. Each church should seek to reflect the diversity of its local geographical community, both in the congregation at large and in its leadership.

  4. The integration of faith and work.

    The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen 1:2; Psalm 104:30). Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good. Too many Christians have learned to seal off their faith–beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as the foundation of a worldview—a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do. But we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data–entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ (CS–[13]).

  5. The doing of justice and mercy.

    God created both soul and body, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is concerned not only for the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not generously give away his or her wealth to others is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unjust. Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth through giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost. We cannot look at the poor and the oppressed and callously call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way. The gospel replaces superiority toward the poor with mercy and compassion. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.


The ministry we have outlined is relatively rare. There are many seeker–driven churches that help many people find Christ. There are many churches seeking to engage the culture through political activism. There is a fast–growing charismatic movement with emphasis on glorious, passionate, corporate worship. There are many congregations with strong concern for doctrinal rigor and purity and who work very hard to keep themselves separate from the world. There are many churches with a radical commitment to the poor and marginalized.

We do not, however, see enough individual churches that embody the full, integrative gospel balance we have outlined here. And while, in God’s grace, there is an encouraging number of bright spots in the church, we see no broad movement yet of this gospel–centered ministry. We believe such a balance will produce churches with winsome and theologically substantial preaching, dynamic evangelism and apologetics, and church growth and church planting. They will emphasize repentance, personal renewal, and holiness of life. At the same time, and in the same congregations, there will be engagement with the social structures of ordinary people, and cultural engagement with art, business, scholarship, and government. There will be calls for radical Christian community in which all members share wealth and resources and make room for the poor and the marginalized. These priorities will all be combined and will mutually strengthen one another in each local church.

What could lead to a growing movement of gospel–centered churches? The ultimate answer is that God must, for his own glory, send revival in response to the fervent, extraordinary, prevailing prayer of his people. But we believe there are also penultimate steps to take. There is great hope if we can unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel–centered ministry. We believe that such commitments will drive us afresh toward Scripture, toward the Christ of Scripture, toward the gospel of Christ, and we will begin to grow in our ability, by God’s grace, as churches, to “act in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). We are ashamed of our sins and failures, grateful beyond measure for forgiveness, and eager to see afresh the glory of God and embody conformity to his Son.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Phineas and Godly Jealousy

In the book Godly Jealousy (Thoennes, K. Erik. Godly Jealousy: a Theology of Intolerant Love. Scotland: Christian Focus, 2005.), the author discusses examples of godly human jealousy from Scripture. He starts by considering three examples from the Old Testament.

The three examples were; Phineas, David, and Elijah. According to Thoennes, "The clearest example of godly human jealousy in the Bible is found in Numbers 25:11"
(149). Here is that passage which has God speaking to Moses:
“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”

The event which leads to this declaration by God is found in Numbers 25:1-9 which is as follows in the ESV:
25:1 While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”

6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

Thoennes walks the reader through this event with an clear explanation of Phineas' righteous jealousy and the result and implications of it. In concluding his remarks about this priest, Thoennes writes, "In the jealousy of Phineas we have a clear example of a man who so shared God's perspective that he felt and acted on God's behalf in an accurate and godly way. the godly jealousy expressed by Phineas is the purest kind, for it is intensely and ultimately concerned about the goal for which God is most intensely and ultimately concerned-his own glory ... His radical behavior flowed out of a godly character and perspective and that enabled him to have the courage necessary to boldly act on God's behalf." (168-171)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Gospel Coalition's Vision for Ministry - part 3 and 4

The excerpt below is from the Gospel Coalition's Theological Vision for Ministry. See part 2 here.

III. How should we relate to the culture around us? (The contextualization issue)

  1. By being a counter–culture. We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit. (See below, point 5c.)

  2. For the common good. It is not enough that the church should counter the values of the dominant culture. We must be a counter–culture for the common good. We want to be radically distinct from the culture around us and yet, out of that distinct identity, we should sacrificially serve neighbors and even enemies, working for the flourishing of people, both here and now, and in eternity. We therefore do not see our corporate worship services as the primary connecting point with those outside. Rather, we expect to meet our neighbors as we work for their peace, security, and well–being, loving them in word and deed. If we do this we will be “salt” and “light” in the world (sustaining and improving living conditions, showing the world the glory of God by our patterns of living; Matt 5:13–16). As the Jewish exiles were called to love and work for the shalom of Babylon (Jer 29:7), Christians too are God’s people “in exile” (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). The citizens of God’s city should be the best possible citizens of their earthly city (Jer 29:4–7). We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about our cultural influence, for we know that, as we walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents, we will receive persecution even while having social impact (1 Peter 2:12).

  3. How this relationship to culture shapes us.

    1. We believe that every expression of Christianity is necessarily and rightly contextualized, to some degree, to particular human culture; there is no such thing as a universal a–historical expression of Christianity. But we never want to be so affected by our culture that we compromise gospel truths. How then do we keep our balance?

    2. The answer is that we cannot “contextualize” the gospel in the abstract, as a thought experiment. If a church seeks to be a counter–culture for people’s temporal and eternal good, it will guard itself against both the legalism that can accompany undue cultural withdrawal and the compromise that comes with over–adaptation. If we seek service rather than power, we may have significant cultural impact. But if we seek direct power and social control, we will, ironically, be assimilated into the very idolatries of wealth, status, and power we seek to change.

    3. The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over–contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under–contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub–culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.

IV. In what ways is the gospel unique?

This gospel fills Christians with humility and hope, meekness and boldness, in a unique way. The biblical gospel differs markedly from traditional religions as well as from secularism. Religions operate on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted,” but the gospel principle is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both irreligion and religion. You can seek to be your own “lord and savior” by breaking the law of God, but you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation.

Irreligion and secularism tend to inflate self–encouraging, uncritical, “self–esteem”; religion and moralism crush people under guilt from ethical standards that are impossible to maintain. The gospel, however, humbles and affirms us at the same time, since, in Christ, each of us is simultaneously just, and a sinner still. At the same time, we are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope.

Secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic. Religion and morality in general tend to make people tribal and self–righteous toward other groups (since their salvation has, they think, been earned by their achievement). But the gospel of grace, centered on a man dying for us while we were his enemies, removes self–righteousness and selfishness and turns its members to serve others both for the temporal flourishing of all people, especially the poor, and for their salvation. It moves us to serve others irrespective of their merits, just as Christ served us (Mark 10:45).

Secularism and religion conform people to behavioral norms through fear (of consequences) and pride (a desire for self–aggrandizement). The gospel moves people to holiness and service out of grateful joy for grace, and out of love of the glory of God for who he is in himself.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Gospel Coalition's Vision for Ministry - part 2

The excerpt below is from the Gospel Coalition's Theological Vision for Ministry. See part 1 here.

This is not an outline of our doctrinal beliefs (see the Confessional Statement), but a statement of how we intend to discharge Christian ministry and interact with our culture in biblical and theological faithfulness.

II. How should we read the Bible? (The hermeneutical issue)

  1. Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.

  2. Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46–47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

  3. How this reading of the Bible shapes us

    1. Many today (but not all) who major in the first of these two ways of reading the Bible—that is, reading along the whole Bible—dwell on the more corporate aspects of sin and salvation. The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood–bought status in Christ received through personal faith. In this imbalance there is little emphasis on vigorous evangelism and apologetics, on expository preaching, and on the marks and importance of conversion/the new birth.

    2. On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.

    3. We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Gospel Coalition's Vision for Ministry

The excerpt below is from the Gospel Coalition's Theological Vision for Ministry.

This is not an outline of our doctrinal beliefs (see the Confessional Statement), but a statement of how we intend to discharge Christian ministry and interact with our culture in biblical and theological faithfulness.

I. How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth? (The epistemological issue)

For several hundred years, since the dawning of the Enlightenment, it was widely agreed that truth—expressed in words that substantially correspond to reality—does indeed exist and can be known. Unaided human reason, it was thought, is able to know truth objectively. More recently, postmodernism has critiqued this set of assumptions, contending that we are not in fact objective in our pursuit of knowledge, but rather interpret information through our personal experiences, self–interests, emotions, cultural prejudices, language limitations, and relational communities. The claim to objectivity is arrogant, postmodernism tells us, and inevitably leads to conflicts between communities with differing opinions as to where the truth lies. Such arrogance, they say explains, in part, many of the injustices and wars of the modern era. Yet postmodernism’s response is dangerous in another way: its most strident voices insist that claims to objective truth be replaced by a more humbly “tolerant” and inclusively diverse subjective pluralism—a pluralism often mired in a swamp that cannot allow any firm ground for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Such a stance has no place for truth that corresponds to reality, but merely an array of subjectively shaped truths. How shall we respond to this cultural crisis of truth?

  1. We affirm that truth is correspondence to reality. We believe the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets also indwells us so that we who have been made in the image of God can receive and understand the words of Scripture revealed by God, and grasp that Scripture’s truths correspond to reality. The statements of Scripture are true, precisely because they are God’s statements, and they correspond to reality even though our knowledge of those truths (and even our ability to verify them to others) is always necessarily incomplete. The Enlightenment belief in thoroughly objective knowledge made an idol out of unaided human reason. But to deny the possibility of purely objective knowledge does not mean the loss of truth that corresponds to objective reality, even if we can never know such truth without an element of subjectivity. See CS–(2).

  2. We affirm that truth is conveyed by Scripture. We believe that Scripture is pervasively propositional and that all statements of Scripture are completely true and authoritative. But the truth of Scripture cannot be exhausted in a series of propositions. It exists in the genres of narrative, metaphor, and poetry which are not exhaustively distillable into doctrinal propositions, yet they convey God’s will and mind to us so as to change us into his likeness.

  3. We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God. Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God.
  4. How this vision of truth shapes us.

    1. We adopt a “chastened” correspondence–theory of truth that is less triumphalistic than that of some in the older evangelicalism. But we also reject a view of truth that sees truth as nothing more than the internally coherent language of a particular faith–community. So we maintain, with what we hope is appropriate humility, the principle of sola Scriptura.

    2. Though truth is propositional, it is not only something to be believed, but also to be received in worship and practiced in wisdom. This balance shapes our understanding of discipleship and preaching. We want to encourage a passion for sound doctrine, but we know that Christian growth is not simply cognitive information transfer. Christian growth occurs only when the whole life is shaped by Christian practices in community—including prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and the public ministry of the Word.

    3. Our theoretical knowledge of God’s truth is only partial even when accurate, but we nevertheless can have certainty that what the Word tells us is true (Luke 1:4). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the words of the gospel in full assurance and conviction (1 Thess 1:5).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reading the Classics with Challies - The Bruised Reed - Post 4

A mint for making sinful thoughts!

In the sixth chapter of The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes, the author discusses evil and sinful thoughts in believers. Thoughts that are "vile and unworthy thoughts of God, of Christ, of the Word, which, as busy flies, disquiet and molest their peace." These evil thoughts, along with a host of other difficulties, fall under what Sibbes refers to as "TEMPTATIONS WHICH HINDER COMFORT".

Sibbes begins talking about these thoughts as initially being introduced by Satan. He suggests that the original thought is not in itself sin. He writes, "These are cast in like wildfire by Satan, as may be discerned by the strangeness, the strength and violence, and the horribleness of them even to corrupt nature. A pious soul is no more guilty of them than Benjamin was when Joseph's cup was put into his sack." They are thoughts that Satan introduces into our mind and are thus not necessarily sins. Sibbes discusses how this was also Satan's attack on Christ, who, of course, did not sin.

However, we are not Christ. "But there is a difference between Christ and us in this case. Because Satan had nothing of his own in Christ his suggestions left no impression at all in his holy nature, but, as sparks falling into the sea, were presently quenched." Whereas with us, Sibbes declares "But when Satan comes to us, he finds something of his own in us, which holds correspondence and has intelligence with him. There is the same enmity in our nature to God and goodness, in some degree, that is in Satan himself. Therefore his temptations fasten, for the most part, some taint upon us." And thus, these arrows of Satan can lead us to sin.

In fact, Sibbes suggests that even if there were no attacks from Satan, we would still sin in our thought life; "And if there were no devil to suggest, yet sinful thoughts would arise from within us, though none were cast in from without. We have a mint of them within." A mint is an industrial facility which manufactures coins for currency. Sibbes is writing metaphorically; we produce and manufacture sinful thoughts in our own soul.

Sibbes wants to impress upon the reader the gravity of evil thoughts. He lists some of the consequences associated with sinning with our minds: "they leave a more heavy guilt upon the soul, hinder our sweet communion with God, interrupt our peace, and put a contrary relish into the soul, disposing it to greater sins." Thus, sinful thoughts that are entertained have four dire results.
  1. a heavy burdensome guilt
  2. an interruption of our communion with God
  3. a discontinuance of peace
  4. production of evil desires leading to greater sins

Though evil, these sinful thoughts can also be helpful. "It promotes humiliation to know the whole breadth and depth of sin." And for Sibbes, this 'helpfulness' can result in great growth for the Christian, "and it is good to profit from this, to hate this offensive body of death more, and to draw nearer to God, as that holy man did after his `foolish' and `beastly' thoughts (Psa. 73:22 and 28), and so to keep our hearts closer to God, seasoning them with heavenly meditations in the morning, storing up good matter, so that our heart may be a good treasury, while we beg of Christ his Holy Spirit to stop that cursed issue and to be a living spring of better thoughts in us."

Sibbes is working at bringing encouragement to the 'broken reed' and the 'smoking flax'. In doing so, he does not sugar-coat our sin. He decries the filthiness of it with strong words. He does, however, reassure the reader that God is sovereign and will watch over His children until it is time for their release from these trials. "Our chief comfort is that our blessed Saviour, as he bade Satan depart from him, after he had given way awhile to his insolence (Matt. 4:10), so he will command him to be gone from us, when it shall be good for us. He must be gone at a word. And Christ can and will likewise, in his own time, rebuke the rebellious and extravagant stirrings of our hearts and bring all the thoughts of the inner man into subjection to himself."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Christianity and Liberalism

This my first post concerning Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. It is a book that has been recommended to me by several people and always comes with superlative accolades. So far, all the 'recommenders' have been spot on. Machen is piercing and deliberate in his arguments and fulfills his cited goal of "presenting an issue as sharply and clearly as possible".

Here's a few quotes from his introduction. Remember this was written in 1922.

The concern of preaching a (the) gospel that is unpalatable to society and hindering other secondary (erroneously elevated to primary) objectives...

Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end.

Have an authentic and robust religion
The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from "controversial" matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life.

The confusion and conflict that arises when the same terms mean different things to different people

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.

The prevalence of challenges to the truth and relevance of scripture

in any case the fact itself is plain, that Christianity during many centuries has consistently appealed for the truth of its claims, not merely and not even primarily to current experience, but to certain ancient books the most recent of which was written some nineteen hundred years ago....Inevitably the question arises whether the opinions of such men can ever be normative for men of the present day
If you were entertaining any doubt, his answer to this is yes.

...objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion-- against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection--the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting "the essence of Christianity."
Recently, I have heard this practice described in other ways..."peeling back the husk to find the true seed of Christianity", "jettisoning doctrine from the raft of Christianity so we can successfully ride the rapids of our time", "saving Christianity from itself" and "making Christianity culturally relevant"