Thursday, March 28, 2013

How did Jesus live his life?

I have already gone on record as being positively affected by Bruce Ware's recently published book on the humanity of Christ called The Man Christ Jesus ( see here and here). I continue to be encouraged by this book as I reflect on the message it sends regarding the God-man Jesus Christ. One of the main contention of the book is evidenced in a question, and its answer, that Ware presents early on in the book:
What dimensions of the life, ministry, mission, and work of Jesus Christ can be accounted for and fully understood rightly only when seen through the lens of his humanity? Put differently, while Christ was (and is)
 fully God and fully man, how do we best account for the way in which he lived his life and fulfilled his calling-by seeing him carrying out this as God, or as man, or as the God-man? I would respond that the most responsible answer biblically and theologically is the last, as the God-man, but that the emphasis must be placed on the humanity of Christ as the primary reality he expressed in his day-by-day life, ministry, and work (32).
Ware continues to answer this question with the following: "But while he was fully God, and while this is crucial to understanding rightly his full identity, his life, and the fulfillment of his atoning work, the predominant reality he experienced day by day, and the predominant means by which he fulfilled his calling, was that of his genuine and full humanity" (33).

This is an approach that Ware takes that is foundational to understanding the book and undergirds almost everything he argues for. Remember, Ware is a staunch proponent of orthodox trinitarian doctrine as has written on the subject. What he makes note of in this book is that to understand Christ, and some of the mystery surrounding his life as he lived it, is found in perceiving Jesus with lenses that emphasize his humanity as the predominant reality through which he lived on this planet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Wonder

"In eternity past Christ saw all our faults, and not one after another, but altogether. This adds great wonder to the love of Christ. He saw every perverse look, every unkind gesture, every rebellious motion, every disingenuous act. Every heart was visible from eternity. Here is the wonder of Christ's love: it is fixed upon man, the worst of creatures. Consider his resolution, and wonder: I will give eternal life to those who have dishonoured me."
David Clarkson

Monday, March 25, 2013

God as depicted by Scripture

From Institutes of the Christian Religion 4.12.1:
How shall we reply to the Heavenly Judge when he calls us to account? Let us envisage for ourselves that Judge, not as our minds naturally imagine him, but as he is depicted for us in Scripture:
  • by whose brightness the stars are darkened (Job 3:9);
  • by whose strength the mountains are melted;
  • by whose wrath the earth is shaken (cf. Job 9:5-6);
  • whose wisdom catches the wise in their craftiness (Job 5:13);
  • beside whose purity all things are defiled(Job 25:5);
  • whose righteousness not even the angels can bear (cf. Job 4:18);
  • who makes not the guilty man innocent (cf. Job 9:20);
  • whose vengeance when once kindled penetrates to the depths of hell (Deut. 32:22; cf. Job 26:6).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dodson on mortification

In blogging through Jonathan K. Dodson's book on discipleship entitled Gospel Centered Discipleship, I have arrived at the section of the book which concerns itself with practical application of what it expounded and explained in earlier chapters. As the book discusses applying the Gospel, it engages with mortification in the Christian life. I love how Dodson defines mortification writing, "Mortification is that tenacious disposition of the heart that longs to defeat sin out of love for Jesus" (128, emphasis mine).

The motivation for mortification which the author notes in this definition is incredibly important. Over the ages many people have tried, both Christian and non-Chritian, to conform their actions and change their habits from a desire to meet some perceived standard, to "be all that you can be." But ultimately, being moral for morality's sake, or good for goodness' sake, gets you no further ahead than were you to remain as you were.

God is not looking for us to conform to some set of rules whether they be encoded or arbitrary. He is looking for us to be conformed to his Son. And thus, our motivation for conformity and mortification of those areas in our life which are not conformed, needs to be found in Christ.

Dodson continues with an encouraging passage on fighting sin in our life:
Sin is no lighthearted matter. It is crouching at our door and we must master it (Gen. 4:7). It is dangerous not to fight sin.It is a sobering fight we must not cease. Fight your sin means a habitual weakening of the flesh through constant fighting and contending in the Spirit for sweet victory over sin. It should be regular and progressive, not occasional and instant. Fighting is not an end in itself or a way to make us more presentable to God. We fight because we have been made presentable in Christ. We fight for belief in his gospel, the truest and best news on earth-that Jesus defeated our sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection, and he is making all things new, even us. Until all things are new, we will continue to fight the good fight of faith. (128-9)
Keep fighting!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The soul-shrinking effect of sin

In Lecture VIII of Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards scrutinizes selfishness and contrasts it in light of charity. As Edwards notes, "The ruin that the fall brought upon the soul of man consists very much in his losing the nobler and more benevolent principles of his nature, and falling wholly under the power and government of self-love." Selfishness became an inseparable part of the human condition at the fall.

This selfishness was opposed to the way in which he was created by God; "exalted, and noble, and generous." Rather, " the mind of man shrank from its primitive greatness and expandedness, to an exceeding smallness and contractedness." This idea, the soul-shrinking effect of sin, is particularly seen in acts of selfishness.

Despite being endowed at creation with a rich, vibrant, and loving soul that was after God's own image,
soon afterward
these noble principles were immediately lost, and all this excellent enlargedness of man's soul was gone; and thenceforward he himself shrank, as it were, into a little space, circumscribed and closely shut up within itself to the exclusion of all things else. Sin, like some powerful astringent, contracted his soul to the very small dimensions of selfishness.
Edwards gives us a description of the size and shape and volume of selfishness: small. That is one of the effects sin has on us. It is a contracting, constraining, constricting cancer that minimizes, and, if left uncured, leads us to death.

Edwards continues looking at the outcomes of man's love affair with himself.
God was forsaken, and fellow creatures forsaken, and man retired within himself, and became totally governed by narrow and selfish principles and feelings. Self-love became absolute master of his soul, and the more noble and spiritual principles of his being took wings and flew away.
Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. Edwards began at the beginning of the metanarrative of the Bible with Creation. He relates the second part of the over-arching story of mankind, the fall of man. But Edwards continues with Scripture's story arc, not leaving us mired in sin, rather encouraging us with the next part of God's unfolding plan, redemption.

Edwards writes,
But God, in mercy to miserable man, entered on the work of redemption, and, by the glorious gospel of his Son, began the work of bringing the soul of man out of its confinement and contractedness, and back again to those noble and divine principles by which it was animated and governed at first. And it is through the cross of Christ that he is doing this; for our union with Christ gives us participation in his nature.
And so, the remedy for our shrinking soul is union with our saving Sovereign through his Son. Edwards explains this majestic and merciful movement of God as an enlargement, an extensiveness, and a filling out of the Christian.
And so Christianity restores an excellent enlargement, and extensiveness, and liberality to the soul, and again possesses it with that divine love or charity that we read of in the text, whereby it again embraces its fellow creatures, and is devoted to and swallowed up in the Creator. And thus charity, which is the sum of the Christian spirit, so partakes of the glorious fullness of the divine nature, that she "seeketh not her own," or is contrary to selfish spirit.
I'm sure Edwards would agree that the final eradication of the soul-shrinking effects of sin will come in the final phase of the world's history-the consummation-where we will meet Christ and he will reconcile all things. Then, and only then, will humanity reach the full stature of Christ. This largess of largness is the final chapter of the story of man and the story of God.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our knowledge has limitations

Vern S. Poythress  in his book on Gospel harmonization called Inerrancy and the Gospels:
Even when we study the Gospels carefully, prayerfully, and attentively, we do not understand everything ...

We know that God knows all the solutions. Yet we cannot demand a clear solution to all of our difficulties right now. We do not have massive informative detail about each episode recorded in the Gospels. we have only what the Gospels themselves choose to tell us ...

God knows all the details about what happened. It all makes sense in his mind. But we have our piecemeal knowledge. We cannot insist before God that he must always give us enough information in order to "solve" or disprove all the difficulties that we perceive. He is God. He does as he pleases (Ps. 115:3). He acts according to the infinitude of his wisdom, a wisdom that he has revealed in a wonderful and spectacular way in the mystery of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He is wise, but we cannot always see that when we want to have more information than the Gospels provide. We must patiently submit to his wisdom in such cases (91).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review - Shakespeare's Macbeth

I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more, is none” is Macbeth’s response to his wife when she challenges him to kill his sovereign. Macbeth’s response, among other things, suggests that when people try to overreach their position, it leads to failure; to be a man one must fulfill one’s role and obligations and nothing more. To do more is to fail.

The same could be said of books. Books that attempt to accomplish more than the purpose of their writing often end neither succeeding to attain the ‘vaulted ambition’ (read the play for clarity) nor the original intended end. Books, and men, should know their role.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth, by Leland Ryken, is a book that cannot be accused of overstepping its purpose. Crossway’s Christian Guides to the Classics series aims to help the intimidated or unfamiliar reader in their pursuit of reading classic literature. This guide accomplishes that.

Interestingly, in fulfilling its intended mandate, this small but potent work attains more; I think it is helpful for those beyond the scope of its appointed audience. As a secondary school English teacher who teaches Macbeth several times a year, I found this guide helpful and thus suggest that teachers will similarly find this guide useful.

Readers who are interested in reading this classic Shakespearean tragedy, whether they find this genre daunting or they feel they need some extra help, will find that this guide will assuage their fears and bolster their confidence. In particular, I think this educational tool would benefit students significantly. And the more experienced reader, perhaps familiar with the play or even responsible to teach it to others, will also find this book valuable.

Aside from the compelling and intriguing insights of its acclaimed writer, this guide is largely successful due to its format.

The book includes an introduction to Shakespeare, the play itself, and the context in which it was written. These features, along with the Plot Summary section for each scene, are suited to help those who approach the Bard’s work with imperceptible trepidation or unabashed trembling. The uninitiated reader will find these helpful as well.

The Commentary section along with the For Reflection or Discussion section will aid those involved in the study of Macbeth including both teachers and student. In Ryken’s apt analysis and explanations I found interesting tidbits of knowledge that I will use as I teach the play, but that I also found these nuggets delightful in and of themselves. Ryken’s expositions of scenes and acts are concise without being meagre. This keeps the guide short and useful.

Finally, in the margin on almost every page are points of interest, many of which pertain and speak to the Christian worldview. As a Christian educator in a public school system, I found these excursions refreshing and edifying. Placing this massive literary accomplishment in the context of the Kingdom of God sets this work apart from most other introductory material on this play.

I recommend this book to those who inwardly cower at the thought of reading something from Shakespeare yet recognize that this incredible playwright cannot be ignored. I recommend this book for the willing reader who desires a steadying arm on the journey into this wonderful tragedy. I recommend this reader for both teachers and students who will encounter the ‘Scottish Play’ in their course of study.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An article on pain

The good people at Gospel Centered Discipleship have posted another article of mine at their site. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Using pain as a preparatory mechanism is quite common in football. Before a game, in the locker room or on the sidelines, you will often see teammates hitting each other or slapping each other on their shoulders. Many football players claim that they can’t really get into a game until they receive or deliver their first hit. There is something about the pain that brings purposefulness and clarity in combative sports.

It seems that pain in ‘real’ life, whether physical, emotional, or mental, does the exact opposite of what it does in football. For many people, pain leads to paralysis instead of performance. Pain doesn’t help us engage; it causes us to detach, disassociate, and disconnect from life. When the life gets tough, genuinely tough, the accepted response is to quit. We do not regain focus on the end and purpose of our lives. Instead, we abandon engagement in life.

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Holy Spirit and decision making

The role of the Spirit in decision making can bring up some contentious issues. Extremes range from the charismaniac who is always looking for some type of "sign" from God to the hardcore cessationist who will deny any sort of input-prompting, impulse, intuition-that could be attributed to God's direction. This may be a difficult area for Christians to navigate, but I think this excerpt from Gospel Centered Discipleship is helpful in terms of adding some balance to the backlash against the Spirit's involvement in our decision making.
After his baptism, Jesus was "lead by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil" (Luke 4:1-2). Notice that the Spirit played a directive role in the life of the Son of God. Mark tells us that the Spirit "drove" Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). Jesus clearly relied on the Spirit for direction. This sensitivity to the directing influence of the Holy Spirit is characteristic of the disciples in the book of Acts. Philip is directed to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Peter is directed to the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). The Jerusalem Council is Spirit directing your life? Very often, our modern, self-reliant sensibilities cut the Spirit right out of everyday decision making. Rarely do we request or expect the Spirit's direction. Yet, we are repeatedly told to "walk" in the Spirit throughout the Bible (Ezek. 36:27; Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16,25) and to make decisions by seeking the Lord (Prov. 5:4-6; James 4:13-15). Being motivated by the Spirit should affect not just normal decisions but also our general approach to life. Paul tells us to be "filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). How often do we start our day by requesting a fresh infilling of the Spirit's power for the day that lies ahead? Instead, we assume his presence and barrel forward. Our assumption of the Spirit reveals a self-reliant faith. Instead of starting and continuing our days in our own strength, what would it look like to fight for faith with utter dependence upon the power and direction of the Holy Spirit? (92)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible

As a teacher in the public system, and an English teacher no less, I found this article in the Wall Street Journal very interesting:

Why Public Schools Should Teach the Bible

Have you ever sensed in your own life that "the handwriting was on the wall"? Or encouraged a loved one to walk "the straight and narrow"?

Have you ever laughed at something that came "out of the mouths of babes"? Or gone "the extra mile" for an opportunity that might vanish "in the twinkling of an eye"?

If you have, then you've been thinking of the Bible.

These phrases are just "a drop in the bucket" (another biblical phrase) of the many things we say and do every day that have their origins in the most read, most influential book of all time. The Bible has affected the world for centuries in innumerable ways, including art, literature, philosophy, government, philanthropy, education, social justice and humanitarianism. One would think that a text of such significance would be taught regularly in schools. Not so. That is because of the "stumbling block" (the Bible again) that is posed by the powers that be in America.

It's time to change that, for the sake of the nation's children. It's time to encourage, perhaps even mandate, the teaching of the Bible in public schools as a primary document of Western civilization.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The wrong starting point

Now I know there are many who, looking at the state of the church today, feel that the one thing for us to do is immediately to consider what methods we can employ in order to win outsiders. That is a perfectly right and good thing to think about. But they start with that. They say, "Here we are, and there are people outside who are indifferent to the church," and immediately they begin to consider means and methods of interesting and attracting outsiders. And some of them seem to be prepared to go to almost any lengths and to borrow any measures conceivable from the world itself in order to do something to get hold of these people. Now while I am in total agreement with evangelism and would be among the first to say that the primary task of the Christian church is evangelism, I do, nevertheless, suggest that when we start immediately to think of the methods, of what we can do, to attract those who are outside, we are stating at the wrong point.

(Lloyd-Jones, David Martyn. Setting Our Affections upon Glory: Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. Print. 68)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Splendid Sins

As I blog through J. C. Ryle's book Holiness I am re-astounded at the quality of his writing; every page seems full of valuable content. Choosing quotes and excerpts to blog feels like choosing Wayne Gretzky's best goals. How does one decide? Nevertheless, we'll carry on. This passage jumped out at me because of the reference to 'splendid sins'. It seems an adequate phrase to describe the best works of humanity. It reminded me John Piper spoke of sinning in the very act of repenting of sin. This might lead some to see futility in the Christian walk. However, do not lose sight of another phrase in this excerpt that reminds us that sinful though our action may be, 'yet it pleases God.' Consider,
Sanctification, again, is a thing which cannot justify a man, and yet it pleases God. This may seem wonderful, and yet it is true. The holiest actions of the holiest saint that ever lived are all more or less full of defects and imperfections. They are either wrong in their motive or defective in their performance, and in themselves are nothing better than “splendid sins,” deserving God’s wrath and condemnation. To suppose that such actions can stand the severity of God’s judgment, atone for sin, and merit heaven, is simply absurd. ... The only righteousness in which we can appear before God is the righteousness of another - even the perfect righteousness of our Substitute and Representative, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Edwards and self-affirmation

This flies in the face of modern concepts of self-affirmation which would recoil with ideas that consider ourselves anything less than the center of the universe:

Seek for a deep and abiding sense of your comparative meanness before God and man. 
Know God.
Confess your nothingness and ill-desert before him.
Distrust yourself.
Rely only on God.
Renounce all glory except from him.
Yield yourself heartily to his will and service.
Avoid an
self-justifying behavior; 
and strive for more and more of the humble spirit that Christ manifested while he was on earth.

Edwards does not just suggest that we should understand our "meanness" before God, but rather we should actively seek a sense of this lowness. This might very well be the tonic for the "world revolves around me" mentality that our culture imposes on all of us.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Autonomous thought

An excerpt from Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization by Vern Poythress:

... in the realm of thought, the basic issue separating Christians from non-Christians is the issue of autonomy of thought. Ever since the fall of Adam, non-Christians have wanted to be autonomous judges and thinkers and decision makers. They want ultimate control of their lives. And to the extent that we as Christians give way to sin, we do the same thing. To an autonomous thinker, the process of studying Scripture with a commitment to God and his word seems circular, because it involves what he thinks is a bad commitment, a commitment to treat as ultimate something outside of himself. To someone who worships autonomy, autonomy is the ultimate. Commitment to Scripture seems to be a betrayal of who he is. Before he makes any commitment, the autonomous thinker wants to be allowed autonomously to judge the wisdom of such commitment (85).