Thursday, January 30, 2014

Labouring for Christ

From Samuel Rutherford's The Loveliness of Christ:

I urge upon you...a nearer communion with Christ and a growing communion. There are curtains to be drawn in by Christ that we never saw, and new foldings of love in him. I despair that ever I shall win to the far end of that love, there are so many plies in it; therefore dig deep, and sweat, and labour, and take pains for him, and set by so much time in the day for him as you can; he will be won with labour.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Righteousness of God

"... the essence of the righteousness of God is his unwavering faithfulness to uphold the glory of his name. And human righteousness is the same: the unwavering faithfulness of uphold the glory of God... The righteousness of God consists most basically in God's unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory... When he says that "none is righteous" (Rom. 3:10), he means that all of us have failed to glorify God as we should. we do not "seek God" (Rom. 3:11)."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Year of Reading

I had another enjoyable and edifying year of reading in 2013. By God's grace, and no small amount of patience from my wife and children, I manage to continue to carve out time for sticking my nose in books. I share the years literary journey with you as a way to encourage you to keep on keeping on in your reading. Perhaps you can find a title or two from my list that you might find interesting. If you would like specific thoughts on a particular book, do not hesitate to ask a question in the comments section.

Big Books
One of my reading goals for last year (I highly recommend setting goals for your reading) was to tackle some heavyweight volumes. The jumbo-size books I chose are as follows:

  • The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame
  • Reformed Dogmatics by Herman Bavinck
  • Kingdom Through Covenant by Wellum and Gentry
  • Institutes of the Christian Religion - Volume 1 by John Calvin

I hope to write a post about reading these large books that will discuss it in some detail. But for now, let me say that there are many benefits to engaging these theological treatises and, despite their intimidating size, lay-people should make these types of books part of the reading routine. I found Kingdom Through Covenant particularly helpful as a reformedish credo-baptist and Calvin's Institutes needs no recommendation from me. Bavinck and Frame are also well-worth the time and effort required.

As an English teacher I believe it is my responsibility to regularly read fiction. I am more inclined to read non-fiction, but I am rarely disappointed when I pick up a novel or play. Leland Ryken has said “Literature is a form of discovery, perception, intensification, expression, interpretation, creativity, beauty, and understanding. These are ennobling activities and qualities. For a Christian, they can be God-glorifying, a gift from God to the human race to be accepted with zest.” And Tony Reinke, author of Lit! gives these four reasons for reading fiction:
  1. Fiction helps us explore abstract human experiences.
  2. Fiction deepens our appreciation for concrete human experience.
  3. Fiction expands our range of experiences.
  4. Fiction provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed.
Here is my list of fiction for 2013:
  • Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
  • The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson
  • Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson
  • 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth
  • No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Dead Guys
Many will be familiar with the advice of C. S. Lewis on the reading of old books. For those who haven't heard or for those who need a reminder, here is some guidance from the author of The Chronicles of Narnia:
"There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books . . .
Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. . . .
It is a good rule, after after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one til you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. . . .
We all need the books that will correct the characteristics mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century lies where we have never suspected it. None of us can fully escape this blindness. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books."
Here are the books, non-fiction, that I read this year past that were authored by dead guys:
  • Communion with God by John Owen
  • On the Incarnation by Athanasius
  • Wingspread by A. W. Tozer
  • Setting Our Affections on Glory by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • Holiness by J. C. Ryle
  • The Trinity by Edward Henry Bickersteth
  • An Eschatology of Victory by Marcellus Kik

Preach It
As many of you know, I began an apprenticeship in August of 2013. I am apprenticing to become a pastor and part of my duties-actually thus far most of my duties-have been to preach on Sundays. I took it upon myself to read several books about preaching and found that a very profitable endeavour. Books on preaching include:
  • Preaching for God's Glory by Alistair Begg
  • Preach by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert
  • Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer
  • Preaching Christ in All of Scripture by Edmund P. Clowney
  • Saving Eutychus by Millar and Campbell

Miscellaneous Non-Fiction
The remainder of my list are non-fiction books almost exclusively from a Christian perspective covering a fairly wide range of topics from leadership to theology to literature to Christian living.
  • Adopted for Life by Russel D. Moore
  • The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler
  • Fallen: A Theology of Sin by eds, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson
  • Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
  • Eyes Wide Open by Steve DeWitt
  • Weakness Is the Way by J. I. Packer
  • Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves
  • Covenantal Apologetics by Scott Oliphint
  • Church Discipline by Jonathan Leeman
  • Echoes of Eden by Jerram Barrs
  • His Blood Works by Alam Stibbs
  • Shakespeare's Macbeth by Leland Ryken
  • Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper

The Pinnacle of Printed Perusing
Finally, and most significantly, I read through the Bible this year. My translation of choice is the English Standard Version and I followed Robert Murray M'Cheyne's one year reading plan. A very helpful tool in this was YouVersion's app that I have on my phone, iPad and computer. I highly recommend this app; check it out. Reading through the Scriptures in 2013 was the zenith of my work in this discipline of reading. It far outweighs all the rest of the reading.

So there you have it; a year's worth of reading. Be encouraged to read in 2014! By setting aside some time each day or week, you might surprise yourself with the amount of literature you can digest in the next 12 months.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review - What Is Biblical Theology?

I consider myself an outdoorsman. I love to hunt and fish. I don't get to do those things as much as I'd like to, but when I can get out I thoroughly enjoy myself. I'm thankful my father introduced me to fishing and hunting because I wasn't born with a love for those pursuits. I had to be introduced to them. I had to be mentored and pointed in the right direction. I needed someone, in this case my dad, to give me a little push in the right direction. Hunting in particular is a sport that is difficult to begin on your own. You need have someone to guide your steps and teach you the ropes. I'm thankful my dad played the role of mentor in this aspect of my life.

I think biblical theology is a bit like hunting in this regard; it is a little intimidating and difficult to get into that type of reading. The books are often big...really big even. And the term itself seems beyond what the average reader desires or is capable of handling. For us non-scholar types, the pursuit of biblical theology is like hunting in that we would be well served to have a mentor to get us started and teach us the ropes, someone to guide us and get us started in the right direction.

Jim Hamilton, through his book What Is Biblical Theology?, acts as the mentor we need to begin this literary pursuit. Hamilton advises us and instructs us in a preparatory manner for delving into the very edifying and enjoyable world of biblical theology. And once you begin down this path, you just might find reading and studying biblical theology is something that you love to do. The few books on biblical theology that I have read have been God exalting and personally enriching. Hamilton uses What Is Biblical Theology? to point us in the right direction and encourage us to press into this captivating curriculum called biblical theology.

Hamilton begins the book, which for the intimidated is a mere 120 pages, with two introductory chapters which motivate us to investigate biblical theology and educate us on exactly what it is. Biblical theology is the "interpretive perspective of the biblical authors" (15) and its aim is to "understand and embrace"(12) their perspective. Starting in these chapters and continuing throughout the book, Hamilton's passion for this discipline is evident and infectious. From here the book is divided into three parts: "the first sets out the Bible's big story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols ... and the third considers the part the church plays in that story" (22).

Part 1 of What Is Biblical Theology? is comprised of three chapters. The first considers what we in the English teaching profession call the elements of fiction. But in this case we could call them the elements of non-fiction narrative. These aspects include settings, character, and plot. Hamilton informs us that the big story of the Bible provides us with the true perspective on life; "We make sense of our days in light of this overarching narrative" (32).

The second chapter of Part 1 takes one of the aspects-plot-and focuses its attention on its details. Hamilton includes conflict, episodes, and theme under the heading of plot. The author demonstrates how plot episodes, which revolve around creations conflict with God, recur throughout the biblical narrative. These recurring plot episodes, which include ideas like exile and exodus, "function like schematics or templates" which are "used to communicate the meaning of who Jesus was and what he accomplished" (39). Thus, the importance of biblical theology should be apparent; it helps us understand Jesus!

The final chapter of Part 1 investigates the promises throughout the big story of a coming redeemer. These gold coins represent clues to a mystery: the mystery of God's great work to save His people through His Son. What seems obvious to us now was not so to those who were anticipating a Messiah. But as we read the Bible, Hamilton explains, we can retrospectively see how God announced this coming mystery-Messiah through the prophets and Old Testament writing. Part 2 deals with elements a little more figurative.

The Bible's Symbolic Universe is the title Hamilton gives to Part 2. The chapters in this section cover symbols, imagery, typology, and patterns in the Scriptures. Hamilton concisely explains how these elements work and what they do. He offers intriguing examples which beckon the reader to look and understand these concepts as they come to us in the Bible. I found these succinct chapters whetted my appetite for more; more study, more investigation, more understanding and more of the Bible. In the author's words, "These images, types, and patterns are often laid on top of each other, and this layering both interprets and communicates. This use of symbolism and imagery adds texture to the story the Bible tells, reinforcing it and making it concrete" (65).

The final section of this book, Part 3, discusses the church and her grand role in this story of stories. Hamilton's passion permeates the whole book but particularly rises in these chapters. He writes, "The true story of the world and the church's place in it is a stupendous tale. Best of all, it's true (98)." Biblical theology's importance increases as we understand that the "Bible's story and symbolism teach the church to understand who she is, what she faces, and how she should live as she longs for the coming of her King and Lord" (113). Biblical theology helps us grasp the glorious truths of the gospel, the magnificence of our Messiah, and the riveting role of the church in this drama. Do you really need any more encouragement to look into biblical theology? I think not.

Hamilton's enthusiasm and zeal for this topic is infectious. I found myself getting excited as I read through this relatively brief introduction to biblical theology. I have found Hamilton's contagious passion for this subject, and similar ones for that matter, to be an endearing quality of his writing which encourages me in my pursuit of understanding and appreciating my God. I think, in this book, he will have this impact on you. In particular, if you need a mentor and coach and motivator to help you to become a disciple in the sometimes intimidating discipline of biblical theology, I do not think you will find a better guide than Hamilton and his guidebook What Is Biblical Theology? is a good place to start.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


I'm currently re-reading Piper's God is the Gospel and am loving it all over again. Here are just a couple of the quotes that I've really enjoyed recently.

God had "shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This is the way the Holy Spirit does his ongoing change in us. He does not change us directly; he changes us by enabling us to see the glory of Christ. This is crucial to understand. It shows how Christ-exalting the Holy Spirit is. He will not do his sanctifying work by the use of his direct divine power. He will only do it by making the glory of Christ the immediate cause of it.

At the end of his great prayer in John 17:26 he said to his Father, "I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." The love God has for the Son will be in us. That is, the love for the Son that will be in us will be the Father's love for the Son. We will not merely love the Son with our paltry ability to love. But our love for the Son will be infused with the divine love between the Father and the Son. Therefore, we should realize from John 17:26 that Jesus made God known so that God's pleasure in his Son might be in us and become our pleasure in Christ.

Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God's excellency and mercy... Jonathan Edwards

The sorrow of true contrition is sorrow for not having God as our all-satisfying treasure.

The gospel awakens sorrow for sin by awakening a savor for God.

Edwards used the term "disinterested love" to designate love that delights in God for his own greatness and beauty, and to distinguish it from love that delights only in God's gifts. Disinterested love is not love without pleasure. It is love whose pleasure is in God himself.