Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Defining Worship 4.30.08

"Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does." (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, p. 26)

Dr. Dan Block, who until recently was a Professor of Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, defines true worship as “reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of himself, and in accordance with his will.” (from Dr. Block’s 'For the Glory of God' course notes)

This...definition...specifically mentions what many of the biblical words for worship imply - submission and homage.

-- Bob Kauflin, worship director for Sovereign Grace Ministries. He has an excellent website:

How to Work at Being Truly Humble

A helpful meditation from John Piper.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Statement of Principle for Music in the Church" (pt.1)

The following are excerpts from the guidelines for church music that were printed as part of the preface of a church hymnal in 1959:

PRINCIPLE: The music of the Church should be appropriate for worship.

1. In spirit, form and content the music of the church should be a positive expression of Scripturally religious thought and feeling. It should serve the ministry of the Word.

2. The music of the church should be beautiful.... It should satisfy the aesthetic laws of balance, unity, harmony, design, rhythm, restraint, and fitness [appropriateness] which are the conditions of all art.


1. The music of the church should represent the full range of the revelation of God.
2. The minister of the Word...and the [music] director should cooperate constantly, so that the service of music will contribute to the service of the Word.
3. The poetry [lyric] of the songs should be good poetry; it should not have to rely upon the music to carry it. The music of the songs should be ... good music; it should not have to rely upon the words to carry it.
4. Whenever Psalms or other portions of Scripture are involved, the poetry [lyrics] should be true to the inspired Word. Such poetry should at the same time be vital -- free from the defects of artificiality and sentimentality....

I plan to add the rest of the "Implications" in a future post, but for now I am struck by a number of things about these guidelines, including how carefully (and theologically) this denomination (and the publishers of this hymnal) reflected on the issues related to what kind of music/lyric was appropriate and God-pleasing for use in gathered worship.

-- from the Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church (1959)

In Pursuit of the Self

David Wells, in his new book, "The Courage to Be Protestant," writes about the gradual, growing pre-occupation with the Self (self-centeredness versus God-centeredness) that has infected evangelicalism, and the impact that this radical shift is having on churches:

"In 1983 James Hunter discovered that of evangelical books published in that year, almost nine out of ten dealt with matters of the self....

"...When evangelical churches entered this new universe of the self, they left the moral world behind. The evangelical church, which takes seriously its responsibility to steward the gospel, should have been the first to see this because the gospel makes sense only in a moral world.

"Sin, after all, is not simply feeling bad about ourselves. It is violating what is right in God's law and character. Those who inhabit this self-world look only for therapy, not for forgiveness and regeneration.

"Recovery, in fact, is their way of speaking about regeneration. It is all about human technique and not about miraculous intervention. All of this was apparently lost on evangelicals who stumbled after one another in the earnest pursuit to recast their faith in this new language from the culture."

-- p.138 ("The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World" [Eerdmans 2008])

Monday, April 28, 2008

Recommended Reading on Christ's Work on the Cross

"The cross of Christ is at the very center of gospel proclamation, and thus a thorough, biblical grasp of this central truth is necessary for every gospel minister. Yet our day has seen (like ages before us) much confusion on this vital point of truth.

"This little book, In My Place Condemned He Stood, is offered as an aid and and an encouragement to Christians who want more deeply to understand the nature and accomplishments of Jesus' death and thus to be lost in wonder, love, and praise to the gracious Father who gave and delivered up his only begotten Son on our behalf, and to the Son who loved us and gave himself for us, by the Holy Spirit, who alone enables us to truly say, 'Jesus is Lord.'"
-- from the Foreword of "In My Place Condemned He Stood" p.13 (Crossway 2007)

Pastor Tim Keller's endorsement: "The essays in this volume by Packer and Dever are some of the most important things I have ever read. If you want to preach in such a way that results in real conversions and changed lives, you should master the approach to the cross laid out in this book."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

John Seel Regarding Education in America

A thought-provoking post on Tullian Tchividjian's blog.

The Word of God and the Worship of God

"All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done. It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1 - 11 which provoked Paul's outburst of praise in verses 33-36 of chapter 11.

"The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God. "

--From "The Message of Romans" (The Bible Speaks Today series: Leicester: IVP, 1994), p. 311.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Song for Worship

"How Sweet and Awesome Is This Place"

How sweet and awesome is this place
[originally How sweet and aweful is the place]
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every mercy of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Lyric: Isaac Watts, "Hymns and Sac­red Songs," 1707.

True Worship: Gospel-inspired, Christ-centered, Cross-focused

“To worship God ‘in spirit and in truth‘ is first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of Christ. In him the reality has dawned and the shadows are being swept away (Hebrews 8:13). Christian worship is new covenant worship; it is gospel-inspired worship; it is Christ-centered worship; it is cross-focused worship.”

- D.A. Carson, Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan, 2002), 37.

HT: Of First Importance

A little levity: Brian Regan on flying

Pretty hilarious.

HT: Justin Taylor

"The Problem of Suffering": Ehrman vs. Wright

Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright have been engaged in a blog dialogue on God and the problem of suffering.

Justin Taylor organizes the material on his site.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Courage to be Authentically Christian

When it comes to thinking deeply and carefully about authentic Christianity, the condition the evangelical church is in, and how the culture is affecting the church (instead of the reverse), I highly recommend David Wells' latest book, "The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World."

Scripture readings in the worship service

Almost all churches everywhere include a place for Scripture reading (or readings) as an important part of their worship gatherings. It is a practice that has its basis in both the Old and New Testaments (Neh.8:1-10; Lk.4:16-17f.; Acts 13:14-16; Col.4:16). It is a specific application of what Paul had in mind when he said that the word of Christ (the message from him and about him) should richly dwell in us (Col.3:16) – that is, the truth of the Gospel should richly inhabit our fellowship together, especially in our times for worshiping.

For it is this Gospel – this word of Christ – that is the power of God for the salvation of the lost (Rom.1:16) and for the sanctification/transformation of the saved (Jn.17:17; 2 Tim.3:16f.; Rom.12:2; Col.1:28).

One specific concern, therefore, applies today: Scripture readings are not to function merely as song intros, or as brief interludes between songs. They are important and valuable in their own right, and have a specific, distinct place and function in the activity of worshiping that is not to be subordinated to the singing (as crucial as Word-shaped singing also is).

As Paul exhorted Timothy: “Command and teach these things…. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching….” (1 Tim.4:11,13).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Essential Connection Between Theology and Worship

...from John Stott:

It is important to note from Romans 1 - 11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown god. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done.

It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1 - 11 which provoked Paul's outburst of praise in verses 33-36 of chapter 11. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.

On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before him in adoration. As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must 'beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion'.

--From "The Message of Romans" (The Bible Speaks Today series: Leicester: IVP, 1994), p. 311.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

God-fearing people

From Carl Trueman:

"Solid Ground Christian Books have republished as a booklet the chapter on the fear of God from John Murray's 'Principles of Conduct'.... I was struck by the following passage which I think skewers much that is wrong with contemporary Christian life and which has greatly diminished our view of the seriousness of sin:

It is symptomatic of the extent to which the concept of the fear of God and the attitude of heart and mind which it represents has suffered eclipse that we have become reluctant to distinguish the earnest and consistent believer as 'God-fearing.' (p. 19)

"At a time when taste is truth, how do we recapture this? Fear is distasteful to the modern mind; we are more comfortable with God as 'dad' rather than with God as 'Father;' sin is seen as less heinous than the sometimes tough steps that must be taken to correct the same; and yet fear of God -- and fear of his word -- is central to biblical notions of wisdom and the good life: Job 28:28; Is. 66:2; [Lk.1:50; 2 Cor.7:1; Rev.15:4]."

-- from 'reformation 21: the Online Magazine of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals'

J.I. Packer's Response to Threat of Anglican Suspension

Justin Taylor's blog provides the latest information regarding this. (The central issue is the Anglican Church's openness to blessing same-sex unions.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Good series of posts on assurance of salvation

Tullian Tchividjian (pastor, author...and grandson of Billy Graham) has been posting excerpts from his helpful little book, "Do I Know God?". You can find one such excerpt here...and you can check out the rest of them in his other blog posts. (I also recommend his book...for yourself, or for someone you know who might be wrestling with this question.)

God's Fatherly Love

"God, who is the infinite glorious first-being, embraces them [believers] with an entire fatherly love. All the love that ever was in any parents towards children, is but as one drop of the infinite ocean of fatherly love that there is in God unto his people."

Jeremiah Burroughs, The Saints’ Happiness, Delivered in Divers Lectures on the Beatitudes. Reprint, Beaver Falls, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 1988, 193–202.
HT: Joel Beeke and Justin Taylor

Monday, April 21, 2008

Things Have Changed (part 1)

Evangelical churches just aren’t what they used to be. In many ways things have declined. (Not in all ways, but in many centrally important ways.) It’s one thing for people to affirm the changes because they think they are improvements.

But what I just can’t understand are those who make the claim that nothing much has changed. Really?

-- When I traveled with a musical team from a Christian college, we often would not hold the microphones because that was considered too ‘Hollywood’ and worldly (remember worldliness?'s in the Bible) – and the last thing we wanted was to draw attention to ourselves or for people to be more impressed by our talent or performing than they were with the message were singing about. Today? Jeeminy.

-- And we centered on the Gospel, and how important it was that lost, helpless sinners get saved. And we were clear what the Gospel was/is: we believed and learned from passages like 1 Cor.15:1ff. We knew that at the core of authentic, Biblical Christianity was the message of the cross, and that meant a full-blooded belief in the penal, substitutionary atonement of the cross. 'Christ died for sinners,' and 'in my place condemned He stood.' That message, that truth, was the only message that could finally bring peace and joy and hope and relief to hearts and minds and consciences convicted concerning the depth and danger of their sin. A song about Jesus Christ and Him crucified could melt us to tears – tears of quiet, overwhelmed wonder and joy and gratitude.

Today, lots of our worship songs focus on me as the worshiper, and on my activity of worshiping “I will give, you all my worship I will give, you all my praise…
I will worship, with all of my heart
YES I will praise you, with all of my strength
I will seek you, all of my days YES I will follow, I WILL FOLLOW all of your ways…
I will bow down, and I'll hail you as king Yes I will serve you, I will give you everything…

When I hear lyrics like that (repeated over and over), I have to admit two thoughts sometimes come to mind:
1. Alright, already….start worshiping then. Stop talking about and focusing on the activity and intention of worshiping, and start doing it. ‘Worship’ is a transitive verb – worship has an ‘Object’ -- God. We’re supposed to be worshiping God, which means engaging with the reality of who God is and what he has done (which is hardly alluded to in so many ‘worship songs’).

2. Those are some pretty dramatic claims being made in the song: I will follow all of your ways…I’ll serve you; I’ll give you everything. (And every single person in the room is being led to sing it: sinner, 'seeker,' saint...everybody.

This isn’t merely the language of aspiration; it’s a momentous promise made in God’s presence. “I’ll follow all of your ways…I’ll give you everything….” Really? Starting when?

Things have changed. It’s one thing to say believe and to claim that they’ve changed for the better. (In so many ways I just can’t agree.) But to not notice or to admit the changes – that to me just isn’t honest.

"Expelled" movie reviews

Justin Taylor points to two reviews of the movie "Expelled" (featuring Ben Stein, related to issues surrounding intelligent design).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"A Jesus for Real Men"

Here's a worthwhile essay by Brandon O'Brien about "what the new masculinity movement gets right and wrong" (from "Christianity Today" online).

Restoring from Within

"We are still in the season of the resurrection, and we would do well to continue to focus our hearts on the meaning of life from the dead.

"The fact that Jesus was raised in the middle of human history, and not at the very end of it, means that God has not abandoned this world. He intends to overhaul it; His purpose is to make all things new.

The human race was given responsibility for a beautiful house, and because we fell into sin, we wrecked that house, and, more to the point, we wrecked ourselves. Instead of evicting us, which God had every right to do, He determined instead to remodel the house, and, while He was at it, to remodel the tenants of the house. His purpose, glorious beyond all calculation, was to step into the created order, which we had caused to become dislocated and deranged, and to fix it while we were all still living here. This seems crazy to us, like a car mechanic who decided to repair an engine while it was still running, but God’s wisdom is inexhaustible. This is what He, the font of all wisdom, determined to do.

"But notice that this means that He is committed to this world. The resurrection of the dead does not mean that this world will be burnt to a cinder, and then God will create another one to replace it. No, God will restore this created order. This world is groaning, longing for the day of our resurrection. Just as the Lord’s body glorified was the same body that was crucified, so your body will one day be laid to rest in the ground and will be the same body that rises. In the same way, this world, these oceans, the starry host above us, will all be made over, glorified, and we will dwell here forever.

"The intermediate state, the place where believers will go if they die before the general resurrection, will be Christ. It will be blessed. It will be glorious. But it is still just a way station. It is rest before the final consummation. And the final consummation will be here, and you will be here, and all your loved ones in Christ will be here, and we cannot begin to comprehend how glorious it will be. In this hope conduct all your labors in Christ because all of them contribute to that final end. They are therefore not in vain."

-- by Douglas Wilson at his blog

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Heart of the Gospel: The Cross of Christ

"The cross of Christ is the heart of the apostles’ gospel and of their piety and praise as well; so surely it ought to be central in our own proclamation, catechesis, and devotional practice? True Christ-centeredness is, and ever must be, cross-centeredness. The cross on which the divine-human mediator hung, and from which he rose to reign on the basis and in the power of his atoning death, must become the vantage point from which we survey the whole of human history and human life, the reference point for explaining all that has gone wrong in the world everywhere and all that God has done and will do to put it right, and the center point for fixing the flow of doxology and devotion from our hearts.

"Healthy, virile, competent Christianity depends on clear-headedness about the cross; otherwise we are always off-key. And clear-headedness about the cross, banishing blurriness of mind, is only attained by facing up to the reality of Christ’s blood-sacrifice of himself in penal substitution for those whom the Father had given him to redeem.

"Why then is it that in today's churches, even in some professedly evangelical congregations, this emphasis is rare? Why is it that in seminary classrooms, professional theological guilds, Bible teaching conferences, and regular Sunday preaching, not to mention the devotional books that we write for each other, so little comparatively is said about the heart-stirring, life-transforming reality of penal substitution? Several reasons spring to mind.

"First, we forget that the necessity of retribution for sin is an integral expression of the holiness of God, and we sentimentalize his love by thinking and speaking of it without relating it to this necessity. This leaves us with a Christ who certainly embodies divine wisdom and goodwill, who certainly has blazed a trail for us through death into life, and who through the Spirit certainly stands by each of us as friend and helper (all true, so far as it goes), but who is not, strictly speaking, a redeemer and an atoning sacrifice for us at all.

"Second, in this age that studies human behavior and psychology with such sustained intensity, knowledge of our sins and sinfulness as seen by God has faded, being overlaid by techniques and routines for self-improvement in terms of society's current ideals of decency and worthwhileness of life. It is all very secular, even when sponsored by churches, as it often is, and it keeps us from awareness of our own deep guilty and shameful alienation from God, which only the Savior, who in his sinlessness literally bore the penalty of our sins in our place, can deal with.

"Third, in an age in which historic Christianity in the West is under heavy pressure and is marginalized in our post-Christian communities, we are preoccupied with apologetic battles, doctrinal and ethical, all along the interface of Christian faith and secularity—battles in which we are for the most part forced to play black, responding to the opening gambits of our secular critics. Constant concern to fight and win these battles diverts our attention from thorough study of the central realities of our own faith, of which the atonement is one.

"Fourth, heavyweight scholars in our own ranks, as we have seen, line up from time to time with liberal theologians to offer revisionist, under-exegeted accounts of Bible teaching on the atonement, accounts which in the name of Scripture (!) play down or reject entirely the reality of penal substitution as we have been expounding it. The effect is that whereas from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century evangelicals stood solid for penal substitution against unitarianism (Socinianism) and deism, and taught this truth as no less central to the gospel than the incarnation itself, today it is often seen as a disputed and disputable option that we can get on quite well without, as many already are apparently doing.What in the way of understanding our Savior and our salvation we lose, however, if we slip away from penal substitution, is, we think, incalculable."


Taken from In My Place Condemned He Stood by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever, pp. 150-151, © 2008, Crossway Books

Free Audio Downloads from "Together for the Gospel"

You can access them here.

Together for the Gospel is a biennial conference for pastors and church leaders, hosted by Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, and C.J. Mahaney.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Bible and Saving Faith in Christ

Here's an important idea from David Wells (from his excellent new book, "The Courage to Be Protestant").

"The disciples did not shrink from [the] fact [that the unchanging, saving truth of the Gospel is found in the pages of Scripture]. ‘Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (1 John 5:12), declared John.

"And this life-giving knowledge, this knowledge of Christ as incarnate God and self-giving sacrifice in our place, is brought to us through the knowledge of the written Word. How are we to call upon him if we have not believed? And how are we to believe if we have not heard? ‘And how are they to hear without someone preaching?...”How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ (Rom.10:14-15).

"The Holy Spirit first inspired this Word, whose principal work is now to point men and women to Christ and so to work in them that they are able to bow before him, accept him for who he is, and by faith receive his death in their place. The Holy Spirit, in doing this, uses this Word to glorify Christ.

"There is no saving knowledge of God except through the truth of Scripture, except as our trust is placed in Christ by its teaching, and except as the Spirit imparts to us the desire to trust Christ in this way.

"We cannot know God in any other way. Whoever ‘does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God’ (2 John 9)."

-- David Wells, "The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World" p. 83 (Eerdmans 2008)

How the Cross Changes Us: Lusts, Longings and the Lordship of Christ

This sermon from Tim Keller on Romans 6 is probably the wisest, most helpful and most convicting message about turning from our idols and pursuing true holiness (by deeply believing the Gospel) that I’ve ever heard. I hope you’ll take time to listen and learn from it.

The basic outline is:

1. What the cross free us from
2. What the cross frees us for
3. How the cross frees us

(Romans 6:1-14)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pastors are Ministers of the Word, Not......

In our men’s study group this morning, we were looking at Colossians 1:24-29. In this passage Paul tells us what authentic pastoral ministry is all about. We serve the Lord by serving his church, and we do that by being servants of the Word.

So we are not entertainers; we are ministers of the Word. We are not producers; we are servants of the Gospel. And being a servant of the Word (whether in sermons or songs) means we are not those who revise or edit it -- a faithful ambassador heralds the message just as it is. (2 Cor.5:20; 2 Tim.1:11; 2:15).

We are not marketers; we are ministers – serving the Lord by serving his church by working hard (“laboring/struggling” – v.29) at preaching and teaching the Word in a faithful, relevant, transforming (saving/sanctifying) way.

“We proclaim Christ, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” (Col.1:28)

Walking with the Lord (post script)

Someone (anonymously) sent me such a good comment on my previous post, that I wanted to make it a full-fledged post too. It's from the great Bible commentator, Matthew Henry:

Matthew Henry, commenting on Matthew 28:16-20:

"All that see the Lord Jesus with an eye of faith, will worship him. Yet the faith of the sincere may be very weak and wavering. But Christ gave such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as made their faith to triumph over doubts. He now solemnly commissioned the apostles and his ministers to go forth among all nations. The salvation they were to preach, is a common salvation; whoever will, let him come, and take the benefit; all are welcome to Christ Jesus.

"Christianity is the religion of a sinner who applies for salvation from deserved wrath and from sin; he applies to the mercy of the Father, through the atonement of the incarnate Son, and by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, and gives up himself to be the worshipper and servant of God, as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, three Persons but one God, in all his ordinances and commandments. Baptism is an outward sign of that inward washing, or sanctification of the Spirit, which seals and evidences the believer's justification.

"Let us examine ourselves, whether we really possess the inward and spiritual grace of a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness, by which those who were the children of wrath become the children of God. Believers shall have the constant presence of their Lord always; all days, every day. There is no day, no hour of the day, in which our Lord Jesus is not present with his churches and with his ministers; if there were, in that day, that hour, they would be undone.

"The God of Israel, the Saviour, is sometimes a God that hideth himself, but never a God at a distance. To these precious words Amen is added. Even so, Lord Jesus, be thou with us and all thy people; cause thy face to shine upon us, that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." Knowing Him also means He ever goes with us.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Walking with the Lord

"...When the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is risen, one of the things it means is that the victim of Calvary is now, so to speak, loose and at large, so that any person anywhere can enjoy the same kind of relationship with Him as the disciples had in the days of His flesh. The only differences are that,
-- first, His presence with the Christian is spiritual, not bodily, and so invisible to our physical eyes;
-- second, the Christian, building on the New Testament witness, knows from the start those truths about the deity and atoning sacrifice of Jesus which the original disciples only grasped gradually, over a period years;
-- and, third, that Jesus's way of speaking to us now is not by uttering fresh words, but rather by applying to our consciences those words of His that are recorded in the gospels, together with the rest of the biblical testimony to Himself.

"But knowing Jesus Christ still remains as definite a relation of personal discipleship as it was for the twelve when He was on earth. The Jesus who walks through the gospel story walks with Christians now, and knowing Him involves going with Him, now as then."

-- J.I. Packer "Knowing God" pp.33-34 (Tyndale)

Pursued by Guilt?

“If Jesus is your center and Lord and you fail him, he will forgive you. Your career can’t die for your sins. You might say, ‘If I were a Christian I’d be going around pursued by guilt all the time!’ But we all are being pursued by guilt because we must have an identity and there must be some standard to live up to by which we get that identity. Whatever you base your life on - you have to life up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you - who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?”

- Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), 172.
posted at Of First Importance

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A "Form of Religion"

It seems that one of Satan's most effective strategies is to get the professing people of God to get caught up with a 'form of religion' that substitutes for the real thing in our lives (cp. 2 Tim.3:5). Recognizing these man-made substitutes is a first step in resisting them. Along this line, Jonathan Leeman posts on a schema of seven counterfeit gospels, as cited in How People Change by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp.

1. Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”

2. Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”

3. Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

4. Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”

5. Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”

6. Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs."

7. “Social-ism.” “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”
Thanks again to "Between Two Worlds" for pointing me to this post.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bring Your Heart to Christ's Love

“Bring your heart with its profoundest emptiness, its most startling discovery of sin, its lowest frame, its deepest sorrow, and sink it into the depths of the Saviour’s love… Christ’s love touching your hard heart, will dissolve it; touching your cold heart, will warm it; touching your sinful heart, will purify it; touching your sorrowful heart, will soothe it; touching your wandering heart, will draw it back to Jesus. Only bring your heart to Christ’s love.”

- Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1994), 165.

posted at Of First Importance

Reformation and Revival

One of the most important perspectives to come out of the Protestant Reformation was the realization that the church must always be open to being reformed (and revived) by the Word of God (empowered and illumined by the Spirit of God). In other words, the church and its leaders (pastors and deacons), along with the lay members, must always be intentional about letting the truth of Scripture teach, rebuke, correct and train us for righteousness (2 Tim.3:16) -- and righteousness means what is in accordance with the will of God (known through the Word of God).

This will not be taking place unless there is a deliberate, prayerful and collective commitment to seeing it happen. In practical terms this means that everything that a church does must continually be evaluated in light of the Bible's teaching on the nature and mission and functions of the church (e.g, worship, nurture, witness).

The Bible has so much to teach us about real worship, authentic witness, how true spiritual formation is fostered, detecting and avoiding worldliness -- but are Christians and church members carefully listening?

Judging from so much that goes on in the name of Christianity today, including, most sadly, evangelical Christianity (with its conferences and seminars, its 'celebrities' and trends, and its theological decay and its drift in ethics and method), it seems like way too often the answer is 'No.'

We need to pray for true revival, reformation and renewal -- the kind that only God's grace, power and Biblical truth can bring. And we need to pray, too, for the humility to realize that it needs to begin in our own hearts and lives.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Authentic Evangelism (and True Conviction of Sin)

"What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not at all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done.

"It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself and your failures and your inadequacy to meet life's demands. Nor would it be saving faith if a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again.

"Nor should we be preaching the gospel (though we might imagine we were) if all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man's felt wants ('Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need...' -- as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother, or a super-psychiatrist.

"No, we have to go much deeper than this. To preach sin means, not to make capital out of people's felt frailties (the brainwasher's trick), but to measure their lives by the holy law of God.

"To be convicted of sin means, not just to feel that one is an all-round flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted his authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him.

"To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One who through His cross sets men right with God again. To put faith in Christ means relying on Him, and Him alone, to restore us to God's fellowship and favor."

-- J.I. Packer "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" pp. 60-61 (IVP)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Authentic Relevance for Today...A Wise Warning from the Past

Thanks to Sean Lucas and Justin Taylor for pointing to this extremely relevant perspective and warning from one of the great Christian leaders (and hymn-writers) of the past, Horatio Bonar. His language is dated; his concern and wisdom are very much needed still today:

Some well-meaning theological literateurs, or rather amateur theologians, who patronize religion in their own way, are fain to warn us of the danger of not "keeping abreast of the age," as if we were imperilling Christianity by not being quite so learned in modern speculations as they are. We should like, certainly, to "keep abreast" of all that is true and good, either in this age or any other; but as to doing more than that, or singling out this age as being pre-eminently worthy of being kept abreast of, we hesitate.

To be "up to" all the errors, fallacies, speculations, fancies, mis-criticisms of the age, would be an achievement of no mean kind; and to require us to be "up to" all this under threat of endangering Christianity, or betraying the Bible, is an exaction which could only be made by men who think that religion is much beholden to them for their condescending patronage; and will be accepted by men who are timid about the stability of the cross of Christ if left unpropped by human wisdom; and who, besides, happen to have three or four lifetimes to spare. We may be in a condition for believing, and even defending the Bible, without having mastered the whole deistical literature of the last century or the present...

In attempting to "keep abreast of the age," there is some danger of falling short of other ages; and we are not sure but that the object of those who shake this phrase so complacently in our faces, both as a taunt and a threat, is to draw us off from the past altogether, as if the greater bulk of its literature were rude lumber, a mere drag upon progress...Old theological terms and Scripture phraseology are set aside, or spoken in an undertone, or used in a loose sense. Sharp adhesion to old doctrines is imbecility; and yet defined expression of the new is avoided, the mind of the age being in a transition state, unable to bear the whole of what the exact and honest exhibition of "advanced" Christianity would require to utter.

Many of our young men are more afraid of being reckoned Calvinistic than Platonic; they shrink from bold and definite statements of Reformation doctrine, lest they should be pronounced "not abreast of the age"--stereotyped, if not imbecile. Indefinite language, mystical utterances, negative or defective statements, which will save the speaker's or writer's orthodoxy without compromising his reputation for "intellect" and "liberality"--these are becoming common. Many are doing their best to serve two masters, to preach two gospels, to subscribe two confessions of faith, to worship two Gods, to combine two religions, to grasp two worlds; they would fain be neither very evangelical nor very heretical.

From Christ is All: The Piety of Horatius Bonar, ed. Michael A. G. Haykin and Darrin R. Brooker (2007), 31-33.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Important New Books

Justin Taylor highlights some important new books that are now available. He also provides helpful summaries and endorsements:

"The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World" by David Wells

"In My Place Condemned He Stood" by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever

"Engaging with the Holy Spirit" by Graham Cole

"Worship Matters" by Bob Kauflin

"Twelve Challenges Churches Face" by Mark Dever

His blog also highlights a few more recent books that appear to be well worth reading.

Irony Runs Deep at Willow Creek

Justin Taylor's blog draws attention to the major overhaul taking place at Willow Creek Church (near Chicago). What seems ironic to me is that this appears to be a ministry that took its cues more from surveys than from Scripture, but because they were apparently experiencing numerical success (one of the great Idols of our age), many church's and ministries slavishly imitated.

Now Willow Creek is making major changes in response (ironcially) to a new survey/study, the results of which have been summarized as "We've really upset the Christ-centered people."

But wouldn't it be best for all of us if we took our direction mainly from Scripture (that is, a Bible-based theology of worship, and of the church, and of mission) along with cultural analysis that is more penetrating than surveying the preferences of the unregnerate?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sermons on the Power of the Cross

The weblog "Of First Importance" is dedicated to helping Christians to live each day "in the good of the Gospel."

On their site I found this collection of sermons by Tim Keller on the central theme of the Cross of Christ. I highly recommend these gospel-centered messages, addressing questions like How the Cross Converts Us, How the Cross Changes Us, and How the Cross Unites Us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

D.A. Carson on Evangelicalism

Justin Taylor links to lectures by D.A. Carson (one of the most important theologians ministering today) concerning the current state of evangelicalism.

"Jesus Christ did not rise alone"

“Jesus Christ did not rise alone. He rose as the head of a whole body of people elected to have faith in him, to benefit from him, and to extend his mission in the world.”

- Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God’s World (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 2002), 81.
posted at Of First Importance

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why God is completely for us forever

"Our only hope for living the radical demands of the Christian life is that God is totally for us now and forever. Therefore, God has not ordained that living the Christian life should be the basis of our hope that God is for us. That basis is the death and righteousness of Christ, counted as ours through faith alone.

"On the cross Christ endured for us all the punishment require of us because of our sin. And in order that God, as our Father, might be completely for us an not against us forever, Christ has performed for us, in his perfect obedience to God, all that God required of us as the ground of his being totally for us forever.

"This punishment and this obedience are completed and past. They can never change. Our union with Christ and the enjoyment of these benefits is secure forever. Through faith alone, God establishes our union with Christ. This union will never fail, because in Christ God is for us as an omnipotent Father who sustains our faith, and works all things together for our everlasting good.

'The one and only instrument through which God preserves our union with Christ is faith in Christ -- the purely receiving act of the soul."

-- John Piper "The Future of Justification" p. 184 (Crossway 2007)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Living What We Believe

Is your Christian faith what really defines you and the way you look at life? To ask it another way, are your professed Christian beliefs (the doctrines you've been taught and that you would say you've embraced) -- are these the beliefs/ideas that really shape and control you (your outlook, your values, your priorities)?

If you're like me, you have a variety of reasons for affirming 'belief' in the doctrines and teachings of Christianity -- reasons related to fitting in with family and friends, fitting in at church, etc. But I have found that it's possible to kind of slide into a nomimal, polite, half-pretending way of believing, with the result that what I say I believe as a Christian isn't really what's defining and directing me. Instead, another set of basic beliefs are what is really calling the shots in my life.

Here's one example: I know that the Gospel says that we're accepted and welcomed by God because of grace alone received through faith alone, and that my works (my performance) adds nothing to my being right with God. And I know that Christianity teaches that God set in motion the plan of salvation (includng making me right with him) because he loved me, not in order that he could love me.

So the Gospel and Christianity teach this great and gracious and generous and free and sovereign saving love of God, through Christ, that comes to me as sheer gift -- and it's all of grace from first to last, forever. That's what the Gospel says. That's what Biblical Christianity teaches. So that's what I believe...sort of...sometimes...well, kind of...but not very often.

Why do I say that? Because much of the time what I really believe, and how I really look at things, is substantially different than what I just described. For deep down I have another set of beliefs (that I picked up from the world, the flesh and the devil) -- and according to those beliefs how I'm performing and how well I'm doing very definitely determine what God thinks of me, and how he regards me, and whether I have reason to expect his blessing.

According to this 'faith' (belief system), salvation might have been "all of grace" to start with, but from there on out, it was largely about me 'maintaining' God's good favor, staying on his good side, by how well I obeyed, and how little I disobeyed, and how much I served, and....and....

See what I mean? During those times I have, for all intents and purposes, stopped believing the Gospel, the good news of grace, and my whole identity and outlook end up being shaped by the lies that the devil has found a way to make me believe...deep down.

So no wonder it's called a fight of faith -- a struggle to keep believing -- really and truly, from the heart believing, a believing that begins with what's at the heart and core of Biblical Christianity: the Gospel of grace itself.

Ultimately, we all end up living what we really, truly believe. So may God help us (by his Word, his Spirit, prayer, and the fellowship of his people) to really and truly believe the Truth.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Recommended book on Worship

I'm looking forward to reading a new book on worship (especially in relation to music in the church) by Bob Kauflin. It's entitled "Worship Matters" (published by Crossway). You can read more about the book, including two very good sample chapters here.

Kauflin has his own blog at

Really "Getting" the Gospel

“Christians come to see that both their sins and their best deeds have all really been ways of avoiding Jesus as savior. They come to see that Christianity is not fundamentally an invitation to get more religious. A Christian comes to say: 'Though I have often failed to obey the moral law, the deeper problem was why I was trying to obey it! Even my efforts to obey it has been just a way of seeking to be my own savior. In that mindset, even if I obey or ask for forgiveness, I am really resisting the gospel and setting myself up as Savior.'

"To 'get the gospel' is to turn from self-justification and rely on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God. The irreligious don’t repent at all, and the religious only repent of sins. But Christians also repent of their righteousness. That is the distinction between the three groups–Christian, moralists (religious), and pragmatists (irreligious).”

- Tim Keller, “The Centrality of the Gospel”

Friday, April 4, 2008

“That Christian who has free grace, who has free justification, who has the mediatorial righteousness of Christ, who has the satisfaction of Christ, who has the covenant of grace most constantly in his sight, and most frequently warm upon his heart—that Christian, of all Christians in the world, is most free from a world of fears, and doubts, and scruples which do sadden, sink, perplex, and press down a world of other Christians, who daily eye more what Christ is doing in them, and what they are doing for Christ, than they do eye either his active or passive obedience.

"Christ has done great things for his people, and he has suffered great things for his people, and he has purchased great things for his people, and he has prepared great things for his people; yet many of his own dear people are so taken up with their own hearts, and with their own duties and graces, that Christ is little eyed by them or minded by them!

"This is the great reason why so many Christians, who will certainly go to heaven—do walk in darkness, and lie down in sorrow.”

- Thomas Brooks, A Cabinet of Choice Jewels
posted at Of First Importance

Holy for His Sake

"I will not trifle with the sin that slew by best Friend; I must be holy for his sake."

-- Charles Spurgeon

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Cross Persuades Us that God Loves Us

"When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard.

"He is saying to us: I love you this much. The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross we could never do for ourselves.

"But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us...."

..."But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (NASB).The cross should never be expounded simply as a demonstration of the love of God in a sense of being overwhelmed with his love, like it doesn’t matter if anything else was accomplished on the cross as long as we are overwhelmed by his love and swept along into fellowship with him, and that is the atonement. No. But while wrath is satisfied and Christ dies for our sins, it would be erroneous for us to reduce this to the kind of mathematical formulation of “this is how God has merely dealt with our sins.”

"No, this is also how God actually proves to us he really loves us!So it is both the effecting of the atonement and the persuading of his love...."

-- Sinclair Ferguson (from an interview of Ferguson by C.J. Mahaney)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Theologians as Sewage Specialists?

...That's what J.I. Packer suggests:

"Think of theologians as the church's sewage specialists. Their role is to detect and eliminate intellectual pollution, and to ensure, so far as man can, that God's life-giving truth flows pure and unpoisoned into Christian hearts.

"Their calling obliges them to act as the church's water engineers, seeking by their preaching, teaching, and biblical exposition to make the flow of truth strong and steady; but it is particularly as disposers of spiritual sewage that I want to portray them.

"They are to test the water and filter out anything they find that confuses minds, corrupts judgments, and distorts the way that Christians view their own lives. If they see Christians astray, they must haul them back on track; if the see them dithering, they must give them certainty; if they find them confused, they must straighten them out."

-- "Hot Tub Religion" p.13 (Tyndale)

"Instructing a Child's Heart" by Tedd & Margy Tripp

Tim Challies gives a helpful summary and review of a new book, "Instructing a Child's Heart."

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"The Gospel in 6 Minutes" by John Piper

Here's a good, brief summary of what it means to believe and live by the Gospel.

The Great Omission (Why We Need to Recover Gospel-Centered Christianity)

I have been concerned and disturbed for some time about trends going on in supposedly evangelical churches and ministries, and recently the reason for my concern crystallized in my mind: way too much of what happens in evangelicalism today, in its worship and witness, its popular trends, in so many of the songs and well-attended seminars, etc., is marked by a glaring omission – the Gospel is being left out. Or at the very least, we ('evangelicals') are no longer Gospel-centered in the way we should be (and in the way we used to be).

When we gather for worship we sing and speak about God maybe most often as the one who strengthens us for coping with life’s trials and troubles. And many evangelical authors and seminar leaders and even pastors may teach about how to live more successfully and strategically. We may even be calling people to live for things bigger themselves. (That’s big with those inclined toward the emergent movement…..)

And many of those things are all good in their place, but they cease to be good if they crowd the Gospel from the center, and even end up being a substitute for the Gospel – for believing it, proclaiming it, celebrating it and living by it.

We are EVANGELicals. That means, literally, we are GOSPEL-centered people. We are not mere theists; we are Christians, and even more specifically we are Gospel-centered (because we’re Bible-believing) Christians!

Remember, the reality and meaning of the Cross is at the heart of the Biblical/authentic Gospel. That’s why Paul could call his message “the word of the cross” and why he would tell the sophisticated and worldly-wise Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor.1:18; 2:1ff.) So again, it’s the message and the meaning of the cross and the resurrection – in other words the Gospel that is at the heart of real, true, authentic Christianity.

And so we must be Gospel-centered Christians (preaching the Gospel to ourselves everyday)…

– The Gospel defines who we are as believers – our faith in Christ takes the shape of believing what the Gospel declares about Him, centering in his being the Son of God who saves through his cross and resurrection.

-- The Gospel, then, is also what defines us as church. We are those baptized by the Spirit into one body when we believe the Gospel of Christ.

-- The Gospel defines how we are to live (e.g., Rom.6:1ff.; Gal.2:20ff.)

-- the Gospel fuels true worship (Rev.5:9-10, 12-13)

-- the Gospel directs how we minister (2 Cor. 5:11, 14-21) We are ambassadors: think of what the function of an ambassador is, and how he can get it wrong by distorting the king’s message. Such distortion happens when we leave out part of what we're to be proclaiming.

“The message about Christ (the Gospel)" is to richly inhabit our worship and our witness, our meetings and our ministries -- in sermons, but also in our songs (Col.3:16f.). The gospel is not merely a message about God helping us to cope with our problems and disappointments and broken dreams, etc. (Liberals believe that much.)

No, the Gospel is about God saving us from our sin – the penalty, power and presence of sin – and saving us specifically through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and saving us by grace alone through faith alone because we were too wicked and weak to save ourselves. The gospel is about the triumph of the gracious reign of God.

THAT’S THE GOSPEL!! And it is just plain wrong (and sad, and silly) when we settle for a lesser substitute message about God being just this nice, benign Being out to help everybody make their dreams come true.

May we recover our commitment to being as Gospel-centered as the apostle Paul, who wrote: "But far be it from me to boast/glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal.6:14)

Communicating the Gospel in a Post-modern Culture

I highly recommend this lecture by Pastor Tim Keller on communicating the Gospel in a post-modern culture. It includes crucial insights that relate to evangelism in more traditional contexts too.