Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sub-biblical "Transformation"

Organization-speak threatens to blind us to the church's unique glory.

A Christianity Today editorial | posted 6/12/2007

Transformation is urged or promised wherever we turn these days—transformation of the church, of the culture, and of the world. But the literature of transformation—abundant in print and on the Web—is mostly evidence that American evangelicalism is being paganized.

One example came through our offices recently. The book, published by a leading evangelical house, comes with endorsements from no fewer than nine nationally recognized evangelical leaders. It is "about churches that have the courage to embrace change and to confront adaptive issues head on," called "transforming churches." The book is "firmly rooted in solid research" and introduces readers to the "Healthy Church Index," which tells them about "the five key indicators of church health."

The book is noticeably deficient in Scripture, especially the New Testament, as if the divinely inspired writings are not something we should be rooted in when we think about transformation.

And the five key indicators? (1) Church members should be "experiencing real life change." (2) The church should have "a clear sense of mission" and a "compelling vision." (3) The church must "embrace change" to fulfill its mission. (4) Leaders should be "effectively … mentoring and mobilizing" members for ministry. (5) The church should be "effective in transforming" the local area.

Such vague, trendy organization-speak is not unbiblical: a lot of the advice is sound, as far as it goes. But it is sub-biblical. The book—like so many others in its genre—is rooted more in modern social psychology than in the Bible's spiritual realities: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

Transformation is, in fact, a word used sparingly in the New Testament—only three times (in the English Standard Version). None of the verses have to do with changing the culture or the world. Though speaking to the church, they address it as a spiritual institution. One verse says our bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies someday (Phil. 3:21). Another is the well-known injunction of Paul to "be transformed by the renewal of your minds" (Rom. 12:2).

In the third, Paul describes the specific means and nature of our change: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).

Biblical transformation of the church focuses not on social dynamics of corporate life—on mission statements, adaptive change, or mobilizing members. Such organizational principles can help any social organism, Christian or not. But to focus on them is to major in minors.

In our managerial age, we instinctively look to "leadership principles" and "keys to effectiveness" to "master" dysfunctional congregations. Some of this arises from a sincere desire to help the church be the church. Yet some of it is pure hubris and vain imagination, thinking that with organization-speak we can transform the church.

Worse still, organization-speak has a way of deafening our ears to the unique language of Scripture. Only that language can open our eyes to see "the glory of the Lord," the one reality that transforms us into Christ's image "from one degree of glory to another."

As long as our movement remains fascinated with social psychology, our churches will remain little more than clanging cymbals. The world is not longing to see more people conformed to the image of organizational man, but to see people transformed into the image of "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5).

Copyright © 2007 Christianity Today.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Keeping It Real"

From "Leadership Journal" online:

James Gilmore is co-author (with Joseph Pine II) of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want" (Harvard Business School Press, 2007). Gilmore is a Christian who views himself as "solidly reformed" and has spoken at a number of ministry conferences. In his first Leadership interview in 2001, Gilmore took our editors on a tour of Starbucks, ESPN Zone, and American Girl to demonstrate "the experience economy." Now Gilmore says beyond the created "experience," people are looking for authenticity. Here, in his own words, he tells us what that has to do–or not do–with the church.

Here are some excerpts:

As a business guy, I'm always cautious about taking any business thinking and applying it to the church. Don't take this stuff about the experience economy and make worship a staged experience. Consumerism has come to dominate contemporary evangelicalism. We're becoming a reflection of the world, instead of standing apart from the world. The church has moved to "spectacalism," which can become a false gospel.

All of life is being commodified. The church should be the one place that stands apart and says, We have nothing for sale. We only offer a free gift. The church ought to be the place where people see that there's something different about this place and this people from anything one experiences elsewhere in the commercial marketplace.

To me, the church should not aim to be "real" as an end. The church is there to proclaim truth. Trying to be hip and cool and real does a disservice to the church. We're not called to be successful. We're called to be obedient, even if they don't come. Ministry leaders should think more like Noah, of being part of a remnant that is faithful. If somebody doesn't find you objectionable, I wonder if you're preaching the full counsel of God.

For more, go here.

How to Waste Your Theological Education

This insightful post from Derek Brown may related especially to seminarians and pastors, but it also has lessons for other Christians too!

HT: Justin Taylor

"The Problem of Preaching to Felt Needs"

Here is a blog essay (9/15/06) from R. Albert Mohler:

"The idea that preaching should be addressed to the self-perceived "needs" of the congregation is now well ingrained in the larger evangelical culture. The argument behind this is almost always missiological -- just preach to the needs people already feel and then you can point them to a deep need and God's provision of the Gospel.

"There are several basic flaws with this approach. In the first place, our "needs" are hopelessly confused -- even hidden from us. As a matter of fact, the knowledge of our deepest needs is a secret even to ourselves until we receive that knowledge by the work of the Holy Spirit and the gift of Scripture. This is God's mercy -- that we should come to discover our most basic need.

"Second, our perceived or felt needs almost always turn out to be something other than needs -- at least in any serious sense. We have wants and desires and concerns, but most of these are not genuine needs that lead to desperation -- the kind of needs that remind us constantly that we lack all self-sufficiency. To the contrary, most of us feel quite self-sufficient. Thus, the needs we feel are the "needs" characteristic of apathetic affluence, romantic aspirations, and spiritual emptiness.

"Third, preachers who believe they can move the attention of individuals from their "felt" needs to their need for the Gospel will find, inevitably, that the distance between the individual and the Gospel has not been reduced by attention to lesser needs. The sinner's need for Christ is a need unlike all other needs -- and the satisfaction of having other needs stroked and affirmed is often a hindrance to the sinner's understanding of the Gospel.

"William H. Willimon, bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, spoke to the futility of felt needs preaching in a recent interview in Leadership [interview not available online]. His words are worth notice:

Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would've never had if I hadn't met Jesus. He reorders them.

I used to ask seminarians, "Why are you in seminary?" They'd say, "I like meeting people's needs." And I'd say, "Whoa. Really? If you try that with the people I know, they'll eat you alive."

Now, if you're a pastor in Honduras, it might be okay to define your ministry as meeting needs, because more people in Honduras have interesting biblical needs – food, clothing, housing. But most people in the churches I know get those needs met without prayer. So they've moved on to "needs" like orgasm, a satisfying career, an enjoyable love life, a positive outlook on life, and stuff the Bible has absolutely no interest in.

These are strong words we all need to hear.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Cross: Essential, and Therefore Exemplary

“The Cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love. Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong. Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.”

- Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY; Dutton, 2007), 193.
originally posted at Of First Importance

Monday, May 26, 2008

Charles Spurgeon's Testimony

"I had not long been in the house, that morning when I found the Savior, before one who had been anxious about me, said, 'There is a change come over my son;' and a delicate question was put, which soon drew out of me the confession that I had looked to Christ, and that I was lightened.

"Why, they could all see in my face the evidence of the change that had been wrought; there was all the difference between bondage and liberty, or between despair and delight; and it was because I had been with Christ that I had, in a moment, leaped out of nature's darkness into his marvellous light.

"So, now, whenever anybody says to me, 'Your view of the atonement, you know, is very old-fashioned, the doctrine of substitution is quite out of date;' I am not at all shaken in my belief.

"The gentlemen of the modern-thought school, who have been to Germany for their theology, do not like that glorious doctrine of substitution. They think that the atonement is a something or other, that in some way or other, somehow or other, has something or other to do with the salvation of men; but I tell them that their cloudy gospel might have surrounded me till my hair grew grey, but I should never have been any the better for it. I should never have found peace with God, nor come to love the Lord at all, if it had not been that I distinctly saw that he, who knew no sin, was made sin for me, that I might be made the righteousness of God in him.

"When I realized that, although I had gone astray from God, and broken his righteous law, he had laid on Christ my iniquity, and punished him in my stead, my soul found rest at once; and, to this day, it cannot rest under any other explanation of the atonement of Christ. So I bear my own personal witness, and many of you can heartily join with me in bearing similar testimony. You have been with Christ, so you can speak of the power of his substitutionary sacrifice as begetting peace in your soul."

-- C.H. Spurgeon
This excerpt is from "Christ's Past and Present Witnesses," a sermon preached Sunday Evening 7 March 1880 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Midsummer Madness" by A.W. Tozer

This is a longer than normal post, but it's a classic, timely challenge to Christians and churches by A.W. Tozer on one of the ways that it seems the world has squeezed us into its mold:

"As the sun makes its annual climb up from the south, a strange restlessness comes over those of our citizens who live north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and by the time summer has finally arrived this has increased into a pathological condition which turns the country into one vast cage of waltzing mice. A kind of madness grips the populace, and then begins that four-month frenzied effort on everybody’s part to get somewhere other than where he is. No one stops to ask what it is all about, but practically everyone who is not in the hospital or in jail joins the general stampede from everywhere to anywhere and return. An irresistible impulse picks up most of us like grains of dust caught by the wind, and spins and churns us about dizzily and dangerously till the first frost comes to ripen the pumpkin and drive home the trailers.

Changing times
The sturdy old deacon who spent his entire life in the same county where he was born has passed and gone for ever. He existed before the days of the modern nomad. Changing times have eliminated him as surely as the buggy shed and the hitching post. His chief use now is to decorate a museum along with the three-toed horse and the dinosaur. His basic error was that he failed to take a vacation. He needed a change and a rest, also a bit of recreation: but not having heard of these wonderful aids to health and longevity, he kept his nose to the grindstone, raised ten healthy children, worked his own farm, attended the Baptist Church four times a week, and managed also to read one or two good books a month. Though he had failed to relax properly at yearly intervals, he could still shoot a squirrel out of a chestnut tree at a hundred yards without glasses and chin himself a dozen times running when he was eighty-seven. When he finally died he was mourned sincerely by his family and a host of real neighbours who had learned to appreciate his sterling worth by living beside him for a lifetime. How anyone can claim that his grandson, who changes apartments every two years and spends his summers roaring through the landscape in a cloud of fumes, is his equal in manly character is beyond comprehension. Goldsmith’s famous lines come back to trouble the serious minded:
Ill fares the land,
to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates,
And men decay.

Now we believe in liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution and the inalienable right of every man to do as he likes as long as he stays within the law. If most of the population choose to forsake their homes and spend all their spare time scudding between filling stations, there is nothing we can do about it. To protest about it is to blow against the wind or shout against the tide. However, some of us old-fashioned throwbacks to a saner if slower age may be forgiven if we indulge in a few honest tears for the havoc this midsummer madness works among the churches of this hectic day.

Crippled churchesEven though the vacation habit is a craze and a curse, even though millions each season take long and expensive vacations from nothing more strenuous than loafing, we are still willing to
concede that there might be some therapeutic value in a vacation trip where and when needed. I would surely not begrudge the hard-working man or woman a rest from the daily grind. But the sad truth is that the vacation habit, plus the habit of making weekend trips throughout the summer season, has worked to practically paralyse the church of God for several months out of the year. Some churches close altogether, some are forced to give up evening services for the duration of the summer, and many are compelled to join with several other churches in union services in order to have an attendance large enough to justify a meeting. Even full-gospel churches and tabernacles are seriously crippled, the finances go into the red, the morale
suffers and faith burns down to a grey ash.

It is hard to understand how a follower of Christ can justify himself in laying down his cross so frequently and so shamelessly in this day of the world’s judgment. The army of the Lord is the only army on earth where the soldiers expect a four-month furlough in time of war. It is an ironic fact that in the very months of the year when Satan is the busiest the children of God are the laziest. He reaps her harvest during the summer season, while the poor overburdened heirs of the ages crisscross the continent at eighty miles an hour in a grim effort to relax. If someone should remind me that it is during the summer that the great conventions and camp meetings are held, I would reply that a ten-day period of fun at a camp meeting is a poor substitute for a summer of faithful service back at the home church.

It is a pitiful thing to see on any summer Sunday morning a discouraged Sunday school superintendent standing before the tattered remnant of his school, trying to appear cheerful with half of his teachers missing. And it is a tragicomic sight to see a peripatetic playboy of the church getting down on his knees on a Saturday afternoon to thank God for that prosperity which enables him to desert the house of God more frequently than he was able to do in his leaner years, and prays for ‘journeying mercies’ as he speeds away from his post of duty to commune with nature among sardine cans.

That the church of Christ should so completely succumb to this midsummer madness is proof enough of our low spiritual condition. It is little wonder that the people of the world smile cynically when we come back and go to work on them after the cool weather sets in. They do not take us seriously, and we have ourselves to thank for their attitude.

Our needWe need a revival! We need a revival of consecration to death, a revival of happy abandonment to the will of God that will laugh at sacrifice and count it a privilege to bear the cross through the
heat and burden of the day. We are too much influenced by the world and too little controlled by the Spirit. We of the deeper life persuasion are not immune to the temptations of ease and we are in grave danger of becoming a generation of pleasure-lovers. Any who disagree with this conclusion are within their rights, and I would be the last to deny them the privilege. But in the name of a thousand struggling churches and disheartened pastors, may I not plead for a little more loyalty to the local church during this season of difficulty?

May God raise up a people who will consult their pleasures less and the great need more. I know of one successful layman who refuses again and again to take perfectly legitimate pleasure trips
because he cannot bring himself to leave his class of adolescent Sunday-school boys. May God multiply such men and women among us till the reproach of Egypt is rolled away and man’s
confidence in us is restored.

-- A.W. Tozer

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What Is Repentance?

Repentance is a “…radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mk.1:15; Mt.4:17; 18:3)…. This conversion is once for all. There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken. It affects the whole man, first and basically the center of personal life, then logically his conduct at all times and in all situation, his thoughts, words and acts (Mt. 12:33ff. par; 23:26; Mk.7:15 par.).

“The whole proclamation of Jesus…is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible….

“It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation there is.

“Repentance calls for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God…. It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship. It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God…. It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God’s will.”

-- “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament” (Kittel)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Brian Regan: Toppers and Me Monsters

A YouTube clip from Brian Regan: "I walked on the moon."


What Happens In a True Conversion

‘What happens then, in a true conversion, is that faith comes to life in the mind as the reality of the truths about Christ (whether they have been read or heard) begin to take life and to felt.‘In some shape or form, these truths center on God’s holiness and love, Christ’s self-giving for us and in our place on the Cross, His triumph over sin, death and the devil, and our sense of corruption, guilt, misery and despair.

‘Then we hear the words of grace in the Gospel. Emotions may well be stirred, for although the perception of spiritual reality is not itself emotional, distress, fear, shame, and hopeful joy are at different times the result of coming to realize the truth of the Gospel. ‘Faith, beginning as this knowledge (this real understanding of the truths of the Christian faith) blossoms into assent in which the will is now engaged; assent issues into heartfelt trust and from this trust flows real repentance and the turning from sin to Christ.’

--David Wells, “Turning to God” p. 146 (Eerdmans)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Living by Simple Faith

"I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love."—Hosea 11:4.

"Our heavenly Father often draws us with the cords of love; but ah! how backward we are to run towards Him! How slowly do we respond to His gentle impulses! He draws us to exercise a more simple faith in Him; but we have not yet attained to Abraham's confidence; we do not leave our worldly cares with God, but, like Martha, we cumber ourselves with much serving. Our meagre faith brings leanness into our souls; we do not open our mouths wide, though God has promised to fill them.

"Does He not this evening draw us to trust Him? Can we not hear Him say, 'Come, My child, and trust Me. The veil is rent; enter into My presence, and approach boldly to the throne of My grace. I am worthy of thy fullest confidence, cast thy cares on Me. Shake thyself from the dust of thy cares, and put on thy beautiful garments of joy.' But, alas! though called with tones of love to the blessed exercise of this comforting grace, we will not come.

"At another time He draws us to closer communion with Himself. We have been sitting on the doorstep of God's house, and He bids us advance into the banqueting hall and sup with Him, but we decline the honour. There are secret rooms not yet opened to us; Jesus invites us to enter them, but we hold back. Shame on our cold hearts! We are but poor lovers of our sweet Lord Jesus, not fit to be His servants, much less to be His brides, and yet He hath exalted us to be bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, married to Him by a glorious marriage-covenant.

"Herein is love! But it is love which takes no denial. If we obey not the gentle drawings of His love, He will send affliction to drive us into closer intimacy with Himself. Have us nearer He will. What foolish children we are to refuse those bands of love, and so bring upon our backs that scourge of small cords, which Jesus knows how to use!"

-- Charles H. Spurgeon
from the daily devotions available at

Letting God Be God Over His Church

"Letting God be God over his church, seeing him as its center and glory, its source and his life, is a truly liberating experience. It liberates us from thinking that we have to do, in ourselves, what we are entirely incapable of doing. That is, growing the church.

"We cannot do what only God can do. We can work in the church, preach and teach, spread the gospel, encourage and urge each other on, but we cannot impart new life. Nor can we ever sanctify the church. Indeed we cannot even feed the church. It is God who supplies the food; we are simply called upon to serve it (1 Cor.3:5).

"This, however, is precisely what Paul says, a little later, that 'we do not lose heart' (2 Cor.4:1,16) but are 'confident' (3:4; cf. 5:6)."

-- David Wells, "The Courage to Be Protestant" p. 247 (Eerdmans 2007)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Than We Ever Dared Hope

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions and character of your sin.”

- Timothy Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: Living in Line with the Truth of the Gospel (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 2.
originally posted: Of First Importance

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Blessed Hope

“The true Scriptural source of consolation, in the face of all that troubles us, is to keep steadily before our eyes the second coming of Christ.

"We must grasp and realize the blessed fact that the rightful King of the world is returning soon, and shall have His own again; that He shall put down that old usurper, the devil, and take away the curse from off the earth.

"Let us cultivate the habit of daily looking forward to the resurrection of the dead, the gathering together of the saints, the restitution of all things, the banishment of sorrow and sin, and the re-establishment of a new kingdom, of which the rule shall be righteousness.”

- J.C. Ryle, “Looking Unto Jesus”
posted at Of First Importance

Friday, May 16, 2008

Willow Creek's 'Huge Shift'

Christianity Today online has this article on the radical changes going on at Willow Creek's ministry. The tag line for the article is: "Influential megachurch moves away from seeker-sensitive services."

Here's the opening sentence: "After modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, Willow Creek Community Church now plans to gear its weekend services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"The Apologetic of the Apologist" (Living the Life)

from Ravi Zacharias:

A starting point for taking on the responsibility of the work of Christian apologetics is recognizing the role that living out a disciplined Christian life plays. Even a brief examination of the Scriptures reveals this striking imperative: one may not divorce the content of apologetics from the character of the apologist. Apologetics derives from the Greek word apologia, "to give an answer." 1 Peter 3:15 gives us the defining statement: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."

I have always found this to be such a fascinating verse because the apostle Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, knew the hazards and the risks of being an answer-bearer to the sincere questions that people would pose of the gospel. Indeed, when one contrasts the answers of Jesus to any of his detractors, it is not hard to see that their resistance is not of the mind but rather of the heart. Furthermore, I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. The Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, "There are five Gospels: Matthew Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, and some people will never read the first four." In other words, apologetics is often first seen before it is heard.

For that very reason the Scriptures give us a clear picture of the apologetic Christian: one who has first set apart Christ in his or her heart as Lord, and then responds with answers to the questioner with gentleness and respect. Therefore, one must not overlook the stark reality that the way one's life is lived out will determine the impact upon the skeptic. There are few obstacles to faith as serious as expounding the unlived life. Too many skeptics see the quality of one's life and firmly believe that it is all theory, bearing no supernatural component.

I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a Hindu. He was questioning the strident claims of the followers of Christ as being something supernatural. He absolutely insisted "conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that in most cases it was not any different to those claims of other 'ethical' religions." So far, his argument was not anything new.

But then he said something that I have never forgotten, and often reflect upon: "If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians that I know?" His question is a troublesome one. After all, no Buddhist claims a supernatural life but frequently lives a more consistent one. The same pertains to many of other faiths. Yet, how often the so-called Christian, even while proclaiming some of the loftiest truths one could ever express, lives a life bereft of that beauty and character.

This call to a life reflecting the person of Christ is the ultimate calling upon the apologist. The skeptic is not slow to notice when there is a disparity, and because of that, may question the whole gospel in its supernatural claim. Yet when they are met with gentleness and respect, we will help meet the deepest longings of the heart and mind, and they will find where true discovery lies. Let us live so accordingly.

--Ravi Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Copyright (c) 2008 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) "A Slice of Infinity"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All of Salvation's Blessings Are in Christ

"...Our salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ (Acts 4;12). We should therefore take care not to derive the least portion of it from anywhere else.

"If we seek salvation, we are taught by the very name of Jesus that it is 'of him' (1 Cor.1:30). If we seek any other gifts of his Spirit, they will be found in his anointing. If we seek strength, it lies in his dominion; if purity, in his conception; if gentleness, it appears in his birth...

"If we seek redemption, it lies in his passion; if acquittal, in his condemnation; if remission of the curse, in his cross (Gal.3:13); if satisfaction, in his sacrifice, if purification, in his blood; if reconciliation, in his descent into hell; if mortification of the flesh, in his tomb; if newness of life, in his resurrection...

"In short, since rich store of very kind of good abounds in him, let us drink our fill from this fountain, and no other."

-- John Calvin, "Institutes of the Christian Religion" II.16.9

Monday, May 12, 2008

More perspectives on worship, music and outreach

Every now and then I join in on the comments at the blog of the New City Church where Tullian Tchividjian is pastor. Most recently I was a part of the interaction related to 'excellentism' in worship, music and related issues. You can check out that discussion here and here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

War with yourself

“Honest war with yourself comes paired with incomprehensible gifts. The peace of God passes all understanding, at the cost of all your fears! The love of God surpasses knowing, at the cost of every false love! Whatever you do, get this wisdom, this kingdom of God, this Christ! Nothing you could possibly desire compares. The cost is high: yourself. The reward is higher: no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

- David Powlison, Speaking Truth In Love (Glenside, PA: VantagePoint), 36.
posted at Of First Importance

Friday, May 9, 2008

Our Attitude Toward the Bible

"There is a great and painful contrast between [the] rapt extolling of the Bible as our true light and chief means of grace [that characterized evangelical Christians in the past] and the casual,...patronizing, superior attitude towards the Bible which is all too common today.

"Whereas the Reformers revered it, awestruck at the mystery of its divinity, hearing Christ and meeting God in their reading of it, we rather set ourselves above it, acting as if we already knew its contents inside out, and were indeed in a position to fault it as being neither wholly safe nor wholly sound as a guide to the ways of God.

"Both the spirit and the sentiment of the clergyman who once in a national synod spoke of the Old Testament as containing 'spiritual junk' are unhappily typical of our age. Naturally, coming to Scripture in this frame of mind, we fail to gain a proper understanding of what it is all about.

"One of the many divine qualities of the Bible is this, that it does not yield its secrets to the irreverent and censorious."

-- J.I. Packer, "God Has Spoken" p.41 (IVP 1979)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Justification by Grace Alone through Faith Alone

“We believe that Christ, by his obedience and death, fully discharged the debt of all those who are justified. By his sacrifice, he bore in our stead the punishment due us for our sins, making a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice on our behalf.

"By his perfect obedience he satisfied the just demands of God on our behalf, since by faith alone that perfect obedience is credited to all who trust in Christ alone for their acceptance with God.

"Inasmuch as Christ was given by the Father for us, and his obedience and punishment were accepted in place of our own, freely and not for anything in us, this justification is solely of free grace, in order that both the exact justice and the rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.

"We believe that a zeal for personal and public obedience flows from this free justification.”

- The Gospel Coalition, “Confessional Statement”, Article 8
posted at "Of First Importance"

The Saving Work of Christ: Making All Things New

Here is a compelling song and video (emailed to me by a friend) entitled "New Again" by Sara Evans and Brad Paisley. It includes graphic scenes from the movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

Isaiah 53:
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"An Evangelical Manifesto"

This morning a document was released at the National Press Club entitled An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment, spearheaded by Os Guinness and signed by over 80 evangelical leaders.

Justin Taylor provides a helpful intro and summary.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Inspired, Infallible Scripture

"That we have an inspired Bible and a verbally inspired one, we have the witness of God Himself; and that this means that every statement of whatever kind in the whole compass of Scripture, from the first word of Genesis to the last of Revelation, is infallibly true and of absolute authority to bind head, heart, and life, rests on no lower authority.

"The heart of God's people has in all ages responded to the fact with glad reverence. The hope of the world rests on it. It is the rock on which the confidence of our late age in the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice and the surety of our salvation is built.

"May the man who through indifference, carelessness, conceit, or wickedness would deny this truth of God and teach men so--no, not perish--but be converted from the error of his way and, like a second Paul, be set by God's power and call to defend that which he would have destroyed."

--B. B. Warfield
This is an extract from an article that appeared in the Truth 9 (1883) and can be found in A. A. Hodge & B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Wipf and Stock Publishers).
HT: Against Heresies

9Marks: Living as a Church

The latest 9Marks eJournal contains a series of Sunday School lessons on what it means to live together as a church.

Justin Taylor provides a helpful summary of this excellent material.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Beauty of Christ vs. the Vanity of Idols

Here's a moving hymn by Ora Rowan (1834-1879) about the beauty of Christ vs the vanity of idols.

"Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?"

Hast thou heard Him, seen Him, known Him?
Is not thine a captured heart?
Chief among ten thousand own Him;
Joyful choose the better part.

Idols oft they win thee, charm thee
Lovely things of time and sense;
Gilded thus does sin disarm thee,
Honeyed lest thou turn thee hence.

What has stripped the seeming beauty
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty
But the sight of peerless worth ...

...Not the crushing of those idols
With its bitter void and smart [pain] ,
But the beaming of His beauty
The unveiling of His heart.

Who extinguishes their taper [candle]
Till they hail the rising sun?
Who discards the garb of winter
Till the summer hath begun?

‘Tis the look that melted Peter,
‘Tis the face that Stephen saw;
‘Tis the heart that wept with Mary
Can alone from idols draw.

Draw and win and fill completely,
Till the cup o'erflow the brim;
What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?

Captivated by His beauty
Worthy tribute haste to bring;
Let His peerless worth constrain thee,
Crown Him now unrivaled King!

HT: Lydia Brownback, Matthew Jacobs, Jerry; Justin Taylor

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"A Deeper Relevance"

"Why many evangelicals are attracted to that strange thing called liturgy" -- a thought-provoking article from Mark Galli (Christianity Today Online)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gospel-centered Sanctification

Here is a very helpful online article by Jerry Bridges on how our pursuit of holiness must always be grounded in the joy and assurance of the Gospel.

The idea in this article is dealt with even more comprehensively in Bridges' book, "The Discipline of Grace."

Children of the Living God

“No short-cut that tries to bypass the patient unfolding of the true character of God, and our relationship to him as his children, can ever succeed in providing long-term spiritual therapy.

"But the knowledge that the Father has bestowed his love on us, so that we are called children of God - and in fact are his children (1 John 3:1-2), will, over time, prove to be the solvent in which our fears, mistrust, and suspicion of God - as well as our sense of distance from him - will eventually dissolve.”

- Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 14.

HT: Of First Importance

Friday, May 2, 2008

Living the Paradox

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

-- from "The Valley of Vision" (A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions), edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth)

HT: Tullian Tchividjian

"Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers"

Justin Taylor has a helpful post about a set of "short, simple, attractive volumes that teach God-centered theology to little kids."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Statement of Principle for Music in the Church (pt.2)

The following are excerpts from the guidelines for church music that were printed as part of the preface of a church hymnal in 1959. (This is the second part of a previous post.)

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.

IMPLICATIONS: (#1-5 were included in part 1).

6. The music of the church should from association with the currently secular or with anything that does violence to our [Biblical] conception of worship.
7. The music of the church should not be borrowed from that of the dance nor from concert or other music which suggests places and occasions other than the church and the worship service.

As you read such principles, do you react by comparing them to your own preferences, or do you ask, "Are these principles and ideas based on Scripture?" The Bible is to be our guide in everything -- certainly including how we should think about worship and music in the church.

"What Can Miserable Christians Sing?"

“A diet of unremittingly jolly choruses and hymns inevitably creates an unrealistic horizon of expectation which sees the normative Christian life as one long triumphalist street party — a theologically incorrect and a pastorally disastrous scenario in a world of broken individuals. Has an unconscious belief that Christianity is — or at least should be — all about health, wealth, and happiness silently corrupted the content of our worship?”

-- Carl Trueman, "The Wages of Spin"

HT: Bob Kauflin at

Gospel-centered 'contemporary Christian' song

Sovereign Grace ministries is offering a free download of the song "I Have a Shelter" by Steve and Vicki Cook and Bob Kauflin (from the album, "Come, Weary Saints).

Here are the lyrics:

I have a shelter in the storm
When troubles pour upon me
Though fears are rising like a flood
My soul can rest securely
O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation

I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven

© 2008 Integrity’s Hosanna! Music (ASCAP)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP) (Admin. By Integrity’s Hosanna! Music) Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)(Admin. By Integrity’s Praise! Music)

HT: Justin Taylor -- Between Two Worlds