Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Emergent 'Conversation'?

I am increasingly skeptical that ‘conversation’ is a very helpful paradigm or description for what should be going on in Christian thinking and ministry. In other words, if we start with the New Testament’s perspective on humans having received words from God (kerygma and ‘teaching’) about the ways/doings of God, the dominant ideas seem to be one of heralds or ambassadors faithfully and authoritatively communicating a particular message (news, good news) that is saving when believed. And beyond this, there is a tradition of teaching that is to be successively and authentically delivered/handed on that will guide the doing (praxis) and serving (mission) of the disciples (believers/obeyers) of Christ.

In the current conversation, there seems to be this virtually never-ending quest to even figure out what the ‘message/tradition’ is (or might be). The apostles and the early church seemed to be confident that they knew what that message was, and that their task was to declare, explain, defend, adorn, extend and embody it. (In fact 'minister of the Word' means 'servant of the Message.')

I recognize that there were times when the early church (as it was ‘emerging’) had to clarify its understanding of the Message (e.g., Acts 15), but this to them was a do-able project, apparently accomplished in a few days at most, before the proclamation with explanation resumed.

Will the emergent ‘conversation’ ever turn into authoritative (yet still humble) ‘proclamation’?

Hebrews 1 tells us that "God...has spoken..." That's what's decisive for any concept of 'conversation.'

-- Doug

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Kingdom of Self vs. the Kingdom of God

Paul Tripp is one of the most Biblically wise counselors and authors I know of. Here is an excerpt from his chapter, "War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God’s Sake," in the forthcoming book, The Power of Words and the Wonder of God:

"I would ask you again to be humbly honest with yourself as you are reading. If I sat with you and I listened to recording of the last month of your words, whose kingdom, what kingdom, would I conclude those words are spoken to serve? Would it be the kingdom of self with its self-focused demandingness, expectancy, and entitlement? Would I hear a person who is quick to criticize, quick to judge, quick to slam, and quick to condemn, because people are always violating the laws of your kingdom? Is the greatest moral offense in your life an offense that someone makes against the laws of your kingdom? When this happens do you use words as a punishment or as a weapon? Do you use words to rein this person back into loyal service of the purposes of your kingdom of one?

"Or would I hear you using words of love, honesty, encouragement, and service because your heart is taken up with the big-sky purposes of the kingdom of God. The entire law is summarized by a single command. If you had written that, what would you have written next? I probably would have written, “Love God above all else.” But that is clearly not what Paul writes. He writes, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is that an adequate summary of all that God calls me to? Oh, it is important to get this truth. It is only when I love God above all else that I will ever love my neighbor as myself. It’s only when God is in the rightful place in my life that I will treat you with the love that I have received from him. Brothers and sisters, hear this. You don’t fix language problems, you don’t fix communication problems, and you don’t fix word problems horizontally first; you first fix them vertically."

HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do Christians, Muslims and Jews Worship the Same God?

Tonight I was at a lecture where the question was again raised, "Don't people of the major religions, at least, all relate the same God?"

Often the answer seems to be framed along these lines: Jews relate to Yahweh, Muslims relate to Allah (and this should be understood as a different name for the same 'God' [Yahweh]), and Christians relate to God (the Father -- and God the Father, supposedly distinct from the Son and the Spirit, is the same God as Islam's Allah or Judaism's Yahweh).

But it occured to me that when a Biblically orthodox Christian says (or relates to) 'God,' he or she always necessarily means the God who is Triune (Father, Son and Spirit). This is who (and what) God is, according to Biblical Christianity -- triune, necessarily Father-Son-and-Spirit.

With that being the case, it hardly seems plausible to say (nor can I imagine an orthodox Muslim or Jew would want to say) that people of all three religions are relating to the same God, for it is an affront to both Jews and Muslims to say that God is a Trinity -- but for Christians it is essential.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Door Will Finally Open

“The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

- C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), 40-41.
posted at "Of First Importance"

John Updike and the Fear of Death

Russell Moore reflects on the death and literary work of John Updike.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike: "Seven Stanzas at Easter"

Justin Taylor writes of the passing of John Updike:

Acclaimed American writer John Updike died this morning at the age of 76.

I do not know his spiritual state (he was born Lutheran and later became Episcopalian), but I rejoice in the truth that he saw. For example, here is his “Seven Stanzas at Easter”:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"The Baby In My Womb Leaped for Joy"

A sermon from John Piper.

Here is his introduction: "The aim of this message is to awaken and intensify your joyful, grateful reverence for the gift of human life from conception to eternity. The beginning of human life is a magnificent thing. There is nothing else like it. Only humans come into being day after day, created in the image of God, and live forever..."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why Faith Works

More classic spiritual wisdom from Charles Spurgeon (in "All of Grace"):

"Faith saves us because it makes us cling to God, and so brings us into connection with Him. I have often used the following illustration, but I must repeat it, because I cannot think of a better. I am told that years ago a boat was upset above the falls of Niagara, and two men were being carried down the current, when persons on the shore managed to float a rope out to them, which rope was seized by them both.

"One of them held fast to it and was safely drawn to the bank; but the other, seeing a great log come floating by, unwisely let go the rope and clung to the log, for it was the bigger thing of the two, and apparently better to cling to. Alas! the log with the man on it went right over the vast abyss, because there was no union between the log and the shore. The size of the log was no benefit to him who grasped it; it needed a connection with the shore to produce safety.

"So when a man trusts to his works, or to sacraments, or to anything of that sort, he will not be saved, because there is no junction between him and Christ; but faith, though it may seem to be like a slender cord, is in the hands of the great God on the shore side; infinite power pulls in the connecting line, and thus draws the man from destruction. Oh the blessedness of faith, because it unites us to God!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Christ's Cross as Both the Object and Cause of Faith

"The cross which is the object of faith, is also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the cause of it. Sit down and watch the dying Saviour till faith springs up spontaneously in your heart. There is no place like Calvary for creating confidence. The air of that sacred hill brings health to trembling faith. Many a watcher there has said:

While I view Thee, wounded, grieving,
Breathless on the cursed tree,

Lord, I feel my heart believing
That Thou suffer'dst thus for me."
-- Charles Spurgeon, "All of Grace"

"The Dogma Is the Drama"

“It is the dogma that is the drama—not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death—but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death.

Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that man might be glad to believe.”

—Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2004), 21
posted at "Of First Importance"

Friday, January 23, 2009

Disdain for Definition?

In the introduction to his book, "What Is Faith?" J. Gresham Machen (writing in the 1920's) comments on the prevailing disdain for "the intellectual aspect of the religious life." And in words that seem extremely relevant to the postmodern mood today, he goes on to say...

"...Indeed nothing makes a man more unpopular in the controversies of the present day than an insistence upon definition of terms. Anything, it seems, may be forgiven more readily than that.

"Men discourse very eloquently today upon such subjects as God, religion, Christianity, atonement, redemption, faith; but they are greatly incensed when they are asked to tell in simple language what they mean by these terms.

"They do not like to have the flow of their eloquence checked by so vulgar a thing as a definition...."


-- "What Is Faith?" by J. Gresham Machen (Banner of Truth Trust 1991, pp.13-14)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Magnifying God: The Legacy of John Calvin in the 21st Century

South Church is teaming up with University Reformed Church (and other area churches) for a conference celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of Reformer, theologian and pastor, John Calvin.

For information (or to register), you can go to the conference website. The conference will be held at Univ. Reformed Church on Friday and Saturday, February 20-21.

The primary speaker will be "Christianity Today" editor-at-large, Collin Hansen, author of "Reformed and Restless: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists." (Yours truly will also be presenting a seminar, "Calvin for the Whole Church: His Influence Among Baptists, Anglicans and Beyond.")

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009

Repentance: A Christian Changes Radically

"...I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." -- Acts 26:20

"The New Testament word for repentance means changing one's mind so that one's views, values, goals and ways are changed and one's whole life is lived differently.

"The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes are all involved.

"Repenting means starting to live a new life."

-- J.I. Packer, "Concise Theology," p.162 (Tyndale)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Unbelief a great sin (Spurgeon)

“Beloved friends, let us never look upon our own unbelief as an excusable infirmity, but let us always regard it as a sin, and as a great sin, too. Whatever excuse you may at any time make for others—and I pray you to make excuses for them whenever you can rightly do so—never make any for yourself. In that case, be swift to condemn.

"It is a very easy thing for us to get into a desponding state of heart, and to mistrust the promises and faithfulness of God, and yet, all the while, to look upon ourselves as the subjects of a disease which we cannot help, and even to claim pity at the hands of our fellow-men, and to think that they should condole with us, and try to cheer us.

"It will be far wiser for each one of us to feel, ‘This unbelief of mine is a great wrong in the sight of God. He has never given me any occasion for it, and I am doing him a cruel injustice by thus doubting him. I must not idly sit down, and say, This has come upon me like a fever, or a paralysis, which I cannot help; but I must rather say, This is a great sin, in which I must no longer indulge; but I must confess my unbelief, with shame and self-abasement, to think that there should be in me this evil heart of unbelief.’”

—Charles Spurgeon, “Unbelievers Upbraided” (a sermon on Mark 16:14)
posted at "Of First Importance"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What Troubles the Lord Most...

“There is not any thing that, in our communion with him, the Lord is more troubled with us for, if I may say so, than our unbelieving fears, that keep us off from receiving that strong consolation which he is so willing to give to us.”

- John Owen, On the Mortification of Sin (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2000), 77.
posted at "Of First Importance"

Online Hymn Resource

The Cyber Hymnal

Friday, January 16, 2009

D.A. Carson MP3s Online for Free

Justin Taylor introduces this excellent new resource, featuring the teaching ministry of one of the most important Christian scholars on the scene today:

Andy Naselli, Ben Peays, and Ryan James have performed a tremendous service to the church: they have uploaded to The Gospel Coalition website 443 MP3s of D. A. Carson's teaching. Many of these were previously available only for a price; others have never been available online. Some are even in French! They are all tagged for easy searching and organization: by title, Scripture text, series, topic, date.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making Progress in Sanctification

Recent previous posts (and my sermon on Sunday) emphasized the Biblical teaching that a true conversion involves an unconditional surrender and whole-souled commitment to the Lordship of Christ (i.e., 'repentance'). This section on (progressive) sanctification reminds us, at the same time, that throughout our Christian life in this world, we face the struggle against indwelling sin. But it is a struggle where the power of the Spirit is stronger than the influence of the 'flesh.' (Cp. Gal.5:16ff.):

1. Those who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified—truly and personally—through the power of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them.

The dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, its various lusts are more and more weakened and put to death, and those called and regenerated are more and more enlivened and strengthened in all saving graces, leading to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

2. This sanctification, although imperfect in this life, is effected in every part of man's nature. Some remnants of corruption still persist in every part, and so there arises a continual and irreconcilable war—the flesh warring against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.

3. Although in this war the remaining corruption may strongly prevail for a time, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate nature overcomes, and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

-- Westminster Confession of Faith (1993 Modern Language edition)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Calvin on the Pursuit of Holiness

"Until the day that we leave this world, there will always be spots and stains within us, and we will always be bent down with the burden of our sins and weaknesses. This is in order to humble us and to show that our life is to be a constant battle.

"Thus, though sin dwells within us, it must not have dominion, but the Spirit of God must conquer it. This can only happen if we flee to God with fervent zeal, and pray that he will remedy the evil that we cannot change. Also, that he would grant us more of the gifts of His Spirit so that we might overcome all that has weighed us down."

-- John Calvin, Sermons on Galatians, trans. Kathy Childress (1563; repr. Edinburgh: Ganner of Truth Trust, 1997), 530.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Authentic"? Zing!

Douglas Groothuis of Denver Seminary reviews two recent biographies of Francis Schaeffer. This reviews are valuable in their own right, but what caught my attention was his humorous aside as to the much overused description, "authentic."

As he puts it, "I fear that the younger generation of evangelicals do not know enough about the remarkable life and achievements of Francis Schaefer; instead they are opting for the trendy but intellectually barren hype of much of the emergent church movement-which claims to be 'authentic.' ('Authentic' often means little more than emotional, unconventional, and obsessively autobiographical.)"

Monday, January 12, 2009

The "grace of God" argument for the pursuit of holiness

“The gospel creates the only kind of grief over sin which is clean and which does not crush. It says: ‘Look at Jesus dying for you! He won’t leave you or abandon you–how then can you respond as you are? He suffered so you wouldn’t do this thing! You are not living as though you are loved! As his child! It is not because he will abandon you that you should be holy, but because this is the one who at inestimable cost to himself has said he won’t ever abandon you! How can you live in the very sin that he was ripped to pieces to deliver you from?’ See the GRACE of God argument? It is the only argument which cannot be answered.”

- Timothy Keller, Church Planter Manual
posted at "Of First Importance"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sincere Repentance

A recent commenter to this blog provided another wise quote regarding repentance:

"No plea for forgiveness could be sincere, if there was no renunciation of the sin in the heart; no cry for cleansing could have any meaning, if there was still the purpose to renew the act that brought the stain; no prayer for communion could be genuinely expressed by a sacrifice, if there was no desire to walk in harmony with God's will." -- H.H. Rowley

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Repentance from the Heart

“Repentance out of mere fear is really sorrow for the consequences of sin, sorrow over the danger of sin — it bends the will away from sin, but the heart still clings. But repentance out of conviction over mercy is really sorrow over sin, sorrow over the grievousness of sin — it melts the heart away from sin. It makes the sin itself disgusting to us, so it loses its attractive power over us. We say, ‘this disgusting thing is an affront to the one who died for me. I’m continuing to stab him with it!’” - Timothy Keller, Church Planter Manual posted at "Of First Importance"

In the words of C.H. Spurgeon, "I will not trifle with the sin that slew my best Friend; I must be holy for his sake."


Friday, January 9, 2009

Repent and Be Saved -- pt. 5

from a modern language edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

"Repentance" (from the Westminster Confession of Faith – Modern Language Edition)

1. Repentance unto life is a gospel grace, the doctrine of which is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, just as is the doctrine of faith in Christ.

2. By it a sinner—seeing and sensing not only the danger but also the filthiness and hatefulness of his sins, because they are contrary to God's holy nature and his righteous law—turns from all his sins to God in the realization that God promises mercy in Christ to those who repent, and so grieves for and hates his sins that he determines and endeavors to walk with God in all the ways that he commands.

3. Although repentance is not to be relied on as any payment of the penalty for sin, or any cause of the pardon of sin (which is God's act of free grace in Christ); yet repentance is so necessary for all sinners, that no one may expect pardon without it.

4. No sin is so small that it does not deserve damnation. Nor is any sin so great that it can bring damnation upon those who truly repent.

5. No one should be satisfied with a general repentance; rather, it is everyone's duty to endeavor to repent of each particular sin, particularly.

6. It is the duty of each one to make private confession of his sins to God, praying for pardon (and whoever confesses his sins, prays for forgiveness, and forsakes those sins shall find mercy). Similarly, anyone who has scandalized a brother, or the church of Christ, ought to be willing by private or public confession, and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended, who are then to be reconciled to him and receive him in love.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Jim Elliot

Justin Taylor has a convicting, inspiring post (and video) about Jim Elliot. 53 years ago today (Jan.8), Elliot and four other missionaries were killed in Ecuador seeking to meet and evangelize the Waodani people.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Preaching Christ

Wise words from Sinclair Fergson:

"We do not preach "the atonement" as such, or "salvation," "redemption," or "justification" as such, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. These blessings were accomplished by Christ and are available only in Christ, never abstracted from him.

"We must learn to avoid the contemporary plague of preaching the benefits of the gospel without proclaiming Christ himself as the Benefactor in the gospel.

"We do not offer people abstract blessings (peace, forgiveness, new life) as commodities. Rather we preach and offer Christ crucified and risen, in whom the blessings become ours and not otherwise. We preach the person in the work, never the work and its blessings apart from the Saviour himself."

-- "Preaching the Atonement" in The Glory of the Atonement (Hill & James, eds), p. 437
HT: Martin Downes

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Repent and Be Saved (pt. 4)

What is repentance? Here is the definition from a modern language edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

1. Repentance unto life is a gospel grace, the doctrine of which is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, just as is the doctrine of faith in Christ.

2. By it [that is, repentance] a sinner—seeing and sensing not only the danger but also the filthiness and hatefulness of his sins, because they are contrary to God's holy nature and his righteous law—turns from all his sins to God in the realization that God promises mercy in Christ to those who repent, and so grieves for and hates his sins that he determines and endeavors to walk with God in all the ways that he commands.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Repent and Be Saved" (pt. 3)

(See previous posts -- pt. 1 and pt. 2)

The Bible teaches that we must repent and believe in order to be saved. But what does it mean to repent? In the previous posts, I've given two descriptions of repentance. Now, here is a third, this time from Charles Spurgeon...

“Another proof of the conquest of a soul for Christ will be found in a real change of life.

“If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both in private and in public, then his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.

“Not only action and language, but spirit and temper [attitude] must be changed….

“…Remaining under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for ‘you are servants of the one you obey’ [Rom.6].

“Idle are the boasts of a man who harbors within himself the love of any transgression. He may feel what he likes, and believe what he likes, but he is still in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity while a single sin rules his heart and life.

“True regeneration implants a hatred of all evil; and where one sin is delighted in, the evidence is fatal to a sound hope…..[that is, the hope that such a person is genuinely saved”].

Sunday, January 4, 2009

"I Love Jesus Christ"

Here's a very meaningful meditation from Pastor John Piper.

"Repent and be saved" (pt. 2)

(See previous post also.)

The Bible teaches that we must repent in order to be saved. So what does it mean to repent? In the previous post, I gave a description of repentance from evangelist Billy Graham. This time the definition comes from the "Theological Dictionary of the New Testament" (Kittel):

“…[Repentance means] 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.”

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Repent and Be Saved

The Bible makes it clear that a lost sinner must repent in order to be saved (Lk.13:5; Acts 2:38; 20:21 etc.). What, then, does it mean to repent? Here is how Billy Graham describes repentance in his classic book, "Peace with God.":

“If repentance could be described in one word, I would use the word renounce. ‘Renounce what?’ you ask. The answer can also be given in one word – ‘sin.’…

“Not only are we told that we must renounce the principle of sin but we are also to renounce sins – plural. We are to renounce the world, the flesh and the Devil. There can be no bargaining, compromise or hesitation. Christ demands absolute renunciation…..

“…repentance and faith go hand in hand. You cannot have genuine repentance without saving faith and you cannot have saving faith without repentance….

“…[To repent] means a great deal more than just regretting and feeling sorry about sin. The Biblical word repent means ‘to change, to turn.’ It is a word of power and action. It is a word that signifies a complete revolution in the individual.

“When the Bible calls upon us to repent of sin, it means that we should turn away from sin, that we should do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction from sin and all that it implies….

“….True repentance means ‘to change, to turn away from, to go in a new direction.’ To be sorry is not enough in repentance….

“….repentance cannot take place unless first there is a movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind….”

“….There must be a determination to forsake sin – to change one’s attitudes toward self, toward sin, and God; to change one’s feelings; to change one’s will, disposition and purpose.

“Only the Spirit of God can give you the determination necessary for true repentance….

“There is not one verse of Scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of a life you want to. When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master. He demands complete surrender….

“…He must have first place in everything you do or think or say, for when you truly repent you turn toward God in everything.

“We have the warning of Christ that He will not receive us into His kingdom until we are ready to give up all, until we are ready to turn from all sin in our lives. Don’t try to do it part way. Don’t say, ‘I’ll give up some of my sins and hang on to some others. I’ll live part of my life for Jesus and part for my own desires.’”

“God demands a total change, a total surrender.”

--“Peace with God, pp. 100-107

If repentance is necessary for salvation, and this is what repentance really means, what does that say about so many professing Christians today?