Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas, Just Live It!

Do we not fortify the world against the doctrine we profess, by the fruits of it they see in ourselves, and our own ways? Do they not say of us, ”These are our new lights and those who profess to believe; proud, selfish, worldly, unrighteous; negligent of the ordinances themselves profess to magnify; useless in their places and generations;—falling into the very same path which they condemn in others”? Perhaps they may deal falsely and maliciously in these things; but is it not high time for us to examine ourselves, lest, abounding in preaching and talking, we have forgot to walk humbly with God;—and so, not glorifying the gospel, have hindered the free course of its work and efficacy? ~John Owen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

from Steve Wilkins

Well, having already riled up a number of esteemed brethren, let us see if we can keep up the momentum! So, today, class, we shall make our target those (well-meaning) Christians who think that Christmas gift-giving distracts us from the True Meaning of Christmas ™.

You hear it every year, don’t you? We’re warned against the “commercialization” of Christmas and exhorted to reject it so that we can get back to the true Reason for the Season ™. We spend too much money. Shopping for others brings stress and anxiety and hustle and bustle and worry and drives you crazy! Why can’t we just love one another and forget the gifts and just spend time around the fireplace thinking warm thoughts of love and gentleness, sipping hot chocolate, and enjoying some simple, home-made gifts (which are far more meaningful than anything you could possibly buy from one of those greedy merchants at the mall or online)?

That’s the spirit I’m talking about. You’ve heard it, right? Ok.

First, though, let’s acknowledge that there are real sins connected with our celebrations that we need to be mindful of and avoid:
– Do many people spend more than they can afford on gifts and sin by going into unnecessary debt? You betcha.
– Do we have a problem with materialism in our culture? Indeed we do.
– Do we often think that money and things can bring happiness and contentment? Yep.
– Do we fall into the trap of focusing more upon the hassle and the expense of gift-giving than we do upon the privilege of giving? Absolutely.
– Should we spend more time together with loved ones and work on building our relationships and loving one another? Of course.
– Should we remember that there are many people in need of basic necessities and have compassion on them instead of always focusing upon ourselves? Absolutely, we must never forget the needs of those around us — mercy and justice demand it.

But acknowledging all that, the message we often hear gives this impression: “Giving unnecessary and expensive gifts to friends and family is a waste of money. It encourages selfishness, covetousness, materialism and indifference to others and is a great dishonor to God.”

The implication is that one of the solutions to covetousness, selfishness, and materialism is to quit giving gifts and cut back on the size of our celebration — otherwise it’s impossible to avoid these sins.

But is this true? Let me pose another question: If you’re tithing and being generous with the wealth God has given you (remembering those in need), is it wrong to spend your money on gifts and celebration? Is it wrong to give something that is not absolutely necessary for sustaining life? Like a toy rocket ship or truck or a video game, or another pair of shoes, or a new shirt or a hilarious tie? Is it wrong to spend money on special treats and an unusually large dinner? Some of our friends would say, “Yes. Yes it is, absolutely!”

The problem here, however, is that God says, “No. No, it isn’t wrong, absolutely not!” If you’re tithing, being generous, showing compassion to those in need, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with feasting, gift-giving, celebrating, and spending money for these “unnecessary” things.

Indeed, God commanded Israel to do this very thing, right? (Deut. 14:22-27 “You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year. 23 And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. 24 But if the journey is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, or if the place where the LORD your God chooses to put His name is too far from you, when the LORD your God has blessed you, 25 then you shall exchange it for money, take the money in your hand, and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses.”).

It’s not clear exactly how this was to work, but scholars think that at least four out of every seven years, God expected Israel to do this. And notice: The rule for determining what you obtained with your money was not what you needed but what you desired. And you were not to be concerned about the amount. You were to purchase as much as your tithe allowed. Which, for some, would have amounted to quite a bit of stuff.

It’s impossible to know the average income of the average Israelite, so let’s just put it in terms that we can understand. What if you were to spend a tithe of your income for a celebration? What would my friends think if they heard I spent $3000-4000 for Christmas? Would they be dismayed? Would you? It sounds like gross extravagance, like something that can only lead to evil, right?

But notice why the Lord wanted Israel to do this (v. 23 “that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.”). This extravagant celebration was to teach them to fear Yahweh. That’s the same phrase used to explain why they should read the law publicly every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13).

God puts celebration and feasting on the same level as hearing His Word. Why? In part because the celebration itself was made possible by God’s goodness and generosity. They had something to celebrate with only because God had been generous to them in giving them strength and skill and blessing their labors. And every year when they ate and drank and enjoyed the abundance of good things that they probably couldn’t afford during the rest of the year –- they were reminded of God’s extravagant grace and mercy to them. And the experience of His goodness and generosity would in turn make them generous people. They would fear Him and grow in conformity to Him.

God wasn’t afraid that they would become covetous and materialistic. The covetous man doesn’t have any desire to spend his money for others. The materialist has no regard for the joy he might bring to others with his wealth. This grand celebration was to teach them to see the ugliness of covetousness and materialism and to attack these evils.

And, you know what? A joyful, generous celebration of Christmas (and other feast days) will do the same for us.

Do you see how this works? Our giving is to reflect God’s generosity to us. The man who is always concerned that he’s going to spend a penny more than is absolutely necessary or that he’s going to give more than he needs to give, is not showing the spirit of the Savior. He’s not loving like Jesus loves at all. Rather, we show forth the glory of God by being generous to others and sometimes by being extravagantly generous — just like He is toward us.

God gives us many, many things that are not absolutely necessary for life. He supplies all our needs but then gives us far above all that we can ask or think. And He never worries about spending too much on us. Does His abundance make you spoiled, arrogant, and demanding? Or does it rather humble you and make you ashamed of your selfishness and self-centeredness and pettiness and stinginess?

You see? God doesn’t attack consumerism and materialism by being stingy with His gifts or restricting the number of them because He’s afraid that you will become a selfish pig. Rather, He lavishes His gifts upon you so that you will learn to be like Him.

Christmas is a time when we have the privilege of imitating the gloriously generous, loving God who has given us the most precious of gifts and all other things with Him.

So rejoice, be glad, eat, drink, and be truly merry — for the Lord is good. He has given us His Son . . . and the turkey and the pecan pie and that funny sweater Aunt Suzie thought was “darling” — give thanks and enjoy it all so that you can become like the Lord of love, joy, and gladness.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

From George Grant

Schaeffer and Worldview

On this day in 1979, Francis Schaeffer gave an historic speech which would form the basis of his landmark book A Christian Manifesto. He asserted that "the basic problem with Christians in this country" over the last two generations or more has been that "they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.” The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to the dire dilemmas of our day: “They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion. But they have not seen this as a totality--each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.”

He said that part of the reason for this was: “They failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview--that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think a view the world and life as a whole.”

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy. We think of intellectual niggling. We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes. It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress. It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent. It is instead as down to earth as tilling the soil for a bed of zinnias.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung. It literally means a life perspective or a way of seeing. It is simply the way we look at the world.

You have a worldview. I have a worldview. Everyone does. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock said: “Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality.”

This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet. It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us. It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think. Our mind is not as Pelagius, Locke, Voltaire, or Rousseau would have had us suppose—a tabla rasa, a blank and impartial slate. None of us are completely open-minded or genuinely objective. “When we think,” said economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher, “we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think.” These more or less fixed notions make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions--in other words, our worldview.

Thus, a worldview is simply a way of viewing the world. Nothing could be simpler. But by raising the issue when he did and how he did, Francis Schaeffer altogether altered the terms of the theological debate in America and ushered in a new wave of reform.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Why there is so much emphasis on "romance" & "intimacy"

Relationships and Intimacy in the Modern World

When talking about the relationships that characterize the Christian life, I wonder whether both our language and concepts of relationship have been weakened in a manner that makes it hard to appreciate what these things mean any longer. God’s revelation of his presence in and through a community that shares a deep and strong common life is not the same thing as that presence experienced in the ersatz ‘community’, where feelings of mutual belonging are often substituted for the fact. Similarly, the gravitational pull towards forms of religious expression focused upon intimacy, sentimentality, and romantic attachment may be a result of the fact that our relational palette has been considerably reduced by the character of modern life, as all close relationships start to become subsumed under the generic category of ‘intimacy’, and we no longer can relate to the forms of worship and piety that were meaningful in societies with a richer and finely differentiated relational matrix.

How We Forgot What Sonship Means

As our understanding of the relationship of sonship has been transformed as society has changed, and we read modern notions of sonship back into the scriptures, one of the effects is to infantilize our understanding of our relationship with God. Being sons of God becomes associated with passive emotional attachment detached from active discipleship. This infantilization encourages the loss of the place of the mind and the marginalization of the virtues of the mature person (courage, strength, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, etc.) within our understanding of the Christian life. Sonship becomes an almost entirely internalized concept of felt intimacy, rather than an outward looking concept of representation and commission. It becomes a private bond, rather than a bond that is lived out in a manner that is essentially visible to the whole of society. It can also become a narcissistic connection, rather than one that celebrates the broader familial bonds within which it includes us. It can become detached from the context of entering into inheritance.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Christian XPmas

by Pastor Jeff Meyers.

All the links are here:

12 Daze of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas

by George Grant

Every day, from December 25 to January 6, has traditionally been a part of the Yuletide celebration. Dedicated to mercy and compassion--in light of the incarnation of Heaven’s own mercy and compassion--each of those twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany was to be noted by selfless giving and tender charity. In many cultures, gift giving is not concentrated on a single day, but rather, as in the famous folk song, spread out through the entire season.

In that delightful old folk song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, each of the gifts represent some aspect of the blessing of Christ’s appearing. They portray the abundant life, the riches of the Christian inheritance, and the ultimate promise of heaven. They also depict the essential covenantal nature of life lived in Christian community and accountability--but perhaps not as specifically as you may have been led to believe. Though theories vary on the origin of the song (it first appears sometime during the advent of Protestantism in Tudor England) it is likely an urban legend that it was intended to be a secret catechism song during those difficult times of persecution.

That rather fanciful interpretation of the song has attached very specific and very dubious meanings to the symbols: the partridge in a pear tree, for instance, is taken to be Christ, Himself. It is supposed that in the song, He is symbolically presented as a mother partridge feigning injury to decoy predators from her helpless nestlings--an expression of Christ's sadness over the fate of Jerusalem: "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often would I have sheltered thee under my wings, as a hen does her chicks, but thou wouldst not have it so." The two turtledoves are taken to represent the Old and New Testaments. The three French Hens supposedly symbolize faith, hope, and love. The four calling birds are said to portray either the four Gospels or the four evangelists. The five golden rings are supposed to be the first five books of the Old Testament the "Pentateuch." The six geese a-laying are said to be the six days of creation while the seven swans a-swimming are taken to be the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The eight maids a-milking are supposed to be the eight beatitudes while the nine ladies dancing supposedly represent the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit. The ten lords a-leaping are naturally taken to mean the Ten Commandments. The eleven pipers piping are supposed to be the eleven faithful apostles and the twelve drummers drumming are either the tribes of Israel, the elders of Revelation, or the points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

Most of these well-intended interpretations are likely just wishful thinking. For one thing, all of the first seven gifts actually refer to birds of varying types. The fourth day's gift, for instance, is four "colly birds," not four "calling birds" (the word "colly" literally means "black as coal," and thus "colly birds" would be blackbirds). The "five golden rings" on the fifth day refers not to five pieces of jewelry, but to five ring-necked birds (such as pheasants).

But, even though symbolic maximalism likely goes too far, it is equally excessive to assume that the song is "strictly secular," as one debunking web site dubbed it. Indeed, secularism in sixteenth century England was about as credible then as an Elvis sighting is today. The answer to overly-anxious allegorical apocryphalism is not the equal and opposite error of overly-anxious rational reductionism. Symbols don't have to mean everything in order to mean something--nor do they have to mean nothing.

Very likely, this delightful folk song was just intended to generally and joyously portray throughout the Yuletide season the abundant Christian life, the riches of the Church's covenantal inheritance, and the Gospel's ultimate promise of heaven. Sing, therefore, with new gusto and zeal. For, "every good and perfect gift comes from above." Even partridges, pear trees, and leaping lords!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Endurance of Unshakable Faith

"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. -- Hebrews 10:39-11:2 (ESV)

In the darkest moment of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Sam, the hobbit, looks up into the poisonous skies of Mordor, and receives an unexpected comfort.

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

For the first time in days, Sam curled up into a deep untroubled sleep. He once again had the strength to endure.

This story of little Sam being heartened by the star is so poignant because it resonates with the Christian experience. Every Christian knows what it is like to want to give up, to lay down the sword and just surrender if that will quiet the world’s constant battering. The early Christians who read the book of Hebrews knew that feeling well. With some of their brothers in prison, others being plundered, and others probably dead, they were ready to quit—to throw up their hands and go back to being safe, innocuous, government-protected Jews (10:32-35). The author of Hebrews, however, would not let them. Endure, he told them, because you know that God has promised you victory (10:39).

To the author of Hebrews, faith is more than the instrument of justification (though it is certainly that as well). It is the very ground of the Christian’s endurance, his reason for pressing on in the face of the most dreadful hardships. The apostle does not expect his readers to simply “gird up their loins” and tough it out. They would endure because their faith gave them assurance—beyond any shadow of doubt—that the salvation they hoped for would eventually come. It gave them proof, however unseen, that God would fulfill His promises (11:1). This was the same faith which allowed the heroes of the Old Testament to stake their lives on God’s promises, even when the realization of those promises was nowhere in sight (Heb. 11). Bolstered by such faith, the Hebrew Christians, like the saints who went before them, could face their persecutors with firmness, reliability, and steadfastness. Theirs was not an empty hope. It was a hope rendered secure by faith.

Celebrating people of faith as Hebrews 11 does would have been unthinkable in pagan Greek culture. To fashionable Greeks, faith was the last mental stronghold of the uneducated, who blindly believed things on hearsay without being able to give precise reasons for their beliefs. The pagan observers were astonished by the willingness of Christians to suffer and die for the indemonstrable. Today, faith is still an enigma to most. The world sees Christians suffering ostracism, ridicule, poverty, even death, and they call it “foolishness.” They wonder why people would endure such suffering for a “fable.” But for those who actually endure the suffering, take the contempt, and make the sacrifices, it really is no mystery at all. They endure because they know by an unshakable faith that in the end their suffering is only a small and passing thing: there are promises and rewards laid up for them forever beyond its reach.

--from the BibleMesh Blog

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Good Growth

We do not grow in grace and the knowledge of Christ by leaps and bounds but some try. They bounce from one mountain peak of Christian experience to another. Every year or so they make a new start, turn a new leaf, have a new thrill. Children do not grow by suddenly gaining a few inches or adding a few pounds now and then. They grow gradually, daily, by food, rest, and exercise. Christian growth comes the same way by feeding on the Word, resting in the Lord, and exercising unto godliness. It has been said that nothing is more detrimental to Christian experience than too many Christian “experiences.” --Vance Havner

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"I Don't Follow A Man!"

By Lisa Robinson

I have encountered an expression on a number of occasions that goes something like this… “I don’t follow man, only God.” Sometimes there might be “denominations” thrown in, to emphasize that following God does not mean following denominations. Of course, that is the sentiment behind not following ‘man’. By man, I don’t mean male but anyone that represents Christianity. I believe the idea behind this thought, is that people have opinions about Christianity or about what the bible says. It does seem more spiritual to say that one does not follow such opinions but only relies on what the bible says. But not only is this thought counterproductive to real learning it is antithetical to Christianity.

Throughout the pages of scripture, God placed people in positions from which His people should take cues, instruction and learn from. There was Moses and Joshua, the judges, the kings and the prophets. Jesus Himself, instructed his disciples to make disciples and teach them everything He commanded. We see a beautiful portrait of this in the early kernels of the Church as new converts sat under the apostles teaching (Acts 2:42). Paul commended Christians under his tutelage to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). He gave instruction for leadership to carry on the apostolic witness in the teaching of Christ. This necessarily comes with the expectation that Christians must follow man in order to understand Christ.

To say that we don’t follow man, is the same as indicating we don’t need teachers and we can arbitrarily decide what is best for ourselves. It is an attitude that we learn according to our own private interpretations, that says I only need me and my bible since the Holy Spirit will give the interpretation. However, this contradicts the fact that God has always given his word to His people, organized to learn from each other. An examination of Ephesians 4 indicates that the body of Christ, united by Spirit baptism, contributes to each other’s growth under the tutelage of leaders. The same goes for 1 Corinthians 12. We must rely on others as each one contributes, and learning from others is a part of the package.

The reality is that unless we live in complete isolation, it is a false statement to say that we follow no one. There is usually someone or a group of someone’s influencing our bible interpretations. I actually find it ironic when the ones who insist on not following ‘man’, are being influenced by like-minded thinkers who have listened to their brand of interpretation. The danger here is that private interpretations, and particularly ones that have rejected the historic witness of the faith for something “new”, can create interpretations and biases in such a way that removes Christian faith from its very foundation.

Yes, tradition is important because it teaches us how others have followed Christ. I am dismayed at how those who have gone before are dismissed and disdained, as if we can’t possibly learn from them, or that it is unspiritual or academic to inquire about historical thoughts. But if those to whom we are united in Christ, even if they are no longer here, have taken time to put their thoughts in writing, there is something to learn from their contributions.

And that leads to the premise that we are to follow people with understanding. I have observed, and particularly in American evangelicalism, an alarming acceptance to anyone who articulates ideas about Christianity using scripture, and call it bible-based. And we won’t even get into what is being promoted in the internet. Just because one uses scripture does not necessarily mean it is accompanied by understanding in relation to God’s overall redemptive program as outlined in scripture. Church history has witnessed that even heretics can use scripture to support erroneous ideas and those ideas have stemmed from a lack of understanding how their proof-texts are rooted in the foundation that God laid.

Thus, understanding comes from how it all fits together. I worry that so much of modern day teaching is nothing more than a set of Christian principles to live by. Christians are learning isolated proof-texts under topical teaching that wants to support whatever the pastor/teacher thinks is important. Don’t get me wrong, there are principles but those principles must be understood according to the very foundation of Christ. It takes more than just isolated passages, but Christians must learn Christ according to who He is and what He came to accomplish. There must be an understanding of His redemptive act in accordance to what God progressively revealed with the law and the prophets, his covenantal promises and ultimate fulfillment.

I propose this is the job of the leader whom the Christian is to follow, to teach the whole counsel of God not just isolated proof-texts. When Paul commended his hearers to learn from him, it was more than just him giving a set of Christian living principles but him following Christ according to his revelation. And by that I mean Christ’s unveiling of His fulfillment of what had been promised. The instruction to pastors and elders is to exhort with sound doctrine (Titus 1:9). Well, that doctrine is formulated based on the foundation that was laid. It is this foundation that will give Christians sure footing in their Christian walk, not just because they’ve learned a set of Christian living principles. In fact, I think principles without foundation will soon crumble under the weight of trials and temptations and most likely contributes to the overwhelming expressions of doubt.

So this means that while we are to follow ‘man’, that person is following Christ according to a holistic understanding and conveying that to the flock. A test of this would be how they handle isolated passages of scripture. Are they tying it to the whole thing? Have they taken time to examine the cultural and historic backdrop to understand what the original author is addressing? This is why I love it when pastors and leaders teach whole books of the bible in an expository fashion always correlating what is going on in the text to the overall foundation that was laid. This demonstrates that they are committed to understanding.

Bottom line is that we are to be led by sound leaders. So we should get out of the mindset that we don’t follow man. God designed it so we would.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Christians and Halloween

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Suggestions for “Doing Theology”

In a previous post I outlined several of the main theological disciplines for “doing theology.” I had a few questions regarding suggested books for these disciplines, so I’m going to mentioned a few books with brief explanations. There are numerous books out there on these topics, so feel free to mention others. I’m going to limit myself to 3-4 per topic (maybe!), and explain why I listed them.

Exegetical Theology

The classic book on Greek (New Testament) exegesis is Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis. Fee’s book examines the main components of exegesis when examining a particular text: structure, grammar, words, background, and other aspects of exegesis. Although Fee’s is the classic that has been used in New Testament studies, I really like the new book edited by Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning, Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis. Go to the link and take a look at its table of contents. They explain exegesis and then provide various examples from different scholars. The counterpart to Fee’s book is Douglas Stuart’s Old Testament Exegesis. Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching is a book that moves more in the direction of taking exegesis toward the goal of preaching and teaching. Finally, D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies teaches sound exegetical principles while warning about the various fallacies that are often committed in the process of exegesis.

Biblical Theology

The classic work of Reformed biblical theology is Geerhardus Vos’s Biblical Theology. This is a book everyone should read on this topic as it demonstrates the fundamentals of this discipline. More recently, Graeme Goldsworthy has contributed several helpful books to the topic of Biblical Theology. I would suggest According to Plan. He not only articulates the method of biblical theology, but he also provides a structure of Biblical Theology for the whole Bible. A smaller book that applies Goldsworthy’s method is Vaughn Robert’s God’s Big Picture. Goldsworthy has other books on Biblical Theology and preaching, prayer, and hermeneutics. I think The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology is a book that anyone interested in actually “doing” Biblical theology should own. It actually covers the topics Vos and Goldswrothy cover, and it provides other resources as well.

Systematic Theology

Where should I begin for this discipline? There are many great systematic theologies available. If you are new to systematic theology, try something like Bruce Milne’s Know the Truth, or Wayne Grudem’s smaller Bible Doctrine. Both of these books provide the large structure of systematic theological categories, but on a smaller scale than larger works. Louis Berkhof’s work Systematic Theology is still a Reformed classic because he covers everything in a traditional manner in one volume. Everyone should own this volume. For newer works, I really like Michael Horton’s Christian Faith. But my favorite systematic theology has now become Herman Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics. If you could only buy one, and you wanted readability and a comprehensive treatment, spend the money on this one.

Historical Theology

For a good basic work, take a look at Alister McGrath’s Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. A good recent work is Gregg Allison’s Historical Theology (this is actually something of a companion to Grudem’s large Systematic Theology). For those wanting more detail, Jeroslav Pelikan’s five volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine is the work to get. Here are the individual volumes:

Philosophical Theology

This might not be a topic of interest to many, but it has been crucial for the development of doctrine, as well as the interface of Christianity and culture. One of the places to begin is with the author Diogenes Allen who has two helpful books on this topic that complement each other. Primary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology provides just what the title says: readings from important sources in the development of theology, such as Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Kant, and others. His other book, Philosophy for Understanding Theology, explains how various philosophers influenced the development of theology. For example, chapter 1 is titled, “Plato: The World is the Handiwork of a Mind.” I think his two books are a good introduction to the intersection of philosophy and theology. If this area is of interest and you want to move beyond these two works, be sure to search for some of the works on natural theology. Blackwell is about to come out with a paperback version of their Companion to Natural Theology, and Alister McGrath also has some recent books on the topic of natural theology as well. Also, take a look at The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, edited by Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mormonism, Democracy, and the Urgent Need for Evangelical Thinking

by Albert Mohler

Monday, October 10, 2011

Predictably, Mormonism is in the news again. The presence of two members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints among contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination ensured that it was only a matter of time before Evangelicals, along with other Americans, began to talk openly about what this means for the nation, the church, and the stewardship of political responsibility in the voting booth.

There are numerous ways to frame these questions wrongly. Our responsibility as evangelical Christians is to think seriously and biblically about these issues. The first temptation is to reduce all of these issues to one question. We must address the question of Mormonism as a worldview and judge it by the Bible and historic Christian doctrine. But this does not automatically determine the second question — asking how Mormon identity should inform our political decisions. Nevertheless, for evangelical Christians, our concern must start with theology. Is Mormonism just a distinctive denomination of Christianity?

The answer to that question is definitive. Mormonism does not claim to be just another denomination of Christianity. To the contrary, the central claim of Mormonism is that Christianity was corrupt and incomplete until the restoration of the faith with the advent of the Latter-Day Saints and their scripture, The Book of Mormon. Thus, it is just a matter of intellectual honesty to take Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, at his word when he claimed that true Christianity did not exist from the time of the Apostles until the reestablishment of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods on May 15, 1829.

From a Christian perspective, Mormonism is a new religion, complete with its own scripture, its own priesthood, its own rituals, and its own teachings. Most importantly, those teachings are a repudiation of historic Christian orthodoxy — and were claimed to be so from the moment of Mormonism’s founding forward. Mormonism rejects orthodox Christianity as the very argument for its own existence, and it clearly identifies historic Christianity as a false faith.

Mormonism starts with an understanding of God that rejects both monotheism and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The Mormon concept of God includes many gods, not one. Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that we are now what God once was and are becoming what He now is. This is in direct conflict with historic Christianity.

Mormonism rejects the Bible as the sole and sufficient authority for the faith, and insists that The Book of Mormon and other authoritative Latter-Day Saints writings constitute God’s final revelation. Furthermore, the authority in Mormonism is mediated through a human priesthood, through whom God is claimed to speak directly and authoritatively to the church. Nothing makes the distinction between Mormonism and historic Christianity more clear than the experience of reading The Book of Mormon. The very subtitle of The Book of MormonAnother Testament of Jesus Christ — makes one of Mormonism’s central claims directly and candidly: That we need another authority to provide what is lacking in the New Testament.

The Mormon doctrine of sin is not that of biblical Christianity, nor is its teaching concerning salvation. Rather than teaching that the death of Christ is alone sufficient for the forgiveness of sins, Mormonism presents a scheme of salvation that amounts to the progressive deification of the believer. According to Mormonism, sinners are not justified by faith alone, but also by works of righteousness and obedience. Mormonism’s teachings concerning Jesus Christ start with a radically different understanding of the Virgin Birth and proceed to a fundamentally different understanding of Christ’s work of salvation.

By its very nature, Mormonism borrows Christian themes, personalities, and narratives. Nevertheless, it rejects what orthodox Christianity affirms and it affirms what orthodox Christianity rejects. It is not orthodox Christianity in a new form or another branch of the Christian tradition. By its own teachings and claims, it rejects any claim of continuity with orthodox Christianity. Insofar as an individual Mormon holds to the teachings of the Latter-Day Saints, he or she repudiates biblical Christianity. There are, no doubt, many Mormons who are not fully aware of the teachings of their church. Nevertheless, the doctrines and teachings of the LDS church are there for all to see.

It is neither slander nor condescension to state clearly that Mormonism is not Christianity. Taking Mormonism on its own terms, one finds a comprehensive set of teachings and doctrines that are self-consciously set against historic Christianity. The larger world may be confused about this, but biblical Christians cannot make this error, for we are certain that the consequences are eternal.

So, how do we move from this knowledge to the question of our social and political responsibility? Can a faithful Christian vote for a Mormon candidate?

It is on this question that Evangelicals must think forcefully, faithfully . . . and fast. We need to recognize that we are asking this question from a privileged historical and political context. For most of our nation’s history, voters have chosen among presidential candidates who were identified, to one degree or another, with some form of Protestant Christianity. To date, for example, America has had only one Roman Catholic president and one Jewish candidate for vice president as a major party nominee.

It can be argued that our contemporary political context puts greater emphasis on the religious identity of candidates at all levels than has ever been experienced in American history. Both major political parties have sought various elements of the religious electorate and have developed strategies accordingly.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Evangelicals stating a desire to vote for candidates for public office who most closely identify with our own beliefs and worldview. Given the importance of the issues at stake and the central role of worldview in the framing of political positions and policies, this intuition is both understandable and right. Likewise, we would naturally expect that adherents of other worldviews would also gravitate in political support to candidates who most fully share their own worldviews.

At the same time, competence for public office is also an important Christian concern, as is made clear in Romans 13. Christians, along with the general public, are not well served by political leaders who, though identifying as Christians, are incompetent. The Reformer Martin Luther is often quoted as saying that he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk (Muslim) than an incompetent Christian. We cannot prove that Luther actually made the statement, but it well summarizes an important Christian wisdom.

Furthermore, Christians in other lands and in other political contexts have had to think through these questions, sometimes under urgent and difficult circumstances. Christian citizens of Turkey, for example, must choose among Muslim candidates and parties when voting. Voters in many western states in the United States often have to choose among Mormon candidates. They vote for a Mormon or they do not vote at all.

Furthermore, we must be honest and acknowledge that there are non-Christians or non-evangelicals who share far more of our worldview and policy concerns than some others who identify as Christians. The stewardship of our vote demands that we support those candidates who most clearly and consistently share our worldview and combine these commitments with the competence to serve both faithfully and well.

In a fallen world, political questions are always contextual questions. With fear and trembling, matched with faithful biblical commitments, Christians must support and vote for candidates who will most faithfully and effectively meet these expectations. We must choose between real flesh-and-blood candidates, and not theoretical constructs.

Given all this, we would expect that, under normal circumstances, Mormon voters will support candidates who most fully represent their worldview and concerns. Given the distribution of Mormons in the United States, this means that many Mormons (who would probably prefer to vote for a Mormon candidate), often vote for an evangelical or a Roman Catholic candidate. The reverse is also true. Evangelicals in many parts of the United States vote eagerly for Roman Catholic candidates with whom we share so many policy concerns, and this is true also in reverse. In an increasingly diverse America, we will be faced with very different choices than we have faced in the past.

None of this settles the question of whom Evangelicals should support in the 2012 presidential race. Beyond this, those who support any one candidate for the Republican nomination must, if truly committed to electing a president who most shares their worldview and policy concerns, end up supporting the candidate in the general election who fits that description.

We are facing what are, for America’s Evangelicals, new questions. These questions will call for our most careful, biblical, and faithful thinking. We need to start thinking urgently — long before we enter the voting booth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

because we are heard and accepted in the beloved Son of God

John Newton:
When we are deeply conscious of our defects in duty. If we compare our best performances with the demands of the law, the majesty of God, and the unspeakable obligations we are under; if we consider our innumerable sins of omission, and that the little we can do is polluted and defiled by the mixture of evil thoughts, and the working of selfish principles, aims, and motives, which though we disapprove, we are unable to suppress; we have great reason to confess, "To us belong shame and confusion of face."

But we are relieved by the thought, that Jesus, the High Priest, bears the iniquity of our holy things, perfumes our prayers with the incense of his mediation, and washes our tears in his own blood.

This inspires a confidence, that though we are unworthy of the least of his mercies, we may humbly hope for a share in the greatest blessings he bestows, because we are heard and accepted, not on the account of our own prayers and services, but in the beloved Son of God, who maketh intercession for us.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.

"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion..."

What do we say to our self-indulgence, our sloth, our love of ease, our avoidance of hardship, our luxury, our pampering of the body, our costly feasts, our silken couches, our brilliant furniture, our gay attire, our braided hair, our jeweled fingers, our idle mirth, our voluptuous music, our jovial tables, loaded with every variety of rich viands?

Are we Christians? Or are we worldlings? Where is the self-denial of the New Testament days? Where is the separation from a self-pleasing luxurious world? Where is the cross, the true badge of discipleship, to be seen--except in useless religious ornaments for the body, or worse than useless decorations for the sanctuary?

"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion!" Is not this the description of multitudes who name the name of Christ? They may not always be "living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry." But even where these are absent, there is 'high living'--luxury of the table or the wardrobe-- in conformity to 'this present evil world.'

'At ease in Zion!' Yes! there is the shrinking from hard service; from 'spending and being spent;' from toil and burden-bearing and conflict; from self-sacrifice and noble adventure, for the Master's sake.

There is conformity to the world, instead of conformity to Christ! There is a laying down, instead of a taking up of the cross. Or there is a lining of the cross with velvet, lest it should gall our shoulders as we carry it! Or there is an adorning of the cross, that it may suite the taste and the manners of our refined and intellectual age. Anything but the bare, rugged and simple cross!

We think that we can make the strait gate wider, and the narrow way broader, so as to be able to walk more comfortably to the heavenly kingdom. We try to prove that 'modern enlightenment' has so elevated the race, that there is no longer the battle or the burden or the discipline; or has so refined 'the world and its pleasures', that we may safely drink the poisoned cup, and give ourselves up to the inebriation of the Siren song.

'At ease in Zion!' Even when the walls of our city are besieged, and the citadel is being stormed! Instead of grasping our weapons, we lie down upon our couches! Instead of the armor, we put on the silken robe! We are cowards, when we should be brave! We are faint-hearted, when we should be bold! We are lukewarm, when we should be fervent! We are cold, when we should be full of zeal! We compromise and shuffle and apologize, when we should lift up our voice like a trumpet! We pare down truth, or palliate error, or extenuate sin in order to placate the world, or suit the spirit of the age, or 'unify' the Church.

Learn self-denying Christianity. Not the form or name, but the living thing. Let us renounce the lazy, luxurious, self-pleasing, fashionable religion of the present day! A self-indulgent religion has nothing in common with the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ; or with that cross of ours which He has commanded us to take up and carry after Him--renouncing ease and denying self.

Our time, our gifts, our money, our strength, are all to be laid upon the altar.

--Horatius Bonar

Friday, September 30, 2011

If We are Not Meant to Be Alone Then Why Do We Promote It?

by Lisa Robinson

This post is really not about singleness. Although, by way of getting to something that has me increasingly troubled, I will use singleness as the spring to launch into what I believe is the root of a problem, particularly in American evangelical Christianity. In contending with my own issues related to singleness, I note this as an objective observation, which actually prompted my thoughts on this matter along with other things related to ecclesiology that have come across my radar.

The single person who longs to be partnered, is generally told to be content in their present circumstance. That single person should not express too much their desires for partnering otherwise it gets labelled as idolatrous. So the burden on their heart to be loved, accepted, to belong to a union with another is surpressed lest the desire turn into an idol. Now, I am not saying that we should not learn contentment for there is biblical support to do so, such as Paul says in Philippians 4:13 that he has learned to be filled (content) in whatever circumstance he is in. Although I would contend that the contentment in this case based on his argument is more related to material comfort. There is also the idea that we must endure hardship. That doesn’t mean we are not impacted by it, but in consideration of our life not being our own, we consider the prize more worthy than our loss or pain.

Nonetheless, I have noticed the extent to which we celebrate love when it does happen. From the time that special person is realized, each successive step in the relationship is met with announcement and fanfare. The no longer single person can rave about their significant other. They can publicize how wonderful it is and begin including their partner in with every conversation. The engagement is announced and every one celebrates. This is just the beginning as the lives of these two people are intertwined, so is the display of the union.

So what is interesting to me is that the single person who desires this kind of celebration is told that it can be idolatrous. But when it actually happens, it is not. What is missing and longed for when it is not there must be suppressed, but not so when it actually happens. It is celebrated and encouraged. Why is the partnered person not told that they are being idolatrous? I don’t know about you, but this seems awfully hypocritical to me.

Ok, so like I said this post is not about that (and I wanted to get that off my chest). But it occurs to me that there is a reason that longing exists in the heart and the reason it is celebrated with joy when found. There is a reason that the single person feels its absence. And this does not just happen with singleness, but a lack of relationship in general. Although there may be exceptions, for most of us, the difference between having relationship vs not having relationship on any or many levels impacts us. There is a difference when we belong, are accepted and have community vs. when we are alone, isolated and missing important relationships. That is because we are created to be in relationship with others. I believe that when God said it is not good that man should be alone and created woman, this set the precedent for our human experience – to be in relationship with others.

But more importantly, how much more should relationship exist among members of the body of Christ. It is one thing to experience love with one individual, but for members of the body to love one another is how Jesus said the world would know we are his disciples (John 13:35). That does involve relationship and support in meaningful and tangible ways so that we accomplish what is commended in Ephesians 5:19-21. No Christian should experience isolation.

But I have been increasingly dismayed to the extent this is downplayed and particularly in American Christianity. Our rugged individualism is fostered through exhortations concerning our Christian experience. Our language is peppered with isolationism and individualized supremacy. We make a “personal decision” for Christ. We encourage alone time with God. We tell the weak to be strong in the Lord and realize they can do all things through Christ who strengthen them. We promote the idea that it is just me and God, as exemplified in this song called Me and God.

Now before you protest, I am not saying that we don’t include the importance of a corporate component in the quest to have some kind of body life. But even when we do that, it is so our own life can be strengthened so that we by ourselves can make it. The occasion of the Lord’s Supper is typically marked by isolation as I reflect on what Christ did for me. (Although I do note that some traditions encourage a more participatory focus). In our corporate worship time, we sing in isolation. We close our eyes to have our own personal experience with the Lord and sing about how we don’t need anyone else but Jesus, like this song.

I contend that this is still individualism in a corporate guise and I fear that we are losing sight of what it means to be the body of Christ, to experience community with each other and have the mindset that it is not just me and God, but God and His people. This is the existence that members united together in Christ are supposed to have. The Christian life must mean more than just God meeting my needs, being strengthened for myself so that I can go out and be a witness for him. The biblical evidence suggests that it is the corporate makeup that witnesses to the world (Ephesians 3:10-11). It is the body loving, serving and tending to each other that causes growth and the ability to witness (Ephesians 2:21-22; 4:15-16). Again, that means interacting with one another in meaningful and tangible ways that entail more than just a handshake or hug on Sunday mornings.

Going back to the Philippians citation, the context of his letter heavily weighs on body life, where members are encouraged to concern themselves with something more than just their walk with the Lord but how they may support one another. When Paul says he has learned to be content it is not for the purpose of being strengthened apart from body life. I also contend that in Paul’s apostolic ministry, he was called to bear a more isolated existence such as those who serve in that apostolic function, i.e. missionaries may have to endure the same thing. But I don’t believe that is meant to be the brunt of our Christian experience.

Now, I am not saying that we are escape responsibility of our Christian growth by relying on others. It is our responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and bear our load (Galatians 6:5). That does mean spending time alone in prayer, in study, and in reflection. Under divine discipline, there might be times where God wants us alone to experience the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and purge sinful orientations. But that is for the purpose of providing support to the body. How can we grow up in Him, supporting one another if our Christian experience is so focused on how our own personal experience? It is fine that we have individual mission fields but there has to be a concerted effort in how we engage with one another and foster relationship.

But as long as we promote this rampant individualism, we will likely to be impatient and possibly neglectful to the concerns of weary, troubled, lonely or isolated saints. Is it any wonder that the single person is expected to be happily content on their own? Should we not be surprised that an overburdened saint is offered prayers to be strengthened instead of calls for assistance? Or that the isolated saint is encouraged to pray harder, read more and get closer to God, as if their problem is they need more of Jesus. Maybe they don’t need more of Jesus, but more of His body.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Never Get Tired

The angels never get tired of looking into the gospel (1 Peter 1:12). This means that there is no end to gospel exploration. --Tim Keller

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quote pages

1. The Daily Spurgeon

2. Octavius Winslow Archive

3. The Old Guys

4. The Essential Owen (John Owen)

5. Of First Importance

6. A Puritan At Heart

7. Tolle Lege (“Take Up and Read”)

8. Real Men Love Pink (A.W. Pink)

9. John Flavel Quotes

10. Christ is Deeper Still

11. J.C. Ryle Quotes

Friday, September 9, 2011

And how much repentance will be called for....

Re: This Sunday, across our land....In how many churches and from how many pulpits will one hear more about 9/11 and America's "rah rah" civic religion & patriotic fervor than about the One True Triune God and His Gospel accomplished through our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ... hmmm, i wonder.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Sinful Tragedy of Boredom

by Nathan W. Bingham

“Dad, I’m bored.”

How many times have I heard one of my girls say that? And how many times has that statement been a cause for my patience and self-control to be tested?

Why do such cries test my patience? Because I know what my children are saying to me beneath the words, “I’m bored.” Firstly, they’re telling me they’re not satisfied with what I’ve given them. They want more, whether that’s more stuff or more stimulation. Secondly, they’re inadvertently telling me that they’re blind to what I’ve already given them, and what’s at their disposal. They have enough toys, books, dress-ups, etc., and they have that secret ingredient…imagination. Yet, they fail to see what’s there before them, and they cry bored.

A Problem We Don’t Grow Out Of

If you’re a parent, then you probably nodded in agreement to much of what I wrote above. You’ve heard the cries of boredom, you’ve experienced the frustration. But do you hear the same cry in your heart?

The desire to cry out “bored!” is not only for children. It’s also a far more serious issue than being between a child and a parent. Boredom effects adults too, and it occurs between Christians and their Father in Heaven.

The Parable of the Bored Life

This afternoon I began reading Welcome to the Story by Stephen Nichols. In his section on creation he shares the following parable:

“Most of the time, Timothy was bored. As a kid he seemed to care little for the things around him and even less for the people around him. Timothy’s mom would send him out to play and he would be bored. He didn’t explore. He didn’t imagine. He didn’t even look up at the birds and the clouds or down at the caterpillars and spiders (he is a boy). At school, his mind thought about play. At play, he could only think of everything he didn’t have to play with, only thinking of all the toys he didn’t have. Eventually Timothy became an adult and carried his boredom with him. At his job, he could only think of play and fun. When he wasn’t working and out trying to have fun, he could only think of everything he didn’t have. On his way home from work he didn’t look at the clouds in the sky. He missed sunrises, and he shrugged at sunsets. Timothy yawned through his childhood, school, work, family, and friends. Timothy yawned through life and right on into death. Let the reader understand the meaning of the parable. Timothy had no sense of wonder whatsoever. Timothy squandered a precious gift from God, the gift of life, by caring little for God’s gift of creation. Timothy and his boredom is not just a parable, however. And, sadly, Timothy’s not alone.”

What a tragic life Timothy lived. What a tragic life many of us live.

Nichols will go on to describe our culture as one “adrift in a ship of boredom.” While the sad irony is we’re actually in a ship “floating in a sea of wonder.”

It’s Not Only Tragic, But It’s Sinful

The bored life is not only a tragic life, it’s a sinful one too.

To be bored is to fail to see the many and varied good gifts God has given us, not the least of which is in creation.

Nichols explains that boredom “begets a loss of a sense of wonder. Our loss of a sense of wonder begets a loss of appreciation. And our loss of appreciation begets a loss of gratitude.”

And to whom are we to live in constant gratitude? God.

To be bored is to fail to see the many and varied good gifts God has given us, not the least of which is in creation. I mentioned this earlier this year when I asked Are You Grateful?

What’s the Christian’s Antitote to Boredom?

Nichols suggests the antitote to boredom:

“Embracing the doctrine of creation is the antidote to boredom. When we realize that God made us, that God made everything, life is set in a whole new light. How can we yawn at what God made? When we acknowledge God as Creator of all things, we regain our sense of wonder, we regain our sense of appreciation, and we regain our sense of gratitude. We say thank you. We stop yawning through life.”

Although I shouldn’t say it in frustration, there’s a sense in which my retort to my children, “Stop being bored. Go play outside!” is correct. It might be correct, but it’s incomplete. The answer isn’t found in simply being outside (and consequently unable to pester parents), the answer is in being outside and seeing it as the handiwork of an awesome Creator.

Today’s Challenge

My challenge to you today: take the time to consider this world and regain some of the wonder of creation. Oh, you may have to look away from your computer screen and look out a window.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Doctrines of Grace embolden our evangelism

by Joe Thorn

Man’s total depravity moves me to preach Jesus Christ because I know that there is no hope for a man to find his way to God, accidentally or intentionally, on his own. There is no hope of him believing the truth apart from the preaching of the Gospel. Because people are dead in their sins, and are unwilling to come to Christ apart from the Father’s drawing, I know that their salvation hinges on God’s sovereign work. I know that he uses the preaching of the Gospel as the means of awaking the dead.

The doctrine of election encourages me to share the Gospel, because I am assured that God has chosen a people for himself. Like Jesus, the prophets and the Apostles, I preach indiscriminately to all, trusting that all who were predestined to eternal life will believe, if not now, later.

Particular redemption
compels me to tell others about Jesus because not a drop of Christ’s blood was wasted. Because Jesus has purchased people from every tribe, tongue and nation we understand that God has sent us where we are, and is sending others around the world to preach Christ crucified with the awareness that He is building his church. Christ has accomplished redemption for his people, and it only awaits application.

The doctrine of effectual grace pushes me out of my study and into the community with the Gospel because I know that, although I may fail to persuade someone, God will not. Because a leopard cannot change his spots, nor man his nature, I am relieved to know that God will cause a man to be born again. So I tell as many as I am able the good news that we have in Jesus, with the hope that God will open hearts to respond to the word.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Muphry’s Law

Muphry’s Law is the editorial application of the better-known Murphy’s Law. Muphry’s Law dictates that:

1. if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault in what you have written;
2. if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book;
3. the stronger the sentiment in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; and
4. any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

Muphry’s Law also dictates that, if a mistake is as plain as the nose on your face, everyone can see it but you. Your readers will always notice errors in a title, in headings, in the first paragraph of anything, and in the top lines of a new page. These are the very places where

authors, editors and proofreaders are most likely to make mistakes.

It always pays to allow for Muphry in anything you write, or anything you are checking.

From The Canberra Editor, Volume 12, Number 10, November 2003. Canberra Society of Editors Newsletter.
(This story first appeared in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s internal bulletin.)

Acknowledgments to John Bangsund, of the Victorian Society of Editors, who first coined the term.

Nigel Harding

(Notice the "Law" in effect in point #3 above! LOL!)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Delighting in Christ

John Flavel (English Puritan – 1630-1691), was one of the main influences in Charles Spurgeon’s spiritual formation in the gospel. This quote will let you know why.

“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.”

Why Youth Stay in Church When They Grow Up

by Jon Nielson

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I’m a high school pastor, but for once, they weren’t talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church’s youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers’ ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn’t strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries?

It’s hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

1. They are converted.

The apostle Paul, interestingly enough, doesn’t use phrases like “nominal Christian” or “pretty good kid.” The Bible doesn’t seem to mess around with platitudes like: “Yeah, it’s a shame he did that, but he’s got a good heart.” When we listen to the witness of Scripture, particularly on the topic of conversion, we find that there is very little wiggle room. Listen to these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them. In short, we need to get back to a focus on conversion. How many of us are preaching to “unconverted evangelicals”? Youth pastors, we need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students by the power of the Holy Spirit! When that happens—when the “old goes” and the “new comes”—it will not be iffy. We will not be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. It is converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.

2. They have been equipped, not entertained.

Recently we had “man day” with some of the guys in our youth group. We began with an hour of basketball at the local park, moved to an intense game of 16” (“Chicago Style”) softball, and finished the afternoon by gorging ourselves on meaty pizzas and 2-liters of soda. I am not against fun (or gross, depending on your opinion of the afternoon I just described) things in youth ministry. But youth pastors especially need to keep repeating the words of Ephesians 4:11-12 to themselves: “[Christ] gave . . . the teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Christ gives us—teachers—to the church, not for entertainment, encouragement, examples, or even friendship primarily. He gives us to the church to “equip” the saints to do gospel ministry, in order that the church of Christ may be built up.

If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them . . . and it may indeed be time to panic!

Forget your youth programs for a second. Are we sending out from our ministries the kind of students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry there without ever being asked? Are we equipping them to that end, or are we merely giving them a good time while they’re with us? We don’t need youth group junkies; we need to be growing churchmen and churchwomen who are equipped to teach, lead, and serve. Put your youth ministry strategies aside as you look at that 16-year-old young man and ask: “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes. The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough, but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.

This is not a formula! Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crap-shoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church. The words of Proverbs 22:6 do not constitute a formula that is true 100 percent of the time, but they do provide us with a principle that comes from the gracious plan of God, the God who delights to see his gracious Word passed from generation to generation: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Youth pastors, pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Bondage of The Will

Martin Luther:
I shall here end this book, ready though I am to pursue that matter further, if need be; but I think that abundant satisfaction has here been afforded for the godly man who is willing to yield to truth without resistance. For if we believe it to be true that God foreknows and foreordains all things; that He cannot be deceived or obstructed in His foreknowledge and predestination; and that nothing happens but at His will (which reason itself is compelled to grant); then on reason's own testimony, there can be no "free-will" in man, or angel, or in any creature.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Shaping And Sustaining Servant Leaders With The Gospel

Guest Post by Michael Allen (read more about Mike here)

It is worth reflecting on how a seminary, or local churches for that matter, can shape and sustain servant leaders. We know that it is God’s grace that calls, saves, commissions, enables, and blesses a minister. But we are also told that God normally works through means, especially the fellowship of saints in the local church. How does this happen?

What is servant leadership?

We need to reflect on this clich├ęd term: servant leadership. Many think servant leadership can be easily identified: picture a person in authority doing some menial task, some thankless duty, and there you have it—a leader serving. Yet this is not a biblical definition of servant leadership. In the Bible, the term servant more often than not really means slave—some slaves run the household, others plow the soil, but all do so at the behest of their master. The underlying point of servant leadership, then, is not a matter of what tasks you do, but of who owns you. Murray Harris sees this evident in the writing, indeed in the very self-identification of the apostle Paul:

The book of Romans is the flagship of the Pauline fleet. Flying proudly at the top of the mast of this ship is a flag bearing the words, ‘Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus’ (Romans 1:1). This flag is two-toned, its white indicating complete freedom yet total surrender, and its purple symbolizing royal ownership and therefore incomparable privilege. The slave of Christ is the emancipated dependent of Christ as well as the willing bondservant of Christ, the exclusive property of Christ as well as the honored representative of Christ.

The apostle knew he was God’s property.

Servant leaders are those who know they are bought by God at a great price; they are his possession, and they do whatever he calls them to do. Oftentimes, yes, this involves the fulfillment of menial or lowly tasks. But slavish fulfillment of tasks is not the essence of servant leadership—it is only a presenting symptom, an outward sign of an inward reality. Real servant leadership involves the continual submission of one’s ministerial agenda to your master’s wishes. Servant leadership is an implication of being Christ-centered.

In a day and age where pastors are frequently called to be managers, therapists, and bureaucrats, surely we need more servant leaders in the biblical sense. We need pastors who see themselves as God’s people, subject to his will. These pastors will do whatever he says—preaching in grand pulpits and praying with diseased inpatients, counseling the despondent and designing the educational curriculum. We need pastors willing to address the prince and the pauper, able to purify the liturgy and the latrine. We need pastors willing to suffer for the gospel when necessary. Chiefly, we need our pastors to join in the ministry of Christ on his terms and in his strength.

Who are the servant leaders?

If servant leadership involves attitudes and action, we must then ask: what kind of person will lead in this way? What qualities and characteristics make up the servant leader? Above all else, the servant leader is someone who has appropriated the glory of the gospel and been freed to care for the good of others.

The gospel tells us that all our needs are provided in Christ Jesus; indeed, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). We must know that God intends our good, and that he is able and willing to deliver. We see this evident in the sending and sacrifice of his Son. Remember Romans 8:32—“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all other things?” God has already given the greatest gift, surely our daily needs will be met too. The gospel promises life in Christ for eternity as well as for this very day. Every promise is yes in Christ.

The gospel not only tells us that we are provided for. It also empowers our obedience and service to others. Assured of our future in Christ, we are free to give ourselves away in service in the present. We need not fret and frenzy ourselves in pursuit of our security and status, but we can pour ourselves out to those in need. By refusing to justify ourselves, instead resting on the merits of Christ, we can work on behalf of others. This dynamic leads to what is called regularly “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26)—loving service that flows out of those who trust their future to Christ. It is not merely that those who believe also happen to obey: trust and obey. Rather, it is that trust enables and empowers obedience: trust and, therefore, obey. Christian leaders who savor the satisfying power of Christ’s work will be willing to follow wherever he leads—their faith will work itself out in love (Galatians 5:6).

Savoring all that Jesus is for us in the gospel enables our faithful action. Knowing the exalted glory of the gospel sustains our journey through humiliation. Seeing our identity fully in Christ enables us to endure anything for him and to give ourselves to bless others. Put it all together, then, and we see that servant leaders are gospel-saturated believers.

How do we shape and sustain servant leaders?

Servant leadership goes against the grain of our culture and our own selfish tendencies. It simply will not come naturally to those who fashion themselves autonomous or self-made. Therefore, we must be intentional if we wish to cultivate a culture of servant leadership. At Knox Seminary and in local churches, we must ask: how can we shape and sustain servant leaders over the long haul?

We must remind each other regularly of the gospel, its beauty and its power. John Murray said that “Faith is forced consent. . . . In common parlance we say a man commands confidence. We do not trust a man simply because we have willed to, or even because we desire to. And we cannot distrust a man simply because we wish or will to do so. We trust a man because we have evidence that to us appears sufficient, evidence of trustworthiness.” If leaders are to be bold in service, they must be convinced that the God who promises to meet all their needs in Christ is able and willing to do so. We must portray the trustworthiness of God, so that their faith is sustained. Sermons proclaim this; sacraments portray it. Regular study of the Scriptures emboldens leaders by reminding them that God has preserved his people time and again, even in the most adverse situations. All of us need reminders of the wondrous works of God, so that we might cling all the more to his promises and be freed for self-sacrificing ministry.

The gospel sustains Christians and ministries, so we speak the good news to each other daily and reflect carefully on the promises and works of God. In so doing, we fulfill the exhortation of Hebrews 10:23-25—“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” God is faithful—all of us, even leaders, need to be reminded regularly of this truth. We “stir up one another to love and good works” by “encouraging one another” with words of God’s grace and recitals of the gospel message. Going deeper together into the gospel actually propels us outward in love and witness. Thus, we fight for each other’s faith, even the faith of students in seminary and pastors in their parishes, and thus we make possible one another’s service. We pray that you will join us in doing so, thereby shaping and sustaining a counter-culture of servant leadership.