Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Most Influential Books in My Life: #s 1-5

Here's the second installment on the books (other than Scripture) that have influenced me most—not necessarily my top recommendations, but in God's kind providence, the ones that shaped my understanding of the gospel, Scripture, and following Christ more than any others . . .

5. Gary Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God. This is actually a minor oops on my part. Piper's The Pleasures of God should be slotted in at #5 ahead of Friesen, but no biggie. The original edition, which I read, had some flaws—mostly debatable overstatements, as I remember—but it exploded the functional mysticism I'd absorbed from various strains of teaching. Rather, not everything is black or white, right or wrong. Sometimes the process we use in making a decision is more important than the conclusion. The more my affections are fixed on Christ, the more my motivations and preferences will be conformed to his.

4. John MacArthur, Study Bible. Though my first read was the NKJV, I'm linking to the brand spanking new ESV—available today, in fact, according to Amazon. Though "I don't agree with everything John MacArthur says," reading through every word of the notes along with the text was invaluable. It exposed me to a plausible interpretation of all sorts of difficult texts and a pretty comprehensive, coherent system of theology and biblical interpretation.

3. Doug Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. Could easily be #2 OR #1. The first time through, it taught me sanctification by grace through faith, not works or human effort. For me and, I think, others in the class, this was a radical shift that's difficult to overestimate. The second time through, it started me on a trajectory that rebuilt my hermeneutics, as I began to grasp how Paul read the OT.

2. D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. I hope Carson forever changed how I preach. I'm quite certain he forever changed how I listen to preaching. Would it be reasonable to suggest that no one should set foot into a pulpit without reading this? It's just far too easy and immeasurably too costly to mishandle the Word of God, not to dig into this simple gem. Thanks to Ed Williams' classroom presentation requirement and Nashotah House's extensive library of old periodicals, Samuel Sandmel's article on "Parallelomania" is forever burned into my brain.

1. A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God. It's interesting to me how both of my top 2 are such small books. And I still don't quite understand how Tozer made it so clear to me for the first time that the Christian life is about cultivating an internal affection for God, not working towards external reformation in order to earn his favor. I'm not sure I'll ever know whether he said something I'd never heard before, or whether the Spirit simply brought it to bear so that it seemed brand new. Other books changed the way I think and what I believe. This one changed my heart.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Christian" Doesn't Always Mean the Same Thing

One of the complaints with the Manhattan Declaration was that the use of the term "Christian" to refer indiscriminately to evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox groups compromised the gospel. Some argued that since these groups do not share the same gospel, using the term to apply to each group implies an indifference to gospel clarity.

It may be argued (as I have) that signing the MD was naïve, imprudent, unhelpful, and at best meaningless. It may also be argued that this usage of "Christian" creates a troublesome ambiguity. But this assertion, on the basis of its use of "Christian," that it actually compromises the gospel is simply unsustainable. "Christian" doesn't always mean the same thing. And it's not just me saying that. It's Kevin Bauder writing here:
[T]he term Christian is used in more than one sense. In the strict and proper sense, it applies only to those who affirm all the fundamentals of the Faith, including the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and justification through faith alone. In this sense, the Roman church of today is not a Christian church and most medieval Catholics were probably not Christian either. In a less technical sense, however, the word Christian can be used to distinguish those who affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy from infidels, pagans, and cultists. In that sense Catholicism can be called Christian, and that is the sense in which the Middle Ages were influenced by Christian categories.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Northland Way of Discipleship

This is quite helpful, both in what it denies . . .
Discipling the heart is so much more demanding than disciplining actions. A rule book chock full of hundreds of prescriptive restrictions and patterns of conformity doesn’t get to an effective discipling of the heart very often. We can achieve outward conformity while never achieving inward transformation. Conversely, it’s even possible to do many good and wonderful things and still miss the mark. If good deeds are not done in love, they are worthless. Chapter 13 of First Corinthians warns us of this.
. . . and in what it affirms . . .
[W]e cannot rely on an artificial system that’s built simply on the accounting of "external wrongs" to discern the level of spiritual vitality. We have seen how easily these systems can be gamed and never get to the business of discipling the heart. Because of this, we ask our faculty, staff, administration, and student body to covenant together in immersive, life-touching-life discipleship. We intentionally get involved in the lives of our students so that real, Christ-modeled discipleship can occur. We humbly pray with full reliance on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the transformative work of Christlikeness within the heart of each and every student. And from this work, we pray that our students will become true followers of Christ who will deny themselves, take up their crosses, go to the far reaches of this world, and make disciples of others also.
Few institutions could have produced this document, and fewer still could actually implement it.


Most Influential Books in My Life: #s 6-10

This one's just for fun. For a while I've intended to post briefly on the books (other than Scripture) that have influenced me most, more for my personal reflection than anything. I'm not suggesting these are my top recommendations today, merely that they shaped my understanding of the gospel, Scripture, and following Christ more than any others, as best I can tell. With those criteria, what I read longer ago tends to be more influential than what I read after my theology was more developed. Here goes . . .

10. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church. Heavily influential, but not in the way Warren intended. I can still remember the moment, while I was on a step machine in the little gym at MBBC, when I read, "We should never criticize a method that God is blessing." This book made pragmatism come to life, and laid bare its vacuity.

9. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Everything PDC wasn't. As in, grounded in Scripture, rather than culture, psychology and yuppie consumerism. This was the most recent read to crack the top 10—circa 2003.

8. Norm Geisler, Chosen But Free. Also not influential in the way the author intended. Some of the respected influences in my life were strong anti-Calvinists, and I had no desire to discard their convictions lightly. Geisler came highly recommended, and I thought he might present a coherent case for the non-Calvinist understanding of the issues. The book's embarrassingly shoddy exegesis and logic convinced me that Geisler's "moderate Calvinist" (actually neither moderate nor Calvinist) position was utterly untenable.

7. John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel. Years ago a professor I respected, and still do, asked me how I could speak approvingly of John MacArthur when he was one of the architects of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement. He wasn't being dishonest, simply regurgitating the misinformation others had fed him. Of course, MacArthur was one of it's most vocal critics, certainly not an architect. Though I can't remember whether I learned that from Ashamed of the Gospel, I do know that book clarified in my mind once and for all that MacArthur wasn't the squishy neo-evangelical that fundamentalist rhetoric often made him out to be. In some ways, reading it may have been the beginning of a trajectory in my life—not so much because MacArthur convinced me for the first time that the seeker-sensitive movement was bad, but because it defined to me a bit of who was credible and who wasn't.

6. John Piper, The Pleasures of God. This wasn't the first book by Piper that I owned, but it was the first that I read. I think I bought it at the Bethlehem Baptist bookstall. Everyone who recommended Piper to me said to read this book first. They were right. Piper masterfully unpacks the biblical theology of the supremacy of God's glory, not only to us, but to God himself. God is right to demand all honor, praise and worship, not because he is a narcissistic egomaniac, but because he is worthy. Were God to share this worship, he would himself be an idolator. Just beautiful, essential stuff. This book took my theological framework and gave it the theocentric foundation it needed.

Top 5 to come soon, I hope. In the meantime, feel free to share yours . . .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fleshing Out the "Gospel-Centered" Buzzword

Lots of preachers talk about how the gospel is inextricably linked to every aspect of the life of a Christian. But not everyone who talks about it actually explains how this is true and how it fleshes out.

Certainly, not everything that needs to be said can be said in an hour, but Tim Keller gives us a healthy push in that direction in this talk.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

For Your Calendar

This looks interesting. Catherwood is a grandson of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and son of Fred Catherwood, a former Vice-President of the European Parliament.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Maranatha Philosophy

I think this is a useful summary of what many friends would affirm is the core of what we appreciate from our time at Maranatha:
One reasonable expectation is that a Maranatha product will be a student of the Scriptures—one who will approach an issue with an open mind, explore what the Bible says about it, then come to a valid determination based on that study.

"Our students are not spoon-fed a mandated, prescriptive position in every doctrinal and practical issue," Trainer said. "We don’t hand them a box of beliefs. We give them the tools to determine what the text says."

"My students make fun of me for saying ‘good men differ,’ " Saxon said. "We’ve never burned anyone as a heretic in my class. Even if they are totally wrong, I say, ‘Thank you for thinking.’ At the same time, we do have a coherent, consistent philosophy we want to expose our students to."

Oats said hiring faculty members who agree on core issues but have diverse beliefs on "peripherals" is a Maranatha distinctive that dates back to former presidents Dr. B. Myron Cedarholm and Dr. Arno Q. Weniger. Both led the College for 15 years, and both employed faculty members with whom they did not agree on every theological issue, Oats said.

Students are, of course, guided and directed by faculty to a consistent fundamental Baptist position. A student once approached Oats and said, "I need you guys to tell me what I am supposed to believe."

"That isn’t what we want to do," Oats said. "We have always taught students to be 100 percent true to Scripture. But, on issues where Scripture isn’t clear, we want you to work through those issues and come to a conclusion, not just parrot a particular faculty member."
Full story.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Open Questions for the Anti-Lordship Folks

Some say the disagreement over "Lordship salvation" is simply a matter of semantics. Others (including folks from both sides) insist that it's a foundational gospel issue. I've argued that, far too often, it's the latter.

In a previous comment thread, I asked a couple questions that would seem to move us toward clarity—whether the issue is a matter of semantics or different understandings of the gospel. I thought it might be useful, since the answer proposed resembled a smokescreen more than a biblical explanation, to present them to a broader audience:

1) Is repentance essential to conversion?

2) How is repentance different from submission to Christ's lordship?

As Ross Perot used to say, "I'm all ears."

And for all the kids out there, this is who I'm talking about . . .

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dever and Lawrence vs. Contemporary Worship

Perspectives on Christian Worship: Five Viewshas its strengths and weaknesses. One of the strengths is the candor with which contemporary worship advocate Dan Wilt unpacks his argument. Another strength is the clarity with which Dever and Lawrence then demolish it. Here's a portion:
In the end, however, we believe that [Wilt's defense of culturally-conditioned worship] is ultimately flawed, even dangerously so. This is not because we are opposed to the use of some popular idiom in public worship. After all, we wrote the chapter on "Blended Worship." Rather, our concerns are more substantive. To begin with, culture is simply not the neutral tool or context that Wilt assumes it to be. As theologian David F. Wells and others have shown over the past decade, culture carries with it its own plausibility structure, its own values, its own priorities. This is true of both high and low culture, and the structures as well as the idioms of culture.

Whether we recognize it or not, the idiom of popular music is value-laden, not just the words that are attached to it. Again and again, Wilt draws our attention to the immediacy, the immanence, and the particular emotional range that this music fosters. And he is precisely right! The pop music idiom is well suited to the love song, the praise song, and the limited range of emotional experience we hear on the radio. Without any sense of irony, Wilt admits that "some contemporary worship songs could as easily be sung to one's spouse as to God." In our circles, this is known as the "Jesus is my boyfriend" song, and it is not exactly a compliment.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Psychoanalyzing Separation

Carl Trueman suggests a possible explanation for why Lloyd-Jones' criticism of and separation from J.I. Packer was more severe than than his disposition toward John Stott, after both of them refused in 1966 to follow Lloyd-Jones out of the decreasingly evangelical Anglican Church:
Lloyd-Jones' very distance from Stott meant that [Stott] was never a threat to him and his leadership in the way that Packer was. . . . Packer was the only man within Lloyd-Jones' orbit who could pose a serious challenge to his leadership because of both his intellect and, crucially, his grasp of the history and theology of the Reformed tradition. One might also add that it is a typical phenomenon, noted by sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists alike, that the outsiders closest to a particular tight-knit group are often the ones singled out for particularly brutal treatment by the group because of the crucial need to be very clear and precise about establishing boundaries.

From Trueman's essay, "J.I. Packer: An English Nonconformist Perspective" in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future, ed. by Timothy George, pp. 123-124. [emphasis added]

Monday, August 09, 2010

Things That Are Different Can't Be the Same

It is not at all difficult to see how this is incompatible with this.

Praying Towards the Ends of the Earth

I have to confess: I used two slides in an introduction to a sermon on "The Mission and Risk" in Acts. (True regulative principal purists fire away. Obviously, I'm a poser.) You can download the whole "State of the Gospel" presentation here (HT: PLJIII FKA PJ). Many more resources—maps and slides—are available through the Southern Baptist International Missions Board for purchase or as a free download.

Another resource that was much on my mind: Operation World, which is an extraordinarily useful guide to the state of missions across the globe. I haven't seen this new edition, but I've been looking forward to it coming out so I can peruse the latest data.

Use it, and you'll be introduced to people groups you've never heard of, and which themselves have never heard the name of Jesus. It's a great way to lead your family in prayer for the nations. Christianity Today has a nice story on the new edition here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the Centrality of the Gospel and (Briefly) Those Who Resist It

I continue to sense resistance among dispensational fundamentalists to the idea that Christ and the gospel are central to the message of Scripture. A particular point of confusion seems to be the relationship of the gospel to a believer's sanctification. Some seem to suggest that the return of Christ and our hope of resurrection are the motivation for our sanctification, as if these things aren't part and parcel to the gospel. That's a longer conversation, which we may well have eventually. In the meantime, I thought I might share some food for thought from a wide range of voices.

First, D.A. Carson (from an excellent talk on the gospel and social action) on how the whole Bible hangs together and how preachers need to demonstrate that:
Every sermon based on any biblical text needs to be integrated into the theme of the book in question, which needs to be integrated into the canon, which inevitably brings you in one fashion or another to the centrality of Christ. It just does. . . . Expository preaching is not only explaining what a text says in its bitty [garbled audio], but faithful expository preaching is also showing from that "bitty" text, its inter-canonical connections to the great tendons that run right through Scripture to bring you the centrality of Jesus. That makes for powerful worldview-ish preaching.
Second, Spurgeon: Preach Christ or go home. (A raft of great quotes here.)

And finally, a useful webinar video from two of my SEBTS profs on what people mean by a gospel-centered life.

Gospel Centered Ministry from Serious Disciple on Vimeo.

This summary statement from Steve McKinion scratches the surface:
To accept the sufficiency of the gospel doesn't just mean that the gospel is enough to get you to heaven. What it means is that for our churches, the gospel is the only thing we need. I mean, it really is enough. We have fallen victim to this idea that the gospel is not enough to reach people, and to see people grow. And as a consequence we've come up with all sorts of schemes and gimmicks and plans that actually are contrary to the gospel because they all become a way for us to trick people to become church members. If our goal is to make church member, then we are not on board with God. The goal is to make disciples. That's the Great Commission. What happens though, sadly, is that we're like the Pharisees. We'll travel 100 miles and beat on a thousand doors . . . in order to make a church member. And in the end we make them twice the son of hell that we are. The goal is to make disciples.