Monday, August 29, 2011

Before Gospel-Centered Was Cool, It Was True

From Richard Sibbes in The Bruised Reed, 1630:
[Christ] is our Sanctifier as well as our Saviour, our Saviour as well by the effectual power of his Spirit from the power of sin as by the merit of his death from the guilt thereof; provided these things are remembered:

1. The first and chief ground of our comfort is that Christ as a priest offered himself as a sacrifice to his Father for us. The guilty soul flies first to Christ crucified, made a curse for us. Thence it is that Christ has right to govern us; thence it is that he gives us his Spirit as our guide to lead us home.

2. In the course of our life, after we are in a state of grace, if we are overtaken with any sin, we must remember to have recourse first to Christ's mercy to pardon us, and then to the promise of his Spirit to govern us.

3. And when we feel ourselves cold in affection and duty, the best way is to warm ourselves at this fire of his love and mercy in giving himself for us.

4. Again, remember this, that Christ rules us by a spirit of love, from a sense of his love, whereby his commandments are easy to us. He leads us by his free Spirit, a Spirit of liberty. His subjects are voluntaries. The constraint that he lays upon his subjects is that of love. He draws us sweetly with the cords of love. Yet remember also that he draws us strongly by a Spirit of power, for it is not sufficient that we have motives and encouragements to love and obey Christ from that love of his whereby he gave himself for us to justify us; but Christ's Spirit must likewise subdue our hearts, and sanctify them to love him, without which all motives would be ineffectual.

Our disposition must be changed. We must be new creatures. They seek for heaven in hell that seek for spiritual love in an unchanged heart. When a child obeys his father it is from reasons persuading him, as likewise from a child-like nature which gives strength to these reasons. It is natural for a child of God to love Christ so far as he is renewed, not only from inducement of reason so to do, but likewise from an inward principle and work of grace, whence those reasons have their chief force. First we are made partakers of the divine nature, and then we are easily induced and led by Christ's Spirit to spiritual duties. (80-82)
May it never again be denied that the cross is the epicenter of sanctification.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Is the Sin of Idolatry Pretty Much Obsolete?

Jay Adams seems to suggest that it is—unless, of course, you're bowing down to a piece of stone. At the very least, he's arguing that we're acting unbiblically if we help people identify their heart idols. Adams' comments are rather vague. It's not at all clear what he's responding to, or whether his preference is that counselors deal exclusively with raw human behavior rather than the affections that motivate the behavior.

Frankly, his comments are puzzling, since I'd assume most pastors and counselors would find some benefit in identifying the sinful heart issue beneath the sinful behavior. And it's not as if Adams (a Presbyterian) is coming from some hyper-dispensationalist position that radically bifurcates the OT prevalence of idolatry from the NT.

Adams, and all of us, ought to be able to recognize that the issue in OT idolatry isn't the nature of the object, but that the idol displaces God in the human heart. OT idolatry is a worship issue. It's about misplaced or distorted affections, values, allegiances, and hopes. One might well ask a NT sinning saint, "What were you loving or trusting in most at the moment you chose to sin? What lie were you believing about whom is worthy of your ultimate affections? What or whom were you really worshiping?" If that sort of communication isn't present in our preaching and our counseling, I'm not sure how we're going to accomplish anything more than behavior modification—treating symptoms

Of course, these notions aren't original with me. You can find them in Paul Tripp's books (especially this one), Tim Keller's sermons, and this outstanding little sermon series from Kevin Bauder. As I remember, the final sermon, "Shaping Our Affections Toward God" [MP3], spelled it out most directly.

Finally, and briefly, if you want NT texts that prove believers need to be warned about idolatry, in Galatians 5:19-20 one of the works of the flesh is idolatry. And even more explicitly, in Colossians 3:5 covetousness is idolatry. Covetousness—by definition a sin of the mind and heart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exegesis or Extra Jesus: How Much Christ in the OT Narratives?

Anybody else out there struggle to preach OT narratives? I was completely lost until a couple people helped see that narratives are more than stories with moral lessons, but actually teach theology and call for faith. Increasing exposure to biblical theology helped me begin to grasp how individual narratives relate to the overall metanarrative. But I've remained puzzled by how to handle the selection and arrangement of narrative material. Why did authors include some stories and details and omit others? And what does one narrative have to do with the one that precedes it and another that follows it?

Dale Ralph Davis' The Word Became Fresh is the most helpful resource I've encountered on that particular issue, and it's a useful overall intro to preaching OT narratives as well.

His approach to preaching Christology from OT narratives is also worth noting. Some exegetes suggest that we should only see Messianic references in OT texts that are specifically identified in the NT—and sometimes not even then. Others suggest that texts like Luke 24 teach that we need to find Christology in every OT text. Davis denies both extremes, and clarifies a balanced (some might say "plain" or "normal") reading of that chapter:
From Jesus' statements I make an inference and form a corollary: the whole Old Testament bears witness to Christ; and, the Old Testament does not bear witness only to Christ. Why this corollary? Because I agree with making an extensive inference from Luke 24:27 and 44 but hold that an intensive inference is illegitimate.

What on earth does that mean? It means I think Jesus is teaching that all parts of the Old Testament testify of the Messiah in his suffering and glory, but I do not think Jesus is saying that every Old Testament passage/text bears witness to him. Jesus referred to the things written about him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms—he did not say that every passage spoke of him (v. 44). Therefore, I do not feel compelled to make every Old Testament (narrative) passage point to Christ in some way because I do not think Christ himself requires it (pgs. 134-135).
I would simply add that true, full-orbed exposition of any text in its context must consider that text's relationship to the full context of Scripture—Genesis to Revelation. And that work must surely take the person and work of Christ into account.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Pastors Who Prophesy About People's Hidden Sins

If you put a gun to my head and make me pick teams in this fight, it's not a tough call. And I'm guessing that if you know me well at all, you can figure it out without breaking much of a sweat. (Unless, of course, you're the guy who told my then-boss that I was in the tank for a couple guys with the initials R.W. and J.O. . . .)

Now having said that, it just happened (I'm not calling it revelation) that I was cleaning out some really old e-mail tonight and stumbled across a link a friend sent me back in 2008. That article contains this curious anecdote:
The ministry of Charles Spurgeon is a case in point. Read carefully the following account taken from his autobiography:

“While preaching in the hall, on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd, and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker; he keeps his shop open on Sundays, it was open last Sabbath morning, he took ninepence, and there was fourpence profit out of it; his soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!’ A city missionary, when going his rounds, met with this man, and seeing that he was reading one of my sermons, he asked the question, ‘Do you know Mr. Spurgeon?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the man, ‘I have every reason to know him, I have been to hear him; and, under his preaching, by God’s grace I have become a new creature in Christ Jesus. Shall I tell you how it happened? I went to the Music Hall, and took my seat in the middle of the place; Mr. Spurgeon looked at me as if he knew me, and in his sermon he pointed to me, and told the congregation that I was a shoemaker, and that I kept my shop open on Sundays; and I did, sir. I should not have minded that; but he also said that I took ninepence the Sunday before, and that there was fourpence profit out of it. I did take ninepence that day, and fourpence was just the profit; but how he should know that, I could not tell. Then it struck me that it was God who had spoken to my soul though him, so I shut up my shop the next Sunday. At first, I was afraid to go again to hear him, lest he should tell the people more about me; but afterwards I went, and the Lord met with me, and saved my soul.’”

Spurgeon then adds this comment:

“I could tell as many as a dozen similar cases in which I pointed at somebody in the hall without having the slightest knowledge of the person, or any idea that what I said was right, except that I believed I was moved by the Spirit to say it; and so striking has been my description, that the persons have gone away, and said to their friends, ‘Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did; beyond a doubt, he must have been sent of God to my soul, or else he could not have described me so exactly.’ And not only so, but I have known many instances in which the thoughts of men have been revealed from the pulpit. I have sometimes seen persons nudge their neighbours with their elbow, because they had got a smart hit, and they have been heard to say, when they were going out, ‘The preacher told us just what we said to one another when we went in at the door’” (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, [Curts & Jennings, 1899], Vol. II, pp. 226-227).
Now, the preacher in the first link might be quite appropriately criticized for many things—many things even in the 5-minute clip embedded in that post. But perhaps the root issue—the question of whether the Spirit supernaturally reveals specific details of people's sins—might be more complex than we think. At the very least, perhaps we need to expand the objects of our criticism.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Some Fun Video

If you like this blog (and I don't assume that you do), I think you'll really enjoy these two links.

First, Ed Stetzer posted a couple videos of a conversation that happened several years ago. It addresses contextualization, ecclesiology, and appropriate levels of cooperation when we don't agree. That was one of the most unusual days from my time in DC—eye-opening on several levels, and hopefully fruitful on some as well.

Second, I've been eagerly anticipating release of the videos Southwestern Seminary kindly recorded of Paige Patterson's interview at 9Marks@9 at the SBC annual meeting in June, 2011. The video interface is a bit cumbersome, but it's worth your patience if you want to pick up some important perspective on history and interdenominational cooperation from a warrior-statesman (if there is such a thing).

A couple brief highlights:

Patterson: "The beginning of trouble came with topical preaching."

And when asked, "Is 9Marks more a part of the problem or of the solution, when it comes to what's going wrong with the SBC," Patterson replied, "I don't see it as a major part of the problem." Funny, sort of.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Repentance, People Who Dilute It, and Much, Much More

1. I can't remember a more helpful sermon explaining the biblical definition of repentance than Michael Lawrence's from August 7, 2011. A couple brief quotes follow, but listen for much more, including an apt analogy between a conversion to Islam and the way too many Christians think about "the sinner's prayer." Lawrence argued, "A regenerate heart repents," and, "When we separate repentance—biblical repentance—from conversion, it's kind of like we're giving people a vaccine against the gospel."

2. I'm wondering, if one were of a mind to do so, if it might not be possible to make the argument that John MacArthur is to the ideological right of several leaders of independent, fundamental Baptist institutions.

3. Some folks might argue that the problem with this [PDF] is the association it creates with another speaker. I actually think that the real issue is direct fellowship with false doctrine about how God has spoken. Which issue bothers you more, or whether any of it does at all, reveals a bit about whether your analytical grid is shaped by the tradition of a movement, doctrinal fidelity, or a set of networked relationships.

4. Thank you, Michael Horton, for saying some things that needed to be said. And frankly, we only needed title of the CT article to know that someone needed to say it.

5. From Carl Trueman's argument that we ought to fire boring preachers:
Praise and worship - the ascription to God of the honour and glory which is his - is a response to knowing who he is and what he has done. It is provoked and shaped by the description of God which the teacher gives. Anything else which calls itself worship, whether traditional or contemporary, whether exhilarating or soothing, is not worship. It is merely an aesthetic experience which helps to achieve a certain psychological or emotional state. I remember at college I would often hear people talk of this church as being great at doctrine and that church as being great at worship. That should a false dichotomy. One cannot really be good at one and not the other, for they are intimately and inseparably connected.
6. I do not know of a more useful extra-biblical pastoral tool than a well-designed and maintained membership directory.

7. Here's a piece of the late Mark Hatfield's story that you won't find in the mainstream media.

8. No more Mars Hill "campuses." This is an intriguing shift. Of course they're right that the NT speaks of "churches," not "campuses." But I'm not exactly sure how this structure is meaningfully distinct from Anglican polity.

9. Michael Green shares an absolutely priceless Francis Schaeffer anecdote beginning at the 35:35 mark of this video:

Panel 20/20 Collegiate Conference 2011 Session 3 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Ten Things You Need to Read Before You Go Watch "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" This Weekend

1. Chris Anderson just highlighted a blogpost from Jay Adams that simply floored me. Though I share Adams' concern that "gospel-centeredness" can be an amorphous blob of mystical platitudes, he proceeds to suggest that learning to preach the gospel to yourself is an unhelpful idea. It seems clear to me that he doesn't really understand the concept. (NANC has developed a reputation for emphasizing moralistic human effort over our need for the ongoing work of the gospel as we pursue sanctification, has it not?) It's just difficult for me to imagine that Adams—having surely forgotten more counseling sessions than I'll lead in my lifetime—seems never to have encountered someone who needed to learn how to remind himself of the past, present, and future work of the gospel in his life.

2. The senior managing editor of Christianity Today believes people find evangelicalism to be "bankrupt" because of "crazy uncles" Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Ironic?

3. Some fascinating statistics on church planting rates for various denominations.

4. Some reflections from John Piper on John Stott. This comment from Piper is very close to the reason I have a rather sporadic interest in The Gospel Coalition blog (exhibit A):
To this day I have zero interest in watching a preacher take his stand on top of the (closed) treasure chest of Bible sentences and eloquently talk about his life or his family or the news or history or culture or movies, or even general theological principles and themes, without opening the chest and showing me the specific jewels in these Bible sentences.
5. Speaking of Stott, somewhere in one of his obituaries I learned that he was Queen Elizabeth II's personal chaplain from 1959-1991.

6. Here's what Stott said in 1996 about when it would be time for evangelicals to leave the Church of England:
I've always felt that it's unwise to publish a list of criteria in advance. Nevertheless, I'm quite happy to talk about them. I think one's final decision to leave would be an exceedingly painful one, a situation that I cannot envisage at the moment.

I would take refuge in the teaching of the New Testament, where the apostles seem to distinguish between major and minor errors. The major doctrinal errors concern the person and work of Christ. It's clear in 1 John that anyone who denies the divine-human person of Jesus is anti-Christ. So, if the church were officially to deny the Incarnation, it would be an apostate church and one would have to leave.

Then, there's the work of Christ. In Galatians, if anybody denies the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone, that is anathema: Paul calls down the judgment of God upon that person.

On the major ethical issues: the best example is the incestuous offender in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul called on the church to excommunicate him. If you want me to stick my neck out, I think I would say that if the church were officially to approve homosexual partnerships as a legitimate alternative to heterosexual marriage, this so far diverges from biblical sexual ethics that I would find it exceedingly difficult to stay. I might want to stay on and fight for a few more years, but if they persisted, I would have to leave.
7. Speaking of things that were never supposed to come true, remember when everybody told us this wouldn't happen? Next up, polygamous marriage rights.

8. Strictly speaking, Stott may not have been the annihilationist he's often claimed to have been. Here's how he described his view in that same wide-ranging 1996 interview linked above:
In Evangelical Essentials, I described as "tentative" my suggestion that "eternal punishment" may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic on this issue, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate.
9. This conversation on whether and how much we should study cultural backgrounds to Scripture barely scratches the surface of a topic that has been largely ignored in far too many places. It needs to be at least an hour longer.

10. And finally, anybody else out there who just can't wait to ask Carl Trueman to autograph your Bible after his breakout session at T4G12?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On Churches, Game Shows, and Presidential Debates

Yesterday I listened to a QnA with a presidential candidate (we'll call this person "Pat"), in which "Pat" made some comments about a recent presidential debate. Pat said what I wish I could believe most viewers were thinking at the time. Pat said what I suspect might have been a defining moment in Pat's campaign, had Pat been sensible enough to offer this answer in the heat of the moment. So here's what Pat said:
I thought when the CNN moderator was asking us questions like, "Do you prefer 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'American Idol'?", I really think in retrospect the correct answer was to say, "It's pathetic that with 14 million unemployed and a $2 trillion deficit and three wars underway you would waste our time with this." Because what it does is it trivializes the choice of the leader of the United States into a game show.
The naïvety of the American public in our presidential selection process is disheartening, to say the least, and the public debate of recent weeks has only advanced that trajectory. The notion advanced by the media (assuming it's true, silly me) that the public just wanted a compromise—as if compromise a) is equivalent to a long-term solution, and b) is not the methodology that got us where we are—is an omen of our future.

But let me just ask a simple question: How might we trivialize the mission and message of our churches by the content of our children's ministry, the strategy of our youth ministry, the commitment of membership, the smorgasbord of our programs, the frivolity of our off-hand, casual comments, the mood and form of our music, the structure of our service, the gravity of our preaching, and the priorities revealed by the sheer number of man-hours we devote to these components.

Just askin'.