Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Living Under The Cross

John Stott includes four chapters under the heading 'Living Under the Cross' in his classic work on the centrality of the cross entitled The Cross Of Christ. In this particular section Stott focuses on how the cross relates to and effects the church, our service to others, our enemies, and all those who suffer in this world. Allow me to share a few quotes from each chapter.

Chapter 10: The Community of Celebration
  • “Thus the very purpose of his self-giving on the cross was not just to save isolated individuals, and so perpetuate their loneliness, but to create a new community whose members would belong to him, love one another and eagerly serve the world. This community of Christ would be nothing less than a renewed and reunited humanity…” (255)
  • “ And from the Day of Pentecost onwards it has been clear that conversion to Christ means also conversion to the community of Christ, as people turn from themselves to him, and from ‘this corrupt generation’ to the alternative society which he is gathering round himself. These two transfers- of personal allegiance and social membership – cannot be separated.” (255)
Chapter 11: Self-Understanding and Self-Giving
  • “What we are (our self or personal identity) is partly the result of the creation (the image of God) and partly the result of the Fall (the image defaced). The self we are to deny, disown and crucify is our fallen self, everything in us that is incompatible with Jesus Christ…The self we are to affirm and value is our created self, everything in us that is compatible with Jesus Christ…True self-denial is not the road to self-destruction but the road to self-discovery.” (282)
  • “So then, whatever we are by creation we must affirm; our rationality, our sense of moral obligation, our sexuality (whether masculinity or femininity), our family life, our gifts of aesthetic appreciation and artistic creativity, our stewardship of the fruitful earth, our hunger for love and experience of community, our awareness of the transcendent majesty of God, and our inbuilt urge to fall down and worship him. All this (and more) is part of our created humanness. True, it has been tainted and twisted by sin. Yet Christ came to redeem it, not to destroy it. So we must gratefully and positively affirm it.” (282)
  • “Whatever we are by the fall, however, we must deny or repudiate: our irrationality, our moral perversity, our blurring of sexual distinctives and lack of sexual self-control, the selfishness which spoils our family life, our fascination with the ugly, our lazy refusal to develop God’s gifts, our pollution and spoliation of the environment, the anti-social tendencies which inhibit true community, our proud autonomy, and our idolatrous refusal to worship the living and true God. All this (and more) is part of our fallen humanness. Christ came not to redeem this but to destroy it. So we must strenuously deny or repudiate it.” (282-3)
Chapter 12: Loving Our Enemies
  • “If our peace-making is to be modeled on our heavenly Father’s, however, we shall conclude at once that it is quite different from appeasement.” (296)
  • “We have no right to expect, therefore, that we should be able to engage in conciliation work at no cost to ourselves…” (296)
  • “Although the followers of Jesus never have the right to refuse forgiveness, let alone to take revenge, we are not permitted to cheapen forgiveness by offering it prematurely when there has been no repentance.” (296)
Chapter 13: Suffering and Glory
  • “What Scripture does give us warrant to say, however, is that God’s eternal holy love, which was uniquely exhibited in the sacrifice of the cross, continues to suffer with us in every situation in which it is called forth.” (330)
  • “There is good biblical evidence that God not only suffered in Christ, but that God in Christ suffers with his people still…It is wonderful that we may share in Christ’s sufferings; it is more wonderful still that he shares in ours.” (335)

Having finally finished the book I can say unequivocally that it is a classic and holds a spot in my 'Must Read' list. The book was most powerful through the middle sections dealing with key realities such as divine satisfaction and substitution, propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. Nevertheless, it is a formidable work of literature throughout its entirety.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Bob Kauflin on using the gifts of the Spirit

In his book Worship Matters, Bob Kauflin discusses how we can cherish God's presence through worship. This material comes from chapter 16:

We're told in 1 Corinthians the the Spirit gives manifestations of his presence for the 'common good' of the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). As we see and hear evidences of the Spirit's activity in our meetings, we become freshly aware that God is really with us and desires to build up, strengthen, and encourage the church through his people.

But as we saw in Chapter 10, we must be faithful to respond to whatever ways the Spirit empowers us to serve others. Don't hold back because you're afraid you'll fail or look stupid. If you mess up, you'll be humbled, which is a plus in God's eyes. (140)

Don't we often fear, in any endeavour, being humbled. As a matter of fact, this very well might be our greatest fear the majority of the time. And yet, in Kauflin's words, this would be a 'plus in God's eyes'. This seems true in the use of our spiritual gifts but it would also seem true in all we find ourselves doing. If the worst case scenario sees us being humbled, well, that's not such a bad thing.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Apparently I'm not the only one reading The Cross of Christ

I came across this post on Peter Cockrell's blog Already Not Yet. It is a post by Kevin Deyoung from his blog entitled Deyoung, Restless, and Reformed. He blogs on the seventh chapter of The Cross of Christ:

Substitution Is Not a "Theory of the Atonement"!

In chapter 7 of The Cross of Christ, John Stott looks at the four principal New Testament images of salvation, taken from the shrine (propitiation), the market (redemption), the court of law (justification) and the home (reconciliation). This beautiful chapter on "The Salvation of Sinners" ends with a masterful summary of the four images (198-99).

"First, each highlights a different aspect of our human need. Propitiation underscores the wrath of God upon us, redemption our captivity to sin, justification our guilt, and reconciliation our enmity against God and alienation from him. These metaphors do not flatter us. They expose the magnitude of our need."

"Second, all four images emphasize that the saving initiative was taken by God in his love. It is he who has propitiated his own wrath, redeemed us from our miserable bondage, declared us righteous in his sight and reconciled us to himself." Texts like 1 John 4:10; Luke 1:68; Rom. 8:33; and 2 Cor. 5:18 remind us of this precious truth.

"Third, all four images plainly teach that God's saving work was achieved through the bloodshedding, that is, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ." Again, Stott reminds us of the most important texts that make this point: Rom. 3:25; Eph. 1:7; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Col. 1:20.

The chapter concludes with a much needed paragraph for our day. Everyone who marginalizes penal substitution by calling it a "theory" (like one of the blurbs on the back of the book does), everyone who minimizes this doctrine by making it just one aspect of the atonement, everyone who shies away from this teaching in a misguided effort to rescue the love of God, everyone who undermines this essential truth by refusing to declare it confidently in plain, unambiguous terms, should pay careful attention to this concluding paragraph.

So substitution is not a "theory of the atonement." Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others. It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself. None of the four images could stand without it. I am not of course saying that it is necessary to understand, let alone articulate, a substitutionary atonement before one can be saved. Yet the responsibility of Christian teachers, preachers and other witnesses is to seek grace to expound it with clarity and conviction. For the better people understand the glory of the divine substitution, the easier it will be for them to trust in the Substitute.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The proof of the pudding is in the eating!

A post inspired by Reading the Classics with Challies.

Chapter 3 of Real Christianity covers a lot of material with a fairly long list of topics. Here is Chapter 3 from the table of contents:

Chief defects of the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians in what regards our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. -- With a dissertation concerning the use of the passions in religion.

Inadequate conceptions concerning our Savior and the Holy Spirit
Scripture doctrines
Popular notions
Language of one who objects against the religious affections towards our Savior
Also against the operations of the Holy Spirit
Objections discussed and replied to

SECT. II. -- On the admission of the passions into religion
True test and measure of the religious affections
The affections not merely allowable in religion, but highly necessary
Christ the just object of our warm affections

SECT. III. -- Considerations of the reasonableness of af­fections towards an invisible Being
The affections denied to be possible towards an in­visible Being
This position discussed and answered
Special grounds for the religious affections towards our Savior
Unreasonable conduct of our objectors in the present instance
Appeal to fact in proof of our former positions

Due to the scope of topics as can be seen above, I chose to focus on something of interest; a practical guide in determining the legitimacy of religious affections. The information I would like to bring to light is contained in the following passage:

To ascertain these points, we must examine whether they appear to be grounded in knowledge, to have their root in strong and just conceptions of the great and manifold excellencies of their object, or to be ignorant, unmeaning, or vague; whether they are natural and easy, or constrained and forced; wakeful, and apt to fix on their great objects, and delighting in the exercises of prayer, and praise, and religious contemplation, which may be called their proper nutriment; or voluntarily omitting suitable occasions of receiving it, looking forward to such opportunities with little expectation, looking back on them with little complacency, and being disappointed of them with little regret; we must observe whether these religious affections are merely occasional visitants, or the abiding inmates of the soul; whether they have got the mastery over the vicious passions and propensities, with which, in their origin, and nature, and tendency, they are at open variance; or whether, if the victory be not yet complete, the war is at least constant, and the breach irreconcilable : whether they moderate and regulate all the inferior appetites and desires which are culpable only in their excess, thus striving to reign in the bosom with a settled, undisputed predominance. And we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties. (56-7)

As has been noted, Wilberforce is verbose. Allow me to condense the information. Wilberforce begins by comparing what the true and legitimate affections look like when compared to false or illegitimate ones. He suggests that legitimate affections, in a person, are:
  • as to the mind, grounded in knowledge as opposed to ignorance
  • as to the experience, natural as opposed to forced or contrived
  • as to spiritual disciplines, attentive and anticipating as opposed to apathetic
  • as to regularity, abiding as opposed to occasional
  • as to sinful desires, contrary to as opposed to in league with
  • as to lesser appetites, reigning over as opposed to consumed with

That list gives us a solid benchmark for determining if religious affections are legitimate. But Wilberforce is not finished. The final criterion for the author is an all-encompassing pragmatic 'true test and measure of the religious affections'; do they result in dutiful living in one's personal, family, professional and social life. For, in Wilberforce's words, "we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties." (57) For the author, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two incredible chapters!

I'm still working through John Stott's excellent work entitled The Cross of Christ. It has been an incredible read and a very thorough study of Christ's work on Calvary. Although I am only about half-way through the book, the last two chapters have been outstanding.

I remember reading through Knowing God by J. I. Packer last year and being astounded by his chapter on adoption. It was the best chapter of theology that I had read. Chapters six and seven of the The Cross of Christ belong with Packer's chapter on adoption.

Chapter Six is entitled The Self-substitution of God. Here are a few quotes:

“Because God never contradicts himself, he must be himself and ‘satisfy’ himself, acting in absolute consistency with the perfection of his character. ‘It is the recognition of this divine necessity, or the failure to recognize it,’ wrote James Denney, ‘which ultimately divides interpreters of Christianity into evangelical and non-evangelical, those who are true to the New Testament and those who cannot digest it.’” (133)

“Both verses [Gal. 3:14, 2 Cor. 5:21) thus indicate that when we are united to Christ a mysterious exchange takes place: he took our curse, so that we may receive his blessing; he became sin with our sin, so that we may become righteous with his righteousness.” (148)

“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.” (160)

Chapter Seven is entitled The Salvation of Sinners. A few more quotes for you:

“…so the salvation of Christ is illustrated by the vivid imagery of terms like ‘propitiation’, ‘redemption’, ‘justification’ and ‘reconciliation’…” (167)

“Such images [propitiation, redemption, justification, reconciliation] are indispensable aids to human understanding of doctrine. And what they convey, being God-given, is true. Yet we must not deduce from this that to have understood the images is to have exhausted the meaning of the doctrine. For beyond the images of the atonement lies the mystery of the atonement, the deep wonders of which, I guess, we shall be exploring throughout eternity.” (168)

“They [propitiation, redemption, justification, reconciliation] are not alternative explanations of the cross, providing us with a range to choose from, but complementary to one another, each contributing a vital part to the whole.” (168)

“As for the imagery, ‘propitiation’ introduces us to rituals at a shrine, ‘redemption’ to transactions in a market-place, ‘justification’ to proceedings in a lawcourt, and ‘reconciliation’ to experiences in home or family. My contention is that ‘substitution’ is not a further ‘theory’ or ‘image’ to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency.” (168)

Can the book really get any better? We'll have to find out!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stott weilds a sledge-hammer!

I am often amazed by some authors' ability to articulate Christian truth with such clarity, conciseness, and power so as to leave one unable to be unaffected. This can be nothing less than a gift of God. John R. W. Stott is one such author. Consider this quote from The Cross of Christ on satisfaction through substitution:

…it is the Judge who himself in holy love assumed the role of the innocent victim, for in and through the person of his Son he himself bore the penalty which he himself inflicted. As Dale put it, ‘the mysterious unity of the Father and Son rendered it possible for God at once to endure and inflict penal suffering’. There is neither harsh injustice nor unprincipled love nor Christological heresy in that; there is only unfathomable mercy. For in order to save us in such a way so as to satisfy himself, God through Christ substituted himself for us. Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. The cross was an act simultaneously of punishment and amnesty, severity and grace, justice and mercy.” (159)

Divine love love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice. That is how to wield a sledge-hammer!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Another vote for the 'old, dead' guys!

From The Cross of Christ by John Stott:

To be disrespectful of tradition and of historical theology is to be disrespectful of the Holy Spirit who has been actively enlightening the church in every century.” (12)

It looks like John Stott thinks the old theologians should be respected. Of course, they weren't always right, but they deserve serious consideration and study. And it seems to me, when they were wrong they were often wrong in the right way.

For instance, I believe that John Wesley held to some doctrines which were incorrect. As we all do. But I wish my doctrines were incorrect in such a fashion so as to cause me to live a life like John Wesley lived his.

You've got to love the old guys!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another fine article by Coren

Michael Coren writes:

Sixth, genuine Christianity does not preach hatred towards anyone but believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. The same faith that affirms this marriage ideal also demands that a homosexual who might be killed because of his sexuality must be admitted to Canada as a fundamental act of Christian compassion and charity.

Read the rest of the article here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Have you ever Read Calvin's Institutes?

I haven't. But the following post by Ray Ortlund Jr. at Christ is deeper still makes me want to:

Why does John Calvin still matter today? Above all else, Calvin understands what it means to take into account, first and foremost, in all things, God: "The Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life" (3.7.2). Every moment of every day is a God-moment.

Read the rest here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Quotes from Stott's 'Your Mind Matters'

“The Christian doctrine of revelation, far from making the human mind unnecessary, actually makes it indispensable and assigns to it its proper place. God has revealed himself in words to minds.” (18)

“As John Owen expressed it, ‘that good which the mind cannot discover, the will cannot choose, nor the affections cleave unto’.” (32)

“Gresham Machen expressed this matter admirably in his book The Christian Faith in the Modern World: ‘There must be the mysterious work of the Spirit of God in the new birth,’ he wrote. ‘Without that, all our arguments are quite useless. But because argument is insufficient, it does not follow that it is unnecessary’.” (40)

“We shall argue with his mind and plead with his heart, in order to move his will, and we shall put our trust in the Holy Spirit throughout.” (41)

This was an enjoyable 'booklet' and I hope it was a good intro to tackling Moreland's book Love God With All Your Mind.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Semi-Pelagian in my mind!

A post inspired by Reading the Classics with Challies.

In chapter 2 of Real Christianity, Wilberforce confronts his peers on their view of the nature of man. Wilberforce contends that “The bulk of professed Christians are used to speak of man as of a being, who naturally pure and inclined to all virtue, is sometimes, almost involuntarily, drawn out of the right course, or is overpowered by the violence of temptation.” (17) This is unacceptable to Wilberforce and he gives several proofs for his contrary view: first, the contrast between what we expect in man’s actions and what we actually see; second, man’s actions in ‘polished nations of antiquity’; third, the actions of inhabitants of the New World; fourth, the general state of the Christian world; fifth, the actions of even true Christians; and finally and most importantly, Scripture’s attestation of human depravity.

For the author, Scripture is clear on this matter: “Far different is the humiliating language of Christianity. From it we learn that man is "an apostate creature, fallen from his high original, degraded in his nature, and depraved in his faculties: indisposed to good, and disposed to evil: prone to vice it is natural and easy to him; disinclined to virtue it is difficult and laborious: he is tainted with sin, not slightly and superficially, but radically and to the very core.” (18) In the previous chapter, Wilberforce reproved his generation for the lack of biblical doctrinal knowledge. In this chapter he begins to build a foundation of biblical doctrine and what ‘Real Christianity’ entails.

It is not by chance that Wilberforce starts with the human condition. “It is here, never let it be forgotten, that our foundation must be laid; otherwise our superstructure, whatever we may think of it, will one day prove tottering and insecure.” (32, italics mine) Human depravity would have been glaringly obvious to a man who dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery. But for Wilberforce, he believed that this concept of the human condition was foundational to Christianity, at least to Real Christianity. And so he makes his case in Chapter 2. He fears that “instead of deploring our miserable condition, we have too often hugged our chains, and even gloried in our ignominious bondage.” (25) And bondage, spiritual or physical, did not sit well with this man.

But allow me to move on to a personal testimony concerning this doctrine. I’ll introduce my self-revelation with some lyrics that should be sung to the tune of Carolina In My Mind by James Taylor.

In my mind I was semi-Pelagian
Couldn’t see my depravity
Injured without gravity
Thought God was a friend of mine
Him on my own I’d find
Yes I was semi-Pelagian in my mind.

My name is Jude St. John, and I was a semi-Pelagian. To be honest, I was not this way by intent, but rather by default. It is not like I had studied the competing doctrines and came out of my deliberations a raging Pelagian. Nevertheless, I held a belief in error and it was detrimental and dangerous.

I used to believe man was damaged, sick, and corrupted to a certain extent, but I did not hold to or understand total depravity. I figured men in general, and me in particular, could still choose God and actively make some ‘God-ward’ steps to facilitate salvation be those steps ever so humble and minute.

I would like to blame my heretical views on several things. I would like to point to the fact that I never had the argument articulated to me in a significant manner. Or I’d like to explain that those Christians whom I knew that held to total depravity were not people I admired or considered worthy of emulation. But what I would like to blame and what in reality is blame worthy are different things. To be honest, I read enough of Scripture to have encountered the most relevant passages on this issue numerous times. And this should have been enough. And it would have been enough except for my pride.

Pride was the reason behind my failure to come into agreement with the doctrine of total depravity. You see, the bottom line was this: I wanted to participate in my own regeneration. I wanted a role to play in this great drama of being born again. I didn’t need to have the starring role; I knew who that belonged to. But I thought I could rationalize a brief cameo for myself.

But thankfully I came to the realization, by the grace of God and the teaching of the Holy Spirit, that I played no role whatsoever in my regeneration. None.

And I am no longer semi-Pelagian in my mind. This brings us back to Wilberforce. I am in agreement with ‘The Nightingale of the House of Commons’: “Such is the moral history, such the condition of man. The figures of the piece may vary, and the colouring may sometimes be of a darker, sometimes of a lighter hue; but the principles of the composition, the grand outlines, are every where the same. Wherever we direct our view, we discover the melancholy proofs of our depravity; whether we look to ancient or modern times, to barbarous or civilized nations, to the conduct of the world around us, or to the monitor within the breast; whether we read, or hear, or act, or think, or feel, the same humiliating lesson is forced upon us, Jupiter est quodcunque vides, quocunque moveris.” (24-5) [He is whatever you see; He is wherever you move.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quotes from John Owen On The Christian Life by Sinclair B. Ferguson

“It is a cardinal principal in Owen’s thought that genuine acceptance of the gospel and all its benefits requires an approval of the gospel method of justification. The method of grace is that a righteous and holy God forgives. This is the heart of the gospel. It is also a paradox at the heart of the gospel, resolved only in Christ.” (101)

“‘Get up, watch, pray, meditate, offer violence to your lusts and corruptions; fear not, startle not at their crying or importunities to be spared; press unto the throne of grace by prayers, supplications, importunities, restless requests. This is the way to take the kingdom of heaven. These things are not peace, they are not assurance; but they are part of the means that God hath appointed for the attainment of them.’” (111)

“The Christian must pray personally for the teaching ministry of the Spirit to be effective in his own life, if he is to learn the power as well as the truth of God’s word. He must pray that he will have a desire to receive such impressions from God, and exercise himself in practical obedience, with a continuing desire to grow in the knowledge of the truth.” (198-9)

“Owen regarded the ‘christianising’ of the western world as a spiritual catastrophe. It permanently confused the difference between the church and the world, and buried the doctrine of the gospel, so that ‘By these and like means, the generality of mankind were brought into an utter unconcernment with gospel holiness’.” (244)

And a final exhortation:

“’Let us, then, not think that we are anything better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we content with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him’.” (281)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dinesh D'Souza claims to have found an intellectually honest athiest

I came across this at Between Two Worlds:

Dinesh D'Souza gets it exactly right:
Some of Singer's critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler's schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn't want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.

Why haven't the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven't considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Psalm 75:3

When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants,
it is I who keep steady its pillars.

When I read this psalm this evening the whole global economy fiasco came to mind. It seems that the entire earth, and all of its inhabitants, are tottering. If the original news was not threatening enough, it seems each report of something positive is followed by something negative. And through it all the greediness of mankind reaches new heights.

The earth does totter. And humanity totters with it. But there is an all-powerful and all-knowing triune God who is keeping things from total collapse. And that is where, and in whom, we should place our faith.

A Great Work of God the Spirit

The Christian is the object of a great work of God the Spirit. He has experienced in regeneration, however unconsciously, a transition paralleled only by the creation of the world and the resurrection of Christ.” (John Owen On The Christian Life, p74)

How often do we take for granted our new life in Christ? How often do speak of our conversion in passing forgetting the incredible miracle it really is? How indifferently do we declare, "Yes, I am a Christian"?

We are a great work; Dead, and now 'Finally Alive'.

We would not look on creation or the resurrection with apathy and thus we should not look on our 'great salvation' with any less reverence. Not great because of our involvement, but great because of His. Great grace. Great love. Great God!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Romans 9:16

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Thank God.

Thank God that it does not depend on my will. When it comes to righteousness, my will is weak. When it comes to wisdom, my will is misdirected. When it comes to truth, my will is lost.

Thank God.

Thank God it does not depend on my exertion. I am lazy. I am tired. I am unable to even desire to exert myself.

But there is mercy. And in His mercy He works in me to will and to work for His good pleasure. That is mercy.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Dead Teachers

I sometimes wonder if my time might be better spent reading more about current issues and less about long-dead theologians. Martin Luther. John Owen. Jonathan Edwards. D. M. Lloyd-Jones. C. S. Lewis. A. W. Pink.

But then I read this from another dead writer:

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.
- G. K. Chesterton

I'll give my vote to the dead guys.

Friday, March 13, 2009

D-Day - Darkness, Depravity, and Death

I am a couple of chapters into Sinclair B. Ferguson's book entitled John Owen On The Christian Life. Ferguson is sharing an overview of John Owen's theology on a wide range of issues.
John Owen sums up the unregenerate man with a succinct picture in '3-D'; darkness, depravity, and death. Owen believes that unregenerate man has:
  1. darkness in the mind
  2. depravity in the will
  3. death in the soul

Thus, we are in desperate need of Deliverance; REGENERATION. Because, to Owen, "... the magnitude of regeneration is measured by the fact that grace delivers, renews and alleviates man from all he has known by way of bondage, darkness, death and corruption under the dominion of sin." (41)

To Owen, regeneration:
  1. grants understanding and renewal to the mind
  2. gives vilification to the will
  3. implants a new love in the affections

Keep posted over the next few weeks for more of John Owen courtesy of Sinclair B. Ferguson.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Quotes from Luther's Theology of the Cross by Alister McGrath

“For Luther, the reformation of morals and the renewal of spirituality, although of importance in themselves, were of secondary significance in relation to the reformation of Christian doctrine.” (19)

“In comparison with this [the doctrine of justification], matters such as the authority of the pope, the nature of purgatory and the propriety of indulgences were seen by Luther as being quite insignificant and irrelevant.” (21)

“Luther here reproduces an authentically Augustinian theme which had assumed increasing importance in later medieval theology - the conviction that justification involves a direct personal encounter between the Holy Spirit and man.” (85)

“The origins in the theology of the cross lie in Luther’s initial difficulty in seeing how the idea of a righteous God could conceivably be good news for sinful man.” (92)

“This element of Luther’s thought would be developed by Melanchthon into a doctrine of forensic justification, which would become normative for Protestant understandings of justification.” (134)

Wilberforce versus the New Athiests

A post inspired by Reading the Classics with Challies.

“Had she not been wholly unarmed for the contest, however she might have been forced from her untenable posts, and compelled to disembarrass herself from her load of encumbrances, she never could have been driven altogether out of the Belt by her puny assailants, with all their cavils, and gibes, and sarcasms; for in these consisted the main strength of their petty artillery.” (Real Christianity p7)

Christianity has always been under attack. Whether from hostile forces in governments, hostile ideologies of contemporary cultures, or hostile entities not of ‘flesh and blood’, Christianity has been in conflict since its inception. It seems that Christianity in Wilberforce’s lifetime experienced a similar struggle. In the first chapter of Real Christianity, Wilberforce considers some of the intellectual and ideological enemies of his faith. He encourages his readers that they are to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Wilberforce specifically mentions a “neighbouring country” (p7) in which Christianity had been under attack.

The author refers to the attackers as “puny assailants” (p7) and gives an inventory of the attackers’ weaponry; cavils, gibes, and sarcasms. Cavils are trivial objections whereas gibes are facetious or insulting remarks. They are suitable partners to the sarcasms which round out the weapons of Christianity’s antagonists in the 1790s. This list of verbal arms is reminiscent of a current barrage that Christianity has encountered from ‘The New Atheists’.

The New Atheists are espousing nothing new. Rather it is their methodology that is novel: they attack Christianity with rhetoric. This where Wilberforce’s ‘cavils, jibes, and sarcasms’ come in to play. Consider an argument buy one of New Atheisms four horsemen Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens suggests the fact that 98% of species that have lived on this planet are extinct is evidence against a Creator. This is not really an argument. It is a cavil; a trivial objection. Extinction of an animal is not proof that it wasn’t designed. There is no substance to this reasoning. Or consider another of the horsemen’s comments that the evils of Christianity are like the evils of chicken pox, the only difference being that Christianity is harder to eradicate. This gibe, an insulting remark, is attributed to Richard Dawkins. Apparently, in some circles, insults add up to argument and ridicule is reasoning. And the New Atheists also employ the use of sarcasm. Yet another one of the four horsemen is Daniel Dennet . Dennet suggests “The kindly God who lovingly fashioned each and every one of us and sprinkled the sky with shining stars for our delight -- that God is, like Santa Claus…” This is not a serious argument. It is sarcasm. So it seems that Wilberforce was facing a similar threat to Christianity in his day as we face in ours. Not only do we face “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 2:5) but we also face less-than-lofty cavils, gibes, and sarcasms.

But for Wilberforce there is no fear of these “puny assailants”. Rather there is confidence in the Word of God. But he warns the people of his time, and we would do well to listen, that if their Bibles remain covered in dust on their shelves they may well lose their children, and culture, to disbelief. So Wilberforce warns: “The time of reckoning will at length arrive. And when finally summoned to the bar of God, to give an account of our stewardship, what plea can we have to urge in our defence, if we remain willingly and obstinately ignorant of the way which leads to life, with such transcendent means of knowing it, and such urgent motives to its pursuit?” (p16)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3 provocative books

I've recently finished reading in close succession three books (actually 2 books and 1 audiobook - I know - weak - you don't have to rub it in).  They are:  Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw and finally Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.  You might be thinking, "What's a nice, small-c conservative blogger like you doing reading emerging church stuff?"  Well, I read it because everyone else is reading it and the books were recommended by my fellow blogger Nathanael and perhaps more importantly for the following reason.
In a recent small group meeting we discussed one of the interpretations of the role of prophesy in the New Testament; that being - prophesy is merely human words to report something God has brought to mind.  Traditionally, that might apply within the local church but with generally good literacy and a seemingly endless supply of Christian literature available to us, there are lots of opportunities to sift all kinds of things "God has brought to [some author's] mind" in the form of books.  The voice of the prophet can carry much farther than the local assembly in a literate, affluent and technologically advanced society.  So, in my mind, assessing the literature that is shaping your (and your fellow believer's) theology is akin to testing the prophet and you certainly will have to keep the good and get rid of the bad.  
I think Rob Bell would even support this idea.  "Whenever someone has tapped into the deep stream of the historic Christian faith, whenever a church has stumbled upon the big truths about who Jesus is and what it looks like to be his body, we should celebrate this, and study it, and learn from them, and ask questions, and wrestle with how to apply what they have learned in their context to our context, to our city, to our neighborhood, to our church."  Jesus Wants to Save Christians p159    The first step however is to ensure that the "tapping" and "stumbling upon" has been accurate.

A Momentous Decision

“For Luther, Christian thinking about God comes to an abrupt halt at the foot of the cross. The Christian is forced, by the very existence of the crucified Christ, to make a momentous decision. Either he will seek God elsewhere, or he will make the cross itself the foundation and criterion of his thought about God.” (Luther's Theology of the Cross, p1)

I have been reminded on a regular basis over the last month to keep the cross primary and everything else secondary. Whether in C. J. Mahaney's book Living the Cross Centered Life or D. A. Carson's message on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, I keep encountering the 'abrupt halt' which all men in all nations at all times encounter; the Cross and Christ crucified.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would help me to keep Christ and the cross principal and paramount every day in every way. I will not seek God elsewhere.

Monday, March 9, 2009

D. A. Carson on God's sovereignty and evil

For me, this is the quintessential quote on God's sovereignty and evil:

"To put it bluntly, God stands behind evil in such a way that not even evil takes place outside the bounds of his sovereignty, yet the evil is not morally chargeable to him: it is always chargeable to the secondary agents, to secondary causes [i.e., those who actually do it]. On the other hand, God stands behind good in such a way that it not only takes place within the bounds of his sovereignty, but it is always chargeable to him, and only derivatively to secondary agents...If this sound just a bit too convenient for God, my initial response (though there is more to be said) is that according to the Bible this is the only God there is."

I have reminded myself of this quote on numerous occasions as well as referencing it to others. I hope it is helpful to you.

God's Unfaithful Wife - some quotes

Raymond C. Ortlund Jr was the author of the second work in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by D. A. Carson. Having finished the book, I thought I might share some quotes that piqued my interest.

“What begins as Pentateuchal whispers rises to prophetic cries and is eventually echoed is apostolic teaching. That message proclaims that, if Yahweh is the husband of his people, then their lapses from faithfulness to him may properly be regarded as the moral equivalent to whoredom.” (8)

“Human marriage as original and ideal, defined in Genesis 2:23-24, provides the pre-understanding necessary for spiritual ‘harlotry’ to function as a meaningful moral category in the covenanted people’s perception of themselves and of their ‘marital’ obligations to their Lord, until the biblical drama reaches its eventual denouement.” (25)

“The jealousy of Yahweh is his profoundly intense drive within to protect the interests of his own glory…” (29)

“The sharpness of the description ‘jealous’ when applied to God suggests that there are two kinds of jealousy. In fallen man, jealousy can be selfish and irrational; in God, jealousy is pure love.” (30)

“The mystery of grace revealed here is a promise of covenant renewal – although even the word renewal is weak, for this oracle promises not merely the reinvigorating of the old marriage but the creation of a new one.” (70)

“The eager readiness of the human heart to welcome affirmation is exceeded only by its quick weariness with sustained confrontation.” (101)

“The union of the believer with Christ is all-encompassing; nothing of the believer’s created being is so low as to fall outside the range of Christ’s reclaiming grace.” (144)

“The great harlot of Babylon is destroyed; the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, is exalted. Wrath and love collaborate, in the ways of God.” (167)

“Human marriage is finally divulged to be emblematic of Christ and the church in covenant, destined to live together not as ‘one flesh’ for a lifetime in this world but as ‘one spirit’ for eternity in a new heavens and a new earth.” (172)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reading the Classics with Challies

I have decided to join the Challiesians in their Reading Classics Together program. You can get an idea of what they're doing at Challies Dot Com. This will be my first time joining them and we will be reading William Wilberforce's book Real Christianity or to be exact; “A practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country : contrasted with real Christianity”. I wonder if the book will be as garrulous as the title! At any rate, if you want to get in on this then go to Challies blog and join in.

Here are some ideas I have from the introductory material from the book.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

I want to consider some of the author's comments from the introduction that are reminiscent of things that we hear said today. Despite publishing the book in the 1790s, these thoughts can be heard in daily conversation in the year 2009.

Longing to write this book, Wilberforce was hoping for a "...vacant season, in which he might devote his whole time and attention.." (pB) to his writing. How many of us long for the same thing; a period of relatively 'un-busy-ness' in which we can accomplish something; renovating a room, reading a book, visiting a friend, or studying a particular book of the Bible. Whatever the task, we often wish for a break in our schedule where doing this task might be a little easier. But that break never comes. We go from being busy, to really busy, to crazy busy and the enterprise we have in mind never gets beyond our wishful thinking. But we, like Wilberforce, need to realize "...life is wearing away..." (pB) and we "...might wait in vain for this season of complete vacancy." (pB) That is the life we live in 2009. Apparently they lived a similar life in Wilberforce's time.

The author expresses another opinion of what Christianity of his time was like: "Often it has filled him with deep concern, to observe in this description of persons, scarcely any distinct knowledge of the real nature and principles of the Religion which they profess." (pB2) Again, it sounds like the state of things in North American Christianity now.

And so it seems his book will be a timely read despite its original publishing date. Though, I guess that is one of the things which make it a 'classic'. I'm looking forward to journeying through this book with the rest of those who frequent Challies' blog.

A few quotes from Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin

Bob Kauflin is the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries. He has a blog: Worship Matters. He is also the author of a book with the same name. I am currently reading that book and thought I'd share a few quotes from the first third of the book.

"The better (i.e., the more accurately)we know God through His Word, the more genuine our worship will be. In fact, the moment we veer from what is true about God, we are engaging in idolatry." (28)

"...being moved emotionally is different from being changed spiritually. Music affects and helps us in many ways, but it doesn't replace truth about God." (30)

About being a skilled musician: "It's a proficiency that doesn't draw attention to itself..." (38)

His definition of a worship leader: "A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy spirit by skillfully combining God's Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God's presence, and to live for God's glory." (55)

"Magnifying God's greatness begins with the proclamation of objective, biblical truths about God, but it ends with the expression of deep and holy affections towards God." (65)

"Worship itself cannot lead us into God's presence. Only Jesus Himself can bring us into God's presence, and He has done it through a single sacrifice that will never be repeated - only joyfully recounted and trusted in." (74)

I'm looking forward to the middle and end parts of this book. I'll share more later!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Final quotes from Lloyd-Jones' exposition of Romans One

I've finally finished this fine book. Here are some 'gems' from the last few chapters.

On the 'wrath of God':

“…it is not enough that you and I should be clear about the evangel; our methods of evangelism must correspond to the Scriptures as much as our message does…He [Paul] starts with the wrath of God, not with the needs of people as such, not with the things which were worrying them, not with that sin which gets them down, which they cannot overcome; nor with their unhappiness, and so on. Not at all! He does not mention these things. Instead, he speaks of the wrath of God!” (p326)

“Well, this is the cross, the death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There is nothing – there is nothing in history anywhere – which in any way approximates to this as a revelation of the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” (p348)

“This is not a matter of discussion; this is not a matter of argument. The wrath of God belongs with the love of God, and the salvation of God in Christ. It has been revealed. Man does not like it. He never would have thought of such a thing. He hates it. But our preaching neither depends upon man, nor his reason, nor his understanding, nor his likes and dislikes.” (p352)

“The world as it is today is the greatest proof possible of ‘the wrath of God' against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men that hold (down) the truth in unrighteousness’.” (p392)

Monday, March 2, 2009

A few more zingers from Lloyd-Jones in Romans 1

“…that if we preach the gospel in all its fullness, and if we apply it to the whole man, to the mind as well as the heart and the will – if we preach the ‘whole counsel of God’ to the whole individual personality, relying upon the Holy Spirit, we shall find that the gospel today will produce its results in all types and kinds and classes…” (p251)

“The fact is that the world attaches great significance to mind, and to intellect, and to learning and to understanding. And not only that, but to moral effort and to moral striving too. It glories in these things. But the gospel does not. That does not mean that the gospel tells you to commit intellectual suicide, or that an able man cannot be a Christian. But it does mean that the gospel tells all men at the very beginning that it does not matter how able a man may be, that alone will never make him a Christian.” (p262-3)

“We have heard so much about the ‘quest’ for truth, the ‘search’ for reality. Now that is the exact opposite of the gospel. The gospel is not something that invites us to join in a great search or a great quest. It is an announcement. It is a revelation. It is an unfolding, an unveiling of something.” (p295)

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is as insistent upon man’s righteousness in the presence of God as the law ever was in the Old Testament dispensation.” (p300)

“The penalty of the Law was meted out upon Him, and so He has honoured the law completely, positively and negatively, actively and passively. There is nothing further the law can demand; He has satisfied it all.” (p302)

“Faith is the contradiction of everything that is meritorious in man. Faith is the contradiction and the negation of every tendency in man to say that merit is enough.” (p306)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul

The title of this post is actually the sub title of  a book I have finished reading (at long last):  Love Your God With All Your Mind by J. P. Moreland.  For those of you who are not familiar with the author, Dr.  Moreland is a professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.  You can read his faculty profile and publications list here.
The premise of Moreland's book is the following:  We have lost or neglected our ability to disciple our minds for Christ and this condition has seriously hindered the effective ministry of Christians both individually and collectively.  
In Part 1 of his text, Why The Mind Matters In Christianity , Moreland identifies the scope and magnitude of this anti-intellectual problem.  Parts 2 and 3, How To Develop a Mature Christian Mind and What A Mature Christian Mind Looks Like, address theoretical and practical approaches to developing Christian thought.   Moreland exposes common fallacies in our current thought patterns and provides instruction on mental habit formation, spiritual discipline, introductory logic, apologetics, engaging your mind in worship, intellectual fellowship in the church body and your vocation.
Up to this point, the book is challenging and a bit of a "tough read" but well worth it.  But, Part IV Guaranteeing A Future For The Christian Mind really peaked my interest when the author asks some pointed questions about our current church model:  1.  Why is our impact not proportional to our numbers?  2.  Why are ministers no longer viewed as the intellectual and cultural leaders in their communities that they once were?  3.  How is it possible for a person to be an active member of an evangelical church for many years but have next to no knowledge of the history or theology of the Christian religion, skills to exact serious bible study or the skills necessary to preach and defend Christianity (paraphrased)?  He then proceeds with a manifesto of change he feels is necessary in the church today.  He is very careful to qualify his suggestions in that they may not be correct and any change should be done tenderly.  With that disclaimer, here are a few of his suggestions for you to consider and debate:
1.  No senior pastors.  Administration, preaching and leadership from a plurality of elders.  Pulpit to be shared (no one individual more than 26 weeks)
2.  Pastoral staff and elders primary job is equip others to ministry
3.  Distinguish between form (the culturally relevant manner in which we carry out the function) and function (unchanging biblical mandate that every church must carry out).  Form can and should be changed as necessary.  Function remains constant.
4.  Better quality sermons - related to #1 in that prep time should improve with fewer preaching requirements
5.  Better church libraries and recommended reading lists for congregation members

I enjoyed the book.  It's a tough read but I still recommend it.  The last chapter is provocative and challenging.  There are excellent appendices of Christian intellectual resources and sources of integration categorized by vocation or area of study.  

And the winner is...

Michael Coren for this piece on the Oscars: Hollywood's bad act.

Here is an excerpt:

" No to war, yes to war movies. Yes to freedom, no to you having the freedom to take issue with me and my super rich friends. Tears. Go Obama!

Batman 5. Spiderman 6. Superman 7. Such quality. We're great, you're not.

Hide Charlton Heston away in the middle of the list because even though he campaigned for civil rights before you were born, he dared to be a Republican. Crying. Thank you. Where's my cheque? I love you.