Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does death have a sting?

As I blog through The Explicit Gospel, I am reminded how readable-fun, helpful, clear-this book is. It is definitely an book you could give as a gift to a wide audience; young, old, believer, non-believer, and almost anyone. Consider the following passage that is both humorous and helpful.

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Chandler writes:

I have heard this text used shoddily at funerals. Preachers shout, "Where is your sting, O death?" just inches away from an occupied casket. I always want to shout back, "it's right there! There's the sting!"

Do you see in 1 Corinthians 15 when death loses its sting? Do you see when it's swallowed up in victory and can no longer create mourning? It is when we put on the imperishable. So, at funerals we mourn and we hurt; death stings, and there is a real loss. This text rightly used at a funeral should point us to the hope of the day where it won't sting any longer.

In that day, the victory of Christ over death will be tangible, palpable, and visceral. (169)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blogged Through Books - God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Blogged Through Books is a series that I hope to continue regularly. I will use posts from this blog that have already been produced for a particular book and will compile them all in one post. This will give the reader access to all of the content concerning particular books, as it appears on this blog, in one convenient location. In the near future I hope to write a post about the benefits of blogging through a book. The first post in the series has Jim Hamilton's excellent biblical theology, God's Glory In Salvation Through Judgment, as its focus.

Here is a list of posts on God's Glory In Salvation Through Judgment:

I'd like to thank Dr. Hamilton for all of his tweets and retweets on Twitter, and the ensuing traffic that visited this blog as a result. This is a wonderful book that I'm sure will continue to bless many Christians should Jesus tarry.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The burning bush a revelational sign

Westminster Theological Seminary professor Scott Olphint introduces a very interesting idea concerning Moses and the burning bush. This appears in his book Reasons for Faith.

It is not an insignificant detail that what draws Moses into God's presence on that mountain is a picture of who God is. There is no analogy in the creation for the independent and the uncreated. So God creates a picture of his character in the burning bush. He gives Moses a sign: an "independent" fire. The fire does not derive its burning from the context in which it burns. It is self-generated, contradicting all rules of creation. The bush is on fire, but the fire is not dependent on the bush; it possesses its own energy. There is, it seems, a deliberate and revelational sign given by God to unveil the significance, both of God's covenantal revelation to Moses (because fire is with the bush), and of his revelation of the divine name-"I AM WHO I AM." (237)

The burning bush event encapsulates the God's self-revealing of his name I AM WHO I AM which is clearly a very significant moment in the relationship between God and Israel and thus is of massive import for all mankind. Thus, this event bears the study and intense gazing that the church has encumbered it with. Dr. Oliphint's insights are fascinating to consider.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jesus's mission

We know this sounds heartless, but it's true: it simply was not Jesus's driving ambition to heal the sick and meet the needs of the poor, as much as he cared for them. He was sent into the world to save people from condemnation (John 3;17), that he might be lifted up so believers could have eternal life (3:14-15). He was sent by the Father so that whoever feeds on him might live forever (6:57-58). In his important work on the missions of Jesus and the disciples, Andreas Kostenberger concludes that John's Gospel portrays Jesus's mission as the Son sent from the Father, as the one who came into the world and returned to the Father, and as the shepherd-teacher who called others to follow him in order to help gather a final harvest. If Kostenberger is right, this is a long way from saying that Jesus's fundamental mission was to meet temporal needs. 
(DeYoung, Kevin, and Greg Gilbert. What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011. Print.55)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Religious versus Spiritual

I have never liked the whole religion vs. spirituality discussion. It is unhelpful to have discussions of this sort when terms are not defined. Am I religion? Do I support religion? Well, the answer is "yes" if when you say religion you are using the term the way the puritans used. That is, religion being the proper acting out of the Christian faith. But if you mean religion in the sense of legalism or man-centered pursuit of divinity then no, I'm not into religion.

Kevin DeYoung, in his newest book The Hole in Our Holiness, addresses this situation:

Has there been a phrase more adept at smuggling in doctrinal confusion and moral laxity than the slogan "spiritual, not religious"? Granted, for some people this means, "I want a personal, life-changing relationship with God, not mere church attendance." but more often than not the phrase implies a dislike for theological standards, moral absolutes, and organized religion. Being spiritual in contemporary jargon means you are open to mystery and interested in "spiritual" things like prayer, healing, and inner peace.

True spirituality means being transformed by the Spirit through communion with the Father and Son. If you are interested in spirituality, your priority should be to grow in the holiness that comes from the Spirit. (35)

His point is not to choose sides on the religion/spiritual debate; rather, he draws our attention to the fact that all Christians-religious, spiritual, or otherwise-should be pursuing holiness. All those who follow Christ should be looking to obedience to God as a goal for our times here on earth. I think he's right.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The wonder of the world reflects the wonder of the gospel

From Matt Chandler in The Explicit Gospel:
If you know somewhere in the world that is renowned for its spectacular views, what you see is nevertheless broken, and what is to come in the earth is far beyond what you can fathom or imagine. The work that God does in us through the power of the gospel of Jesus' redemptive work is a glorious mystery, a matter of eternal interest to curious angels (1 Peter 1:12). Is it any wonder that we must have a world to match the wonder of salvation? (164)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Loving God aright

From Jonathan Edwards' first lecture in Charity and Its Fruits:
When God and man are loved with a truly Christian love, they ate both loved from the same motives. When God is loved aright, he is loved for his excellency, and the beauty of his nature, especially the beauty of the holiness of his nature; and it is from the same motive that the saints are loved-for holiness' sake. And all things that are loved with a truly holy love, are loved from the same respect to God. Love to God is the foundation of gracious love to men; and men are loved, either because they are in some respect like God, in the possession of his nature and spiritual image, or because of the relation they stand in to him as his children or creatures-as those who are blessed of him, or to whom his mercy is offered, or in some other way from regard to him (5-6).
If we love, or are loved, we should thank our gracious and merciful heavenly Father as all true love is related to God.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Oliphint on the trinity

This is an interesting point that Scott Oliphint makes while discussing God's character as it relates to the trinity in Reason for Faith:
While there is no way for finite human beings completely to circumscribe the relationship of the one God to three persons, we may rest content, with the history of the orthodox Christian tradition, with the fact of God's triunity and it's evidence of God's utter incomprehensibility (Rom. 11:33-34). (227)
If a astute mind such as the one in Oliphint's skull struggles with circumscribing the doctrine of the trinity, than the rest of us need not get to upset about our shortcomings in grasping this belief. Ultimately, God's "incomprehensibility" should offer us comfort; he is the transcendent deity the Bible claims he is. He is an awesome God.

We certainly should pursue our understanding of God to the limits we can given our natural proclivities and the Biblical account. But when we come up to an impassable chasm of mystery, we can be, and should be, content.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Early church mission

From What Is the Mission of the Church? by Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung:

The book of Acts is especially important because in it we can actually see the scope and nature of the earliest Christian mission. If you are looking for a picture of the early church giving itself to creation care, plans for societal renewal, and strategies to serve the community in Jesus' name, you won't find them in Acts. But if you're looking for preaching, teaching, and the centrality of the Word, this is your book. The story of Acts is the story of the earliest Christians' efforts to carry out the commission given them in Acts 1:8 (49).

Acts 1:8
    But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker

If you are a teacher, if you are a politician, if you are a businessman, if you are in agriculture, if you are in construction, if you are in technology, if you are in  the arts, then you should not be saying, "I need to find my life's purpose in this work," but rather, "I need to bring God's purpose to this work." The missional Christian should see all things through the lens of the gospel, because the gospel's aim is "all things."

(Chandler, Matt, and Jared C. Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print.149)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review - The Hole in Our Holiness

In The Hole in Our Holiness, author Kevin DeYoung opens with a problem he has both experienced in his own life and noted in the Christian culture around us; there is a gap between our passion for the gospel and our practice of holiness. DeYoung diagnoses this discrepancy and thereby presents the reader with the direction of his book. DeYoung wants to inform the reader of the foundations of holiness as they are taught in the Bible and then encourage application in light of those truths. Pastor Kevin writes, and preaches for that matter, with thoughtful theological acumen and poignant pastoral insight and these distinguishing characteristics are conveyed in The Hole in Our Holiness, making it a very helpful book.

The Foundations of Holiness

DeYoung begins his book by sketching out some helpful foundations about holiness. He provides a theological definition of holiness as well as a Biblical account of this virtue. His discussion of what holiness is and what it is not makes for profitable distinctions. He proceeds to give a helpful defense of both the need and benefits of a healthy view of holiness.

The author finds a good balance to this sometimes burdensome topic by encouraging the reader with good reasons for pursuing holiness as well as offering the refreshing idea that godliness is both possible and very pleasing to God. Chapter Six is a transitional chapter which moves the reader from the more theoretical and theological early chapters to the remaining ones which are more practical. In this bridging section DeYoung explains what he believes holiness should look like and how it should be pursued: sanctification, or growth is holiness, is accomplished through Spirit-powered, Gospel-driven, Faith-fueled effort. And this effort begins with and is accomplished by our union with Christ.

The Fighting for Holiness

The final three chapters deliver some practically helpful thoughts on fighting the good fight of becoming Christ-like in our holiness. DeYoung deals with the pervasive and perpetually problematic sins that are sexual in nature. Without sounding ‘preachy’ or coming across as naive, this pastor of University Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan addresses the issues surrounding sexual immorality. He is realistic but not relativistic as he works hard to show that he understands-personally-the difficulties but recognizes the Bible is clear on the issues.

The book nears conclusion with some advice on actions we can take to promote holiness through the time-tested and traditional disciplines of the Christian faith. Encouragement is presented in the last chapter with a compelling admonishment to gauge and monitor our holiness, to be quick to sincerely repent, and understand this is a process that must continue until our time on earth is up.

With conciseness and clarity, DeYoung explains and expounds what holiness is with a solid stream of Biblical evidence. His shepherding skills are evident as he applies these truths in a way that is accessible and applicable. This is an important book on the sometimes confusing concepts associated with Christian obedience or growth in holiness and is a helpful contribution to the Christian’s lifelong sanctification. I recommend it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Preaching the person of Christ and not the blessings of Christ

Sinclair Ferguson:

... it needs to be stressed that in our preaching the work of Christ must never be abstracted from the person of Christ. We do not preach "the atonement" as such, or "salvation," redemption," or "justification" as such, but Jesus Christ and him crucified. The blessings were accomplished by Christ and are available only in Christ, never abstracted from him. We must learn to avoid the contemporary plague of preaching the benefits of the gospel without proclaiming Christ himself as the Benefactor in the gospel. We do not offer people abstract blessings (peace, forgiveness, new life) as commodities. Rather we preach and offer Christ crucified and risen, in whom these blessings become ours and not otherwise. We preach the person in the work, never the work in its blessings apart from the Savior himself. 

(Nicole, Roger R., Charles E. Hill, and Frank A. James. The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical, Historical & Practical Perspectives : Essays in Honor of Roger Nicole. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print. 437)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What NT writers were NOT consumed with

This is a creative and engaging bit of writing by Jim Hamilton, author of God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment. In light of the increasingly vitriolic political scene that many countries are experiencing, this reminder of what the inspired authors of the New Testament were not consumed with should bring some clarity to all Christians concerning what matters most.

The Center of the Theology of the New Testament Letters

The writers of these twenty-one letters are radically united in the proclamation of bizarre ideas. To see this, let us engage in a bit of contrastive analysis, contemplating what these authors did not do and what their letters did not advocate.

Rome was not their kingdom, and they were not trying to make it home. They sought the city that is to come. Not one of these authors gave his life to address the systematic injustice of the Roman Empire by means of political reform. Not one of these authors went the way of Josephus and sought to cozy up to the emperor, though Paul seems to have had opportunities to seek such "influence" with high-ranking officials. Not one of these authors did or said anything about trying to stop Rome from fighting its wars. Not one of them championed the idea that the government should take money from the rich and redistribute it equally to the poor, nor did they leave the ministry to advocate a government of greater fiscal responsibility, lowered taxes, and increased national security. Not one of these authors taught that the way to change the world is by initiating a universal, government-funded education program. Not one of these authors was out to make as much money as he possibly could. Not one of these authors embraced one of the popular philosophies of the day, nor did they seek to synthesize the message of Jesus with the spirit of their age. None of them advocate higher moral standards in society at large (outside the church), nor did they lobby for universal health care or a revised definition of marriage that would legitimate same-sex unions. None of them seemed to have cared whether anyone reading their letters would be perceived by the broader culture as hip, savvy, chic, or cool. They had a different program.

These authors believed that the decisive event in the story of the world had taken place, God loved the world by sending his Son, condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus, pored out all his wrath on Jesus at the cross, and accomplished salvation through that ultimate display of justice. God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples by proclaiming the good news.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The gospel unchanged

We are never, ever, ever going to make Christianity so cool that everybody wants it. That's a fool's errand. It is chasing the wind. We can't repaint the faith. It doesn't need our help anyway.

Every effort to remake the Christian faith leads to wickedness. Every effort to adjust the gospel so it appears more appealing, more palatable, is foolishness. This is liberal theology's only play in the playbook. "Let's get rid of the atoning work of Jesus Christ because it's harsh. Let's get rid of hell because it is offensive. Let's save Christianity by changing Christianity." . . . 

The spiritual power in the gospel is denied when we augment or adjust the gospel into no gospel at all.

(Chandler, Matt, and Jared C. Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print. 80-1, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Eternity of God

From Reasons for Faith by Scott Oliphint:
Historically, God's eternity has been seen as an aspect, or corollary, of his infinity. Since God's essence is not limited by anything external to himself, it follows that his essence is not limited by time. This is a basic truth in theology; God is essentially eternal

Recent discussions about God's eternity, however, seem to confuse and equivocate with respect to just what eternity is. In some discussions, eternity seems to be equated with a context or environment in which Gos operates as God. Eternity is seen primarily in terms of God's relationship to time.

Though this sheds light on a biblical understanding of eternity, it is not the way a discussion of eternity should begin. The way to think about eternity is to articulate what it is first in relation to God and then in relation to time. First, eternity is an essential property of God quite apart from time. Eternity is God's unlimited essential duration. It is the affirmation that God, unlike time, has always been; he never began to exist, nor was his existence (eternally) caused, nor will it end, but it simply is, without past, present, or future (just as infinity simply is without spatial categories). Eternity, therefore, references something of the duration of god's "is-ness". It points us to the fact that God's necessary existence has always been, and has always been without temporal categories. (212-13)

I suppose such a discussion may be over-the-top and unhelpful for some. But this type of mind-stretching thinking is helpful to me. It reminds me of God's transcendence; we can barely find words to describe him let alone understand him. It also causes awe. God's greatness has many facets and investigating them all is a privilege of great benefit to us. I'm thankful for string minds like Oliphint's who can wrestle with these things and explain them to the rest of us.