Friday, November 30, 2012

Submit and cherish

I recently finished reading and reviewing Vern S. Poythress' book on the harmonization of the Gospels entitled Inerrancy and the Gospels. It was an interesting and informative read which introduced me to several new concepts of harmonization as well as reminding me of some I have encountered before. The most compelling part of the book for me was the attitude that the author demonstrated in regards to Scripture. Pervasive throughout the book is Poythress' determination to submit himself to God's Word, and to cherish God's Word. His posture in relation to the Bible is one of humble deference and exalting admiration. This brief except gives you the idea:

The Gospels, since they are written with God's authority, deserve our ultimate allegiance and trust. They are therefore more ultimate and more reliable accounts of the events of the life of Christ than is any humanly constructed harmonization, which would try to figure out "what really happened." It is legitimate for us to try to see how the various Gospel accounts fit together into a larger picture. But this larger picture should include everything that the Gospels give us, rather than only a minimum core in the form of our modern human reconstruction of what happened. (Poythress, Vern S. Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print. 32)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The long-suffering of God

I regularly recall the marrow of lesson that Wayne Grudem taught on the common grace of God in which he vividly describes God's great mercy and patience in how he deals with mankind. To paraphrase his point, God's common grace-his mercy and long-suffering with sinful humanity-is evident every time we look outside and see something other than flames, every time we smell something other than smoke and burning sulfur, every time we feel something other than excruciating burns, every time we hear something other than screams of pain and suffering. God is patient with mankind; he does not immediately give us what we deserve.

This idea that originally came from the teachings of Grudem came to mind when I read the following quote by Jonathan Edwards from his book of lectures called Charity and Its Fruits:

If we consider the wickedness that there is in the world, and then consider how God continues the world in existence, and does not destroy it, but showers upon it innumerable mercies, the bounties of his daily providence and grace, causing his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sending rain alike on the just and on the unjust, and offering his spiritual blessings ceaselessly and to all, we shall perceive how abundant is his long-suffering toward us.

God's abundant and merciful patience is remarkable in light of all our sin. His gracious care is magnified when the transgressions and evil in this world is considered.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We fight, contend, and struggle

"...we have been called to "take hold" of eternal life. There is urgency in our faith. True faith struggles to pry our hands off the old life and keep them on our eternal life. Biblical faith fights to believe the gospel to such a degree that it is reflected in our practice. Disciples fight to believe that Jesus' death and resurrection is our death and resurrection. His death is our death and his life our life (Romans 5; Galatians 2). As a result, the lie-believing, image-distorting life is dead, and in its place we have received a truth-believing, Christ-adoring life (Eph. 4:20-24). However, because of our tendency to return to the old image, we walk by faith until we see Jesus, when faith will correspond with sight (2 Cor. 5:6-7; Gal. 2:20). Until then, we fight, contend, and struggle. Believing the gospel is not a passive, one-time decision; it is an active, continual fight for faith in what God says is noble, true, and good."

(Dodson, Jonathan K. Gospel-centered Discipleship. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print. 58)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Book Review - Inerrancy and the Gospels

Book Review – Inerrancy and the Gospels

I am not overly interested in biblical inerrancy though I certainly hold to it and have read several books, as well as essays and articles, discussing it; that is not why I requested to review this book. Neither did I request a copy of Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization from Crossway because I needed convincing of the legitimacy of the Gospel accounts. My main interest in this book had to do with its author. Vern Sheridan Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, has impressed me with his brilliant mind, his precise teaching, and most of all his love for God’s Word. I wanted to hear what he had to say about reconciling the differences in the Gospel narratives. His work on this topic as expressed in this book is notable, in my opinion, for three reasons: its presentation of principles for harmonization, its practically helpful examples, and its clear respect and reverence for God and his Word.

Obviously, a book discussing the harmonization of the Gospels should introduce and explain some of the various principles that theologians and apologists use to reconcile difficult passages in these canonical narratives. Poythress elucidates many of these principles in a manner that is interesting and easily understandable, even for a layman such as I. Most of these principles are covered in Part Two of the book which is simply Principles for Harmonization. Poythress introduces initial principles that discuss the trustworthiness of the Bible, the use of help from past scholars, differing incidents confused as the same event, omission of details, and the theological emphasis of the writers. He moves from these to consideration of history, theology, artistry, and the genre’s effects on harmonization. His chapter on mental-pictures and how we use and misuse them in regards to interpretation was very enlightening for me and it alone made reading the book worthwhile. Explanations of the principles of contrast, variation, and distribution are elaborated as are ideas of compression and precision. Principles are adeptly explained by the author and examples from Scripture anchor these concepts for the reader. This material will provide solid reference fodder for future study.

Inerrancy and the Gospels delivers what many readers will be looking for; examples. Throughout the book, Poythress demonstrates harmonization and addresses many of the seemingly erroneous or contradictory passages in the Gospels that those familiar with their Bibles will recognize. These are tackled with intelligence and an approach that endeavours to be realistic in terms of the difficulties that really exist. Some of the  parallel passages that Poythress engages with are: the healing of the Centurion’s servant, the cleansing of the Temple, the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the cursing of the fig tree, the commissioning of the twelve, the stilling of the storm, the rich young ruler, Jarius’ daughter, blind Bartimaeus, and several others. These examples are necessary when you consider the topic at hand, but they are also successful in demonstrating how the principles brought forth work in the harmonizing of the passages.

The most enamouring aspect of this book is the attitude that Poythress takes in regards to Scripture. The professor’s stance goes beyond a high view of Scripture; it is clear the author admires and adores God’s Word as he admonishes and advocates for the reader to do the same. This is evident throughout the book, but is most poignant in the third section entitled Attitudes in Harmonization. The author reminds readers that though we wrestle with doubt, neutrality is not an option. One should read the Bible with submission and receptivity while rejecting the current trend to try and be autonomous in our approach to Holy Writ. We should accept the limits of our sin-stained and derivative knowledge while anticipating difficulties and suffering in our intellectual pursuits. These are not just any books, the author regularly reminds us, but they are the very words of God written to us. Poythress’ posture when it comes to Scripture is an edifying glimpse into the heart of a professional interpreter who clearly recognizes God’s sovereignty and grace directed towards us. I will not soon forget this.

Inerrancy and the Gospels is a formative work that succeeds due to, among other things, lucid teaching of harmonization principles, practical demonstration of those principles at work, and a refreshingly uplifting attitude toward the Bible. I recommend this book.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who but the God-man?

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin addresses why it is that humans needed God to become man in order to mediate our reconciliation to God successfully. was also imperative that he who was to become our Redeemer be true God and true man. It was his task to swallow up death. Who but the Life could do this? It was his task to conquer sin. Who but very Righteousness could do this? It was his task to rout the powers of world and air. Who but a power higher than world and air could do this? Now where does life or righteousness, or lordship and authority of heaven lie but with God alone? Therefore our most merciful God, when he willed that we be redeemed, made himself our Redeemer in the person of his only-begotten Son [cf. Rom. 5:8].

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mystery and Magnificence

God has given us His Word that we might be fully equipped in our understanding. However, the fullness is not exhaustive. We are given everything we need to know, but not everything. There are some things we will likely never understand. Oliphint, in his book Reasons for Faith, writes:

Though arguments for God's character can be, and is, profound and complex at times, we may need to realize that arguments concerning exactly how, for example, the Son of God can be one person who is both created and uncreated, sovereign and limited in power, a se and hungry, may never be forthcoming.

The incarnation teaches us that God can be in ways that simply are not readily conducive to intellectually satisfying argumentation. The fact, for example, that God can remain eternal while at the same time interacting with his creation on a day-to-day basis does not always make for good philosophical fodder. It does, however, (if we are correct here) make for the truth of the matter, and we would be hard pressed to want anything less from our theological and philosophical meanderings. (254-5)

Though we should strive to understand all we can, and unravel the complex mysteries of our faith to the best of our abilities, we must realize and accept that we will not intellectually master all there is to know about our great God. And we should be fine with this. Professor Vern Poythress, in his newly published book Inerrancy and the Gospels writes, "Any difficulty that does not quickly yield to our investigation testifies to the fact that God is greater than we are and that he understands what we do not." (107)

Mysteries and lack of complete clarity should be expected and exulted in; we serve an awesome God. If we could completely grasp our Creator, he would not be infinite and eternal and therefore not fit to be worshiped. Let the mystery and paradox that surround our God propel us to more study and more worship.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A vision correcting gospel

This is a fantastic excerpt by Jonathan K. Dodson from his book Gospel Centered Discipleship. Every sentence in this passage is worth contemplating. The Piperian paradigm of sanctification (Piper didn't invent it, but I first encountered it through him), beholding-is-becoming-ism, has become something that I find very helpful. In his book, Dodson formulates helpful discipleship issues and ideas along the same lines.

Only by looking to Jesus can our disfigured image be restored and our contemptuous disregard forgiven. When we look away from ourselves into the face of Christ, we behold "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). This gospel knowledge corrects our vision so that we not only behold but also become the image of the glory of God in Christ. True nobility and beauty converge in the image of Jesus.

It is a fundamental truth that we become what we behold. Children become like their parents; interns become like their mentors. If we behold the beauty of Christ, we become beautiful like Christ. While it is true that our first glance into the face of Christ restores our image (Rom. 5:1-2; 8:29-30), it is also true that we drift back into fashioning our own distorted image. We slip into our own distorted forms of masculinity and femininity. The gospel calls us back to look at Jesus over and over again. A disciple of Jesus is a person who so looks at Jesus that he or she actually begins to reflect his beauty in everyday life. The gospel gives us the eyes to Jesus as well as the power to look like him. It changes us into the image of his glory: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). This transformative vision comes from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17-18) ... gospel-centered disciples rely on the Spirit, who focuses our hearts' attention on Jesus, where beholding him results in becoming like him. This goal is worth fighting for.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are you busy?

There have been some busy months in the St. John house this fall. The past month has been particularly crazy. Some respite is in sight, however. The secondary school football team I coach plays in the "B Championship" this Saturday. The end of our football season, hopefully a win, will free up 3 hours a day. That alone will lighten the burden of business the last few months has included.

Hopefully my contributions to this blog will increase in frequency and regularity next week.

That being said, I recognize that pretty much everyone is busy; we fill our schedules with meetings, work, play, children's activities, church duties, and whatever else we might feel obligated to do. There can sometimes emerge a certain smug sense of accomplishment in the performance of all these duties. As if, in the simple acts of doing them, we have accomplished much. We can subtly believe that we have merited much in our dutiful fulfilling of our obligations.

Not so says Jonathan Edwards. In his second lecture on love in Charity and Its Fruits, Edwards deals with the misconception that performance of tasks is in and of itself profitable. The title of the lecture, "The Greatest Performance or Sufferings in Vain without Charity," gives an indication of Edwards' direction. He writes,
And as there is nothing profitable to God in any of our services or performances, so there can be nothing profitable in his sight in a mere external action without sincere love in the heart, "for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward apperance, but God looketh on the heart." The heart is just as naked and open to him as the actions. And therefore he sees our actions, and all our conduct, not merely as the external motions of a machine, but as the actions of  rational, intelligent creatures, and voluntary free agents; and therefore there can be, in his estimation, no excellence or amiableness in anything we can do, if the heart be not right with him.
Thus, we are called to act our actions and do our doings with proper motivation; love. Let's not think that in simply performing our duties we have accomplished much.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Does God really repent? "Yes" says Oliphint

I can't stress enough how helpful I find the writings of Professor Scott Oliphint. His books have been very formative in my understanding of God. In the following excerpt, Oliphint explains that though some characteristics of God are covenantal as opposed to essential, this does not mean they are any less literally true. Consider this quote from Reasons for Faith,
Well there can be no question that there are truths given to us in God's revelation that point to his essential character, and others that point to his covenantal character, we should be careful to note that those covenantal attributes of God are no less "literal" than are his essential attributes. Repentance, then, is not simply something that "seems to us" like repentance. It is literal repentance, he is (covenantally) changing directions because of his faithfulness to his covenant. But it is repentance of a condescended, covenant God who has come down, taking on the form of a creature, in order to glorify himself, and it is repentance that does not in anyway sacrifice, undermine, or otherwise alter his essential character as a se. He repents, all the while remaining the eternal, immutable "I AM." (253-4)
Is this easy to understand? No. But I think it remains faithful to the biblical record.

The sovereign, omniscient God of the universe condescendingly repents. Amazing!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fighting for something

So you see, everyone fights for something. The desire to fight isn't masculine or feminine; it is human. Deep down we all want to be noticed, for our lives to count for something. We want to be beautiful or noble. The problem is that we direct our fighting desires toward the wrong things. We work hard at being noticed or entertained. We fall short of beauty and nobility. What would happen if, instead of spending hours in front of the video screen or mirror, we spent hours in front of the gospel? What if we fought for a more noble cause ... I need to fight for the nobility of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and to be ravished with the image of his glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). (Dodson, Jonathan K. Gospel-centered Discipleship. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print. 53-4)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fun weekend!

It was an exciting weekend at the ice rinks for two of the St. Johns. My two oldest girls competed in tournaments in Oshawa, Ontario and both girls' teams went undefeated for the three days resulting in gold medals. Both girls work hard and enjoy their sports. It was a lot of fun for dad.

Friday, November 2, 2012

We have an advocate

From James Durham's collection of 72 sermons on Isaiah 53 entitled Christ Crucified:

For your encouragement, consider that it is most advantageous and profitable. These words in the promise are broad and full, Whatsoever ye ask in my name, I will do it. And the promise is frequently repeated in these core cited chapters of John. O what calmness, tranquility, peace, victory over anxiety, what patience in waiting, whether when in bonds or liberty, do flow from the exercising of faith on this ground, to wit, that we have an advocate in heaven with the Father! (emphasis mine)