Thursday, February 28, 2013

Two natures as mystery

From Bruce A. Ware in his book The Man Christ Jesus:

Surely the outworking of the two natures of Jesus is beyond our full comprehension. Just as with the doctrine of the Trinity in which we have in human life or experience no exact correspondence to God, who is one in essence and three in persons, so too here. We are incapable of understanding completely how one person could have two full and integral natures, especially when one of those natures is uncreated, infinite, and fully divine while the other nature is created, finite, and fully human. How was it that Christ lived fully as a man while being also fully God always has been and shall be, ultimately, a mystery (23).

Monday, February 25, 2013

Doctrine and the church

From Setting Our Affections Upon Glory by D. M. Lloyd-Jones:
Doctrine comes before fellowship, and unless our fellowship is based upon doctrine, it is not Christian fellowship ...

The church in her great periods has always seen the absolute necessity of defining what she believes in order that wrong teaching might be corrected and driven out. That is why teaching or doctrine must always come before fellowship. There is nothing more dangerous to the true life of the church than reversing this order and putting fellowship before doctrine (55-58)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sanctification always follows regeneration

In his book Holiness, J. C. Ryle makes it clear that sanctification, or growth in holiness, is not an option for the Christian. Ryle argues that without sanctification evidencing the Christian life, there is no reason to conclude that regeneration ever took place. Consider:
Sanctification, again, is the outcome and inseparable consequence of regeneration. He that is born again and made a new creature, receives a new nature and a new principle, and always lives a new life. A regeneration which a man can have, and yet live carelessly in sin or worldliness, is a regeneration invented by uninspired theologians, but never mentioned in Scripture. On the contrary, St. John expressly says, that “He that is born of God doth not commit sin - doeth righteousness - loveth the brethren - keepeth himself - and overcometh the world.” (1 John ii. 29; iii. 9-14; v. 4-18.) In a word, where there is no sanctification there is no regeneration, and where there is no holy life there is no new birth. This is, no doubt, a hard saying to many minds; but, hard or not, it is simple Bible truth. It is written plainly, that he who is born of God is one whose “seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John iii. 9.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Edwards defines the Gospel

In Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards defines the Gospel:
The gospel, above all things in the world, holds forth the exceeding condescension of God. No other manifestation that ever God made of himself exhibits such wonderful condescension as the Christian revelation does. The gospel teaches how God, who humbles himself to behold things that are in heaven and earth, stooped so low as to take an infinitely gracious notice of poor vile worms of the dust, and to concern himself for their salvation, and so as to send his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might be forgiven, and elevated, and honoured, and brought into eternal fellowship with him, and to the perfect enjoyment of himself in heaven for ever.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kostenberger on Progressive Spirituality

From Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by A. Kostenberger:

Along with this definitive, positional spirituality, the New Testament also enjoins all followers of Christ to pursue progressive spirituality. John, as mentioned, exhorts believers to abide in Christ
(John 15:4-7). Paul commands believers to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18); to walk, or keep in step with, the Spirit(Gal. 5:16, 25); and not to grieve (Eph. 4:30) or quench the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). This implies that it is possible for believers, who are spiritual because they belong to Christ and are indwelt by the Spirit, not to walk in the Spirit and thus to grieve the Spirit and to quench the Spirit's activity in their lives. What can we learn about the pursuit of progressive spirituality from these passages of Scripture?

As mentioned, John equates spiritual growth with obedience to God's command to believe in Jesus and to love others (John 15:10-17; 1 John 3:23-24) and closely connects spiritual growth with the bearing of spiritual fruit (John 15:5), that is, effective participation in Jesus' mission to the world. Spirituality is therefore not an individualistic experience of solitude, defined by the amount of time spent in protracted periods of communion alone with God, but an active obedience to God's commands that practically demonstrates love to others and is integrally involved in Jesus' mission to the world. Christian spirituality, properly understood, is a spirituality of engagement, not withdrawl ... (73).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Delighting in the differences

One of the characteristics of Vern Poythress' book Inerrancy and the Gospels that I really appreciated was the underlying attitude towards Scripture that permeates the entirety of this work. This is evident in the following quote about the differences in the Gospels:

Each of the four Gospels gives us the truth about the life of Jesus. No one Gospel is exhaustive, nor does it claim to be-each is selective. And each makes choices about how it is going to tell the history. Each is interested in highlighting theological significances and relationships to the Old Testament. Matthew is noteworthy for his Jewishness, for his compression, and for the introduction of subtle hints of extra significance. Mark is noteworthy for action and concentration on the main points. Luke is noteworthy for care in historical research. John is noteworthy for theological depth in interpreting the significance of events.

We should also remember that all four Gospels are God's writing, not simply the product of human authors. The differences between them in their approaches to writing history illustrate that God himself is comfortable with using distinct perspectives in revealing what happened and its significance. The significance in God's mind is infinitely deep. He enriches us by providing us four windows on his wisdom rather than merely one. (74).

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review - Setting Our Affections Upon Glory

In an essay written in 1985, theological giant J. I. Packer is said to have commented on the preaching of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Through the thunder and the lightning, I felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel ….” Though the “thunder and lightning” of this great preacher may be difficult to apprehend by reading his sermons in a book, the “glory of Christ and of his gospel” reverberates through every page of this recently published collection of Lloyd-Jones sermons entitled Setting Our Affections Upon Glory. This compilation of the Good Doctor’s preaching is notable for its gospel-centeredness, its emphasis on doctrine, and its relevancy and timeliness.

The nine sermons in Setting Our Affections Upon Glory are permeated by a gospel-centeredness that, with regularity, brings the Christ, the cross, and the resulting Calvary-wrought salvation before the eyes of the reader. Lloyd-Jones does not miss an opportunity to remind the listener, or reader in this case, of the issue of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).  He continually reminds us, with creativity and conciseness, that the essence of Christianity is “the great doctrine of the atonement. You cannot be a Christian without this” (118). His emphatic and insistent proclamations of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) give evidence of the great value and singular priority he attributes to the gospel: “Reconciliation! There is nothing in the whole world today as valuable as this. To be reconciled to God! To know that our sins are forgiven! The wealth of the universe cannot purchase this. There is nothing more valuable” (95). These sermons will help you understand why Packer “felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, as well as the many manifestations of his ministry, is known for the priority he places on doctrine in general and Reformed doctrine in particular. He frequently admonishes the reader to note the importance of doctrine in the life of the Christian. He reflects that the early church “was a gathering of people who had undergone a profound change as a result of listening to the apostolic preaching” (53, emphasis mine) and that, in terms of the church both then and now, doctrine “comes before fellowship, and unless our fellowship is based upon doctrine, it is not a Christian fellowship” (55-6). These are strong words for one who was noted for his high regard for the church. For the author, doctrine’s importance rested on the fact that “you cannot preach the gospel without doctrine” (117). Lloyd-Jones valued preaching and thus he valued doctrine. The prominence doctrine holds in Lloyd-Jones’ mind is evident throughout the book: In the church, “teaching and doctrine must have the pre-eminence, the precedence, the priority. They must always come in first position” (61). This book is evidence that he was a preacher who esteemed doctrine.

This collection of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching was originally delivered in 1969. However, the timeliness and relevancy of these nine addresses is conspicuous. It seems the great preachers have a penchant for framing things in such a way so as to reveal the issue that is common to all ages. They deal with the heart of the matter. For instance, Lloyd-Jones warned of the church’s dangerous practice of prostrating themselves to the idol of popularity: “The church asks: What do people actually want? What do they like? What do they think? And we pander to them” (50). This is a remarkable assessment of the modern church and this preacher saw it in his day. Or consider this concern that is raised: “I have sometimes feared that we are rapidly getting to the stage in which there will only be two or three preachers-if even that many-in the world. And the rest of the world will be listening to them on tapes or on television or something else” (110). We now know that the “something else” the author was concerned about are downloads and podcasts and Youtube and iTunes. His apprehension on this matter is almost prophetic as we see the danger of blogsniffers and website groupies following an increasing smaller number of big name preachers. His sermons are applicable to us today because he saw the unchanging dangers that the church faced. Ponder his foreboding of the treacherous nature of tolerance: “It is that in our fear and dread and horror of being called narrow we could swing so far to the other extreme and in the end be so wide and so broad and so large that we lose our landmarks altogether and end by not knowing what the real meaning of the word Christian is … A charity and a tolerance that is prepared to include everything! That seems, to me, to be the greatest danger” (146). That is an incredibly accurate accusation against today’s churches by a minister who preached over 40 years ago.

For its pervasive gospel-centeredness, for its continuous concern for doctrine, and for its timely relevancy, this volume of sermons is noteworthy. A preacher will often be lauded by those who he leads. But when a preacher is admired and acclaimed by his peers, both great and small, it is likely his preaching will be efficacious and edifying. These sermons by D. M. Lloyd-Jones are just that. They have power in written form that build us up and encourage us. Setting Our Affections Upon Glory is a welcome addition to a growing number of this great preacher’s published sermons.

I recommend this book.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A sentence to ponder

"All grace is wrought in the heart through the knowledge of God, or by the clear discovery of his perfections; and the knowledge of these perfections is the foundation of all grace." - Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The necessity of sanctification

If the Bible be true, it is certain that unless we are “sanctified,” we shall not be saved. There are three things which, according to the Bible, are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every man and woman in Christendom. These three are, justification, regeneration, and sanctification. All three meet in every child of God: he is both born again, and justified, and sanctified. He that lacks any one of these three things is not a true Christian in the sight of God, and dying in that condition will not be found in heaven and glorified in the last day. J. C. Ryle

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Christian story

As many of you may have heard, in 2012 Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered a book on leadership-The Conviction to Lead-that has received very positive feedback. I read the book at the close of the year, and I must corroborate what others are saying; this is a fantastic book.

Mohler makes many helpful connections between leadership and aspects of our lives. One of the connections I found helpful was the relationship he notes between leadership and narrative. Leadership, he suggests, is inextricably tied into stories. And the Christian leader is necessarily enmeshed into one particular story. Writing of the Christian narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, he writes:
As Christians, we are to find our identity and meaning in this story and in no other story. It is to be the story that frames our thinking, our living, our leading. This is the story that tells us who we are, how we got here, and where we are going. This story is the truest and most powerful of all stories, the great metanarrative that frames everything we think, decide, and do. It is also what allows us to die, knowing that the story will survive us and that we are still a part of this story even after our death (41).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Free will and God's decree

Professor Scott Oliphint on a reformed perspective of free will:

... the event of the sin of Adam, for example, was an event that happened by way of the necessity of the consequence. God knows eternally that Adam will go wrong with respect to the forbidden fruit. His knowledge of Adam's action is infallible; the event itself is (hypothetically) necessary. Necessarily, once God decrees that it will happen, it will happen.
     But that does not change the fact that Adam's decision to eat from the forbidden tree is a decision done by "a previous judgment of the reason and spontaneously." It is not coerced (in that there is nothing extrinsically forcing Adam's hand), and it is not against Adam's will (in that there is nothing intrinsically violating Adam's ability to choose for or against eating the forbidden fruit). Thus, the predetermination of God (by the virtue of the necessity of the consequence) and the freedom of man (by virtue of Adam's ability to choose among the options given) are not in competition with each other, nor does one violate the other. Rather, both are executed according to the providence of God, in which the application of God's decree includes the free decision of Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. Just as with the person of Christ, now with God's knowledge of human decision, God brings together both the divine (decree) and the human (free decision) under one unifying entity, providence, such that the two seeming incompatible properties are made compatible by his sovereign design and plan.

(Oliphint, K. Scott. Reasons [for Faith]: Philosophy in the Service of Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2006. Print. emphasis mine)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jesus' dependence on the Spirit

The life of Jesus is exemplary not just in what he did but also how he did it. Jesus was not immune to temptation or impervious to suffering. He fought the good fight of faith but he did not fight it alone. Jesus did not sever himself from the Trinity in order to accomplish his mission. He remained in communion with the Father and dependent upon the Spirit. The Spirit empowered and motivated everything Jesus did. (91)
Jonathan K. Dodson, in his book Gospel Centered Discipleship, introduces an important issue in fully understanding the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus, as we know and as the church has known from its inception, is both fully God and fully man. And he lived his life on earth in dependence on the Holy Spirit as all men who are part of God's family do. Despite not needing the Spirit in regards to his divine nature, we see the beautiful condescension of the Son in that he relied on the Spirit of God while he lived his earthly life. Bruce Ware, in The Man Christ Jesus, relays some similar thoughts.

Again, one must come to terms with the significance of the repeated biblical teaching that Jesus, the Messiah sent from God, would be marked by having the Spirit upon him. But why would he need the Spirit since he possessed already the infinitely and complete divine nature? What can the spirit of God add to the deity of Christ? He can add nothing, since the deity of Christ in infinitely full and perfect. But what can the Spirit of God add to the humanity of Christ? He can add everything of supernatural enablement! Yes, Jesus, the Spirit-annointed Messiah, lived his life as a man, accepting the limitations of his human existence, and relied on the Spirit to do in and through him what he could not do in his human nature. His identity, then, as the Spirit-annointed Messiah is fundamentally that of a man empowered by the Spirit to carry out what he was called upon to do. (43)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Biblical spirituality

In his book on the pursuit of scholarly virtue, Excellence Andreas J. Kostenberger defines Biblical spirituality in what I view as a very helpful definition:

"Spirituality involves the presence, activity, and work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life, beginning at conversion and regeneration, and continuing on throughout the entire process of sanctification." (71)

Kosetnberger goes on to write, "The New Testament connects spirituality closely with active obedience and with an engagement of the world as we embark on our mission for God. Spirituality is rarely, if ever, tied to a withdrawal or seclusion from the world as exemplified by the monastic tradition throughout the centuries." (71)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A right sense and estimate

In Charity and Its Fruits, Jonathan Edwards discusses humility in the seventh lecture. Humility, the author contends, is fundamentally and foundationally concerned with a proper perspective of ourselves in light of God. Consider,

He that has a right sense and estimate of himself in comparison with God, will be likely to have his eyes open to see himself aright in all respects. Seeing truly how he stands with respect to the first and highest of all beings, will tend greatly to help him to a just apprehension of the place he stands in among creatures. And he that does not rightly know the first and greatest of beings, who is the fountain and source of all other beings, cannot truly know anything aright; but so far as he has come to a knowledge of the former, so far is he prepared for and led unto the knowledge of other things, and so of himself as related to others, and as standing among them.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ordinary means of grace

Albert Mohler and Kevin DeYoung both discuss the necessity of the ordinary means of grace for convictional intelligence and sanctification.

There is no secret here, no special decoder ring, no hidden door. Convictional intelligence comes by what we rightly call the ordinary means of grace. God wants his people to posses convictional intelligence and the fulness of the Christian life, and these come by hearing the Word of God preached, celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper, and living in the fellowship of believers in a faithful loacal church.
This is extended through the leader's personal devotional life, prayer, Bible reading, and reading of other Christian books and materials. But while the private acts of devotion are truly important, Christians are not called to grow into faithfulness alone. The Christian life is to be lived within the fellowship and accountability of a local congregation, where the Word is rightly preached and believers mature together. In that context convictional intelligence emerges naturally, along with those Christian intellectual habits, reflexes, and intuitions we desperately need. (Mohler, R. Albert. The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012. Print. 36)

If you are thoroughly underwhelmed with my … points for pursuing communion with Christ, I don't apologize. It may sound boring or out-of-date, but it just happens to be true: the way to grow in your relationship with Jesus is to pray, read your Bible, and go to church where you'll get good preaching, good fellowship, and receive the sacraments. I'm not suggesting Christianity can be boiled down to a few external requirements. I'm not saying that at all. I'm arguing that if you want to be Christlike you need to have communion with Christ, and if you want communion with Christ you need to do it on his terms with channels of grace he's provided. And that means the only way to extraordinary holiness is through ordinary means. (DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. Print. 134)

Monday, February 4, 2013

A prophetic commentary on the West

It may be that the vast increase of wealth in the last twenty-five years has insensibly introduced a plague of worldliness, and self-indulgence, and love of ease into social life. What were once called luxuries are now comforts and necessaries, and self-denial and “enduring hardness” are consequently little known. It may be that the enormous amount of controversy which marks this age has insensibly dried up our spiritual life. We have too often been content with zeal for orthodoxy, and have neglected the sober realities of daily practical godliness. Be the causes what they may, I must declare my own belief that the result remains. There has been of late years a lower standard of personal holiness among believers than there used to be in the days of our fathers. The whole result is that the spirit is grieved! and the matter calls for much humiliation and searching of heart.

For a book that was published  well over 100 years ago, the concerns raised by J. C. Ryle in this excerpt from Holiness are incredibly relevant and shockingly similar to what one might say about today's Christian experience.

Friday, February 1, 2013

God's sovereignty and human responsibility

As a matter of fact, according to a Reformed theological context, we simply do not have the option of arguing for essential change in God. Nor do we have the option of arguing that God's control over creation is such that the decisions and actions that his human creatures take are all related to his decree in such a way as to be absolutely necessary. Nor do we have the option of maintaining that, since God ordains whatever comes to pass, our decisions and actions are not free or responsible. (Oliphint, K. Scott. Reasons [for Faith]: Philosophy in the Service of Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Pub., 2006. Print. 303)
God ordains all things but humans actions are not necessary. God ordains all things but humans are responsible for their choices.