Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Trust in intellectual matters

Some helpful thoughts from Dr. Vern S. Poythress on trusting God in the midst of uncertainty about the Bible from his book Inerrancy and the Gospels:
In a fundamental way, trust in the matter of intellectual questions or historical difficulties or apparent discrepancies or biblical paradoxes remains part of the general obligation to trust God in every area of life. We have good grounds for trust, because of God's character and the faithfulness of his Word. He is infinitely good. We have grounds also in the demonstration of his goodness and faithfulness throughout history. Supremely, we have grounds in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. God shows there his supreme commitment to righteousness. Christ was vindicated and sin received its due payment in Christ as substitute. God showed there his supreme commitment to truth: his promise of redemption proved true, at supreme cost to himself. He showed his supreme commitment to us in the love that he manifested in the cross. (109)
Thus, we look to the cross and Christ's work at Calvary for assurance and reassurance of his commitment to truth and his commitment to us. We have good grounds, infinitely good grounds, to trust God in all things and particularly to trust him in regards to his Word.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fools! Simpletons! Dullards!

From a sermon preached by D. M. Lloyd-Jones called The Church Today: The Road to Emmaus as it is found in Crossway's book entitled Setting Our Affections Upon Glory:
I say again that I have an awful feeling that is what our Lord is saying about us and to us today. "You fools!" What he means is that we are dullards, that we are simpletons, that we do not know how to think, that we allow ourselves to be governed by circumstances and accidents and change and the things that happen to us and the conditions in which we find ourselves. And instead of using our minds and reason and our understanding and applying the truth we have received, we allow ourselves to be in this state of misery and dejection and discouragement. "What a terrible world this is!" Is that not true of us? Fools! Simpletons! Dullards! 
This is said frequently in the New Testament. Writing in his first epistle to certain churches, to unknown people whose names we do not know, strangers scattered abroad in various countries who were having a horrible time and were enduring terrible persecution, the apostle Peter says-and its one of the first things he tells them, "Gird up the loins of your mind" (1 Pet. 1:13). 
The church must think. She must use her mind and her reason. The tragedy is that we constantly tend to fall back on other things in order somehow or another to relieve ourselves and to keep thing going. We are sentimental. Sentimentality is very largely the trouble with present church. We are very nice people, we members of the Christian church, but we are very foolish. And the first thing we must do is wake up and gird the loins of our minds and think and understand the truth and begin to apply it to the situation in which we find ourselves, instead of giving way, instead of giving in, instead of just commiserating with one another. I am sometimes afraid that the church is dying of niceness. We are really good at praising one another, are we not, and saying that we are doing well. We have become a mutual admiration society, sympathisizing and communing with one another, and thus being sentimental with one another. And the whole time the condition of the church degenerates from bad to worse. Fools! We must apply our understanding to the situation with which we are confronted (76-7).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cultivating fresh faith

I am almost finished blogging through the book Gospel Centered Discipleship. I continue to be encouraged and edified as I re-read and reflect on some of the ideas and insights of its author Jonathan K. Dodson.

Towards the end of the book Dodson works through some practical steps believers can take in regards to gospel-centered discipleship and I am reminded of how solid and helpful some of these suggestions are. For instance, Dodson begins an sub-section of his chapter entitled Practical Discipleship: Putting the Gospel into Practice with the title Cultivating Fresh Faith in the Gospel. Sounds good, right? Well, it is.

Consider the questions he leads this section off with:
How do we cultivate Bible reading that brings us fresh faith in the gospel? To be honest, there are times that old, memorized promises don't always work for me. Is this because "trusting your savior" doesn't work? No, it's because my heart becomes indifferent to them. How do we revive our hearts to take interest in God's promises? (132-3)

Dodson relies on the Puritan heavyweight John Owen to respond to the above questions and to indicate how we might cultivate fresh faith in the Gospel.
John Owen recommends we return to prayer, but perhaps not as you usually pray. He notes that if we wisely consider the Spirit's working in our hearts by prayer, we may understand much of his working upon our hearts by grace. In order to have fresh faith in the gospel, we ought to pray to the Spirit for three things: 1) insight into his promises, 2) experience of our need, 3) creation of desire. All too often we assume the insight, neglect to experience our need, and are too proud to ask for desire. (133)
I think that though all three of these practical insights are helpful, #2 impacts me the most. In our society and the culture that permeates it, it can actually be difficult to understand our ever-present and enormous need. We are seduced and satiated by the world to the detriment of our inner life. I think a prayer for cognizance and experience of our need is vital.

Dodson expounds on these ideas in the ensuing sections and it is all very helpful. Consider getting your hands on this gem and benefiting from it first hand.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Was there a covenant before Noah?

One recurring argument in the discussion of Biblical covenants revolves around creation. Did God initiate a covenant with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? Wellum and Gentry, in their immense Kingdom Through Covenant, suggest that there was indeed a covenant entered pre-fall. One of their arguments in favour of a covenant with Adam is the wording surrounding the covenant God made with Noah, a covenant which is largely accepted.

The proof they find for an earlier covenant in the recorded narrative of God's covenant with Noah has to do with the wording of the passage about said covenant. The question boils down to this: With Noah, did God initiate a covenant or did he uphold a covenant?

Consider these excerpts from Kingdom Through Covenant:
The first occurrence(s) of the term covenant (bĕrît) in the Hebrew Scriptures is significant. The word appears first in the flood narrative (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17). In four instances God speaks of “confirming” or “establishing” a covenant with Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:9, 11, 17). The construction in Hebrew is hēqîm bĕrît. The remaining four occurrences have to do with the sign of the covenant and remembering the covenant. Thus, when we consider the covenant God made with Noah and his descendants, we notice right away that the standard expression or language for covenant initiation is lacking. Nowhere do we read of God cutting a covenant (kārat bĕrît). Why is the language different here and what does it signify? An exhaustive study of all instances of bĕrît in the Hebrew Bible and classification of all constructions and expressions in which this noun occurs reveals a completely consistent usage: the construction “to cut a covenant” (kārat bĕrît) refers to covenant initiation while the expression “to establish a covenant” (hēqîm bĕrît) refers to a covenant partner fulfilling an obligation or upholding a promise in a covenant initiated previously so that the other partner experiences in historical reality the fulfilling of this promise, i.e., one makes good on one’s commitment, obligation, or promise. (155)

In summary, based on the expression hēqîm bĕrît, linguistic usage alone demonstrates that when God says that he is confirming or establishing his covenant with Noah, he is saying that his commitment initiated previously at creation to care for and preserve, provide for and rule over all that he has made, including the blessings and ordinances that he gave to Adam and Eve and their family, are now to be with Noah and his descendants. This can be substantiated and further supported by noting the parallels between Noah and Adam, and between the covenant terms given to Noah and the ordinances given to Adam and his family. (161)
The appeal to Noah's covenant being an upheld covenant versus an initiated covenant is not their only argument in favour of an earlier covenant that God made with men. However, I found this defense both compelling and convincing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We ought to love our own happiness

In Charity and Its Fruit, famed theologian Jonathan Edwards writes about a very interesting idea concerning happiness. In the chapter entitled 'The Spirit of Charity the Opposite of a Selfish Spirit' he argues that though there are many instances of self-love that are inappropriate, the love of our own happiness is not one of them. That is, love of our own happiness cannot be too great. This is a facet of Christian Hedonism which requires and deserves serious contemplation. Consider,
First, that the inordinateness of self-love does not consist in our love of our own happiness being, absolutely considered, too great in degree. — I do not suppose it can be said of any, that their love to their own happiness, if we consider that love absolutely and not comparatively, can be in too high a degree, or that it is a thing that is liable either to increase or diminution. For I apprehend that self-love, in this sense, is not a result of the fall, but is necessary, and what belongs to the nature of all intelligent beings, and that God has made it alike in all; and that saints, and sinners, and all alike, love happiness, and have the same unalterable and instinctive inclination to desire and seek it. The change that takes place in a man, when he is converted and sanctified, is not that his love for happiness is diminished, but only that it is regulated with respect to its exercises and influence, and the courses and objects it leads to. Who will say that the happy souls in heaven do not love happiness as truly as the miserable spirits in hell? If their love of happiness is diminished by their being made holy, then that will diminish their happiness itself; for the less anyone loves happiness, the less he relishes it, and, consequently, is the less happy.
Let me draw out a few ideas from this excerpt that Edwards suggests:

  1. We cannot love our own happiness too much.
  2. Love of happiness is not a result of the fall but is God-given and necessary.
  3. Our love of happiness results in us desiring and seeking it.
  4. A regenerated man loves happiness appropriately and with balance.
  5. The less we love happiness, the less we relish it, and the less happy we are.

Ultimately, what Edwards would indicate is that we can love happiness because we are most happy when we are in relationship with God as He intended. Thus, loving our happiness is loving our God.

It is clear to me that Edwards thought on an entirely different level than me.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

[ḥesed] and [’ĕmet]

As I work my way through the colossal Kingdom Through Covenant by Wellum and Gentry, I am enjoying reviewing, and learning anew, information about covenants. One particularly encouraging section deals with the words [ḥesed] and [’ĕmet] and their connection to covenants. This word pair is somewhat ineffable; a precise definition does not present itself. However, the authors give a helpful, though incomplete, summary definition by relating this word pair as "faithful loyal love." That alone is breath-taking when we consider these words are regularly used to describe the supremely sovereign God's posture towards all of us sinners.

Wellum and Gentry give us an example of how these two words are used in the bible by presenting Psalm 117 to us. They reveal the use of [ḥesed] and [’ĕmet], but also demark the psalm in question as a summary of the entire Psalter. This is very interesting and uplifting. Consider the following which appears at the end of chapter four of Kingdom Through Covenant:

Psalm 117Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love [ḥesed] toward us,
and the faithfulness [’ĕmet] of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD. (NIV)
This is the briefest and shortest hymn in the whole of Israel’s Songbook (Psalms). According to the format standard for a hymn, there is a call to praise Yahweh, followed by the reason for praise. In Psalm 117, verse 1 is the Call to Praise and verse 2 is the Reason for Praise. In the section giving the reason for praise the word pair ḥesed and ’ĕmet is split over parallel lines. Thus the reason for boasting about the Lord is his faithful loyal love in his covenant with his people Israel. In fact, the celebration of this quality summarises the entire Psalter. When a budding scholar completes a doctoral dissertation, the dissertation must be summarised in three hundred words. This is called a dissertation abstract. And Psalm 117 is the dissertation abstract for the entire book of Psalms. It summarises in just a very few words all of the Laments, Hymns, and Songs of Thanksgiving in Israel’s hymnal, including the enormously long Psalm 119. The Lord is worthy of the worship of his people Israel because he demonstrates faithful loyal love in the covenant relationship. (145)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

But he did

I dont recall that I ever give the good Lord all that much cause to smile on me. But he did.

(McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. New York: Vintage International/Vintage, 2007. Print. 91)

Zephaniah 3:17: 
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Intellectual suffering

I  really like this excerpt on intellectual suffering by Dr. Poythress from his book Inerrancy and the Gospels:
God and man have been reconciled, and so there will be fruit in the progressive reconciliation taking place in our hearts. Our hearts become reconciled to God not only in the sense that God forgives our sins, but in the sense that our hearts come more and more into submission and conformity to the mind of God and of Christ, who is the Logos, expressing himself in Scripture. Christ calls us as his disciples to bear our cross daily that we may "know him [Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Phil. 3:10). We may therefore expect to have our minds and our hermeneutical principles and all that is intellectually dear to us suffer and be crucified and raised, in the process of having our minds  conformed to the rationality of the Logos (Rom. 12:1-2). Intellectual anguish among God's people is for our good (Rom. 12:5-11).

We may conclude that intellectual difficulties with the Bible are not, in the end, alien to the mystery of the suffering of Christ. In knowing God's Word we know truly, but not transparently, and not without being beset by mental anguish at times. (99, emphasis mine)