Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book Review - Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament

Make no mistake about it, there are some tough questions that skeptics, seekers, adversaries, and even well-intentioned Christians have about God. But we must also not make the mistake of inadvertently or intentionally thinking there are no competent answers to the tough questions. There are. Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament is one such book that attempts to answer these queries in an thorough but accessible manner. And I believe, for the most part, it does this successfully. Therefore, people ought to avail themselves of such books.

Author Walter C. Kaiser Jr. takes up “the most challenging issues that seem to cast the longest shadow on God’s character and his actions” and thereby “openly and honestly face these charges … and answer them with valid responses from the same biblical texts that are the basis for these challenges.”

The first three chapters deal mainly with God’s character. Is God merciful or wrathful, peaceful or warlike, truthful or deceptive? These chapters were the strength of the book for me. These issues cause problems for many people and I thought the author answered thoroughly and helpfully.

Chapters five, seven, eight, and ten seem to target questions more likely to arise from inside the church. These chapters deal with the questions that surround the contrast between grace and law, open theism and meticulous sovereignty, the omniscience of God, and the food restriction laws of the Old Testament. These chapters were not as appealing to me as others but that likely reflects the lessened interest I had for these topics.

Chapters four, six, and nine were in my estimation geared towards questions non-Christians would be very opinionated about and for which Christians have not armed themselves with very good answers. Of the three, Kaisers chapter on monogamy versus polygamy is significantly superior. I found this chapter very informative and helpful in addressing my own lack of knowledge on this issue. In fact, this chapter alone makes the book worth acquiring.

One critique of the book is that, at times, the author seemed to give a thorough survey of the question while only delivering a brief answer. Dealing with ten difficult topics could lead to an overly long book, but I felt some of the questions did not get as full an answer as I would have liked.

This small complaint aside, I think this book is worth getting one’s hands on particularly if the reader, or someone the reader knows, is struggling with these questions. There are solid answers available, but they need to be sought out in places such as Tough Questions about God and His Actions in the Old Testament.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review – The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation

Generally speaking prequels, at least when it comes to movies, receive mixed reviews at best. They often lack the appeal that the original movies from which they spawned command. However, The First Days of Jesus, sort of a prequel to The Final Days of Jesus, matches the accomplishments of its predecessor.

The authors, Andreas Kostenberger and Alexander Stewart, describe The First Days of Jesus as “a guidebook for reading and encountering the Gospel infancy narratives” which “will examine a section of the biblical text with an eye toward proper understanding and application.” As to these proposed aims of the book, I consider it a success.

This work did indeed help me encounter and engage with Scripture’s account of Jesus’ birth. The author’s efforts to help this reader properly understand the text were also successful. I learned new information around the narratives as well as, with the author’s help, dispel cultural myths and mistakes about the historical event. I feel I have a much better command of the passages under consideration.

Additionally, the authors endeavour to approach the biblical text in a manner that is “biblical, exegetical, historical, and devotional. The biblical-ness of their approach is evident as they connect the birth stories to both Old Testament prophecies as well as future events not yet fulfilled. They examine and exegete the texts with care and precision appropriate for the broad audience that this book would appeal to. By explaining how these texts fit into their historical context, I was helped immensely. It is easy to read these stories through 21st century lenses which obscures and confuses what really happened.

The devotional aspect of this book similarly appealed to me. By devotional, the authors mean that their intention is to “discuss the scriptures in such a way that you, the reader, will be drawn closer to God. I can avouch that the book did have this desired effect on me. A clearer, more accurate understanding of the bible will have this effect; the authors enhance the devotional character of this book through their intentional writing to this end.

Of the first book about Jesus’ last days I wrote, “This book will be valuable for all Christians as well as non-believers interested in the last days of Christ on earth. Its simplicity enhances the beauty and wonder of the story.” I can reiterate these sentiments and apply them infancy narratives covered in The First Days of Jesus. I recommend this book!

Monday, October 5, 2015

False Dichotomies

A false dichotomy involves a situation where only two options–often extremes–seem available when,
in fact, at least one other option exists. Sometimes false dichotomies are used as a tactic to win an argument. And sometimes we adopt false dichotomies accidentally, not realizing we have painted ourself into a corner that isn’t really a corner. An example of a false dichotomy might be: “People either love Aerosmith, or they hate Aerosmith. Actually, there are more than the two options of love and hate: some people may find the band mildly enjoyable while others might find them slightly annoying.

One issue that we Christians often apply a false dichotomy to is our own happiness. We tell ourselves something like this: “I have two options in life. I can either choose to glorify God or I can choose to be happy.” There we have a big ol’ false dichotomy. We erroneously believe that there are only two options there. What’s it gonna be? God’s glory? Or my happiness?

Fortunately, the church has been blessed with brilliant-minded men and women who can see through our foggy thinking and shine some light on our dullness. One such man seems to be Puritan David Clarkson.

I have never read anything by David Clarkson. I’m only able to reference him because of a quotation in a book I read this week. On a side note, the book is called The Joy Project and it is written by Desiring God staff-writer Tony Reinke. It is a wonderful book, available for free at, and is highly recommended by many people including me. Check it out. But back to David Clarkson.

The quotation by Clarkson reveals the glaringly credulous mistake made by those of us who think our happiness and God’s glory are at odds. Clarkson declares,

The Lord aims at his own glory and our happiness, and we aim at his glory and our happiness. And though he may seem more to seek his glory than our happiness, and we may fear we seek our happiness more than his glory, yet indeed these two are inseparable and almost coincident. That which advances his glory promotes our happiness, and that which makes us most happy makes him most glorious. Wisdom and mercy have made a sweet connection between his honor and our happiness, so that they cannot be disjoined. We need no more fear to come short of happiness than we need to fear that the Lord will come short of his glory, for these two are embarked together.

That is some puritan-esque de-false-dichotomizing of the fallacy we sometimes arrive at when contemplating our happiness and God’s glory.

God’s glory, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us, is of primary importance when we consider man’s chief end: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And rightly so. My upcoming sermon, on Malachi 1:6-2:9, is one of a myriad of Scripture passages one could point to in order to prove that God’s glory is the point of everything created. But it is wonderful to think that God, who loves us and delights in us, has not protected and promoted his glory at the expense of our happiness. Rather, in his loving and faithful way he has ensured our happiness as we pursue his glory. Take that false dichotomy!

This whole God’s-glory-our-happiness issue will come to a consummating crescendo when Christ returns and in seeing him, we behold his glory, are glorified, and are enraptured in total and utter happiness. Then, free from sin (and feeble thinking that results in false dichotomies), we will rejoice in the glory of God. Until then, let’s glorify God and be happy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

An Interim Strategy

While perusing the stream of tweets that accrued on my Twitter account ( @judestjohn ) a few weeks ago, a particular tweet, in fact a particular word in that tweet, caught my attention.
The word I saw: interim.

And of course it caught my eye because I have recently become one. An interim, that is, not a tweet to be sure. More precisely, I have become the interim lead pastor at West London Alliance Church.
The tweet in question provided a link to a blog post by Seth Godin. I had heard of Seth Godin, knew him to be an author, and found the following description of him on his website:

SETH GODIN is the author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.

The title of the blog post by Godin further intrigued me: The Interim Strategy. Now I was hooked and so I proceeded to read the article. The article itself was neither a how-to manual for interims nor an Interiming-for-Dummies piece. Rather, it discussed the tendency of businesses to employ an interim strategy in spite of the conflicts that interim strategy might have with the company’s long-term goals and mission.

Despite the seemingly disparate topic of the article to my situation of being an interim pastor, it nevertheless had some ideas that are very transferable and surprisingly biblical.

Godin begins,

We say we want to treat people fairly, build an institution that will contribute to the culture and embrace diversity. We say we want to do things right the first time, treat people as we would like to be treated and build something that matters.

But first... first we say we have to make our company work.

We say we intend to hire and train great people, but in the interim, we'll have to settle for cheap and available. We say we'd like to give back, but of course, in the interim, first we have to get...

This interim strategy, the notion that ideals and principles are for later, but right now, all the focus and resources have to be put into the emergency of getting successful—it doesn't work.

This is helpful for me, for West London Alliance Church, and for churches around the globe. Churches in general, and pastors like myself, often feel an immense pressure to “be successful.” And that desire to be successful may tempt a church or a pastor or a parishioner to set aside a biblical mandate, even if only temporarily, for something more pragmatic that will bring success. That is a very dangerous thing.

 Godin writes, “It doesn't work because it's always the interim. It never seems like the right time to stop doing what worked and start doing what we said was important.” And we might apply it to our church and to our lives by saying, “A non-biblical strategy doesn’t work because it is always the interim; it is always already-not yet when it come to the church. And it will never seem like the right time to stop doing what seems to bring success and start doing what is biblical.”
Godin concludes his discussion of business strategies by exhorting: “perhaps it makes sense to act in the interim as we expect to act in the long haul.” And that is what I plan to do; that is my interim strategy.

I’m not going to import some idea that could make myself or the church “successful,” whatever that means. I’m much more concerned about being faithful. Faithful to the Bible. Faithful to my calling. Faithful to the principles that have been the foundation of West London Alliance Church, a faithful body of believers. I plan to continue to deliver “as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 ESV).” I’ll endeavour to continue “Making known the greatness of God” just as this congregation has done over the years.

Nothing new here. No cutting-edge interim strategy. Just faithfulness to the Word, fealty to the gospel, and fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

A post on a new journey for me

For any of you who didn't see this, the following is a blog I posted at where I have recently assumed the role of interim lead pastor.

In the summer of 1995, I was playing my first year of professional football. As a proud member of the Hamilton Ti-Cats of the Canadian Football League, I was living a dream. Playing a sport and getting paid for it is something most young, athletic boys wish for at some point in their childhood; I was no different.

I did not become a starter until my second year. Thus, as is often the case, my rookie season had me pegged as a backup. As a backup, I was only going to get playing time one of two ways. The first way for me to get on the field was if we got way ahead in a game. This would be a great thing on every front. The second way I could find myself on the field was if one of the starting lineman was injured. In 1995, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were not likely to be ahead in any game, much less way ahead. So, for the most part, I was often biding my time on the sidelines, waiting for someone to get hurt. For clarity, I did not want any of my teammates to get hurt, but I desperately desired to get in the game and play.

And play I did. I started 6 games that year despite never really being a regular starter. And every one of my starts was due to one of my fellow offensive linemen getting knocked out of the starting lineup with an injury. Playing in games was thrilling. But as I relive those days of seeing actually playing time for Hamilton’s football team, the best word I can come up with to describe the totality of my feelings is bittersweet.

Bittersweet is a word to describe something that is both pleasant and painful, both wonderful and woeful. And seeing action in a real, live professional football game was sweet. I can still taste the sweetness as I reminisce about the games I played. But I also remember the bitter taste that came from the knowledge that one of my fellow lineman, all of whom mentored me in those early years, had experienced great disappointment and possibly great pain in getting bumped from their position. My feast was the result of a friend’s famine. My rise was precipitated by a buddy’s fall. Those thrilling days of 1995 which saw this young, inexperienced gridiron greenhorn take the field were days of mixed emotions; sweet as a result of the sweat induced in playing the game I loved, bitter from the brutal reality that someone else’s disappointment led to my opportunity.

Here it is, 2015. It could be almost 20 years later to the day of my first professional football start. And as I consider what I am about to experience, I find myself contemplating an all too similar sense of bittersweetness.

I am becoming the interim lead pastor of a wonderful, Christian congregation in London, Ontario that gather under the name of West London Alliance Church. The road that brought me to this juncture is filled with many weird, wild, and wonderful stories…stories that can wait for another day. For today, I’d simply like to explain what makes this event so bittersweet.

Before I expand on the pleasantness of becoming a regular preaching pastor, and the pain that brought these changes about, let the reader know that the gravity of this situation makes the bitterness far more stringent.

The bitterness that is so thoroughly mixed in with the sweetness of recent events comes, once again, from the pain of a friend and mentor, in fact, a teammate in the race of faith. Pastor Mike Wilkins has pastored this congregation for over 30 years; I was just becoming a teenager when he started. Pastor Mike has been the “starter” behind the pulpit for many, many years. And just like those men that I backed up on the football field, Pastor Mike’s health has forced him to step aside. His ongoing battle with cancer has brought about, as it were, a change in the lineup. Unlike the trial that injured footballers face, this is a life and death battle. And so, there is a great deal of pain, sadness, and disappointment mixed in with this exciting opportunity that I’m facing. The bitterness is a result of the trial of a valiant, resilient, and faithful man of God. It is his difficult situation which has precipitated my move behind the pulpit that he has dutifully and fruitfully filled for so many years.

But it’s not all bitter. There is sweetness too. There is great excitement. The opportunity to preach the Word of God is an honour far beyond what I deserve. The thrilling challenge of loving, serving, and leading the bride of Christ, even in an interim position, is a turn of events so wonderful I can barely articulate it. And there is sweetness because the man who is stepping aside to make room for me wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite the sadness in the situation, Pastor Mike continues to preach and proclaim the sweetness of a sovereign God who works all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Pastor Mike continues to exult in the beautiful peace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). And Pastor Mike continues to point to the One who drank the most bitter cup, a cup brimming with God’s wrath, on behalf of those who deserved to be punished (Romans 5:9) so that their cups would no longer be bitter but rather brimming with living water (John 4:10-14). Pastor Mike fearlessly and faithfully points to the cross of Christ, and the empty tomb of Christ, which brings eternal sweetness into our dark, painful, and bitter world (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We would do well to harken to Pastor Mike’s preaching even as he steps away from the pulpit.

One day all bitterness will be removed; only sweetness will remain. For now, this really, really amazing honour of becoming West London Alliance Church’s interim lead pastor will be, for me, bittersweet.

Book Review – Understanding Prophecy

Have you ever experienced a “left behind” moment? I have. Before I held to a different eschatological position, I remember being a young teenager who believed in the rapture. And I also remember an instance where I was unable to find any of my family in the middle of the day when they all should have been at home. I recall being a little panicked, wondering if I had been “left behind.” If nothing else, that anecdote reminds me of the importance of biblical prophecy, and how imperative it is to understand the Bible in general but biblical prophecy more specifically.

The primary goal of Understanding Prophecy by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle is to “give readers a framework of how to interpret any passage in the context of the Bible.” That is, they want to do more than just explain prophetic texts; they want to help students of the Bible read these passages with understanding.

The first three chapters of this book outline prophecy and how one might approach it from the biblical-theological perspective. The authors do this by providing guiding principles for interpreting predictive prophecy which take into account such things a redemptive history, the Christo-centricity of Scripture, and the progression of revelation. They elucidate on the ministry of the prophets, the genre of prophecy, and some of the challenges prophecy presents. Finally, they locate prophecy in their biblical-theological framework.

I found this first section, chapters 1-3, extremely helpful in providing me a foundation for my ongoing attempts to read and understand this genre of the Bible. Some parts were review, some were new to me, but all were helpful. This section of the book is one which I’m sure I will revisit.
In the next two sections the authors apply the framework for understanding prophecy that they presented in section one. Chapters 4-6 consider prophecy in the Old Testament and chapter 7-10 examine the same in the New Testament.

In examining OT prophecy, the authors compare unconditional prophecies, conditional prophecies, and fulfilled prophecies. They consider restoration prophecies given to Israel as well as messianic prophecies which, the authors contend, are both fulfilled ultimately in the Messiah.

Again, there was very interesting and enlightening material n these chapters. I particularly liked how they took these pre-Christianity writings and demonstrated how they point to Christ. There is thorough interaction with many prophets and their writings from the Old Testament.

The final section of the book focuses on prophetic texts found in the New Testament. These include prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Spirit, and the return of the Messiah. The book of Revelation is dealt with extensively, with many helpful and intriguing insights.
These chapters address many of the obvious questions people have regarding the end times. I found it helpful that the authors dealt with the main perspectives of eschatology and did so in an irenic and fair manner.

For me, this book’s strength is in the accessibility it provides for the average lay reader to some very difficult passages of the Bible. The topics covered may be popular in our Christian culture, but sound answers and thorough explanations of those answers are less than common. Understanding Prophecy provides answers to some hard questions but also provides a framework for working through those questions for oneself. I recommend this book as a solid resource for understanding prophetic texts on the Bible.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review – The Compelling Community

Some of the most edifying books I have read in the past decade have come with a 9Marks logo located somewhere on the cover. The Compelling Community, by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop, is another excellent 9Marks book that I found very helpful. This book, primarily written by Dunlop, focuses on lessons learned and principles derived from Pastor Mark Dever and the church the two authors lead and attend.

Dunlop writes, “I want to raise the bar of what you envision church community to be,” and at the same time he claims, “I want to lower your ambition for what you can do to create community…Scripture teaches that the community that matters is community built by God.” In Dunlop estimation, this book is “an exploration of What God’s Word says about community–paired with practical advice for how you might work out these principles in your own church.”
  • Chapter one argues that gospel-plus community–derived from natural means–may “work” to create community, but churches aspire to gospel-revealing community–derived supernaturally–that displays the power of God.
  • Chapter two considers the impact of naturally derived community: compromised evangelism and compromised discipleship.
  • Chapter three contrasts community built on comfort versus community built on calling and the evident supernatural quality of the latter.
  • Breadth of community, and the diversity inherent in it, is considered in chapter four along with the difference between this and similarity based community.
  • Chapter five looks at the interplay between the right preaching of God’s word and how it works itself out in God’s community.
  • The focus of chapter six is prayer and chapter seven’s is on discipleship.
  • The eighth chapter assesses impediments to community which may include staff positions, events, music, and ministries.
  • Chapter 9 deals with the inevitable discontent and disunity that come with community with a focus on how the apostles wrestled with these issues.
  • Chapter 10 examines Jesus’ teaching on sin in the church.
  • Chapter 11 deals with the witness of the church community and evaluates how we can best expose the world to it.
  • Church planting and church revitalization are deliberated in the twelfth chapter.

My experience with 9Marks books and their teaching on the church has almost been entirely positive. Their books, and the ideas contained in them, are informative and inspiring. I find myself challenged, and motivated to rise to the challenge. This book, The Compelling Community, is no different in these regards. As a church leader, and one who desires to see the church be what the Bible calls her to, I recommend this book.

Packer on petitioning God via Keller

In the 14th chapter of Keller's book Prayer, the author addresses the question "How should we ask?" Keller has already considered the danger of asking God for things wrongly, as well as looking at the pitfall of being too timid to ask God for things. Keller proceeds by looking at the 98th question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which is as follows:
Q. 98. What is prayer? 
A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.
Keller notes that the catechism's answer indicates that we should ask God to fulfill desires, even though we may be plagued with sinful or well-intentioned but mistaken desires. Keller then looks to J. I. Packer for wisdom on how to proceed with asking God for things in light of the dangers brought to light in the catechism.

First, Keller argues that we should embed "theological reasoning in all our prayers." He quotes Packer, "we should lay before God, as part of our prayer, the reasons why we think that what we ask for is the best thing" and "why what we have asked for seems to us to be for the best, in light of what we know God;s own goals to be." This is a very helpful suggestion. This embedding of theological reasoning will be a safeguard if we find ourselves with desires that don't align with God.

Second, Keller informs us of Packer's instruction to tell God in our prayers "that if he wills something different we know it will be better and it is that (rather than the best we could think of) that we really want him to do." This, again, is very helpful for maintaining a reverent attitude while we petition God for our desires. Quoting Packer, Keller writes, "We must ask ourselves "what we ourselves might need to do to implement answers to our prayers."" Keller continues, "To some degree, the answers to many of our petitions would be facilitated by changes in us, but we usually do not take time to consider this as we pray." This final insight impacted me the most; I don't think I even consider this approach.

Asking God for things in prayer is not only a privilege, it's a command. But we petition God best when we do it intelligently, reverently, and with self-reflection.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Awe and intimacy in forgiveness

We've taken a little hiatus from posting, and reading, about Tim Keller book on prayer called Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. So, here we go again, hopefully keeping on track until the book is finished.

In the thirteenth chapter, Keller perhaps discusses the area of Christianity where the experiencing of the intimacy and awe of God comes into play and does so with a whole whack of tension. This area is the area of forgiveness of sins. The experiencing of intimacy is profoundly experienced in the free forgiveness of our sins. But the experiencing of the awe of God is also experienced when we contemplate the infinite cost this free forgiveness required.

Keller desires to keep this biblically informed tension in the forefront in this chapter. He writes,
Only against the background of the Old Testament, and the great mystery of how God could fulfill his covenant with us, can we see the freeness of forgiveness and its astounding cost. It means that no sin can now bring us into condemnation, because of Christ's atoning sacrifice. It also means that sin is so serious and grievous to God that Jesus had to die. We must recognize both of these aspects of God's grace or we will lapse into one or the other of two fatal errors. Either we will think forgiveness is easy for God to give, or we will doubt the reality and thoroughness of our pardon.  (207)
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. Even in earthly relationships, one would be hard pressed to find a sweeter, more intimate and affecting idea than forgiveness. And yet, when forgiveness comes from the infinite and perfectly holy Creator of the universe, and the cost of his infinite and perfectly holy Son, the glory of forgiveness starts to be seen in its massively majestic splendour. Keller continues,
All those who are in Christ must and will be forgiven Why? He has taken the punishment and paid the debt for all their sins. It would be unjust of God--and unfaithful to his covenant with us to receive two payments on the same debt, so it would be unjust for him not to forgive us. This profound assurance and security transforms repentance from being a means of atoning for sin into a means of honoring God and realigning our lives with him.  (209)
The debt-paying sacrifice of our glorious Saviour assures our forgiveness which also assures the almost unbelievable reality of an intimate relationship with God! And the awe-inducing reality of what this actually cost, and what Christ actually did to secure this blessing, should leave us in a state of reverence beyond normal experience. Such is the nature of grace; forgiveness that is free and infinitely costly.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Book Review – 40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

The first 40 Questions book I read pertained to the Law and how Christians should understand it. I found it very helpful. This book by John S. Hammett is equally beneficial and useful. The strengths of this book which shape its helpfulness are the form it employs, the style of its writing, the tone of the author, and the content of its answers.

The form of the book shapes its usefulness for laypeople and clergy alike. The book is, as the title suggests, a compilation of questions and answers in regards to the sacraments, or ordinances, of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This format makes it very easy for the inquisitive to quickly find an answer to questions they may have. In fact, Hammett’s book deals with every question I had in regards to these topics; I cannot think of anything it does not deal with that is relevant to me. The books divisions also aid the reader. The book is divided into general questions, questions about baptism, questions about the Lord’s Supper, and concluding questions. The sections on each of the sacraments is further divided into introductory questions, denominational views, theological issues, and practical aspects. The very structure of this book bolsters its helpfulness.

The style of the writing greatly enhances its value to the reader looking for answers about these two issues. How many millions of words have been written about baptism and the Lord’s Supper? One could spend a lifetime reading about them. But Hammett’s writing is concise and clear. He is easy to follow and his answers are succinct. The reader will not get bogged down in this book, particularly when the option of just reading the answers to the questions one is concerned with is an option.

I appreciated the author’s irenic tone while dealing with the alternative views on many issues. Though the author clearly states his own opinion, he fairly represents other perspectives and presents them without negativity. He does not hesitate to state his disagreement, but he does so winsomely. This approach makes the book easy to read and helps the reader see other viewpoints which adds to the value of this book.

Finally, the actual of content of the answers is the main benefit of this book. Though I have read several books and many articles on these two controversial topics, this one book has helped me more than those combined. In particular, Hammett addresses historical topics throughout the book and I found these discussions very enlightening. I will add, the chapter entitled What Can You Do to Improve Your Worship through the Lord’s Supper? is worth the price of the book alone. Though one might not agree with all of the author’s answers, their helpfulness cannot be questioned.

40 Questions About Baptism and the Lord’s Supper by John S. Hammett is another book in the 40 Questions series that helpfully deals with issues of great importance to the church. It is particularly helpful because of its question and answer format, its clear and concise writing, its irenic tone, and the actual answers the author provides. I recommend this book as a valuable resource for the church and her people.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review - The Son of God and the New Creation

If Graeme Goldsworthy’s The Son of God and the New Creation is indicative of what readers can expect from the new Crossway series Short Studies in Biblical Theology, then I suggest the books are going to be a tremendous gift to the church and her people. This first volume from the series delivers an edifying and intriguing look at a central theme of the Bible in a refreshingly accessible manner.

The renaissance of biblical theology over the past decade has surely been a positive thing. Even as a layperson, I am aware of the increasing number of books in this genre that have been and are being published. I have even read a few of them myself. The Short Studies in Biblical Theology promises more biblical theology in the coming years. Series editors Dane C. Ortlund and Miles V. Van Pelt intend for these books to “magnify the Savior and to build up his church.” The Son of God and the New Creation thoroughly accomplishes both of these goals.

In this volume the author, Goldsworthy, traces the theme of “Son of God” through the Bible and considers how God’s Son connects to the new creation. The study follows an outline which is clearly laid out in the first chapter. This volume will begin not in the Old Testament, but rather in the New Testament. Goldsworthy writes: “Since we begin our Christian journey by coming to faith in the person and work of Jesus, it makes sense to begin with him.” From there the author wants to identify how the New Testament authors relate this theme to the Old Testament which sets up a survey of the theme in the Old Testament itself. The author finishes with a consideration of New Testament application. Though the author recognizes that this method is not “the only way a biblical-theological investigation can be carried out,” I found it very helpful as well as easy to follow.

I found that the theme in question and how the author conveyed his research both exalting to Jesus and edifying to me. With clear explanations and concise writing, Goldsworthy explains and expounds the theme “Son of God” and in doing so paints a picture of a glorious Saviour. In following this golden thread through the New and Old Testament, I found myself not only educated, but also enraptured; what a wonderful Saviour this God-man is. As has been my experience, following different thematic concepts through all of Scripture leads to some edifying discoveries. For instance, Goldsworthy’s study conveyed to me the surprising emphasis the Bible places on an actual location when dealing with God’s work in creation. In fact, the author suggests God’s redemptive plan can be explained simply: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” It was only through this investigation of the “Son of God” in Scripture that I became aware of this important detail. So, I found in this book, as I have found in other biblical theologies, a very helpful and God-honouring teaching.

The series in general, and this book in particular, are intended to build up the church. The Son of God and the New Creation will build up the church, even the less-than-intellectual types as well as the I-have-an-aversion-to-reading types. Before getting this book in my hands, if you asked me to picture a book on biblical theology I would have envisioned a massive tome of at least 700 pages. The works on biblical theology that I have read are exactly that; large books that trace a theme through every book of the Bible, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. They were incredibly impactful books that I am very grateful to have read. But they are not for everyone. The length alone would eliminate most people. That is where a book like the one in consideration succeeds; it is accessible to every level of reader and it will be helpful to every level of reader. In my opinion, putting biblical theology within the reach of the average church member is a significant contribution to the body of Christ.

With the aim of writing a biblical-theological study of the “Son of God” that is edifying to the church and exalting to the church’s Saviour, I can say with conviction that The Son of God and the New Creation is a brilliant success. I recommend this book and am looking forward to the next in the series.

A copy of this book was given to me from the publisher for the purpose of review.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


As Jude wrote about in his post on chapter 11, finding a balance between doctrine and experience was the main topic. I struggled with this chapter. Keller uses a lot of John Owen's work to support his points on experience and doctrine. Throughout reading the chapter Keller wrote about Owen's interest in the Catholic mystics but how his understanding of "experience" differed from theirs. I found both explanations to be very similar but to Keller's credit he states near the end of the chapter that he believed the two points of view to be more similar then perhaps Owen would have admitted.

I did appreciate Keller working through at length how doctrine and experience go together. Christian mediatation needs to be deeply rooted in the Word. If we have alone time where we just sit and contemplate the things of God we need to understand what he's already told us about himself if we're to think correctly about him.

Keller wraps up the chapter with a quote from Augustine explaining where proper meditation of the Word can lead us.

"But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body's embrace: it isnone of these things that I love when I love my God.
And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace - a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God"

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Struggling with Focus

In the tenth chapter of Keller's work on prayer he addresses how to meditate on the Word. A common struggle with a time of meditation is getting distracted. Suddenly all the worries of the day come flying back to the forefront of our mind and any hope of getting some studying done is over before it even began. Keller addresses this and uses some quotes from John Owen to explain his thoughts.
Like Martin Luther - who knew that sometimes the Holy Spirit begins immediately to "preach to you" and sometimes he does not - Owen is quite realistic. He admits that sometimes, no matter what we do, we simply cannot concentrate, or we find our thoughts do not become big and affecting, but rather we feel bored, hard, and distracted. Then, Owen says, simply turn to God and make brief, intense appeals for help. Sometimes that is all you will do the rest of your scheduled time, and sometimes the very cries for help serve to concentrate the mind and soften the heart. He writes: "When, after this preparation, you find yourselves yet perplexed and entangled, not able comfortably to persist in spiritual thoughts unto your refreshment . . . cry and sigh to God for help and relief." Even if your meditations give you only a "renewed gracious sense of your own weakness and insufficiency," that is by no means a waste of time. It is bringing you into greater touch with spiritual reality. Then, he adds, our expressions of grief at the sense of God's absence are themselves ways to show love to God, and they will not go unappreciated by him.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

175 Tweetable Quotes from The Prodigal Church by Jared Wilson

So, yeah, this sort of got out of hand. I got started and it was a slippery slope sort of deal.

Nevertheless, I really found The Prodigal Church by Jared C. Wilson very helpful and informative. I like doing these "so-many Tweetable Quote" posts as a way to review a book. These posts also end being a resource for use in the future. And the issues Wilson raises in this book are worth pondering and re-pondering and re-re-pondering. So I hope you also find this helpful.

I am a pretty weak typist, and so there could be some errors; I'm also not great at pronouncing my words and since I used Dragon Dictation to do some of this work there may be more errors. I tried to catch them, but if they still exist than the fault is all mine. Enjoy.

  1. “…guilt can be a powerful motivator…But guilt is not a very enduring motivator.” (9)
  2. “This is not an argument for a more traditional church so much as it is an argument for a more biblical one.” (18)
  3. “…I invested in the attractional church because I shared its heart for the lost. I still have not rejected its primary aims.” (20)
  4. “How we “do church” shapes the way people see God and his Son and his ways in the world.” (21)
  5. “If we give either legalism or license an inch, they will take a mile.” (23)
  6. “What if the way we communicate Jesus actually works against people trusting him?” (24)
  7. “‘What if what we’re doing isn’t really what we’re supposed to be doing?’ We should ask that. All of us.” (24)
  8. “A definition of attractional…a way of ministry that derives from the primary purpose of making Christianity appealing.” (25)
  9. “…too often the message of Christ’s death has become assumed, the thing you build up to rather than focus on.” (27)
  10. “To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash.” (27)
  11. “…the idea that the attractional church is having its doors beaten down by lost people is a myth.” (35)
  12. “…the kind of growth the attractional church experiences the most of is in reality the kind of growth they often claim they don’t want… ‘transfer growth.’” (35)
  13. “The family has not been won to a church. They’ve been won to a menu of attractive goods and services.” (36)
  14. “God will use anything to bring people to him. But just because he is no snob, that doesn’t mean ‘anything’ is normative for our use.” (38)
  15. “The ends don’t justify the means.” (38)
  16. “It is a customary mantra of ministry that healthy things grow. And yet sometimes healthy things shrink.” (40)
  17. “‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (40)
  18. “So it’s possible to look big, to look successful, and to not actually be big or successful in the ways that matter.” (40)
  19. “Sometimes unhealthy things grow.” (41)
  20. “It would see, actually, that for some churches, bigger inadvertently becomes the point …” (41)
  21. “”…in the attractional model, all too often members are not contributing to the life of their church body but to the church’s programming…” (45)
  22. “Shouldn’t we measure our models against the means and methods found in the Scriptures?” (46)
  23. The Bible is frustratingly vague on ‘how to do church.’” (47)”
  24. “…as we seek to do the good work of missionary contextualization, we have to make sure that we have not crossed lines into cultural accommodation…” (48)
  25. “Beneath the exercise of liberty in methodology is always a functional ideology driving our decisions.” (48)
  26. “A ‘functional ideology’ is the belief…in a church that…drives the methods and practices of the church.” (49)
  27. “In short, just because we think we can do something doesn’t mean we should.” (49)
  28. “I think the evangelical church in the West is particularly susceptible to two primary ideologies…pragmatism and consumerism.” (49)
  29. “…I think the attractional model is fundamentally built on these functional ideologies…pragmatism and consumerism.” (49)
  30. “We need to be careful, however, not to confuse pragmatism with simply being practical.” (50)
  31. “I would suggest that pragmatism runs counter to the functional ideology of Scripture.” (50)
  32. “It [pragmatism] assumes a method’s value is based on the demonstration of our desired results.” (50)
  33. “Those verses are instead a reminder that we can do our work but we cannot do God’s. Nor is his work contingent upon ours.” (51)
  34. “The sower [in Luke 8:5-8] appears to be scattering the seed somewhat indiscriminately.” (51)
  35. “In the pragmatic way of thinking, faithful church ministry always results in growth. And it does! But not always in the ways we expect and desire.” (52)
  36. “Pragmatism has a utilitarian ethos to it. It is by nature unspiritual.” (52)
  37. “Pragmatism is anti-gospel because it treats evangelism as a kind of pyramid scheme…” (53)
  38. “Pragmatism reasons that God’s ability to use anything means our freedom to use everything.” (53)
  39. “The way the church wins its people shapes its people.” (54)
  40. “…the most effective way to turn your church into a collection of consumers and customers is to treat them like that’s what they are.” (54)
  41. “But in my dad’s mind-in the world of logic and realism and fairness-the customer is sometimes pretty stupid.” (56)
  42. “No human’s desires are value-neutral.” (56)
  43. “We can and should address some felt needs, but not all felt needs are created equal.” (56)
  44. “…the attractional church model necessarily gives rise to competition among churches…” (57)
  45. “…the target audience of the ‘worship experience’ is not any mortal in the congregation. The target audience is God himself.” (58)
  46. “The purpose of the worship service is not what we get out of it but the God who has drawn us into it.” (59)
  47. “…the functional ideologies…of pragmatism and consumerism are disastrous, because they make the individual person the center of the religious universe.” (60)
  48. “The worship service, biblically, is never seen…as a place where individuals go to enjoy a particular experience nor as the central place of evangelism.” (62)
  49. “The worship service, biblically, is a gathering of Christians to enjoy God in communion with him and each other.” (62)
  50. “The attractional church follows a trajectory away from what makes the church the church.” (63)
  51. “The worship service must be conducted with the unbeliever in mind, but it doesn’t need to be conducted with the unbeliever in focus.” (63)
  52. “…in the biblical picture of the earliest church, we don’t get any indication that the worship gathering is meant to be an event oriented around the unbeliever’s presence.” (63)
  53. “…designing your service specifically for the [unbeliever] is neither biblical nor wise.” (65)
  54. “What the Bible seems to express is that unbelievers in the service are best served not by having their tastes catered to…” (66)
  55. “What you win them with is what you win them to.” (66)
  56. “What we do in church shapes us. It doesn’t just inform us or entertain us. It makes us who we are.” (67)
  57. “The worship service…doesn’t just cater to certain tastes; it develops certain tastes.” (67)
  58. “We will eventually become conformed to the pattern of our behaviors.” (67)
  59. “Habits come from character, but it works the other way too-character is shaped by habits.” (67)
  60. “The Bible’s ‘functional ideology’…is that ‘what works’ is the Holy Spirit through the message of the gospel of Jesus.” (70)
  61. “…neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values.” (70)
  62. “The wider evangelical church is suffering terribly from theological bankruptcy.” (74)
  63. “We [evangelicals] have tended to favor the practical half truth rather than the impractical (allegedly) whole truth.” (74)
  64. “Our shepherds are increasingly hired for their…laboring in the increase in attendance rather than the increase of gospel proclamation.” (75)
  65. “The dilution of understanding of worship is a direct result of the dilution of theology in the church.” (75)
  66. “Fortune-Cookie preaching will make brittle, hollow, syrupy Christians.” (77)
  67. “We fill our buildings with scores and scores of people, but we’ve reduced the basic message to fit the size of an individualistic faith.” (77)
  68. “The typical application message tends to overemphasize our good works while a good proclamation message will emphasize God’s finished work.” (82)
  69. “The essential difference between applicational preaching and proclamational preaching ultimately depends on how much the preacher wishes to make of Jesus.” (83)
  70. “The applicational preacher either presupposes the gospel or relegates it to the conclusion of his message.” (83)
  71. “…just because you dress casually, play edgy music, and talk a lot about grace, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a legalist.” (84)
  72. “…it’s my belief that the self-professed ‘culturally relevant’ churches are the chief proponents of legalism in Christianity today.” (84)
  73. “But ‘do’ isn’t any less law-minded than ‘don’t.’” (84)
  74. “The gospel isn’t ‘don’t,’ but it also isn’t ‘do’; both are merely religion.” (84)
  75. “They [unbelievers] don’t need the church to act like good people, really; they need the church to point to Jesus as the only truly good person.” (84)
  76. “”Pharisaical legalism was just self-help without the cool clothes.” (84)
  77. “…we must never teach the practical points as the main points.” (85)
  78. “The [good] news is so much better than the instructions! It is better because the news actually saves us.” (86)
  79. “But what will really save the lost world? Let me tell you: none of our complaints against it.” (87)
  80. “It is possible, actually, that all of our emphasis on the practical has only served to make things impossible.” (87)
  81. “Preaching even a ‘positive’ practical message with no gospel-centrality amounts to preaching the law,” (88)
  82. “…when we preach ‘how to’ law sermons instead of the gospel, we may end up with a bunch of well-behaved spiritual corpses.” (89)
  83. “,,,what the Christian church needs today in its imperfect fumbling back to the beauty of gospel-centrality is a stubborn unmuddling of law and grace.” (90)
  84. “It seemed as though authenticity was a style we were going for, which is, surely, the exact opposite of authenticity.” (93)
  85. “…emotionalism is dangerous.” (94)
  86. “The danger in this [emotionalism] is that we end up craving the emotions associated with emotional worship, not necessarily the spirit of worship itself.” (94)
  87. “It’s not the charismata that are offensive to me; it is the complete lunacy that claims Spiritual authenticity.” (95)
  88. “We are in very real danger of divorcing our styles and preferences from our object.” (95)
  89. “Worship must really be worship, which is to say worship of God, the triune God.” (96)
  90. “The problem in these emotionalistic, faddish, trendy times is that worship becomes more about us than God.” (96)
  91. “The danger we face when we worship is coming into the experience assuming we are summoning God.” (97)
  92. “If you worship God in a less-than-clear or in a doctrine-less sense, you end up worshipping another god.” (99)
  93. “When we divorce theology from worship…we compromise our worship. It may look great but it is hollow and shallow.” (99)
  94. “The center of worship is the perfect and eternal God…not the achievements of the created.” (99)
  95. “Self-celebratory worship music is the result of self-celebratory teaching and discipleship.” (100)
  96. “Worship is a way of life, a quality of the believing heart.” (100)
  97. “Modern church worship is characterized by an exaltation of the self, but authentic worship is marked by an emptying of ourselves.” (101)
  98. “Authentic worship doesn’t just focus on the fullness of who God is, but it glories in the beauty of what God has done.” (102)
  99. “It [real worship] is basking in the warm glow of eternity.” (102)
  100. “The gospel is a blinding light interrupting our minding our own business on a lonely road.” (102)
  101. “When we gather, are gathering a watchers or as beholders?” (103)
  102. “When we gather…Are we gathering to see a performance or to see the passing by of the glory of God?” (103)
  103. “The gospel must be central because nothing else even comes close to filling the eternal gap.” (104)
  104. “The way the attractional church worships produces the kind of worshipper it gets.” (111)
  105. “I’m only saying that we should use these things after asking deeper questions about them than ‘Will this work?’” (112)
  106. “But the uncritical use of media and technology can stunt our church's spiritual growth, even if in the short-term it entertains and pleases the people.” (112)
  107. “The uncritical co-opting of the cultures need for media might actually feed inside the church the negative qualities they feed outside the church... ” (113)
  108. “All churches should be seeker sensitive in the best sense of the phrase…” (116)
  109. “At what point do we look at cultural trends not as things to mirror and copy but as things to challenge and subvert?” (116)
  110. “I am afraid many churches have moved from leveraging technology to merely co-opting whatever they think the world finds appealing or slick.” (116)
  111. “We cannot expect our people to grow in God's glory if we do not put God's glory for their faces.” (119)
  112. “We cannot settle for success. Our people need real glory, and only the gospel "of first importance" reveals it. ” (120)
  113. “In other words, the bigger and the attractional church becomes, the more programs and ministries it thinks it must offer.” (121)
  114. “The drive to provide an array of goods and services prevents a church from exercising missional nimbleness.” (122)
  115. “Churches passionate about simplicity will pursue a simple vision.” (128)
  116. “The attractional of church often reasons according to available resources, not according to actual spiritual value.” (128)
  117. “But it isn't more entrepreneurial visionaries we really need more cross-focused visionaries.” (131)
  118. “If the church is people, then the organizational machine and a local congregation should be considered expendable.” (132)
  119. “When an attractional church multiplies, the results more resemble franchises then church plants.” (133)
  120. “As the attractional church accumulates more complexity, it becomes more rigid, despite all its claims to innovation and cultural relevance.” (133)
  121. “… the simple church adopts an approach to church growth that is more reflective of farming, of cultivation.” (134)
  122. “… the simple church focuses simply on the long-term investments in growth and trusts the “Spirit produce growth in his time.” (134)
  123. “The simple church follows the direction not of the shifting winds of the culture but the surprising currents of the Spirit.” (134)
  124. “The simple churches mission waiting much more nimble than the attraction church. (134)
  125. “Similarly, the church needs to stick to what the Bible actually tells us to do, and what the Bible actually tells us to do is not very complicated.” (134)
  126. “Over programming create an illusion of fruitfulness just be busyness.” (134)
  127. “Here's a good test: take a look at a typical over-programmed church's calendar and see how many of the activities resemble things seen New Testament.” (136)
  128. “Always ask 'should we?' before you ask 'Can we?'” (137)
  129. “Somewhere between the poles of attachment to church programs and 'self-feeding' lies the real stuff of covenant community.” (143)
  130. “Systems may aid the discipleship process, but discipleship is not a system.” (144)
  131. “Underneath our felt needs is an entire industry of idols emerging from the foundation of sin and longing for glory.” (144)
  132. “Are we trusting our programs, or are we trusting God?” (145)
  133. “Whatever our programs, our churches' leaders need to take seriously the command of Christ – in as many ways as possible – to feed his sheep.” (145)
  134. “But if we want to Christ–exalting, Christ–loving, Christ–following people, we have to get more personal and go deeper.” (145)
  135. “Pragmatism, on the other hand, is the mind-set that says that whatever "works" can and should be used.” (147)
  136. “A pragmatic mind-set treats spiritual matters along the lines of mathematics.” (147)
  137. "We must remember that pastoral ministry, like Christianity itself, is not a matter of formulas but of faith.” (147)
  138. “Or maybe we've taken the biblical sheep metaphor a bit too far, and we're looking at how best to herd the sheep instead of how to best feed them.” (148)
  139. “But when all is said and done, we are not managers of spiritual enterprises: we are shepherds.” (148) 
  140. “Jesus neither sulks nor sighs about us. He ministers to us willingly, eagerly. ” (149)
  141. “Therefore, personal presence is so important. And I'd say you're not really a pastor if you're not present. ” (149)
  142. “Only the Gospel goes deep enough to effect real hard change. Everything else is just behavior modification. ” (150)
  143. “But in order to reveal someone's functional ideology… we have to employ the only tool adequate for that job, and that is the gospel of Jesus…” (150)
  144. “The way we are typically programmed to measure the success of our ministries sets us up for hollow victory in desperate failure.” (151)
  145. “It is only to say that what we measure and how we measure shows where our confidence lies.” (151)
  146. “Clearly, accumulating numbers cannot be our primary measure of success.” (151)
  147. “… in the attractional church, growth in numbers is often seen just as a measure of success but as a justification for any methodology used to get them.” (151)
  148. “Biblical credibility is not found in big stats.” (152)
  149. “… We are responsible mainly for the care of the souls, not the accumulation of them. ” (152)
  150. “When we pastors cling to the gospel ourselves, it will shape us, giving us the mind and heart of Christ for our people.” (153)
  151. “The central idea of the church should be the Gospel.” (156)
  152. “Numbers don't account for everything. In some cases, they don't account for anything. ” (157)
  153. “What God will require of us is not ministry quantity but ministry quality.” (157)
  154. “...but in a church centered on the gospel, things like inspiration and good feelings are seen as byproducts of the experiences, not the aim of the experience. ” (158)
  155. “What is emphasized and valued the churches media correlates to what the church is measuring success.” (159)
  156. “The attractional church, which places a huge emphasis on numbers, science, and raw data, highly prices statistics.” (159)
  157. “The gospel-centered church highly prizes stories. Rather than prizing bigness, it prizes relationality. ” (159)
  158. “The gospel is not made more powerful by a dynamic preacher or a rockin' band… The gospel cannot be improved. ” (163)
  159. “You cannot program salvation.” (165)
  160. “The Spirit doesn't where the church’s wristwatch. You cannot control him." (166)
  161. “That's what prayer is, essentially: acknowledged helplessness.” (166)
  162. “But we do not worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ingenuity.” (167)
  163. “Everything good and valuable must come from the Spirit's sovereign working, not from our ministerial machinations.” (167)
  164. “The Evangelical church's search for the magic bullet is insatiable.” (169)
  165. “The nurturing of your congregation's desire for experiential community begins with you.” (169)
  166. “Reject the tyranny of results.” (172)
  167. “Preach hard on the importance of discipleship, on the call to community…” (173)
  168. “… the church does not exist to facilitate all our good ideas.” (176)
  169. “Good intentions and strong giftedness do not baptize on biblical methods.” (176)
  170. “If all of life is repentance, then all of ministry is too.” (184)
  171. “The very nature of Grace throws off all measurements of balance.” (185)
  172. “In reality, both irreligion and religion are fundamentally self-salvation projects.” (185)
  173. “… in the New Testament, you never find application on exhortation disconnected from gospel proclamation.” (187)
  174. “It’s about letting the gospel direct the methods.” (199)
  175. “If you treat your church like a business, you will see other churches as your competition.” (219)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Truth and Experience in Keller's book on prayer

The eleventh chapter in Keller's book on prayer is entitled As Encounter: Seeking his Face. In the opening paragraphs of this chapter Keller reminds the reader that prayer "is a conversation that leads to encounter with God" (165). He also refers back to the tenth chapter by recounting John Owen's contention that meditation "anticipates a character-forming experience of God's presence" (165).

The chapter goes on to discuss how Christians can fail to experience God in the heart. The Christian can understand intellectually truths about God and the gospel and yet fail to "grasp" them with the heart. Keller proceeds to explain and elaborate on what it means to experience God with the "inner being."

This is followed by the author persuading the necessity keeping truth and experience together. Keller returns to Owen to make this point. He suggests that "Owen promotes what could be called a radically biblical mysticism. It comes through meditation on Scripture, on theological truth, on the gospel-but it must break through to real experience with God" (179)."

a little farther on in the chapter I was startled by an unexpected conclusion of Owen's. forgive the longish quote but it is worth it:
Nevertheless, despite his deep concerns, in the end Owen concludes: "It is better that our affections exceed our light from the defect of our understandings, than that our light exceeds our affections from the corruption of our wills." That's a remarkable thing for a Puritan to say. If we are going to be imbalanced, better that we be doctrinally weak and have a vital prayer life and a real sense of God on the heart than that we get all our doctrine straight and be cold and spiritually hard.
This indeed was unexpected. I certainly am no expert on Owen, but I would not have anticipated him saying this. Interesting.

The chapter finishes with some thoughts on being cautious in excessively pursuing experience but also in admiration of those who truly seek God in the inner being.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Meditation in Keller's book on prayer

In the tenth chapter in Timothy Keller's book on prayer the author focuses on meditation. He elicits the help of renowned theologian and pastor John Owen to discuss this oft misunderstood discipline. In summarizing Owen's teaching on meditation, Keller writes:
According to Owen, meditation means analyzing the truth with the mind; bringing it into the feelings, attitudes, and commitments of the heart; and then responding to the degree to which the Holy Spirit gives illumination and spiritual reality.
Alternatively, Keller also paraphrase these ideas into his own summary of meditation:
We could say that meditation before prayer consists of thinking. then inclining, and, finally, either enjoying the presence or admitting the absence and asking for his mercy and help. Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in until its ideas become "big" and "sweet," moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart.
I find both these summaries helpful. And in contemplating them, I must confess that I think I do a reasonable job of "thinking a truth out" but I am often negligent in "thinking a truth in." I want and need to get the practice of internalizing the truth of Scripture in the heart, so my affections are raised, more consistent in my prayer life. This is edifying stuff by Keller and Owen!

Friday, May 15, 2015


In chapter nine of Prayer Keller lists his twelve touchstones. Jude posted on the twelve as a whole below. The touchstone that grabbed me the most was the first one. Keller opens by stating that,

"Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not."

He further quotes Peter T. Forsyth as writing,
"The worst sin is prayerlessness. Overt sin . . .  or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this, or its punishment. . . . Not to want to pray, then, is the sin behind sin."
I think this hit me like it did because I was just thinking how bad I've been at this lately. Life gets busy and it seems like the first things to get pushed aside for me are those associated with reading and prayer. Then I wonder why I'm struggling with things that shouldn't normally be an issue.

I hope that we can all treat prayer with the seriousness that it deserves!

Book Review – Interpreting the Prophetic Books

In sports, my experience has been that one of the main causes behind intimidation is simply the unknown. We are intimidated when we don’t know about: How good is this team? Will I be able to defend against this player? How will they attack our offence? More often than not, when the reality of things comes to light we realize we didn't really have anything to be intimidated about. They may be good, but they’re not Superman. They put their pants on the same way we did this morning. Knowledge leads to confidence. I find the same is true for interpreting and preaching; some books of the Bible are intimidating but with knowledge comes confidence.

In Interpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith provides helpful information which leads to increased knowledge resulting in a lessening of the intimidation that preaching prophetic books produce.His thorough but concise teaching on understanding and processing biblical, prophetic literature helps preachers, particularly less-than-seasoned preachers such as myself, overcome any inhibitions about preaching this genre. Of course, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness, but the Spirit can also use a resource like this as a foundation for future preaching.

Interpreting the Prophetic Books is a well organized, logically laid out book which fosters learning and makes it easy to return to for review. The series it belongs to-Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis-follows a predetermined chapter structure which Smith’s book follows: the nature of the genres, major themes, preparing for interpretation, proclaiming the text, putting it all together. Structure and organization is facilitated by two table of content; one is brief and the other in-depth. As well, each chapter begins with a very useful chart that provides the chapter at a glance. I really appreciate this aspect of the book. The book finishes with the expected glossary and indexes. Books that are to be used a resources which will be revisited would all benefit from simple yet effective organization as this book has.

Chapter one discusses the nature of prophecy including a distinguishing of the temporal categories as well as the genres of prophecy. It also considers the poetical aspects of these canonical books. For me, this was the most helpful chapter and I learned enough to ease some of that intimidation I was feeling. Chapter two investigates the major themes of all 17 prophetic books and encapsulates these ideas with an overall thematic summary. I will definitely be returning to this section of the book regularly. The third chapter aims at aiding one in preparing for interpretation. Included are concepts revolving around the historical setting, other ancient prophetic literature, textual criticism, and working with commentaries. This chapter ends with suggested commentaries and electronic resources on each book of the bible; this is a great bonus to the chapter.Chapter four addresses interpretive issues in the texts which include issues such as literal/metaphorical considerations, contextual topics, and various other difficulties. The fifth chapter delves into the actual preaching of the text with an almost step-by-step approach to dealing with proclaiming these Scriptures. Reflections on applications for this genre completes the chapter and these points were helpful. The final chapter offers some concrete examples of specific prophetic passages that have been dealt with by the author in light of preaching.This “walk-through”is a very practical demonstration of much of the books contents.

As mentioned, this book is a very helpful aid to those intimidated with preaching the prophetic books. I’m sure even experienced preachers will also find benefits through out. It tight organization strengthens its usefulness as a resource which one can return to. I will certainly be accessing this book for years to come.

One aspect of preaching that was not addressed was that of preaching Christ from these books. Though this may be a topic outside of the aim of the series, I feel that this issue is one that many preachers, experienced or not, will struggle with in the prophetic books of Scripture. Addressing this issue would have been a great finishing touch to a very helpful book.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Touchstones of Prayer

In chapter nine of Keller’s book on prayer he deals with what he calls “touchstones” of prayer. Touchstones are small rocks that are used to determine the purity of precious metals. Touchstones of prayer, however, are ways “by which we can judge the relative strength or weakness of our prayers for honoring and connecting us to God” (121).

Below I will list Keller’s twelve touchstones of prayer as well as a quotation about each one.

Prayer is a duty and a discipline.
“Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not.”

Prayer is conversing with God.
“Prayer in Jesus’ name and the power of the Spirit is the restoration of that single most precious thing we had with God in the beginning-free communication with him.”

Prayer is adoration, confession, thanks, and supplication.
These four elements of prayer are “interactive and stimulate each other.”

Prayer is “In Jesus’ name,” based on the gospel.
“Our prayer must be in full, grateful awareness that our access to God as Father is a free gift won by the costly sacrifice of Jesus the True Son, and then enacted in us by the Holy Spirit, who helps us to know inwardly that we are his children”

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe.
“One important sign of an engaged heart is awe before the greatness of God and before the privilege of prayer.”

Prayer is accepting one’s weakness and dependence.
“To pray is to accept that we are, and always will be, wholly dependent on God for everything.”

Prayer reorients your view toward God.
“Prayer in all its forms. . . reorients your view and vision of everything.”

Prayer is spiritual union with God.
“Prayer is the way that all the things we believe in and that Christ has won for us actually become our strength.”

Prayer seeks a heart sense of the presence of God.
“[W]e are to meditate on the truth until our heart’s affections are stirred and we find ourselves desiring the service of God.”

Prayer requires and creates honesty and self-knowledge.
“Prayer, however, must eventually take us beyond a mere sense of insufficiency into deep honesty with ourselves.”

Prayer requires and creates both restful trust and confident hope.
“The final thought of every prayer must be for the help we need to accept thankfully from God’s hand whatever he sends in his wisdom.”

Prayer requires and creates surrender of the whole life in love to God.
“Real believers, though they are profoundly aware of how imperfectly they love God, nonetheless want to love him supremely.”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Thy Will be Done

In chapter eight Keller breaks down the Lord's Prayer into sections and explains it from the teachings of Calvin, Augustine, and Luther.

My favourite section of the break down covers the section, "thy will be done." Keller starts by quoting Luther as explaining this to mean:
"Grant us grace to bear willingly all sorts of sickness, poverty, disgrace, suffering, and adversity and to recognize that in this your divine will is crucifying our will."
Keller follows up with writing:
"Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say "thy will be done.""
Later on he writes:
"If we can't say "thy will be done" from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be. Yet to control life like that is beyond our abilities, and we will just dash ourselves upon the rocks. This is why Calvin adds that to pray "thy will be done" is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us."
 I love the part about submitting our feelings to God. So often it seems like we're playing by the rules and submitting to God's will when in actual fact we're bitter and angry because it didn't happen the way we would've liked. Sometimes we try to take the high road, "well I'll submit because it's God will but I'm not very happy about it!" Turns out it doesn't work like that!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Calvin on how God's kingdom comes

In chapter 8 of Prayer-Tim Keller's book on which has its subject declared in the title-Keller examines the world's best known prayer: The Lord's Prayer. He examines it in  light of the insights that John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, and Martin Luther provide in their studies on the topic. Keller provides an almost line-buy-line exposition of the prayer, informing the reader of the ideas that the three masters committed to writing. Though I have read, and been taught, similar studies on the Lord's Prayer, I still thoroughly enjoyed Keller's treatment of it.

A particulr passage I particularly enjoyed was the writing in regards to the line "Thy kingdon come." Keller informs, "Calvin believed that there were two ways God's kingdom comes-through the Spirit, who "corrects our desires," and through the Word of God, which "shapes our thoughts.""

I love this twofold approach as it engages our minds by the Biblical shaping of our thoughts as well as our hearts through the Spirit-empowered correction of desires. I find the head-heart-hands paradigm very compelling and to read this approach to God's Kingdom coming was great. Keller comments on this idea writing, "We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy."

This is what I want. And whether or not this is precisely what Jesus had in mind when he instructed the disciples how to pray, I do want him to so rule my heart that obedience is a delight. So I pray, Thy Kingdom come!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Keller writes on Calvin and prayer

In the seventh chapter of Manhattan's own Tim Keller's book called Prayer, Keller provides a summary of some of John Calvin's teaching on prayer from Institutes of the Christian Religion. Keller reviews Calvin's treatment of what Clavin calls his "rules for prayer."

Keller introduces the four rules of prayer:

  1. Christians are to have a due sense of the seriousness of what prayer is. That is, they should pray with reverential fear.
  2. Christians should pray with spiritual humility which includes a sense of our dependence on God and a willing readiness to repent of our faults.
  3. Christians should pray with a submissive trust of God.
  4. Christians should pray with confidence and hope.

After laying out these rules  of prayer by John Calvin, Keller describes what it means to pray in Jesus' name. I found this a solid explanation.
To pray in Jesus' name means to come to God in prayer consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance and not relying on our own credibility or record. It is, essentially, to reground our relationship with God in the saving work of Jesus over and over again. It also means to recognize your status as a child of God, regardless of your inner state.
I find the idea of regrounding my relationship in the saving work of Jesus again and again a concept that brings me much joy. Prayer can be intimidating if even the most miniscule part of it is relying on anything I have merited. If it's going to be, and it's up to me, then nobody should be holding their breath. But thankfully, prayer is not grounded on my actions, but rather it is grounded on the Son of God's greacious work of salvation. That I can work with!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sovereignty and Prayer

Chapter seven addresses John Calvin's rules of prayer. Towards the end of the chapter Keller raises the dilemma of divine sovereignty and the human responsibility to pray.

I know this is a question that I struggled through when I was first introduced to Reformed Theology. This is something that still comes up with both Christian and non-Christian friends alike. Why does it matter if pray? God's plan is perfect and sovereign. His perfect will is going to pass anyway, right?

Keller quotes Calvin stating:
"He so tempers the outcome of events according to his incomprehensible plan that the prayers of the saints, which are a mixture of faith and error, are not nullified."
Keller expands on Calvin's points:

"If God's will is always right, and submission to it is so important, why pray for anything with fervor and confidence? Calvin lists the reasons. God invites us to do so and promises to answer prayers--because he is good and our loving heavenly Father. Also, God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure."

This should give us enormous confidence to pray! God ordains certain things to come to pass only through our prayers. Our prayers don't need to be perfect because they're not answered based on the quality that we put forth. Everything is funneled through Christ, he is the only channel in which our prayers make it to God. So pray with confidence! It's your job to pray. Sometimes they will be answered, other times not. But who cares because whatever the result is, "Thy will be done."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Holy Spirit preaching to us while we pray

 Tim Keller tack on an interesting tidbit near the end of the sixth chapter of his book Prayer. In this chapter he has considered what the famous reformer Marin Luther taught about prayer. On the second to last page of the chapter we come across this quote: "He [Luther] expects that the Spirit, as we reflect on the biblical truth before God, will sometimes fill our heart with rich thoughts and ideas that feel poignant and new to us, even when we are thinking about a text or truth that we have heard hundreds of times before."

This experience, of having Scripture made alive and clearly relevant by the Holy Spirit, is a rich and edifying occurrence. I like that Keller notes that this happens "sometimes;" it is not a routine, daily event. But, as the Spirit wills, he will give you fresh insight into the Word that you have been meditating on. This is not new revelation in the canonical sense, but rather the illuminating of Scripture by the Spirit to specific situations in our lives. When it does happen, it is glorious.

As a reminder that helps us from straying too far down the mystical-experiential yellow brick road, Keller reminds us that Luther's prayer life was informed by the Bible and had God's Word as its foundation: "To paraphrase Luther's little treatise-he tells us to build on our study of Scripture through meditation, answering the Word in prayer to the Lord."

However, there is definitely some room for the Spirit to break through our routines and communicate. Keller writes, "we should be aware that the Holy Spirit may begin "preaching" to us. When that happens, we must drop our routines and pay close attention.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Luther's Method

In chapter six of Timothy Keller's work on prayer he discusses methods used by St. Augustine and Martin Luther.

I found the method described by Luther to be very interesting and something I'd like to put into practice. Luther breaks down his prayer into three stages.

The first is described as meditation. Luther teaches that we should meditate and consider passages of scripture that we are familiar with. We should have a good understanding of the scripture so we can properly paraphrase them and consider them. Luther teaches that we should praise God through the scripture and also confess our sin that comes to light through this contemplation.

The second step is to pray through The Lord's Prayer. Keller provides an example from Luther:
"'Give us. . . our daily bread,' I commend to thee my house and property, my wife and child. Grant that I can manage them well, supporting and educating them."
Luther encourages us to paraphrase the Prayer so that it might not turn into, "idle chatter," but instead forces us to focus on the task at hand. Keller describes this exercise as:
"...command[ing] the full mental faculty, and this helps greatly with the problem of giving God full attention."
In summary:
"Luther says we should start with meditation on a text that we have previously  studied, then after praising and confessing in accordance with out mediation, we should paraphrase the Lord's Prayer to God. Finally, we should just prayer from the heart. This full exercise, he adds, should be done twice a day."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Review – Preaching with Accuracy by Randal E. Pelton

There are many things in life that are difficult to know and understand without attempting them for oneself. Preaching is like that. It seems to me that, until one has grappled with a text and wrestled with the sermon writing process, and stood behind a pulpit and preached to a congregation, the whole process can seem a little mysterious or even down right scary. As a new preacher, I am finding the process of learning and growing as a Scripture expounder, sermon writer, and a pulpit preacher, to be a fair amount of work. And for that reason, I am usually quick to avail myself of any resources that can help me become a better preacher. Preaching with Accuracy: Finding Christ-Centered Big Ideas for Biblical Preaching is just that type of resource. This book by Randal E. Pelton is a powerfully helpful work that I found to be beneficial in some very practical ways along the lines of exactly what the title suggests; determining Scriptures meaning in light of the Gospel with preaching in view.

Before looking at the practical help this books provides, here is an overview of the entire book. This overview is derived from a thorough introduction which outlines each chapter of the book. I find these overviews useful and supportive for non-fiction reading. Chapter 1 is a mini-apologetic for expositional preaching that seeks to show from 1 Corinthians 14 that an “insider-directed message reaches both insiders and outsiders” (10). Chapter 2 discusses the presence of multiple meanings in passages and how preaching different meanings has different results. Chapters 3-7, the chapters I found extremely helpful in a very practical way, focus on finding Christ-centered big ideas for the purpose of preaching. More specifically, Chapter 3 indicates ways that preaching portions should be determined. Chapter 4 explores how various-sized ideas are recognized and how the textual big idea is determined. Chapter 5 progresses from textual big ideas to contextual big ideas; the big idea formed by the immediate context. Chapter 6 moves one step farther with the search for the canonical big idea which takes the core of Scripture–the gospel–and applies it to the passage in question. Chapter 7 elucidates two benefits of the process of finding the various big ideas of the passage.

The practical nature of this book is suggested in the introduction’s final section entitled Suggestions for Pastors Using This Book. The three main ways in which this book is and will continue to be useful to me as a pastor who preaches are 1) its pursuing of the various “big ideas” through the many genres in Scripture, 2) its step-by-step approach to many of the techniques, and 3) the try-it-for-yourself examples (with the authors answers) which occur throughout the book.

The first way in which the book provides helpful instruction is by not limiting its lessons to only certain genres of Scripture, but by demonstrating how techniques can be applied to many different types of passages. For example, when choosing a preaching portion, the author discusses how one “cuts the text” in didactic passages, narratives, parables, poetry, proverbs, prophecies, and visions. Similarly, Pelton describes the process for finding the textual big idea in narratives, didactic literature, wisdom literature, parables, and prophetic-type sections. I found this thoroughness brought clarity to the processes described and confidence in attempting some of the book’s suggestions. Adding to the practical usefulness of this book is the step-by-step approach offered for many of its techniques.

For a new preacher like myself, or for an experienced preacher who is new to theses concepts, breaking the techniques down into simpler steps makes the work accessible and far less intimidating. As an example, from the fourth chapter, the steps for identifying the textual big ideas are as follows: 1) Locate and write the broad subject, 2) write the narrow subject, 3) write the complements (answers to questions arising out of the narrow subject), and 4) write the textual big idea which is the narrow subject + complement. This gradual approach makes comprehending the author’s strategy accessible to all levels. And again, the author does not just formulaically run through the steps, but discusses the steps in each genre mentioned above. Additionally, the author is helpful in a third very practical way through the use of do-it-yourself examples with answers.

Pelton employs examples for many of his suggested techniques. Following an example of how he might use a technique, he then offers a different portion of Scripture and encourages the reader to try the technique themselves. He even provides space in the book to respond. I cannot emphasize how helpful this process was. I found it brought clarity to what the author was teaching, but also helped “cement” the ideas. I will certainly have to review the book regularly as I preach through various books of the Bible, but the hands-on examples did help key ideas stick. These do-it-yourself opportunities make it abundantly clear that Pelton wants this book to be of real, practical value for the preacher. In my opinion, he succeeds in that regard.

As a new preacher, barely into my second year of preaching, I found this book to be a very helpful resource that I am confident I will continue to use in the future. Pelton provides many useful tips and techniques that I have already used and expect to continue to use. The awareness of the need for teaching to various genres will help support other pastors as they work towards being a better preacher. The simple step-by-step approach to most of the methods presented in Preaching with Accuracy makes it accessible. And the do-it-yourself examples make the skills memorable and reproducible. I recommend this book to new preachers like myself, or experienced preachers who want to hone their skills in regards to preaching with accuracy.