Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reading Revelation Literally - Which Means Symbolically

In a previous post and in my first sermon on Revelation, I advocate for reading Revelation as an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter to the Church throughout the period between the advents of Christ, since the opening verses of Revelation indicates this. This perspective believes that Revelation should be read symbolically.

In my class on the book of Revelation at the Dispensational Bible college I attended, I was taught that if you did not read Revelation "literally" then you had a liberal view of the Bible. Only the literal reading of Revelation maintains the evangelical doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy. I was also taught that reading Revelation symbolically was to read it allegorically.

You can find this perspective represented in the work of Robert L. Thomas. Thomas has argued that reading Revelation primarily as apocalyptic renders one guilty of utilizing a non-literal approach. For Thomas, this non-literal approach is not biblical and leads people to subjective interpretations instead of the true meaning of the text.

For instance, he argues that the apocalyptic genre is not a biblical genre, but has come about because of scholars utilizing extrabiblical literature. Scholars are forcing an extrabiblical model onto the scripture of Revelation. And what is worse, is that according to Thomas, is that this approach is like the contextualizaton interpretive approach of the liberals of the World Council of Churches. For Thomas, reading Revelation as apocalytpic leads you into a subjective reading of Revelation, substituting personal preferences for the one correct interpretation, which is a careless regard to the book's meaning and is an abuse of the text, and is not evangelical-- "Allowing this liberty for subjective opinion cannot satisfy the criteria of a grammatical-historical system of hermeneutics such as characterized an evangelical Christian understanding of Scripture" (emphasis mine).

Thomas argues instead for a literal approach to reading Revelation according "normal principles of grammar and facts of history." This literal approach says that the default reading of Revelation and its symbols and visions is to be literal unless otherwise indicated by the text. Check first to see if the symbol or vision can respond to a normal, physical reality, if not, then it is figurative and concerned with the future. In other words, you are to interpret literally until you are forced conceptually to interpret figuratively/symbollically. He concludes that Revelation should be read like the rest of the Bible--it should be read as a prophecy and treated like all other prophecies. For Thomas, if you read it apocalyptically, then you are not reading it literally, but allegorically.

So are these charges true? Does reading Revelation apocalyptically mean that you are not reading it literally? Does it mean that your approach is dependent on extrabiblical literature (coming from outside the Bible)? Does it mean that you are engaging in liberal theology? Is Thomas right?

When we look at the opening verses of Revelation 1, we find at the very beginning an allusion to Daniel 2. In fact what we find is that the opening of Revelation is structured in accordance with Daniel 2. In Daniel 2 we find the narrative of where King Nebuchadnezzar is troubled by a dream that he does not understand. He calls in his magicians, enchanters and sorcerers to have them interpret his dream for him. When they arrive, they are surprised to hear that Nebuchadnezzar is not going to tell them the dream so they can interpret it; they have to tell him the dream and then interpret it.

They are unable to do so, so Nebuchadnezzar issues a decree for all the wise men to be killed. In steps Daniel. He approaches the king and arranges a time to tell the king his dream and its interpretation. Daniel then prays to God and God makes known to Daniel the dream and its meaning—through a vision. In 2.18-19, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, which is the thing that needs to be made known, is called a “mystery.” Daniel then praises God in for “revealing” this mystery to him and “making it known.” In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Greek words behind “reveal” and “make known” are the same words used in the Greek NT in Revelation 1.1 for “revelation” and “made known.” Later in 1.20, the vision of Christ and the seven stars and seven lampstands is called a “mystery,” and the Greek word for mystery is the same as used in the Septuagint in Daniel 2 for the “mystery” of the king’s dream. Daniel, then, is sent by God as his servant to reveal and interpret Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Next, we find that the content of the vision concerns a large statue that consists of four parts. The head is fine gold, the chest and arms are silver, the middle and thighs are bronze, its legs were iron with its feet a mixture of iron and clay. This large statue is then shattered and destroyed by a rock that then grows into a great mountain that fills the earth. Daniel informs Nebuchadnezzar that the dream is God’s means of revealing the future of human history. The four parts represent different human kingdoms. After these four kingdoms, there will be a final kingdom that is established by God, God’s kingdom, which will be eternal and victorious and will bring an end to human kingdoms. God is letting the king know what will come after his kingdom, which consists of the coming eternal victorious kingdom of the one true God, which will bring human history to its close.

Now, obviously, this communication is prophetic—God is revealing what is going to come to pass. But how does he reveal this prophesy? How was this prophecy understood? God revealed his plans for history through a vision, which could only be understood symbolically. If Daniel had interpreted the vision “literally” he would have gotten it wrong. The statue, the rock, the mountain, these were all symbols being used by God, and only when understood as God intended could it be rightly interpreted. The “mystery” of God’s plan for history, which will reach its goal with the establishment of God’s victorious and eternal kingdom, was “revealed” symbolically and “made known” symbolically through a mediator sent by him.

We see this same structure once again in Revelation 1. As was mentioned above, all of these same key words are found in Revelation 1—but more importantly than just the presence of the words is the form in which those words are found. God once again is portrayed as the revealer of human history that will conclude with the consummation of his eternal and victorious kingdom. This revelation once again comes by way of a mediator sent to “reveal” it and “make it known.” And the mode of revelation is a vision that consists of highly symbolic imagery. Dare we say that God has purposely repeated himself here on purpose, or is this mere coincidence? Are we to interpret Revelation as the vision in Daniel 2, since they have been communicated the same way, or are we to do something different? If we read Daniel’s vision according to Thomas’ hermeneutic, do we run that risk again?

John’s allusion to Daniel 2 suggests that Revelation 1 should be read not just as a prophecy—but an apocalyptic prophesy and therefore the apocalyptic/symbolic methodology is the proper method for reading Revelation. Greg Beale suggests that in this allusion between Daniel 2 and Revelation 1, what we find is that Daniel 2 is programmatic for Revelation. Thomas’ idea that Revelation should be read literally unless forced to read it symbolically, is then on the one hand wrong, while at the other hand he is right and just doesn’t realize it.

With Revelation being an apocalyptic prophesy, it should be read primarily symbolically unless forced to read it literally. The irony here, however, is that we come to this conclusion by reading Revelation 1 literally! It is the literal reading of Revelation 1 that helps us to see the allusion to Daniel 2 and hence, the fact that it is apocalyptic literature that should be understood symbolically. This is how God has designed it and intended it to be read and understood. The true meaning of a literal hermeneutic is to allow the original intent of the author establish the meaning of the text, and God (the author) communicates to us that it is to be read symbolically.

The literal reading of Revelation necessitates a symbolic reading.

Well, it is interesting to me that Thomas states that if the book could be shown to be apocalyptic, then maybe it should be read in a way different from his way. The irony is that it is when one utilizes his hermeneutic, that the apocalyptic nature of Revelation is established. Reading Revelation symbolically is not the product of liberal scholarship, it is not the product of utilizing extrabiblical material, it is not allegorical and it does not lead to an abuse of the text--it is God's intended method for reading his intended message.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"The Blessing of Revelation for You," Revelation 1

Yesterday I began a short series in the book of Revelation. I will not be preaching through the entire book, but the oracles to the seven churches in chapters two and three. This first sermon is from Revelation 1. The purpose is not to provide a thorough presentation of the first chapter, but to unfold the clues that the first chapter provides for rightly understanding chapters two and three.

The position that I take is that Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter that is written to the church throughout all of the church age. As such, it extends a blessing to all who read it, especially in public worship, and obey it. The blessing is not just for those living at the time of John's writing, nor is it just for those who live just prior to Christ's return, nor is it only for persons living at particular points in history. The blessing is for you!

My approach to Revelation would most closely fit with the "Idealist" position, however, not completely. The idealist position (also called recapitulationism) sees Revelation as a series of repeated symbolic visions that portray the cosmic struggle between Satan and Christ and the church's place in that struggle. It is heavenly commentary that unveils the struggle from the perspective of heaven at times, while at others from the perspective of earth. And each vision does this, for example, Revelation 1-3 is one vision that looks at this struggle that rages between the two advents of Christ.

But, like Greg Beale in his commentary on Revelation, I utilize the idealist perspective with an intentional redemptive-historical perspective. Revelation 1 teaches that because of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, he is the Lord over all of history and rules in majesty. And what is striking is that as this is true of him, it is also true of his church because of their union with him by faith. The same three-fold description provided of Christ is later used again to describe his church. As such, the risen Lord and his persecuted church throughout the Church age are intimately united to one another. This unity is pictured towards the end of the first chapter with the description of the exalted, majestic Christ dwelling in the midst of Church--and nothing can change that reality. The result of this is two-fold. One, obviously the church has noting to fear. But two, and more importantly for this sermon, this means that when you see Christ in this book, you should see yourself. His life is your life.

This book and its blessing is written to you and for you because you are united to its author and its hero. You are given a heavenly interpretation of your earthly pilgrimage. The blessing of Revelation is for you!

You can read it here, or listen to it here.

More Trendy, "Authentic" Christianity

Read about it here.

This is not a joke. You have to see it to believe it. I like U2 and I like the Lord's Supper. But should they be mixed?

This is another example of the problem with trying to mix cult and culture, as well as, offering worship that is not regulated by the scripture.

[HT: Rodney Trotter]

Nicotene Theological Journal Online at

In an earlier post, I promoted Historia Salutis as a new addition to the Reformed Forum. Well, there is yet another new addition to announce. The Old Life Theological Society, which was founded by John R. Muether and Darryl G. Hart, has come online. Their intent is to promote the "health and vigor of historic Reformed Protestantism." "Old life indicates that the old things are actually valuable and capable of sustaining authentic Christian faith, and that historic Reformed Protestantism specifically embodies a piety as vigorous and alive as any of its rivals." In addition to their online articles, they will also be providing past issues of the Nicotene Theological Journal, which is their quarterly that they use to promote confessionally Reformed piety and practice.

In their first editorial, "Sabbath, Psalms and Single Malt: The NTJ," Hart defines the purpose for The Old Life Theological Society and its quarterly publication NTJ,
...few, if any of these periodicals, pay close attention to the God-ordained means of grace as well as the habits and sensibilities that articulate, cultivate and reinforce orthodoxy. That is, few publications give proper heed to the embodiment of the Reformed faith, contenting themselves with the propositional and didactic elements of Presbyterian theology while ignoring the visible expression of Presbyterian convictions. It is the embodiment and practice of the Reformed faith that will be the subject matter of the Nicotine Theological Journal. Here our concern is not with dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s of Reformed orthodoxy, as important as that work is. Instead, our aim is to explore the ways in which the Reformed faith is more than correct doctrine, the ways in which correct doctrine takes visible form in the lives and practices of believers and the organized church, and the ways in which certain practices and habits cultivate Reformed orthodoxy.
In sum, "we want to use the pages of the NTJ to explore the practices that make confessional Presbyterians 'resident aliens.'" Continue reading here.

I began reading NTJ about five years ago when I came into the OPC. One of the first Reformed resources that John Muether, an elder of my church in Florida, stuck in my hands (along with a complementary cigar) was NTJ. As one who did not grow up in the OPC, or any confessionally Reformed ecclesiastical setting, I have found that embracing Reformed theology is easy--its knowing how to consistently live it out that is the challenge! NTJ has done much to help shape my OPC identity. I highly recommend this resource to any who long to better put feet and hands to their Reformed theology.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Authentic Not Enough?

Over at Reformation21, Carl Truman reviews a Christian review of the film Milk. Part of his review focuses on the new buzz word of the postmodern--"authentic." He points out that "authentic" anything is not a word for describing behavior, because it is not an ethical term--it is a term that is devoid of any moral content, biblically speaking. He writes,
If honesty and consistency between belief and action, even at personal risk, are the criteria for judging that somebody is worthy of emulation, then what is to stop a spoiled eight year old screaming for the latest toy, or Adolf Hitler, or even serial killers from being such? All offer examples of sincerely held beliefs in action. (emphasis mine)
So is it proper to use "authentic" as a description for Christian faith and living? He writes,
...sometimes it is not acting on impulses, not comforming public behaviour to inner drives and instincts which is appropriate -- particularly, for Christians (at least one would hope), when those drives and instincts are opposed to the teaching of scripture. Being sold out to the wrong set of beliefs, be those beliefs white supremacy, exploitation of the poor, in-your-face gay lifestyle, or wife-beating, is not admirable.
Although I am not emphasizing his entire review of the movie, I think his analysis of the use of "authentic" as being morally vacuous and potentially a justification for all kinds of evil, should cause us to give pause and question whether or not it is a category that should be used in assessing ours or anyone's behavior.

Let me offer a quick biblical critique of "authenticity." First, Jesus tells us in Matthew 11.29-30: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Our rest is not found in borrowing the ideas of the world and adopting them as our own by synthesizing them with Christianity. All that we need comes directly from Christ--not Christ and the world. Our faith is lived out in Christ--not in postmodern authenticity.

Second, Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" When we take Christ's yoke upon us and then live out our faith in him, it includes not only living according to his words alone--it includes us denying our desires to incorporate the world into our faith. This statement of Jesus was his response to Peter who made a correct profession of faith, but then contradicted that profession when his worldly thinking caused him to rebuke Christ for announcing his intention to live a gospel life--a life of the cross. We do not find life by mixing worldly wisdom with the gospel--that will only keep us from living the gospel--for the gospel life of faith is a life of the cross.

Lastly, the apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5.13-14: "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Life in Christ is truly a life of freedom and liberty--but not a liberty to behave authentically, but a liberty to live lovingly and self-sacrificially. We are not to act in light of our desires, but in light of the desires of Christ. He lovingly gave up his life for us when we were his enemies. We are to love and serve one another in that same way--this is not about being authentic, its about being in Christ.

My point in this is that we don't have to adopt a word like "authentic" because it is popular--especially when what is communicated by the word is antithetical to the call of the gospel living of the cross, self-sacrifice and love. When we live this way, we are not being authentic, we are being the opposite of authentic; we are living out our new identity in Christ. We don't need to adopt a worldly term to describe that--the Bible has already provided one, its called "holy."

But I guess "holy" is just not cool enough and smacks of sectarianism and intolerance.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy

I love the deep thoughts humor of Jack Handy, here are a couple real funny ones my wife, Christy, shared with me. The second one below has been her favorite for years.

"The next time I have meat and mashed potatoes, I think I'll put a very large blob of potatoes on my plate with just a little piece of meat. And if someone asks me why I didn't get more meat, I'll just say, 'Oh, you mean this?' and pull out a big piece of meat from inside the blob of potatoes, where I've
hidden it. Good magic trick, huh?"

"To me, it’s a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, 'Hey, can you give me a hand?' You can say, 'Sorry, got these sacks.'"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Preparations for Revelation Series

This past Lord's Day I finished my series in the ritual law of Leviticus 1-7. After spending the last several months steeped in rituals, types and shadows, and symbolism, I thought it would be nice to take a break and go to an easier, more clear portion of scripture, so for the next several months I will be studying the book of Revelation.

I will not be going through the whole book, but I am about to begin a series looking at the oracles to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. To set up the study, I will preach an introductory sermon from the first chapter.

In preparing for the series I have really enjoyed Richard Bauckham's little Theology of the Book of Revelation. The opening chapter "Reading the Book of Revelation" is particularly helpful in that from the outset, he sets forth a clear hermeneutical approach for reading Revelation and interpreting it correctly. Given the flights of fancy and wild speculations of many interpreters, it is important to do the necessary work to guard ourselves from our own imaginations and idolatrous inclinations. We cannot do this perfectly, yet, if we approach the book correctly, we have a better shot of understanding it.

What is the proper hermeneutical approach, then? From where does this approach derive?

One of the hallmarks of Reformed theology is the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture--but often many don't practice that as consistently as they should. The scripture is so sufficient that it even provides its own hermeneutical key. Revelation is no different, in fact, as one looks at the opening verses of the first chapter one finds that the book of Revelation provides the correct hermeneutical method. What Bauchkham does is show that one does not have to bring a hermeneutical method to the scripture, but that the book of Revelation provides the correct method in the opening verses of the first chapter.

Bauckham asserts that misinterpretations of Revelation often begin by having a misconception of its genre of literature. All meaning is found not only in the words and groupings of words, but also in the way those words are presented, i.e., poetry vs. prose. One of the things that makes Revelation unique and difficult is that it is not just one genre of literature, but three!

First, as the first word (in the Greek) of the book indicates, Revelation is apocalyptic. But the apocalyptic character of the book is not established by the one word, but in the way that Revelation describes itself. Revelation has its origins in heaven, not on earth. It says in the first verse that God gave it to Jesus Christ, who in turn mediated it to an angel, who in turn mediated it to John, who wrote it down. What we find here is that Revelation is a heavenly message that is mediated by ana otherworldly being to a human recepient. As one continues to read one finds that this otherworldly message is concerned with history, for he reveals what is about to come to pass. This tells us that this heavenly message is concerned with providing a heavenly commentary about the history that is about to transpire. And the perspective provided is that of salvation. The heavenly message concerns the Christ who has already freed his people from their sins and is coming again to bring judgment. But the revelation does not come in bare propositions, but instead, provides a series of visions that communicate that history in the form of narrative. A story is being told--the story of history as seen and understood in light of the ministry of Christ in his first advent and the certainty of his second advent. "John's apocalypse, however, is exclusively concerned with eschatology: with eschatological judgment and salvation, and with the impact of these on the present situation in which he writes," (6). So, when one puts together these different clues, one finds that Revelation asserts itself as revelatory literature within a narrative framework, mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a heavenly perspective of history that brings eschatological salvation to bear on reality so that God's people are enabled to discern his divine purpose in history and their participation in it. This description of Revelation matches up with the literary genre of apocalyptic literary as defined by J.J. Collins.

Second, but verse 3 shows us that it is not only apocalyptic, but it is also prohetic, "Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy." Revelation is an authoritative word from God to his people that is to be read and obeyed. This word comes to his servant John through visionary and oracular means. John communicates to his people what he sees and hears. The visionary nature of the writing then, must be properly understood as being symbolic and not literal. But symbols are not provided merely to be creative or for intellectual curiosity--they are purposed to provide the heavenly commentary of earthly history that God's people are to embrace by faith and obey. The message of Revelation is inherently pastoral! It tells his people how to rightly interpret and understand their situation, so that they might be assured of the work of Christ on their behalf and walk in faithfulness before him--no matter what things look like around them. But in addition to the authoritatve and pastoral message of the prophecy, there is also a predictive element. As was noted already, the message communicates the second coming of Christ, and as one reads through Revelation, it becomes clear that the visions include this eschatological element. The heavenly perspective provided, then, concerns itself with all of history between the first and second coming of Christ--it is not only for the time of John's writing.

Third, verses 4-11 show us that in addition to being apocalyptic and prophetic, it is also epistolary--it is a letter. We are told that this prophetic apocalypse is to be addressed to the churches of the Roman province of Asia. The epistolary nature can be seen in the conventional format that is used: the writer is identified, the addressees are identified and there is a greeting in the form of "grace to you and peace." One of the unique feature of this greeting, however, is that unlike the others in the New Testament that mention God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, this greeting is trinitarian! However, the epistolary character of the book is not just the portions of chatpers two and three that specifically mention the seven churces--the entire book is epistolary. All of the different visions combined are being provided to the churches. Yet we must also understand that it is not only for these specific churches mentioned. For there is a blessing attached to reading of Revelation for all who read it and obey it. And as we noted above that there is a predictive element to the book, the message of Revelation is for the Church throughout the entire Church age (between the two advents of Christ) for all Christians in every historical context.

  1. The book of Revelation is not just about future events just prior to the return of Christ.
  2. The book of Revelation is not just about the historical situation surrounding the first century Church.
  3. The book is not about very specific historical events in history, but about history in general.
Revelation is an apocalyptic, prophetic, letter written to us to bless us with the heavenly interpretation and purpose for our lives in this world until the world to come, and to console and comfort us in our affliction, and to warn and encourage us to faithfulness. We are not distant from this book, nor are we to read it as mere spectators; rather, we are to find ourselves smack dab in the middle of it! And just as Christ is portrayed as living in the midst of the seven lampstands which is the Church, so he continues to live in our midst and we have nothing to fear.

Ligon Duncan Lecture at Grove City College

In a post on Tuesday, I mentioned that Ligon Duncan was on campus lecturing as part of Grove City Evangelical Scholarship Conference on John Calvin--"1509-2009: 500 Years of John Calvin," and that I was going to try and catch a lecture. Well, I was able to attend one lecture, but it was not part of the conference. He addressed a Church history class that is studying Patristic and Medieval Church history, so rather than lecturing on Calvin, he gave an impromptu lecture on early Church history.

The title of the lecture was "God's Providential Hand in the Unfolding of Early Church History," and his thesis was simply: "God has put the right people in the right place, at the right time, in order to preserve the truth of orthodoxy." Here are the highlights:

1. Irenaeus of Lyons: He took on the challenge of the Gnostics. Gnostics claimed to have a special, more spiritual understanding of the New Testament and teachings of the Christ (even claimed to know better than the apostolic authors of the New Testament). In God's providence, Irenaeus had received a unique educational experience that prepared him to engage and counter the claims of the Gnostics. He had studied in Smyrna under the tutelage of a teacher (many believe it was Polycarp) who had been under the tutelage of the apostle John. The Gnostics may have claimed a better understanding, but Irenaeus was the one who truly knew the truth.

2. Constatine and the Council of Nicea 325: By Constatine taking Christianity off of the list of forbidden religions in the Roman Empire, he paved the way for the Council of Nicea. The council provided an opportunity for the East and West to come together to confirm the apostolic teaching concerning the deity of Christ against the heretical views of Arius. This confirmation provided unity to the Church concerning Christology that would have been impossible as long as Christianity remained on the forbidden religion list.

3. Pulcheria and the Council of Chalcedon 451: Leading up to this council, the deck was being stacked against the biblical understanding of Christ's two natures of being fully divine and fully human. The intent was to overturn the biblical perspective, and instead, make a one nature perspective the official doctrine. The emporer of the time, Theodosius II, was exacerbating the tension in the church, especially between East and West on this issue, by refusing to convene a council, while simultaneously appointing bishops that held to the one nature view in order to try and stack the deck against the orthodox position. However, Theodosius II died and his successor, Marcion, called for a council to bring unity to the church. Marcion was married to Pulcheria who was orthodox, and she influenced her husband as he organized the council to have the right persons present to defend orthodoxy. The Christology defended and confirmed by the council has come to establish the boundaries of orthodox Christology for Protestantism, Roman Catholocism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

U.S. Protestants more loyal to toothpaste brand than church?

"Some Americans are more loyal to their toothpaste or toilet paper than to their religious denomination, making those consumers more choosy about Charmin or Colgate than they are about church, according to a new survey." Read more at USA Today.

[HT: Geneva Redux]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On Campus at Grove City College

Today I am on the campus of Grove City College with my pastor, Dan Knox, manning a table promoting Northwest Theological Seminary. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of NWTS for it is a small and recent school out near Seattle, Wa. They are self-consciously reformed, confessional and redemptive-historical. They have some great resources available on their website, especially audio resources. So check them out.

For those unaware, the picture above is of the Grove City campus. What a beautiful campus! Upon arrival you could just feel the academic buzz in the air. What a fantastic place to get to study. J. Ligon Duncan is here lecturing as part of Grove City Evangelical Scholarship Conference, which is focusing (as you might guess) on John Calvin--"1509-2009: 500 Years of John Calvin." Hopefully we will catch a lecture later today. If so, I'll let you know how it goes.

Index to Kline's Kingdom Prologue Lectures

"RubeRad" over at the Confessional Outhouse has provided an excellent and invaluable resource for anyone who enjoys studying the scripture from a redemptive-historical perspective. For quite some time now Meredith Kline's lectures on Kingdom Prologue have been available by Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (OPC) at their website here. But what RubeRad has done is provide a detailed index of the lectures that include topics and times per lecture! I listened to these years ago and have often wanted to go back and listen to specific portions but would get frustrated in finding what I was looking for because I did not specify lecture and time in my notes. RubeRad has eliminated this problem.

These lectures are foundational for not only understanding the redemptive-historical and covenantal content, but for learning how to read the Bible as the Bible structures itself to be read. I will say, however, that these lectures are not for the faint of heart, and if you are new to Biblical Theology and in general, but Meredith Kline in particular, then you may want to start with Lee Iron's lectures on the same material, which I would call Kline for dummies.

Because the index is so long, I have decided to provide it in .pdf format here.

Historical/Biographical Lectures

My friend James Grant has posted a chart of a series of historical and biographical lectures by Dr. Nick Needham that have been made available Real Audio format at the website for The Wicket Gate magazine. These have been made available by the Reformed Baptist Church of Inverness, Scotland, of which, Dr. Needham is the pastor.

As many Protestants are more familiar with Church history from the time of the Reformation to the present, I would highly recommend the lectures on John Chrysostom (here and here) and Athanasius (here and here) from the Patristic era, and the lecture on Bernard of Clairvaux from the Medieval era. The lectures are full of helpful content, but what makes them even more attractive is Dr. Needham's great accent! Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Images of the Savior from Leviticus 1-7 (Introduction)

For the past couple of months I have been preaching through the first seven chapters of Leviticus. It has been an amazing study; I have enjoyed it and been blessed by it immensely. I have decided to put together a series of posts that will summarize the highlights of my study.

But before I begin the Levitical slide show, I think it would be helpful for me to put my "hermeneutical" cards on the table. Leviticus 1-7 contains ritual law. As such, it can be intimidating reading. In fact, how often have we known a friend (its always a friend and never ourselves!) who began a Bible reading program only to get thrown off and quit once he or she got into Leviticus! The strange and difficult details and rituals can be difficult to understand.

But let not your heart be troubled, for although "all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them," (WCF 1.7).

The scripture itself is so completely sufficient as "the only rule of faith and obedience," (LC, 3) that it even provides us the proper interpretive method that is to be used in reading it, "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly," (WCF 1.9).

So, how is Leviticus to be read? It is to be read in light of clearer portions of scripture that help us to understand it. The first clear text that I would suggest helps us to understand the ritual law of Lev 1-7 is Luke 24.27. In this section of Luke 24, Jesus is walking with a couple of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples are dejected and forlorn over the crucifixion of Jesus, their shattered hope for the redemption of Israel, and that Jesus' body is missing from the tomb. Jesus then helps them to understand that the promise of the Kingdom has not failed, but has been achieved through the Messiah's death and resurrection according to the promises of the Old Testament. He then began with Moses and all the prophets and interpreted the Old Testament scriptures to reveal that they speak about him. According to Jesus, correct interpretation of Moses' literature must seek to understand that Moses is speaking about Christ. So in my look at the ritual law of Moses, I approach the text Christocentrically--it witnesses to us about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The writer of Hebrews has also provided Holy Spirit inspired interpretation and interpretive model for understanding the ritual law in Leviticus 1-7. Throughout Hebrews but especially in chapters 7-10, the writer interprets the ritual law in light of the Christocentric approach noted above. A good summary of his conclusion is found in 10.1, "the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. The writer provides three central truths that help us understand the ritual law, and therefore must be utilized to correctly interpret the ritual law. For the sake of space, we will focus on Hebrews 9-10.1.

First, in chapter 9, the writer explains that the forms of worship of the ritual law are temporary, earthly and inadequate. He says in 9.9b-10, "the gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation." The last portion of verse 10 can also be translated as, "imposed until the time of the new order." From the rest of the chapter we find that this "reformation, or new order" arrived when Christ appeared. With his appearance, he has inaugurated a new covenant through his shed blood to accomplish what the old covenant could not. Now, because of Christ, the temporary, earthly and inadequate has given way to the eternal, heavenly and fulfilled. So, the shadows and types of the ritual law are anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ in history. The old points forward to the new.

Secondly, the writer of Hebrews helps us to understand that not only do the shadows and types of the ritual law direct us forward in redemptive-history as anticipations of the person and work of Jesus Christ, but they also direct us upwards to heaven itself. In 9.24, the writer tells us that the old covenant types and shadows were copies of the true things, which are in heaven. The Greek word behind "true" can also be translated as "real, genuine." So the point is not that the old covenant types and shadows were false instead of true, but that they were representations on earth of what was real in heaven. The old also points upward to heaven.

Third, the writer tells us at the end of the chapter in 9.28 that with Christ's accomplished work, it has not yet been consummated. What Christ accomplished in history through his death and resurrection in his first advent will be consummated in a second coming at the end of history. At the second coming, those who have believed in Christ by faith will receive their eschatological salvation. The new covenant, which was inaugurated with Christ's work in history anticipates the consummation of that work when Christ returns with heaven with him. So, the new covenant is not only the fulfillment of the old covenant, but it is also an anticipation of a greater fulfillment to come. The new fulfills the old while also pointing us upward to heaven. So, the old and new point us forward and upward to heaven.

To summarize:
  1. The ritual law anticipates the future person and work of Jesus Christ in history at his first advent.
  2. The ritual law anticipates the consummation of Christ's work in heaven.
  3. The New Testament fulfillment of the ritual law in the person and work of Jesus Christ anticipates the consummation of his work in heaven.
Therefore, as I have studied the ritual law in Lev 1-7, I have studied it Christocentrically, semi-eschatologically (already/not yet) and eschatologically. The ritual law teaches us about Christ and his work in history, and both old and new together teach us about the consummation of Christ's work in heaven. My approach, then, has been nicely summarized by Andrew Bonar, "The one great principle of interpretation which we keep before us is apostolic method and practice," (Leviticus, 8).

Hence, let us look at the ritual law of Lev 1-7 and gaze upon the images of the Savior it portrays.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comparrison Between Westminster Confession of Faith and Second London Baptist Confession of 1689

Andrew Compton at Reformed Reader has provided the link to a great resource at James Anderson's website that compares and contrasts the WCF and the 2LBCF it is also available in .pdf format.

This is a great resource for doing a line by line comparison and contrast between the two documents. This is particularly helpful given that in the Preface to the 2LBCF the authors state that they have purposely copied, at points, word for word from the WCF in order to demonstrate where they are in agreement, in order to establish themselves as part of the historic stream of orthodoxy:
. . . to fix on such a method as might be most comprehensive of those things we designed to explain our sense and belief of; and finding no defect in this regard in that fixed on by the Assembly, and, after them by those of the congregational way, we did readily conclude it best to retain the same order in our present Confession; and also when we observed that those last mentioned did in their Confessions (for reasons which seemed of weight both to themselves and others) choose not only to express their mind in words concurrent with the former in sense concerning all those articles wherein they were agreed, but also for the most part without any variation of the terms, we did in like manner conclude it best to follow their example in making use of the very same words with them both in these articles (which are very many) wherein our faith and doctrine are the same with theirs; and this we did the more abundantly to manifest our consent with both in all the fundamental articles of the Christian religion, as also with many others whose orthodox Confessions have been published to the world on the behalf of the Protestant in diverse nations and cities. And also to convince all that we have no itch to clog religion with new words, but do readily acquiesce in that form of sound words which hath been, in consent with the Holy Scriptures, used by others before us; hereby declaring, before God, angels, and men, our hearty agreement with them in that wholesome Protestant doctrine which, with so clear evidence of Scriptures, they have asserted. Some things, indeed, are in some places added, some terms omitted, and some few changed; but these alterations are of that nature as that we need not doubt any charge or suspicion of unsoundness in the faith from any of our brethren upon the account of them. [emphasis mine]
This chart does an excellent job of showing forth their changes. One of the differences that is key in understanding the different positions is found in chapter 7 where the 2LBCF does not contain any statement about the covenant of works. Although the major differences can be seen later in dealing with the topics of church and sacraments, these differences seem to stem from the differences in their respective understandings of covenant theology, which hinges on the rejection of the covenant of works.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reformed Academic Press

Reformed Academic Press has launched a brand new website. For those who are not familiar with RAP, they describe themselves on their website:
Reformed Academic Press (RAP) is a theological publishing company focused on the production of both scholarly and popular literature. With the publication of every volume (whether its content is new or is a new edition of a rare, but classic work) RAP has as its aim the provision of sound and substantial Christian literature for the edification of the Church, and of the supply of important academic material for pastors and scholars pertaining to the Reformed tradition. . . .
I personally have read several of their titles, Reformed Worship and The Pastor's Public Ministry both by Terry L. Johnson, and On the Character of a True Theologian by Herman Witsius. I have enjoyed them and benefited greatly. So check them out!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Redemptive-History Resource

I am happy to announce a new web source, Historia Salutis, for discussing the Bible and theology from a self-consciously reformed, redemptive-historical perspective in the tradition of the likes of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos. In the first post, Camden Bucey explains the purpose of the blog and explanation of it subject matter:

Welcome to the latest addition to the Reformed Forum Network: Historia Salutis . This blog will be devoted to discussing topics in biblical theology in the tradition of Geerhardus Vos and Herman Ridderbos. I feel this will be a great addition to the content we deliver across the Reformed Forum and will generate interest from those wanting to study God’s plan of redemption through history.

What is Historia Salutis?

Broadly speaking, it is the history of God’s salvific activity for his people. Narrowly, it is the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Given that Jesus’ work is the epitome of redemptive history, historia salutis is most often used in this narrow sense.

We’re planning to use this site to promote the study of the history of redemption. We will trace themes throughout Scripture, study protology, typology and eschatology, and provide links to useful materials throughout the web. Please subscribe to our feed in your RSS reader and comment away in order to provide helpful feedback.

This blog is part of the Reformed Forum, which is an excellent online resource for all things reformed. So far, I have read the post on Biblical Theology in the Psalms and Mountains in Redemptive-History (this article is especially helpful for those who heard my sermons from Micah 4). If these early articles are indicative of what is to come, then this should be exciting reading.

[HT: James Grant]

Indulgences Are Back

It breaks my heart to report that The New York Times is running a story today about the return of indulgences. Yes, that's right, indulgences. It was the selling and abuses of indulgences that sparked Martin Lutherto nail his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences," or 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg in 1517, which is widely regarded as the catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

According to the article, the indulgence is one of the traditions that was decoupled from mainstream Catholic practice in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council that has been revived by Pope Benedict XVI. The articles describes indulgences:

According to church teaching, even after sinners are absolved in the confessional and say their Our Fathers or Hail Marys as penance, they still face punishment after death, in Purgatory, before they can enter heaven. In exchange for certain prayers, devotions or pilgrimages in special years, a Catholic can receive an indulgence, which reduces or erases that punishment instantly, with no formal ceremony or sacrament.

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day. [emphasis mine]
Although we often tend to think of these issues in terms of theological debate. We must remember that the theological concern is pastoral in nature. This system of penance is directly opposed to the gospel of redemption accomplished and applied by Jesus Christ.

The purpose here is not to point out every error, but in the quote above, notice the words in italics--until another sin is committed. The indulgence accomplishes the exact opposite of what it promises. Its design is to extend hope to the one who earns it--but only until the next sin is committed. It doesn't secure anything! Where is the hope in that?

All that is accomplished by the indulgence is the reminder of the ongoing dilemma of sin! All the indulgence can accomplish is to reveal that it is not the answer. Worse yet, rather than providing hope, it obscures and robs hope.

This revival of indulgences is a reminder that there is still a need for the gospel of the Protestant Reformation. So keep on protesting and seeking to be reformed according to scripture--and pray for those languishing in bondage to the false gospel of indulgences.

[HT: Scott Clark]

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Justin Taylor

One of the blogs I receive in my Google Reader daily is Justin Taylor's blog at Between Two Worlds. Reading his blog helps me keep up with what is going on out there in the Evangelical world. He was recently interviewed by Guy Davies at Exiled Preacher and can be read here.

And kudos to my friend James Grant who was listed on Justin's top 15 theological/ministry blogs.

[HT: James Grant]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Enter into the Joy of Your Lord, Mr. Kiester

Today the church militant lost a faithful officer. William Kiester, a ruling elder at Calvary OPC in Harrisville, PA has passed into glory and entered into the joy of his Lord. This steadfast pilgrim has crossed the river into the celestial city.

Mr. Kiester was a ruling elder for more than fifty years, during which time he served as stated clerk of the Presbytery of Ohio, and as a devoted presbyter, even served as commissioner to General Assembly on several occasions.

Although many have probably never met him or even heard of him, the history of the church is comprised of such unsung soldiers of the cause of Christ.

I personally never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kiester, but I have benefited from his ardent service to my Lord and to his bride.

The church militant may have lost one of her loyal and unwavering servants, but the church triumphant has gained a new participant in that heavenly worship that is alone experienced by angels and departed saints, and he is now part of that great cloud of witnesses who has received his prize.

From Pilgrim's Progress,

Then I saw in my dream, that the shining men bid them call at the gate: the which when they did, some from above looked over the gate, to wit, Enoch, Moses, and Elijah, etc., to whom it was said, These pilgrims are come from the City of Destruction, for the love that they bear to the King of this place; and then the pilgrims gave in unto them each man his certificate, which they had received in the beginning: those therefore were carried in unto the King, who, when he had read them, said, Where are the men? To whom it was answered, They are standing without the gate. The King then commanded to open the gate, “That the righteous nation (said he) that keepeth the truth may enter in.”

Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them,

“enter ye into the joy of your lord.”

I also heard the men themselves, that they sang with a loud voice, saying,

“blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the lamb, for ever and ever.”

Now, just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them, and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets also were paved with gold; and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads, palms in their hands, and golden harps, to sing praises withal.

Mr. Kiester, thank you, and I can't wait to meet you and worship together in glory.

Reformed Church and State Relations--The Spirituality of the Church

The Westminster Confession of Faith has two separate chapters for teaching about The Civil Magistrate (chapter 23) and Of The Church (chapter 25). With regards to the relationship of Church and State there are a couple of paragraphs that are very helpful in understanding that these two spheres of authority are separate from one another. The both function under God's rule, but they function separate from one another--and are not to be mixed.

With regards to the State, chapter 23, paragraphs 1 and 3 read:
1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates, to be, under him, over the people, for his own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evildoers.

3. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. . . . And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. . . . and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. [emphasis mine]
With regards to the Church, chapter 25, paragraphs 1 and 3 read:

1. The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.

2. The visible church . . . is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

3. Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. [emphasis mine]

It is clear from these statements that there is a recognition that there are two separate authorities that need to understand how to relate to one another. Both the State and the Church function as those ordained by God to serve under Christ, but it is only the Church that is described as being organically and covenantally connected to Christ with him as its head. This difference can be described as a difference between Christ's providential authority over all his creatures and all their actions, and Christ's redemptive authority to extend the benefits of his death and resurrection to the elect.

They both are called to serve a body politic, yet, the State is said to serve the "public" good, while the Church is said to serve Christ for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, who make up the catholic, visible church. The State has the power of the public good, or the commonwealth, but the Church has been given the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

For both of them to carry out their different callings, they have been provided means to use. But since their callings are different, so are the means they are provided. The State is given the power of the sword. The church, on the other hand, has been given the ministry, oracles and ordinances of God.

And just to be clear that these two authorities are to remain separate in their unique callings, chapter 23, paragraph 3 is clear that, "Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith,"[emphasis mine].

Although the Church and State both serve under Christ, they are related to him differently (State--providentially; Church--redemptively), they have unique callings, serving distinct body politics, have been provided different means to carry out their callings and, therefore, are not to overstep their bounds into the others sphere of authority. This separation of Church and State in reformed theology is referred to as the doctrine of the spirituality of the Church, while some in the reformed camp utilize the Lutheran designation of the Two Kingdoms theology.

However, there are some who disagree with this and believe that the WCF has been corrupted by the enlightenment thinking that lies at the foundation of the American Revolution, and its subsequent standards, i.e., the Constitution of the United States. Some have suggested that with the American Presbyterians revision in 1788, that the true, reformed understanding of Church-State relations was corrupted.

But is this complaint legitimate? If David VanDrunen is correct, then the American revision should be seen as a return to the historic reformed understanding. See Jason Stellman's blog for a helpful summary of VanDrunen's position on the historic reformed distinction between Church and State.

What do you think?

Faith OPC in Indiana, PA

Yesterday, Christy, the girls and I had the pleasure of traveling to Indiana, PA to worship and fellowship with Faith OPC. As part of my internship at Grace, I get to travel periodically to other OP churches in the Presbytery of Ohio to see how other congregations do things and to spend the day with the pastor.

Yesterday was a true blessing. The church there is full of warm and kind-hearted people who made us feel very welcome and loved. I got the privilege of speaking with the adult Sunday school class about my pilgrimage into the OPC and about my thoughts on my internship experience, as well as, the OPC's internship program.

After addressing the Sunday school class, I had the privilege of leading them in worhsip through the proclamation of God's Word. The church was observing the Lord's Supper, so I chose to preach from Leviticus 7.11-38 and 1 Corinthians 10.16-18, "The Communion Feast of Peace." Everyone was extremely encouraging and mentioned that they enjoyed hearing a sermon from Leviticus, let alone seeing how it taught them about Christ and the Lord's Supper. I am waiting to receive an audio copy of the sermon and when I have it I will post. For now, you can read the sermon if you're interested.

If you know of anyone living near the Indiana, PA area that is looking for a Reformed church, then tell them to check out Faith OPC, or to contact Pastor Doug Snyder,

Friday, February 6, 2009

Need a Good Laugh

Kim Riddlebarger has a good joke...

Electronic Church

Just prior to coming to Grace OPC for my internship, I worked shortly for Ligonier Ministries answering phones. On more than one occasion per shift, I would speak to someone referring to R.C. Sproul as his or her "pastor." Now, to be clear, Ligonier's policy was to promote the local church, so we were trained to thank the person for support, but to encourage him or her to see Ligonier materials as supplementary and to encourage the individual to be a communicant member of a local congregation.

But this does raise an important question. With all the new forms of electronic media that provide access to Christian teaching, is the local church still important? Is it still necessary, or is it a leftover of a bygone age?

Others have answered this question better than I. In his article, "TV Church," (originally published in Modern Reformation, Vol. 2 No. 6) Robert Godfrey has written, "the purpose of this article is to maintain that all those supplements must remain subordinate to and supportive of the Christian's commitment to the local church." Read the whole article here to see how he develops this thesis...

[HT: R. Scott Clark]

Facebook Turns Five: Thoughts on Social Networking

I have been using Facebook for a couple of years now. My wife, Christy, first started using MySpace and attempted, without success, to get me to join. However, she was able to get me to join Facebook, and I am grateful! I have really enjoyed being able to reconnect with old friends and have continued connection with new friends.

But, like with any technology, there is the danger that virtual connection can replace actual connection. So, it is helpful to have some guidelines for using this rising form of communication. Albert Mohler has done this at his blog today...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Daily Devotional Reading in the Westminster Standards

In an earlier post, I talked about the the Daily Westminster, which is a blog that provides daily, integrated readings from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism and Shorter Catechism. In response, a reader has asked if I know of any resource that will email daily devotions based on either the Westminster Standards (WCF, LC, SC) or the Three Forms of Unity (BC, CD, HC).

So far I have not found anything. But if anyone else knows of anything please provide the info in a comment below.

However, there are some sources that I would still promote:

First, there is a daily devotional reading made available at the OPC's website. It does not specifically come from the confessional standards, but is thoroughly biblical and written in accord with the reformed standards.

Second, Starr Meade has put together a resource for family devotions based on the Shorter Catechism, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.
Here is a summary of some of its features:
  • Aids memorization by devoting six days per question.
  • Explains the catechism in simple language.
  • Provides six different meditations on the main points of each question.
  • Includes key Scripture readings.
  • Takes just a few minutes each day, allowing time for discussion and review.
The format is to spend six days on one catechism question. This provides six days to memorize the question, and for each day, there is a short devotion that is based on the same question. This is a great resource to use individually or as a family.

Reading and Preaching the Old Testament

See what Jay Adams has to say . . .

Just How Much is $1.1 Trillion

The recent figure proposed for President Obama's "stimulus" package is $1.1 trillion. That is not a number that many of us think about often, so just how much is it? In order to get a helpful perspective, see my friend James Grant's blog . . .

Lois Ooms--A Woman of Vocation and Faith

Lois Ooms is a reformed woman of vocation and faith. She has been actively involved in demonstrating the mercy of Christ and manifesting his love to different African peoples for approximately four decades now. She has done through her vocation in the fields of education, medical/health and community development in Africa. These mercy efforts have also included sharing her hope in Christ with Muslim women and assistance in church planting:
Lois began serving in Kenya in 1969, teaching high school students and elementary school teachers. She worked with the youth of the African Evangelical Presbyterian and assisted the Tei wa Yesu (Compassion of Jesus) Health Center in the finance department. In 1987, Lois began a community health/evangelism program, which included health teaching, digging shallow wells, AIDS education etc.
Read more about this woman of vocation and faith, including a recent update by Lois Ooms here and here.

Dr. Jim Knox has recently informed me that Ms. Ooms is currently visiting the Akisyon A Yesu Pesbyterian Clinic in Karamoja, Uganda. She will be speaking to the Karimojan people about the importance of health and personal hygiene, as well as, instructing the staff of the clinic how to be more efficient in getting this message to the people.

These efforts have two distinct, yet, related goals. First, the Karimojong people are fellow image-bearers of God, and therefore, are inherently valuable and to be cared for (Psalm 8). As such, it is loving to seek to help them learn how to be freed from unnecessary illness, disease and physical suffering. But these efforts of mercy and beneficence are not a substitute for preaching the gospel, but rather are supplementary.

The main need of the Karimojong people is deliverance from their spiritual bondage to sin. And the only means toward this liberation is in the church being the church, i.e., the right preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments and church discipline. So, the second goal of these efforts of mercy and beneficence is that they reinforce and support the ministry of the Word. The hope is that these efforts would point the Karimojong people to the true source of healing, which is only found in Jesus Christ. Often, they come to hear the gospel proclaimed on the Lord's Day, because they have experienced mercy during the week.

Please pray for Ms. Ooms, Dr. Jim Knox and the clinic staff that her presence there will be successful, and that the Karamojan people would follow the simple steps that could help protect them from undo disease and suffering. And that they would come to worship on the Lord's Day and receive and rest upon Jesus Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel.

If you are interested in reading about the relationship of the ministry of the Word and diaconal aid, then read here . . .

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Preparations for Candidating

I have entered the eighth month of my year-long internship for Grace OPC in Sewickley, PA. The internship has been invaluable! Well, as wonderful as it is, I cannot remain in the nest and it is time to start testing my wings as I begin the candidating process.

In this process, many churches ask for a sample sermon from the Old Testament and the New Testament. I have decided to stave off the temptation of providing a couple of "home run" sermons, and instead, have opted to provide the most recent sermons. By doing this, I believe it provides an honest representation of what a congregation should expect to hear on a regular basis.

So, for my Old Testament sermon I am posting my sermon from this past Lord's Day morning, "The LORD's Presence and His Word," from Leviticus 1.1-4 and John 1.14-19. You can read it here.

The most recent New Testament sermon was preached the first Lord's Day in January of this new year, "The New Year and the New Birth," from 1 Peter 1.3-9 and Matthew 16.15-23. You can read it here.

This process is truly humbling and sobering, and yet, at the same time, a privilege and testimony to God's covenant love and mercy in Christ.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Daily Reading in the Westminster Standards

For all you faithful confessionally reformed Presbyterians, and for any who desire to become more familiar with the Westminster Standards, The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and Larger (LC) and Shorter (SC) Catechisms, but don't know how to get started, then I have the site for you.

At the Daily Westminster, there are daily readings from the standards that will take you through the WCF, LC and SC in a year. The readings are quite short and can be completed in under five minutes. The reading schedule used was organized by Dr. Joseph Pipa. See more here on the suggested guidelines for utilizing Daily Westminster.

One of the things I really like about the reading schedule is that it does not take you through each source one at a time, but rather, the readings are arranged so that as you go through the WCF, readings from the corresponding sections in the LC and SC are included. This arrangement helps you not only to become familiar with the theological content of the standards, but also helps you to see how they all fit together topically.

For example, on January 25, the reading was WCF 3.1, which deals with "God's Eternal Decree." The following day, on January 26, the reading came from LC, Q. 12 and SC, Q. 7, both of which ask, "What are the decrees of God?"

Another thing I like about the Daily Westminster is that the readings contain the proof texts, which are linked to the online English Standard Version of the Bible. So in one place you can read the assigned reading and quickly see the prooftexts. This also helps to facilitate scripture memory as you memorize the catechism questions.

I highly recommend utilizing this great resource. You can easily subscribe to it using your email, or if there are other blogs you follow, then I highly recommend using Google Reader, which will retrieve the daily readings for you.

And for the really initiated, if you like Daily Westminster, then also take a look at Daily Confession. It basically does the same thing as Daily Westminster, except it also integrates readings from the Three Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Canons of Dordt, and the Heildelberg Catechism) and the Children's Catechism.