Monday, December 28, 2009

“An Unfinished Advent: Praying for the Completion of Christmas” Psalm 72 & Matthew 2:7-11

Yesterday, for the third time in three months, I had the privilege of filling the pulpit for Covenant OPC in New Bern, NC. As in the other times, it was a blessed time of worship and fellowship. It is always such a joy to worship with and preach for a congregation that hungers for the word of God.

Given that it was the Lord's Day after Christmas and the fact that I didn't get to preach last Lord's Day, I took the opportunity in the morning service to preach about Christmas, sharing my thoughts that I had during this season. The main observation I had this year is that there seems to be a general misunderstanding of Christmas. Many Christians seem to have a limited perspective when it comes to reflecting on the birth of Christ. The limited perspective that I am referring to is not so much about a proper theological understanding of the virgin birth or even the right understanding about God taking on to himself flesh.

So, what limited perspective am I talking about? Well, you can listen to it here to find out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jonathan Edwards Free Online Resource

For fans of Jonathan Edwards and fans of free resources, there is now a great website for you. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University has put together a website that provides free access to many of Edwards' writings and some really good biographical material. One of my favorite features is the Sermon Index they have compiled (I used it today to read his sermon on Psalm 72.6 since I am preaching Psalm 72 this Lord's Day). It has sermons filed by date or by scripture reference. I am including the index for scripture reference below for easy access. They also provide an index for his "Miscellanies," and their is also a search option. Go check it out.

[HT: Nick Batzig]

Jonathan Edwards Saw It Without Reading Vos

In the introduction to his sermon on Psalm 72.6 "Like Rain upon Mown Grass," Jonathan Edwards makes this observation about reading the psalm christocentrically:
It is observable that the Holy Spirit, in some of the Psalms, has a twofold aim
and intendment, the one more immediate and the other more ultimate. They
have respect more immediately to some person that is an eminent type of
Christ. But their principle and more ultimate respect is to Christ
himself. So many of the Psalms have a more immediate respect to David; but
the main respect is to Christ, the son of David. So some of the Psalms
have a more immediate respect to Solomon, but ultimately respect Christ,
(Sermons and Discourses, 1739-1742, available

The importance of recognizing this christocentric principle is in understanding the main thrust of the Holy Spirit is to communicate truths about Christ, his reign and his kingdom, and not necessarily about Solomon's kingdom. By reading the Psalm christocentrically, Edwards understands that the blessings of the psalm are eschatologically focused.

Jesus comes down from heaven like rain from the sky. Jesus's heavenly person and benefits become the priority of the psalm. Just as the grass is nourished and quenched by rain from the sky, so believers are nourished and refreshed by his heavenly presence and work. This presence is twofold: first, in the incarnation of the first advent and second, in his coming in the second advent on the great day of judgment. The result in one of his applications is to encourage believers, because they have experienced the blessing of Christ come down from heaven, to forsake worldliness and renounce the vanity of exaltation in this life. Life in Christ is a life of humbly looking to Christ and not the world or the self for one's blessings and for righteousness. Look to Christ who alone can revive the soul and be refreshed!

Edwards christocentric reading naturally leads to the eschatological unfolding of the Psalm. Now, if only Edwards would have applied this to every psalm! If only he could have read Vos.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?

With every Christmas season there is much that surrounds us that reminds us of the birth of Jesus. There are live nativity scenes at churches, little knick-knack nativity scenes in homes and a lot of talk about the birth narratives of Jesus as found in the Gospels. But what all of this can do is create the confusing notion that the narrative of the incarnation is a New Testament narrative that begins in Bethlehem. This near-sighted reading, however, robs the narrative of its history and its power.

So where does the narrative of the incarnation begin in the Bible? Check out what Dr. Mohler has to say in his post, "Where Does the Story of Christmas Begin?"

Is the "Virgin Birth" Essential to the Christian Faith?

Read what Kevin DeYoung has to say.

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wendell Berry Would Be Proud

[HT: Justin Taylor]

Some Helpful Resources on the Psalms

For the past couple of months, we have been attending Immanuel Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Norfolk, Va while waiting for a call. In the morning, the senior pastor is preaching through the Psalms. From listening to the sermons, I have been reminded of the deep riches that can be mined from the Psalms, as well as the importance and necessity of reading and applying them Christocentrically. So I recently decided to do my own study of the Psalms, including some work on the use of the Psalter in Reformed worship. Here are some resources I have found helpful so far.

First, a classic place to begin for any reader, but especially the Reformed reader is the "The Author's Preface" in John Calvin's commentary on the Psalms. This can be found in volume four of the Baker edition on pages xxxv-xlix.

Second, for any proper Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms, one needs to begin with Geerharudus Vos, "Eschatology of the Psalter." This article first appeared in the Princeton Theological Review back in 1920, but has also been republished as an appendix in The Pauline Eschatology. Now, this article is not for the faint of heart--it is challenging, but well worth great effort. When one comes to understand Vos, one will find that every Psalm, not just some of the Psalms, are "messianic."

Third, for an updated case arguing for a Christ-centered, redemptive-historical reading of the Psalms in which all Psalms are understood to be "messianic," I am reading Richard P. Belcher, Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms.

Fourth, for a handbook that is geared towards teaching the exegetical method for approaching a Psalm, I am reading Mark Futato, Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. This book does a great job of starting with the most basic elements of Hebrew poetry and then moves you through the exegetical process, including understanding the Psalms redemptive-historically and theologically, including how to identify the type of Psalm, and how to teach or preach the Psalm. The book is equally practical and theological. The book may appear technical to those who have not had Hebrew, but lack of training in Hebrew will not cause anyone to miss anything.

Fifth, for an introduction and suggested guide for using the Psalms in worship, I have been reading John D. Witvliet, The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship. Although this book is not as Reformed as I was expecting (the author is the director for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship), it still has much to offer concerning the historic use of the Psalms and current ways to use them in worship and prayer.

Last, a book that I am not yet reading but plan to is Bruce Waltke and James Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship. This book combines exegetical insights from Waltke (who also believes that every psalm is messianic) with historical insights on how the Psalms have been interpreted and used throughout the history of the church. The only reason I'm not reading it yet is because it has not yet been released! But I will begin it as soon as I get it.

The plan is to provide more in-depth reviews of these resources as I am able, so check back for more info. But for now, pick one or two and get reading!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Evidently Van Til Evidenced Appreciation for Evidences

In discussions over apologetic method, one of the arguments often put forward against Van Tilian, or presuppositional, apologetics, is that it disregards the use of evidences. Well I've been rereading John Muether's excellent biography on Van Til, and here is what Van Til himself says in response to that charge:
As to the point whether I can recommend Dr. Machen's works I may say that I can do so and have done so heartily. . . . The point . . . is not that factual apologetics is useless but that it alone and by itself is insufficient, if we are considering the question of a logically consistent and comprehensive apologetics. If I deny vigorously that you can run 100 miles I have not therein denied that you can run at all. Because I have said that factual apologetics is, say, half of the work, I have not said that that half is not important. If someone could prove that the human species has actually derived from animal species, Christian-theism would be disproved. It is therefore important to show that the facts do not warrant any such idea. But even when that has been done the whole work has not been done. A discussion of the philosophy of fact will have to accompany a discussion of the fact themselves. If Dr. Machen has shown that the resurrection of Christ is an actual historical occurrence he has done an inestimable piece of service. But if then the pragmatic philosopher comes along and says that this is an interesting item in this strange world but that it has no universal significance, the factural discussion is in itself for that man quite fruitless unless it is supplemented by a discussion of the philosophy of fact (p. 85-86).
From his statement, it is quite clear that Van Til acknowledges that defending the Christian faith does and should include discussing certain facts or proofs. However, it is important that we recognize that there are no such things as "brute" facts and that it is impossible to approach anything from a neutral position.

Everyone wears colored glasses through which the world and things are seen and interpreted. So when presenting a "fact" or "datum" it is also necessary to talk about the "philosophy of fact," or the way one approaches and interprets a fact.

Van Til supported the importance of evidences, but he also wanted to help Christians learn to consistently interpret and communicate those evidences in light of the real and true existence of God, rather than to try and present them apart from God, hoping they will lead someone to God. It doesn't make sense to act like God doesn't exist, in order to then provide some "fact" that somehow demonstrates that he does. The existence of God is not just an end in apologetics, it is also the starting point and the means that leads to the end.

Not convinced that Van Tilian apologetics values and utilizes evidences? Then check out Thom Notaro's work Van Til & the Use of Evidence.

Update on "Tim Keller and Confusion Over Commissioning (Not Ordaining) Deaconesses

Since I first wrote about the confusion at Redeemer PCA on the ordination of a woman as a deaconess, more information has become available to fill out the story. In addition to Keller's apology, the minister who made "the mistake" has also provided a public apology. The apology letter was apparently originally sent to his Presbytery and then made public at his permission. However, rather than clearing things up, things continue to get muddier.

First, I was glad to read of the apparent sincerity of the apology of Scott Sauls, the minister who mistakenly ordained a woman as a deaconess. However, he provides information about himself and past ministry that is further confusing to me. While the minister was certainly newer to the staff at Redeemer PCA, he is by no means a young inexperienced minister. He has been in ministry for around 13 years in which he has served two former congregations, one in the PCA and then one in the EPC (a denomination that ordains women). His call to Redeemer PCA brought him out of the EPC back to the PCA. He states in his apology that while in the EPC he did ordain women as deaconesses. Saul does not state in the apology sent to his Presbytery that he has changed his convictions about ordaining women. It seems as though from his perspective, his mistake at Redeemer was not so much that he transgressed biblical teaching and in turn inadvertently broke his ordination vows; rather, his mistake was in forgetting that he was back in the PCA where they don't do that sort of thing.

Second, the situation becomes more confusing given that just months prior to the mistake, one of his jobs at Redeemer was to communicate the termination of a fellow pastor at Redeemer who was not "the best fit ideologically and ecclesially," (you can find a copy of the letter here, but in providing the link I am in no way endorsing the content of the blog entry in which it is found, it is just a place where you can read the letter). It has been made known that one of the reasons for the ideological and ecclessial differences rested in the fact that that pastor was not in step with Redeemer concerning its position on women deaconesses. It would appear,then, that Sauls is not a green inexperienced minister who was confused one time, this was a minister who believes in women's ordination and who participated in the removal of a fellow pastor who was not in agreement. This is not to suggest maliciousness and dishonesty. It just seems to me that when you have a man on staff who believes in and has practiced women's ordination and a man on that same staff that gets fired because he does not, then it is not much of a surprise that this kind of mistake could happen. The muddier things get, the more potential there is to slip.

Third, the apology letter also heightens the concern I raised before about the lack of objection in the video displayed by the session and congregation of Redeemer. No one balks at what is happening, even when the congregation is charged to submit to "Deb." In the apology, he states that he didn't even know about his mistake until he saw the video just "last week." That means from the time the service took place in May until late November when the video was pointed out to him, no one had said anything to him about his mistake! Maybe nobody else realized the mistake just as he didn't. Maybe nobody thought it was a mistake. Maybe some people caught it but weren't sure how to respond. Look, every minister and every session and every congregation is going to make mistakes, but I personally believe that this just underscores the importance of clear instruction and practice. When things are muddy it is easier for mistakes to be made, but more importantly, it makes it easier for mistakes to be missed. Any mistake can be fixed--but only if the mistake is recognized. If there is no clear instruction and practice, then by what standard do you assess what happens?

Lastly, in the apology he refers to the service where he made his mistake in two different ways. Sometimes he refers to it as a "commissioning done in error," while in the same letter admitting that he ordained the deaconess. Which is it? Was it a commissioning done in error or an actual ordination? It seems that he and Keller just don't get the seriousness of what happened that day. Even though it was not intentional, he and Redeemer PCA ordained a woman as a deaconess, which is a clear violation of the PCA's interpretation of the Bible concerning women's roles in the church and a clear violation of the practice of PCA polity. This mistake is quite serious and needs to be corrected by more than "apologies." Has "Deb" and the congregation been led to renounce the vows they took? Have they redone the service so as to actually commission her? Or is she and the congregation still functioning under those erroneous vows? The Bible never speaks of "apologies," it speaks of confession of sin, repentance and loving constructive discipline. Will Keller, Sauls, and the Redeemer Session and congregation be afforded that form of Christian love?

The bottom line for me is that the apologies of Keller and Sauls are not alleviating concerns, but rather aggravating and compounding them. If you are interested in a more in-depth critique of Keller's argument for commissioning women deaconesses, especially concerning some of the sources he has used to support his position, then you can read a six-part series (one, two, three, four, five, and six) over at the Bayly Blog (this is not an endorsement of everything found on their blog, but there is much helpful material).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 61-70

Listen to Questions 61-70

Q. 61. What is forbidden in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment forbiddeth the omission or careless performance of the duties required, and the profaning the day by idleness, or doing that which is in itself sinful, or by unnecessary thoughts, words or works, about our worldly employments or recreations.

Q. 62. What are the reasons annexed to the fourth commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the fourth commandment are, God's allowing us six days of the week for our own employments, his challenging a special propriety in the seventh, his own example, and his blessing the sabbath day.

Q. 63. Which is the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment is, Honor thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Q. 64. What is required in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment requireth the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors or equals.

Q. 65. What is forbidden in the fifth commandment?
A. The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against, the honor and duty which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations.

Q. 66. What is the reason annexed to the fifth commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the fifth commandment is a promise of long life and prosperity (as far as it shall serve for God's glory and their own good) to all such as keep this commandment.

Q. 67. Which is the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Q. 68. What is required in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.

Q. 69. What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
A. The sixth commandment forbiddeth the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or whatsoever tendeth thereunto.

Q. 70. Which is the seventh commandment?
A. The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Questions 51-60 < > Questions 71-80

Westminster Shorter Catechism Audio: Questions 51-60

Listen to Questions 51-60

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

Q. 52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?
A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.

Q. 53. Which is the third commandment?
A. The third commandment is, Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Q. 54. What is required in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, word and works.

Q. 55. What is forbidden in the third commandment?
A. The third commandment forbiddeth all profaning or abusing of anything whereby God maketh himself known.

Q. 56. What is the reason annexed to the third commandment?
A. The reason annexed to the third commandment is that however the breakers of this commandment may escape punishment from men, yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment.

Q. 57. Which is the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment is, Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Q. 58. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth the keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word; expressly one whole day in seven, to be a holy sabbath to himself.

Q. 59. Which day of the seven hath God appointed to be the weekly sabbath?
A. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath.

Q. 60. How is the sabbath to be sanctified?
A. The sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God's worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.

Questions 41-50 < > Questions 61-70

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Edwards in the Hands of A Contemporazing Editor

Jonathan Edwards and his classic sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" is rich and deep in its portrait of God in his holiness and graphic in its portrayal of man's end because of his sin. It has much to offer contemporary persons who tend to relativize biblical teaching on sin and its due consequence. But given that it was originally written in July of 1741, the archaic language has been a barrier to reading Edwards for many. As a result, many are missing out on what this godly theologian has to share.

Well my good friend Jason Dollar has taken this barrier out of the way. He has just finished updating the sermon into contemporary English. If you have never read it, then this is a good place to start and a good opportunity to be introduced to one of the most influential pastor theologians in American history. You can find it here.

"Thanksgiving" and Redemptive History

This past Lord's Day I once again had the privilege of filling the pulpit for Covenant OPC in New Bern, NC. And once again it was a great and refreshing time of worship and fellowship. Given the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to preach a sermon that I hoped would broaden and deepen our perspective of giving thanks. Often in "Thanksgiving" themed sermons there is much said about the earthly blessings of God enjoyed in this life (food, clothing, housing, employment, health, etc.) and the spiritual blessing of salvation. But, these different blessings are often treated separately from one another in a way that gives the impression that they are not interrelated, and that the earthly blessings are not really that important. And other times they are united so closely that they are treated together as one and the same thing, so that salvation is equated with earthly affluence in material possessions, influence in the culture and increasing dominion in politics. Both of these approaches are incorrect--the earthly and the heavenly are neither mutually exclusive nor mutually identical--but they are mutually interconnected.

In Genesis 3.8-15, God in his abounding grace provides the blessing of an ongoing earthly history and humanity in the face of increasing rebellion and sin in order to provide the promised seed of the woman who will earn and bestow the spiritual blessing of heavenly communion. If there is no history and no humanity, then there is no theatre in which God can execute his plan of redemption and there is no woman from which the promised seed will come. And yet, if there is no plan and goal for redemption, there is no need for the existence of history and humanity after the fall. There is truly, then, much for which we are to be thankful!

You can listen to "Where Sin Increased, Grace Abounded" from Genesis 3.8-15 and Romans 5.18-21 here.