Thursday, January 29, 2009

How do we go from defending to discipling?

I have been reading Scott Clark's, Recovering the Reformed Confession and have been enjoying it. In it Clark makes his case for recovering the biblical and historical understanding of Reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP) in the life of a Reformed church.

The basic problem as Clark sees it is as a class of churches, which profess allegiance to reformed theology, piety and practice (RTPP), as revealed in the Word, and summarized in the Refomred confessions, we have drifted from our moorings. Some have become confused about what it means to be reformed, while others have lost their confidence that RTPP is correct or effective.

One of the specific ways in which this problem has reared its ugly head is what Clark calls the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). QIRE finds its roots in the "new measures" of Finney and the Second Great Awakening, and found its way into Reformed Presbyterian church life through New Side Presbyterians who thought they could borrow the forms of the new measures while maintaining the theology of the Westminster Standards. As such, this new piety and practice desires "to achieve an unmediated encounter with God. It also describes religious subjectivism (often part of that quest) and even religious enthusiasm," (p. 74). This subjectivism is "alien to the Reformed confession," (p. 82).

Clark argues that this is not historic, biblical RPP, which John Williamson Nevin referred to as the system of the catechism, or what the Old Side Presbyterians referred to as the outward and ordinary means of grace. RPP is not focused on experience above all else, but upon the objective divine promises of scripture first, and then on one's awareness of the Spririt's presence (p. 74).

Clark is clear that this does not mean that RPP is opposed to genuine religious experience. RPP is strongly in favor of a vital religious life (p. 89), and confesses a "living religion that is organized around the means of grace," (p. 114), which according to the WCF 21.5 are:

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God.

Clark summarizes the perpective of RPP as being confessional, "Christ-centered, grounded in the gospel of Christ's obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners, and in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the ordained means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the aministration of the sacraments. According to the Reformed churches, Christ has promised to use these means to bring his people to maturity and sanctity,"(p. 116).

Before I read Clark's chapter on QIRE I was already in agreement. But this caused me to think. It is one thing for me to agree. It is one thing to defend RPP and to call myself and the church to pursue them by faith, and faithfully. But what is the most effective way to communicate this to the church? What is the best way to postiviely present RPP to the layman without appearing defensive and reactionary?

What does RPP look like in the day in and day out Christian pilgrimage? Jonathan Edwards gave us a portrait of his religious affections in The Life of David Brainerd. No thank you Mr. Edwards. The pietistic spirituality crowd has flooded the market with books and helps promoting their unbiblical version of spirituality for day to day living.

What have we provided our folks? How do we promote and disciple our people in RPP?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Horizons January 2009, "Athentic Church"

Before we leave the month of January, let me draw your attention to the January issue of the OPC's monthly periodical New Horizons. In this issue, there is some helpful interaction concerning the emergent church movement.
  1. Sincerely Yours: The Marks of the True Authentic Church by A. Craig Troxel
  2. Why We Are Not Emergent by Dale A. Van Dyke
  3. Christianity and the Emergent Church by Danny E. Olinger
These articles are written at the lay level and helpfully introduce the reader to the main issues and concerns about the emergent church movement from a confessionally Reformed perspective without getting too bogged down in the details.

Laurence O'Donnell has provided some helpful summaries of the articles, as well as some additional resources for further reading.

MTI Homiletics Reading List

So here is the required reading for the class:
  1. Arturo G. Azurdia III, Spirit Empowered Preaching (Mentor, 1998)
  2. Graeme Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000)
  3. Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament (Eerdmans, 1999)
  4. Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Pilgrim Publications $40 +4, or an equivalent unabridged edition). Vol. 1: Lectures V, VI, VIII, IX, X; Vol. 2: Lectures VI, VII, VIII, X
We are required to submit summaries for each of the required readings. So, over the next couple of months, I will be posting reflections and critiques here. I welcome any and all interaction, so feel free to share your comments!

MTI Homiletics Practicum

I have just received my introduction letter and prospectus for the upcoming MTI Homiletics Practicum. MTI stands for Ministerial Training Institute:

"MTIOPC is designed primarily to provide men who are preparing for the gospel ministry (men under care of presbyteries and licentiates) and current OP ministers with instruction supplemental to that which they might receive in seminary. Others (including OP ruling elders, ministers from other denominations, and men in other denominations training for the ministry) should also be able to benefit from this instruction. MTIOPC grants continuing education credits." For more information see an excellent article by Dr. Jim Gidley here.

The course is co-taught. I have been grouped with Pastor Peter Vosteen who is the minister of Lynnwood OPC in Lynnwood, WA. Lynnwood OPC is also the home of Northwest Theological Seminary. The other instructor is Pastor Bill Shishko who ministers at Franklin Square OPC in Franklin Square, NY. The course is set up like a correspondence class, so most of the work is done at home, then we will meet for an intensive period of training from April 30 to May 3 in Lynnwood, WA!

I'm really looking forward to the course and the interaction with the instructors and students. I pray it will help me to communicate more effectively!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Covenantal Forgiveness" - 1 John 1.9-2.2

This is my first attempt of uploading an Mp3 file to my new blog. The message of this sermon is one that I preach to myself everyday for the delight and assurance of finding my life in the hands of a covenantally faithful God and represented by a righteous advocate. You can here to listen (for some reason the first several minutes are silent, so you'll have to fast forward a little) or can read it here.

In the words of John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress,

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, “He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.” Then he stood still a while, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold, three Shining Ones came to him, and saluted him with, “Peace be to thee.” So the first said to him, “Thy sins be forgiven thee;” the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark on his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate: so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing,

“Thus far did I come laden with my sin,

Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,

Till I came hither. What a place is this!

Must here be the beginning of my bliss?

Must here the burden fall from off my back?

Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?

Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be

The Man that there was put to shame for me!”

Easing into the Shallow End

O.k. I know what you're thinking, "not another blog!" If so, do not fret, and get over it! This endeavor is not serious and has no pretense of becoming so. There are too many good blogs already in existence and I do not presume to think that I have anything novel to add to the mix. This exercise is more an attempt to get into the habit of writing.

I do not really enjoy writing, and I do not write well. Yet, God in his providence (and sense of humor) has called me to a holy vocation in which I will be spending the rest of my life communicating through writing. So, in an attempt to acclimate myself to the "waters" of pastoral written communication, I have decided to start blogging.

These posts will be the musings, pontifications and rants of an oft wearied and beleaguered pilgrim living in antithesis to a world that is not my home, but which earnestly strives to re-enroll me into its Naturalization Exam.

Don't expect much, for I am merely easing into the shallow end. And maybe, and even hopefully, I will be able to extend to you the invitation of Delmar O'Donnell, "Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now. C'mon in boys, the water is fine."