Monday, August 31, 2009

Helpful Interviews on the Church and the Public Square

Over at Letters from Mississippi, David Strain, a PCA pastor in Mississippi, has begun an interview with Darryl Hart concerning a Reformed understanding of two-kingdom theology/spirituality of the church. So far there are two installments with more to come. What I like about the interviews thus far is that they are dealing with practical issues and implications of applying 2k thinking in real life. It seems to me in my reading that this is where most of the controversy lies right now--a misunderstanding on what it looks like in practice.

As I have advocated here, Hart also suggests that though the church as an institution is not called to transform society, that does not mean that individual Christians, as they live out their vocations as Christians, don't have a positive influence in society:
. . . Individual Christians in their vocations are called to a host of tasks that do, I guess, contribute to social transformation. (I don’t like that language because it has a progressive political valence that I oppose for political and cultural reasons – both libertarian and localist and at times agrarian.) But the church doesn’t transform society nor should she as an institution (in distinction from her members’ callings).

This doesn’t mean that some of the aspects of social transformation, such as government, policy, and legislation are unimportant or “worldly.” They are worldly but in the good sense of the created order and the way that God superintends this world. Society is a good thing and Christians as citizens or in other capacities should be dutiful in their obligations to neighbors and magistrates. But social transformation is not where the kingdom of Christ happens.

So far the installments have been informative and practical--I would also highly recommend reading the comments under the second installment to see Strain's helpful comments. You ought to check them out.

Part I
Part II

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermons on Gospel of Mark 8.30.09

Today I had the privilege of filling the pulpit of Nashua OPC for Pastor Steve Miller. It was a blessed and encouraging Lord's Day. For my two sermons, I preached from my overview series on the Gospel of Mark.

The morning sermon "Take Heart; It is the I Am" came from Mark 6.45-52 & Exodus 3.1-17. Here is a preview:
. . . As Jesus leaves communion with the Father to descend from on high to save his people, we find that with his advent on the lake, this is no normal rescue operation. He enters into their predicament, but not with their limitations. The disciples find themselves losing a battle with the elements of this world even with their technology and experience; but Christ is not limited to the technology and experience of this world. Rather, with his advent, he comes empowered with the realities of the heavenly world to come. As such, he does not need a boat, he simply walks across the lake! And he does so unhindered by the storm, the wind and the waves. He simply walks! How miraculous! What a demonstration of the power and present reality of the kingdom of God!

. . . We can become self-reliant, focused only on the immediate trouble and become afraid--and as a result we forget that Christ has come near. We forget that for the sake of glorifying himself he has invaded history and undergone a storm that we could never endure in order to deliver us from the storms of this life and bring us safely to the shores of the life to come.

You can listen to the entire sermon here.

The evening sermon "A Confession and a Cross" came from Mark 8.27-38 & Daniel 7.9-14. Here is a preview:
. . . As fallen sinners, we are experts at making God conform to our image instead of our conforming to his. At the same time, we are only too eager to conform to the image of our idols, whether it be our idea of God or the constantly changing fads and fashions of the world. We cannot let our understanding of Jesus be shaped and defined by what the world wants Jesus to be. We cannot just go along with what others say about Jesus.

. . . We need more than belief in Jesus, we need belief in Jesus as the Christ with a proper understanding of his mission of death and resurrection. The cross and resurrection are programmatic for understanding the mission of the royal son.
. . . But the proper confession of Christ includes not only coming to grips with his cross--but coming to grips with our own. . . . The cross and resurrection of Christ are central to our confession--but also for living out our confession. Just as it si the central unifying principle of the mission of Christ, it becomes the central unifying principle of our lives in Christ that is to shape our very existence. Let us joyfully follow Him, gladly denying ourselves and taking up the cross, for it is Christ that we are called to follow.
Take the shadow of the cross for your abiding, place,
Be content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
Your sinful self your only shame, your glory all the cross.
You can listen to the entire sermon here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Praying the Bible

As important and fundamental as prayer is for the Christian life, many struggle in the prayers, and quite often, it is because they do not know how to pray. There is no better place to go to help us in our prayers than the Bible. In a previous post, I noted:
There are great and amazing promises that God extends to us in his word, we would do well to do the work of unearthing them and making his word our words to him, for he knows what we need more than we ourselves, and he promises to hear us and answer us when we pray according to his will. So don't just read the scriptures--pray them.
But many of you might say, "But the Bible is so big; how am I supposed to assimilate it and digest it all in order to be able to pray it?". Well, I came across a great little resource today that will help you do just that. This website has edited an online version of Matthew Henry's helpful book Method for Prayer. Pray the Bible: Promoting, encouraging, and assisting biblical prayer is a free online resource to help you pray the Bible.

The presentation is easy to follow and there is a helpful sidebar that provides links to individual chapters. One of the things I like about the book is the combination of theology and practice. Henry provides helpful instruction about the different aspects of prayer, but then also includes copious scripture passages to help one pray. In the online version, one can scroll over the scripture passage to have a pop up box appear that is linked to the ESV online edition of the Bible. Also, one can sign up to receive daily emails for helpful insights for prayer.

If you struggle in prayer, or are just looking for a helpful resource, then use this website. I plan on using it myself quite a bit. You will notice that I have added it as a resource under "Reformed Piety and Practice" in the right hand pane.

[HT: David Strain]

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Kingdom of God and Social Programs

Did Jesus and the apostles establish a social program with the Kingdom of God in the book of Acts? See what R. Scott Clark has to say.

The Gospel of Judas


My friend James Grant has a great post over at his blog on the Gospel of Judas. He was able to get an interview with Daniel B. Wallace on the Gospel of Judas. Wallace is a professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and founder of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts. It's a great interview, so check it out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Transfiguration of Jesus and the New Sinai

This morning I was back at Grace OPC after being at Trinity OPC in Huntington, WV for the last three weeks. It was nice to get back to my overview of Mark, and what a great place to come to, Mark 9 and the transfiguration of Jesus! This text is quite rich with OT imagery and I admit that I didn't do a good job communicating what I saw and I went longer than planned (but what is new), but this is a very encouraging text despite my shortcomings. I looked at this text in conjunction with Exodus 24 and Malachi 4.

Here is a preview:
. . . As we pick back up with our overview of Mark, we find ourselves in chapter 9 observing Christ as he seeks to encourage the faith of his followers who deal with the uncertainties and hidden dangers of picking up their crosses to follow Christ in a world that rejects them, heaps abuse upon them, that seeks to cause them to stumble and tempts them to deny their Lord.

. . . And yet, as our text opens in verse 1, we are told that even that to which faith grasps--although it is unseen--it will not remain unseen. . . . In our text, there is an unveiling, an anticipated revelation that will end with the disclosure of the Christ's glory. And this unveiling will cut the knot of ambiguity surrounding this situation of God allowing his sovereignty to be questioned and rebelled against, of God's anointed emissary being treated with contempt, and of God's people being exposed to shame. Here we find the tension between what is concealed and what will be revealed resolved. Here we find the tension between the character of Jesus' humble earthly ministry and the coming revelation of the glory and power of the Christ at the consummation resolved in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. And the purpose of this revelation is to affirm in you, your faith in Jesus Christ, that you too will share in his exaltation.

. . . If Mark is describing Jesus as Yahweh who has come to meet his people in the wilderness to take them on a second exodus, as I have suggested from the beginning of this series, then what we find here is the new Sinai. As God spoke forth from the cloud on Mt. Sinai to give his words to Moses to give to the people that would be the words by which they were to live by in their exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, God once more speaks forth from the cloud on this new mountain--but now he speaks through one greater than Moses, he speaks the final word through his Son, who is the final interpreter and the embodiment of God's revelation that his people are to live by. It is in His words, that come to us through the apostles and New Testament writers that we find the true exodus that leads not just out of earthly bondage and slavery in Egypt, but out of physical and spiritual bondage and slavery to the penalty, power, and presence of the estate of sin and misery. But your liberty and salvation come at a price--the price of your master and Lord suffering many things, being treated with contempt, even death on cross.

. . . The transfiguration of Jesus Christ not only reveals Jesus' true identity as the unique, beloved Son of God, it also foreshadows our glorification in Him! Beloved, there certainly can be much fear with the uncertaintities of life--there can be much loathing as well. The pressures and the afflictions are real--the disappointments are many--the uncertainties abound. But the true identity of our Lord has been revealed and our life with him is forever settled inthe heavens by faith. Let us then persevere in joyful hope and faith! . . . And let us strive with all the might of heaven for the nobility and glory of Christ and His kingdom, which, though hidden for now, will be revealed for all to behold in awe.
You can listen to the entire sermon in mp3 format here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is All Worship Offered By Christian Churches Necessarily Christian?

When I was attending seminary at the Southern Seminary, Russ Moore asked my class a question like this in a systematic theology course, "Are we and all the other religions worshiping the same God as many like to suggest? If not, what is the difference?". Well, the difference is that the Christian church recognizes that God has revealed himself in his scripture as Trinitarian--that is that the one, living and true God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in substance and equal in power and glory (see Westminster Shorter Catechism Q. & A. 5 & 6). No other religion or cult acknowledges this reality. God's Trinitarian existence is unique to biblical Christianity.

God exists as a trinity, but he has also acted in creation and redemption as a Trinity. If Christian worship is of this God, then Christian worship must be self-consciously Trinitarian. In Jon Payne's recent book on worship, he notes that:
The revelation of God's three-in-onenesss in Scripture demands that our worship and liturgy reflect this mysterious reality. Indeed, our worship must always be directed to the Father, through the mediation of the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit, (34).
One implication for this is that worship offered by Christians is not necessarily Christian simply because self-professed Christians are offering it. If the worship being offered by Christians is focused on one person or two persons of the Trinity to the exclusion of others, then it is not Trinitarian worship, it is not Christian worship.

So, given the importance of expressly Trinitarian worship, how does the Church "protect, promote, and practice" Christian worship? This is one of the areas in which Reformed worship and liturgy is so helpful, since it focuses on being self-consciously Trinitarian. Payne suggests that one way to do so is by a carefully prepared liturgy that "takes the congregation by the hand and leads them to worship God in a manner that gives due attention to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," (35). It is the responsibility of the elders of the Church to shepherd the Church in biblical worship by structuring worship to be Trinitarian.

On pages 35-36, Payne sets forth six elements that support Trinitarian worship:
  1. The ststematic reading and preaching of God's Word
  2. The confession of sin and assurace of pardon
  3. The singing of Psalms and hymns
  4. The Confession of Faith
  5. The pastoral prayer
  6. The benediction
These six elements are by no means an exhaustive list--but they are very helpful for providing a basic starting point. Since
. . . the Christian conception of God and of all his activity toward us in creation and redemption is essentially Trinitarian, then the Trinitarian perspective must be allowed to pervade all Christian worship and practice, all interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, and all proclamation of the Gospel, and must be given a regulative role in the dynamic structure ofall Christian thought and action, (35).
So how are you and your Church doing?

Is it important to have Dads in the home?

The folks over at dads4kids.com have posted some very interesting and important facts on fatherless kids. What do you think?


[HT: Keith Watson]

Monday, August 17, 2009

Union with Christ and the Life of the Church

Yesterday I finished my last two sermons of the six sermon series on the doctrine of Union with Christ. Once I have them in shape, I am going to post all of them together. However, for now, here are the two that I did on the effects of union with Christ for the corporate body. Obviously I couldn't look at all the effects, but given the state of things in the church today, I chose the two that I thought were most important and needful.

The first is on worship. Worship is different now because of the person and work of Christ and the Church's union with him. Hebrews 12.18-29 provides a comparison and contrast of two corporate worship assemblies to illustrate the difference that results in worship because of Christ. Here is a preview:
Through the perfect mediatorial work of Christ and your union with him--your corporate worship becomes subsumed in that great worship service that is taking place in heaven. You don't wait for the heavenly presence of God to come down--you are brought up to that heavenly presence to join in the festal gathering of innumberable angels, to the assembly of Christ and those who are resurrected in him in heaven to serve and worship the triune God through the mediation of Christ. And all of this is now! This is not only future, for notice verse 22, "but you have come." Because of your union with Christ, your earthly worship, Trinity OPC's weekly Sabbath worship, takes place in heaven, because it is into heaven that you have come. Not physically, but spiritually, mystically and truly. . . .

. . . Worship is to be biblical, spiritual, joyful, grateful, redemption-effected, reverent, awe-inspiring, heavenly fragranced God-centered devotion that manifests who he is and who we now are in Christ.
You can read all of "Union with Christ and Heavenly Worship on Earth" here.

The second is on the communion of the saints. By nature of union with Christ, the Church comes to share in the fellowship enjoyed among the three persons of the Trinity, and does so, because of Christ's self-sacrificial love, which results in the Church now being built into the new temple of God where love dwells. The sacrificial love of Christ and the Church's new identity in Christ as the new temple are to shape how the saints love one another. Here is a preview:
Through his shed blood, Christ has reconciled us to God and to one another. It is, therefore, inappropriate not to love one another. It is inappropriate to require more of one another than God requires of us. It is inappropriate to view one another differently than God views us. God sees us as righteous in Christ, in whom there is no offense, but only righteousness and love. As Charles Spurgeon once said, "How dare I keep someone off my prayer list that is on Christ's." We all equally together stand before God in Christ. We will all equally dwell together with God in heaven. This, Trinity OPC, should shape your love towards one another: not love that is based on how others treat you, but love that flows from how God treats you in Christ. . . .

And this heavenly temple is what you are being built into by Christ Jesus. . . . And it is his infinite love that fills heaven and his heavenly temple. . . . The sun never sets there in heaven, for God Himself is the everlasting Sun, whose beams of love gently descnd upon all of His beloved people and shapes the very essence of heaven everlasting moment by everlasting moment. In heaven, all is love. . . .

God is perfecting us, not merely as individuals but as individual parts of the heavenly temple. That is the ultimate end of our salvation. That is why our text tells us that our love for one another is a demonstration of our being God's abiding place, God's temple community. . . . Let us believe that we are the dwelling place of the eternal God; and let us live, then, as His heavenly temple. Let us love one another in anticipation and reflection of that love of the eternal heavenly temple. . . .
In Christ we are to love as we have been loved in Christ, as we are loved in Christ, and as we will love in heaven in Christ.

You can read all of "Union with Christ and the Communion of the Saints" here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What Three Authors Have Influenced You Most

Camden Bucey is asking a great question over at Feeding on Christ. I want to alter it a little and simply ask "What three authors (non-inspired) have influenced you the most?" If you were stranded on an island, which three would you want with you?

Go to Camden's post to see my response.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting the Questions Right

To anyone who knows anything about the OPC, not only is the denomination small, but a majority of her congregations are small as well. This lack of size does create certain challenges. However, it also can lead to certain questions, all of which are not necessarily helpful or the right questions to be asking. In this new book on the church, Kevin DeYoung has some helpful thoughts and questions regarding the issue of church size (pp. 31-36).

DeYoung notes that often, when faced with the problem of a church that is not growing and maybe even shrinking, people will respond by asking "What are we doing wrong?," or "What is the Church not doing right?" Although he is directing his comments towards the "disgruntled-with-church-as-we-know-it" crowd or "Disgruntled Johnny," his insights are also applicable for all who fall into the trap of assuming that the lack of church growth is the tell all sign that there is something wrong with the church.

This is not to suggest that these questions are not the right ones to ask, but they certainly shouldn't be the first. There is no teaching in the Bible that promises, suggests or even hints at the idea that the size and growth of a church is the measure of success. As DeYoung states, "the church does not succeed or fail based on the flow of its membership roles." So, rather than jumping right to the assumption that something is wrong with the church and asking "What is the church doing wrong?," there are better questions that could be asked.
  • Are we getting in the way of the gospel?
  • Are we believing the gospel?
  • Are we relying on the power of the gospel?
  • Are we getting the gospel out?
  • Are we getting the gospel right?
  • Are we adorning the gospel with good works?
  • Are we praying for the work of the gospel?
  • Are we training up our children in the gospel?
  • Are we trusting in God's sovereignty in the gospel?
These questions can be very helpful and useful in assessing a church's ministry--however, I would also add to the end of each question "well." It is certainly a good thing to be doing these things, but it is also important to be doing them well. DeYoung hints at this in a brief discussion of the first question, "Are we getting in the way of the gospel?" He notes that despite the misuse and abuse of 1 Corinthians 9.22, we would do well to take Paul's words and example serious in seeking to be all things to all people. Because some churches are aware of the danger of measuring church success by numbers and becoming gospel "sell-outs," they go to the other extreme and see small size and rejection from people as a badge of honor. They complement themselves for being concerned with truth and not being controlled by the need for results.

But a conern for truth and the right desire not to be ruled by pragmatism does not provide an excuse for communicating poorly. The gospel is already a stumbling block, we do not need to add to that by making it unnecessarily hard for people to be welcomed into the church. We don't need to sound like we're channeling some sixteenth century theologian. We don't need to try to recreate the worship and ethos of eighteenth century New England Puritanism. But we also don't have to borrow from twenty-first century American culture either.

The bottom line is that God asks us to be good and faithful, not big and influential. We need to constantly be assessing ourselves by the scriptures, or as Reformed theology has emphasized, we need to be reformed according to the scriptures. We do not need to let small numbers cause us to question the church--in fact, we don't need to let numbers large or small do this. Regardless of the size of one's church, one needs to ask, "Are we being good and faithful?" I think DeYoung's questions above are quite helpful to that end. We need to get the questions right, before we can get the right answers.

A Bible I Hope Doesn't Sell?

This probably sounds odd coming from a ministerial intern--but I truly hope this "Bible" doesn't sell. In the world of bad and awful Evangelical publishing, and given the poor choices that have been made in marketing Bibles, this one truly takes the cake. Thomas Nelson Publishers has added to the long line of themed study Bibles with The American Patriot's Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America. This Bible, "intersects the teachings of the Bible with the history of the Unites States while applying it to today's culture. Beautiful full-color insert pages spotlight America's greatest thinkers, leaders, and events that present the rich heritage and future of our great nation." So this is a Bible that is designed to present the history of America? What about the Bible as the history of redemption?!!!

This "Bible" is so wrong for so many different reasons and on so many different levels. Thankfully, Richard Gamble, an American history professor at Hillsdale College and a ruling elder in my denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, has reviewed this new Bible over at The American Conservative. Gamble's review is very helpful and insightful from the Reformed perspective of the spirituality of the church, which teaches that Christians live with a tension as being dual citizens--a citizen of the Kingdom (City) of God, and a citizen of the city of man.

According to Gamble, American Evangelicalism does not accept this tension and rather attempts to reconcile Church and State. The American Patriot's Bible is a reflection of this attempt of reconciliation; Gamble writes,
The American Patriot’s Bible attempts with breathtaking audacity to synthesize Americanism and Christianity. Into the complete text of Scripture itself this new edition of the Bible inserts quotations from famous American statesmen, soldiers, preachers, and scientists testifying to their high regard for God and His Word. Not content to leave it at that, this Bible also draws parallels between the sacred narrative of Scripture and the American experience.
In another portion of the review, Gamble notes that the audacious undertaking of this "Bible" is paralleled only by its slick and aggressive marketing strategy. On a website that promotes this new "Bible,"there is a video that equates Adam and Eve with George and Martha Washington as first families, Moses and Abraham Lincoln as freedom fighters and, incredibly, Jesus and the disciples at the Last Supper with the delegates of the Continental Congress as founding fathers.

What is helpful, and interesting, is that Gamble notes that not only is this mixture of Bible and American history off base, but that the American history is selective to the point of being misleading, and the biblical studies are the result of an incorrect reading and use of scripture. But of all the many issues, the biggest problem with this "Nationalized Bible" is that it reverses the very point of the Bible and robs it of its very purpose, which is to tell the gospel of Jesus Christ:
A nationalized Bible would seem in effect to reverse the story of redemption. At the core of Christianity is a message that the gospel of salvation is flung wide open to all peoples regardless of nationality, race, or language. The day of Pentacost made that truth clear. While Christianity has inevitably taken on national accents as it has encountered culture after culture over the past 2,000 years, it is a universal faith. Why, then, take that transnational faith and fuse it with an earthly Caesar and empire by setting it side by side in pages of Holy Writ with a particular nation’s history and identity, as if Christianity belonged to Americans in a special and intimate way not true of other people? This Bible by its very existence distorts the gospel. As Augustine says in The City of God, the “heavenly city, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages…”
To summarize Gamble's review, I will include one more lengthy quote that highlights the unintended irony of this project:
Beyond what the editor and the publisher intended, The American Patriot’s Bible is deeply American. It takes to a new level the remaking of Scripture into a marketable consumer good, a trend underway in the United States since at least the invention of the modern steam press in the early 19th century. (See R. Lawrence Moore’s Selling God.) It also exemplifies the irony of American Protestants, who adhere to the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and life yet find the unadorned text of that Word not so sufficient after all. And finally, it provides further evidence of how theologically ill-equipped one dominant strand of American Christianity has been over the past few hundred years to know how to sojourn in America, how to conceive of the United States as part of the City of Man and of the church as a stranger in a strange land.
Look, I have a deep appreciation for American history and the privilege it is to have grown up here. I have many family members who have fought for this country's freedom militarily. I also love the Bible. However, to combine these two, this way, with such crass marketing only serves to change what they are and to cheapen both of them.

Read the entire review here.

[HT: Old Life]

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Narcissism on the Rise?


Check out this interview that the guys over at the White Horse Inn have done with Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, and coauthor of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. You can learn more about study done by Jean Twenge at San Diego State University.

This is an important topic to discuss, because not only is it on the rise in the general public, but it is becoming a challenging reality within the church--especially with pastors.

Union with Christ and Walking in the Newness of Life

Sermon from yesterday on Romans 6.1-14. Listen to it here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Great Price!!


Looking for a great Reformed systematic theology for yourself, a loved one, your pastor or your church's library? Then you must jump on this deal. Over at Christian Book Distributors, they are selling Louis Berhof's Systematic Theology for only $12.99 for a limited time.

This book is a standard in discussing the doctrines of the Reformed faith concerning topics like, the doctrine of God, doctrine of man, doctrine of Christ, doctrine of salvation, doctrine of the church and doctrine of ultimate things. "Systematic Theology not only stands as Berkhof's magnum opus, but also is widely considered to be the most important twentieth-century compendium of Reformed theology."

[HT: Reformed Reader]

Tired of Both Parties?

Over at the Front Porch, Michael Federici has written a post excoriating both political parties for their "large-scale government solutions to political, economic, and social problems." Federici writes,
The two political parties were largely indistinguishable in their respective responses to the recession. While Republicans promote the war state, Democrats advance the welfare state. In either case, big government and politics are the solution.
Federici makes the observation that with there not being any real difference between the parties, that there is going to be a new type of voter that will be equally frustrated by both parties. More and more voters will find that neither party is representing their idea of the good life nor the means by which to achieve it.
What may become more common is the voter who is disenchanted with both Bush and Obama, annoyed by both Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann, and in search of a new brand of politics.
There is a need to get away from the politics of transformationism, or what Federici calls "metastatic faith," which is the "belief in the transformative power of political action that changes human nature and the very limits of politics." The idealogues of both parties are exhauting and frustrating us. We cannot keep up this type of politics that drives and consummes the nation's energy. Government is not the answer, it cannot "create the ethos that makes liberty possible but it can help protect and preserve it."

Before we burn ourselves and our Republic out, a more modest approach is needed. We need a more realistic understanding and agenda for what can be accomplished in political life, while maintaining a positive, realistic outlook for the Republic. We need to develop a "disposition of mind and imagination that prepares individuals for the work of recovery and reconstitution as necessary and never-ending parts of civilized life." This modest approach cannot be achieved through government, but can be cultivated in the mediating institutions of society--for example, families and community groups. It starts locally--it starts on your front porch.

Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Theology of the Land of Israel in the New Covenant

Nick Batzig over at Feeding on Christ has a great little post about the theology of the Land of Israel in the New Covenant. Nick states,
Contrary to the Old Covenant precept not to sell the land inheritance, these converted Jews (as is clear from the reference to Barnabas being a Levite) sell their land since the inheritance has come in Christ. It is also interesting to note that the Levites were prefiguring this in the Old Covenant. They received no land from the LORD because the LORD would be their inheritance. In Christ this is true for every believer in the New Covenant.
Check out the entire post here.

Gospel Submission and Wives

My friend Keith Watson has stirred up quite a bit of action on his Facebook page with this status:
Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Let me know your thoughts - ladies!
Well, I thought this is a good question. And in light of some of the responses he is receiving, I thought I might weigh in by publishing a sermon I wrote on this text and topic a couple of years ago.

Here is a snippet:
The new creation submission for wives, then, flows out of their union with Christ, who as their mediator submitted himself perfectly to the Father's will and accomplished the redemption of his people and their marriage to Christ--the very redemption that empowers marriage and that marriage is to reflect. The submission that wives are to give to their husbands flows out of Christ's very own submission to the Father.
You can read the entire sermon here. Sorry, no audio.

As Keith asked, so do I. Let me know your thoughts, ladies!


Evangelical Eloquence - Introduction to Sacred Rhetoric

How important is gospel communication? The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1.17-19 states,
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Many use this statement by Paul to suggest that it is wrong to teach and learn communication skills in order to communicate the gospel--they suggest that that is falling prey to using eloquence that robs the cross of its power and wisdom from the world that will be destroyed.

In the Introduction to his classic work on sacred rhetoric, R.L. Dabney confronts this notion by suggesting a difference between art and artifice. He suggests that "Art is but the rational adjustment of means to an end. . . . it employs proper menas for a worthy end; it is but wisdom in application, (15). For Dabney, describing preaching as the "art" of speech communication of the gospel is not the same as saying that preaching is to utilize lofty speech or sophistry, for that is "artifice," not "art." "Artifice is fasle; it adopts deceitful means for a treacherous end," like "when the cunning seducer prepares a seeming attraction which is not indeed real, to inveigle his prey into the snare, this is artifice, (15). But not only does "artifice" include using tricky tactics to get people to agree with the speaker, it also includes the pathos of the fine arts, "in which the end of the skill employed is only to gratify the taste, and not to evoke practical volition, (15).

For Dabney, then, referring to preaching as an art, is not to suggest that preachers should use tricks, fanciful language and or sophisticated arguments to simply get people to agree with them or to create an experience that merely flatters one's taste; for when he does so, he violates his responsibility to his office and contradicts the very notion of preaching itself. Rather, because the preacher has been called by God to communicate the truth of the gospel with oral communication, then, the preacher should utilize means that help him accomplish his duty:
But I assert none the less that, since this duty is to convey gospel truth effectively to other souls, and since there are adapted means by which this end may be the better accomplished, there is a true art of preaching, which is not only lawful and hones, but sacredly obligatory.
Dabney's point here is that the preaching of the gospel is itself a means that God uses for the nourishment of faith in his covenant people and for creating faith in the lost, and as such, it is imperative for the preacher to use the proper means of communication. As Dabney points out, the preacher does not have the choice between using a means and not using one, but rather, the real choice is between "art wise and art foolish, art skillful and art clumsy," (17).

Sacred rhetoric helps the unclear to become clear. And this is quite important, since "the state of the pulpit may always be taken as an index of that of the Church. Whenever the pulpit is evangelical, the piety of the people is in some degree healthy; a pervision of the pulpit is surely followed by spiritual apostasy in the Church," (27).

So in light of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1.17-19, how should the preacher utilize effective means (art) for communicating the gospel without utilizing eloquent wisdom that empties the cross of its power? Dabney suggests that in the history of gospel preaching, there have been three stages that serve to help illustrate the proper and improper rhetorical art, and these stages help provide the preacher a guide.

The first stage is the proper stage for gospel preaching. In it, "scriptural truth is faithfully presented in scriptural garb . . . they are presented in that dress and connection in which the Holy spirit has presented them, without seeking any other from human science." By this Dabney draws our attention to the reality that the scripture itself comes with its own means of presentation. The Bible is not a random collections of words--but the Spirit has communicated God's revelation with a form. We must study the Bible, not only for its content, but also for the form in which that content has been communicated. Faithful preaching and sacred rhetoric that is in keeping with Paul's instructions utilizes the means of communication found in the Bible for communicating the message of the Bible. (I will have more to say about this stage later, so check back!)

However, there are two other stages, both of which the preacher should avoid. The second stage is a hybrid of the first and third stages. In it the doctrines of the Bible are taught using the methods developed by human wisdom "moulded into conformity with the prevalent human dialectics." This kind of preaching attempts to maintain the correct teaching of the Bible, but rather than using the rhetoric of the Bible, it utilizes the popular communication styles of the culture. Let me provide an example. Many today believe that preaching itself has become outmoded because we live in a culture that is image oriented. Mere spoken words do not communicate to today's culture, so we need to find other creative, image-based means to communicate the gospel. In essence, this method, although well-intentioned, falls into the trap that Paul says we are to avoid. The preaching of the gospel is foolishness to those who are not meant to receive it. We are not called to smooth out the foolishness by utilizing means that are culturally driven instead of the means found in the Bible itself. According to Dabney, this is important, for when one tries to teach the truth using culturally based communication styles, the result is that the truth will ultimately be lost, which leads to the third stage.

The third stage is to be avoided at all costs, for the third stage is when not only are "the methods and explanations conformed to the philosophy of the day, but the doctrines themselves contradict the truth of the Word," (28). The point: one cannot separate the message from the media. If one attempts to utilize the media of the culture, the message will soon begin to correspond to the message of the culture, as well.

In this Introduction, Dabney helps the preacher and the person in the pew have a better understanding of the importance of communicating the gospel well and the proper place to ascertain the form of that communication--the Bible. The preacher, no matter how gifted he may be, must study and learn the art of sacred rhetoric, for the sake of being faithful to his own call and for the sake of those listening to him. There is an art to sacred rhetoric that does not empty the cross of its power and is not based in the culture of the world that is passing away. In the words of Dabney:
Let us, my bretheren, eschew the ill-starred ambition which seeks to make the body of God's truth a "lay figure" on which to parade the drapery of human philsopophy. May we ever be content to exhibit Bible doctrine in its own Bible dress!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Much Needed Comic Relief


O.k., this is just plain funny.






[HT: Christy Donovan]

Monergism Launches New Site

For all you users of Monergism.com, they have launched "Phase 1" of their new website. Of particular interest is their new "Directory of Theology."

Check it out!

Also, for you readers, Monergism.com has also put together a website that provides book reviews, "ReformedBooks.net reviews books and ranks the top 3-5 Reformed books in each category."

Looking for a good read, check them out.

Update:

Monergism.com has also provided a new page that explains the redesign of the site. The page includes a description of what is new and different with Phase 1, and the additional plans they have, which will be launched with Phase 2.