Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sacramental Presence and Never-Failing Enjoyment of God

Commenting on Hosea, Geerhardus Vos writes:
Jehovah strengthened Israel’s arms and taught her to walk [7.15]; although the Giver of all nature-blessings, of corn, wine, oil, silver, gold, wool, flax, Jehovah is distinguished from the Baals, in that He has something more and finer to given than these:  loving-kindness, mercy and faithfulness [2.19]; in reality He gives, in and through all these things, Himself after a sacramental fashion [2.23]; He is personally present in all His favours, and in them surrenders Himself to His people for never-failing enjoyment.  Biblical Theology, Old And New Testaments, 261. 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reformed Theology's Tradition of Natural Law

For those who know me, you know that I believe very strongly in the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, or its popular title today Two Kingdoms theology.  To many, though, the title of this post, and me holding to the 2K doctrine as a Reformed pastor is an inherent contradiction.  For many, the Neo-Calvinist position of transformationism as taught by Abraham Kuyper (and others) is considered the Reformed view on the relationship between the Church and State.  In fact, many are saying that the 2K position is a historical novelty in Reformed circles.

However, David VanDrunen, in his recent book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought, provides historical documentation to show that not only is the 2K position not a historic novelty, but that the Neo-Calvinist position is actually the novel position.  This book is very important in the ongoing dialogue within the Reformed camp on these issues and is a must read.

O.k., so I know you're probably thinking, "I don't have time to read another book right now, especially one on the historical development of Reformed social thought!"  I get it.  But, if you don't have time to read the book, you can still be informed on the material.  A few nights ago, VanDrunen delivered a lecture on the book for the Academy Lecture series held at Christ Reformed Church.  You can listen to the lecture here.

Harmony of Events of "Holy Week"

For many Christians throughout the world, this week represents the "Holy" week on the church calender, since it is the week that covers the last week of Christ's earthly life.  It covers the events from Palm Sunday (the day Christ entered Jerusalem and was received by persons waving palm branches) to Easter Sunday (the day Christ rose from the dead).  I am not one who practices the "church calender" but I think during this time of year it is helpful to think about these events in Christ's life and ministry, for they present to us the climax of his ministry.

But what about the other events besides the ones that get the attention?  Though many are aware of the big events of the week, such as Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), the institution of the Lord's Supper (Maundy Thursday), his crucifixion (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter), there were other things that happened.  So if you would like to read about those other events (all of which are important), then you can use this helpful guide based on a chart found in the ESV Study Bible.  (If you don't have one of these Bibles yet, then you really should consider getting one--it is chock full of great information and helpful charts like this one.  Also, when you buy it, you get access to all that information online).

   Day                        Event                                                  Matthew         Mark           Luke          John    
Sunday           Entry into Jerusalem                                  21:1-11           11:1-10        19:28-44     12:12-18
                         Greeks seek Jesus                                                                                                     12:20-36
                         Jesus weeps for Jerusalem                                                                  19:41
                         Jesus enters temple                                                          11:11
                         Jesus returns to Bethany                         21:17              11:11  

Monday          Jesus curses the fig tree                           21:18-19         11:12-14     
                         Jesus clears the temple                             21:12-13         11:15-17      19:45-46
                         Returns to Bethany with Disciples                                 11:19

Tuesday         Disciples see withered fig tree                 21:20-22         11:20-21
                         Temple controversies in Jerusalem         21:23-23:39    11:27-12:24   20:1-21:4
                         Olivet Discourse on return to Bethany  24:1-25:46      13:1-37          21:5-36

Wednesday    Jesus teaches in temple                                                                          21:37-38
                          Sanhedrin plots to kill Jesus                    26:3-5           14:1-2              22:1-2

Wed/Thurs     Preparations for Passover                       26:17-19        14:12-16           22:7-13

Thursday        Passover meal/Lord's Supper                  26:20-35        14:17-26          22:14-30
                         Upper Room Discourse                                                                                            13:1-17:26
                         Jesus prays in Gethsemane                      26:36-46        14:32-42         22:39-46

Friday              Betrayal and arrest (after midnight?)    26:47-56        14:43-52         22:47-53    18:2-12
                         Jewish Trial:
                         -- before Annas                                                                                                          18:13-24
                         -- Caiaphas and part of Sanhedrin          26:57-75         14:53-72        22:54-65     18:19-24
                         -- before full Sanhedrin                             27:1-2              15:1              22:66-71
                         Roman Trials:
                         -- before Pilate                                            27:2-14            15:2-5          23:1-5
                         -- before Herod                                                                                       23:6-12
                         -- before Pilate                                            27:15-26          15:6-15        23:13-25     18:28-19:16
                         Crucifixion (approx 9am to 3pm)           27:27-54          15:16-39      23:26-49     19:16-37
                         Burial (evening)                                        27:57-61           15:42-47      23:50-54     19:38-42                  
Sunday           Empty tomb witnesses                             28:1-8               16:1-8          24:1-12
                         Resurrection appearances                       28:9-20                                 24:13-53     20:1-21:25

Monday, March 29, 2010

Teaching Children Biblical Theology

This past weekend, my family stayed with some of our closest friends and the topic of training our covenant children in scripture came up.  They, like us, were raised Baptist and were taught the Bible as a loosely held together collection of stories that provided moral lessons.  And unfortunately, this scenario still takes place today.  When the Bible is taught as a loose collection of stories, children don't learn the big picture of what God is doing with history and in history to provide salvation for his people, of which covenant children are a part.  They are hindered in understanding their place in the covenant and understanding the rich promises they have inherited.

Secondly, it leads children to miss God and his redemptive acts and instead focus on the people in the accounts--their character (or lack thereof) and their behavior.  Most often in children's books,Sunday-school lessons and other teaching materials, the Bible is taught from the perspective of "Be like David," or "Don't be like Saul," or "Do things like Mary; don't do things like Martha."  This approach to the Bible inevitably leads to a moralistic and legalistic understanding of the Christian life.  It is important to remember that although the Bible does teach ethics and does give commands that are to be obeyed--these things are contingent upon the redemptive work of God in Christ.  The biblical order is Christ's work on behalf of the church, and then the church's response because of that work.

For Reformed parents, then, as we seek to train up our children in the scripture, we should keep the covenantal continuity of the Bible in mind in order to rightly utilize the biblical pattern of understanding God's redemptive acts in Christ and then how to live by faith in response to those acts.  So we need to teach the Bible; we need to teach the stories of the Bible,; we need to teach about the people in the Bible; but we need to include in this how the stories teach God's redemptive acts in Christ, how those stories fit together to show the over arching plan of God in Christ and then how to properly respond by faith in Christ.

To this end, I want to provide some helpful resources for teaching the Bible from this perspective to children.

For smaller children:

First,Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Story Book Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name.  To see the front and back covers and two sample stories, click here.  There is a deluxe edition that also includes the stories narrated in audio on CD.  You can listen to samples here.  There is also a sample video that can be seen here.

Next, there is Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book by Starr Meade.  You can see the "Table of Contents," "Note for Parents from the Author," and two sample stories here.

A third option is The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm.  You can see the "Table of Contents" here, as well as several sample chapters.

For older children:

The gold standard for older children is Catherine Vos's, The Child's Story Bible.  Catherine Vos was the wife of the father of Reformed biblical theology, Geerhardus Vos.  This story Bible is rich and is even a great resource for the parents to read for themselves.

Another good one for older children is Starr Meade's, Grandpa's Box. This book takes the unique angle of communicating the history of redemption through devotional stories told by a grandfather to his grandchildren.

I hope these suggestions help you in teaching children the Bible the way God communicated it and meant for it to be understood!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Introducing "Life in Christ," Another Pilgrim Blog

My good friend Mark Garcia has finally started to blog! Mark is the minister at Immanuel OPC in Moon Township, PA. Mark is a gifted exegete, biblcial-theologian, communicator and minister of the gospel. His blog, Life in Christ, is dedicated to the "sights and sounds of a pilgrim life." The title of the blog illustrates Mark's perspective of the Christian life as a life lived out in union with Christ, so that the gospel not only "saves" a sinner, but also shapes and directs the ongoing life of the saint. This robust understanding and commitment to the necessity and sufficiency of the gospel is illustrated in a recent post:
The reach of the Fall is wide and painfully deep, and the face of Sin is not one to be smirked at, made light of, dismissed. Appearances notwithstanding, hungry evil does not nibble; it devours and savors every bloody morsel of its conquest. The Gospel, then, must reach as far as that. If the “good news” is a mere peddling of superficial goods – a better name, better sleep, better wife and kids, better anything – then that is good news only to those untouched by horror. If it is not good news to those caught in the jagged teeth of Evil’s extremities, then it is not good news. Yet here is something of the glory of the true Gospel. Only at the extremities of evil do we begin, and yet only begin, to peer into the depths of the love of the One who “descended into Hell.” At the edge of that abyss, that which at first makes us recoil ultimately offers the only true rest from an often nightmarish existence.
No matter the extremity and extent of the evil that is present in this fallen generation, there is no evil and, therefore, no sinner that is beyond the reach of the Christ of the biblical gospel. Mark is only getting started so check out his other posts at "Life in Christ." You can also hear some of Mark's sermons here (especially the series on Deuteronomy!).

There's No Place Like . . . Libraries!

I love books; I love to read books; but I especially like to read books in places that manifest the pleasure of reading. The blog "Curious Expeditions" has put together an impressive collection of libraries from throughout the world. Below are a couple of samples.

The picture above is Queens College Library in Oxford.

This picture is of the Library of the Benedictine Monastery of Amont, Austria.

There are many more so check them out!

What is the Gospel?

What is the Gospel? This is the title of a new book that seeks to answer that question. In the "Introduction," Gilbert notes that this writing project arose out of the growing confusion about the gospel and the lack of a unified answer. On pages 18-20, he provides a sample of different answers to illustrate the problem. So, in light of this new book and the time of year, I thought I might provide my answer to the question, "What is the gospel?".
The gospel is the glorious good news that God has done everything necessary for sinful human beings to enjoy eternal fellowship with their holy creator. God created to have fellowship with humans. That communion was conditioned upon perfect, personal and perpetual obedience to God’s law, which would have been won through the obedience of Adam, the covenant representative of humanity. But humanity fell into an estate of sin and misery when their representative Adam, and they in him, rejected God’s law. By this rebellion, sinners inherited the curse of everlasting death instead of the blessing of eternal fellowship with God. But in his great mercy, God did not abandon his plan to have fellowship with humans and leave sinners to perish under the curse of death, so he sent a second representative to achieve for sinners what was lost in Adam, and what they could not achieve for themselves.
Jesus Christ, who was God, entered history, lived a life of perfect righteousness in perfect obedience to God’s law. He rendered unto God what Adam and all of humanity failed to do and by his obedience he merited the blessing of eternal fellowship with God. But not only did he complete the righteous requirement for fellowship, he also satisfied God’s just demands by taking upon himself the penalty owed by sinners because of their rebellion. Although perfectly righteous and just, Jesus took the curse of sin upon himself on the cross, where the just died in the place of unjust sinners. But Jesus did not remain dead in the grave, for he was raised three days later. As the righteous one who took sin upon himself, sin could not keep him down. He rose from the dead as a declaration of his righteousness and as a testimony that the Father received his sacrifice, and as the first born of the dead, he was the first to enter into the promised blessing of eternal fellowship with God in a new creation.
Jesus Christ obeyed where sinners could not obey, and he paid the penalty for sin that sinners owe. By his righteous life, sacrifice on the cross, and glorious resurrection from the grave unto life in the new creation, sinners can be forgiven of their rebellion, be accepted by God as having perfectly obeyed his law and enter in to eternal fellowship with God in the new creation. What is true of Christ becomes true of the sinner, but only when the sinner receives and rests upon Christ alone by the sole instrument of faith. By faith alone, a sinner can be declared just by God, forgiven of sins, adopted into his family, renewed in the image of God, share in his heavenly glory, and empowered to persevere in this new pilgrimage of faith, until faith gives way to sight upon entrance into the fullness of an eternity of perfect love and communion with the triune God and the church that never ends.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Reform and Fear

My friend Russ Moore has provided some good thoughts on how to respond and not to respond to the recent development in health care reform, "Don't Be Afraid."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Schreiner on Preaching and Biblical Theology

Tom Schreiner was one of my New Testament professors when I attended Southern Seminary. One of the things I really enjoyed about his approach to the New Testament was that he purposely sought to read it using a redemptive-historical hermeneutic. While at Southern, I was wrestling with the biblical theology of Geerhardus Vos and Meredith Kline on my own, and although Schreiner's biblical theology and hermeneutic was not exactly the same as theirs (it seemed to lack the eschatological dimension), it was helpful to hear and learn his approach as a means to helping me better understand my private reading in Vos and Kline.

In the article "Preaching and Biblical Theology" in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (the theological journal of Southern Seminary), Schreiner provides a helpful perspective for why biblical theology is so necessary and foundational for preaching the Bible:
If we do not preach the OT in terms of the whole canon, we will either restrict ourselves to moral lessons from the OT, or, what is just as likely, is that we will rarely preach from the OT. . . . if we do not preach the OT canonically, in light of biblical theology, it will too often be passed over in Christian preaching. And in doing so, we not only rob ourselves of wonderful treasures from the word of God, and but we also fail to see the depth and multifaceted character of biblical revelation. We put ourselves in a position where we do not read the OT as Jesus and the apostles did, and hence we do not see that the God’s promises are yes and amen in Jesus Christ.

Reading the OT canonically does not mean that the OT is not read in its historical cultural context. The first task of every interpreter is to read the OT in its own right, discerning the meaning of the biblical author when it was written. Further, as we argued above, each OT book must be read in light of its antecedent theology, so that the storyline of scripture is grasped. But we also must read all of scripture canonically, so that the OT is read in light of the whole story—the fulfillment that has come in Jesus Christ. We always consider the perspective of the whole, of the divine author in doing biblical theology and in the preaching of God’s word. We read the scriptures both from front to back and back to front. We always consider the developing story as well as the end of the story.

Our task as preachers is to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We will not fulfill our calling if as preachers we fail to do biblical theology. We may get many compliments from our people for our moral lessons and our illustrations, but we are not faithfully serving our congregations if they do not understand how the whole of scripture points to Christ, and if they do not gain a better understanding from us of the storyline of the Bible. (1o/2: Summer 2006, 97-98).
You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"From Servants to Children of God"

As I have been reading through the correspondence of Stonewall Jackson to his wife, I have been struck time and again by his fine redemptive-historical insights and and perspective on the Christian life. In a letter dated August 15, 1859, Jackson relays to Mary Anna the insights he gleaned from a sermon preached by the famed Southern Presbyterian minister, James Henley Thornwell:
. . . he took his text from Genesis, seventeenth chapter, seventh verse, which he presented in a bold, profound, and to me original manner. I felt what a privilege it was to listen to such an exposition of God's truth. He showed that in Adam's fall we had been raised from the position of servants to that of children of God. . . . He represented man as a redeemed being at the day of judgment, standing nearest to the throne, the angels being farther removed. And why? Because his Brother is sitting upon the throne he is a nearer relation to Christ than the angels. And his being the righteousness of God himself. I don't recollect having ever before felt such love to God. I was rather surprised at seeing so much grace and gesture in Dr. Thornwell. I hope and pray that much good will result from this great exposition of Bible truth.
The reason this is so striking to me is because of the current trend among some who purport to be the heirs to Southern Presbyterianism to discount so harshly redemptive-historical preaching. And yet, here is Jackson reporting on a sermon preached by a Southern Presbyterian that is redemptive-historical to the core! An exposition of the OT that finds its fulfillment in the life of Christ and then points believers to find their life hidden in that Christ in the heavenly places.

What a glorious reality is the gospel! Those who are naturally in Adam servants and cut off from the family of God, are because of the faithful son raised up and given a place in the Father's house--a place at his right hand, where Christ, his surety is enthroned forever.

Jackson's response is quite appropriate, then, not because he went out and did some specific task, or determined to correct some moral problem as some today advocate, but rather, his response was one of love.

"Trust Our Kind Heavenly Father"

In the spring of 1859, Mary Anna Jackson became very ill and her husband, Stonewall Jackson, determined to send her to New York in order to get her the best medical care. While she was there, Jackson returned to Lexington, VA and wrote her often. In a letter dated May 7, 1859, he sought to encourage her faith in the midst of her medical trial:
You must not be discouraged at the slowness of recovery. Look up to Him who giveth liberally for faith to be resigned to His divine will, and trust Him for that measure of health which will most glorify Him and advance to the greatest extent your own real happiness. We are sometimes suffered to be in a state of perplexity, that our faith may be tried and grow stronger. 'All things work together for good' to God's children. See if you cannot spend a short time after dark in looking out of your window into space, and meditating upon heaven, with all its joys unspeakable and full of glory; and think of what the Saviour relinquished in glory when he came to earth, and of his sufferings for us; and seek to realize with the apostle, that the afflictions of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Try to look p and be cheerful, and not desponding. Trust our kind Heavenly Father, and by the eye of faith see that all things with you are right and for your best interest. The clouds come, pass over us, and are followed by bright sunshine; so, in God's moral dealings with us, he permits us to have trouble awhile. But let us, even in the most trying dispensations of His providence, be cheered by the brightness which is a little ahead. Try to live near to Jesus, and secure that peace which flows like a river. You have your husband's prayers, sympathy, and love. . . . I trust that our Heavenly Father is restoring my darling to health, and that when she gets home, she will again be its sunshine.
It is interesting to see how Jackson calls his wife to understand her sufferings in conjunction to the sufferings of Christ and to look to heaven with the eyes of faith for encouragement. Humiliation leading to exaltation . . . the gospel being the ground of our hope in times of trial . . . finding one's earthly life shaped by the heavenly life to come . . . Jackson would have made a fine redemptive-historical preacher!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

What is the Sabbath and why do we have it?

Tomorrow is the Christian Sabbath, and as I think about it and prepare myself for it, I am reminded of a great quote by Geerhardus Vos:
Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed…The Sabbath brings this principle of the eschatological structure of history to bear upon the mind of man after a symbolical and a typical fashion. It teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from, redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric, (Biblical Theology, p. 140).
The structure of the Christian week begins with the Sabbath, because the work needed for entering into the Sabbath has been completed by Christ. Now, as a result, the church gathers on the first day of the week for worship, fellowship and rest so that we are reminded that this life is lived out of the rest accomplished for us. But it also structures our lives so that we see that in our living out of our rest--it is headed somewhere.

Tomorrow we have the privilege of a grand foretaste of what is already ours in Christ and what has been at the heart of God's creative and recreative activities. The Sabbath, and that heavenly fellowship to which it points, are not after thoughts in God's mind and intentions. Before God created and redeemed, he existed as the Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in which he was self-existent and enjoyed the fullness of his own fellowship. He created, though, and created in order to bring his church into that fellowship. That is why he created and that is what tomorrow points to and anticipates. It is not something that God decided to do only after man fell into sin--tomorrow is a foretaste of God's original intentions.

Heaven and eternal fellowship between the triune God and the church is, therefore, what should structure our enjoyment of the day for what it is. Tomorrow is a day of worship, fellowship, and rest that restructures our lives in this world to be lived in light of the world to come, in which, the enjoyment of that world intrudes into our lives here and now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

"You stole my Jesus fish, didn't you?"

An important event in Church History. C'mon people, let me hear your thoughts!

[HT: The Sacred Sandwich]

The Chuck Norris Bible

Nowadays, churches have a wide selection of Bibles from which to choose to provide in their pews. Well, this one is just plain awesomeness:

Just in case it is not obvious--this is a joke.

[HT: The Sacred Sandwich]