Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Science Becomes Science Fiction

Doug Wilson wrote an essay responding to this article. Here's a portion of the Guardian's article on the potential for alien invasion that caught my eye:

"Green" aliens might object to the environmental damage humans have caused on Earth and wipe us out to save the planet. "These scenarios give us reason to limit our growth and reduce our impact on global ecosystems. It would be particularly important for us to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases, since atmospheric composition can be observed from other planets," the authors write. [Emphasis Mine]
Leaving aside all the other issues of the silliness of this paper and the fact that someone actually thinks aliens might be "green", we should note that because light travels at a certain speed, even if the aliens were to look at it today from their planet, they'd only see what the atmospheric composition was like decades and, more likely, centuries ago. So we can all breath a sign of relief, if man-caused global warming is true, and if aliens take notice from their planet--it will be centuries before they may see anything that concerns them. By that time, we might not have any air left to breadth or we'll be advanced enough to erect planetary shields and to shoot them down with our phasers.

Gundry on Barth and Van Til

This is worth signaling out and repeating here. While reviewing a book by Christian Smith on inerrancy, Robert Gundry makes this remark about Barth and Van Til:
"For in Basel during the fall of 1960 I regularly climbed out of the basement of biblical studies to attend the theological seminars held by Barth upstairs, only to hear him repeatedly engage in subjective judgments on what in the Bible carries authority and what therein does not. Dismissively, for example: "Oh, that's just a bit of Jewish apocalyptic that crept into Scripture." As I wrote shortly afterward to an acquaintance, "For all Barth's likeableness I must think that [Cornelius] Van Til's harsh judgment on his theology is more grundlich and closer to the truth than the sympathetic attitude which has appeared even in some American evangelical circles …. So far as I can see, Barth is the sole judge of what in the Bible is authoritative for him." Others disagree, I know; but that was my take."
I realize the effectiveness and accuracy of Van Til's response to Barth is a matter of debate. It is probably more favorable in some evangelical circles to side with Barth and reject Van Til's criticism. Of course, on the other hand siding with Van Til is not to say Barth is totally useless. He is still a towering intellect and it is tough to under estimate his impact on 21st century theology.

However, it is interesting to see this recollection of Barth's use of Scripture.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Blasphemy of the Spirit

C.E.B Cranfield:

"It is a matter of great importance pastorally that we can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he has committed this sin, that the fact that he is so troubled is itself a sure proof that he has not committed it." (Qtd. Wilkins, Matthew: The New NIV Application Commentary, 449).

Donald Hagner:
"[A]ny person who is genuinely worried about having committed the unforgivable sin against God, by virtue of this concern, can hardly be guilty of such blasphemy or denial." Matthew, vol 1, p.348. 

Beware of the Obsessed

Here is a good post from a pastor about obsessions in the church. He concludes:

Obsessed people inevitably put their obsessions ahead of the church’s health and end up hurting believers and the church. If you don’t share their obsession it is a clear clue to them that something is wrong with you. They are crusaders and consider those who don’t share their obsession to be cowards or traitors. I’ve highlighted two older strands, but there are way more out there. Beware the obsessed!

Yesterday, Doug Wilson's twitter linked to a similarly themed post about entitled "On Women, Divisiveness and Hobby Horses."It is applicable for more then just the kinds of Hobby Horses listed that ladies can become divided on. Here's an excerpt:

But here is the real big issue: Christians are not allowed to have hot button issues which they use to stir up trouble. Sure, you may care about things. Yes, you should have reasons for why you are doing what you are doing.

But have you gotten so involved in an “issue” that you cannot fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters who think it is silly? Are you so caught up in teaching your kids phonics while they are in the womb that you need smelling salts when someone laughs about it? Does it stress you out to see a “christian” mother feeding her children easy cheese? Do you long to pelt her house with copies of Nourishing Traditions with important parts highlighted? Are you the wrath of God as pertains to birthing methods, educational systems, and nutrition? 
Now here is the thing. Principles are the things that God lays out for us. Love your children. Serve the Lord. Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Children are a blessing. Be fruitful. Methods are the tools we use to try to accomplish these things.

All this reminds me of the more basic instruction we have from Paul:
1 Timothy 1:3-4-- 3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not hto teach any different doctrine, 4 nor ito devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  
Titus 3-- 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for rthey are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, safter warning him once and then twice, thave nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
We are not to come to the church and insist on our obsessions--whether they are genealogies, quarrels about the law (e.g. the OT law), the latest fad of teaching or method, the latest how-to for being a mom or a better church. These are all baggage that we bring in and should not be tolerated for divisions. This means even that there can be some really good advice out there on how to teach a child to read, how to homeschool, how to change your oil, how to save money as a faithful Christian, etc. etc. But it is only that: good advice. It cannot become our obsession or our main devotion. Even it it isn't our main or only devotion, it can rise to high in our priorities that it crowds out the most important things, or it creates division. "I can't believe you as a Christian still do X [where X is some non-moral, non-sin issue]" or "I can't believe you aren't doing Y [where Y is some optional issue that may be a good principle but is not mandated by Scripture]."

Then too, preachers and the church can and must only bind the believers conscience when and where Scripture clearly binds the conscience--either by direct statement [Scripture says "do not do..."] or where Scripture clearly binds by good, necessary and unavoidable consequences [e.g. Scripture might not say "do not engage in eugenics" but as practiced it clearly violates other Biblical commands (murder, etc.)].

For Paul what is the "trustworthy statement" which we are to insist on? Why do we insist on it? For none other than the accomplishment of good works. Here is the anchor:
Titus 3:3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
It centers on the gospel. Lets hope we do the same.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Romans 7:8 Illustrated

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 

(HT: Z)


This picture was supposed to be funny because my second youngest daughter who is three was acting like she could read the paper with me. She always gets a serious reading face on. Instead, my youngest, who loves to ham it up for the camera, jumped into the shot.

We were photobombed by an 18 month old.

Friday, August 19, 2011

John Knox on Predestination

The doctrine of predestination is an important doctrine not as a matter of erudite speculation and empty ponder but as a matter that is deeply comforting to the soul.

Consider John Knox's words:
"The doctrine of God's eternal predestination is so necessary to the church of God, that, without the same, can faith neither be truly taught, neither surely established; man can never be brought to true humility and knowledge of himself; neither yet can he be ravished in admiration of God's eternal goodness, and so moved to praise Him. And therefore we fear not to affirm, that so necessary as it is that true faith be established in our hearts, that we be brought to unfeigned humility, and that we be moved to praise Him for His free graces received; so necessary also the doctrine of God's eternal predestination. (qtd. The Mighty Weakness of John Knox,p.85)

The doctrine is not terrifying but of great comfort and assurance to the Christian. Our understanding of the doctrine comes as we bend our will to what God's Word says. We submit. In understanding the doctrine we are lead to greater worship. We bow lower and exalt God higher in our worship. 

John Knox writes:

There is no way more proper to build and establish faith, than when we hear and undoubtedly do believe that our election...consisteth not in ourselves, but in the eternal and immutable good pleasure of God. And that in such firmity that it can not be overthrown, neither by the raging storms of the world, nor by the assaults of Satan; neither yet by the wavering and weakness of our own flesh. Then only is our salvation in assurance, when we find the cause of the same in the bosom and counsel of God. (qtd. The Mighty Weakness of John Knox, p.86)
The doctrine of predestination is a great comfort and assurance. Just as a Christian was elect before the foundations of the world, the Christian also knows that nothing can jar them from the hand of God. They are kept safe from beginning to end the the Lord Jesus Christ who has purchased them and applied salvation to them. Your staying power in the grace of God depends not on you, but on the God who elected you and called you to Himself. He will bring your salvation to completion. Great assurance indeed!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Means and Ends 2: Christian Thinking on Economics & Poverty

I thought I would follow up on my post two days ago on ends and means, particularly when it comes to care for the poor.

When it comes to taking care of the poor and needy, all Christians should believe that it is important. The early church was marked by its care for the sick and more.

However, as I noted, not all Christian agree on the best way to meet these needs. It is quite possible for Christians to have different ideas of the role of government in taking care of the poor. Some argue that it is therefore the Christians duty to insure that the government takes this role seriously, others think that it is largely not the governments role.

Now Scripture makes clear that the government is to enforce just Laws. In the Old Testament kings were not to pervert justice for the poor or for the rich. Abuse of power to oppress the poor was wrong and so was power abused against the rich. Favoritism can cut both ways.

But the Bible spells out very little if anything that speaks directly to current policy, the limits of spending and taxation, and the welfare state. One the one hand the Bible tells us stealing is wrong; but on the other hand, Caesar is given by God the power to collect taxes. The Bible may warn about the individual getting into debt (which may have implications for government but only at secondary level of wisdom, not binding commands). But plainly put the Bible says very little about what types of economic policies I should support or condemn, other than obvious condemnations of stealing and such.

So the Christian is left to general revelation to makes arguments for which is most consistent and even the most effective. These then becomes a discussion of means. The preacher from the pulpit should be very careful not to bind the conscious of the Christian where Scripture binds the conscious. We can bind the conscious on certain ends: we should have compassion on those in need. We should be concerned with orphans and widows, etc. But what is the best means to show this compassion? Who and in what ways should one be the shower of compassion? To what degree should different social units show compassion? Is my book club obligated to take a collection for the poor? How much should the government give?

So my original contention in the first post was to say a Christian needs distinguish between ends and means. We should agree on the ends of helping the poor (we're not talking about the legitimately lazy here). But when it comes to means (particularly on the political level) we should be clear on the difference but neither means are binding upon the Christian when they are not specified or regulated by Scripture alone.

So a Christian wrestling with these issues has to wrestle with the fact that the case can be made that the government is not the best place to take care of poverty issues.

For example, consider this statement from CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, based upon their research and documenting evidence:
Private charities are able to individualize their approaches to the circumstances of poor people. By contrast, government programs are usually designed in a one-size-fits-all manner that treats all recipients alike. Most government programs rely on the simple provision of cash or services without any attempt to differentiate between the needs of recipients.
The eligibility requirements for government welfare programs are arbitrary and cannot be changed to fit individual circumstances. Consequently, some people in genuine need do not receive assistance, while benefits often go to people who do not really need them. Surveys of people with low incomes generally indicate a higher level of satisfaction with private charities than with government welfare agencies.
Private charities also have a better record of actually delivering aid to recipients because they do not have as much administrative overhead, inefficiency, and waste as government programs. A lot of the money spent on federal and state social welfare programs never reaches recipients because it is consumed by fraud and bureaucracy…
Another advantage of private charity is that aid is much more likely to be targeted to short-term emergency assistance, not long-term dependency. Private charity provides a safety net, not a way of life. Moreover, private charities may demand that the poor change their behavior in exchange for assistance, such as stopping drug abuse, looking for a job, or avoiding pregnancy. Private charities are more likely than government programs to offer counseling and one-on-one follow-up, rather than simply providing a check.
My point is not to agree or disagree with this statement or way of thinking about government welfare, wealthy, poverty, and aid to the poor. My point is to say that nothing in Scripture mandates that because Christians should care for the poor that the Christian most vote for favorable government policies that aid the poor. In fact, in the early centuries of the church is was Christians who were aiding the poor and sick and putting the government to shame.

Yes, Christians should see that the government is fair and justice. And by "see" I mean we should live as citizens and exercise our rights to continue to ensure things are fair and just. The Bible does not endorse the church bearing the sword to keep the government in line. And yes I think Biblical justice is retributive and restorative. However, the means of restoring people to dignity and aiding them and meeting their needs is not necessarily a mandate government.

When it comes to government welfare as care for the poor one has to try to make the case that the Bible mandates a modern government to do these things and then make the case that current policies (especially more left leaning ones) are actually and effective way to do this. Equally one has to examine the effects of said welfare. What if welfare rather than being restorative to the human individual actually makes him or her dependent, enslaved and crushes the human spirit. Not all would agree but we have to ask: what are the unintended consequences of my economic position?

It is impossible to make the case that the Bible mandates a modern government to do things to the extent that some on the Evangelical Left would have one believe. Similarly it is impossible to make the case that the Bible mandates a full laissez-faire capitalist society (as some have tried to turn Jesus' parables into lessons on economics). Both sides can engage in their fair share of Scripture twisting.

We are back to general revelation--and you have to respect the arguments as such. Clearly certain principles are going to sounder. Certain programs and means are going to be shown to be more effective when the evidence is weighed fairly. But we should be far more cautious. These areas fall under common grace--which means some (many?) non-Christians may have better understanding of these areas of general revelation than Christians.

Sadly sometimes Christians make their case for political action, economic theory and poverty based on combinations of over-extending Scriptural argument, egregious eisegesis, and lack of attention to general revelation and the realm of common grace. 

I shouldn't condemn a brother in Christ with being against the ends of care for the poor, if he does not advocate the same means. Criticisms should be fair and civil.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why am I Reformed?

I want to propose a new consideration for being Reformed-- "historia salutis".

Most of us who are Reformed are so because of the categories of systematic theology: like total depravity, God's sovereignty, unconditional election. This are all good true and right reasons for being Reformed. We find these doctrines in the Word of God.

Last Easter, I was preaching through John 17. It unfolded the Trinity and the work of the Trinity at the center of redemption. What is accomplished is applied for those who for whom it is accomplished.

We have this grand picture of the Triune God working at the climax of redemption.

Somewhere along the way I released that just as much as the "order of salvation" (eternal election, effectual calling, regeneration, justification, etc.) or the "systematic topics" drive me to be "reformed"--I also have just as many reason in historia salutis for being Reformed.

You see there would be no application of redemption if there was not redemption. The better I understand Christ's death, resurrection, ascension and session at God's right hand the more I am driven to the cores of Reformed theology.

Maybe at this point I am indebted to Bavinck and his linking of these aspects. Of course, Bavinck is not alone in Reformed theology.

As I consider "why I am Reformed" it is not just the case that I am reformed because I find these doctrines in Scriptures. It is even more: these doctrines revealed in Scripture are grounded themselves on what Christ actually did in history. This I think is the emphasis of Geerhardus Vos.

The more I contemplate the work of Christ, I am Reformed not just because of the way Jesus applies redemption but what he actually does when he does those things in history. Redemptive-history itself (not just the explication of what happened but the history itself that is the source of all these wondrous effects) cause me to be more confident in Reformed soteriology.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Means and Ends

Over at Public Discourse there was an article not too long ago about Boehner's record on social justice and the Catholic position. The gist of it is responding to those who think that because Boehner advocates certain policies he is therefore opposed to social justice.

I'm not an expert on Boehner's record or Catholic social justice positions but this point is worth considering:
Second, and more critically, the signatories have confused means to achieve social justice with the principles of social justice, and have thus overstepped the bounds of what they can legitimately argue about Boehner’s fidelity to “principles of the common good, the preferential option for the poor, and the interrelationship of subsidiarity and solidarity. The letter failed to present the possibility that Boehner might in fact share the authors’ commitment to principles of social justice, and instead jumped right to a criticism of Boehner’s means of achieving it. To make an effective case against Boehner’s political record, the letter should not have called into question his commitment to principles. Instead, it should have taken issue more explicitly with his legislative steps toward social justice as means to achieve the ends which principles dictate, not a failure to recognize the principles themselves. First, however, it should have acknowledged that Catholic politicians like Boehner who are entrusted with care of the community in the political realm have a “legitimate autonomy” with regard to “this or that institutional or constitutional solution” to problems of social justice, as John Paul II explains in his encyclical Centesimus Annus.” (emphasis original) 
I think evangelicals would be wise to consider this. There are a lot of times that politically conservative evangelicals are demonized for being unconcerned with ends of care for the poor, the orphans and the widows because they do not advocate the means that the politically Evangelical Left advocates.

But there is a whole field of research that argues that the means the political Left sees as solutions will only exacerbate the problem. I'm not trying to solve the debate, I'm just saying it is a lot more complicated then looking at one side and saying: "You didn't vote for bill X you don't care about the poor." Or "you did vote for bill Y, you only care about the rich." 

I have discussed some of this before. We need to be careful in assume that a commitment to the Kingdom of God is enmeshed with a particular means of doing politics. 

Even outside of politics, I find in the church a lot of times conflict comes because people neglect the distinction between means and ends. 

So because you did something a certain way (means) suddenly the person attacks your end goals: "you don't care about X." Sometimes as a leader you have to explain why your different means of doing something (e.g. like changing children's church) reaches a same end (seeing kids here God's Word). Most people assume that when you changed the means you were communicating you didn't care about the end.

Not all conflicts break down to such easy distinctions but there are times where keeping the two logically distinct and communicating that distinction can save everybody a lot of toil and trouble. Then again, other times it still doesn't eliminate the issue or problem.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Preachers: Say the Obvious

There is no point in the passage of Scripture that is too simple for God's people to hear.

There are many times that I come to a passage and in terms of points or applications I find myself thinking: "Well that's pretty basic." So I find myself thinking: "well should I draw attention to this point."

Let me give an example. You are preaching through 1 Corinthians 15 and you come to the word resurrection. The world resurrection conveys to concept of bodily resurrection--a coming back to life but also being granted indestructible life of the 'new creation.' Should the preacher point out the obvious: resurrection is bodily in the Biblical worldview. Long time Christians will find that basic, but a newer Christian may not have thought specifically about the nature of the resurrection and how it is distinct from "spiritual resurrections" we find in cults and other religions.

Other times one encounters applications of the text that are plain, simple and basic. They are the things one should know in Christianity 101. The temptation as a pastor can be to bypass the simple in an attempt to impress people. We can get thinking: "well my application should be deeper than that."

I'm not denying we should plum the depths of Scripture and try go as deep as the text takes us. But the temptation can be for a pastor to feel like he has to prove his worth by coming back with things that are really deep or really "spiritual". 

Don't miss the plainness of the text.

Sometimes in preaching your sermon says things that everybody should already know precisely because everybody should know them.

If things are much to plain to say--make sure you say them. If they are "common sense" say them because sometimes common sense isn't all that common. 

That is not to say I (or other preachers) are genius and people in the pews are dumb. Not at all. Sometimes people in the pew could run circles around the pastor/preacher in terms of their practical Christian experience or knowledge of God's Word. But God still edifies his people by the simple truths they hear.

Other times, because a pastor has training and hopefully is not a new Christian, we can take for granted what is "obvious." It may be obvious to us because we've soaked in the text: make sure you say the obvious.

One final example, a while back I preached a sermon that was not part of a regular series. I said some things that I thought were basic and simple. At points I felt like some of my instructions from God's Word ('this is how you do this') were sort of obvious common sense things. They were part of the text, but I remember specifically feeling like "there wasn't anything really profound in that message" (and shame on me for looking to be profound). Several weeks later someone commented to my wife on the impact that sermon had.

This is not to pat myself on the back, quite the opposite. Don't be afraid to say the simple and obvious things when you find them in the Word of God.

God uses the obvious because he designs his word to be clear. Pastors: we need to make sure that we say things that are "obvious" precisely because that's what God wants his people to hear. Don't neglect deep teaching--but don't look for deepness by the measure of human wisdom. Don't neglect the diversity of your congregation and realize that what might be "plain" to you, is precisely what you need to say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trinity and Redemption

"Opera trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt."

To be Calvinist is Trinitarianism fully realized; to be consistently Trinitarian is to be Calvinist in soteriology.

If Trinitarianism is the flower of Christian religion, a covenantal soteriology is it's full bloom.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Christian Accountability to a Church

From time to time as a pastor, I encounter people who claim to be Christian and have no church home. They often ask for my opinion. Often they are content to go through life without any connection to a local church and without any accountability to a local body.

They assert something to the effect that they are under Jesus, being shepherded by him. They neglect the fact that the way Jesus shepherds his church is by appointing local shepherds in the a local body (1 Peter 5:1ff). Any Christian not connected to a local body and in submission to local church leaders is in a spiritually precarious position. 

Sometimes a Christian will argue they are accountable to God directly therefore they will not be accountable to any human authority within the church. For some this supposedly makes their spiritual relationship more pristine. While it is true the church is not the mediator between God and man only Christ is. But the church is the body of Christ and in that body God gifts different gifts and points people in authority in order to build the body up and protect the body (Eph. 4:7-16)

Christians are not accountable to other people and human institutions instead of God or before God. Christians are accountable to other people and human institutions by the Word and will of God and in obedience to God. 
So while the argument is valid that the ultimate authority in the Christian's life is God, the argument becomes fallacious when the argument is used to defend the unbiblical position that the Christian need not submit to earthly authority, either inside or outside the church—authorities which are instituted by God. 
Any Christian who insists they answer to God and to God alone are not living by the parameters they've set for themselves. For if they truly see themselves as submitting to God's authority in their life and if they see themselves as answerable to God and as one who is actively obeying Him, then they would willingly submit to the earthly authority God has placed in their life—whether inside or outside the church. 
The Christian’s accountability before God includes biblical accountability to secular governing authorities, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the leadership of a local church. Yes, there is only one Lawgiver and Judge; there is only One who can save and destroy, and that is God (James 2:10). That being said, the judgment of Almighty God will include how Christians respond and submit to the earthly authority God has placed in their lives. 
It is often true in life that one of the visible marks of how well one submits to God is how well one submits to those that God has placed in authority in this world. 

I once counseled someone that if they couldn't attend our church because of some doctrinal difference and concerns then they still needed to find some church somewhere and put themselves under the authority of the leaders God had raised up in that church. It is a mark of our submission to God that we submit to men God installs. Of course, we are to obey God rather than men when the two are in conflict, but this is a very rare occurrence. And the first step are not to proclaim our non-submission, but to Biblical confront in a manner that is loving. Sadly, some people use confrontation as a means to allow their own desire to not submit to leaders to burst out and explode under false justification.

God has ordained the church to be the body of Christ for all Christians. This means that Christians need to connect to some local expression of the body. It is for their good. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reformed Preaching: Redemptive Historical and Experiential

As we consider redemptive-hisorical preaching, we need to never forget that preaching at it's best must be "experiential." We can be so focus on the Christological point, which should be the center of the message, that we can forget the center will unfold like the petals of a flower. The preacher cannot neglect the petals in an attempt to make the center hold. Rather when we hold the center, we are in the best possible position to apply the text to the whole of life precisely because Jesus speaks to the whole of life.

In another work, Joel Beeke describes experiential preaching:
"[A] working definition of experiential preaching might be: preaching that seeks to explain in terms of biblical, Calvinistic truth how matters ought to go, and the end goal of the Christian life. It aims to apply divine truth to the whole range of the believer's personal experience, including relationships with his family, the church and the world around him." Living for God's Glory p.256
He goes on to show how this view of preaching is Word and Christ centered. It is more than exegesis but not less than. It is applicatory. This type of preaching is discriminatory, meaning it makes different points to Christians and non-Christians. Non-Christians are not comforted by false religion or by obedience. 

Joel Beeke's post offers the following on whether your sermon was practical:
Furthermore, you should ask how practical your sermon was. Application should not be given like a big bang at the end of the message. Each point of the sermon should be applied. The Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God includes a chapter titled “Of the Preaching of the Word,” which presents several kinds of application. So ask yourself, did I use a variety of applications such as:
Instruction—to shape the mind and worldview with God’s truth?
Confutation—to expose and refute the doctrinal errors of our day?
Exhortation—to press God’s people to obey God’s laws by the means He provides?
Dehortation—to rebuke sin and stir up hatred for it?
Comfort—to encourage believers to press forward in the fight of faith?
Trial—to present the marks of a true believer for self-examination?[xxii]
Exultation—to help people see the beauty and glory of God so that they might love Him, fear Him, and praise Him with affection?
Christ-centered preaching at is best is not opposed to "practical application" what in the past as been called "experiential preaching." Rather there can be no good and proper application of the text if we do not first take hearer to Christ and his cross and apply the text to the whole of life through the cross. This is all to be done without violating the plain meaning of the particular text on is preaching on.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God the Father in Redemptive Historical Preaching

Another thought on redemptive historical preaching, to follow up this post. We who are committed to Redemptive historical preaching should be careful not to miss God the Father in the Old Testament (or the Holy Spirit for that matter).

This point was driven home to me as I worked through 2 Samuel 7 in Sunday school several weeks ago.

In this passage, after the covenant is made with David. David prays and address the LORD God. It is a recurring theme.

The temptation is to jump right away to the Christological point: Jesus fulfills the New Covenant. This is true, well and good.

But what we can't neglect in the passage is the relationship that is going on between David and the LORD GOD. There is a filial relationship. David addresses God with absolute reverence as he is now indebted to God's grace. The point isn't quite Christological (although we only come to God through Christ)--the emphasis is more on God the Father, or perhaps better, the relationship between the one True God and His anointed one (David).

You could take this through to Christological. The Messiah is the true Son, but then you have to make the point about the Father.

Christo-centric preaching is important and basic to rightly handling the word of God. Yet, in our zeal to rightly fulfill this, let's make sure we do not neglect the glory of the Triune God and specifically the other persons of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As we consider true Christ-centered preaching, we cannot neglect aspects of the Trinity, even as they appear in the Old Testament. Sometimes a passage's emphasis may fall upon the unity of the Christ. The point is that Christ-centered preaching is never in opposition to supremacy of God as a whole and the kind of God-centered preaching John Piper advocates for in his book on The Supremacy of God in Preaching or as model by John Calvin.

Friday, August 5, 2011

God's Sovereignty... in Dirty Diapers

So for family devotions tonight we were reviewing the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q. 8. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence

Tonight's discussion was on God's hand of providence. We talked about the life of Joseph and Genesis 50:20.
Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
After devotions:
Me: "L, does M need a diaper change? I think she stinks."
L: "No she's fine."
Me: "I can smell her from here." (I check) "Oh man, it's awful."

While changing her: "L, I should make you change this since you told me she didn't have one."
L: "Hey, it's not my fault, it was God's providence."


Cross posted at Mom! Watch DadFAIL.

Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Redemption accomplished and applied is one of the central concepts of Reformed thinking. You can find this link in many of the Reformed thinkers but especially in Bavinck and John Murray. There is a linking between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of redemption. I would argue that this linking is found in the Biblical text itself.

Working through Titus 3:3-7 we see this same sort of linking between accomplishment and applications.

Note the temporal clauses:

3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The grammar moves from who we once were (῏Ημεν γάρ ποτε καὶ ἡμεῖς) to what happened when Christ came: ('but when' ὅτε δὲ). The long sentence in vv4-7 centers on the main action of God: "he saved us" and then delineates the means by which this salvation is worked out and applied.

So the temporal achievement or accomplishment of salvation is when Jesus appeared. Clearly a reference to Jesus' first coming if you follow the use of ἐπεφάνη and it cognates in the pastoral epistles.

2 Timothy 1:9-10 9 who saved us and called us toa holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
However notice the means by which this great day of redemption is worked out as 'he saved us':
"by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,"
The Father and the Son use the Holy Spirit for the application of this redemption. The Father saves us by means of the work of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is poured out by the Son and lavished richly upon us. It is from his ascended position over all that he pours out the Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45; Eph. 2:4-8; 4:7-8). 

So the eschatological center of redemption which is the acts of Jesus in his appearing, is now carried out progressively as God is saving his people. He is effecting the New Covenant where the Holy Spirit is poured out through the agency of the Covenant Head, the Son.

The eschatology of the application of redemption is a "already" and a "now." It is already accomplished in the appearing of the Son and it is now being effected. The "not yet" is of course the hope to which we have been called and of which we are heirs--namely eternal life.

On the temporal clauses in Titus, George Knight writes:

The temporal location of "saved" (Tit. 3:5) is, therefore, in terms of the history of salvation, when God's kindness and love appeared eschatologically in Christ and also, in terms of the experience of those involved, when they receive the "washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit." The term "saved" is thus qualified from two sides. Salvation is accomplished in the appearing of God's "kindness and love toward mankind" in Christ and applied when the Holy Spirit is actually "poured out" on those who are thereby renewed. The Pastoral Epistles, p.340
It is obvious here that the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Those whom the Father saves are those whom the Spirit renews. Those whom the Spirit renews are those whom the Son has lavished the Holy Spirit richly upon. The work of Christ has abolished death and brought immorality to light. So because Christ came, God the Father can perfectly save. Our Triune God works as one in the accomplishment and the application of redemption.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Giveaway: Growing Up Christian

P&R Publishing is offering a drawing to giveaway five copies of the new book Growing Up Christian.

 Here's the blurb on the book:

Many teens are active in church youth programs, yet drop out of church later in life and never return. Other young adults rest on the merits of their parents’ faith without ever experiencing their own relationship with Jesus Christ. In this book the authors seek to help teenagers who have grown up in Christian homes by reminding them of the blessings of growing up in a Christian home, warning them of some of the dangers they face, providing practical suggestions for avoiding these dangers, and urging them to think and live in a way that pleases God.
“This book is one that can shake teenagers and parents out of a false sense of safety and ignite a much-needed spiritual passion”—Tedd Tripp

This looks like an interesting book. I grew up Christian and have seen a number of my friends who grew up with me have walked away from the faith or remain less passionate about the faith. As a young man, my father challenged me that I need to make my faith my own. This book seems like a welcomed addition on this topic.  And honestly, I thought I'd post on it in order to have more chance to win it.

Find out the about the book and enter to win the giveaway here.

Horton's People and Place

I finally finished the last volume of Michael Horton's four volumes on systematic theology. I commend the whole series to interested pastors who love theology. Each work is excellent in its own right. Horton shows an ability to interact with systematic theology, historical theology and current trends in Biblical studies. What is constantly amazing is the breadth of citations in these works from church fathers, to Reformers, Reformed scholastics, Enlightenment philosophers, and contemporary scholars.

Each book in the series is worth your read. My favorite is the second volume Lord and Servant with a close second to volume three Covenant and Salvation.

Here's my brief review of People and Place cross posted on Goodreads.

People and Place: A Covenant Ecclesiology

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Horton's entire series is an excellent read. He brings Reformed theology to interact with modern theology in a manner that communicates classical Reformed theology in response to current trends. But this is more than just a rehearsing Reformed theology, it is constructive in the sense that Horton labors hard to revitalize the discipline of theology showing how all of theology must be conditioned by God's covenant. In this work Horton deals largely with the issues of church and sacrament. He shows how the ascension of Christ and union with Christ should condition how we think about the church assembly and the sacraments.

I commend the whole series, and this work is a fine work in its own right. A good read for pastors, theologians and those with a general interest for theology. Not introductory reading but well worth the investment of time to read.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

VanTillian: Yeah! That'll Preach

This Sunday, I looked at Matthew 12:22-29 in my message. I showed how Jesus responded to the argument of the Pharisees.

I think in the passage, the Pharisees are confronted with the obvious "evidence" in the miracles of Jesus. They do what men always do: they suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness. So they have all the evidence of God's Spirit at work in Jesus' miracles. But because they do not want to believe, they must great an alternate belief: namely, Jesus is casting out demons by Satan.

It is amazing to me that Jesus takes this argument on its own terms and shows how it breaks down. The unbelief destroys itself. It is obvious to all that no kingdom divided can actually stand. There unbelieving explanation does fit with reality.

At the end of the day, while not a point Jesus makes, we see illustrated that unbelief is a kingdom divided. The unbeliever forms ideas in suppressing the truth. He cannot escape that he is made in God's image. Thus, unbelief breaks down on its own. It is never internally consistent. It does not comport with truth and reality so at some point it contains within it its own self-destruction point.

The unbeliever has clear inconsistencies in his worldview. This is a key insight to Van Til's apologetics.

I find this incredibly encouraging. I find that sometimes people in the church can feel intimidated when they encounter unbelief. They feel like they don't know what to say or how to counter it. While we should study and prepare for such things, we don't have to panic the moment we encounter unbelief as if "What do I say? I don't know. What if I can't remember it or handle the attack." But if the system breaks down on its own--and I know that upfront, it takes a bit of the apprehensiveness that many Christians have when it comes to defending the faith.

My sermon didn't discuss all the aspect of Van Til's apologetics. Admittedly Van Til is a tough read and for the average layperson, his language is over people's heads. But the core of Van Til--because it is grounded in a Biblical worldview and the gospel-- will actually preach. 

It is not a philosophical system. It is about coming back to the gospel, the message that God's kingdom is at hand. If God's kingdom has come, then alternate explanation of what we see or what has happened will never do justice to the truth.

VanTillian Apologetics: yes! That'll preach!

Although I never mention VanTil in the message, I think it comes across, especially as I try to encourage the saints in the first point.

The second half of the sermon does deal with the nature of God's kingdom that "has come." Which brings up another interesting point: there is a relationship between VanTil's apologetics and the eschatological climax of redemption. Van Til himself was deeply indebted to Vos.

One other story, I remember hearing at Westminster Theological Seminary that at his core Van Til was a preacher not a philosopher. My recollection is that I was told he would on occasion do street preaching and evangelism. Beside the fact that Van Til's method seeks to derive itself from Scripture and Systematic and Biblical Theology, maybe this is one more reason that VanTil's methods do "preach" as it were.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...