Sunday, February 23, 2014

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 8

~The Holy Trinity

Lord’s Day 8

24. How are these articles divided?

Into three parts: the first is of God the Father and our
creation; the second, of God the Son and our
redemption; the third, of God the Holy Spirit and our

[1] 1 Pt 1:2

25. Since there is but one Divine Being,[1] why do
you speak of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy

Because God has so revealed Himself in His
Word,[2] that these three distinct persons are the
one, true, eternal God.

[1] Deut 6:4; Isa 44:6, 45:5; 1 Cor 8:4-6; [2] Gen 1:2-3;
Ps 110:1; Isa 61:1, 63:8-10; Mt 3:16-17, 28:18-19; Lk
4:18; Jn 14:26, 15:26; 2 Cor 13:14; Gal 4:6; Tit 3:5-6

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 7


Question 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?

Answer. No; only those who are ingrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by a true faith.


Having explained the mode of our deliverance through Christ, we must now inquire carefully who are made partakers of this deliverance, and in what manner it is effected; whether all, or only some are made partakers thereof. If none are made partakers of it, it has been accomplished in vain. This twentieth question is, therefore, preparatory to the doctrine of faith, without which neither the Mediator, nor the preaching of the gospel, would be of any advantage. At the same time it provides a remedy against carnal security, and furnishes an answer to that base calumny which makes Christ the minister of sin.
The answer to this question consists of two parts:—Salvation through Christ is not bestowed upon all who perished in Adam; but only upon those who, by a true faith, are ingrafted into Christ, and receive all his benefits.

Commentary Lord's Day 6


Question 16. Why must he be very man, and also perfectly righteous?

Answer. Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature, which hath sinned, should likewise make satisfaction for sin; and one, who is himself a sinner, cannot satisfy for others.


It behooved our Mediator to be man, and indeed very man, and perfectly righteous.
First, It behooved him to be man. 1. Because it was man that sinned. It was necessary, therefore, that man should make satisfaction for sin. “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” &c. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. (Rom. 5:12. 1 Cor. 15:21.) 2. That he might be able to die. It was necessary that he should make satisfaction for us by his death, and by the shedding of his blood, because it had been declared, “Thou shalt surely die.” “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Gen. 2:17. Heb. 9:22.)

Strange Yet Familiar Tale of Brian, Rob, and Don

A decade ago, they stood as the leading voices for our evangelical future. We all know what happened since. But do we know why? By Kevin Miller

This sharp piece from Kevin Miller is a fresh, ecclesiological take on the ironic evangelical trend away from the Church. Ponder with me, all you with wings of wax. -From Christianity Today Read it here.


Those Who Have Faith Are the Sons of Abraham
MARCH 20, 1983
Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.
Galatians 3:6–9
Can You Be a Child of Abraham?
The Word of God from this text for us today is that anyone—Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female, white or black or brown, quick-witted or slow, old or young—anyone can be a child of Abraham and inherit the blessings promised to Abraham’s children, if you live by faith.
The structure of the text is simple. The main point is stated in two different ways, once in verse 7 and once in verse 9. And each of these is preceded by its Old Testament support. Verse 6 quotes Genesis 15:6, “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” And verse 7 draws out of that verse together with verse 5 a general inference: “So (or: therefore) you see that it is those of faith who are sons of Abraham.” The thing that makes a person a “son of Abraham” is faith. Then verse 8 quotes Genesis 12:3 (and 18:18), “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” And verse 9 draws out the inference, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.” The thing that qualifies a person to inherit Abraham’s blessing is faith. So the main point—the Word of God for us today (expressed in verses 7 and 9)—is that anyone of us who lives by faith is a child of Abraham and will inherit Abraham’s blessing.
I can think of at least two reasons why most modern people would simply shrug their shoulders at this announcement. One reason is that they have no idea what it means to be a child of Abraham and no sense of the stupendous value of the blessing promised to Abraham’s children. And the other reason is that they can’t see how a 20th century American who doesn’t have a Jewish cell in their body can be called a child of Abraham. In other words, if this promise in Galatians 3:6–9 is going to strengthen our faith and increase our joy, we have to dig in and see what it means and how it is grounded in the Old Testament. And that’s my aim: the advancement and joy of your faith (Philippians 1:25), because I know that genuine faith works itself out in love (Galatians 5:6), and when people see the sacrificial love of God’s people, many are gripped and give glory to him (Matthew 5:16). So for the sake of our faith, our love, and ultimately, of God’s glory, let’s see how Paul gets verses 7 and 9 out of the Old Testament, and what they mean for us today.
Not Dependent on Physical Descent
A great deal in this passage hangs on what it means to be a child of Abraham. So let’s try to answer that question first. The first thing that needs to be said is that Paul thinks sonship does not depend on physical descent. For example, in 3:28, 29 he says,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

So the first thing to be said is that Jews and non-Jews can be offspring or children or sons of Abraham. Sonship does not depend on physical descent. Romans 9:6, 7 confirm this:
Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham just because they are descendants.

But we don’t even have to go beyond our text to see this. Aren’t verses 7 and 9 referring to the same group of people? Verse 7 says that “those of faith are sons of Abraham.” And verse 9 says that “those of faith are blessed with Abraham.” Surely, these are the same people: sons of Abraham, who will, therefore, enjoy the blessings promised to Abraham and his children. But it is clear from the connection between verses 8 and 9 that these people include Gentiles. Verse 8 quotes Genesis 12:3, “In you shall all the nations (i.e., Gentiles) be blessed”—not just Jews. And from that Paul infers verse 9: “So then, those of faith are blessed.” So the believers of verse 9 must include Gentiles, and since these are the same as the believers in verse 7 who are called sons of Abraham, the sons of Abraham must include Gentiles. That’s the first thing about being a son of Abraham: it does not depend on physical descent from Abraham.
I know it sounds strange to us, but it is very close to the heart of the gospel: white, Anglo-Saxon protestants can become sons of Abraham; Hispanics and Laotians and Cambodians can become sons of Abraham; black African Muslims can become sons of Abraham; anti-semitic, redneck Nazi vigilantes can become sons of Abraham; Hitler could have become a son of Abraham.
Was Paul’s View Biblical?
Before we ask what that sonship involves and why it is good news, we need to ask whether Paul’s view of Abrahamic sonship is the same as the Old Testament’s view. It is no good telling our Jewish friends that we are sons of Abraham if they can simply point to the Torah and show us that Paul has distorted what Moses taught. Turn with me to Genesis 12:1–3. Here is the foundational promise of the Jewish people.
Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’

When God chose Abram to found a new nation, he made sure that Abram knew that the Jewish people were being created for the world. Their mission is to “be a blessing.” Their destiny is to serve all the nations. (Genesis 18:18 says the same thing, and uses “nations,” i.e., Gentiles, instead of “families.”) This is the text Paul quotes in Galatians 3:8, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
But is this blessing which the nations get the same as sonship? Is there any clue in Genesis that the nations would be blessed in Abraham because they would become his sons? Yes, there is in Genesis 17. Here God spells out the terms of his covenant with Abraham and says in verses 4, 5,
Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.

Some have tried to refer the “nations” here to the Ishmaelites and Edomites, who can trace their physical descent to Abraham. But surely the word “multitude” in Genesis 17:4, 5 means more than two. Surely God has in view here the same nations that will be blessed in Genesis 12:3 and 18:18, namely, “all the families (nations) of the earth.” In other words, Genesis 17:4 explains how the nations of Genesis 12:3 and 18:18 are going to be blessed. They are going to be blessed because Abraham will become their father. They are going to be blessed by becoming sons of Abraham. So it does not look as though Paul has distorted the Old Testament when he teaches that Gentiles can be sons of Abraham. That’s the first thing we need to see about Abraham’s children—they include more than Jews. They can include you and me. (See Romans 4:16 and 17 to confirm that Genesis 17:4 lies behind Paul’s thinking about Gentile sonship.)
Must Be Like Abraham
The second thing to notice about being a child of Abraham is that it means being like Abraham. In John 8:39 the Jews defend themselves against Jesus’ criticisms by saying,
‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did.’

Jesus shows us two things in this response. First, he shows us that they are not Abraham’s children, even though they are Jews—and so he confirms our first point, that being a child of Abraham is not the same as Jewishness. And the second thing he shows us is that being a child of Abraham means being like Abraham—doing what he does: “If you were Abraham’s children you would do what Abraham did.” In Galatians 3:6 what Abraham did was believe God. “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Then Paul infers from this in verse 7, “So you see, it is those of faith who are sons of Abraham.” Abraham was a man of faith, so if you do what he did, if you have faith, you will be his child.
So the first thing we said about being children of Abraham is that it’s not the same as being a physical descendant. Anyone here can become a child of Abraham. Now the second thing we’ve said is that being a child of Abraham involves doing what he did—not in every particular, of course, but in the essential thing, namely, believing God’s promises. Abraham believed God; therefore, those of faith are children of Abraham.
Heirs of Blessing of Abraham
The third thing to say about sons of Abraham is that they are heirs of the blessing to Abraham and his descendants. Galatians 3:29 makes this especially clear:
If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Remember, this comes right after verse 28 which shows that Paul has in mind here male and female, slave and free, Jew and Greek. The most astonishing thing asserted here is that Greeks—uncircumcised Gentiles!—are heirs of the promises made to Abraham. You and I can become beneficiaries of God’s promises to Abraham if we have the faith of Abraham and belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 4:16, 17 also shows that Gentiles are made heirs of “the promise” because of faith. See also Galatians 3:14 and 4:30.)
Those are the three things I wanted to say about being children of Abraham: 1) It is not the same thing as being Jewish—Gentiles can be included; 2) it means being like Abraham, especially trusting the promises of God like Abraham did; 3) it means inheriting the blessings promised to Abraham.
So the question that begs to be answered now is: What are those blessings? Is there anything in this inheritance that should interest a 20th century American businessman, housewife, student, professional, laborer, teenager, senior citizen? I think there is. I’ll mention two of them—two things that you inherit if you are a child of Abraham. And each of these is promised in order to take away a fear that you have (or ought to have): 1) The fear of meeting an infinitely holy God loaded with all your sin; and, 2) the fear of death.
The Promise of Justification
First, if you are a child of Abraham, part of your guaranteed inheritance is the bequest of justification. And only justification can take away your fear of meeting God loaded with your sin. Notice Galatians 3:8,
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’

This verse teaches that the reason the Scripture promises blessing to the nations through Abraham is that God intended to justify people from every nation.
Since the Scripture saw God justifying the Gentiles . . . therefore the Scripture promised blessing to the Gentiles through Abraham.

So the promised blessing of Abraham must involve justification. And you recall from the connection between Genesis 12:3 and 17:4 that the reason the nations will be blessed is because Abraham becomes their father. They become his children. Therefore, justification is part of our inheritance as children of Abraham. If you are his child, then, and only then, you are justified.
Which means that in spite of all your sins, God reckons you to be righteous. If you are a child of Abraham, all the things you have done wrong or ever will do wrong are forgiven because of Christ, and God does not hold your sins against you. I don’t know of any cultural, intellectual, or technological changes over the past two thousand years that makes this inheritance any less needed or less desirable today than it was for the Galatians. This and this alone can take away the fear of meeting an infinitely holy God loaded with our sin. So the first thing we inherit from God as children of Abraham is justification, acquittal of all our sin. (And this is the basis for all the other blessings!)
The Promise of the Spirit
Second, if you are a child of Abraham, part of your guaranteed inheritance is the Spirit of God who seals you for eternal life. Only the Spirit can take away the fear of death and hell and replace it with the hope of eternal life. Notice two key texts from Galatians which make this plain. Galatians 3:14 says that Christ became a curse for us,
that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, in order that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

This verse teaches that part of Abraham’s blessing which we Gentiles can inherit is the gift of the Spirit. One of the marks of the children of Abraham is that they are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ (2:20; 4:6, 29).
The connection between this and eternal life is then brought out in Galatians 6:8,
He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

The only ground out of which eternal life can be harvested is the ground of the Spirit. If you plant your life in the flesh, if you count on what you can achieve and enjoy in this world, then the harvest you will get is corruption, death, and hell, for that is an immeasurable insult to God who offers himself to you in the Spirit. But if you plant your life in the Spirit and count on what he can do through you and for you, the harvest you will get is eternal life. So when Galatians 3:14 says that the Spirit is a part of our inheritance as children of Abraham, it implies that only the children of Abraham will enjoy eternal life. And that takes away the fear of death and hell, which is just as real and terrible in the 20th century as it was in the first. (Note: the Spirit is not explicitly promised to Abraham in Genesis. It is promised to God’s people in Joel 2 and Ezekiel 36. Paul’s assumption is that whatever goes into making the children of Abraham what they ought to be is a fulfillment of God’s intention in the promise to Abraham. See Genesis 17:7.)
In summary, we have seen five things about what it means to be children of Abraham. 1) It is not the same as physical descent from Abraham. Even 20th century Gentiles can be Abraham’s sons. 2) It implies being like Abraham, a chip off the old block, as it were, especially in his life of faith. 3) If you are a child of Abraham, you inherit the blessing of Abraham. You become the beneficiary of the promises God made to his children. That means 4) you are justified, acquitted by God of all your sins on the basis of Christ’s death in your place. And finally, 5) if you are Abraham’s child, you have the Spirit who will lead you into eternal life.
Faith and Sonship
Therefore, it is surely no overstatement this morning to say that the most important concern of your life is to make sure that you are a child of Abraham. So I close with an observation from our text and an illustration. The text makes plain that the only way to be a child of Abraham is to live by faith. Literally, Galatians 3:7 says,
Know therefore that those of faith, these are the sons of Abraham.

The test of whether you are of faith is not whether you once made a decision somewhere in the past, but whether your life is a life of faith. The child of Abraham can say without insincerity,
I am crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

I end with an illustration. Picture heaven as Orchestra Hall and the music of the symphony as the glory of God. Everybody here knows that faith is the precondition for entering that hall and enjoying that music. But some of you, I fear, have gotten the notion that trusting in Christ is like buying a ticket to Orchestra Hall once for all, and that you can put this ticket away in your pocket as the guarantee of your admission someday, even though the affections of your life are captured by the music of this world. That is not a biblical view of saving faith. It’s a delusion.
Faith is a precondition for enjoying the symphony of God’s glory not in the sense of getting a ticket, but in the sense of getting an ear for heaven’s music. The real precondition of enjoying the music of heaven throughout eternity is a new heart which delights in the things of God, not a decision card which you carry in your pocket to ease your conscience while your mind is captivated by the delights of this world.[1]

[1] Piper, J. (2011). A holy ambition: to preach where christ has not been named. Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Niebuhr brothers for armchair theologians

The Niebuhr Brothers for Armchair TheologiansThe Niebuhr Brothers for Armchair Theologians by Scott R Paeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr are two of the most influential American theologians of the twentieth century. Between them they have affected conversations in theology, politics, ethics, and philosophy for more than half a century, and their influence seems only to increase over time.  Jointly, they may have inspired more—and more diverse—theological movements than most other modern theologians can lay claim to.”

This is the point that The Neibuhr Brothers for Armchair Theologians sets out to prove and it does a pretty decent job at it.
The brothers, and this book, addressed so many crucial aspects of life and theology that I cannot help but agree with the idea that we are in, or at least primed for, a Neibuhr brother resurgence.  It also struck me, as it has in other works recently, that we are a bit enslaved to our cultural milieu in regards to how we perceive truths and understand how we should interact with our world.  Reading about the progression of Richard and Reinhold and a bit of the world they lived in and how they lived in that world was fascinating and prompted much introspection as to how, but more so why, I interact with the world and think about things the way I do.

This text employs cartoons, about 1 every 5 pages or so, to aid in the understanding and enjoyment of this book.  And that is exactly what it does.  The cartoons are wonderful.  It is surprising how well key distinctions and complex ideas can be clearly conveyed with the cartoons included.

The effects of the Neibhur brothers, especially Reinhold, are felt to this day and to the highest heights of American polity.  Much could be written about Neibuhr’s effect on our White House but (then) Senator Obama makes it clear when sharing what he learned from the younger Neibuhr brother:

“I take away the compelling idea that there’s always serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain.  And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things.  But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.  I take away…the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.”

“All theology begins with Amos.” Or so Reinhold was reported to have claimed.  What does that mean?  I have no idea.  This would be one of the biggest downfalls of this volume.  Statements are made that are intriguing but they are not fully, if at all, developed.  It could get frustrating at times, but it was a minor flaw that showed itself a small, small amount of the time.

The influence of the Neibuhr brothers is greater than I ever knew.  Whether this is good or bad is probably too simplistic of an answer.  There is much good to be mined from each and likewise there is much to be discarded.  Reinhold having an atheist fan group would be a good sign that his legacy is not as God-entrenched as it probably need be, but we would do well not to throw baby out with the bathwater with these two brothers.

This book is a clear and fun recounting of the lives of Richard and Reinhold Neibuhr  in in light of their thought and teaching.  It is readable and quite informative.  This volume of the Armchair Theologian series definitely leaves the reader with a desire to dive into primary sources and learn even more about the brothers, from the brothers.

I received a review copy from the publisher for my review.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 7

Lord’s Day 7

20. Are all men, then, saved by Christ as they have
perished in Adam?

No, only those who by true faith are ingrafted into
Him and receive all His benefits.[1]

[1] Ps 2:12; Mt 7:14; Jn 1:12-13, 3:16, 18, 36; Rom.
11:16-21; 1 Cor 15:22; Heb 4:2-3, 10:39

21. What is true faith?

True faith is not only a sure knowledge whereby I
hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His
Word,[1] but also a hearty trust,[2] which the Holy
Spirit[3] works in me by the Gospel,[4] that not only
to others, but to me also,[5] forgiveness of sins,
everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely
given by God,[6] merely of grace, only for the sake of
Christ’s merits.[7]

[1] Jn 17:3, 17; Heb 11:1-3; Jas 1:6, 2:19; [2] Rom 4:16-21, 5:1, 10:10; Heb 4:16; [3] 2 Cor 4:13; Php 1:19, 29; [4] Acts 16:4; Rom 1:16, 10:17; 1 Cor 1:21; [5] Gal 2:20; [6]Rom. 1:17; Heb 10:10, 11:1-2; [7] Acts 10:43; Rom 3:20-26; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:7-10

22. What, then, is necessary for a Christian to

All that is promised us in the Gospel,[1] which the
articles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith
teach us in summary.

[1] Mt 28:19-20; Jn 20:30-31; 2 Tim 3:15; 2 Pt 1:21

~~The Apostles’ Creed

23. What are these articles?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of
heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only
begotten Son, our Lord: who was conceived by the
Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under
Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He
descended into hell; the third day He rose again from
the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the
right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there
He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, a holy catholic Church, the
communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the
resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Abraham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac--by George Whitefield

Abraham’s Offering Up His Son Isaac1

            And he said, ‘Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him, for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy Son, thine only Son from me.’ [Genesis 22:12]

            The great Apostle Paul, in one of his epistles, informs us, that ‘whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the holy scripture might have hope’ [Romans 15:4]. And as without faith it is impossible to please God, or be accepted in Jesus, the Son of his love, we may be assured that whatever instances of a more than common faith are recorded in the book of God they were more immediately designed by the Holy Spirit for our learning and imitation, upon whom the ends of the world are come. For this reason, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, in the 11th chapter mentions such a noble catalogue of Old Testament saints and martyrs, ‘who subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, etc. and are gone before us to inherit the promises.’ A sufficient confutation, I think, of their error who lightly esteem the Old Testament saints and would not have them mentioned to Christians as persons whose faith and patience we are called upon more immediately to follow. If this was true, the Apostle would never have produced such a cloud of witnesses out of the Old Testament, to excite the Christians of the first and consequently purest age of the church, to continue steadfast and unmoveable in the profession of their faith.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Word and Sacraments--Mike Horton

Word and Sacraments

After several weeks of working together in adjoining cubicles, Jeff and Sharon picked up hints that they were both Christians. One day, Jeff asked his coworker, “Are you saved?” Sharon replied, “I think I am,” not because she wasn’t sure that she belonged to Christ but because she was unfamiliar with this way of putting it. Jeff asked Sharon how she came to know Christ — to give her personal testimony, and she said that she was baptized, grew up hearing sermons and participating in the public service, was catechized, and was eventually confirmed. After making a public profession of faith before the elders and then the whole congregation, she received her first Communion and was still a communicant member at her church. “Yes,” Jeff pressed, “but do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” “What do you mean by that?” Sharon wondered. “I mean, you’ve talked a lot about ‘churchy’ stuff, but when were you born again?” Sharon was stumped. “I don’t know,” she shrugged. “I guess I’ve always been a Christian.” With genuine concern, Jeff began to talk to Sharon as someone who didn’t really know Christ in a saving way.

For many Christians, especially evangelicals, the public  means of grace  (preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper) are “churchy,” different from — if not antithetical to — one’s private, personal, and unmediated relationship  with Christ. For many of us, it’s counterintuitive to speak of the Spirit’s work  through creaturely means. The assumption quite often is that the Spirit’s canvas is noncreaturely — a divine spirit or soul within each individual — and that he paints with secret strokes of invisible oils. Perhaps when we think of the Father, creation of the material world comes to mind. When we think of the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the  incarnate  God is in view. However, when we think of the Holy Spirit, we see him working directly, immediately, spontaneously, and inwardly in our hearts — in the realm of the invisible. For Jeff, mention of the Holy Spirit does not ordinarily provoke thoughts about preaching, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, except perhaps as a way of contrasting genuine rebirth and external rituals.

Many of us were raised with the assumption that people who talk about sacraments trust in rituals rather than in Christ. Belonging to Christ and belonging to the visible church were seen as two different things. Often in this environment, preaching is simply teaching: instruction and exhortation. It can be done as effectively in small group settings or in personal devotions as in formal church services, and a teacher need only be ordained from within, by the Holy Spirit, not outwardly by the visible church. In Jeff’s thinking, ordinary sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not God’s means of grace, but our means of obedience. The purpose of preaching is to teach us what to believe and to do, in baptism we testify to our commitment to follow Christ, and in the Lord’s Supper we strengthen our love for and commitment to Jesus by remembering his death for us. The  emphasis throughout falls on  getting us to do something: to learn and follow (in preaching), to commit (in baptism) and to recommit (in the Lord’s Supper). For Jeff, these activities may be resources he can use in his personal relationship with Jesus, but he doesn’t think of them as the means that the Spirit uses to bring about and confirm this relationship.

At the other extreme, however, many Christians have tended toward an almost superstitious attachment to rituals, leading to a barren formalism. It may in fact be the case that Sharon was trusting in her churchly socialization, rather than in Christ. Perhaps, for her, being a Christian was like being a Republican or a Democrat. Who knows whether Christ was actually proclaimed to her each week or whether her public profession of faith was genuine? She may think of baptism or first Communion as a rite of passage to adulthood, like countless rituals that mark coming-of-age in different societies and religions. According to surveys, most young people raised in the church (across the whole spectrum) cannot tell you what their church teaches concerning the Lord’s Supper. So perhaps her church experience is nothing but an empty ritual that Sharon goes through, mumbling the prayers along with everyone else, while she’s thinking about meeting up with her friends after the service. Yes, people can indeed trust in rituals rather than in Christ. In fact, this happens in evangelical contexts, too, where the “Are you saved?” question is answered by referring not to their baptism, which Christ did ordain, but to the altar call or the sinner’s prayer, which he did not.

In contrast to both cold, ecclesiastical formalism and warm, enthusiastic individualism, Scripture provides us with a completely different paradigm for thinking about the relationship between the Spirit, the church, and the means of grace. We shouldn’t let ourselves be pressed into a false choice between trusting in external forms that have power  in themselves  to save and believing that the Spirit ordinarily works  apart from  these forms. As we have seen, created matter has been the medium of the Spirit’s artistry in creation, providence, the history of Israel, and the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The same is true in his application of Christ’s work to us here and now.

Key Distinction: means of grace/means of gratitude.
Means of grace are creaturely media through which the Spirit delivers Christ and all of his benefits. We are effectually called into union with Christ by the preaching of the gospel. Through this ministry of the word the Spirit gives us faith in Christ. He further ratifies his gracious promise by baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the signs and seals of the covenant of grace.Means of gratitude are our appropriate response to the gift that is given to us through the means of grace. Chief among these is prayer, as well as witness, mutual instruction and admonition (including through singing, Col 3:16), church discipline, meditation on God’s word, and service to others (our families, fellow saints, and neighbors).

Excerpted from Chapter 15 of Pilgrim Theology by Michael Horton.

When Life Hurts, by Michael Horton

When Life Hurts

Monks go looking for a cross, thinking that they are pleasing God by their stoic resolve. We encounter this sometimes in our own circles today, as believers often feel obliged to smile in public even if they collapse at home in private despair.
John Calvin counters, “Such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain.”
It is not as the Stoics of old foolishly described “the great-souled man”: one who, having cast off all human qualities, was affected equally by adversity and prosperity, by sad times and happy ones — nay, who like a stone was not affected at all. . . .
Now, among the Christians there are also new Stoics, who count it depraved not only to groan and weep but also to be sad and care-ridden. These paradoxes proceed, for the most part, from idle men who, exercising themselves more in speculation than in action, can do nothing but invent such paradoxes for us.
Yet we have nothing to do with this iron philosophy which our Lord and Master has condemned not only by his word, but also by his example. For he groaned and wept both over his own and others’ misfortunes. . . . And that no one might turn it into a vice, he openly proclaimed, “Blessed are those who mourn.”

The Sufferer’s Asylum

Especially given how some of Calvin’s heirs have confused a Northern European “stiff upper lip” stoicism with biblical piety, it is striking how frequently he rebuts this “cold” philosophy that would “turn us to stone.” Suffering is not to be denied or downplayed, but arouses us to flee to the asylum of the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.
It is quite unimaginable that this theology of the cross will top the best-seller lists in our “be good–feel good” culture, but those who labor under perpetual sorrows, as Calvin did, will find solidarity in his stark realism:
Then only do we rightly advance by the discipline of the cross when we learn that this life, judged in itself, is troubled, turbulent, unhappy in countless ways, and in no respect clearly happy; that all those things which are judged to be its goods are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by many intermingled evils. From this, at the same time, we conclude that in this life we are to seek and hope for nothing but struggle; when we think of our crown, we are to raise our eyes to heaven. For this we must believe: that the mind is never seriously aroused to desire and ponder the life to come unless it is previously imbued with contempt for the present life.
Yet precisely because “this life, judged in itself,” is filled with misery, the obvious evidences of God’s grace to us in the gospel fill us with hope. For our life is not merely judged in itself.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Better than infinity church cookbooks--Replant: How a Dying church can grow again

Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow AgainReplant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again by Darrin Patrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever wanted to read a biography of a church?  Yeah, me neither.  It is not that I was opposed to reading a biography of a church…I just had never considered it.  I honestly didn’t know that anyone had written one.  I didn’t even know that it was possible to write one and, if I did, I wouldn’t expect it to be of any interest to just about anyone outside of that particular church body.  You know, like church cookbooks. ;-)

But Replant, a new book from Acts 29 via David C Cook by Mark Devine and Darrin Patrick, is an amazing book.  It is not a how-to, not at all.  It is a narrative of the resurrection of a local church body, the re-emergence of a thriving Gospel ministry in a tough, urban context.

I do not know exactly what I was expecting when I began reading this book.  I think I was expecting more technical and pragmatic instruction.  Honestly, even though early on the authors warn that this is not a “how-to”, I expected a “how-to”.  What I was not expecting is what I got.  I was not expecting to sit down at 8:45 and be reading appendix w at 10:45(much more a testament to this books readability and engrossing nature than my own reading ability).  I was not expecting to literally laugh out loud time and again as the authors offered cutting and accurate critique of some traditions that I have personally suffered through (the labelling of the open business meeting as “The Devil’s Workshop” was equal parts insight, humor, and just plain sad).  I was not expecting to be brought to tears on multiple occasions as I rejoiced with the authors at the amazing, overwhelming, unrelenting work of God that was experience in their lives.  I was not expecting to be so encouraged, so edified, so excited about what God is still doing in the midst of this Midwestern city.

I also was not expecting such an enjoyable narrative.  Devine is a great story teller and I genuinely felt compelled to “turn” the page(or whatever you do to an ebook) and see what God was going to do next.  This is a must read for all who love the Church and are, or want to be, excited about the plans God has for this world, this country, these cities, and (although outside of the main focus of Acts 29) even little rural churches that can still be rescued from the lingering death they currently endure.

This book is a winner and you would do yourself a service by reading it and sharing it with others.  Get yourself a copy and get one for your pastor/elders/ministry leaders/deacons/ DOM/ whomever you want to be encouraged in the ongoing work of our great God and King.  

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

God's Wisdom--A book I need as much as my kids!

God's Wisdom by Sally Michael
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some parts of Scripture that I have an exceptionally hard time understanding.  One part of God’s created order that I fully understand is that He has blessed me with a family and part of this blessing is the responsibility to raise my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  That includes teaching them the Scriptures—even the parts that I struggle with understanding.

One of the parts of Scripture that I am responsible and privileged to teach my children yet I myself struggle through so often is teaching the wisdom aspects of God’s Word.  Personally, I have a difficult time with how to avoid reading a grace-less/meritorious mindset into the passages while still maintaining the imperative nature of much of this genre of teaching.  That is one reason why I was quite interested in this work from P&R, for myself and for my children.

God’s Wisdom is a strong work an important and oft-neglected aspect of God’s character and our Christian growth.  The lessons covered the breadth of Scripture and were often opportunities for Gospel proclamation and explanation.  There were times I felt some of the lessons lacked a Gospel focus and had the meritorious mindset that wisdom teaching often elicits.  I wish I could say definitively if this was a deficiency in the work or in this particular reader, or a combination of the two, but in all honesty I am just not sure. However, based on my own struggles and the deserved reputation of P&R Publishing and Children Desiring God, I think that the problem might lie close to home!  What stood out to me more were the many times that the discussion of God’s wisdom were Gospel saturated, something that has been sorely lacking in much of my study of this topic, particularly in works geared towards children.

The hard heart is the heart that loves foolishness. Only God can change a hard heart into a wise heart. We all have foolish hearts that love what is wrong and bad. But when a person trusts in Jesus to forgive his sins and be his Savior, Jesus gives that person a new heart—a heart that wants to walk in the way of the wise. Then that person loves wisdom and wants more and more to learn what is good and right and how to walk in God’s ways. He knows wisdom is a treasure that protects us from what is wrong and hurtful. When he is disciplined, he is glad when the folly is driven out of his heart. He wants to please God and do what is right, so he looks for wisdom.

God’s Wisdom has Scripture passages to read and discuss and activities to enforce the teaching.  The activities often have open-ended questions that are great for Gospel conversations. We, as a family, attempted to utilize this in family worship a few times but, at least for us, God’s Wisdom was better utilized in other times of teaching due to its length and the interactive aspect of much of it.  I also could see this being utilized well in a Sunday school format.

God’s Wisdom is a work that is quite focused and deals specifically with one aspect of God’s revelation and it does so very well.  Due to the focus of the work, I feel it is of best service in a supplemental role.  But what an impressive supplement it is.  This is a great book to dive into with your children and seek the wisdom that comes from God.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for reviewing purpose.

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 6

Lord’s Day 6

16. Why must He be a true and righteous man?

Because the justice of God requires that the same
human nature which has sinned should make
satisfaction for sin;[1] but one who is himself a sinner
cannot satisfy for others.[2]

[1] Rom 5:12, 15; 1 Cor 15:21; Heb 2:14-16; [2] Isa 53:3-5; Heb 7:26-27; 1 Pt 3:18

17. Why must He also be true God?

That by the power of His Godhead[1] He might bear
in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath,[2] and
so obtain for[3] and restore to us righteousness and

[1] Isa 9:5; [2] Dt 4:24; Isa 53:8; Ps 130:3; Nah 1:6; Acts
2:24; [3] Jn 3:16; Acts 20:28; [4] Isa 53:5, 11; 2 Cor 5:21;
1 Jn 1:2

18. But who now is that Mediator, who in one person
is true God and also a true and righteous man?

Our Lord Jesus Christ,[1] who is freely given unto us
for complete redemption and righteousness. [2]

[1] Mt 1:21-23; Lk 2:11; 1 Tim 2:5, 3:16; [2] Acts 4:12; 1
Cor 1:30

19. From where do you know this?

From the Holy Gospel, which God Himself first
revealed in Paradise,[1] afterwards proclaimed by
the holy patriarchs[2] and prophets,[3] and
foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies
of the law,[4] and finally fulfilled by His well-beloved Son.[5]

[1] Gen 3:15; [2] Gen 12:3, 22:18, 49:10-11; [3] Isa 53;
Jer 23:5-6; Mic 7:18-20; Acts 3:22-24, 10:43; Rom 1:2;
Heb 1:1; [4] Lev 1:7; Jn 5:46; Heb 10:1-10; [5] Rom
10:4; Gal 4:4-5; Col 2:17; Heb 10:1

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

CS Lewis: A Life

C. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetC. S. Lewis: A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister E. McGrath
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoy biographies.  There is something about hearing the story of someone’s life, when told properly and well, that can be moving and encouraging.  They can go far in putting people in proper perspective and, when of authors or leaders, lead to a greater understanding of their work.

Alister McGrath is a brilliant author and his work on C. S. Lewis will be the definitive work for time to come.  McGrath took his affinity for history and theology and utilized his skills to offer the world a brilliant, extensive work on a novelist, theologian, and, most importantly, a redeemed sinner.

I came to this work with a very limited knowledge of all things Lewis.  For those who are more familiar, much of the gold that stood out to me might simply be old hat.  However, McGrath is brilliant in his presentation and I strongly feel even Lewis experts will enjoy the fruit of his efforts.

Lewis and Tolkien.  I thoroughly enjoyed how McGrath traced this tumultuous relationship from its beginning to its end.  It is interesting, to say the least, to see Narnia and Middle-Earth intersect, to see such great minds interact as normal people.  

Tolkien was not the only relationship that Lewis enjoyed/endured during his life.  His relationship with his father was a strained one and the death of his father during Lewis’ absence doubtlessly influenced the remainder of his life.  Mrs. Robinson…I mean Mrs. Moore enjoyed a, at least it seemed to me, seedy relationship with young Lewis that lasted for a good part of his life.

This was not the only love interest that seemed much out of place.  Lewis’ wife of his later years was a good deed turned bad deal turned love of his life, the death of whom led Lewis to what has been misdiagnosed as a reversion to agnosticism in A Grief Observed.
Lewis’ relationship with academia in England was even strained due to decisions of his and, mostly, due to his popular reception with the common audience.

A real unique aspect of McGrath’s work is how he  sets out to make a case for that Lewis’s conversion has been misdated, even questioning Lewis’ on account based on primary documents, specifically Lewis’ correspondence.  Whether you come to agree with McGrath or not, it is interesting to see him develop his argument and to go down the road of “What qualifies as a conversion?” to which this investigation can easily lead.

Lewis was an apologist, but definitely not an Evangelical.  It is interesting to me how often he is unequivocally received my many who, when pressed, would strongly hold many differing views on doctrines as serious as the atonement, people who in every other case would reject seemingly reject a “Mere Christianity” in favor of sharp denominational divisions.

When we reach the point of Lewis’ death in 1964, the same day as President Kennedy, you are so invested in CS Lewis that it is hard not to experience the angst and grief you would feel from the loss of someone you genuinely knew.  I am constantly amazed at this in reading well written works of history or even fiction.

McGrath saves room at the end to go into detail about the resounding legacy of Lewis’ works and how they have interacted with and changed so many readers, young and old.  Although his influence was deemed to be “on the wane” in the mid 1960’s, the rumors of this demise were certainly exaggerated.

I learned much about CS Lewis.  What stood out to me the most was that Lewis was a flawed, weak, sinful person.  Just like me.  Lewis was a sinner who was saved by grace. Just like me!  Should he be put up on a pedestal?  No.  Should he be set before someone as the example of how to live?  No.  Should he be worshiped? No.  There is one Lord.  One Savior.  One who is worthy of worship.  CS Lewis is not God but because of the finished work of Christ on the cross He is now in the loving presence of God.  And that is what He would want you to remember about his life.  I am certain of it!

Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection

Raised? Doubting the Resurrection by Jonathan K. Dodson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There has been no greater claim in the history of man than the claims made in regards to Jesus of Nazareth.
*Born of a virgin.
*Eternal existence.
*Incarnate deity.
*Sinless life.
*Vicarious, substitutionary, sacrificial death.
*Physically rising from the dead on the third day and ascending bodily into heaven to sit enthroned next to His Father.
*Being the only way to eternal peace and joy in the presence of Eternal God.

These are some pretty serious claims that no thinking person can simply dismiss.  Whether resulting in affirmation or denial, time and thought must be devoted to this son of a carpenter for who even our time has been measured against.  These claims (whether you presuppose to be made by Him or by later followers) must be investigated because they are, if true, world changing.

One of the central claims of the Christian faith is the claim of His bodily resurrection.  This tenet of Christianity is one by which the entire Kingdom stands or falls.  All the other claims are shown to have merit based on this “sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29-30).  It is so central that the Apostle Paul claims that if it is untrue then Christians are “the most to be pitied” because our “faith is futile” (1 Cor 15)

The resurrection of Jesus is paramount.  “At the center of historic Christian faith is belief that a Jewish man named Jesus was ‘raised’.“ It is inseparable from Biblical Christianity and without it Christianity is a sham that offers no hope, no peace, and nothing of any distinguishable value.

This is the reason that resources like Zondervan’s, Raised: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection, is a welcome addition to any library.  Dodson and Watson both have pastor’s hearts and are capable writers.  They deal with this topic with the seriousness and honesty that is necessary for both believer and skeptic alike to benefit greatly from this work.

Why does a believer need this book?  Because it is clear that Christians are not free from reality of doubt.  Especially in regards to something as great and as based on sightless faith as is the Resurrection.  Anyone who genuinely investigates and seeks and searches and wonders and honestly engages differing positions will be struck head on by doubt more often than is desired.  If someone is not attacked by doubt from time to time then it is hard to imagine that he or she is properly interacting with truth claims that are contrary.

So what is one to do when, in this instance, filled with doubt about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?  The answer is not, “Dig your head as deep in the sand as possible until the evil doubt monster flees from your unbathed ostrich stench.”  The answer is to investigate your doubt thoroughly and honestly knowing that truth is a) what you desire and b)destined to win in the end.

Why do skeptics need a book like this?  Because, if it ends up that the claims of Jesus of Nazareth were validated by the “sign of Jonah", His being raised from the dead, acceptance or rejection of this truth has consequences that are eternal.  There is nothing that is of greater importance that this truth claim.  Is there a God?  Is this Jesus the Eternal and sinless Son of God?  Is He the only way for eternal peace with the Sovereign Creator?  It is imperative that all, even agnostics and skeptics are certain and convinced about something of such great importance.  

Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection is a resource that will benefit both believer and skeptic alike.  The authors explore doubts and proofs, the prominence and preeminence of the resurrection within the narrative of Scripture and the unfolding of history, the resurrection as proof of Jesus’ power to resurrect and transform, the power to give life and transform lives, and how the resurrection creates new authority, new identity and a new mission for those who are in the resurrection, united with the Resurrected One.

There is nothing new in this book.  The topics covered and the evidence given are not groundbreaking scholarship.  What this book is; however, is a beautiful, simple, clear, fresh, encouraging reminder of a life-changing, world-changing, truth.  A truth that is too astounding, too amazing, too absurd to not be investigated and embraced.  My encouragement is to come and read.  He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!!  And that changes everything.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 5

Lord’s Day 5
12. Since, then, by the righteous judgment of God we
deserve temporal and eternal punishment, how may
we escape this punishment and be again received
into favor?
God wills that His justice be satisfied;[1] therefore,
we must make full satisfaction to that justice, either
by ourselves or by another.[2]
[1] Ex 20:5, 23:7; Rom 2:1-11; [2] Isa 53:11; Rom 8:3-4
13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction?
Certainly not; on the contrary, we daily increase our
[1] Job 9:2-3, 15:15-16; Ps 130:3; Mt 6:12, 16:26; Rom
14. Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?
None; for first, God will not punish any other
creature for the sin which man committed;[1] and
further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of
God’s eternal wrath against sin and redeem others
from it.[2]
[1] Ezek 18:4, 20; Heb 2:14-18; [2] Ps 130:3; Nah 1:6
15. What kind of mediator and redeemer, then, must
we seek?
One who is a true[1] and righteous man,[2] and yet
more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is
also true God.[3]
[1] 1 Cor 15:21-22, 25-26; Heb 2:17; [2] Isa 53:11; Jer
13:16; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; [3] Isa 7:14, 9:6; Jer 23:6; Jn
1:1; Rom 8:3-4; Heb 7:15-16

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why was this Child Born Blind?--By John Piper

Why Was This Child Born Blind? (John 9:1–23)

One of the reasons I believe the Bible and love the Bible is because it deals with the hardest issues in life. It doesn’t sweep painful things under the rug—or complex things or confusing things or provoking things or shocking things or controversial things. In fact, Jesus sometimes went out of his way to create controversy with the Pharisees so that more truth about himself and about unbelief would come out, so that we could be warned by examples of hardness and wooed by images of his glory.
One of the hardest things in life is the suffering of children, and the suffering of those who love them—especially when that early suffering turns into a lifetime of living with profound loss. Few things in my ministry have given me a deeper sense of satisfaction than seeing God raise up at Bethlehem a heart and mind and vision and a ministry for people with disabilities, especially children. I thank God for the coordinator of our Disability Ministry, Brenda Fischer. And I thank God for the parents who have put their minds and hearts together to trumpet a vision for such a ministry.