Tanzania tomorrow for final research and ministry. This time I’ll be introducing the Romans Project to the newly formed Gospel Partnership. Back in a couple of weeks.
Tanzania tomorrow for final research and ministry. This time I’ll be introducing the Romans Project to the newly formed Gospel Partnership. Back in a couple of weeks.
What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? Some would point to the Doctrines of Grace (Five Points of Calvinism) and others to the Solas of the Reformation. Still others may be inclined to assert that it is the sovereignty of God or union with Christ. All of these are good answers, but if I was pressed to articulate the one thing that drives Reformed Theology, I would reply that it is the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures:
What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? I wouldn’t feel the need to argue with someone who would suggest it is the Doctrines of Grace, union with Christ, or even the Solas of the Reformation. Yet, I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after.
Without the help of the Spirit, without a continual refilling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful. I call this “love economics.” You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm.
If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.
To have a marriage that sings requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of the center, to put the needs of others ahead of your own. The Spirit’s work of making the gospel real to the heart weakens the self-centeredness in the soul. It is impossible for us to make major headway against self-centeredness and move into a stance of service without some kind of supernatural help.
The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit. That is, you only discover your own happiness after each of you has put the happiness of your spouse ahead of your own, in a sustained way, in response to what Jesus has done for you.
– from The Meaning of Marriage
(HT: Trevin Wax)
“Sound Bible exposition is an imperative ‘must’ in the church of the living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God.”
A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (London, 1967), pages 9-10.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
Taken from John Piper’s post on voting. I have reproduced the teaching from 1Corinthians only. You can read the whole post here, including his topical application.
What kind of attitude we are to have as Christians, living in this world, because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.” Here’s the way Paul puts it:
The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)
1. “Let those who have wives live as though they had none.”
This doesn’t mean move out of the house, don’t have sex, and don’t call herHoney. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights” (1 Corinthians 7:3). He also says to love her the way Christ loved the church, leading and providing and protecting (Ephesians 5:25–30). It means this: Marriage is momentary. It’s over at death, and there is no marriage in the resurrection. Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.
It means: If she is exquisitely desirable, beware of desiring her more than Christ. And if she is deeply disappointing, beware of being hurt too much. This is temporary—only a brief lifetime. Then comes the never-disappointing life which is life indeed.
2. “Let those who mourn [do so] as though they were not mourning.”
Christians mourn with real, deep, painful mourning, especially over losses—loss of those we love, loss of health, loss of a dream. These losses hurt. We cry when we are hurt. But we cry as though not crying. We mourn knowing we have not lost something so valuable we cannot rejoice in our mourning. Our losses do not incapacitate us. They do not blind us to the possibility of a fruitful future serving Christ. The Lord gives and takes away. But he remains blessed. And we remain hopeful in our mourning.
3. “Let those who rejoice [do so] as though they were not rejoicing.”
Christians rejoice in health (James 5:13) and in sickness (James 1:2). There are a thousand good and perfect things that come down from God that call forth the feeling of happiness. Beautiful weather. Good friends who want to spend time with us. Delicious food and someone to share it with. A successful plan. A person helped by our efforts.
But none of these good and beautiful things can satisfy our soul. Even the best cannot replace what we were made for, namely, the full experience of the risen Christ (John 17:24). Even fellowship with him here is not the final and best gift. There is more of him to have after we die (Philippians 1:21–23)—and even more after the resurrection. The best experiences here are foretastes. The best sights of glory are through a mirror dimly. The joy that rises from these previews does not and should not rise to the level of the hope of glory. These pleasures will one day be as though they were not. So we rejoice remembering this joy is a foretaste, and will be replaced by a vastly better joy.
4. “Let those who buy [do so] as though they had no goods.”
Let Christians keep on buying while this age lasts. Christianity is not withdrawal from business. We are involved, but as though not involved. Business simply does not have the weight in our hearts that it has for many. All our getting and all our having in this world is getting and having things that are not ultimately important. Our car, our house, our books, our computers, our heirlooms—we possess them with a loose grip. If they are taken away, we say that in a sense we did not have them. We are not here to possess. We are here to lay up treasures in heaven.
This world matters. But it is not ultimate. It is the stage for living in such a way to show that this world is not our God, but that Christ is our God. It is the stage for using the world to show that Christ is more precious than the world.
5. “Let those who deal with the world [do so] as though they had no dealings with it.”
Christians should deal with the world. This world is here to be used. Dealt with. There is no avoiding it. Not to deal with it is to deal with it that way. Not to weed your garden is to cultivate a weedy garden. Not to wear a coat in Minnesota is to freeze—to deal with the cold that way. Not to stop when the light is red is to spend your money on fines or hospital bills and deal with the world that way. We must deal with the world.
But as we deal with it, we don’t give it our fullest attention. We don’t ascribe to the world the greatest status. There are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We use the world without offering it our whole soul. We may work with all our might when dealing with the world, but the full passions of our heart will be attached to something higher—Godward purposes. We use the world, but not as an end in itself. It is a means. We deal with the world in order to make much of Christ.
When I teach the Bible, I focus on five disciplines:
It’s impossible to completely separate any one discipline from the others in such a way that the others have no affect on it. For example, you can’t do exegesis in a vacuum entirely apart from biblical or systematic theology, and systematic theology that isn’t based on accurate exegesis is bad theology. Ideally, biblical theology builds on exegesis, and systematic theology builds on biblical theology. But all five of these disciplines interrelate. And they culminate in doxology. (On this theological method, I’m following my mentor, Don Carson.)
Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God, according unto the tenor and terms of the new covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ. Or more briefly:—It is the universal renovation of our natures by the Holy Spirit into the image of God, through Jesus Christ.
The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 3: Pneumatologia: A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 386.
(HT: The Old Guys)
A theology of the church with a sound theological method. Andy Naselli has posted a review here.
When you have a solid grasp of how a theme develops across the Bible’s storyline in Scripture, you are able to trace that theme from a number of starting points. For example, you may be preaching or teaching through the Gospel of John and come to John 2:19: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” You may then zoom out so that you can trace the trajectory of the temple theme across the Bible’s storyline—from Eden, to the tabernacle, to Solomon’s temple, to Ezekiel’s temple, to Zerubbabel’s temple, to Jesus as the temple, to the tearing of the temple’s curtain, to the church as the temple, to the individual Christian’s body as the temple, to the heavenly temple, and all the way to its culmination in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” Then you could zoom back in to John 2 and reflect on the significance of that passage in light of how it fits in the trajectory from Eden to the new heavens and new earth.
(HT: Andy Naselli)
Doing what Jesus did is different from bearing the fruit of Christ’s righteous life. In fact, the most important things that Jesus did cannot be duplicated. Because he fulfilled the law in our place, bore our curse, and was raised in glory to take his throne at the Father’s right hand, we can have a relationship with him-and with the Father-that is far more intimate than the relationship of a devotee to a guru, a student to a teacher, or a follower to a master.
Following Christ is the consequence, not the alternative to or even means of union with Christ. Even when Scripture calls us to follow Christ’s example, the relationship between master and pupil is asymmetrical.
(HT: Of First Importance)
Every paratrooper knows precisely where he is supposed to land, but no paratrooper will jump without also knowing the surrounding territory. To do otherwise can leave one disoriented and lost, which can have disastrous consequences. In the same way, to randomly parachute into Bible passages, trying to glean spiritual gems devoid of context, can lead to wasted time and stunted spiritual growth.
Regular Bible reading according to a strategic plan is the right foundation for successful Bible study. And the principles of accurate interpretation will take that Bible study to the next level of spiritual blessing and benefit.
Reading God’s Word answers the question: What does the Bible say? But interpreting it answers the question: What does the Bible mean by what it says? Proper Bible interpretation is a critical element of successful Bible study. The reader does not have license to decide what it means. He has to learn what it means.
Paul’s pastoral counsel to his protégé Timothy was clear: “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). He told Timothy to read the text, explain the text (doctrine), and apply the text (exhortation). You don’t read it and jump right into application. You read it, then explain it, and then apply it. That’s what “accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is all about. Otherwise, misinterpretation is the likely result, and misinterpretation is the mother of all kinds of mania.
The Mania of Misinterpretation
Misinterpretation causes all sorts of problems, ranging from ridiculous errors to dangerous heresies. “The Daniel Plan” is a popular Christian weight-loss plan based on the prophet Daniel’s decision to eat only vegetables and water (Daniel 1:12). But this new “Bible-based” weight-loss program completely ignores the fact that Daniel’s diet was meant to display God’s supernatural sustenance in spite of inadequate dietary intake. Worse still, the laughable punchline to the whole story is that Daniel actually gained weight by following “The Daniel Plan” (Daniel 1:15)!
Prosperity preachers teach that John’s warm greeting to “prosper and be in good health” (3 John 2) expresses God’s universal desire for Christians to always be healthy and wealthy. Such “theology” makes a mockery of the hardships, poverty, and untimely deaths suffered by the apostles and those who succeeded them (cf. Hebrews 11:35–38).
Some factions of Mormonism believe that since the patriarchs practiced polygamy, so must we. One group even decided to refuse anesthetic for women in labor since the Old Testament teaches that pain in childbirth is a part of the curse. Jehovah’s Witnesses often refuse blood transfusions due to a faulty understanding of commands to abstain from blood (Acts 15:28–29).
Those misinterpretations cover the spectrum from the ludicrous to the hazardous to the damnable. But they all are the natural extension of a failure to understand what the Bible is really saying, and the context in which it was written. They are misinterpretations that can be easily dealt with by avoiding three major interpretive errors.
Don’t Make a Point at the Price of Proper Interpretation
In other words, don’t make the Bible say what you want it to say. Don’t follow the example of the minister who preached that women shouldn’t have hair pinned on top of their head. His text was “top knot come down” fromMatthew 24:17 (NKJV) where it says, “Let him who is on the housetop not come down.” That’s obviously notwhat that passage is teaching!
Another fatal path is to be like the preacher who says, I’ve already got a sermon; I just have to find a verse for it. He starts with a preconceived idea and then gathers some verses to support it—a case of the tail wagging the dog. True biblical sermons don’t drive the biblical text, they are driven by the biblical text. I know if I try to manufacture a sermon, I wind up forcing Scripture to fit my ideas. But when I try to comprehend a passage, the message flows out of that understanding.
Using God’s Word to illustrate a personal idea actually undermines biblical authority. Start with the text, find its true meaning, and then get out of the way and let Scripture speak for itself.
Avoid Superficial Interpretation
Second, as you study the Bible, be careful not to buy into the modern mantras of “to me, this verse means …” or, “What does this verse mean to you?” Instead, learn what it actually says.
Unfortunately, a lot of Bible studies are nothing but a pooling of ignorance—a lot of people sitting around and sharing what they don’t know about a verse. I am all for Bible studies, but somebody has to study to find out what the text really means so they can lead the others into understanding, and then they can discuss the application. Paul instructed Timothy to put in the hard labor of rightly handling God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
Third, don’t spiritualize the straightforward meaning of a Bible verse. The first sermon I ever preached was a horrible sermon. My text was “An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone” (Matthew 28:2). My sermon was “Rolling Away Stones in Your Life.” I talked about the stone of doubt, the stone of fear, and the stone of anger. That is not what that verse is talking about; it’s talking about a real stone. I made it into a terrific allegory at the expense of its plain meaning. On another occasion I heard a sermon on “they cast four anchors…and wished for the day” (Acts 27:29 KJV); the anchor of hope, the anchor of faith, and so on. Those Acts 27 anchors were not anchors of anything but metal.
I call that “Little Bo Peep” preaching, because you don’t need the Bible for those kinds of sermons. Someone can get up and say, “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep”—all over the world people are lost. “And can’t tell where to find them. Leave them alone and they’ll come home”—so they will come home after all. Then you tell a tear-jerking story about some sinners who came home “wagging their tails behind them.” It’s so easy to do, and a lot of people do that with the Old Testament. Don’t spiritualize the Bible; study it to gain the right meaning.
Context Is Key
Avoiding those three errors—conforming the text to your own predetermined agenda, superficial interpretation, and inventing spiritual metaphors out of passages that speak plainly—will create a far safer environment from which to study Scripture. But avoiding error is only one half of the interpretive equation. There are also principles of true interpretation that must be embraced.
Most interpretive challenges can be resolved through studying the passage within its wider context. “God is not a God of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33) and He does not have a problem explaining Himself. The problem is usually with us—whether it be a personal objection to what Scripture says, a cultural gap between us and the text’s original setting, a refusal to obey, or a lack of broader biblical knowledge. Whatever the case, skills in Bible interpretation can be acquired and applied. And I’ll explain how in the days ahead.
Tomorrow is Reformation Day.
Here is John Calvin, writing in 1543 (26 years after Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses to the Wittenberg Door), explaining why the Reformation needed to happen:
At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness;
when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions;
when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and his glory laid prostrate;
when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ;
when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain;
when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation; when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;
then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition.
The same course we are still pursuing in the present day.
—John Calvin, “The Necessity of Reforming the Church.”
(HT: Justin Taylor)
From an interview with Michael Horton about his latest book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World:
Belonging to the body of Christ, being exposed regularly to the means of grace and to the communion of saints, is radically life-changing. But that process can’t usually be measured in days, weeks, and months. We have to simply believe God’s promise. It’s easy to burn out when we expect every public service or daily time with the Lord to be earth-shattering. And just when it becomes ordinary, we back off because we don’t want it to become “routine.” But that’s just the point: it’s good to have routines that we stick to regardless of the fireworks. Again, I think of analogies: “How was your marriage today?” “How was your workout?” Most of the time, it’s “fine.” You can’t have revolutions every day or there wouldn’t be steady growth. Pastors, too, can burn out when every “worship experience” has to be phenomenal. All of this frenetic activity is, ironically, weakening sanctification, keeping our roots shallow, and making us dependent on “super apostles”—the ministers and their gifts instead of Christ’s gift-giving through his ministry.
You can read the entire interview here.
[Here I try] to draw together some of the key points in a list of simple “grammatical rules” for talking about Jesus Christ. Each is a negation followed by an affirmation:
1. Not to speak of Christ in any way that sidelines his human experience.Jesus Christ is truly human.
2. Not to speak of Jesus in any way that sidelines the divine depth beneath his human experience. Jesus Christ is truly God.
3. Not to divide Christ’s divinity and humanity, or to give the impression that he sometimes functions as God and sometimes as a human. Jesus Christ is divine and human in one person.
11. Not to divide Christ from Israel’s history, or to give the impression that the New Testament abolishes the Old. As Prophet, Priest and King, Jesus Christ is the surpassing fulfilment of Israel’s messianic hopes.
12. Not to speak of Christ as if he were relevant only to some people in some cultures and circumstances. Jesus Christ is present to all people, in all times and places, as their divine-human Prophet, Priest and King. The church trusts and proclaims, but never possesses, this Messiah.
God’s eternal life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a thing of infinite blessedness and perfection. There is a blessed God at the core of the glorious gospel.
God in himself is perfect, and perfectly happy. Being perfect, he cannot essentially improve. He can make happiness and blessedness available to his creatures because he always already has it.
This vision of a God with no unmet needs is a glimpse of the depths of the living God and the fund out of which he spends himself so freely in the economy of salvation.
The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 94
(HT: Of First Importance)
What a triumph for the humble Christian to be assured, that ‘the high and lofty One which inhabiteth eternity,’ condescends at the same time to dwell in the heart of the contrite — in his heart! To know that God is the God of his life, to know that he is even invited to take the Lord for his God. To close with God’s offers, to accept his invitations, to receive God as his portion, must surely be more pleasing to our heavenly Father, than separating our happiness from his glory.
To disconnect our interests from his goodness, is at once to detract from his perfections, and to obscure the brightness of our own hopes. The declarations of inspired writers are confirmed by the authority of the heavenly hosts. They proclaim that the glory of God and the happiness of his creatures, so far from interfering, are connected with each other. We know but of one anthem composed and sung by angels, and this most harmoniously combines ‘the glory of God in the highest with peace on earth and good will to men.’ …
This God is our God — God, even our own God, shall bless us. How delightful the appropriation! To glorify him as being in himself consummate excellence, and to love him from the feeling that this excellence is directed to our felicity! Here modesty would be ingratitude; disinterestedness rebellion.
This is a beautiful description of what we now call Christian Hedonism.
“‘But wait a minute,’ says somebody. ‘Are you saying that the passage of the years makes no difference? Are you asking me to believe that I have got to go back nearly two thousand years, and that the truth is what these men taught then?’ . . .
Yes, I am, and this is why. There can be no development in this truth, and there has not been, because this is not truth that man works out for himself, but is truth which God reveals. Not one of the apostles was a discoverer of truth. The mighty apostle Paul never discovered the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. . . . It is a revelation; it is something that is given by God, something that has been revealed by him supremely in the person of his only-begotten Son.”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Love So Amazing: Expositions of Colossians 1 (Grand Rapids, 1995), pages 63-64.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
What most encourages Tim Keller, John Piper, and Don Carson as they interact with the rising generation of church leaders?
“There are so many younger men and women who love the Bible and are deeply committed to being followers of what it says—as opposed to jellyfish in the current of the culture,” Piper observes. “Such an allegiance to Scripture starts yielding commitments that I get excited about.” The sovereign grace of God and racial justice are just two examples that energize his heart.
Carson likewise notes a “remarkable attitude that wants to be taught and mentored in the Bible, in historic Christian confessionalism, and in how to minister.” This humility and eagerness, he says, is thrilling to see.
And while plenty of young leaders desire to be either “only attractive” or “only offensive,” Keller adds, he also sees many who are striving to embody the biblical tension of gospel ministry in which we are “both offensive and attractive” to our neighbors (1 Pet. 2:11–12).
Watch the full eight-minute video to hear these three leaders discuss unprecedented multiethnic growth, racial justice, Calebite spirits, and more. Then register to see them address various topics in plenary sessions and workshops at our 2015 National Conference, April 13 to 15, in Orlando. Early registration ends next week! So grab a group and sign up together to get the lowest rates.
By God’s grace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers are assured of “every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3).
– Christopher Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 193.
(HT: Trevin Wax)
I am thoroughly enjoying Michael Horton’s new book Ordinary. I hope to review it soon, but will doubtless be quoting from it for months.
Here is a sample:
I think that if Jesus were to return today, he might tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, italics added). The gates of hell are no small matter, at least for us. We’re quite anxious. We have to do something about this (this being whatever we’re shocked by at present). America is in moral free-fall. The media are persecuting us. Churches seem to be losing their way. Radical Islam is on the march–not to mention the perfect storm of AIDS, famine, and war that has taken millions of lives in Africa. Every time we turn on the news, our compassion or anger is aroused–to the point that we become numb to it. And people in the pews are numb to it, especially when the church places still more burdens on their shoulders.
This burden of extraordinary impact weighs heavily, first, on the shoulders of pastors. But here is the good news: it is not your ministry, church, or people. You do not have to create and protect a personal legacy, but simply to distribute and guard Christ’s legacy entrusted to his apostles. You don’t have to bind Satan and storm the gates of hell. Christ has already done this. We’re just sweeping in being him to unlock the prison doors. You don’t have to live the gospel, be the gospel, do the gospel, and lead the troops to redeem culture and reconcile the world to God. We are not building a kingdom that can be convulsed with violence like other realms, but we are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28, italics added).
The disciples surely had reason to worry about the world’s opposition. It was a little flock, and their King did not allow them to carry weapons. However, Jesus simply said to them and says now to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) – Michael Horton, Ordinary, p. 119-120