Keller, Carson and Piper on the rising generation of church leaders

Matt Smethurst:

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.

 

No automatic advantage

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Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious.

This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.

- D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 166

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

Truth grounded in revelation

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D.A. Carson:

The revelation has come to us in the natural world, in great events of miraculous power attested by witnesses, in the personal work of the Spirit of God, in the enormously rich variety of writings that make up the Bible, and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. These are not mutually exclusive channels. For instance, most of what we know propositionally about Jesus is found in the Bible, including those parts that preserve the testimony of witnesses – so here we have Jesus himself, witnesses who have left words about him, and the Bible that preserves them and conveys them.

First, the content can be indeed, has been- put into propositions, creeds, catechisms, statements of faith. It has substance. Of course there is an interpretive element in all our confessions, for finite beings cannot know anything without interpreting it. Only omniscience can escape the limitations of perspectivalism – of looking at things form a limited perspective. But that does not mean that all perspectives are equally valid, or that there is no truth in any particular interpretation.

As Christians band together to study the Bible, they come to convictions about what the Bible is saying – and that leads, rightly, to shared creeds that are modifiable only by more light from the Bible itself. Our confession of such truth cannot participate in the perfection of omniscience, but it is nonetheless valid and appropriate to the limitations of our finitude and our fallenness. Better yet, it is made possible by a gracious god who condescends to disclose himself in human words, and by the Spirit who convicts rebels of sin and illumines darkened minds.

The Intolerance of Tolerance, pg. 111-112

(HT: Marco Gonzalez)

Carson and Keller on Revival

Though Keller and Carson could both be described as “pro-revival,” they are clear about unique dangers that have historically attended outpourings of God’s Spirit. “There is the danger of domesticating, of packaging, that can often end up making it feel phony,” Carson observes. As Keller adds, “Some are attracted to the glitz, others just want the attention.” He cites Jonathan Edwards’s little-known Thoughts on Revival for a sober-minded reflection on the false experiences that sometimes attend revival because of human sin.

Keller and Carson on Revival from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

How the gospel changes everything

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Sam Storms:

In a recent editorial for the on-line theological journal, Themelios, (“Do the Work of an Evangelist,” 39, 1, April 2014), D. A. Carson had some interesting remarks on the nature of the Christian gospel.

“For some Christians, ‘the gospel’ . . . is something you preach only to unconverted people. The gospel merely tips people into the kingdom; transformation and sanctification are sustained by discipleship. Once people become Christians, then the work of life transformation begins, often buttressed by various discipleship seminars: ‘Biblical Leadership,’ ‘Learning to Pray,’ ‘What to Do with Your Money,’ ‘Christian Marriage,’ and so forth—none of which falls under ‘gospel,’ but only under post-gospel discipleship. In recent years, however, many preachers and theologians have convincingly argued that ‘gospel’/’evangel’ is the larger category under which both evangelism and discipleship fall. In the NT, gospel is not everything—it is not law, for instance—but it is a very big thing, precisely because it is the unimaginably great news about what God is doing in and through King Jesus, especially in and through his cross and resurrection. A careful reading of Scripture shows how often Christian conduct is grounded in the gospel itself. For instance, the gospel is to be obeyed (e.g., 2 Thess 1:8); certain behavior conforms to the gospel, while other behavior does not (1 Tim 1:10–11). Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25)—transparently, this is a gospel appeal. In short, in the NT the gospel is preached both to unbelievers and to believers. It calls unbelievers to repentance and faith; it calls believers to ongoing faith and conformity to Jesus. In other words, gospel ministry includes but is not restricted to what we commonly call evangelistic ministry (note the two words, gospel and evangelistic, making the discussion confusing). Gospel ministry is ministry that is faithful to the gospel, that announces the gospel and applies the gospel and encourages people to believe the gospel and thus live out the gospel.”

I want to draw your attention to Carson’s observation that “a careful reading of Scripture shows how often Christian conduct is grounded in the gospel itself.” Here is why.

One of the distinctive theological emphases in Acts 29 is what we call gospel centrality. In our effort to unpack what this means, we want people to understand that the gospel “is not only the means by which people are saved, but also the truth and power by which people are sanctified; it is the truth of the Gospel that enables us to genuinely and joyfully do what is pleasing to God and to grow in progressive conformity to the image of Christ.” This is, at least in part, what Carson has in mind.

To be “gospel-centered” does not mean you consistently conduct an altar call at the close of every Sunday sermon! Gospel-centrality as we understand it in Acts 29 begins with the reality that the gospel is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but also the foundation and force that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus both in our daily lives and in our experience as the corporate body of Christ. The gospel, which is the good news of what God has graciously done in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to satisfy his own wrath and secure the forgiveness of sins and perfect righteousness for all who trust in him by faith alone, informs, controls, and energizes all we do, whether that be the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, marriage, work, our use of money, speech, parenting, mission, and all aspects of ministry in the local church and beyond.

Consider the following small sampling of how all of life and local church ministry are influenced when the Gospel is at the Center:

Our approach to suffering, that is to say, how to suffer unjustly without growing bitter and resentful is tied directly to the way Christ suffered for us and did so without reviling those who reviled him – “when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23; see 2:18-25; 3:17-18)

Or take humility as another example. The basis for Paul’s appeal that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than” ourselves is the self-sacrifice of God the Son in becoming a human and submitting to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-5 in relation to 2:6-11).

All of us know that as husbands we are to love our wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25-33).

Why should we be generous and sacrificial with our money? Because, says Paul, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9; 9:13).

We are to forgive one another “as God in Christ forgave” us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13).

We are to “walk in love” toward each other, says Paul, “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

We are to serve one another in humility as Christ served his disciples by washing their feet and eventually suffering in their stead (John 13:1-20).

The freedom we have in Christ, says Paul in Romans 14, is to be controlled in its exercise by the recognition that the weaker brother who might be damaged by our behavior is one for whom Christ died (Romans 14).

Paul encourages us to pray for all based on the fact that Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

If that were not enough, there are countless instances in the NT where we are directed back to the reality of the gospel and what Christ has done for us through it as the primary way to combat those false beliefs and feelings that hinder our spiritual growth. So, for example, . . .

When you don’t feel loved by others, meditate on Rom. 5:5-11; 8:35-39.
When you don’t have a sense of any personal value, read Mt. 10:29-31; 1 John 3:1-3.
When you struggle to find meaning in life, study Eph. 1:4-14; Rom. 11:33-36.
When you don’t feel useful, consider 1 Cor. 15:58; 12:7-27.
When you feel unjustly criticized, rest in the truth of Rom. 8:33-34.
When you feel excluded by others, rejoice in Heb. 13:5-6.
When you feel you have no good works, let Eph. 2:8-10 have its effect.
When you are constantly asking the question: Who am I? take courage in 1 Peter 2:9-10.
When you live in fear that other people have the power to destroy or undermine who you are, be strengthened by Heb. 13:5-6; Rom. 8:31-34.
When you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, take comfort from Eph. 4:1-16; 1 Cor. 12:13.
When Satan accuses you of being a constant failure, remind him of 1 Cor. 1:30-31.
When Satan tells you that you are an embarrassment to the church, quote Eph. 3:10.
When you find yourself bitter towards the Church and indifferent regarding its ministries, reflect on Acts 20:28.
When you find yourself shamed into silence when confronted by non-Christians, be encouraged with 2 Tim. 1:8-12.
When you find yourself experiencing prejudice against those of another race or culture, memorize and act upon the truth of Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 5:14-16; Eph. 2:11ff.; Revelation 5.
When you struggle with pride and boasting in your own achievements, be humbled by Rom. 3:27-28; 1 Cor. 1:18-25, 30-31.
When you feel despair and hopelessness, let Rom. 5:1-10 restore your confidence.
When you feel defeated by sin and hopeless ever to change, delight yourself in Rom. 7:24-25.
When you feel condemned by God for your multiple, repeated failures, speak aloud the words of Rom. 8:1.
When you lack power to resist conforming to the world, consider Rom. 12:1-2; Gal. 6:14.
When you feel weak and powerless, be energized by Rom. 16:25.
When you are tempted sexually, never forget 1 Cor. 6:18-20.

And again, when you find yourself saying . . .

I’m not having any impact in life or on others, be uplifted by 2 Cor. 12:9-10.
I feel guilty and filled with shame all the time for my sins, be reminded of Eph. 1:7.
I live in constant fear, be encouraged by Luke 12:32; Rev. 2:9-11.
I struggle with anxiety and worry about everything, don’t neglect the truth of Mt. 6:25-34; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Pt. 5:6-7.
I am defined and controlled by my past, look to 2 Cor. 5:17.
I live in fear that God will abandon me, consider his promise in Rom. 8:35-38.
I can’t break free of my sins and bad habits, linger long with Rom. 6:6,14.
I’m afraid to pray and fear that God will mock my petitions, take heart from Heb. 4:14-16.
I carry grudges against those who’ve wronged me and live in bitterness towards them, reflect and meditate on Col. 3:12-13.
I can’t find strength to serve others, fearing that I’ll be taken advantage of by them, let Phil. 2:5-11; and Mark 10:45 have their way in your life.
I’m a spiritual orphan and belong to no one, rejoice in Gal. 4:4-7.

Each of these texts refers to the gospel of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and each text applies that gospel truth to the particular problem noted. These, then, are just a handful of the ways that the gospel affects all of life, all of ministry, and everything we seek to be and do and accomplish as Christians and as local churches.

How we overcome

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D. A. Carson:

How dare you approach the mercy-seat of God on the basis of what kind of day you had, as if that were the basis for our entrance into the presence of the sovereign and holy God? No wonder we cannot beat the Devil. This is works theology. It has nothing to do with grace and the exclusive sufficiency of Christ. Nothing.

Do you not understand that we overcome the accuser on the ground of the blood of Christ? Nothing more, nothing less. That is how we win. It is the only way we win. This is the only ground of our acceptance before God. If you drift far from the cross, you are done. You are defeated.

We overcome the accuser of our brothers and sisters, we overcome our consciences, we overcome our bad tempers, we overcome our defeats, we overcome our lusts, we overcome our fears, we overcome our pettiness on the basis of the blood of the Lamb.

Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 103

All good things secured by Christ on the cross

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D.A. Carson:

Everything that we know and appreciate and praise God for in all Christian experience both in this life and in the life to come springs from this bloody cross.

Do we have the gift of the Spirit? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Do we enjoy the fellowship of saints? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Does he give us comfort in life and death? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Does he watch over us faithfully, providentially, graciously, and covenantally? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Do we have hope of a heaven to come? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Do we anticipate resurrection bodies on the last day? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Is there a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness? Secured by Christ on the cross.

Do we now enjoy new identities, so that we are no longer to see ourselves as nothing but failures, moral pariahs, disappointments to our parents—but deeply loved, blood-bought, human beings, redeemed by Christ, declared just by God himself, owing to the fact that God himself presented his Son Jesus as the propitiation for our sins? All this is secured by Christ on the cross and granted to those who have faith in him.

— D. A. Carson Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 70-71

(HT: Of First Importance)

The Hole in the Gospel

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D.A. Carson:

[...]

For the Bible to be coherent, then, it follows that the gospel must resolve the problem of sin. What is the gospel? In recent years that question has been answered in numerous books, essays, and blogs. Like the word “sin,” the word “gospel” can be accurately but rather fuzzily defined in a few words, or it can be unpacked at many levels after one undertakes very careful exegetical study of εὐαγγέλιον4 and its cognates and adjacent themes.5 We could begin with a simple formulation such as “The gospel is the great news of what God has done in Jesus Christ.” Then one could adopt an obvious improvement: “The gospel is the great news of what God has done in Jesus Christ, especially in his death and resurrection” (cf. 1 Cor 15). Or we could take several quantum leaps forward, and try again:

The gospel is the great news of what God has graciously done in Jesus Christ, especially in his atoning death and vindicating resurrection, his ascension, session, and high priestly ministry, to reconcile sinful human beings to himself, justifying them by the penal substitute of his Son, and regenerating and sanctifying them by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who is given to them as the down payment of their ultimate inheritance. God will save them if they repent and trust in Jesus.

The proper response to this gospel, then, is that people repent, believe, and receive God’s grace by faith alone.

The entailment of this received gospel, that is, the inevitable result, is that those who believe experience forgiveness of sins, are joined together spiritually in the body of Christ, the church, being so transformed that, in measure as they become more Christ-like, they delight to learn obedience to King Jesus and joyfully proclaim the good news that has saved them, and they do good to all men, especially to the household of faith, eager to be good stewards of the grace of God in all the world, in anticipation of the culminating transformation that issues in resurrection existence in the new heaven and the new earth, to the glory of God and the good of his blood-bought people.

Once again, as in our brief treatment of sin, much more could be said to flesh out this potted summary. But observe three things:

1. The gospel is, first and foremost, news—great news, momentous news. That is why it must be announced, proclaimed—that’s what one does with news. Silent proclamation of the gospel is an oxymoron. Godly and generous behavior may bear a kind of witness to the transformed life, but if those who observe such a life hear nothing of the substance of the gospel, it may evoke admiration but cannot call forth faith because in the Bible faith demands faith’s true object, which remains unknown where there is no proclamation of the news.

2. The gospel is, first and foremost, news about what God has done in Christ. It is not law, an ethical system, or a list of human obligations; it is not a code of conduct telling us what we must do: it is news about what God has done in Christ.

3. On the other hand, the gospel has both purposes and entailments in human conduct. The entailments must be preached. But if you preach the entailments as if they were the gospel itself, pretty soon you lose sight of the reality of the gospel—that it is the good news of what God has done, not a description of what we ought to do in consequence. Pretty soon the gospel descends to mere moralism. One cannot too forcefully insist on the distinction between the gospel and its entailments.

So now I come to the fairly recent and certainly very moving book by Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us?6 This frank and appealing book surveys worldwide poverty and argues that the American failure to take up God’s mandate to address poverty is “the hole in our gospel.” Without wanting to diminish the obligation Christians have to help the poor, and with nothing but admiration for Mr Stearns’s personal pilgrimage, his argument would have been far more helpful and compelling had he observed three things:

First, “what God expects of us” (his subtitle) is, by definition, not the gospel. This is not the great news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Had Mr Stearns cast his treatment of poverty as one of the things to be addressed by the second greatest commandment, or as one of several entailments of the gospel, I could have recommended his book with much greater confidence. As it is, the book will contribute to declining clarity as to what the gospel is.

Second, even while acknowledging—indeed, insisting on the importance of highlighting—the genuine needs that Mr Stearns depicts in his book, it is disturbing not to hear similar anguish over human alienation from God. The focus of his book is so narrowly poverty that the sweep of what the gospel addresses is lost to view. Men and women stand under God’s judgment, and this God of love mandates that by the means of heralding the gospel they will be saved not only in this life but in the life to come. Where is the anguish that contemplates a Christ-less eternity, that cries, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses. . . . Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezek 18:30–32). The analysis of the problem is too small, and the gospel is correspondingly reduced.

Third, some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.

Because of the Blood

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All Christian blessings and resources are grounded in the blood of the Lamb.

Do you find yourself accepted before this holy God? If so, it is because of the blood of the Lamb. Have you received the blessed Holy Spirit? He has been poured out because of the blood of the Lamb. Do you have the prospect of consummated eternal life in glory? It was secured by the blood of the Lamb.

Are you in the fellowship of saints, brothers and sisters who love Christ, the church of the living God, a new body, the body of Christ on earth? This is bought, secured, and constituted by the blood of the Lamb. Are you grateful for the spiritual armaments that Paul tells us to deploy (Ephesians 6)? The entire arsenal is at our disposal because of the blood of the Lamb. May we go to God in prayer? It is because of the blood of the Lamb. Do we find our wills strengthened by the Spirit? That incalculable benefit was secured by the blood of the Lamb.

Every whiff of victory over the principalities and powers of this dark age has been secured by the blood of the Lamb.

— D. A. Carson Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 99

(HT: Of First Importance)

 

The Necessity and Danger of Polemical Theology

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Justin Taylor:

D. A. Carson argues that polemical theology is biblical but can also be dangerous:

. . . any robust theology that wounds and heals, that bites and edifies and clarifies, is implicitly or explicitly engaging with alternative stances.

In a world of finite human beings who are absorbed in themselves and characterized by rebellion against God, polemical theology is an unavoidable component of any serious theological stance, as the Bible itself makes clear.

But then he points to the dangers:

Nevertheless there is something wrong-headed about making polemical theology the focus of one’s theological identity.

This can be done in many ways.

There are well-known scholars whose every publication has an undertone of “everyone-has-got-this-wrong-before-me-but-here-is-the-true-synthesis.”

Some become far better known for what they are against than for the overflow of their worship or for their generosity to the needy or even for their affirmation of historically confessed truth.

Still other Christians develop websites and ministries whose sole aim is to confute error. God knows there is plenty of error to confute. To make the refutation of error into a specialized “ministry,” however, is likely to diminish the joyful affirmation of truth and make every affirmation of truth sound angry, supercilious, self-righteous—in a word, polemical.

In short, while polemical theology is just about unavoidable in theory and should not, as a matter of faithfulness, be skirted, one worries about those who make it their specialism.

Carson also makes the point that “polemical theology ought to develop a wide range of ‘tones’”:

Re-read Galatians.

Within the space of six short chapters, Paul can be indignant with his readers, but he can also plead with them. He openly admits he wishes he could be present with them so he could better judge how he should adjust his tone. He can be scathing with respect to his opponents, precisely because he wants to protect his readers; he can devote several paragraphs to clarifying and defending his own credibility, not least in demonstrating that his core gospel is shared by the other apostles, even though he insists he is not dependent on them for getting it right. He happily connects his theological understanding to ethical conduct.

All of this suggests that a mature grasp of the potential of polemical theology wants to win and protect people, not merely win arguments.

You can read the whole thing.

There Are Worse Things Than Dying

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“I do not know how many times I have sung the words, “O let me never, never / Outlive my love for Thee,” but I mean them.

I would rather die than end up unfaithful to my wife; I would rather die than deny by a profligate life what I have taught in my books; I would rather die than deny or disown the gospel.

God knows there are many things in my past of which I am deeply ashamed; I would not want such shame to multiple and bring dishonor to Christ in years to come.

There are worse things than dying.”

—D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 120.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

On Not Losing the Gospel in the Next Generation

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Justin Taylor posts:

Daniel Darling, writing for Leadership, asks Don Carson, “You’ve often said that the Church is three generations from losing the gospel entirely. What advice would you give to pastors and church leaders to ensure that this doesn’t happen?” Here is his answer:

This question is an important one, but very difficult to answer in a few lines.

Read and meditate on the Scriptures constantly, and self-consciously place yourself under Scriptural authority.

Walk with epistemological humility—and that means carefully learning from Christian leaders in the past so we do not tumble into precisely the same mistakes.

Devote yourself to disciplined prayer. A prayerless person is a disaster waiting to happen.

Never stop evangelizing: it is much easier to get sloppy about the gospel if you are not proclaiming it and seeing men and women come to Christ.

Develop close attachments with a handful of trusted people who are experienced and discerning, and make time for edifying fellowship.

If you are a pastor, read widely—commentaries, theology, historical theology, devotional literature, and so forth. A pastor must be a general practitioner. One is far more likely to make mistakes of proportion and judgement where one sees oneself as a kind of specialist.

Carson: The most painful things I’ve ever borne are betrayals by Christian friends

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Here’s how Don Carson recently replied to a question about suffering during a Q&A. (This is a lightly edited transcript from 13:37 to 14:40 in the audio file.)

  • We grew up in some of the suffering of French Canada.
  • I’ve had typhoid because I went to Africa and came within death’s door.
  • I’ve had two or three other diseases that have almost taken me out.
  • My wife’s had cancer that has almost taken her out. She didn’t expect to live to 50; she just turned 59.
  • But that’s part of the stuff of life, isn’t it? And if you’re a Christian leader, then sooner or later you go through situations in churches and relationships that are really tough.The most painful things I’ve ever borne are betrayals by Christian friends.
  •  Some of you will know the name Roy Clements. On the Tuesday of this particular week, we got the diagnosis of my wife’s cancer, and it was bad. On the Thursday of that week, I and five others got the letter from Roy Clemens telling us that he was leaving his wife and going to proclaim himself a homosexual. My wife and I cried much, much more over Roy than we ever did over the cancer.

(HT: Andy Naselli)

How Can God Be Both Personal and Transcendent?

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D.A. Carson:

Genesis 46Mark 16Job 12Romans 16

“ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS to grasp is that the God of the Bible is both personal – interacting with other persons – and transcendent (i.e., above space ant time – the domain in which all our personal interactions with God take place). As the transcendent Sovereign, he rules over everything without exception; as the personal Creator, he interacts in personal ways with those who bear his image, disclosing himself to be not only personal but flawlessly good. How to put those elements together is finally beyond us, however frequently they are simply assumed in Scripture.

When Jacob hears that Joseph is alive, he offers sacrifices to God, who graciously discloses himself to Jacob once again: “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes” (Gen. 46:3-4).

The book of Genesis makes it clear that Jacob knew that God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise that the land where they were now settled would one day be given to him and to his descendants. That is why Jacob needed this direct disclosure from God to induce him to leave the land. Jacob was reassured on three fronts: (a) God would make his descendants multiply into a “great nation” during their sojourn in Egypt; (b) God would eventually bring them out of Egypt; (c) at the personal level, Jacob is comforted to learn that his long-lost son Joseph will attend his father’s death.

All of this provides personal comfort. It also discloses something of the mysteries of God’s providential sovereignty, for readers of the Pentateuch know that this sojourn in Egypt will issue in slavery, that God will then be said to “hear” the cries of his people, that in the course of time he will raise up Moses, who will be God’s agent in the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the granting of the Sinai covenant and the giving of the law, the wilderness wanderings, and the (re) entry into the Promised Land. The sovereign God who brings Joseph down to Egypt to prepare the way for this small community of seventy persons has a lot of complex plans in store. These are designed to bring his people to the next stage of redemptive history, and finally to teach them that God’s words are more important than food (Deut. 8).

One can no more detach God’s sovereign transcendence from his personhood, or vice versa, than one can safely detach one wing from an airplane and still expect it to fly.”

D.A. Carson, For the Love of God

The Christmas Story from the Perspective of Rev.12:1-6

By D. A. Carson in his outstanding book Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway, 2010):

imgresThe scene is grotesque. The dragon stands in front of the woman. She is lying there in labour  Her feet are in the stirrups, writhing as she pushes to give birth, and this disgusting dragon is waiting to grab the baby as it comes out of the birth canal and then eat it (12:4). The scene is meant to be grotesque: it reflects the implacable rage of Satan against the arriving Messiah.

Do we not know how this works out in historical terms? The first bloodbath in the time of Jesus takes place in the little village of Bethlehem — in the slaughter of the innocents as Herod tries to squash this baby’s perceived threat to his throne.

Jesus is saved by Joseph, who is warned by God in a dream and flees to Egypt. Herod, in a rage, “gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16). Satan later manifests his rage against Jesus in the temptation, and he manifests his rage against the church in every temptation. Satan’s rage manifests itself when some people try to push Jesus over a cliff, and others take up stones to stone him. Satan is after Jesus and wants to destroy him by any means possible.

Behind all these attempts to destroy Jesus is the red dragon, and behind the red dragon is God himself, bringing to pass his purposes even in the death of his Son to bring about our redemption.

But the text does not go on to talk about Jesus’ triumph here, not because this book has no interest in him but because the triumph of Jesus has already been spectacularly introduced in Revelation 4–5. The great vision of Revelation 4–5 controls the entire book. There we learn that Christ, this male child, is the only one who is fit to open the scroll in God’s right hand to bring about all of God’s purposes for judgement and blessing. He is the Lion and the Lamb, the reigning king and the bloody sacrifice, the heir to David’s throne yet the one who appears from God’s throne. Because of his struggle, men and women from every tongue and tribe and people and nation are redeemed. Countless millions gather around him who sits on the throne and the Lamb and sing a new song of adoring, grateful, praise.

But here in Revelation 12 we move from Jesus’ birth to his ascension; we run through his entire life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension in two lines: he “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre  and “was snatched up to God and to his throne” (v. 5). The male child, Jesus, is born and snatched to heaven. In other words, this passage focuses not on Christ’s triumph — that is presupposed — but on what happens to the woman and her children, the ones left behind. And that is us: the messianic community, the people of God, the blood-bought church of Jesus Christ. This side of the cross they are described as “those who obey God’s commands and hold the testimony of Jesus” (v. 17). The woman (the messianic community) is the focus of the passage.

(HT: Tony Reinke)

How to read the Bible, and how not to

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Ray Ortlund:

“Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.”

D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585.

There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise.

If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise.

In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Galatians 3:17-18).

So, if we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or grace, demand or provision, threat or promise — if we want to know how to read the Bible in an apostolic rather than a rabbinic way — we can follow the plot-line of the Bible itself and see which comes first. And in fact, promise comes first, in God’s word to Abram in Genesis 12. Then the law is “added” — significant word, in Galatians 3:19 — the law is added as a sidebar later, in Exodus 20. The hermeneutical category “promise” establishes the larger, wraparound framework for everything else added in along the way.

The deepest message of the Bible is the promises of God to undeserving law-breakers through his grace in Christ. This is not an arbitrary overlay forced onto the biblical text. The Bible presents itself to us this way. The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there, fulfilled in Christ and revered by us. But they do not provide the hermeneutic with which we make sense of the whole. We can and should understand them as qualified by God’s gracious promise, for all who will bank their hopes on him.

How Important Is Complementarianism?

John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Russell Moore, and Greg Gilbert at a panel of the 2012 Together for the Gospel (April 2012):

 

Tim Keller, Don Carson, and John Piper at the Gospel Coalition council members’ meeting (May 2012):

 

If you are new to this subject, here are some resources I would recommend starting with:

1. John Piper and Wayne Grudem “50 Crucial Questions About Manhood and Womanhood.” This is a free PDF that gives concise answers to 50 questions. This is the place to start.

2. If you want to hear the audio or read the notes of a weekend seminar, looking at passages and objections and application in more depth, take a look at this free seminar by John Piper.

3. For introductions written by women, consider Carrie Sandom, Different by Design: God’s Blueprint for Men and Women and Claire Smith, God’s Good Design: What the Bible Really Says About Men and Women.

(HT: Justin Taylor)