God Issued the Prohibition, Not the Church

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Jim Hamilton:

In his book God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines assumes that he is correct to call sin righteous, slanders the Bride of Christ, and speaks as though sin produces lasting joy when he writes,

“the church’s condemnation of same-sex relationships seemed to be harmful to the long-term wellbeing of most gay people. . . . Same-sex relationships, however, did seem to be creating long-term fulfillment for gay people. By condemning homosexuality, the church seemed to be shutting off a primary avenue for relational joy and companionship in gay people’s lives” (13, emphasis his).

Let’s work through the assertions in this statement:

First, the church has not issued this condemnation. God did that by inspiring the biblical authors to write what they did. The church is not at fault for holding to what the Bible says.

Second, the concern expressed here for “long-term fulfillment” is not long-term enough. Vines wants a committed same-sex relationship that, if he lived long enough, might last him 60 years. We who call sinners to repentance want for them a relationship with Jesus the bridegroom that will last the next 60 million years and beyond. We do not want them to spend that time suffering God’s wrath in hell.

As for a same-sex relationship being a “primary avenue for relational joy and companionship,” Christians are given the example of Moses, who chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb 11:25Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)). Sin does not lead to lasting pleasure, however appearances might deceive us.

In reality, Christians who live out and bear witness to what God has commanded are lovingly calling people to come out of darkness into the light. It is not loving to leave people in their sin. It is not loving to leave them to face the almighty indignation of the God whose holiness they have flaunted. It is not loving to leave them hurtling toward a confrontation with the wrathful Judge.

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

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Matt Smethurst:

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God’s written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more:

You claim that “what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.” Aren’t you guilty of bibliolatry here?

Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, “Well, we worship the ‘Word Christ’ not the ‘word the Bible.'” Which is true in a sense. We don’t prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don’t worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God’s speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most “live” among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture’s perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We’ve seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say “that’s just your interpretation” instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God’s truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we’ve misread the Bible, let’s see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What’s wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It’s better to obey the Bible when you don’t like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he’s like.

What do you mean when you claim God’s speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don’t have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don’t have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ’s work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture’s sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute “most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians”?

It’s wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can’t be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I’m thinking of people who make their sense of “calling” more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I’m thinking of denominational groups I’ve been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I’m talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say “yes,” but then often live out “no.”

Believer, Become What You Are

John Piper:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)

Believer, you died and the new you is alive, and you are God’s. The whole of our Christian life is learning to become — by God’s Spirit — what we already are in Christ. These verses show us how this newness in us comes to life in our everyday choices. In this four-minute video, John Piper explains how the Spirit within and the word of God without work together to make us new.

The Importance of Being in the Word

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Colin Smith:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Colossians 3:16

People sometimes say to me, “Pastor, I’ve been in church my whole life and I know how important being in the Word is, but I’m really struggling.  Where do I start?”  Or they’ll say, “I’m a Christian, but I’m really struggling to know the love of God.  Can you help me?”

A great place to start

“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s patience…” 2 Thessalonians 2:5

A great place to start is with a passage of Scripture like the one above.  Here are three simple observations from this one verse: 1. I need love and patience when I’m tired of the battle, 2. God can give me the love and patience I need, and 3. I can ask God to give me what I do not have.

You can do a simple meditation like this for yourself as you read a few verses of the Bible every day.  I encourage you to do this.  Read a few verses.  Then pick one, and write out two or three sentences to restate and apply what it says.  Even children can do this!

Write out the verse.  Then write out, in your own words, what the verse says and how it helps you.  Get a hardback notebook.  As you begin this practice, 20 years from now it will be your joy to look back on what God has taught you.

Is it in you?

“The word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”Hebrews 4:12

Don’t just read the Bible and rush on.  Take what God is saying into your life.  Do this for a few minutes every day, or at least start by doing this a few times a week.  It’s important to develop the habit of being in the Word.  As you do this, you’ll get better at it, and you’ll begin to see God’s Word bearing fruit in your life.

If you’re in the habit of reading devotionals, that’s good, but if you’ve been doing that for many years, it may be time for you to move beyond feeding your soul on other people’s thoughts.  Try feeding your soul on the Word of God directly.  Ask God to help you.  Get a friend to encourage you.  A year from now, you will be amazed at how much you’ve grown.

You can receive our daily devotional booklet by mail by visiting UnlockingtheBible.org/LifeKEYS and subscribing to the LifeKEYS Daily Bible Devotional BookletYou can also follow Colin Smith and Unlocking the Bible on Facebook and Twitter.  

This LifeKey based on the message “The Love of God and the Patience of Christ,” by Pastor Colin S. Smith, February 20, 2011, from the series “Staying the Course When You’re Tired of the Battle.

Colin currently serves as Senior Pastor of the The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is committed to preaching the Bible in a way that nourishes the soul by directing attention to Jesus Christ.

Intellectual Discipleship? Faithful Thinking for Faithful Living

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Albert Mohler:

The biblical master narrative serves as a framework for the cognitive principles that allow the formation of an authentically Christian worldview. Many Christians rush to develop what they will call a “Christian worldview” by arranging isolated Christian truths, doctrines, and convictions in order to create formulas for Christian thinking. No doubt, this is a better approach than is found among so many believers who have very little concern for Christian thinking at all; but it is not enough.

A robust and rich model of Christian thinking—the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview—requires that we see all truth as interconnected. Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth. Christianity is not a set of doctrines in the sense that a mechanic operates with a set of tools. Instead, Christianity is a comprehensive worldview and way of life that grows out of Christian reflection on the Bible and the unfolding plan of God revealed in the unity of the Scriptures.

A God-centered worldview brings every issue, question, and cultural concern into submission to all that the Bible reveals, and it frames all understanding within the ultimate purpose of bringing greater glory to God. This task of bringing every thought captive to Christ requires more than episodic Christian thinking and is to be understood as the task of the church, and not merely the concern of individual believers. The recovery of the Christian mind and the development of a comprehensive Christian worldview will require the deepest theological reflection, the most consecrated application of scholarship, the most sensitive commitment to compassion, and the courage to face all questions without fear.

Christianity brings the world a distinctive understanding of time, history, and the meaning of life. The Christian worldview contributes an understanding of the universe and all it contains that points us far beyond mere materialism and frees us from the intellectual imprisonment of naturalism. Christians understand that the world—including the material world—is dignified by the very fact that God has created it. At the same time, we understand that we are to be stewards of this creation and are not to worship what God has made. We understand that every single human being is made in the image of God and that God is the Lord of life at every stage of human development. We honor the sanctity of human life because we worship the Creator. From the Bible, we draw the essential insight that God takes delight in the ethnic and racial diversity of his human creatures, and so must we.

The Christian worldview contributes a distinctive understanding of beauty, truth, and goodness, understanding these to be transcendentals that, in the final analysis, are one and the same. Thus, the Christian worldview disallows the fragmentation that would sever the beautiful from the true or the good. Christians consider the stewardship of cultural gifts—ranging from music and visual art to drama and architecture—as a matter of spiritual responsibility.

The Christian worldview supplies authoritative resources for understanding our need for law and our proper respect for order. Informed by the Bible, Christians understand that God has invested government with an urgent and important responsibility. At the same time, Christians come to understand that idolatry and self-aggrandizement are temptations that come to every regime. Drawing from the Bible’s rich teachings concerning money, greed, the dignity of labor, and the importance of work, Christians have much to contribute to a proper understanding of economics. Those who operate from an intentionally biblical worldview cannot reduce human beings to mere economic units, but must understand that our economic lives reflect the fact that we are made in God’s image and are thus invested with responsibility to be stewards of all the Creator has given us.

Christian faithfulness requires a deep commitment to serious moral reflection on matters of war and peace, justice and equity, and the proper operation of a system of laws. Our intentional effort to develop a Christian worldview requires us to return to first principles again and again in a constant and vigilant effort to ensure that the patterns of our thoughts are consistent with the Bible and its master narrative.

In the context of cultural conflict, the development of an authentic Christian worldview should enable the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to maintain a responsible and courageous footing in any culture at any period of time. The stewardship of this responsibility is not merely an intellectual challenge; it determines, to a considerable degree, whether or not Christians live and act before the world in a way that brings glory to God and credibility to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Failure at this task represents an abdication of Christian responsibility that dishonors Christ, weakens the church, and compromises Christian witness.

A failure of Christian thinking is a failure of discipleship, for we are called to love God with our minds. We cannot follow Christ faithfully without first thinking as Christians. Furthermore, believers are not to be isolated thinkers who bear this responsibility alone. We are called to be faithful together as we learn intellectual discipleship within the believing community, the church.

By God’s grace, we are allowed to love God with our minds in order that we may serve him with our lives. Christian faithfulness requires the conscious development of a worldview that begins and ends with God at its center. We are only able to think as Christians because we belong to Christ; and the Christian worldview is, in the end, nothing more than seeking to think as Christ would have us to think, in order to be who Christ would call us to be.

John Calvin – The Undoubted Power and Majesty of God’s Word

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John Calvin:

Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence, it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to it as to a thing far beyond any guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which, under closer scrutiny, displeases them, but fully conscious that we hold the unassailable truth! Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition; but we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowingly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing or knowing!

Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volumes 1 & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) Vol. 1.7.5. p. 80.

(HT: The Old Guys)

What about those who have never heard?

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Todd Pruitt:

It is a vexing question for many: “What about those who have never heard?” How can God hold accountable for believing the gospel those who have never heard the gospel? Certainly God cannot send a man to Hell for not believing when he never even had the opportunity to reject the gospel in the first place. The very idea flies in the face of all our notions of justice.

But the question itself is fatally flawed. Are we condemned for rejecting the gospel? Or are we condemned because we are sinners?

The following is a helpful thought experiment from Francis Schaeffer:

If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.

Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years–thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.

Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never head the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it.

We sin two kinds of sin. We sin one kind as though we trip off the curb, and it overtakes us by surprise. We sin a second kind of sin when we deliberately set ourselves up to fall. And no one can say he does not sin in the latter sense. Paul’s comment is not just theoretical and abstract, but addressed to the individual–“O man”–any man without the Bible, as well as the man with the Bible.

. . . God is completely just. A man is judged and found wanting on the same basis on which he has tried to bind others.

–Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, 2d ed. (Crossway, 1985), pp. 49-50.

What is Your Most Prized Possession?

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Erik Raymond:

What is your most prized possession? To find out we would only have to look at what you give your time, attention, and resources to.

For the Christian, what should be the most prized possession? Everyone including the First Grade Sunday School Class just rightly answered, “Bible.” Very good; but, why?

The reason why is because the Bible is rock of revelation that our faith is built upon.

How do you know God? You know him from his word.

There is a sense in which God’s character is revealed in creation (Ps. 19) and even to a degree within us as image bearers (Rom. 1). However, our view of this revelation is strained and the revelation itself is inferior. It is strained by virtue of our sin and the revelation is inferior to the Scriptures. The knowledge of God is chiefly given through the revelation of God by means of the word written and incarnate (Heb. 1:1-3John 14:92 Tim. 3:16-17). If anyone knows God they know him through his word.

How do you hear from God? You hear from him from his word.

Christianity, contrasted to other world religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc), is an outside in religion. We do not reason up to God or look within for our understanding of God. Instead God reveals from himself to us from the outside. B.B. Warfield developed this point with precision and depth in his book The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible

How do you see God? You see him through his word. 

We know that we cannot see God. He is Spirit (Jn. 4:241:18. But the Bible also talks about “beholding” God (2 Cor. 3:18). We see God through the eyes of faith. Well, what does faith latch on to? What does faith see? Faith is not a blind word groping about the corridors of philosophy hoping for a warm room to sit in. Faith is the settled disposition of the soul that rests upon the reality, trustworthiness, and beauty of God. (cf. Heb. 11.111.6).

How do we see God? Well, it is Jesus, the Son of God, who rightly reflects and images God. It is Jesus who is the revelation of God. It is Jesus who is the perfect, final, sufficient, and supreme revelation of God (Heb. 1:1-3). He reveals the goodness, love, wrath, holiness, grace, power, and mercy of God. How do we see Jesus? We see him by faith as we read the Bible.

You cannot see God or see the glory of Christ apart from the Bible. There are no other avenues to behold (synonym for see) apart from the Scriptures. In the midst of John Owen’s treatise on The Glory of Christ, he writes about this topic saying,

This is the glory of the Scriptures, that it is the great, yea, the only, outward means of representing unto us the glory of Christ; and he is the sun in the firmament of it, which only hath light in itself, and communicates it unto all other things besides.(John Owen, Works, Volume 1, p. 316)

What is your most prized possession? It is your Bible. You need it to know God, to hear from him, and to see him. May God graciously forbid us from fasting from the Bible because we are really fasting from God.

Seven Qualities of Expository Preaching

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By Wayne McDill:

Among evangelicals, the term expository preaching has come to stand for authentic biblical preaching. However, exactly what constitutes expository preaching varies from writer to writer and preacher to preacher.

I have talked with preachers who described themselves as “expositors,” and I believed them until I heard them preach. For many, exposition seems to mean taking a text and preaching on the subject the passage seems to address. For others exposition means defining some of the words in the text. For others expository preaching seems to mean giving a history lesson on a text with most of the sermon in the past tense.

The word exposition is from the Latin, expositio, meaning “a setting forth, narration, or display.” As applied to preaching, the word has come to mean the setting forth or explanation of the message of the biblical text. In expository preaching the sermon is designed to communicate what the text says, including its meaning for the contemporary audience.

Here are seven qualities of authentic expository preaching gleaned from definitions of various writers through the generations.

  1. In expository preaching the preacher’s first aim is to discover the text writer’s intended theological meaning in the selected text. We preachers tend to search the Bible for a sermon. We hope for something to leap out at us that will preach. But a program of expository preaching calls for the preacher to aim for a clear understanding of the text writer’s meaning. Only out of that theological message can he properly preach an expository sermon.
  2. Expository preaching is that in which the preacher seeks to let the text speak again through the sermon with the same theological message. God intentionally had the original message declared; now he wants it to be preached again. The universal and timeless message clothed in the historical garb of the original writing is the message the preacher is to declare to the contemporary audience. He interprets that same truth from the text to his audience.
  3. The preacher of expository sermons discovers the meaning of the text through a careful exegetical analysis of the text in all its particulars. The expository preacher comes to the text like a detective to a crime scene. He studies it for every clue to the meaning. The clues in the text are the words of the text writer. We know what he intended to say by what he wrote, but the details can easily be overlooked to the casual observer. The expositor will look carefully at every detail for what it indicates about the writer’s message.
  4. Expository preaching calls for careful consideration of the contexts in which the text was originally written. Interpreting a text calls for a serious look at the literary context, the chapters and verses before and after the text, as well as the other writing of the author and the entire canon. Beyond that is the historical context of the original writing, including the local culture, politics, economic conditions, and other such factors. The original setting of the text not only shapes the message but takes part in it.
  5. An expository sermon is organized with due consideration to the structure and genre of the selected passage. Basically the text writer’s treatment of his subject sets the pattern for the preacher’s sermon structure. The type of literature the text represents should affect the preacher’s sermon design as well. We should always tell the story when preaching a narrative text, though we will do more. The purpose of exhortative texts and teaching texts should be reflected in the purpose of the sermon.
  6. The expository preacher will seek to influence the audience through the use of the rhetorical elements common to persuasion. By definition a sermon is a persuasive speech. The preacher’s aim is to persuade the audience with the truth of his message and what they should do about it. We normally persuade by explaining, illustrating, arguing, and applying. These elements provide a balance for supporting material for sermon ideas and allow the preacher to expose the text meaning for the contemporary audience.
  7. Expository preaching aims for a response of faith and obedience to the biblical truth on the part of the audience. The overarching aim of preaching is to call for a faith response in the hearer. The text writers believed what they wrote and communicated it in order that others might believe and obey. The preacher keeps this faith aim in mind from the first look at the text to the final design of his sermon. The sermon should be God-centered to point the hearer to the trustworthy object of his faith.

Adapted from 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill (B&H Publishing Group, 2006)

5 Things Christians Should Stop Saying

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Jason Johnson:

We mean well, don’t we? But sometimes our attempts to say something spiritual actually come out unbiblical, or at a minimum, not very helpful. Here’s the 5 I hear the most…

1. “It was a God thing.”

We say this to give God credit for something He has done and to deflect any attention from ourselves. The problem, however, is that biblically no single event is ever a “God thing”. Rather, all things are by Him, through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:15-20). To say something was a “God thing” seems to draw lines of distinction between what God is and is not involved in that Scripture itself does not draw. I rarely hear anyone use this phrase when speaking of a particularly difficult or trying or devastating circumstance. We generally apply it only to the victories. The truth is, all of those are His things.

2. “God showed up in the end.”

We say this to put the power of God on display – to show that His will was accomplished and He came out victorious. The problem, however, is that it represents pretty narrow thinking on our part. The truth is that God doesn’t just show up for us in the end –  He walks with us from the very beginning. Faith doesn’t just celebrate the outcomes of God’s involvement in our issues, it learns to see and savor His presence in the midst of them. It demands we trust Him in the process, no matter the outcome, believing that whatever He may allow to unfold He has both orchestrated from the beginning and planned to be glorified through in the end.

3. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

We say this to encourage people who are going through difficult circumstances and to ensure them they are strong enough to handle it. The problem, however, is that this passage (1 Corinthians 10:13) actually teaches there will be times we find ourselves in situations we can’t handle and that in those times the only way out is through Him.God’s intent in this is never to push us away from Him but always to pull us into greater depths of intimacy with Him, so that we might know on an entirely new level that His grace is sufficient for us and His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

4. “Where two or more are gathered…”

We say this to reassure ourselves that God hears our prayers or to justify why we don’t attend church. The misapplications are endless. Examples: Where two or more are gathered...there’s Church, or God will agree with us in prayer, or the Holy Spirit is among usThe context of this passage (Matthew 18:20) depicts the appropriate measures to be taken in administering church discipline – it s not a description of Sunday’s service or Wednesday night’s prayer meeting. It’s true that God is among us – always (see #2). It’s also true that Church is more than just a few people hanging out, and God can still be with you if you are all alone.

5. “The Bible says don’t judge.”

We say this for obvious reasons – we don’t want anyone to call us out. The problem, however, is that Jesus never says don’t hold each other in the Body of Christ accountable to truth and righteousness and holiness – He actually commands that we do, but with humility and integrity (Matthew 7:1-5). We tend to have it backwards (see 1 Corinthians 5:9-13) – we point fingers at “those sinners” outside the Church but excuse and brush under the rug the sins within. We have a responsibility to call the speck out of our brothers’ and sister’s eyes – this is love; but not to the detriment of recognizing the log in our own – this is integrity. Let’s not hide our sin behind the misapplication of this statement and miss out on the grace God wants to show us through it.

A Deeper Look at What the Bible Says About the Bible

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By Matt Smethurst:

The Bible makes many claims about itself within its text. What does it say?

Click here to download a hard copy of this article.

There are only two options when it comes to knowledge of a divine creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess. Christians believe that, thankfully, he has spoken. The God of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to reveal himself to us—to befriend us—through a book.1Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it, against it, and in favor of it. But what does the Bible say about itself?

The Bible Is Inspired

When people claim the Bible is “inspired,” what do they really mean? Are they just saying it’s inspiring? Well, not quite. Sure, the Bible may inspire some of its readers, but the concept of “inspired” as used here has to do with the relationship between God and the Bible’s authors.

Now, the Bible’s human authors weren’t inspired in the way we typically use the word today. It’s not as if the Apostle Paul saw a gorgeous sunset, felt moved by its beauty, and then wrote Galatians. Nor does it mean he would enter some catatonic state, recite a bunch of words to a friend, then pick up the parchment and say, “Let’s see what God wrote!”

First and foremost, inspiration has to do with the fact that the Bible’s ultimate author is God. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”2 Notice how it says the entirety of the Bible is “God-breathed”—exhaled from God. No wonder, then, that the Bible is commonly referred to as God’s Word.3

But if God was the author, then what were Moses and David and Paul and John and all those others doing? Weren’t they writing Scripture, too? Indeed. You see, the Bible was written by God and humans—or, more precisely, by God through humans.4 The Apostle Peter explained it this way: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”5 In other words, God made sure the human authors wrote exactly what he wanted them to write—no more, no less.

However, these authors weren’t passive robots. God didn’t erase their personalities or take over their minds. They wrote as thinking, feeling human beings. God simply worked sovereignly through their unique personalities and educations and backgrounds and experiences6 to enable—to inspire—them to write divine truth.7“Each word in the Bible is the word of a conscious human author and at the same time the exact word that God intends for the revelation of himself.”8

The Creator of the universe has spoken—in human history, in human language, through human beings. That’s what inspiration is all about. In answer to the question of who wrote the Bible—humans or God—the Bible itself answers simply: “Yes.”

The Bible Is True

OK, so Scripture is completely inspired, but is it completely true?

The Bible says that God’s Word is true because God’s character is true; God is not a liar.9 Therefore, the God of truth cannot speak words that are false. To doubt the truthfulness of God’s Word is to doubt the truthfulness of God himself.10

Some people think that while the Bible’s “spiritual” concepts are true enough, much of the other content (such as historical and geographical details) probably isn’t. But Scripture doesn’t make “any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.”11 Besides, if the Bible isn’t fully reliable at every point, how could we be certain that it’s fully reliable at any point?

When we look at Scripture itself, we see that it is filled with claims to pervasive truthfulness.12 Every word it contains is described as flawless,13 eternal,14unbreakable,15 boundless in perfection,16 and completely reliable.17 As Jesus concisely stated, “[God’s] word is truth.”18

In fact, Scripture’s truthfulness is so comprehensively assumed that entire arguments can hinge on appeals to a single word,19 the number of a noun,20 even the tense of a verb.21 When properly interpreted, the Bible will never mislead you. What it says, God says.22

The Bible Is Authoritative

God owns the universe he spoke into existence. He rules as king over his creation—and that creation includes you and me. His loving authority, intended for our good, is exercised through his Word. In fact, God has so identified himself with Scripture that to disbelieve or disobey it is to disbelieve or disobey him.

True, the Bible isn’t the only authority in our lives. There are other rightful authorities, such as parents,23 pastors,24 and members of the government.25 None, however, is above God’s Word. The Bible is the highest authority. This means the correctness of every belief, value, opinion, statement, and sermon is decisively settled by the question: What does the Bible say?26

Regarding Christ’s own view of the Bible, it’s been observed that “[Jesus] appeals to Scripture, to each part of Scripture, and to each element of Scripture as to an unimpeachable authority.”27

Kings don’t give advice; they give orders. Obedience to the Word of God, therefore, is not optional. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves,” the Apostle James writes. “Do what it says.”28

As J. I. Packer observes, “True Christians are people who acknowledge and live under the word of God. They submit without reserve to [it], believing the teaching, trusting the promises, following the commands. Their eyes are upon the God of the Bible as their Father and the Christ of the Bible as their Savior.”29 A Christian, in other words, is one who hears the voice of Jesus in Scripture and gladly follows him.30

J. C. Ryle remarked, “Happy is the man who possesses Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it but obeys it.”31 As countercultural and counterintuitive as it may feel, Christians believe submission to God’s Word is where true life and freedom are found.

The Bible Is Clear

The Bible is an ancient document. It can feel foreign, and some parts are certainly confusing.32 However, as the psalmist states, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”33 God even commands parents to teach the Bible to their children.34

I’ve heard it said that Scripture is shallow enough for a child to wade, but deep enough for an elephant to swim. I think that’s profoundly right. The Bible is “written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”35

Sometimes Scripture is difficult to understand because it’s talking about complicated things. At these times, extended, prayerful study may be necessary. Often, however, it’s hard to grasp because we simply don’t like what it says. As Mark Twain famously quipped, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts I do understand.” Often it’s not that the Bible is unclear but that we’re unreceptive.

The Bible Is Sufficient

Scripture contains all the words from God that we need in order to know him truly, trust him fully, obey him perfectly, and enjoy him abundantly. Peter says God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” through the knowledge available in the Scriptures.36 Likewise, Paul says, the Bible is so complete that through it we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”—“thoroughly” and “every,” not “partly” and “most.”37  It doesn’t get more comprehensive than that.

While the Bible may not tell us everything we want to know, it does tell us everything we need to know. Its truth isn’t exhaustive but it’s enough.38 It contains all we need to know in order to be saved39 and to obey God in faith40—no wonder such severe warnings accompany adding to or removing any of its words.41

“The case can be made that every corruption of biblical Christianity begins by compromising the principle of sufficiency,” one author observed. “Every deviation from Christianity established by Christ and the apostles begins by adding to the Bible or by taking away from it. Every deviation is the Bible plus or minus something.”42

The Bible Is Powerful

Since the Bible’s ultimate author is God, it is a book of unparalleled power. Its words are strong enough to melt hearts43 and change lives.44 The book of Hebrews states, “The word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”45

Saying the Bible is powerful is another way of saying it’s effective. The Holy Spirituses it to accomplish his plans.46 The book is an instrument of action in God’s all-powerful hand. “Do not put yourself at odds with the Word of God,” Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli once remarked. “One can perhaps dam it up for awhile, but it is impossible to stop it.”47

It is crucial to realize that God intends his Word not simply to engage our minds, but to change our hearts. As one person put it, “The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity; it was written to transform your life.”48

The Bible Is Christ-Centered

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles, moral platitudes, or abstract life lessons. It is a thrilling story.

Ultimately, that story is not about you and me. It’s about Jesus. In Luke 24, the resurrected Savior appears to two followers on the road to Emmaus. Luke recounts what happened:

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”49

Later, after appearing to his eleven disciples, Jesus says to them: “‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”50

It wasn’t just after his resurrection that Jesus spoke this way, however. During his earthly ministry he explained to the “Bible experts” of the day his central place in the great story: “‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.’”51

It’s been rightly noted that the Old Testament is “Jesus Christ concealed” and the New Testament is “Jesus Christ revealed.” From beginning to end—Genesis to Revelation—the plotline of Scripture anticipates, spotlights, and finds its ultimate resolution in God’s redeeming Son.52 And perhaps the most stunning thing about this story is that the central character loves us back.

The Bible Is Precious

The Bible is the most valuable treasure in the universe. It’s our food,53 our life,54 our comfort,55 our strength,56 our guidance,57 our desire,58 our hope,59 our love,60 our joy,61 and our treasure.62

Did you know that even the books of Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That’s what the Bible says, anyway: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”63 Everything. What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament was written for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to flood your heart with hope.64

And while we must avoid “bibliolatry”—treasuring Scripture more than its Author—it’s striking to note how inseparably connected God’s Word is with God himself.65Indeed, to abandon it is to abandon him.66 Until Jesus returns and our faith becomes sight, we must live in the “age of the ear.”67 “For now,” Augustine said, “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence.”68 As one great preacher remarked, “To me the Bible is not God, but it is God’s voice, and I do not hear it without awe.”69

The Bible is a bottomless treasure chest of beauty and wonder. It claims to be inspired, true, authoritative, clear, sufficient, powerful, Christ-centered, and precious. May God help us to treat it as such.

 

Three Surprising Ways to Grieve the Holy Spirit

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Kevin DeYoung:

The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:292 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.

The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.

There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.

First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness.

The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.

Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures.

The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.

Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).

This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.

Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.

Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’”

Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.

Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.

Preaching with Authority: Three Characteristics of Expository Preaching

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Al Mohler:

Authentic expository preaching is marked by three distinct characteristics: authority, reverence, and centrality. Expository preaching is authoritative because it stands upon the very authority of the Bible as the word of God. Such preaching requires and reinforces a sense of reverent expectation on the part of God’s people. Finally, expository preaching demands the central place in Christian worship and is respected as the event through which the living God speaks to his people.

A keen analysis of our contemporary age comes from sociologist Richard Sennett of New York University. Sennett notes that in times past a major anxiety of most persons was loss of governing authority. Now, the tables have been turned, and modern persons are anxious about any authority over them: “We have come to fear the influence of authority as a threat to our liberties, in the family and in society at large.” If previous generations feared the absence of authority, today we see “a fear of authority when it exists.”

Some homileticians suggest that preachers should simply embrace this new worldview and surrender any claim to an authoritative message. Those who have lost confidence in the authority of the Bible as the word of God are left with little to say and no authority for their message. Fred Craddock, among the most influential figures in recent homiletic thought, famously describes today’s preacher “as one without authority.” His portrait of the preacher’s predicament is haunting: “The old thunderbolts rust in the attic while the minister tries to lead his people through the morass of relativities and proximate possibilities.” “No longer can the preacher presuppose the general recognition of his authority as a clergyman, or the authority of his institution, or the authority of Scripture,” Craddock argues. Summarizing the predicament of the postmodern preacher, he relates that the preacher “seriously asks himself whether he should continue to serve up monologue in a dialogical world.”

The obvious question to pose to Craddock’s analysis is this: If we have no authoritative message, why preach? Without authority, the preacher and the congregation are involved in a massive waste of precious time. The very idea that preaching can be transformed into a dialogue between the pulpit and the pew indicates the confusion of our era.

Contrasted to this is the note of authority found in all true expository preaching. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes:

Any study of church history, and particularly any study of the great periods of revival or reawakening, demonstrates above everything else just this one fact: that the Christian Church during all such periods has spoken with authority. The great characteristic of all revivals has been the authority of the preacher. There seemed to be something new, extra, and irresistible in what he declared on behalf of God.

The preacher dares to speak on behalf of God. He stands in the pulpit as a steward “of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4:1) and declares the truth of God’s word, proclaims the power of that word, and applies the word to life. This is an admittedly audacious act. No one should even contemplate such an endeavor without absolute confidence in a divine call to preach and in the unblemished authority of the Scriptures.

In the final analysis, the ultimate authority for preaching is the authority of the Bible as the word of God. Without this authority, the preacher stands naked and silent before the congregation and the watching world. If the Bible is not the word of God, the preacher is involved in an act of self-delusion or professional pretension.

Standing on the authority of Scripture, the preacher declares a truth received, not a message invented. The teaching office is not an advisory role based on religious expertise, but a prophetic function whereby God speaks to his people.

Authentic expository preaching is also marked by reverence. The congregation that gathered before Ezra and the other preachers demonstrated a love and reverence for the word of God (Neh 8). When the book was read, the people stood up. This act of standing reveals the heart of the people and their sense of expectation as the word was read and preached.

Expository preaching requires an attitude of reverence on the part of the congregation. Preaching is not a dialogue, but it does involve at least two parties—the preacher and the congregation. The congregation’s role in the preaching event is to hear, receive, and obey the word of God. In so doing, the church demonstrates reverence for the preaching and teaching of the Bible and understands that the sermon brings the word of Christ near to the congregation. This is true worship.

Lacking reverence for the word of God, many congregations are caught in a frantic quest for significance in worship. Christians leave worship services asking each other, “Did you get anything out of that?” Churches produce surveys to measure expectations for worship: Would you like more music? What kind? How about drama? Is our preacher sufficiently creative?

Expository preaching demands a very different set of questions. Will I obey the word of God? How must my thinking be realigned by Scripture? How must I change my behavior to be fully obedient to the word? These questions reveal submission to the authority of God and reverence for the Bible as his word.

Likewise, the preacher must demonstrate his own reverence for God’s word by dealing truthfully and responsibly with the text. He must not be flippant or casual, much less dismissive or disrespectful. Of this we can be certain, no congregation will revere the Bible more than the preacher does.

If expository preaching is authoritative, and if it demands reverence, it must also be at the center of Christian worship. Worship properly directed to the honor and glory of God will find its center in the reading and preaching of the word of God. Expository preaching cannot be assigned a supporting role in the act of worship—it must be central.

In the course of the Reformation, Luther’s driving purpose was to restore preaching to its proper place in Christian worship. Referring to the incident between Mary and Martha in Luke 10, Luther reminded his congregation and students that Jesus Christ declared that “only one thing is necessary,” the preaching of the word (Luke 10:42). Therefore, Luther’s central concern was to reform worship in the churches by re-establishing there the centrality of the reading and preaching of the word.

That same reformation is needed in American evangelicalism today. Expository preaching must once again be central to the life of the church and central to Christian worship. In the end, the church will not be judged by its Lord for the quality of its music but for the faithfulness of its preaching.

When today’s evangelicals speak casually of the distinction between worship and preaching (meaning that the church will enjoy an offering of music before adding on a bit of preaching), they betray their misunderstanding of both worship and the act of preaching. Worship is not something we do before we settle down for the word of God; it is the act through which the people of God direct all their attentiveness to the one true and living God who speaks to them and receives their praises. God is most beautifully praised when his people hear his word, love his word, and obey his word.

As in the Reformation, the most important corrective to our corruption of worship (and defence against the consumerist demands of the day) is to rightly return expository preaching and the public reading of God’s word to primacy and centrality in worship. Only then will the “missing jewel” be truly rediscovered.

Preaching today? Listening to preaching today?

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Encouragement from Darryl Dash:

Pastors can always use encouragement. If you’re a pastor (or even if you’re not), here are some truths that you might find encouraging today.

  • God promises to use his Word (Isaiah 55:11). When God speaks, things happen. No matter how feebly preached, God honors the proclamation of his Word.
  • Our weakness displays God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:7). Our weakness doesn’t diminish God’s glory. It provides greater contrast between us and the surpassing power of the God we serve.
  • God uses the “things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). If you and your church don’t look like much, you are just the type that God loves to use.
  • Your position is secure (Romans 8). There is no sermon that you could preach that would make you more acceptable to God. There is no sermon, however bad, that can remove you from the love of God.
  • Our imperfect churches display the manifold wisdom of God (Ephesians 3:10). When God wants to display his wisdom to angelic beings, he points to the church. The fact that church exists despite our failings causes angels to marvel and to glorify God.
  • Your work is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We often don’t see it, but because of the resurrection we can stay at it, knowing that our work isn’t wasted.

All Scripture–All of It

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Kevin DeYoung:

If all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.

The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid of, once and for all, this nonsense about being red letter Christians, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize the truths in the Gospel more than truths elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts that spoken by Jesus.

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.

Conservative Christianity and the transgender question

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By Russell D. Moore:

The Internet is abuzz with conversation about the “T” in “LGBT” this week, after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation supporting “equal access” for students who believe themselves to be the opposite gender from their biological sex. As a conservative evangelical Christian, I believe the so-called transgender question will require a church with a strong theological grounding, and a winsome pastoral footing.

Here’s why.

Ultimately, the transgender question is about more than just sex. It’s about what it means to be human.

Poet Wendell Berry responded to techno-utopian scientism with the observation that civilization must decide whether we see persons as creatures or as machines. If we are creatures, he argued, then we have purpose and meaning, but also limits. If we see ourselves, and the world around us, as a machine, then we believe the Faustian myth of our own limitless power to recreate ourselves.

This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the transgender controversy. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus put it, “male and female,” from the beginning or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, represent something of who we were designed to be, and thus impose limits on our ability to recreate ourselves?

Laws such as those in California will quickly test the boundaries of society’s tolerance for a psychological and individualistic definition of gender. There are reasons, after all, why societies put boys and girls in different bathrooms, men and women on different sports teams.  When gender identity is severed from biological sex, where does one’s self-designation end, and who will be harmed in the process?

As conservative Christians, we do not see transgendered persons as ”freaks” to be despised or ridiculed. We acknowledge that there are some persons who feel alienated from their identities as men or as women. Of course that would be the case in a fallen universe in which all of us are alienated, in some way, from how God created us to be.

But we don’t believe this alienation can be solved by pretending as though we have Pharaoh-like dominion over our maleness or femaleness. These categories we believe (along with every civilization before us) are about more than just self-construction, and they can’t be eradicated by a change of clothes or chemical tinkering or a surgeon’s knife, much less by an arbitrary announcement in the high school gym.

The transgender question means that conservative Christian congregations such as mine must teach what’s been handed down to us, that our maleness and femaleness points us to an even deeper reality, to the unity and complementarity of Christ and the church. A rejection of the goodness of those creational realities then is a revolt against God’s lordship, and against the picture of the gospel that God had embedded in the creation.

But this also means that we will love and be patient with those who feel alienated from their created identities. We must recognize that some in our churches will face a long road of learning what it means to live as God created them to be, as male or female. That sort of long, slow, plodding and sometimes painful obedience is part of what Jesus said would be true of every believer: the bearing of a cross. That cross-bearing reminds us that God doesn’t receive us because of our own effort but because God reconciled us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Our transgendered neighbors will disagree with us, of course, that discipleship means an acceptance of who we are as men and women, and that our selves are not separate from our bodies. We should expect such disagreements. But we believe we can no more surgically alter our gospel than we can surgically alter our gender.

All we can do is say what we believe as Christians: that all of us are sinners, and that none of us are freaks. We must conclude that all of us are called to repentance, and part of what repentance means is to receive the gender with which God created us, even when that’s difficult. We must affirm that God loves all persons, and that the gospel is good news for repentant prodigal sons and daughters, even for those who have trouble figuring out which is which.

Singing the Truth

Sound theology should shape everything we do in corporate worship. But what does that mean for music in particular? Don Carson recently sat down with worship leaders Keith Getty and Matt Boswell to discuss the relationship between the truth we believe and the songs we sing.

Theology and Music from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

The Best Book on the Doctrine of Scripture

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Fred Sanders:

The best book on the doctrine of Scripture has never been written, and is by J.I. Packer.

Every time I teach on the doctrine of Scripture, I find myself reaching for a few J.I. Packer quotations that have coalesced in my memory to form a complete statement on bibliology. But when I reach for the book they’re in, I discover that they’re not in a book. They’re in three different books: ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God (1958), God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible (1965, rev 2005), and Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (1996).

I don’t know how Packer or his publishers think of these books, but I think of them as his Scripture trilogy. They don’t exactly fit together tightly, and don’t seem to be part of a plan. There is a great deal of repetition among them. They were provoked by very different situations and aimed at different audiences. The ‘Fundamentalism’ book is feisty and contrarian, God Has Spoken was first written specifically for Anglicans, and Truth and Power is itself gathered up from disparate essays to make a book.

None of the three is perfect, but I shelve them together, and taken together these 500 pages cover most of what I need for a doctrine of Scripture. It’s also worth noting that Packer has written more than this on bibliology; the fugitive pieces are tracked by Paul R. House in the chapter “God has Spoken: The Primacy of Scripture in J.I. Packer’s Ministry,” in J.I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought.

A few favourite lines. From ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God:

Accordingly, we shall contend that ‘Fundamentalism’ (in so far as consistent Evangelicalism is meant by this term) is in principle nothing but Christianity itself. (p. 22) (Packer goes on to give reasons why the word itself is not helpful in 1958, p. 30ff)

Poetry, according to Wordsworth, consists of emotion recollected in tranquility. Doctrine, according to Liberalism, has a precisely similar character. (p. 26)

One reason why Evangelicals are regarded by some as obscurantist is that, in fact, they sometimes are. (p. 36)

But if the term ‘Evangelicalism’ be given its historic meaning –fidelity to the doctrinal content of the gospel– then ‘liberal Evangelicalism’ is a contradiction in terms… (p. 38)

It is true that many sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theologians spoke of Scripture as ‘dictated by the Holy Ghost’; but all they meant by this was that the authors wrote word for word what God intended. The language of dictation was invoked to signify not the method or psychology of God’s guidance of them, but simply the fact and result of it; not the nature of their own mental processes, but the relation of what they wrote to the divine intention. (p. 78)

According to Scripture, God reveals Himself to men both by exercising power for them and by teaching truth to them. Indeed, the biblical position is that the mighty acts of God are not revelation to man at all, except in so far as they are accompanied by words of God to explain them. Leave man to guess God’s mind and purpose, and he will guess wrong; he can know it only by being told it. (p. 92)

From God Has Spoken:

Scripture… proves itself to be God’s authentic word by mediating God’s presence, power and personal address to us in and by its record of men’s knowledge of Him long ago. (p. 19)

God judges our pride by leaving us to the barrenness, hunger, and discontent which flow from our self-induced inability to hear His Word. (p. 26)

Revelation is a verbal activity. ‘God spoke.’ This is not a metaphor for some non-verbal mode of communication; the verb is being used as literally a any human words about God can ever be. (p. 63)

The fact we must face is that if there is no verbal revelation, there is no revelation at all, not even in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. (p. 73)

From Truth and Power:

The Bible is and always has been the book of the church, the source of its faith, thought, preaching, order, worship, praise, prayer and song. The inseparability is conscious; the church always has been, and when in its senses has tried to show itself to be, the church of the book, learning its identity, calling, mission, knowledge of God and knowledge of itself in and under God from the pages of Holy Writ. (p. 47)

Have you ever noticed that we use the phrase ‘Word of God’ in two sense? Sometimes we use it to mean the text of Scripture, as when we call printed Bibles copies of the Word of God. That is a natural usage, but not a strictly scriptural one. When the Bible uses ‘word of God’ in revelatory contexts, it means God’s message, either (as int he prophets) a particular occasional communication to some person or persons or (as in the New Testament) the gospel, God’s message to the world, or (as in Ps. 119) the total message of the Scriptures. (p. 105)

Suppose one resolves before God to make the quest for life and health and peace through Jesus Christ one’s priority and to that end to become a latter-day Bible moth. (p. 148)

Turn Your Back on Sterile Aberrations

J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:

packer“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’

The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.

The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)