Friday, September 19, 2014

"The Cross of Christ" by John Stott: A Review

There are some doctrines every Christian should cherish, study, and rejoice in. The cross of Christ is one of them. There are some books most Christians and every pastor should read. The late John Stott's The Cross of Christ is one of them. I have been told and now concur that this is one of the best and most important books on the cross of Jesus Christ and how we are to understand it.

Stott opens the book asking a simple, yet important, question. In search of a symbol, and every movement and religion has one, why did Christianity settle on the cross? There were, after all, multiple options; the ichthus, empty tomb, Noah's Ark, creation, the manger, etc. Yet at the end of the day, the church chose a Roman cross - an instrument reserved for the worse of criminals - as their symbol. The reason is simple: their is no Christianity without the cross. Their is no gospel without the cross.

The book is broken down into four parts, but it is parts 2 and 3 that get the most press and rightfully so. It is here that Stott the theologian does his best work. Stott seeks to unravel what the cross means and why it was necessary. Stott is an ardent defender of penal substitutionary atonement. To defend this thesis, the writer slowly walks the reader through some of the dominant atonement theories in history and argues that the atonement must be one of substitution and satisfaction. Thus Anselm was on to something with his satisfaction theory (with emphasis on God's honor), but falls just short. The cross satisfies God, but it does so as God in Christ stands as our substitute. Propitiation is made.

But to suggest that this book is just a good defense of penal substitution (as Tony Jones does on the back cover) is to fail to appreciate what Stott does. Stott defends in great detail penal substitution, but the atonement is not limited to that. The current debate over the atonement is really missing this point. Those who rightly affirm penal substitution are quick to reject any and all other theories. The same is true on the other side. Those who deny penal substitution as the root purpose of the atonement usually reject it outright. Stott shows, as I have argued before, that the cross does more and is more than this.

Think of the atonement as a rope with three strands each being important. Though penal substitution is the key purpose of the atonement, other theories are just as valid and ought to be embraced. These include Christus Victor and Christus Exemplar. Stott dedicates an entire chapter to these other two theories but clarifies what the Bible actually says about them. His chapter on victory is very good. His chapter on the cross as God's revelation (Christus Exemplar) rightly rejects Abelard's moral influence theory but does not deny that Scripture affirms that we are to look to the cross and follow Christ's example there.

With all that is great about this book, there were a few things that are worth mentioning that are unfortunate. First, Stott makes a brief comment regarding creation. He notes that the fossil record indicates that predation and death existed in the animal kingdom before the creation of man (67). He then adds that God apparently had a different plan for humans. I am sympathetic toward old earth creationism (though I still remain a young earth creationist), but Stott fails to consider the implications of OEC. He says nothing regarding original sin, the historic Adam, the interpretation of Genesis, etc. in light of an old earth creationism conviction. Instead, we are to just assume that the earth is old without any theological qualms as a result.

Secondly, chapter 10 on the cross and community was a little weak. I feel that Stott really missed a great opportunity to emphasize the church. This is not to suggest that Stott undermines or ignores the importance of the church in the book, but that this would have been a great opportunity to emphasize it. Each stage of redemption - creation, fall, the passion, and consummation - deals with three aspects: the individual, the community, and the cosmos.  God establishes all three in creation, the fall distorts all three through, and cross redeems all three, and the eschaton renews all three. Thus when speaking of the cross and its work of redemption, it is imperative to highlight the church.

Finally, in his chapter on suffering, Stott heavily defends the passibility of God. I for one am stuck on the issue. Is God passible or impassible? Does God suffer or not? Stott gives an emphatic yes and I am not sure Scripture is clear enough on the subject and I'm not sure how Stott presents it is the best. For example, Stott uses the story of the execution of an innocent Jewish boy hung by the Nazis. "Where was God," the onlookers ask. "There hanging" comes the answer. The implication, then, is that God suffers with us. Let me say that I am not necessarily against passibility, however it is a difficult philosophical and theological issue. Stott uses it as a key answer to suffering and I'm not sure Scripture takes us there so clearly.

With all of this said, there is no doubt that this is an excellent book and portions of it will be featured on this site moving forward. His chapter highlighting the four images of the cross, including redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, etc., is an excellent way to explain the effects of the cross and I would recommend the reader to return to it often. Overall, buy this book, read this book, and love this book.

For more on Stott and Penal Substitution:
Its Not Just a Theory: Stott on Penal Substitution
John Stott on the The Human Enigma
Theology Thursday | Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution: A Review of the Evidence
Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel
God as Butcher: McLaren on Penal Substitution  
The Postmodern Social Gospel:  Brian McLaren Proves My Point  
Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel
Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution:  A Look at the Evidence
"Death by Love" by Mark Driscoll 
"Death by Love" by Mark Driscoll
"In My Place, Condemned He Stood"
"It is Well"
"Precious Blood": A Review

For more on the atonement:
Allison: A History of the Doctrine of the Atonement
"Salvation Brings Imitation": Piper on Christus Exemplar
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 1 - Introduction
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 2 - Christus Exemplar and the doctrine of sin and depravity
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 3 - The History of Christus Exemplar
Where Theology and Life Intersect: A Theological Case for Christus Exemplar and Why It is Necessary - Part 4 - Christus Exemplar and Humility
Sanctification Demands It: The Necessity of the Atonement
"The Cup & the Crucifixion" Spoken Word

All Around the Web - September 19, 2014

Albert Mohler - Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis
Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

What makes the current moral and sexual revolution so different from previous moral revolutions is that it is taking place at an utterly unprecedented velocity. Previous generations experienced moral revolutions over decades, even centuries. This current revolution is happening at warp speed.

Denny Burk - Rob Bell’s new egalitarian book on marriage
Rob Bell and his wife Kristen are set to release a book on marriage next month. The work is already being touted as an egalitarian alternative to Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage. The title is The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage. Zimzum is a doctrine that comes from Kabbalah—a kind of new age Jewish mysticism. The Bells are accessing the teaching as a paradigm for understanding marriage. From the publisher’s description,

Trevin Wax - The New Abortion Absolutists
Being pro-choice is passé nowadays.

According to The New York Times, younger supporters of abortion on demand are done with the “pro-choice” label, choosing instead to counter their “right to life” opponents with terms like “reproductive rights” and “women’s health.”

One might think this vocabulary change is just a new marketing strategy, a face-lift for an aging movement Nancy Keenan famously called the “Menopausal Militia.” But what if something more substantive is going on?

Church Tech - 25 Reasons Your Church Should Consider a Mobile App
Here is a list of 25 things to consider. An app…
  1. Gives you another access point that your local community can use besides your website.
  2. Allows you to be location sensitive. For example, you can send messages to a certain zip codes if you want.
  3. Integrates social media channels so that people can help spread your message across the Internet.
  4. Helps you get past a Sunday or Wednesday-only mentality and lets people interact with your content on a daily basis.
  5. Makes your message one click away.
  6. Increases the intentionality of your content, and, the more intentional, the more it is used.
  7. Expands the reach of your message, taking it beyond just your local community.
  8. Drives people to your church building for special events or weekend services.
  9. Makes special announcements such as community-wide prayer requests.
  10. Streams your message in audio or video format.

TIME - The Theology Behind Obama’s Speech on ISIS
Religion is creating havoc in the world. Authoritarian governments are collapsing in the Middle East, and in the absence of credible alternatives, Sunni and Shi’ite religious groupings, fueled by ancient hatreds, are fighting each other to fill the void.

President Obama gave a speech last week on what to do about it. It was a sane and sensible speech, and one that may have drawn some inspiration from a Protestant minister who was a profound political thinker and one of America’s great public intellectuals of the mid-20th century.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 3

Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 1
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 2
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 3

In a previous post, I began highlighting a number of passages from John Craig's two catechisms from the 16th century. Both catechisms are featured in my newest book Knox's Colleague: The Life and Catechisms of John Craig. Below are ten more favorites:
Q. What if we find fault with his Word or works?
A. Then we extol our name and profane his holy name.

Q. What is thanksgiving or praising of God?
A. It is to acknowledge him to be the author and fountain of all good things.

Q. How should we behave ourselves toward the Word?
A. We should love, receive, and obey it as God’s eternal truth.

Q. What is the ground of our regeneration?
A. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Q. Where does the Supper lead us?
A. Directly to the cross and death of Christ.

Q. Out of what fountain does our stability flow?
A. Out of God’s eternal and unchanging election in Christ.

Q. Why does the Spirit not sanctify us perfectly?
A. Least we should forget our former captivity & redemption?

Q. How many churches are there in the world?
A. One church, one Christ: as one body & the head.

Q. What is the infallible mark of Christ’s church?
A. The Word truly preached & professed.

Q. Can our Faith be without a godly life?
A. No more than fire without heat.

For more:
New Book Announcement - "Knox's Colleague: The Life and Ministry of John Craig"
The First Cause of Our Salvation: John Craig on God's Eternal Election
John Craig on the Difference Between the Law and the Gospel
"The School of Faith" by Thomas F. Torrance: A Review
"Scottish Theology" by T. F. Torrance: A Review 

All Around the Web - September 18, 2014

The Gospel Coalition - What’s All This ‘Gospel-Centered’ Talk About?
"Gospel-centered preaching." "Gospel-centered parenting." "Gospel-centered discipleship." The back of my business card says "gospel-centered publishing." This descriptive mantra is tagged on to just about anything and everything in the Christian world these days.
What's it all about?

Before articulating what it might mean to be gospel-centered, we better be on the same page as to the actual message of the gospel.

I don't mean Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

RC Sproul - Why Do Christians Worship on Sunday?
From creation onward, the people of God worshiped on the seventh day of the week. This was a “creation ordinance” that the Creator Himself established by His example, with the intent that His creatures would follow it. He worked six days and called His image-bearers to work (Gen. 2:15); He rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:11; 31:17) and called His image-bearers to rest. He signified this with His benediction, setting apart the seventh day as “holy” (Gen. 2:3).

Later, when the Sabbath command was reiterated, we read: “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:17). The word refreshed (Hebrew, naphash) is used only two other times in the Old Testament: once in reference to giving rest to animals, servants, and visitors within Israel (Ex. 23:12), and once in reference to David and his men (2 Sam. 16:14). After God worked to make everything, it was as if His rest refreshed Him. Yet God’s rest and refreshment mean so much more; they have to do with His joy and satisfaction. The psalmist writes, “May the LORD rejoice in his works” (Ps. 104:31). God’s rest and satisfaction was that of a King; having created the heavens and the earth to be His cosmic palace, He took His place on His throne, so to speak, on the seventh day.

Denny Burk - What the Bible teaches about spanking
I can imagine that recent events may drive a fresh conversation in our culture about the morality of spanking. Americans have widely divergent views on the matter. Even evangelical Christians have seen some division over the issue in recent years. In light of this, Christians need to be ready to engage this discussion in a biblical way, insisting on the protection of children from abuse while also pursuing biblical truth concerning discipline.

For Christians, the key texts on this issue are in the book of Proverbs. Here’s a sample

Timothy Paul Jones - Family Ministry: Practical Steps You Can Take to Start Discipling Your Children

Seattle Times - The rise and fall of Mars Hill Church
When the Christian radio host accused him of plagiarism, the quick-witted preacher sounded flabbergasted — and annoyed.

“Man, I thought we’d have a better interview than this,” Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll said.
Driscoll’s heated November 2013 exchange with radio host Janet Mefferd would prove a crucial turning point in his explosive rise and recent fall, igniting a chain of events that would begin unraveling the Seattle megachurch he founded.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Worship Wednesday: "10,000 Reasons" by Matt Redman

From Lewis's Pen: Not About Morality

From Mere Christianity:
I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at the first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. they do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes. But this is near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world. No one's eyes can see very far beyond that: lots of people's eyes can see further than mine. (149-150)

All Around the Web - September 17, 2014

The Gospel Coalition - Platt Commissioned by Brook Hills in Final Sunday as Senior Pastor
David Platt opened his last sermon as senior pastor of the Church at Brook Hills by saying he’s not usually an emotional person. But even preachers far more reserved than Platt—known for his impassioned, pleading calls for radical discipleship—would have struggled to keep their composure during Sunday’s commissioning as he leaves Brook Hills to take up his new job as president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Before Platt preached the second service in a full auditorium on the sprawling, suburban Brook Hills campus, he baptized his 8-year-old son, Caleb, adopted from Kazakhstan when he was only 11 months old. David Platt looked on beside the gently flowing baptismal waters as Caleb read his testimony from a laminated sheet, then the father immersed his son as a brother in Christ. Near the end of the 105-minute service, Brook Hills announced that they had donated $20,000 in the Platt family’s name to Lifeline Children’s Services, a Christian agency based in Birmingham that assists families in international adoptions. Rather than return to an auditorium named for him at Brook Hills, church leaders told Platt as they announced the gift, he could one day look out on families that have followed in his example and cared for the orphans.

Denny Burk - Saving Dr. Brantly 
The video above is Part 1 of Dateline’s interview with Dr. Kent Brantly, the Christian doctor who survived Ebola. Matt Lauer’s report is a faithful account of what happened to the Brantly’s from their first Ebola patient to Dr. Brantly’s recovery. It’s very well done. You can watch Part 1 above and the other 5 parts here.

Canon Fodder - One of the Main Ways that the Earliest Christians Distinguished Themselves from the Surrounding Culture
In the first century, while Christianity was still in its infancy, the Greco-Roman world paid little attention.  For the most part, the early Christian movement was seen as something still underneath the Jewish umbrella.

But in the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

Thom Rainer - Eight Things Pastors Do When Their Churches Are in a Slump
  1. They sought the advice of a leader outside their specific church. Sometimes that person was the pastor of another church. On other occasions it was a denominational leader or a church consultant.
  2. They refocused on the vision of the church. A number of pastors indicated that the church had “lost its way.” So they spent time reminding the congregation of the vision of the church. Of course, this approach presumes the church has a clearly articulated vision (I’ll cover that in my Wednesday blogpost).
  3. They led the church to more outwardly focused ministries. Some church slumps were the result of the congregation becoming too inwardly focused. One pastor led his church to “adopt” an elementary school in the area. The members became motivated and enthused as they did whatever the principal and other leaders of the school told them the school needed.
  4. They sought a trusted confidant to evaluate their leadership. This reaction is similar to number one. In this case, however, the problem was specifically perceived to be the leadership of the pastor.
  5. They spent more time in prayer. I suspect this and the next response were actually more frequent. Many pastors sought the face of God more intensely and more frequently for guidance out of the slump.
  6. They became more consistent in their time reading the Bible. Many pastors get into the trap of reading the Bible only to prepare sermons or lessons. I know. I’ve been there as a pastor. But pastors need the consistent nourishment of the Word of God beyond the time they spend studying it for sermons or lessons.
  7. They became more intentional about connecting with their members. One pastor made a commitment to hand write one letter a day to a church member, write two emails a day to a member, and make one phone call a day to a member. The purpose of each piece of communication was brief encouragement and gratitude. It took him less than 30 minutes to do all of them, and he was consistent in it four days a week. In one year’s time, he connected with 800 members.
  8. They set aside time on the calendar during the week to dream. Pastors are on call 24/7. Life can become hectic and frustrating. One pastor sets aside two hours a month to go to a private room to dream about the future of the church. The time is a fixture on his calendar. Sometimes he prays. Sometimes he reads about God’s work at other churches. And sometimes he writes ideas and thoughts. The process invigorates him, and he can thus lead the church with greater enthusiasm and clarity himself.

LigonierBiblical versus Systematic Theology
Systematic Theology is often contrasted unfavourably with the relatively new discipline of Biblical Theology. The very terminology immediately sets Systematics at a disadvantage, as if Biblical Theology alone were 'biblical' and anything that sets out to be 'systematic' should be viewed with profound suspicion. At one time in his career Karl Barth even refused to lecture on 'Systematic Theology' because, he argued, the combination of this noun and this adjective was highly problematical. Many Evangelicals share Barth's suspicions, often for the same reasons. 'System' conjures up the notion of alien philosophical ideas imposed on the concepts of Scripture; or, alternatively, a theology confined within a confessional straitjacket.

To others, 'systematic' suggests the imposition of human logic on divine revelation. But, then, would it be better to be illogical? After all, as Don Carson points out, the laws of logic were not inventions of Aristotle, but inescapable conditions of all human thought and communication. [1] Besides, if logic and inference aren't allowed, what are we to make of Paul's many 'therefores'?