Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 2

Another word regarding Augustine. After noting that immediately following the murder of Abel, Cain founded the first city. Authors Chad Brand and Tom Pratt in their book Seeking the City note:
Augustine believed that had there been no sin, there would never have been a political state, for, though man is naturally sociable, he is not naturally political. Human beings were intended to be lords over herds and flocks, but not over other people; yet now, governed by the impulses of self-love, people have a lust for mastery, what Augustine calls libido dominandi. The state is a manifestation of all of this, and can only be so. Whereas Plato and Aristotle considered the state to be natural, Augustine sees it as sinful even at its best. (290)
I consider this to be a really helpful way to think about government. No doubt we were made to be communal reflecting the Trinity. God creates us not just as individuals (Adam and Eve) but as communal (marriage, family, society, cultural mandate). Government, then, becomes a necessary evil in a fallen world. This key theological point makes a practical point for Christians in general and the authors thesis in particular: there is no perfect government and the Kingdom of God and a renewal of the fallen cosmos will never come through policy and military might.

This is a key argument for limited government. Christians should rightly be suspicious of Caesar for government is evidence of the fall, not of the cross.

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 2

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1

As my review of their book Seeking the City made clear, authors Chad Brand and Tom Pratt divide their volume into three parts which I have summarized as biblical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. We have already discussed in some detail their treatment of biblical theology, we now turn our attention to the wisdom (and foolishness) we gain from combining through the pages of history.

No doubt Christianity has had its share of theological giants many of whom developed their own political and economic theology rooted in Scripture. Men like Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Martin Luther come immediately to mind. But perhaps the man who looms largest in both systematic and political theology, it would be the Bishop of Hippo, Augustine.

The authors walk the reader through Augustine's theology of political economy and place special emphasis on his greatest work The City of God. They then conclude by offer three major contributions to the Christian theology of possessions. They are as follows.
First, he made a distinction between material things themselves and the posses of those things. Appealing to the Christian doctrine of creation, he argued that the things themselves are intrinsically good, since they were made by a good God. So the wood and stone of a house are good things, but whether it is appropriate for one to won such a house is quite another question, which brings us to his second contribution.

Augustine also made a distinction between using a material possession and enjoying it. "Some things are to be enjoyed, others are to be used, and there are others which are to be enjoyed and used." Think again of the house we mentioned above. it is one thing to use the house for basic needs - shelter, a place to raise the family, a means of hospitality. It is another thing to take pride or joy in the house for its own sake, say, because of its size or beauty. If we enjoy the house in that manner, we are in serious danger of idolatry and of violating the command not to love the world. Augustine argues in several of his discussions of ethics that the intent of the heart is what is crucial in determining the moral nature of one's actions. So, one might have a large and beautiful house, as long as one is not proud of it and does not enjoy it too much.

Thirdly, the African father maintained that the absolute best that one could do with possessions is to give them away. When it comes to economic transactions, they are of two kinds: "sale or gift." Augustine was the founder of a monastery, even if he did not remain there throughout his ministry. Though he did not promote extreme asceticism or demand absolute poverty in his order, he still promoted the ideal of communalism. One who becomes poor for the sake of the gospel will be rich in heaven, and that is a much better state. This is part and parcel with Augustine's overall understanding of love, key to understanding his thought as a whole. We all have self-love and love for the other. We will generally have greater love for our own children than we will the children of others. That is understandable, but it ought not to mean that we do not have any love at all for those not close to us. (287-288)
The authors then conclude with this simple word, Augustine left to the world a legacy of a fairly thoroughgoing theology of labor, wealth, and stewardship (288). Though what is presented above is incomplete and serves only as a brief summary of one part of Augustine theology of political economy and how Christians have contributed to the subject, it provides us with much to chew on. One brief comment from me. In the above, Augustine keeps our mind on the City of God as opposed to the City of Man. As Christians we view work, labor, income, wealth, property, and the rest very differently than the lost. Our focus in on Christ not on temporal riches. Whatever Christians have to say about the best economic and political policy for a nation, we as individuals and as believers must never take our eyes off the eternal at the cost of the temporal.

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Historical Theology 1

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther

All Around the Web - September 30, 2014

Russell MooreIs Divorce Equivalent to Homosexuality?
This week my denomination, through its executive committee, voted to “disfellowship” a congregation in California that has acted to affirm same-sex sexual relationships. This sad but necessary move is hardly surprising, since this network of churches shares a Christian sexual ethic with all orthodox Christians of every denomination for 2,000 years. One of the arguments made by some, though, is that this is hypocritical since so many ministers in our tradition marry people who have been previously divorced.

The argument is that conservative Protestants already embrace a “third way” because we’ve done so on divorce. Couples divorce, sometimes remarry others, and yet are welcomed within the congregation. We don’t necessarily affirm this as good, but we receive these people with mercy and grace. Why not, the argument goes, do the same with homosexuality.

Andrew Walker - Does Brian McLaren Want a Conversation on Marriage?
Thanks for the note. “Human to human conversation” that’s “reasonable and open-minded” as you desire is, of course, welcome. Unfortunately, though, “conversation” as you often construe it, is simply a pretext and power play designed for endless speculation that never reaches an answer—unless it’s an answer that you find acceptable on your terms (which, more often than not, is an answer that rejects historic Christianity). Moreover, while “human to human conversation” is vital for fostering understanding and dialogue, it isn’t an argument that justifies redefining either a biblical or civil understanding of marriage—which is what this entire “conversation” is about.

To be entirely candid in the spirit of “human to human conversation,” I’m not convinced that you’re actually writing as an evangelical on matters such as these. You may think that you are, but the evidence you’ve provided in your many writings over the years lead me to believe that you have rejected what history has long considered orthodox Christianity. Now, I don’t say that joyfully; and I know you’ll reply in such a manner that subjects all aspects of “orthodoxy” to the unending regression of perspectivalism. You’re a terrific writer, but a writer whose views I couldn’t more strongly reject. So, admittedly, I’m reluctant to accept the scriptural presuppositions that you would use to make your argument.

Christianity Today - Pew Surprised by How Many Americans Want Religion Back in Politics
More Americans want more religion in politics, according to a new Pew Research Center study exploring the "growing appetite" for churches endorsing political candidates and other intersections of church and state.

While three out of four Americans (72%, a record high) believe that religion is "losing its influence on American life," a majority of Americans (56 percent) also believe this shift has been for the worse. White evangelicals are the most likely to view the change negatively (77 percent), but the majority of white mainline Protestants (66 percent), black Protestants (65 percent), and Catholics (61 percent) feel likewise.

Gregory Smith, Pew’s director of U.S. religion surveys, previewed a number of what he called the study's "surprising" and "interesting" findings at the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual conference on Thursday.

Chuck Lawless - 12 Reasons Why Churches Don’t Address Decline
  1. Nobody is counting the numbers. I realize numbers are only one means to evaluate growth, but they are an important means. If no one is keeping a record of growth and attendance patterns, few leaders recognize the first signs of decline. No one is monitoring health, and disease sets in.
  2. Leaders in “growing” churches don’t always recognize decline. This situation especially occurs when a church is experiencing additions, but the back door is even more wide open. The congregation sees people join often, but they fail to see the greater numbers of people leaving. The decline may be slow, but it’s still real.
  3. Members live in their own relational bubble. That is, most members have only few persons with whom they build strong relationships. As long as their friends are still present, they don’t get too concerned about others leaving.
  4. Leaders have given up on growth. Maybe the community is changing. Perhaps the young people have already left. It might be the leaders are just tired after unsuccessfully striving for growth for years. The need for rest trumps the call to reach others.
  5. Members love their pastor. Sure, they realize the church is declining – but their pastor has been good to them. Their lives are marked by his care and concern. No one would ever want to hurt him. Consequently, they remain loyal to him even as the church dies around him.
  6. The leaders don’t know what steps to take. They know how to parse verbs and formulate theological positions, but they do not know how to redirect an organization. They are captains who don’t know how to steer the ship into the right channels. Efforts end in failure, and failures become discouragement.
  7. The church still has a sufficient number to survive. The larger the church was in its heyday, the more likely this situation occurs. The church that averaged 300 five years ago may still appear to be comfortably full at 200 now. The crowds are large enough to ignore the decline, at least for now.
  8. Leaders over-spiritualize the situation. If you’ve read my posts before, you know how much I care about prayer – but “we’re just praying right now” can be a copout for leaders who fail to strategize. “God’s just reducing us to His remnant” may be true, or it may also be theological jargon to avoid taking responsibility for poor leadership.
  9. The church has money in the bank. As long as the bills are being paid, lower attendance numbers don’t matter as much. If the church has a strong reserve account, that’s even better.
  10. The congregation equates activity with life. Programs continue. Somebody gathers in the church building most nights of the week. The weekly bulletin is filled with events. The website carries current announcements. If all of these activities are going on, surely the church cannot be in decline.
  11. Ministries are siloed in the church. Individual ministries may be doing well. Some small groups really enjoy their fellowship and teaching. The choir or praise team is prepared every Sunday. Members cocoon themselves in a few successful ministries, and few people see the overall church decline.
  12. Even Christian leaders are filled with pride. That’s a primary reason leaders won’t seek guidance when the churches they lead are declining. “Surely,” the leader thinks, “I can come up with the solution. After all, I’m called. I’m trained.” And, ultimately, he may find himself alone because of his unwillingness to pursue help from others.

TIME - The Liberian Church Stopping Ebola With Gospel and Chlorine
“Lord,” shouts the Reverend Joseph T.S. Menjor into a microphone. “We are tired of this situation. We are calling on you to cast this abomination from our country. Jesus, we want our land to be free of Ebola. Cast out this disease!”

Monday, September 29, 2014

"The Return of the King" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

I have finished a re-reading of the Lord of the Rings. I read them first college some years ago shortly after the movies had been released and now with the distance of time and the return of Middle-Earth to the big screen through the Hobbit, I thought I would read the beloved classic trilogy again. The challenge of reviewing this books ought to be obvious. What else is there to say regarding these classics? To make it worse, what is there for me to say regarding these classics? I am no literary critic nor an expert on literature or Tolkien. I am just a fan.

But in regards to The Return of the King there are a few things that I noticed. First, the title itself has been pointed out as rather inadequate. Is the story in this trilogy about the king of Gondor or about destroying the ring? My first exposure to this trilogy was the movies and when I saw the title of the third film I read it as, "The Return of Ring." That made more sense to me. Frodo and Sam are taking the ring to Mount Doom, where the ring was forged, to destroy it. It was later that I realized, and the picture of Aragorn on the poster made it obvious, that the title was about a king, not about a ring. This makes little sense to me. I know that Tolkien did not care for the title himself, but it still remains strange to me.

This leads to one thing that I do enjoy about the trilogy that is seen most clearly in this third book. There are many stories that make up this story. The main story is Frodo and the Ring. But beyond that we see a Ranger become King and how that came to be. Gandalf the Grey becoming Gandalf the White. Faramire uniting the two main realms of men - Gondor and Rohan. Theodine clearly wants to die as one of the great kings of men and does so in the end. Golum is destroyed by his lust. It seems that most of the main characters have two quests. The first, which unites them all, is the defense of Middle-Earth from Sauron and the destruction of the ring. The other is a unique quest of completion.

This might explain why the conclusion is so long. As I mentioned before, it takes a while for the story to really begin in The Fellowship of the Ring it likewise takes many pages for the story to end in the Return of the King. Each character's story within the greater story must come to a satisfying end. Aragorn has to be crowned. Faramire must get married. Theodin must be buried. The hobbits must fight for the Shire. Etc. I love stories that do this. When each character brings something unique to the story, it enhances the story and makes one love the characters more. Tolkien is a genius at this.

Regarding the battle at the Shire where Sauraman and Wormtongue are dealt with by the four hobbits, and the hobbits alone, is strange and everyone has highlighted that. I have little to say regarding it for or against. It is what it is.

One final thing should be highlight and that regards the division of the three books. Each book is broken into two parts. Each part follows the story of the dominate characters. This means that one is essentially reading the same story twice. One might follow Frodo and Sam up to a point and then return chronologically to the beginning of the book and then follow the rest of the fellowship. This is a big strange to the reader and if Tolkien had welcomed an editor, such an approach to telling the story may not have remained. But in the third book, this approach is really effective.

My favorite scene was cut from the theatrical version of the movie and only added in the extended version. There, at the Black Gate, Aragorn, Gandalf, and the others speak with the Mouth of Sauron. A strange character to say the least. But in this scene, the Mouth of Sauron tries to convince the Fellowship to surrender because their greater cause, the destruction of the ring, had been uncovered. To prove it, the Mouth of Sauron pulls out some of Frodo's belongings. Because of how the story is divided, the reader is as surprised as the Fellowship. We find out later that they had Frodo's belongings but not Frodo because of the bravery of Sam. Tolkien's division is effective here, but this great scene was cut from the theatrical version of the film because the audience already knew that the Mouth was lying. They did not have Frodo or the ring.

Here is that scene in the extended version of the film:

Overall, good book. Good conclusion to the series. But you already knew that.

All Around the World - September 29, 2014

The Gospel Coalition - Advice to Young Pastors from Don Carson, Danny Akin, Scotty Smith
This is the second installment in a new series in which we publish brief answers from experienced church leaders to this question:

In addition to knowing Scripture and sound doctrine, what should young pastors today be studying? Is your answer any different from what you would’ve recommended 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago?

Crosswalk - How Did Jesus Address Homosexuality?

Christianity.com: How did Jesus address homosexuality? - Alistair Begg from christianitydotcom on GodTube.

Christianity Today - 1 in 4 Pastors Have Struggled with Mental Illness, Finds LifeWay and Focus on the Family
Your pastor is just as likely to experience mental illness as any other American, according to a LifeWay Research survey commissioned by Focus on the Family.

Nearly 1 in 4 pastors (23 percent) acknowledge they have “personally struggled with mental illness,” and 12 percent of those pastors said the illness had been diagnosed, according to the poll (infographics below). One in four U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Recent deaths by suicide of high-profile pastors’ children, including Rick Warren’s son Matthew and Joel Hunter's son Isaac, have prompted increased attention to mental illness from pastors’ pulpits and pens. Warren launched “The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church” this past spring. High-profile pastors, including NewSpring Church pastor Perry Noble, have publicly documented their struggles with mental illness.

The Federalists - Will Someone Explain Christianity To The New York Times?

Collecting egregious errors about basic Christian teachings is a hobby of mine and The New York Times gives me some of my favorite examples. Take this one of recent vintage:

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.

—The New York Times, April 1, 2013

I made a funny back in March about how such corrections come off to the religiously literate.
But here’s another great one from the Sunday New York Times:

Trevin Wax - Why Teenage Suicide is More than a Statistic for Me
I knew something was wrong the moment the doorbell rang.

It was Sunday evening, September 28, 1997, and my family had just gotten back in town after a vacation. I was in the kitchen preparing to dig in to some pizza we’d picked up on our way. That someone was already at our door just minutes after we arrived home struck me as unusual.

Then I heard the voices of my mom and a lady who lived across the street.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Seven Wonders of the World

Not the most exciting documentary, but the subject is fascinating.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"From Eden to the New Jerusalem" by T. Desmond Alexander: A Review

The Bible is not a collection of unrelated stories, but a unified story. Perhaps no other theological presupposition has affected me more in recent years than that often overlooked point. When Scripture is relegated to isolated tales of dead spiritual heroes, the dual dangers of moralism and antinomianism are not far away. But when we step back and see the Bible as a whole, it greatly shapes orthodoxy.

The beauty that is Scripture was made apparent when I sat down to read T. Desmond Alexander's helpful book From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology. As the subtitle suggests, the book serves as an introductory textbook to the study of biblical theology. Each chapter walks the reader through main themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The book is short and (numbering just over 200 pages) and reads quickly.

My take is that of Dr. Jim Hamilton (a well-respected biblical theologian in his own right) who wrote that this book is "the best brief survey of biblical theology to be found anywhere."

The riches chapter, for me at least, is the first where Alexander suggests that the earth serves as God's temple-city. Originally, the first priest-king (Adam) was to work the Garden of Eden (the first temple-city) and throughout the generations establish the temple-city throughout the world. The Fall, of course, changed this plan. He goes on to suggest that the tabernacle, the temple, and then later, Jesus and the church fulfill that part of God's plan.

Alexander does the same in the other chapters as well. Two other chapters worth noting regard his treatment of the devil (chapter 3) and the Kingship of God (chapter 2). Regarding this latter chapter, one red flag was raised. Though the author later clarified himself, the language early in the chapter is problematic. He writes:
References to the throne of God draw attention to his kingship, one of the major themes in Revelation. By highlighting the divine throne, John's final vision reveals that the creation of the New Jerusalem consolidates God's absolute authority over everything that exists upon the earth.

At first sight this claim may not seem especially noteworthy. is God not already sovereign over everything? Surely, by his very nature God is King of kings and Lord of lords. However, the biblical meta-story indicates that God's sovereignty does not extend unchallenged over the present earth. To appreciate why this is so, we need to return to the opening chapters of Genesis. (75)
He later suggests, "By betraying God and obeying the serpent, the royal couple dethrone God" (78). Perhaps I am need of greater study and to a certain extend I understand and am sympathetic to his argument (most of this chapter is well-received), but such language is problematic to me. There is no hint that God has been dethroned by the Fall or by the repetitive failings of Israel.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent resource for pastors and Christians. It ultimately teaches us how to read the Bible. I encourage the reader to pick it up and read.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review

For more:
"What is Biblical Theology?" by James Hamilton: A Review
The World is a Cosmic Temple
The Garden of Eden as a Proto-Temple

All Aroundthe Web - September 26, 2014

Paula Hendricks - Undercover at Oprah's Tour
I know, because I was there. Oprah Winfrey’s The Life You Want Weekend Tour is drawing women like crazy, and I wanted to see what women are feasting on. What is Oprah feeding them? I figured I'd return to the office with fresh passion for why I do what I do.

I got that . . . and more.

As I slipped into my seat just minutes before the tour started with my pen and notebook, I asked God for compassion, wisdom, and discernment.

Thom Rainer - Six Updates from Churches with Pastoral Vacancies
  1. It is taking longer for churches to decide on a pastor. About ten years ago, you could expect a church to take about six to nine months to find a pastor. Today, it is more common to hear the range increase from nine to eighteen months.
  2. These churches have many candidates; but they say most of them are not qualified candidates. Each church seems to have a different idea of the desired qualifications for a pastor. Though they all seem to insist the pastor must have basic biblical qualifications, their preferred qualifications beyond that vary from church to church.
  3. There is more frustration from both the churches and potential candidates. The churches express frustration because they can’t find a qualified candidate. Many candidates express frustration because they can’t seem to find churches willing to respond to their expressions of interest.
  4. More churches are giving up on traditional processes to find a pastor. In the past, many churches depended on their denominational organizations to find a pool of candidates. Today, only a small number shared that the denominational path was their preferred alternative.
  5. Churches are turning to internal candidates more frequently. This trend may be the most pervasive. Some churches begin with an intentional process toward an internal candidate. Others get an internal candidate by default.
  6. More churches are screening candidates by listening to their podcasts. They thus avoid the potential awkwardness of going to a candidate’s current church. They also do not ever need to let candidates know they are being considered until they make a decision based on the podcast.

The Gospel Coalition - Does ISIS Represent True Islam?
The gruesome and tragic reports of persecution—against Christians, moderate Muslims, and others—carried out by the terror group ISIS continue to dominate the headlines. A coalition of nations is now ready to take significant military action to stop the genocide in places like Iraq and Syria, including authorization of the U.S. military to arm and train Syrian rebels. Not since the aftermath of 9/11 has such a broad array of countries appeared so intent on joining together to combat the human rights abuses of ideologically driven extremists.

But do the ideologies of ISIS and similar groups reflect a traditionally accepted interpretation of the Qur'an, or are their tactics a modern perversion of true Islam? Listen as I interview a former Muslim and Qur'an scholar who converted to Christianity and is now involved in ministry to Muslims. In this conversation, Al Fadi (whose true name is not being revealed for security purposes) cites passages from the Muslim holy book that radical groups like ISIS use as justification and motivation for their actions. He talks as well about how and why their reading of the Qur'an differs from that of moderate Muslims.

Ligonier - Is Marriage "Just a Piece of Paper"
In the past few decades, the option of living together, rather than moving into a formal marriage contract, has proliferated in our culture. Christians must be careful not to establish their precepts of marriage (or any other ethical dimension of life) on the basis of contemporary community standards. The Christian’s conscience is to be governed not merely by what is socially acceptable or even by what is legal according to the law of the land, but rather by what God sanctions.

Unfortunately, some Christians have rejected the legal and formal aspects of marriage, arguing that marriage is a matter of private and individual commitment between two people and has no legal or formal requirements. These view marriage as a matter of individual private decision apart from external ceremony. The question most frequently asked of clergymen on this matter reflects the so-called freedom in Christ: “Why do we have to sign a piece of paper to make it legal?”

CNN Politics - Efforts underway to change the GOP on same sex marriage
Gay conservatives are undertaking the most coordinated effort yet to change the Republican Party's position on same-sex marriage. Their approach: one state and one Republican activist at a time.

While the official stance of the Republican Party says the "the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard," conservative same-sex marriage advocates want to change that.

Young Conservatives for Freedom to Marry hopes that by the time the Republican convention rolls around in 2016, they will have recruited or persuaded enough like-minded party activists and young conservatives to remove the restrictive language and replace it with this: "We encourage and welcome a thoughtful conversation among Republicans about the meaning and importance of marriage, and commit our Party to respect for all families and fairness and freedom for all Americans."

Liberate - LIBERATE FAQ: Sermon Preparation

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 4

Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 1
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 2
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 3
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 4

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 is the reason for that?
A. Because Christ sanctifies all whom he justifies.

Q. What is a false god?
A. Everything we place in God’s place.

Q. When do we place anything in God’s place?
A. When we give it God’s due honor.

Q. What is God’s due honor?
A. Faith, fear, prayer, thanks, and obedience.

Q. Is all flesh hereby accursed and damned [by the Law]?
A. Yes, but God has given a sufficient remedy in Christ.

"Christ saves only the humbled."

Q. What does the gospel do?
A. It freely gives all that it requires of us.

Q. What is prayer or calling upon God?
A. It is a humble lifting up of our minds and hearts to God.

Q. What is prayer in a strange language?
A. It is a plain mockery of God.

Q. What are the grounds of our assurance?
A. God’s promise, his Spirit in us, and our Mediator.

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 25, 2014

Ed Stetzer - Loving the Lost: Churches Without the Broken are Broken Churches
It is a natural thing for Christians to want to be around other Christians. Something special happens in the fellowship of believers.

We can worship freely, study deeply, and communicate clearly. Hanging out with like-minded people who (appear to) “have their stuff together” can be a wonderful thing.

But how well are we engaging those who aren’t as spiritually stable as we (think we) are?
I’ve been fascinated by the fact that a lot of Christians don’t seem to like non-Christians—otherwise known as “the lost,” “the unchurched,” or whatever other term you may want to use. They want to keep away from the messy people-- perhaps missing the obvious that we are messy as well.

9Marks - College Students and Church Membership
Should college students join a local church by campus if they have a church membership “back home”?

This question is often asked of me in reference to Christian students who are coming to college and have a church membership “back home.” Here are some things to consider that may help to answer the question

Jason Allen - To Your Tents O Israel: A 30-Year Retrospective on Roy Honeycutt’s Holy War Sermon
Academic convocations are meant to feel consequential. Marked pageantry, like academic regalia and faculty processionals, typify these services in which the institution’s president often delivers words of vision and challenge. The formalities of convocation and the stateliness of Southern Seminary’s Alumni Chapel proved a grand stage for Roy Honeycutt to deliver one of the most memorable—and controversial—sermons in the history of the SBC.

On August 28, 1984 Southern Seminary president Roy Honeycutt preached “To Your Tents O Israel,” a sermon that landed in the SBC like a bombshell, sending shockwaves throughout the entire denomination. Dubbed the “Holy War Sermon,” Honeycutt called the seminary community—and the broader, moderate SBC faction—to arms against Southern Baptist “fundamentalists.”

Honeycutt’s sermon came two months after the epic 1984 SBC meeting in Kansas City, Missouri, where over 17,000 SBC messengers gathered, with 52% voting to elect conservative Charles Stanley as SBC president. Stanley’s election—and other acts of conservative muscle-flexing at the SBC meeting, including a resolution on women in ministry and an attempt to defund the Baptist Joint Committee—elicited more aggressive involvement from SBC agency heads and prompted Honeycutt’s Holy War sermon.

The Wardrobe Door - Books Still Matter – Ask a Chart-Topping Rapper
“Print is dead” has been said so many times, it has almost become an accepted cultural truth. But yet, here you are reading this right now.

Sure, “print” has changed and will continue to change, but it will always be a force for cultural transformation. Just ask the rapper with the album sitting on top of the Billboard 200.

With Anomaly, Lecrae became the fifth artist to have a Christian album reach No. 1 on the overall charts and to thank his fans, he released “Non-Fiction,” a new song that can be downloaded for free.
In the autobiographical song that traces his journey in the rap industry, he references the reasons why he changed the way he views his craft.

Rasmussen - Voters See ‘War on Women’ As Politics, Not Reality
Most voters don’t consider the so-called “war on women” a war at all but see it as just a political tactic. But women are less convinced than men that they share the same political interests.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 22% of Likely U.S. Voters believe there is really a political “war on women” going on. Fifty-nine percent (59%) say the “war on women” is primarily a slogan used for political purposes instead. But 19% are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Debunking moon landing conspiracies. Yes this is still needed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Migraine is More Than Just a Headache

Worship Wednesday: "Background" by Lecrae

From Lewis's Pen: Lustful Men

From The Four Loves:
We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he “wants a woman.” Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).

All Around the Web - September 24, 2014

Kevin DeYoung - What Jesus Didn’t Say
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets: I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

But on the other hand, do not think that I have come to completely affirm everything in the Law or Prophets either. There are stories in the Old Testament that did not happen as they are recorded. Sometimes, God’s people thought they heard the voice of God, but were mistaken. Other times, ancient people used God to justify their violence and exclusion. We can still read those parts of the Hebrew Bible and learn how unenlightened people used to think, but those sections are best corrected or set aside.

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Sam Allberry - How Can the Church Help Those Battling Same-Sex Attraction?
It has been a few years now since I first started telling close Christian friends that I battle with homosexual feelings. It was a lengthy process and in some ways quite emotionally exhausting. But it was one of the best things I have ever done. The very act of sharing something so personal with someone else is a great trust, and in virtually every case it strengthened and deepened the friendship. Close friends have became even closer. I also found that people felt more able to open up to me about personal things in their own lives, on the basis that I had been so open with them. Some wonderful times of fellowship have resulted.

It has now been several months since I shared about the issue of sexuality publicly with my church family. Again, it has been a great blessing to have done so. There has been a huge amount of support—people asking how they can help and encourage me in this issue, many saying that they are praying for me daily. Others have said how much it means to them that I would share something like this. It has also been a great encouragement to me that SSA does not seem to have defined how others see me. Aside from the expressions of love and support, business was back to normal quickly.

Based on this experience, I share these five steps that can guide churches in helping Christians with same-sex attraction.

The Gospel Coalition - He’s an ‘Anomaly’: Lecrae’s Unique Platform on Top of the Music World

Number one on the Billboard charts. Sitting in with The Roots on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. What might Lecrae have to say about all of that?
I won’t stay here another night
If I gotta sacrifice
Who I am on the inside
I’d rather be an outsider
And you can stay if you like
I’ll see you on the other side
I wanna live the free life
I’d rather be an outsider.
These are the opening words of his new record, Anomaly. The track, “Outsiders,” is an in-your-face statement about who Lecrae is as an artist. For years, now, he has occupied a unique place in the music industry, refusing the labels and accompanying pressures of being a Christian artist and a hip-hop star. The resounding message of Anomaly is about the 34-year-old Atlanta-based rapper’s commitment to this unique place; an uncompromising commitment to his sense of calling.

Thom RainerSeven Reasons Why We Should Not Give Up on Established Churches
  1. God is still at work in many of these churches. I wish you were privy to all the great stories of church revitalization that come to me. You would see great hope for these churches.
  1. Many pastors and other staff are still being called to established churches. God’s true calling does not take place unless He has a plan for these congregations.
  1. There are too many of these churches to give up. Depending on the definition you use, there are around 300,000 of these churches in the U. S. alone. We can’t abandon all of these churches.
  1. We need the facilities of these churches. Buildings are expensive. Land is scarce in many areas. Zoning restrictions are onerous in other locations. Either through revitalization or merger, we need to keep these billions of dollars in land and facilities for God’s work.
  1. There is a renewed emphasis in church revitalization. God is stirring the hearts of many for a reason.
  1. Churches and Christians are messy. If you have any doubt, read again 1 Corinthians. It’s always been that way. God does not give up on His people. We must not give up on His churches.
  1. Church membership is being taken more seriously. One of the struggles in many churches has been a weak view of church membership. Many churches expect nothing, and that’s exactly what they get. I am seeing hopeful signs of healthier expectations of members.

The Guardian - Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God
The archbishop of Canterbury has admitted to having doubts about the existence of God and disclosed that on a recent morning jog with his dog he questioned why the Almighty had failed to intervene to prevent an injustice.

In a light-hearted but personal interview in front of hundreds of people in Bristol cathedral last weekend, Justin Welby said: "There are moments, sure, where you think 'Is there a God? Where is God?'"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5

Chad Brand and Tom Pratt, in their book Seeking the City, summarize their biblical survey and how it relates to political economy with the following that I quote at length:
John's account of the unveiling of Christ [Revelation] in his kingdom power closes out the Bible's ongoing polemic against the tendency of government, religion, and the  masses of the people to confuse the roles they have been assigned to create a false god. God's world was created for men and women to rule and subdue by adding their labor and God-given ingenuity to natural resources for the production of goods an wealth as God's stewards. Sin's ravages first dethroned God in the hearts of men and women individually and then proceeded - first by one-on-one coercion born of religious envy (Cain and Abel), then by the false heroism of small-time despots (Lamech and the so-called men of renown), then by joining forces to seek security apart from God (Babel) - to create political, religious, and cultural structures that would make God irrelevant. In time great empires that slaughtered and enslaved whole civilizations took the place of God. Tragically, millions upon millions whom God created freely voluntarily to exercise their stewardship under his leadership and that of his own special kind of servant hero-leaders were martyred or shackled or, worse, cooperated with evil despots for their own advantage.

The Law said that government's job was to stand as an impartial arbiter (Lev. 19:15, et al.), dispensing punishment to the evil and justice to the righteous. The Davidic ruler was enjoined to "crush the oppressor" (Ps. 72:4, et al.) of the needy and afflicted. But the prophets found that even in Israel there was rampant the coercive oppression of those in league with government to seize and defraud the property of others and otherwise rob them and do violence to them by "legal" means. This is perversion of the mandate to both individuals and government.s Free men and women under God who trust him to reward their efforts are promised his faithfulness in all kinds of ways so long as they work diligently, plan prudently, live thriftily, strive courageously, give generously, and worship the One who gives good gifts. Government is best when it confines its business to arbitration between those aggrieved and their clear oppressors and is at its worst when it makes its own increase a goal and uses the moral perversity of its subjects to practice favoritism through legalized immoralities and presumes to have the wisdom of god to "make a better world" or some such monstrosity.

Freedom to make voluntary exchanges with others on economic, social, and cultural matters is inherent in God's creation and mandates to humankind. Going about the earth and through life is the essence of fulfilling the stewardship given to free people under the command of God. Such free movement and free exchange tend to challenge people to look to God for help and sustenance and to show courage and ingenuity under his leadership, rather than receive a "mark" that makes then a part of an earthly fraternity. Those who mistake moral and physical freedom for autonomy and libertinism will pay the price eternally and should be made to pay the price temporally by governing authorities. When, instead, the cowardly and covetous and greedy look to governments to sanction and aid their efforts, they make government a God. To whatever extent large masses of people can be persuaded to make the choice for government over god, the kingdoms of this world will grow at the expense of those who are making a different choice.

Government elites have consistently justified their activities by asserting some form of divine or moral right to do what they do. It is, therefore, no surprise to see in the Bible's final prophetic words a picture of a great whore aided by religious perversity and deception convincing a world full of peoples and nations that God is not the great blessor, government is. To those whose stock-in-trade is not loving, seeking, and doing the truth, the pull of this great lie is irresistible. In this way a world gone astray from its true king can be convinced to surrender its liberty to one who sits in the place of God.

Finally we note the obvious throughout the biblical survey we have traversed and especially "what the spirit says to the churches." The Bible as a whole and John's final record are written to the believing community as such, not to the world. The churches, like Israel, are custodians of the "oracles of God" to the world for sure, but they are first to hear and obey the Word. This final book and the entire biblical record are overwhelmingly a call for the faithful to get their own house in order, not seek to get the world's twisted caricatures and dreamy, vaporous hopes in line with God's revelation. Thus, the King's promise to "make all things new" assures us of his sovereign intention and our subordinate role. Just how people of faith should relate to this promise is the stuff of aspirations for the "city which hath foundations" The next two sections of this volume will wind their way through the contortions and machinations of would-be world-changers against the backdrop of the biblical journey. Qoheleth is not the only one who has found this ongoing attempt to be a "shepherding of the wind." (246-248)

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Preface

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Introduction 3

"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 1
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 2
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 3
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 4 
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Biblical Theology 5

For more:
"Flourishing Faith" by Chad Brand: A Review
Brand on Coveting and Classwarfare
The Secular vs the Sacred: Brand on the Influence of Luther

All Around the Web - September 23, 2014

RadicalJohn Piper Interviews David Platt

Church Tech - Keep It Legal
Then, there is the legal reason to buy a license; this is never a fun thing to talk about. We’ve all seen those warnings at the beginning of every movie. The FBI displays its messages as a simple reminder: share a movie in a way that’s not allowed, and you can get in a lot of trouble. The reality, however, is that most people don’t understand what constitutes the legal or illegal use of a movie. If you plan to host a movie night at your church, this is an important thing to know. When you buy a movie, you are entitled to use it for personal purposes, but it is illegal to share it publicly or with a large group of people without proper permission. A simple way to differentiate is to say that movies you buy can be used inside, but not outside, your house. Many churches have purchased licenses that allow them to show video clips or excerpts from movies, but these licenses do not include permission to share full-length feature films. You can find full feature film licenses from LifeWay Films, Provident Films and Outreach Films; a blanket license is offered by CVLI, however that does not cover all films.

Matt Capps - “How Should Christians Engage in Culture?” with Andy Crouch

Eric MetaxasTalking Science and Faith
According to some surveys, half of all Americans believe that science and religion are in conflict. Closer to home, one-fourth of all young adults from a Christian background believe that Christianity is anti-science.

Given the way that the relationship between religion and science is presented in the media and popular culture, and sad to say, even in our schools sometimes, this is hardly surprising.

But just because people think that the relationship between Christianity and science is a “zero sum” game doesn’t make it so. The truth is very different.

Washington Examiner - Census: Marriage rate at 93-year low, even including same-sex couples
The Census Bureau reported Thursday that the nation’s marriage rate is the lowest since 1920, and the first-time inclusion of same sex married couples did little to reverse the decline.

Monday, September 22, 2014

"The Two Towers" by J.R.R. Tolkien: A Review

I am not a literary critic and thus to write a review of a trilogy on a blog with belief that you will contribute to the conversation is rather foolish. What can one write or say about the Lord of the Rings trilogy in general or the Two Towers particularly that hasn't already been said? As a result, what follows are just a few things that crossed my mind. Furthermore, it is now difficult to read and speak of these books without dealing with the movie.

First, of the three movies, the Two Towers film probably takes creative license the most. The climax of the Fellowship of the Ring movie is found in the beginning of the Two Towers book. The scene of Boromier betrayal and death open up the pages of the second book. Beyond that, Peter Jackson and company emphasizes the battle at Helm's Deep, making it the climax, while Tolkien takes much longer in getting there. Jackson has Eomer on the run, Tolkien is not. And on and on it goes. Someone more qualified than me could give a seemingly endless list of differences between the film and book.

Some of these changes might have been necessary, but it goes to illustrate why when it comes to watching movie versions of books I try to separate the two. No movie is better than the book for various reasons. Furthermore, no movie follows the book perfectly. Thus I have found it best to allow the book be the book and the movie to be the movie. Certainly changes where made by Jackson that are a bit disappointing, but the spirit of the book, for the most part, remains.

Moving on.

One thing that sticks out to me regards Gollum. He is one of the most unique and important characters in literature. What he is remains mysterious. We know that he once was something like a hobbit, but apparently was not one. He is now a strange creature controlled by a thirst to get the ring back and it is that drive that brings him into the story. Gandalf had told Frodo that he suspected that Gollum would play an important role, and when Sam and Frodo break from the Fellowship, they rely heavily on the strange creature.

Regarding Gollum I noticed how he and Sam used the same title when speaking to Frodo but with two very different meanings. Both refer to Frodo as "Master." Sam uses it in the sense of employment. Sam works for Frodo by keeping his garden in the Shire. His use of "Master" is much more friendly. Sam is not a slave, but a friend. Gollum, on the other hand, is a slave. Since Frodo possesses the ring, the very thing Gollum is enslaved to, the creature is obeys every command of Frodo, that is, until his "loyalty" to Frodo is proven false. His true loyalty is to the ring, leading Frodo and Sam to Mordor is a means to an ends.

This distinction is important especially regarding Christian theology. Jesus is the Master and Lord of all believers and thus we serve Him, but at the same time, Jesus makes it clear that we are His friends. As adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we become joint-heirs with Christ. Thus we do not fear Christ without understanding grace. In this sense, we are more like Sam. Master is a term of endearment, a reminder of who we truly are and who Jesus really is.

Sinners are more like Gollum. Enslaved to false idols who promise joy - the sort of joy Gollum believes he will find in the ring - is the subtle nature of sin. Idols enslave us with the promise of freedom but never gives us that freedom. As a result, when we don't find joy or contentment we double down. Like Gollum, the unredeemed sinner really is a slave.

More could be said, but as I said, I won't add much to what has already been said. The "resurrection" of Gandalf is interesting in light of Tolkien's Christian faith. Wormtongue remains a strange character who serves as a puppet of Sauronman. I love Theoden as a king. Its a great story, but you already knew that. If you haven't read the book already, do it now!

For more:
An Encouraging Thought: Gandalf on Providence

All Around the Web - September 22, 2014

The Center for Gospel and Culture - Does the Bible Endorse American Capitalism or Favor Communist Central Planning?
The Bible does not endorse American-style Capitalism, nor did the early church practice Communist central planning in the early chapters of Acts. You will not find Adam Smith prophetically foretold in the Scriptures, nor any allusion to Karl Marx. Republican Party economics is not a required part of Christianity.

Yet, the Bible contains clear economic principles and the early church grew in an environment of buying, selling, borrowing, and hiring. In essence, an economy of free markets and entrepreneurship follows from the commands given by God, though sin has marred the business practices that we experience today. Free markets only require recognition of property rights and the freedom to trade with other people. Further, comparative advantage (people are gifted in different ways) and subjective valuation (people prefer different things) mean that both parties can profit from any voluntary transaction. This mutual benefit from trading is at the heart of free markets and over the past two centuries has lifted the vast majority of people in the world out of abject poverty.

Thom Rainer - What Happens When Boomer Pastors Retire?
  1. There will be more pastoral vacancies than qualified candidates. This issue is a demographic reality. There are not enough Gen X and Millennial candidates for pastoral ministry to replace the Boomers. Each of those subsequent generations has a much smaller Christian population base.
  2. Few churches are giving any thought to pastoral succession. I commend those congregations that are being proactive about this issue. William Vanderbloemen and Warren Bird have written an excellent book on this topic, Next: Pastoral Succession That Works.
  3. There will be an abundance of qualified pastors for interim and bi-vocational positions. These Boomer pastors will not be idle. They will be seeking other ministry opportunities, particularly positions with part-time pay to supplement their incomes.
  4. Some Boomer pastors will stay at their current positions into their late 60s and 70s. Unfortunately, a number of these pastors are not financially able to retire. There will be many older pastors in some of our congregations.
  5. Some Boomer pastors will lead their churches to merge. I have written about the trend in church mergers recently. Some Boomer pastors will view their pending retirements as an opportune time to move their churches to merge with other churches. This reality is already taking place in a number of churches, many of which are struggling.

The Cripplegate - The Death of Thomas Cranmer
Four hundred fifty eight years ago, a crowd of curious spectators packed University Church in Oxford, England. They were there to witness the public recantation of one of the most well-known English Reformers, a man named Thomas Cranmer.

Cranmer had been arrested by Roman Catholic authorities nearly three years earlier. At first, his resolve was strong. But after many months in prison, under daily pressure from his captors and the imminent threat of being burned at the stake, the Reformer’s faith faltered. His enemies eventually coerced him to sign several documents renouncing his Protestant faith.

In a moment of weakness, in order to prolong his life, Cranmer denied the truths he had defended throughout his ministry, the very principles upon which the Reformation itself was based.

John StonestreetTreasuring the Family Dinner
Feminist writer Amanda Marcotte might have agreed with C.S. Lewis, who said, “Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Lewis would not have agreed with her about what she recently called a tyranny.

Marcotte, responding to a study from researchers at North Carolina State, has inveighed against what she calls “the tyranny of the home-cooked family dinner.” Writing in Slate, Marcotte says that for many working moms, the stress of the home-cooked meal outweighs the many social benefits. “The main reason people see cooking mostly as a burden,” she says, “is because it is a burden. It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.”

Everyday Theology - The Rise of “Emerging Adulthood”
Emerging adulthood is now viewed by many as a distinct stage of life in America, one that covers the period between high school and “real” adulthood. And according to Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, it’s a stage of life that is powerfully shaping the way people in their 20s view the world, how they understand the church, and how they approach their own formation.

At a faculty workshop at Wheaton College earlier this semester, Smith gave a fascinating summary of recent research on emerging adulthood and its significance for understanding and ministering to young adults today. Here are some of the highlights. (Keep in mind that these are all sweeping generalizations. Smith was quite clear that none of this will apply across the board to any particular young adult or even to distinct sub-groups of young adults. But these are pretty clear characteristics of the life stage as a whole.)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

vs. The Book of Mormon

Recently while surveying Hank Hanegraaff's book Has God Spoken? (read my review here), I came across an early footnote that recommend two DVDs regarding Mormonism that I thought were worth checking out. Fortunately, both documentaries are available in full online. They are both below.

The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon

DNA vs. The Book of Mormon

For more:
"Mormonism 101" by Bill Mckeever and Eric Johnson: A Review
There is No Evidence Supporting the Claims of the Book of Mormon
Is John the Apostle Alive and Well: Investigating Mormon Doctrine
"The Mormonizing of America" by Stephen Mansfield: A Review
The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney: A Review
Joseph Smith's Last Minutes: The True Story
The Mormon Moment: SBTS Panel Discussion on Voting LDS in 2012
Mohler at BYU
Here We Go: NBC Doing an Hour Long Special on Mormonism Tonight
On God, Religion, Politics, and Mormonism: Robert Jeffress on Bill Mahar
Here We Go Again: Mormonism and Presidential Politics

An Important Read: Is Mormonism "Having a Moment?"An Important Read: Jeffress on Faith, Politics, & Secularism
Glenn Beck on Mormonism: Misinformation Abounds    

All Around the Web - September 20, 2014

Special Report with Bret Baier - ObamaCare abortion compromise being

RC Sproul - What Does Repentance Look Like?
One of the penitential psalms, Psalm 51 was written by David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Nathan declared that David had grievously sinned against God in the taking of Bathsheba to be his wife and in the murder of her husband, Uriah.

It’s important to see the anguish and heartfelt remorse expressed by David, but we must also understand that repentance of the heart is the work of God the Holy Spirit. David is repentant because of the influence of the Holy Spirit upon him. Not only that, but as he writes this prayer, he is writing it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit demonstrates in Psalm 51 how He produces repentance in our hearts. Keep this in mind as we look at the psalm.

Ron Edmondson - 10 Dangerous Distractions for a Pastor
I encounter so many struggling pastors. And unfortunately, I know so many who used to be pastors but no longer hold the position.

It may be through a blatant sin or a casual drifting from doing what they knew to be right, but it landed them in disaster. A pastor friend of mine said recently, “We need healthy churches and we need healthy pastors.”

Amen. Agreed. We must stand guard.

What are we guarding against?

No single post would be perfect. Obviously sin, but I can’t address everything that gets in the way of a healthy pastor. I can only list some that are more common in my experience.

Joe ThornGospel Affection
Last Sunday I preached a sermon titled "Gospel Affection" from 1 Peter 1:22-25 as a part of our Standing in Grace Series. At the end of the sermon I offered 10 practical ways to show love to one another in the church. Consider what follows a simple encouragement to press into a life of love in practical ways. A life God has called us to, saved us for, and modeled for us.

Monergism - Over 125 Free eBooks Listed Alphabetically by Author
We believe the Church should have open access to Scripturally/Theologically sound edifying Christian literature and that one need not be held back from having a significant Christian library because of cost. Our ministry at Monergism involves providing quality Christian literature in accessible formats for free. Most of these eBooks are high quality and available in both ePub and .mobi (kindle) formats with actively linked table of contents.  The link(s) below will take you to the download page. Lord Willing, this list will continue to grow. (We have more... just need to locate them)

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