Saturday, March 31, 2007

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 9

David Powlison answers question 9 (of 15) on lusts of the flesh:

9. Doesn't the word lusts properly apply only to bodily appetites: the pleasures and comforts of sex, food, drink, rest, exercise, health?
People follow the desires of body and mind (see Eph. 2:3). Bodily appetites--the organism's hedonistic instinct to feel good--are certainly powerful masters unto sin. But desires of the mind--for power, human approval, success, preeminence, wealth, self-righteousness, and so forth--are also potent masters. The desires of the mind often present the most subtle and deceitful lusts because the outworkings are not always obvious. They don't reside in the body, but the Bible still views them as "lusts."

Friday, March 30, 2007

God and Psych

An article in today's WSJ looks at psychology and Christianity.

(HT: Susan Dukes)

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 8

I really do hope readers will be able to print out and meditate on these lusts of the flesh posts. There are gems buried here! For example, if we truly grasped lines like this--"motives are describable, even if inexplicable. There is no deeper cause for sin than sin"--both paradigms and lives would be changed.

Powlison answers question 8 of 15:

8. Is it even right to talk about the heart, since the Bible teaches that the heart is unknowable to anyone but God? (1 Sam. 16:7; Jer. 17:9)
No one but God can see, explain, control, or change another person's heart and its choices. There is no underlying reason why a person serves a particular lust rather than God; sin is irrational and insane. And there is no therapeutic technique that can change hearts. But the Bible teaches us that we can describe what rules the heart and speak the truth that convicts and liberates. Effective biblical ministry probes and addresses why people do things, as well as what they do. Jesus' ministry continually exposed and challenged what people lived for, offering himself as the only worthy ruler of the heart.
For example, 1 Samuel 16:7 says that man judges by externals while God judges the heart. Yet a few verses earlier, we are told that Saul visibly disobeyed God for a reason: he feared the people and listened to their voice, instead of fearing God and listening to him (see 1 Sam. 15:24). His motives are describable, even if inexplicable. There is no deeper cause for sin than sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the human heart is deceitful and incomprehensible to any but God, but the same passage describes how behavior reveals that people trust in idols, themselves, and others, instead of trusting in God (see Jer. 17:1-8). Scripture is frank to tell us the causes of behavior: interpersonal conflicts, for example, arise because of lusts (see James 4:1-2). If anger and conflict come from a lust, the next and obvious question is, "What do you want that now rules you"
To search out motives demands no subtle psychotherapeutic technique. People can tell us what they want. The Israelites grumbled--a capital crime--when they had to subsist on boring food. Why? They craved flavor: fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (see Num. 11:5). Later they grumbled when they got thirsty and no oasis appeared. Why? They craved juicy foods, or foods that demanded irrigation: grain, figs, vines, pomegranates, and water (see Num. 20:5). In each case the craving reflected their apostasy from God and expressed itself in visible, audible sins. When we see the God-substitutes that claim our affections, then we see how good and necessary the grace of Jesus is in subduing hijackers and retaking the controls.

A Simple Way to Pray

Melinda Penner points to a helpful summary of Luther's "A Simple Way to Pray"--a letter Luther wrote to his barber who had questions on prayer.

Secret Heresies

Al Mohler has a roundup on The Secret.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Questions for a Prospective Spouse

Doug Wilson suggests 21 Questions for a Prospective Suitor and 21 Questions for a Prospective Wife.

Frame Review of Wright's "The Last Word"

John Frame reviews N. T. Wright's The Last Word.

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 7

David Powlison, answering question 7 of 15 on the lusts of the flesh:

7. How can you tell if a desire is inordinate rather than natural?
By their fruits you know them. Human motivation is not a theoretical mystery; there is no need to engage in introspective archaeological digs. Evil desires produce bad fruits that can be seen, heard, and felt (James 1:15; 3:16). For example, a father who wants his child to grow up to become a Christian reveals the status of that desire by whether he is a good father or a manipulative, fearful, angry, suspicious father. In a good father, the desire is subordinate to God's will that he love his child. In a sinful father, the desire rules and produces moral and emotional chaos. Similarly, a wife who wants to be loved reveals the status of that desire by whether or not she loves and respects her husband. Visibile fruit reveals whether God rules or lust rules.
It is a serious mistake to engage in introspective "idol hunts," attempting to dig out and weigh every kink in the human soul. The Bible calls for a more straightforward form of self-examination: an outburst of anger invites reflection on what craving ruled the heart that our repentance might be intelligent. The Bible's purposes are "extrospective," not introspective: to move toward God in repentant faith (James 4:6-10) and then to move toward the one wronged by anger, making peace in repentance, humility, and love.

Pranks and Hoaxes

My former housecleaner, Zach Nielsen, points to this article on Top 10 April Fool's Hoaxes. These are okay--but they can't really hold a candle to the prank that Yale pulled on Harvard.

Kostenberger Bibliography

Andreas Kostenberger has been posted some lists of good resources for biblical studies: (1) Favorite NT Commentaries; (2) Helpful Reference Tools for Biblical Studies.

See also this helpful NT exegesis bibliography by Craig Blomberg and William Klein.

Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

Here are the endorsements for Dennis Johnson's new book, Him We Proclaim, due out next week from P&R.

If only we could learn to preach like Peter and Paul. The wish becomes solid reality in Dennis Johnson’s wonderful advocacy of preaching Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century as the apostles did in the first. Under Johnson’s tutelage, preaching apostolic, Christ-centered, redemptive-historical, missiological sermons that are grace driven becomes a dream within reach.
Bryan Chapell
President and Professor of Practical Theology
Covenant Theological Seminary
Author, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon

Him We Proclaim is a masterful work that should help preachers to understand the necessary interplay between hermeneutics and homiletics that results from a comprehensive biblical theology and a deep commitment to preaching the Word of God. This book holds the promise of the recovery of biblical preaching for those who will give themselves to the demanding and glorious task of setting each text within the context of God’s redemptive plan. This is a book that belongs on every preacher’s bookshelf.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Him We Proclaim is by far the most comprehensive study of what the Bible says about preaching. Through a very wide-angle lens, Johnson is able to show that none of the popular theories of preaching says everything that should be said; but each has some insights and can
be seen as an aspect of the biblical picture. The book also gives a clear and full account of the hermeneutical questions that preachers must deal with. Johnson’s arguments are cogent, his evaluations sound. If I could have only one book on preaching, this would be the one.
John M. Frame
J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly worth reading, and Dennis Johnson’s meaty volume, Him We Proclaim, is one of them. Although this work is indeed about preaching, it is no mere homiletics manual, for Johnson provides rich exegetical fare and incisive theological reflection in an understandable, literate style. In an area where considerable disagreement exists, the author’s commitments are clear, but he refuses to be drawn to extreme positions, and his irenic treatment of competing views can only affect the discussion in a positive way. Even those who may not be fully persuaded by Johnson’s arguments will be deeply grateful by what they have learned.
Mois├ęs Silva
Formerly Professor of New Testament
Westminster Theological Seminary
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Dennis Johnson has written a magnificent book that magnifies Christ in all of Scripture. Every preacher and teacher of the Scriptures should read this gem of the book. Johnson convincingly explains and defends the thesis that Christ should be proclaimed from all of Scripture. But he also illustrates with specific examples what it looks like to proclaim Christ in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This book is exegetically faithful, theologically profound, and practically helpful. I wish I had a read a book like this when I started my theological education thirty years ago.
Thomas R. Schreiner
James Buchanan Harrison Professor of
New Testament Interpretation
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Apostolic hermeneutics? Dare we read the Scripture backward as well as forward? Dennis Johnson’s answer is a marvelously informed, and convincing “yes!” Yes, we can read and interpret and teach as the apostles did. Him We Proclaim is sure to be widely read and discussed both in the academy and by groups of serious-minded preachers of the Word. Sure to become a staple in the homiletical discussion of the twenty-first century.
R. Kent Hughes
Senior Pastor Emeritus
College Church, Wheaton, Illinois

This book is dedicated to the memory of Edmund Clowney, who inspired many of us to find and preach Christ in all the Scriptures. Clowney was a brilliant practitioner of Christocentric preaching. The question for the rest of us is how to do it well. In a wide-ranging discussion, Dennis Johnson brings his deep knowledge of the Bible and hermeneutics together with his experience and teaching of preaching to reflect on just this question. One need not agree with all his arguments or assumptions to appreciate the value and importance of what Johnson offers as the fruit of years of wise reflection and practice. The first part of his work defends the whole enterprise of Christological interpretation and preaching in the light of issues in present-day biblical scholarship and homiletical debates. Not content simply to theorize, he provides extended expositions of apostolic preaching and teaching, samples of Christological readings of OT and NT passages, and an appendix proposing basic procedures for moving from text to Christological proclamation. There is much, then, to stimulate thought and to give practical help in this major contribution. Not the least part of that contribution is Johnson’s persuasive argument that preaching that makes Christ its primary focus should at the same time be preaching that addresses the needs of its hearers in their particular cultural setting.
Andrew T. Lincoln
Portland Professor of New Testament
University of Gloucestershire

This is an important book, a timely book much in need of being written and one that will be read with the greatest profit. This is especially so for those who, committed to a redemptive- or covenant-historical reading of the Bible, recognize and seek to honor and proclaim as its central theme, Old Testament as well New, Christ in his person and work as the consummate revelation of the triune God. This magnum opus, written out of the author’s many years’ experience of wrestling with and teaching seminarians how to preach Christ from all of Scripture, is at the same time as much a book about sound biblical interpretation. His key contention is “that the apostolic preachers through whom God gave us the New Testament normatively define not only the content that twenty-first century preachers are to proclaim, but also the hermeneutic method by which we interpret the Scriptures and the homiletic method by which we communicate God’s message to our contemporaries.” This dual hermeneutical-homiletic program is articulated at considerable length and worked out with many examples, always with
an eye to the ultimate goal of preaching. In particular, concerning the use of the Old Testament in the New, about which currently among evangelicals there is considerable confusion or uncertainty that threatens, however inadvertently but nonetheless inevitably, to obscure the clarity of the Bible and undermine its full authority as God’s word, Johnson takes us a good distance along the only constructive way forward. For this we are greatly in his debt.
Richard B. Gaffin Jr.
Charles Krahe Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology
Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia

Family Worship

Yesterday Joe Thorn posted some thoughts on family worship; today he has an interview on family worship with Tom Ascol.

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 6

David Powlison answers question 6 of the 15-part Q&A on lusts of the flesh:

6. Does each person have one "root sin"?

With good reason, the Bible usually refers to the "lusts" (plural) of the flesh. The human heart can generate a lust tailored to any situation. Again John Calvin powerfully described how cravings "boil up" within us, how the mind of man is a "factory of idols" [Calvin, Institutes, ed. Battles, 65, 108]. We are infested with lusts. Listen closely to any person given to complaining, and you will observe the creativity of our cravings. Certainly one particular craving may so frequently appear that it seems to be a "root sin": love of mammon, fear of man and craving for approval, love of preeminence or control, desire for pleasure, and so forth, can dictate much of life. But all people have all the typical cravings.
Realizing the diversity in human lusts gives great flexibility and penetration to counseling. For example, one lust can generate very diverse sins, as 1 Timothy 6:10 states: "The love of money is a root of all sorts of evil." Every one of the Ten Commandments--and more--can be broken by someone who loves and serves money. The craving for money and material possessions is an organizing theme for symptomatic sins as diverse as anxiety, theft, compulsive shopping, murder, jealousy, marital discord, a sense of inferiority or of superiority compared to others, sexual immorality that trades sex for material advantage, and so forth.
On the flip side, a single behavioral sin can emerge from very different lusts. For example, sexual immorality might occur for many different reasons: erotic pleasure, financial advantage, revenge on a spouse or parent, fear of saying no to an authority, pursuit of approval, enjoyment of power over another's sexual response, the quest for social status or career advancement, pity for someone and playing the savior, fear of losing a potential marriage partner, escape from boredom, peer pressure, and so forth. Wise biblical counselors dig for specifics. They don't assume all people have the same characteristic flesh, or that a person always does a certain thing for the same reasons. The flesh is creative in iniquity.

Reformation 21

A new edition of Reformation 21 is now online. Here are some links and summaries:

Carl Trueman asks Where (or How) Is Authenticity to Be Found?
The Bible writers clearly appreciated the need for complex literary forms to give full expression to complex theological ideas and to the complexity of life in covenant with God in a fallen world. Theological curricula, at home, at seminary, and at church, should surely take the forms of the Bible’s teaching with similar seriousness to that with which they take the basic content (to the extent that it is even possible to separate them). Only then can we avoid the reduction of biblical wisdom to bumper sticker slogans; only then will our theology find authentic expression.
Miles Van Pelt reviews Graeme Goldsworthy's Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics
This reviewer enthusiastically recommends Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics for both personal and classroom use. Note, however, that it is not a book best handled with casual reading. Rather, it is the type of book that must be approached with a certain level of hermeneutical angst and a willingness to perceive one’s own hermeneutical shortcomings. It is also the type of book that should be read more than once, perhaps annually for a decade or so. I conclude by expressing my sincere thanks and gratitude to the author for all of his hard work for our benefit.
Mark Johnston reviews the four views book on The Nature of the Atonement:
A good debate is not merely about making a case; it’s about marshalling the evidence and winning the argument. If that is so, then Thomas Schreiner wins hands down in this one.
Paul Helm reviews Roger Olson's book on Arminian Theology:
The book is a strange mixture; it contains a good deal of interesting information about the history of Arminianism and of Arminian theologians. But it is somewhat unbalanced in its theological judgements and, for an academic treatment, too gossipy in tone. Yet it has this virtue: it makes clear that no amount of fudge can seal the gap between Arminianism and Augustinianism. (66) Some years ago Alan P. F. Sell wrote a book on the Calvinist-Arminian controversy, The Great Debate (Walter, 1982). So it is still.
Phil Ryken meditates on the return of King Tut--to Philadelphia.

Derek Thomas thinks through adiaphora and what we wear.

Michael Travers asks why there is poetry in the Bible.

Here's a new bookmark-worthy site:
At our goal is to sift through the thousands of good volumes to recommend the very best literature for your time and money. Our goal is to expose you to historically important volumes, old books that are timeless in application, excellent contemporary books hot off the press, multi-volume facsimile reproductions, small single-volume books you can read in one day, and searchable electronic books on CD-ROM. Our weekly reviews are published in the hopes of helping you build a diverse library of Christian volumes with tested theology and reliability.

HT: Conventicle

Also be sure to read this great reading interview with Tony Reinke, the guy behind the "take up and read" site.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 5

David Powlison answers question 5 of the 15-part Q&A on lusts of the flesh:

5. Is the phrase "lusts of the flesh" useful in practical life and counseling?
Apply the term to twenty-first-century experience, redeeming the evasive language people substitute. People frequently talk about what they want, expect, wish for, desire, demand, need, long for. Pop psychologies typically validate these needs and longings as neutral givens. Little do people realize that much of the time they are actually describing sinful usurpers of God's rule over their lives: inordinate desires, lusts of the flesh, cravings. They just aren't interpreting their experience rightly.
For example, listen to children talk when they are angry, disappointed, demanding, contrary: "But I want. . . . But I don't want to. . . ." In our family we began teaching our children about the "I-wantsies" before they were two years old. We wanted them to grasp that sin was more than behavior. For example, analyze any argument or outburst of anger and you will find ruling expectation and desires that are being frustrated (James 4:1-2).
The language people typically use day to day gets you into the details of a person's life, but it usually comes with a distorted interpretation attached. Wise counseling must reinterpret that experience into biblical categories, taking the more pointed reality of "lusts, cravings, pleasures," and mapping it into the the "felt needs" that underlie much sin and misery. The very unfamiliarity of the phrase is an advantage, if you explain it carefully and show its relevance and applicability. Behavorial sins demand a horizontal resolution--as well as vertical repentance. But motivational sins have first and foremost to do with God, and repentance quickens the awareness of relationship with the God of grace.

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 4

David Powlison answers question 4 of the 15-part Q&A on lusts of the flesh:

4. Why don't people see this as the problem?

Consider a second adjective that Scripture attaches to the phrase "lusts of the flesh": deceitful lusts. Our desires deceive us because they present themselves as so plausible. Natural affections become warped and monstrous, and so blind us. Who wouldn't want good health, financial comfort, a loving spouse, good kids, success on the job, kind parents, tasty food, a life without traffic jams, control over circumstances? Yet cravings for these things lead to every sort of evil. The things people desire are delightful as blessings received from God, but terrible as rulers. They make good goods but bad gods.They beguile, promising blessing, but delivering sin and death.

Some sins are high-handed, done with full awareness of choice (Ps. 19:13). Other sins reflect the blind, dark, habitual, compulsive, hardened, ignorant, confused, instinctive insanity of sin. One of the joys of biblical ministry comes when you are able to turn on the lights in another person's dark room. People usually don't see their desires as lusts. Souls are cured as the ignorant and self-deceived are disturbed by the light of God's analytic gaze and then comforted by the love that shed substitutionary blood to purchase the inexpressible gift.

I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt, self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1-3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It's not "because my wife/husband . . ."--it's because of something about you. Couples who see what rules them--cravings for affections, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life--can repent and find God's grace made real to them, and then learn how to make peace.

Survival Isn't Always Important

An excellent meditation here by Sam Crabtree. Key point: "To settle the issue of survival is freedom!" I think this is an especially timely and important message for those involved in Christian ministry--churches, parachurch organizations, seminaries, even blogs. Have you settled the issue of survival?

Together on the Radio

A couple of recent Albert Mohler radio programs:

The Challenge of the New Perspective to Biblical Justification
Guests: John Piper and Ligon Duncan

The Centrality of the Church in the Christian Life
Guests: Mark Dever and C. J. Mahaney

Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures

That's the title of a forthcoming book by Dennis Johnson, professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California.

Him We Proclaim advocates the Christ-centered, redemptive-historical, missiologically-communicated, grace-grounded method of Bible interpretation that the apostles learned from Jesus and practiced in their Gospel proclamation. Moving beyond theory, it shows how apostolic preaching opens up various biblical texts: history, law, wisdom, psalm, prophecy, parable, doctrine, exhortation, and apocalyptic vision.

Dennis Johnson has written a magnificent book that magnifies Christ in all of scripture. Every preacher and teacher of the Scriptures should read this gem of the book. Johnson convincingly explains and defends the thesis that Christ should be proclaimed from all of Scripture. But he also illustrates with specific examples what it looks like to proclaim Christ in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This book is exegetically faithful, theologically profound, and practically helpful. I wish I had read a book like this when I started my theological education thirty years ago.--Thomas R. Schreiner

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 3

Here is question 3 in the 15-part Q&A with David Powlison on lusts of the flesh.
3. But what's wrong with wanting things that seem good?
What makes our desires wrong? The question becomes particularly perplexing to people when the object of their desires is a good thing. Notice some of the adjectives that get appended to our cravings: evil, polluted lusts (Col. 3:5; 2 Pet. 2:10). Sometimes the object of desire itself is evil: to kill someone, to steal, to control the cocaine trade on the Eastern seaboard. But often the object of desire is good, and the evil lies in the lordship of the desire. Our will replaces God's as that which determines how we live.
John Calvin put it this way: "We teach that all human desires are evil, and charge them with sin--not in that they are natural, but because they are inordinate" (Institutes, ed. Battles, p. 604). In other words, the evil in our desires often lies not in what we want but in the fact that we want it too much. Natural affections (for any good thing) become inordinate, ruling cravings. We are meant to be ruled by godly passions and desires (see Question 15). Natural desires for good things are meant to exist subordinate to our desire to please the Giver of gifts. Grasping that the evil lies in the ruling status of the desire, not the object, is frequently a turning point in self-understanding, in seeing the need for Christ's mercies, and in changing.
Consider this example. A woman commits adultery, and repents. She and her husband rebuild the marriage, patiently, painstakingly. Eight months later the man finds himself plagued with subtle suspiciousness and irritability. The wife senses it, and feels a bit like she lives under FBI surveillance. The husband is grieved by his suspiciousness because he has no objective reasons for it. "I've forgive her; we've rebuilt our marriage; we've never communicated better; why do I hold on to this mistrust?" It emerges that he is willing to forgive the past, but he attempts to control the future. His craving could be stated this way: "I want to guarantee that betrayal never, ever happens again."
The object of his desire is good; its ruling status poisons his ability to love. The lust to ensure her fidelity places him in the stance of continually evaluating and judging his wife, rather than loving her. What he wants cannot be guaranteed this side of heaven. He sees the point, sees his inordinate desire to ensure his marital future. But he bursts out, "What's wrong with wanting my wife to love me? What's wrong with wanting her to remain faithful to our marriage?" Here is where this truth is so sweet. There is nothing wrong with the object of desire; there is everything wrong when it rules his life. The process of restoring that marriage took a long step forward as he took this to heart.
Are preferences, wishes, desires, longings, hopes, and expectations always sinful then? Of course not. What theologians used to call "natural affections" are part of our humanity. They are part of what makes humans different from stones, able to tell the difference between blessing and curse, pleasure and pain. It is right that we don't want the pains of rejection, death, poverty, and illness, and we do want the joys of friendship, life, money, and health. Jesus was no masochist; of course he cried out, "Let this cup pass from me!"
The moral issue always turns on whether this desire takes on a ruling status. If it does, it will produce visible sins: anger, grumbling, immorality, despair, what James so vividly termed "disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).
Jesus was no idolater; he entrusted himself to his Father and obeyed. "Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." If natural affections remain submitted to God, such faith will produce visible love. If you wish your son to grow up to be a Christian, and he strays, it may break your heart, but it will not make your sin against either God or your son.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 2

Here is the second question in the 15-part Powlison Q&A on lusts of the flesh:
2. Why do people do specific ungodly things?

Lusts of the flesh is meant to answer the Why question at the heart of any system that explains human behavior. Specific ruling desires--lusts, cravings, or pleasures--create bad fruit. Inordinate desires explain and organize diverse bad fruit: words, deeds, emotions, thoughts, plans, attitudes, brooding memories, fantasies. James 1:13-16 establishes this intimate and pervasive connection between motive and fruit this way: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." (See also Gal. 5:6-6:10; James 3:14-4:12.)

In modern language such sinful cravings often masquerade as expectations, goals, felt needs, wishes, demands, longings, drives, and so forth. People talk about their motives in ways that anesthetize themselves and others to the true significance of what they are describing.

March Madness

How did you do on your Final Four picks?

One unusually successful predictor weighs in.

Storms on Rev. 20, Part 2

Here's the second chapter regarding Rev. 20:

Amillennialism and the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20 (2)

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Question 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've received permission from P&R to post excerpts from David Powlison's essay, "I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire," from his book, Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.

Powlison does a helpful Q&A on the concept of "the lusts of the flesh." Here is the first of fifteen questions. I'd encourage a careful reading and meditation upon these biblical, transforming concepts.
1. How does the New Testament commonly talk about what's wrong with people?

Lusts of the flesh (cravings or pleasures) is a summary term for what is wrong with us in God's eyes. In sin, people turn from God to serve what they want. By grace, people turn to God from their cravings. According to the Lord's assessment, we all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind (Eph. 2:3). Those outside of Christ are thoroughly controlled by want they want. ("Of course I live for money, reputation, success, looks, and love. What else is there to live for?") And the most significant inner conflict in Christians is between what the Spirit wants and what we want.

But the term "lust" has become almost useless to modern readers of the Bible. It is reduced to sexual desire. Take a poll of the people in your church, asking them the meaning of "lusts of the flesh." Sex will appear on every list. Greed, pride, gluttonous craving, or mammon worship might be added in the answers of a few of the more thoughtful believers. But the subtleties and details are washed out, and a crucial biblical term for explaining human life languishes. In contrast, the New Testament writers use this term as a comprehensive category for the human dilemma! It will pay us to think carefully about its manifold meanings. We need to expand the meaning of a term that has been truncated and drained of significance. We need to learn to understand life though these lenses, and to use these categories skillfully.

The New Testament repeatedly focuses on the "lusts of the flesh" as a summary of what is wrong with the human heart that underlies bad behavior. For example, 1 John 2:16 contrasts the love of the Father with "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life." (See also Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16-17; Eph. 2:2; 4:22; James 1:14-15; 4:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:4).[1] This does not mean that the New Testament is internalistic.[2] In each of these passages, behavior intimately connects to motive, and motive to behavior. Wise counselors follow the model of Scripture and move back and forth between lusts of the flesh and the tangible works of the flesh, between faith and the tangible fruit of the Spirit.

[1] The OT typically focuses on idolatry as the way people go astray. This doesn't mean that the OT is externalistic. Visible idolatry simple registers, for all to see, the failure to love the Lord God with heart, soul, mind, and might; it registers an internal defection. There are places where the problem of idolatry is turned into a metaphor for the most basic internalized sin (see Ezek. 14), and visible idolatry always expressed a defection of heart from God. There are places where the human heart is described as insane (Eccl. 9:3), evil (Gen. 6:5), full of cravings and lies (Num. 11-25). Idolatry can summarize every false, life-controlling master (1 John 5:21).

[2] We often hear warnings against externalistic religion. But internalistic religion creates equally serious problems. Christians often seek some experience of feeling, some sense of total brokenness, some comprehensive inward transformation--and miss that biblical change is practical and progressive, inside and out.

A Great Ending

"In an unbelievable finish, Anthony Atkinson scored 10 points in the final 45 seconds against Winona State to give Burton College its first Division II championship."

(HT: Z)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Powlison on Lusts of the Flesh: Introduction

P&R has graciously granted me permission to post some excerpts from David Powlison's chapter, "I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire," from his book, Seeing With New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture.

I'd strongly encourage you to read these carefully. I think this is excellent, edifying, biblical material that has the potential to transform paradigms and life.

Here's an introduction to Powlison's material on a biblical understanding of desire and motivation:
What do you crave, want, pursue, wish, long for, hope to get, feel you need, or passionately desire? God has an interpretation of this that cuts to the marrow of who you are and what you live for. He sees our hearts as an embattled kingdom ruled either by one kind of desire or by another kind. On the one hand, what lusts of the flesh hijack your heart from God's rule? On the other hand, what holy passions express your love for God? Our desires are not a given, but a fundamental choice. Desires are most often unruly, disorderly, inordinate affections for XYZ, a good thing that I insanely need. Sometimes they are natural affections for xyz, made sane and orderly by subordination to passionate love for God that claims my heart, soul, mind, and might. Our desires are often idolatrous cravings to get good gifts (overthrowing or ignoring the Giver). Sometimes they are intense desires for the Giver himself as supremely more important than whatever good gifts we might gain or lose from his hand.

That's the first unique thing God shows us about human psychology. This cosmic battleground is something none of the secular psychologists have seen or can see, because they can't see that deeply into why we do what we do. Their own motives give them reasons not to want to see that deeply and honestly. It would mean admitting sin.

To examine desires is one of the most fruitful ways to come at the topic of motivation biblically. New Testament authors repeatedly allude to life-controlling cravings when they summarize the innermost dynamics of the human soul. Which will triumph, the natural deviancy of the lusts of the flesh or the restored sanity of the desires of the Spirit? Christ's apostles have the greatest confidence that only the resources of the Gospel of grace and truth possess sufficient depth and power to change us in the ways we most need changing. The mercies of God work to forgive and then to change what is deeply evil, but even more deeply curable by God's hand and voice. The in-working power of grace qualitatively transforms the very desires that psychologists assume are hardwired, unchangeable, morally neutral givens. Christ's glance slays and replaces (in a lifelong battle) the very lusts the theories variously explain as "needs" or "drives" or "instincts" or "goals."

That's the second unique thing God shows us about human psychology. We can be fundamentally rewired by the merciful presence of the Messiah. None of the secular psychologists say this or can say this. They have no power to address us so deeply, and they don't want to address us at the level of what we (and they) live for. It would mean confessing Christ.

We will use a series of fifteen questions to probe the world of our desires.

McGrath vs. Dawkins Online

You can now download the podcast of the McGrath-Dawkins debate here: Part 1 | Part 2

HT: Jon Bloom

Forthcoming Blog Series from Helm

Paul Helm writes on his blog:

I hope in future to begin a series of short discussions on themes and topics in theology on which, it seems to me, philosophy can be of some assistance. These will be headed ‘Analysis’, after the philosophy journal of that name, which is devoted to publishing short discussions.

The first three or four (perhaps more) will be on the general theme:

Systematic Theology: Since It Isn’t Broken, We Ought Not To Try To Fix It.

One increasingly meets basic misunderstandings about Reformed systematic theology: of what it is, what it attempts to do, what its limits are, and where its abiding value lies. Proposals that are made for developing new methods in systematic theology would often amount to changing its entire character while retaining the name. These brief discussions will attempt to highlight misunderstandings and to allay some fears. This this is how I hope it’ll go:

• Analysis 1 - What definitions do and don’t do, April.

• Analysis 2 - Propositions and Speech Acts, May.

• Analysis 3 - Biblical and Systematic Theology, June.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


The Wall Street Journal interviews Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.
Mr. Zuckerberg's creation, an Internet service that allows students to post personal information and photos, is nothing short of a twister sweeping college campuses, keeping millions up to date on their friends' lives and dating status. There was a reputed $1 billion plus offer from Yahoo!, turned down, natch. Even more remarkable is that Mr. Zuckerberg is all of 22 years old. What is it that made Facebook become so valuable in less than three years? And will 22-year-olds with 200 employees come up with all the good ideas from now on?

Fernando Ortega in Chicagoland

Who: Fernando & String Quartet
What: Concert
When: April 14, 2007 | 7:30 PM
Where: Wheaton Academy, West Chicago, IL
Contact: 630-562-7588 |

Storms: Amillennialism and the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20 (1)

When I posted Sam Storms's chapter on Problems with Premillennialism, a number of folks asked about Revelation 20. So I've now posted online a PDF of his chapter on Amillennialism and the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20 (1). He devotes two chapters to Rev. 20; this is the first. Please note that it's a rough draft, not the final form as it will appear in the book.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Collin Hansen profiles the Passion movement as the cover story for CT.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mohler to Discuss Controversial Blog on ABC World News

A press release from Southern Seminary:

Mohler to discuss controversial blog on ABC World News

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is scheduled to be featured tonight on ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson. Correspondent Dan Harris and his crew spent much of Thursday on Southern Seminary’s campus taping the story, which deals with Dr. Mohler’s controversial blog on homosexuality and biology, and the reaction to it. ABC’s World News airs at 6:30 PM Eastern Time. Stories scheduled for air are subject to change without notice.


The story by ABC News correspondent Dan Harris featuring Southern Seminary President, R. Albert Mohler Jr, which was scheduled to air tonight on World News with Charles Gibson, has been postponed. The network says the story will be rescheduled for next week.

McGrath and Dawkins Debate: Tonight at Oxford

I'm told that Alister McGrath will be debating Richard Dawkins tonight (March 23, at 8pm) on "The God Delusion." It will be at the Oxford Literary Festival at Christ Church.

Apparently Dawkins was scheduled to debate Rod Liddell, but he had to pull out at the last minute. Dawkins suggested McGrath as a replacement. The event sold out right away, as this is the first time these two have been able to participate in a lengthy debate.

If audio or video becomes available, let me know. And do remember to pray for Professor McGrath.

(HT: JB)

The Year of Owen?

Edwin Tay wonders if 2007 might be the Year of John Owen. Some excellent publications have recently come out; more are on their way.

Here's what's already available:
Kelly Kapic, Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen, published by Baker Academic. Here is the table of contents: (1) The Lingering Shadow of John Owen; (2) Created to Commune with God: Owen’s Formulation of the Imago Dei; (3) Humanity Actualized: The Relationship between the Incarnation and Fallen Humanity; (4) Reconciling God and Humanity: Looking at the Question of Justification; (5) Communion with the Triune God: God’s Being and Action Informing Human Response; (6) Signs of Continuing Communion: Lord’s Day and Lord’s Supper; (7) Epilogue; (8) Appendix: Comparing Westminster Standards and John Owen on Humanity (Jesus’s and Ours). (Excerpt online.)

Alan Spence, Incarnation and Inspiration: John Owen and the Coherence of Christology, published by T&T Clark (yep, it's really that expensive!) The chapter titles are (1) Two Ways of Thinking about Christ; (2) Incarnation; (3) Inspiration; (4) The Mediator; (5) The Son and the Father; (6) The Son and the Children; (7) Trinitarian Agency; (8) Conclusion.
Here's what's coming:

Brian K. Kay, Trinitarian Spirituality: John Owen and the Doctrine of God in Western Devotion (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2007). [Doesn't seem to be available yet through Amazon.]

Carl R. Trueman, John Owen, Great Theologians Series (Ashgate, 2007). The publisher information is as follows:
Carl Trueman presents a major study of the key elements of John Owen's writings and his theology. Presenting his theology in its historical context, Trueman explores the significance of Owen's work in ongoing debates on seventeenth century theology, and examines the contexts within which Owen's theology was formulated and the shape of his mind in relation to the intellectual culture of his day - particularly in contemporary philosophy, literature and theology. Examining Owen's theology from pneumatological, political and eschatological perspectives, Trueman highlights the trinitarian structure of his theology and how his theological work informed his understanding of practical Christianity.

With the current resurgence of interest in seventeenth century Reformed theology amongst intellectual historians, and the burgeoning research in systematic theology, this book presents an invaluable study of a leading mind in the Reformation and the historical underpinnings for new systematic theology.

Contents: Preface; (1) John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man; (2) The Knowledge of the Trinitarian God; (3) Divine Covenants and Catholic Christology; (4) The article by Which the Church Stands or Falls; (5) Conclusion.
Also, Kelly Kapic and I have recently submitted our manuscript to Crossway for a new, updated, unabridged edition of Owen's classic, Communion with God, containing an extensive introduction and outline, translated footnotes, glossary, etc. It will be entitled Communion with the Triune God, and will be published (D.V.) in October 2007.

Mercy Me

This morning while driving to work I was thinking about my own sin and God's mercy. And I felt in a fresh way the absolute joy of receiving mercy from God. I want my life to be marked by these words of John Newton: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."

Then when I arrived at work I read this blog post from Paul Tripp: Mercy Me: Psalm 51 and Everyday Life. A great example of the need to look to divine mercy, not as a get-out-of-jail-free pass, but as a liberating and transforming reality in our lives.

Tripp has been blogging quite a bit on Psalm 51. Check out his blog for more posts related to it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Geocoding the Bible

From the ESV Blog: "The folks at have geocoded the Bible. In other words, they went through the Bible and found the latitude and longitude of nearly all the places mentioned. They’ve produced satellite maps and KMLs (for Google Earth) for every book in the Bible that mentions a place, and KMLs for every chapter. Even better, all the data and maps are available under a Creative Commons license."

Faux Moralism

Gene Veith writes about Hillary Clinton's faux moralism with respect to the outrage over this video.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Carson Audio

Andy Naselli has put together a terrific list of audio by D. A. Carson.

(HT: Irish Calvinist)

"The Morning I Heard the Voice of God"

John Piper: "I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today."

Read the whole thing

(HT: Challies)

Interview with Noel Piper

The Girl-Talkers are interviewing Noel Piper. See:

John Newton on Your Attitude in Controversy

John Newton, writing in a letter on controversy (The Works of John Newton, 1:273-274):

It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our day, when errors abound on all sides, and every truth of the Gospel is either directly denied, or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which at most are but of a secondary value.

This shews, that, if the service is honourable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made! Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray, for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you: he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defence of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be on your guard against admitting any thing personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of shewing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who, "when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not." This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, "not rendering railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called."

The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want [i.e., lack] of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the post of ointment, will spoil the savour and efficacy of our labours. If we act in a wrong spirit, we should bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow-creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with shewing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of Gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a mean of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands. Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of Hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts, that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of his Holy Spirit.

John Newton on Your Opponents in Controversy

John Newton, writing in a letter to a correspondent on controversy (Works of John Newton, 1:268-279):

As to your opponent, I wish, that, before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab, concerning Absalom, are very applicable: "Deal gently with him for my sake." The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should shew tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ for ever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace, (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit,)
he is a more proper object of your compassion than your anger. Alas! "he knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign good pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defence of the Gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

(my emphasis)

John Newton on Calvinists and Controversy

John Newton, writing in a letter to a correspondent on controversy (Works of John Newton, 1:270-272):
Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. . . .

The Scriptural maximum, that "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service to the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. . . .

Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Cities and God

The World Magazine cover story this week is on cities. They profile 10 unique urban centers--five U.S. cities, five world cities--looking at "the people who make them thrive, and those whose life calling is to make them better."

Different by Design

CBMW has now made available the audio from the "Different by Design" conferences, which have featured C. J. Mahaney paired with Wayne Grudem, and Ligon Duncan paired with Russell Moore.

Update: Those in the Midwest should considering attending this free conference at Northbrook Baptist Church, April 27-30, 2007, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Randy Stinson will lead six sessions on the God-designed differences between men and women. Check out the recommendations for it!

An Emcee's Gentle Word

Curtis ("Voice") Allen writes in Boundless about the fallout of his rapping at Bethlehem Baptist church. I pray that God would give me a similar sort of humility and graciousness.

(HT: Challies)

Update: For those who are interested, here's the video of Curtis's time at Bethlehem:

And here's a write-up about the controversy in World Magazine. (BTW, the picture in that article is not from that evening!)

"Should We Rid the Mind of God?"

You can now watch the video of a recent debate at the University of Edinburgh between Alister McGrath (Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, author of Dawkins' God and The Dawkins Delusion) and Peter Atkins (Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, well-known atheist and supporter of Richard Dawkins).

On Painful Lessons Learned

Mark Dever posts this morning on two painful lessons he has learned--behind which are "months of painful experience, tears, prayers, and countless conversations": (1) No accountability relationships will work if there is not a commitment to honesty on the part of the person in question; (2) The public success of your ministry is no indication of the true state of your relationship with God. Read the whole thing.

He also announces a forthcoming 9Marks group blog:
There I and some others will be taking on issues a bit more narrowly that have to do with components of a healthy church. Remember the CT cover story last year on young, restless and reformed? To get us kicked off over at the 9marks blog, I'm going to begin with a 10-part series on where I think all these folks came from! So it should be a fun discussion.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Learning to Cry for the Culture

John Fischer, writing in CT about the tears of Francis Schaeffer: "He was the closest thing to a 'man of sorrows' I have seen."

Here's the closing:
To be sure, Francis Schaeffer's influence has declined in recent years, as postmodernism has supplanted the modernity he dissected for so long. Schaeffer is not without his critics, even among Christians. But perhaps, in the end, his greatest influence on the church will not be his words as much as his tears. The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day should make us cry in ours.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Piper on Relativisim

John Piper on "Faith and Reason" (manuscript | audio) and "The Challenge of Relativism" (manuscript | audio).

Interview with Bob Kauflin

The New Attitude blog recently interviewed Bob Kauflin about media, music, and the Bible. Below are the questions; head over to the interview to see Bob's answers.
  • What Scriptures have informed your understanding of media (movies, music, books, magazines, web content) that you pursue?
  • How do you try to apply those to your own life when you're making decisions about media?
  • What about music specifically…
  • Is music inherently good or bad? How does God's word see music?
  • How do you pursue creativity and innovation with music while avoiding sin?
  • Are the terms secular/Christian helpful when thinking of music? How do you apply a love for holiness when choosing music?

Interrogating the Legalist Within

C. J. Mahaney on Interrogating the Legalist Within.

Happy St. Patrick

Amy Hall has the details on who St. Patrick was, and why you should care.

Spurgeon's Recipe for Church Growth

Charles Spurgeon, via Phil Johnson:

My good ministering brother, have you got an empty church? Do you want to fill it? I will give you a good recipe, and if you will follow it, you will, in all probability, have your chapel full to the doors.

Burn all your manuscripts, that is No. 1. Give up your notes, that is No. 2. Read your Bible and preach it as you find it in the simplicity of its language. And give up all your Latinized English. Begin to tell the people what you have felt in your own heart, and beseech the Holy Spirit to make your heart as hot as a furnace for zeal. Then go out and talk to the people. Speak to them like their brother. Be a man amongst men. Tell them what you have felt and what you know, and tell it heartily with a good, bold face; and, my dear friend, I do not care who you are, you will get a congregation.

But if you say, "Now, to get a congregation, I must buy an organ."

That will not serve you a bit.

"But we must have a good choir."

I would not care to have a congregation that comes through a good choir.

"No," says another, "but really I must a little alter my style of preaching."

My dear friend, it is not the style of preaching, it is the style of feeling. People sometimes begin to mimic other preachers, because they are successful. Why, the worst preachers are those who mimic others, whom they look upon as standards preach naturally. Preach out of your hearts just what you feel to be true, and the old soul-stirring words of the gospel will soon draw a congregation. "Where the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together."

But if it ended there, what would be the good of it? If the congregation came and listened to the sound, and then went away unsaved, of what use would it be? But in the next place, Christ acts as a net to draw men unto him. The gospel ministry is, in God’s Word, compared to a fishery; God’s ministers are the fishermen, they go to catch souls, as fishermen go to catch fish.

How shall souls be caught? They shall be caught by preaching Christ. Just preach a sermon that is full of Christ, and throw it unto your congregation, as you throw a net into the sea; —you need not look where they are, nor try to fit your sermon to different cases; but, throw it in, and as sure as God’s Word is what it is, it shall not return to him void; it shall accomplish that which he pleases, and prosper in the thing whereto he hath sent it.

The gospel never was unsuccessful yet, when it was preached with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. It is not fine orations upon the death of princes, or the movements of politics which will save souls. If we wish to have sinners saved and to have our churches increased; if we desire the spread of God’s kingdom, the only thing whereby we can hope to accomplish the end, is the lifting up of Christ; for, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."

Read the whole sermon, Christ Lifted Up (preached July 5, 1857).

The Expository Genius of John Calvin

Tim Challies reviews Steve Lawson's new book, The Expository Genius of John Calvin.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Time on Mohler

Time Magazine picks up on the Mohler controversy:

For those who think Mohler was unclear regarding his stance on gene therapy, the article contains some clarification:
Mohler responded that he opposes genetic manipulation of all kinds. His point, he said, was that if a hormone therapy were developed for fetuses that would help them be born straight rather than gay, he would support its use, just as he would support medical treatment to give sight to the blind fetus.

Friday, March 16, 2007

More Ridderbos

In this post Phil Gons pulls together lots of great information about Herman Ridderbos.

Mohler Responds

Al Mohler responds to a media firestorm around his article on homosexuality:

Well, never doubt the power of the media. My recent article on homosexuality ignited a firestorm in the public square. Why? We may never know -- but the controversy represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

Several thoughts:

I must admit much frustration about the way many in the media have handled the issue. Headlines proclaimed "Seminary President Says Babies Born Gay" -- something I neither believe nor said. Other articles and reports claimed that I suggested that homosexuality may be genetic in origin and that genetic therapies should be used to create customized and corrected babies. I never even mentioned genetic therapies or germ-line experiments, and I am adamantly opposed to genetic therapies of such a sort -- real or hypothetical. Reading these reports and headlines was a painful and exasperating experience. If I believed those things attributed to me, I would not agree with myself and would condemn myself.

I am even more frustrated with many conservative Christians who read the secular headlines without even bothering to read my article. They jumped to conclusions that I do not hold and castigated me for advocating things I have opposed all my life. I have received a great deal of hate mail from those identifying themselves as homosexuals outraged that I believe homosexual acts to be unconditionally sinful. But I also received mail that can only be described as hateful from those who identified themselves as Christians -- people who clearly had never read my article and simply jumped to conclusions or accepted misrepresentations. Furthermore, some who identified themselves as Christians spoke of homosexuality and homosexuals with hate-filled language that literally made me shudder. Do we really love sinners? Do we not understand ourselves to be sinners saved by grace?

I have been gratified by those who have articulated serious concerns, but who later, after reading my actual article, expressed gratitude for a serious attempt to think through these urgent issues from a biblical perspective.

There is no way that I can answer the avalanche of questions and issues individually, but here are a few thoughts that might help us think together.

Read the whole thing for the rest of his thoughts, in what is a very helpful article.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If God Is Sovereign, and God Hates Sin, Why Does He Permit Sin?

In 1766 John Newton wrote a letter to his correspondent in which he honestly observed "the remarkable and humbling differences" between Christians' "acquired [knowledge] and their experimental knowledge, or, in other words, between their judgment and their practice." (You can read most of the letter here.)

A Christian knows that communion with God in prayer, faith, and the Word should be our sweetest delight, our exceeding desire. But in reality, these are often difficult for us. Newton writes:
Though he knows that communion with God is his highest privilege, he too seldom finds it so; on the contrary, if duty, conscience, and necessity did not compel, he would leave the throne of grace unvisited from day to day. He takes up the Bible, conscious that it is the fountain of life and true comfort; yet perhaps, while he is making the reflection, he feels a secret distaste, which prompts him to lay it down, and give him preference to a newspaper." [You could substitute the word "website"!]
But then Newton turns to a perplexing question indeed:
How can these things be, or why are they permitted? Since the Lord hates sin, teaches his people to hate it and cry against it, and has promised to hear their prayers, how is it that they go thus burdened? Surely, if he could not, or would not, over-rule evil for good, he would permit it to continue.
Here is how he answers:
By these exercises he teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part.

His method of salvation is likewise hereby exceedingly endeared to us: we see that it is and must be of grace, wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all.

His power likewise, in maintaining his own work notwithstanding our infirmities, temptations, and enemies, is hereby displayed in the clearest light; his strength is manifested in our weakness.

Satan likewise is more remarkably disappointed and put to shame, when he finds bounds set to his rage and policy, beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them, but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith.

Farther, by what believers feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way.

And, lastly, I believe nothing more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this warfare. Death is unwelcome to nature;--but then, and not till then, the conflict will cease. Then we shall sin no more. The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every incumbrance, and stand perfect perfect in the Redeemer's righteousness before God in glory.
Newton goes on to answer the question of how such sin can be mitigated or overcome. I won't quote the rest of the letter, but simply this line which sums up his positive counsel: "Faithfulness to light received, and a sincere endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God, with an humble application to the Blood of sprinkling and the promised Spirit, will undoubtedly be answered by increasing measures of light, faith, strength, and comfort; and we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord."

Counsel from Newton

I have had the six-volume Works of John Newton sitting on my shelves for years. They've hardly been cracked. But the other night I decided to pull one down. (Incidentally, this is why I'm not bothered by owning a lot more books than I've read, nor am I moved by people saying that they're not going to buy any more books till they've read the ones already on their shelves. Years ago Iain Murray drew a connection between God's providence and the timing of reading books. He pointed out that if he had read Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections as a younger man it would have meant little to him at that stage in his life, but years later--in God's timing--it was revolutionary. I've also been helped by my friend Rick Gamache's comparison of books to "tools in a toolbox." Years may go by without using a certain tool, but when a project comes along where you need it, you're very glad it's in the toolbox. [My wife has heard that illustration on more than one occasion to justify buying more books!]

Okay, back to Newton. The other night I pulled down volume 1 and began reading the book Cardiphonia: or, The Utterances of the Heart, in the Course of a Real Correspondence. It was published in 1780. (Newton's years were N1725-1807.) It contains a series of letters that Newton wrote, offering practical, pastoral, godly gospel counsel.

Here's a quote from one of the letters that was encouraging to my soul:
Since the radical powers of the soul are thus enfeebled and disordered, it is not to be wondered at that the best of men, and under their highest attainments, have found cause to make the acknowledgment of the Apostle, "When I should do good, evil is present with me."

But, blessed be God, though we must feel hourly cause for shame and humiliation for what we are in ourselves, we have cause to rejoice continually in Christ Jesus, who, as he is revealed unto us under the various names, characters, relations, and offices, which he bears in the Scripture, holds out to our faith a balm for every wound, a cordial for every discouragement, and a sufficient answer to every objection which sin or Satan can suggest against our peace.
  • If we are guilty, he is our Righteousness;
  • if we are sick; he is our infallible Physician;
  • if we are weak, helpless, and defenceless, he is the compassionate and faithful Shepherd who has taken charge of us, and will not suffer any thing to disappoint our hopes, or to separate us from his love.
He knows our frame, he remembers that we are but dust, and has engaged to guide us by his counsel, support us by his power, and at length to receive us to his glory, that we may be with him for ever.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Happy Birthday, John!

What?! You're not counting down the days?

July 10, 2009, will be John Calvin's 500th birthday. (As it so happens, on that same day I'll turn 31.) Conferences are being planned in honor of the former--though none so far in honor of the latter.

Check out the webpage. Here's the summary:
The Calvin Quincentenary is an international, interdenominational, and interdisciplinary commemoration of the life and work of John Calvin (b. 1509), which left such an indelible impression on the modern world. Climaxing with conferences in multiple locations in 2009, this celebration combines history, spirituality, and culture to recall appropriately the life and work of the Genevan Reformer.

Esteemed leaders, scholars, and ministers will serve as your guides to learning about this influential man, his vibrant city, and the cultural, religious, political, and economic impact flowing from a movement. This multi-faceted approach seeks to introduce many people to one of the most important thinkers in history.

If you have been looking for a great opportunity to tour Reformation highlights while also learning from some masters, this is the best shot for hundreds of years for hundreds of people to come together. However, this is more than a first-class tour!

Conferences, books, tours, etc. are all being planned. Check out the page for details as they emerge.

Herman Ridderbos (1909-2007)

Sean Michael Lucas reports:
Rev. Dr. Herman Ridderbos, one of the foremost developers of the redemptive-historical approach to Biblical theology, a hallmark of Westminster Theological Seminary, died 8 March, having celebrated his 98th birthday on 13 March. Among his more widely distributed writings were “Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures,” “Paul and Jesus,” and “Paul: An Outline of His Theology.” Reportedly Ned Stonehouse once said this of Ridderbos: “Wherever the Dutch language is read Professor Herman Ridderbos is recognized as an outstanding New Testament scholar and theologian . . .”

HT: Jack Collins

An interesting thing about Ridderbos: despite being one of the most influential NT scholars of the 20th century, there seems to be almost no personal information about him publicly available. If I'm wrong on that, let me know. Here's the basic information:
Herman Nicolaas Ridderbos was born in 1900 [sic?]. His father, Jan Ridderbos, was an ordained minister in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, a biblical commentator, and professor of Old Testament at the Theological School of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in Kampen. Herman Ridderbos completed his undergraduate studies there, and did his post-graduate work at the Free University of Amsterdam under F. W. Grosheide, qualifying for his doctorate in 1936. In 1943, after serving as a pastor for eight years, Ridderbos was appointed to the post of Professor of New Testament Studies at that same school, succeeding Dr. Sidney Greidanus who had been one of his professors. He served there for over forty years.

H. N. Ridderbos's brother N. H. Ridderbos became Professor of Old Testament at the Free University of Amsterdam in the early fifties. The Ridderbos family name, needless to say, has become virtually synonymous with eminent Biblical scholarship. Ridderbos was raised in the church. From his father, a staunch churchman and prominent spokesman in the Dutch controversy of the 30s and 40s, Ridderbos learned first hand both the dangers which a psychologizing homiletic posed to the church of God and the imperative to ground all things in the objective realities revealed in Scripture. Ridderbos became a vocal churchman in his own right, arguing effectively in sermons, lectures, treatises, and the ecclesiastical courts, for a redemptive historical approach and understanding of Scripture. Ridderbos's antagonism against dilusive subjectivism is evident in all of his works. A prolific New Testament commentator and redemptive historical theologian par excellence, Ridderbos has produced some of the most helpful insights on redemptive history, corporate personality, the Kingdom of God and eschatology. His seminal work on the theology of Paul is widely and highly acclaimed, and is considered a definitive exposition of by many, both in the Reformed church and by the scholarly community at large.

What's Going on in Iraq?

If you want the best reporting, this is probably your best source.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


I appreciate the way in which we've been discussing the eschatology issue. It's refreshing that we can have disagreements yet express them with gentleness and respect.

I don't intend to make eschatology a major focus of this blog. However, because so few have been able to access Sam Storms's article successfully, I thought it'd be worth making available in a different way. As it turns out, Storms has expanded the article into a chapter for a forthcoming book on eschatology. His website ( is due for an overhaul soon. In the meantime, he granted permission for me to post it on a temporary blog.

So here it is: Sam Storms on Problems with Premillennialism.

As a preview, Storms points out that if you are a Premillennialist (whether Dispensationalist or not), there are several things you must necessarily believe:

You must necessarily believe that physical death will continue to exist beyond the time of Christ’s second coming.

You must necessarily believe that the natural creation will continue, beyond the time of Christ’s second coming, to be subjected to the curse imposed by the fall of man.

You must necessarily believe that the New Heavens and New Earth will not be introduced until 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

You must necessarily believe that unbelieving men and women will still have the opportunity to come to saving faith in Christ for at least 1,000 years subsequent to his return.

You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally resurrected until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

You must necessarily believe that unbelievers will not be finally judged and cast into eternal punishment until at least 1,000 years subsequent to the return of Christ.

Amillennialists--rightly, it seems to me--don't see these beliefs being taught in Scripture. If you're interested in the exegetical details, head over to Storms's article.

Jesus Tomb

Andreas Kostenberger points to some new information on the tomb inscriptions. Check out his post for some excellent detective work. It leads Kostenberger to write: "This latest finding sounds the death knell to Simcha’s theory that the Jesus family tomb contains the remains of Jesus, his wife Mary Magdalene, and his son Jude. It also casts serious doubt on the competence of the makers of the 'Jesus tomb special' and their advisers."

One of the most encouraging things about this whole Jesus-tomb business is the way in which the evangelical community has responded. Refutations have been respectful, well-informed, fast, and devastating. It seems to me that this is an excellent example of scholarship serving the church on behalf of Truth.

Interview with Hauerwas

World Magazine interviews Duke University's Stanley Hauerwas, dubbed by Time Magazine as "America's best theologian."

O Sweet Exchange!

John Beckman passes along this good early quote (about AD 130) on Christ's righteousness in justification:
He himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!

(ANF1, Epistle to Diognetus, chapt. 9, p. 28)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Problems with Premillennialism

For those interested in studying eschatology--and who are open to considering an articulate case on behalf of ammillenialism--check out this series of studies by Sam Storms. (Sorry, the link won't work in Firefox, you have to use Explorer.)

I recently read Storms's overview on Problems with Premillennialism, which shows why premillennialism can't be squared with passages like 1 Cor. 15:22-28; 1 Cor. 15:50-57; Rom. 8:18-23; 2 Pet. 3:8-13; Matt. 25:31-46; 2 Thess. 1:5-10; and John 5:28-29.

In my (hopefully humble) opinion, these passages are clear that when Christ comes, it's "curtains" on sin and death. There will be a final judgment and a final resurrection, with a new heavens and a new earth.

Nowhere do I see Scripture teaching things like there being both glorified bodies and unglorified bodies on earth at the same time--and I have to confess that the idea of such seems quite unsettling and depressing to me.

I'm open to being persuaded that I'm wrong. Most of my exegetical heroes are pre-mill, post-trib. But books like Hans LaRondelle's The Israel of God in Prophecy and especially Anthony Hoekema's The Bible and the Future put me over the edge exegetically.

I know that this issue is a hot potato, a can of worms, or (insert your own cliche here ______). I recognize that people have strong feelings about this. So I ask that any interaction in the comments be measured and respectful. You can go after ideas, but not persons. And please use arguments instead of just stating opinions.

New Audiobooks

I just received in the mail today a couple of new audiobooks that look excellent: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, and Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Follow the links for more information.

Ligonier Live Stream

From Ligonier Ministries:
We give thanks to the Lord that the 2007 National Conference has received such a favorable response. As never before in our generation, contending for the truth requires that we are able to give solid reasons for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15).

John MacArthur, Al Mohler, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and Ravi Zacharias aim to equip as many people as possible to defend their faith. To this end, we are offering a free live webcast of this conference.

Ligonier has just opened up registration for a free live stream of the conference. Go here, or here.