Thursday, May 31, 2007

Owen on Communion with God

I noticed last night that now has the book Communion with the Triune God available for pre-order. The book is by John Owen, and was edited by Kelly Kapic and me. (Kelly did his dissertation on Owen at King's College; a revised version of his doctoral work has been recently published by Baker Academic: Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen.)

Our book isn't due out till this fall. I'll have more to say about it in the days ahead, but for now I'll mention that Kevin Vanhoozer kindly agreed to write the foreword for the book, for which we are most thankful.

And here's one blurb to whet your appetite:

"Owen is not for the faint of heart, nor for the impatient, nor for the lazy. But for those who want to deepen their understanding of God's greatness and how we walk with him, this book will repay, many times over, the effort its reading requires. "
David F. Wells
Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor Of Historical and Systematic Theology
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Theology in a Minor Key

Steve Nichols on Theology in a Minor Key: The Blues and Harmonizing the Curse and the Cross.

Here's the opening:
He was born with sight. But, when he was seven his stepmother threw lye into his face making him blind. Unable to work the fields, he took up a guitar, playing for the rows of sharecroppers picking their way through the cotton fields. He sang mostly gospel, but in a style that was all blues. I don’t know of any who would label Blind Willie Johnson a theologian. But I certainly would.

Jeremy Begbie, a Cambridge scholar who is considered a theologian, has argued for music’s intrinsic ability to teach theology. As an improvisation on Begbie’s thesis, the blues, it may be argued, is intrinsically suited to teach particular elements of theology that often get overlooked and downplayed in contemporary, especially American, evangelicalism. The blues is a good teacher of what may be called a theology in a minor key, a theology born out of experiences of blues artists like Blind Willie Johnson. This begs some definitions first of the blues and secondly of theology in a minor key. With those definitions in hand, we’ll see how the blues helps us harmonize the downbeat of the human condition, given life under the curse, with the hopeful melodies of redemption, given the promise of the cross.
We’ll find these two apparently discordant themes coming together in the story of a widow, Naomi.

Talking to Children about Race

Thabiti Anyabwile has a post on Talking to Children about Race, and makes the following four points:
  1. Talk with your children about ethnicity (the nations) rather than "race."
  2. Talk about ethnicity in a way that magnifies the power and wisdom of God.
  3. Talk about the need of all men for the Savior.
  4. Talk about the gospel and the church as the plan of God to demonstrate unity across such diversity and to display His wisdom.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

New Attitude Audio Messages

The New Attitude audio messages are all now available for free download (free registration required):
They write:
For the first time ever, we're offering all audio messages from this conference as free MP3 downloads. You can download them one by one or choose the download set of all eight messages. (In order to view these free downloads, you'll need to log in to our online store or follow the easy instructions to create an account.) In addition, an MP3 CD containing all conference sessions will be available for $12.00 next week.

Although the conference is over, the conversation on humble orthodoxy continues. Visit for blog posts, free downloads, and other resources to help you apply the truth of God's Word to your life.

Doing the Right Thing in Darfur

Michael Gerson recently traveled to Darfur, and describes it as "a whirlwind tour of hell." His column today in the NY Post summarizes the situation and our options. Conclusion:

"The choice here is far from obvious. Escalation has risks; if not done in earnest, it is better not to begin at all. America is understandably weary and distracted. But a question hangs over the history of our time: Are we too tired to oppose genocide?"

Derek Webb and Caedmon's Call

Denny Burk posts on the announcement that Derek Webb is rejoining Caedmon's Call, and that the reason they broke up in the first place was over The Prayer of Jabez!

Sanctions on Sudan for Darfur

Tim Morgan at the CT Liveblog:
Sticks and carrots:

At the White House this morning, President Bush ran out of patience with the genocidal regime ruling Sudan. He announced a collection of sanctions against the nation-state of Sudan and individuals associated with the sickening killing and rape still going on in the Darfur region at the western border with Chad.

See this video clip:

Here's a link to the Washington Post online article:

The Save Darfur Coalition includes many evangelical groups that should be encouraged by this move. China especially is likely to resist the imposition of sanctions.

We Christians must understand how the situation in Darfur ripples throughout the region and globally. Until there is real peace in Sudan, this region of Africa will remain violent and unstable.

The carrot and the stick are now on the table, Omar Bashir.

Prayer for the persecuted church in Sudan in the south should just be the beginning of our commitment. I agree with President Bush that we cannot "avert our eyes" from this suffering.

Conclusion: The Gospel Coalition

The ministry we have outlined is relatively rare. There are many seeker-driven churches that help many people find Christ. There are many churches seeking to engage the culture through political activism. There is a fast-growing charismatic movement with emphasis on glorious, passionate, corporate worship. There are many congregations with strong concern for doctrinal rigor and purity and who work very hard to keep themselves separate from the world. There are many churches with a radical commitment to the poor and marginalized.

We do not, however, see enough individual churches that embody the full, integrative gospel balance we have outlined here. And while, in God’s grace, there is an encouraging number of bright spots in the church, we see no broad movement yet of this gospel-centered ministry. We believe such a balance will produce churches with winsome and theologically substantial preaching, dynamic evangelism and apologetics, and church growth and church planting. They will emphasize repentance, personal renewal, and holiness of life. At the same time, and in the same congregations, there will be engagement with the social structures of ordinary people, and cultural engagement with art, business, scholarship, and government. There will be calls for radical Christian community in which all members share wealth and resources and make room for the poor and the marginalized. These priorities will all be combined and will mutually strengthen one another in each local church.

What could lead to a growing movement of gospel-centered churches? The ultimate answer is that God must, for his own glory, send revival in response to the fervent, extraordinary, prevailing prayer of his people. But we believe there are also penultimate steps to take. There is great hope if we can unite on the nature of truth, how best to read the Bible, on our relationship to culture, on the content of the gospel, and on the nature of gospel-centered ministry. We believe that such commitments will drive us afresh toward Scripture, toward the Christ of Scripture, toward the gospel of Christ, and we will begin to grow in our ability, by God’s grace, as churches, to “act in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). We are ashamed of our sins and failures, grateful beyond measure for forgiveness, and eager to see afresh the glory of God and embody conformity to his Son.

Michael Horton Interview

Martin Downes interviews Michael Horton.

The Crucible: New Album from Voice

Curtis Allen (aka "Voice") has a new CD out. I bumped into Curtis at New Attitude and he was kind enough to give me a copy of "Crucible," which I listened to and enjoyed on the drive back to Chicago.

As he describes inside the CD, this album is "a bit different" from his previous CD, "Progression." "The music is not the same style, nor is the delivery. Progression was more live instrumentation and acoustic guitar, where The Crucible is more traditional Hip-Hop with an East Coast rap soun. This is more my roots musically and so I am excited about this album."

Go to and launch it, then click "Crucible" (third from the left across the bottom).
I especially liked the song, "This Wondrous Cross." Check it out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gospel Ministry 101: The Gospel Coaltition

What is gospel-centered ministry?

It is characterized by:

a. Empowered corporate worship.

The gospel changes our relationship with God from one of hostility or slavish compliance to one of intimacy and joy. The core dynamic of gospel-centered ministry is therefore worship and fervent prayer. In corporate worship God’s people receive a special life-transforming sight of the worth and beauty of God, and then give back to God suitable expressions of his worth. At the heart of corporate worship is the ministry of the Word. Preaching should be expository (explaining the text of Scripture) and Christ-centered (expounding all biblical themes as climaxing in Christ and his work of salvation). Its ultimate goal, however, is not simply to teach but to lead the hearers to worship, individual and corporate, that strengthens their inner being to do the will of God.

b. Evangelistic effectiveness.

Because the gospel (unlike religious moralism) produces people who do not disdain those who disagree with them, a truly gospel-centered church should be filled with members who winsomely address people’s hopes and aspirations with Christ and his saving work. We have a vision for a church that sees conversions of rich and poor, highly educated and less educated, men and women, old and young, married and single, and all races. We hope to draw highly secular and postmodern people, as well as reaching religious and traditional people. Because of the attractiveness of its community and the humility of its people, a gospel-centered church should find people in its midst who are exploring and trying to understand Christianity. It must welcome them in hundreds of ways. It will do little to make them “comfortable” but will do much to make its message understandable. In addition to all this, gospel-centered churches will have a bias toward church planting as one of the most effective means of evangelism there is.

c. Counter-cultural community.

Because the gospel removes both fear and pride, people should get along inside the church who could never get along outside. Because it points us to a man who died for his enemies, the gospel creates relationships of service rather than of selfishness. Because the gospel calls us to holiness, the people of God live in loving bonds of mutual accountability and discipline. Thus the gospel creates a human community radically different from any society around it.

Regarding sex, the church should avoid both the secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of it. It is a community which so loves and cares practically for its members that biblical chastity makes sense. It teaches its members to conform their bodily being to the shape of the gospel—abstinence outside of heterosexual marriage and fidelity and joy within.

Regarding the family, the church should affirm the goodness of marriage between a man and a woman, calling them to serve God by reflecting his covenant love in life-long loyalty, and by teaching his ways to their children. But it also affirms the goodness of serving Christ as singles, whether for a time or for a life. The church should surround all persons suffering from the fallenness of our human sexuality with a compassionate community and family.

Regarding money, the church’s members should engage in radical economic sharing with one another—so “there are no needy among them” (Acts 4:34). Such sharing also promotes a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak.

Regarding power, it is visibly committed to power-sharing and relationship-building among races, classes, and generations that are alienated outside of the Body of Christ. The practical evidence of this is that our local churches increasingly welcome and embrace people of all races and cultures. Each church should seek to reflect the diversity of its local geographical community, both in the congregation at large and in its leadership.

d. The integration of faith and work.

The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen 1:2; Psalm 104:30). Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good. Too many Christians have learned to seal off their faith-beliefs from the way they work in their vocation. The gospel is seen as a means of finding individual peace and not as the foundation of a worldview—a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do. But we have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Such a church will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work. We do all of this because the gospel of God leads us to it, even while we recognize that the ultimate restoration of all things awaits the personal and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ (CS–[13]).

e. The doing of justice and mercy.

God created both soul and body, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both the spiritual and the material. Therefore God is concerned not only for the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice. The gospel opens our eyes to the fact that all our wealth (even wealth for which we worked hard) is ultimately an unmerited gift from God. Therefore the person who does not generously give away his or her wealth to others is not merely lacking in compassion, but is unjust. Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth through giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit they are weak and lost. We cannot look at the poor and the oppressed and callously call them to pull themselves out of their own difficulty. Jesus did not treat us that way. The gospel replaces superiority toward the poor with mercy and compassion. Christian churches must work for justice and peace in their neighborhoods through service even as they call individuals to conversion and the new birth. We must work for the eternal and common good and show our neighbors we love them sacrificially whether they believe as we do or not. Indifference to the poor and disadvantaged means there has not been a true grasp of our salvation by sheer grace.

Piper at New Attitude

The audio for John Piper's addresses at New Attitude are now online at DG: Discern What Pleases God—Himself, and Discern What Pleases God—Personal Obedience.

The former is Piper's standard "God's Passion for His Glory" talk. The latter addresses, among other things, the role of obedience in relationship to faith and justification. Some of this comes from the fruit of his recent work on justification in seeking to understand and respond to N. T. Wright.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Gospel Coalition Foundational Documents

Steve McCoy has posted the final version of the Gospel Coalition documents: (1) a confessional statement and (2) a theology of ministry.

Gospel 101: The Gospel Coalition's Theology of Ministry

In what ways is the gospel unique?

This gospel fills Christians with humility and hope, meekness and boldness, in a unique way. The biblical gospel differs markedly from traditional religions as well as from secularism. Religions operate on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted,” but the gospel principle is: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both irreligion and religion. You can seek to be your own “lord and savior” by breaking the law of God, but you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation.

Irreligion and secularism tend to inflate self-encouraging, uncritical, “self-esteem”; religion and moralism crush people under guilt from ethical standards that are impossible to maintain. The gospel, however, humbles and affirms us at the same time, since, in Christ, each of us is simultaneously just, and a sinner still. At the same time, we are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope.

Secularism tends to make people selfish and individualistic. Religion and morality in general tend to make people tribal and self-righteous toward other groups (since their salvation has, they think, been earned by their achievement). But the gospel of grace, centered on a man dying for us while we were his enemies, removes self-righteousness and selfishness and turns its members to serve others both for the temporal flourishing of all people, especially the poor, and for their salvation. It moves us to serve others irrespective of their merits, just as Christ served us (Mark 10:45).

Secularism and religion conform people to behavioral norms through fear (of consequences) and pride (a desire for self-aggrandizement). The gospel moves people to holiness and service out of grateful joy for grace, and out of love of the glory of God for who he is in himself.

Beckwith vs.Trueman

Carl Trueman mentioned today on the Ref21 blog that he and Francis Beckwith will participate in a discussion forum at this year's American Academy of Religion annual meeting.

Putting Jesus in His Place

There's a new book coming out this fall from Kregel, entitled, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, by Robert Bowman and Ed Komoszewski. If you click on the link, you can go to the official website.

To see why you and those in your church and circle of influence need to get your hands on this book, check out the endorsements. From what I've read of it, I can confidently recommend it, and pray that we'll see more resources of this type in the future.

You can also:

Contextualization 101: The Gospel Coalition's Theology of Ministry

How should we relate to the culture around us? (The contextualization issue)

a. By being a counter-culture.

We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit. (See below, point 5c.)

b. For the common good.

It is not enough that the church should counter the values of the dominant culture. We must be a counter-culture for the common good. We want to be radically distinct from the culture around us and yet, out of that distinct identity, we should sacrificially serve neighbors and even enemies, working for the flourishing of people, both here and now, and in eternity. We therefore do not see our corporate worship services as the primary connecting point with those outside. Rather, we expect to meet our neighbors as we work for their peace, security, and well-being, loving them in word and deed. If we do this we will be “salt” and “light” in the world (sustaining and improving living conditions, showing the world the glory of God by our patterns of living; Matt 5:13-16). As the Jewish exiles were called to love and work for the shalom of Babylon (Jer 29:7), Christians too are God’s people “in exile” (1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1). The citizens of God’s city should be the best possible citizens of their earthly city (Jer 29:4-7). We are neither overly optimistic nor pessimistic about our cultural influence, for we know that, as we walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents, we will receive persecution even while having social impact (1 Peter 2:12).

How this relationship to culture shapes us.

(1) We believe that every expression of Christianity is necessarily and rightly contextualized, to some degree, to particular human culture; there is no such thing as a universal a-historical expression of Christianity. But we never want to be so affected by our culture that we compromise gospel truths. How then do we keep our balance?

(2) The answer is that we cannot “contextualize” the gospel in the abstract, as a thought experiment. If a church seeks to be a counter-culture for people’s temporal and eternal good, it will guard itself against both the legalism that can accompany undue cultural withdrawal and the compromise that comes with over-adaptation. If we seek service rather than power, we may have significant cultural impact. But if we seek direct power and social control, we will, ironically, be assimilated into the very idolatries of wealth, status, and power we seek to change.

(3) The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over-contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under-contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub-culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor.

Hermeneutics 101: The Gospel Coalition's Theology of Ministry

The next section of the Gospel Coalition's "Theology of Ministry" statement:

How should we read the Bible? (The hermeneutical issue)

a. Reading “along” the whole Bible.

To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot-line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.

b. Reading “across” the whole Bible.

To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth-claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46-47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

How this reading of the Bible shapes us.

(1) Many today (but not all) who major in the first of these two ways of reading the Bible—that is, reading along the whole Bible—dwell on the more corporate aspects of sin and salvation. The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood-bought status in Christ received through personal faith. In this imbalance there is little emphasis on vigorous evangelism and apologetics, on expository preaching, and on the marks and importance of conversion/the new birth.

(2) On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.

(3) We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Epistemology 101: The Gospel Coalition's Theology of Ministry

I've received a final version of the Gospel Coalition. (I'm not certain that previous versions circulating on the web were the canonical version!)

I thought it might be helpful to post individual sections of the "Theology of Ministry" document. the first issue concerns epistemology and how we should respond to the cultural crisis of truth.

In my opinion, this is an excellent, nuanced document, worthy of careful study and consideration:
How should we respond to the cultural crisis of truth? (The epistemological issue)

For several hundred years, since the dawning of the Enlightenment, it was widely agreed that truth—expressed in words that substantially correspond to reality—does indeed exist and can be known. Unaided human reason, it was thought, is able to know truth objectively. More recently, postmodernism has critiqued this set of assumptions, contending that we are not in fact objective in our pursuit of knowledge, but rather interpret information through our personal experiences, self-interests, emotions, cultural prejudices, language limitations, and relational communities. The claim to objectivity is arrogant, postmodernism tells us, and inevitably leads to conflicts between communities with differing opinions as to where the truth lies. Such arrogance, they say explains, in part, many of the injustices and wars of the modern era. Yet postmodernism’s response is dangerous in another way: its most strident voices insist that claims to objective truth be replaced by a more humbly “tolerant” and inclusively diverse subjective pluralism—a pluralism often mired in a swamp that cannot allow any firm ground for “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Such a stance has no place for truth that corresponds to reality, but merely an array of subjectively shaped truths. How shall we respond to this cultural crisis of truth?

a. We affirm that truth is correspondence to reality.

We believe the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of the apostles and prophets also indwells us so that we who have been made in the image of God can receive and understand the words of Scripture revealed by God, and grasp that Scripture’s truths correspond to reality. The statements of Scripture are true, precisely because they are God’s statements, and they correspond to reality even though our knowledge of those truths (and even our ability to verify them to others) is always necessarily incomplete. The Enlightenment belief in thoroughly objective knowledge made an idol out of unaided human reason. But to deny the possibility of purely objective knowledge does not mean the loss of truth that corresponds to objective reality, even if we can never know such truth without an element of subjectivity. See CS-(2).

b. We affirm that truth is conveyed by Scripture.

We believe that Scripture is pervasively propositional and that all statements of Scripture are completely true and authoritative. But the truth of Scripture cannot be exhausted in a series of propositions. It exists in the genres of narrative, metaphor, and poetry which are not exhaustively distillable into doctrinal propositions, yet they convey God’s will and mind to us so as to change us into his likeness.

c. We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God.

Truth is not only a theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality. Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart, words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God.

How this vision of truth shapes us.

(1) We adopt a “chastened” correspondence-theory of truth that is less triumphalistic than that of some in the older evangelicalism. But we also reject a view of truth that sees truth as nothing more than the internally coherent language of a particular faith-community. So we maintain, with what we hope is appropriate humility, the principle of sola Scriptura.

(2) Though truth is propositional, it is not only something to be believed, but also to be received in worship and practiced in wisdom. This balance shapes our understanding of discipleship and preaching. We want to encourage a passion for sound doctrine, but we know that Christian growth is not simply cognitive information transfer. Christian growth occurs only when the whole life is shaped by Christian practices in community—including prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, and the public ministry of the Word.

(3) Our theoretical knowledge of God’s truth is only partial even when accurate, but we nevertheless can have certainty that what the Word tells us is true (Luke 1:4). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we receive the words of the gospel in full assurance and conviction (1 Thess 1:5).

New Attitude: Joshua Harris

Some rough notes on Josh Harris's talk tonight at the New Attitude Conference:

Discernment and Humble Orthodoxy

The mission of Na is to encourage Christians to believe and to live and to represent the truth with humility. This is called “humble orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy is a commitment to the teaching and application of the established and cherished truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to rediscover these ancient paths and to let them shape us. We want this truth—which has always been—to completely shape us. We want to humbly live this truth, and humbly proclaim this truth—not merely as people who are right, but people who have been rescued. Because humble orthodoxy is the goal, “discernment” is the theme of this conference. You can only love the truth if you can distinguish it from error—which discernment is all about.

Goals of This Talk

Goals of this talk: (1) to introduce the theme of discernment, (2) to convince us of the importance of discernment, (3) to consider what discernment requires of us, (4) to whet our appetite for the coming talks (by Simmons, Mahaney, Dever, Mohler, and Piper).

What Is Discernment?

The simplest definition is an ability to judge well.

Discernment is closely connected to wisdom. Wisdom is the ownership of insight. Wisdom is seeing life in light of who God is and how he’s created the world, and then to make decisions in that light. Discernment means distinguishing between things—to judge between good and evil, truth and error, sound and unsound, wise and unwise.

2 Thessalonians 5:21-22: “(1) Test everything; (2) hold fast what is good. (3) Abstain from every form of evil.” This is a description of discernment. First you test, then you sort it into the “good pile” (which you hold or cling onto) or the “evil pile” (which you avoid). You must not only see, but you must act.

Why Explore Discernment in Depth?

First, spiritual discernment is not simple, and it’s not always easy. Books, churches, blogs, songs don’t come with up-front warning labels ! Eventual consequences are not always obvious. There are subtle, unhelpful tendencies. There are potential pitfalls we won’t always see. Sometimes the good and the evil are mixed together.

Second, whether or not we have spiritual discernment is a matter of life and death. This is not an exaggeration. There are areas of life that aren’t that significant, but when it comes to spiritual discernment, we’re talking about our souls, whether or not we will know truth that has the power to redeem humanity, whether or not we’ll know the living God, whether or not we’ll walk the narrow road or the broad road that leads to destruction. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov 14:12).

God’s glory is at stake. He has revealed himself in his Word.

Asking for and Working at Discernment

The ability to discern is not reserved for a special class of Christians. All of us can grow in this area.

First, we must ask God for discernment:

  • Ps 119:125: “I am your servant; give me understanding, that I may know your testimonies!”
  • Dan 2:21: “[God] gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;”
  • 1 Kings 3:9: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?"

We must not only ask for discernment, but also work at discernment. And the way to do this is to study God’s Word.

  • Ps. 119:104: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
  • Eph 5:10: “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
  • Heb 5:14: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12, building on the first 11 chapters, begins to explore the ethical implications of the gospel. These opening verses of Romans 12 describe what discernment is all about: holding on to (1) the truth of the gospel and (2) gospel living.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Paul is saying: In light of what Jesus has done for you, here is the appropriate response: give him everything that you are; make knowing and enjoying him the consuming passion of your life.

Verse 2 explains the work that is involved in maintaining such a life that pleases God. The reason that we want discernment is because we want God—to please him, to walk humbly with him, to glorify him.

Discernment Requires Four Things

Discernment requires (1) resistance, (2) renewal, (3) action, and (4) the gospel.

1. Discernment requires resistance. We must not be shaped and pulled along the godless way of thinking and acting. We must resist it. One aspect of discernment is taking the time to understand our age and its values. How is this age seeking to influence our thinking? In order for us to resist the values of this age, we must understand how the world is trying to mold us and shape us. This takes work (cf. Schaeffer, Lewis, Mohler). We must thank God for those who are older and wiser who can train us in discernment. Discernment inevitably involves being rejected by this world. If you’re not conformed, you don’t fit in—you’ll be left out. There’s a cost involved—it involves a break with the world. If we’re not willing to die to the desire to appear sophisticated and hip and together in the eyes of the world, then you will never be willing to resist conformity, and therefore will never be discerning. Discernment dies when we allow our hearts and minds to be shaped by our age in order to be approved by our age. Choosing to please God is choosing to displease the world.

2. 2. Discernment requires renewal. We must constantly renew, review, and reclaim in our hearts and minds the truth of God—right thinking as found in Scripture. God’s Word is truth. It must reset our thinking on a daily basis.

3. 3. Discernment requires action. You can’t discern God’s good will by sitting back and evaluating from a distance; armchair discernment is not true discernment. Discernment requires theologically informed action. The only way to grow in discernment is to act upon what God has revealed. It requires action, application, and implementation. You’re not going to see it till you live it. Josh highly recommends the writings of Francis Schaeffer. (A good place to start is True Spirituality.) Schaeffer (from his booklet, Two Contents): We must have a strong doctrinal content, and as then we must practice the content the way we believe. We must exhibit that we take truth seriously. It will not do to say it in world but not live it in our lives. And the converse is also true: when we fail to act on truth, discernment dies. Your inabilities in discernment about an issue may stem from your unwillingness to act on truth that has already been revealed to you.

4.44. Discernment requires the gospel. The most important point to make: Christ’s work for us undergirds everything we have discussed—and will discuss. We cannot rightly live the Christian life and be discerning unless we understand that the foundation is not what we do but what Jesus has done for us as our representative. “In view of God’s mercy,” Paul appeals to them. All teaching on discernment must be done in the shadow of Calvary’s cross. Here is where we find the ultimate display of God’s mercy. Discernment is only possible because of the gospel. Dead people don’t discern anything—but God, in his mercy, while we were yet sinners, chose to rescue us. He gave us spiritual eyes to see and the Holy Spirit, and now calls us to cling to good and turn from evil—because he first loved us. Therefore our practice of discernment must be done in great humility—with tears in our eyes as we refute error. We discern in light of God’s mercy. The only reason we see anything at all is because of his grace in our lives. There’s no place for an arrogant practice of discernment. It makes no sense! Any time you understand something in your Bible, anytime you turn away from something not in accord with God’s Word—that moment is a moment for you to thank God for his mercy in your life. Therefore, we must interact with others with courtesy and kindness, that they may receive that same mercy. Let us be a people preoccupied with the undeserved mercy of God. We see because Jesus died for us. Discernment is the fruit of a life willingly offered to God. We are living our life for the one who gave his life for us.

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Atttitude Conference

The Brothers Harris--Alex and Brett--will be live-blogging the New Attitude 2007 conference, which begins on Saturday evening and goes through Tuesday. Speakers are Josh Harris, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever, John Piper, Al Mohler, and C. J. Mahaney.

I'll be there as well, and may throw up a post or two.

Piper on New Heavens and New Earth

Desiring God blog: "The audio and manuscript of Piper's message from yesterday are now available—'The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth.'"

Wilson vs Hitchens, Part 5

The penultimate exchange is now online.

Crossway Book Report

Crossway's Book Report (PDF) is now online.

It contains the following interviews:
  • Sam Storms on his book, Signs of the Times: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections
  • Stephen J. Nichols on his book, The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
  • Thabiti Anyabwile on his book, The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors
  • Mark Roberts on his book, Can We Trust the Gospels? Investigating the Reliability of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
  • Gary Johnson and Guy Waters on the volume they edited, By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification
  • Mark Dever on the volume he edited, Preaching the Cross
  • Sam Storms on his book, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Carson on Galatians 2

I have always found Galatians 2 and the situation behind it to be confusing. No matter how many times I read it, the argument and background have seemed inevitably obscure.

I recently read Don Carson's reconstruction and exegesis of this passage in his book, Love in Hard Places. As is usually the case with Carson's exegesis, I found it to be enlightening and convincing. My notes on it can be found here.

When a Book Reviewer Is In Over His Head

From a post by Robert Miller on a bad book and a worse book review:
Here’s the latest example of a fascinating, though depressing, cultural phenomenon. A fellow who clearly knows nothing about a deep and difficult intellectual problem produces a manuscript purporting to resolve the problem definitively. Such a fellow is a crank, you might think, and will quite properly be ignored. But, no, he actually finds a publisher for his book, and a respected one at that. Even more surprisingly, the New York Times commissions a review of the book from a famous columnist, and, instead of exposing the book for the ignorant twaddle that it is, the columnist writes a glowing review. How does this happen?

Generally speaking, of course, it doesn’t. We have social institutions like the New York Times Book Review precisely in order to make sure that it can’t. Given the amount of material published nowadays, it’s essential to be able to sort the good from the bad, and we rely on prestigious publications like the Times Book Review to do part of the work for us. Book reviewers for this paper are expected to know something about the topics of the books they review, and they are expected to exercise informed judgment, separating the serious books from the intellectual junk in a basically fair sort of way. If a book like the one I describe makes it all the way to a positive review in the Times, there has been a serious failure of the epistemic institutions of our society.

And such there has been, and such there commonly are, when the subject is the philosophical treatment of religion. In case you haven’t guessed yet, the book to which I refer above is Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, just out from Twelve/Warner books, and the review (which can be found here) is that of Michael Kinsley, who writes for Time and the Washington Post.

Hitchens has solved, he thinks, some of the deepest problems in metaphysics and the philosophy of religion—or, at least, he would say he had if he realized that there were deep problems at stake here. But, unfortunately, he doesn’t even know what the real problems are. . . .

Now, there are intelligent arguments in favor of atheism, of course, but it’s painfully clear that neither Hitchens nor Kinsley knows what they are. . . .

I can understand, just barely, how an intelligent man like Hitchens might make a very bad mistake and write a whole book on a topic without realizing that there is relevant scholarly literature that he ought to have mastered before offering his own views on a subject. I know that I have written some things that I now see to be uninformed, and so I have some sympathy for Hitchens. As to Kinsley, however, in agreeing to review a book, he assumed a responsibility to provide the reading public with an informed and honest judgment, and so in agreeing to review a book that he is obviously incompetent to evaluate he committed more of a breach of trust. I blame him more harshly than I do Hitchens, but let it pass, for perhaps he too somehow never discovered that there is such a thing as the philosophy of religion.

The malfeasance of the editors of the New York Times Book Review, however, is unforgivable. I mean that, if not literally, then at least not merely hyperbolically. For it’s part of an editor’s job, in commissioning a book review, to figure out who’s a competent judge of the book in question. The review of God Is Not Great, along with similar reviews of similar books, shows that the editors at the Times Book Review are not doing their job in a minimally competent way. That means that all their reviews are suspect. The clock at the Times has struck thirteen.

Beckwith's Review of Hewitt's Book on Romney

In First Things Frank Beckwith (who co-edited The New Mormon Challenge [Zondervan, 2002]) reviews Hugh Hewitt's book on Mitt Romney's Mormonism.

Beckwith begins with a helpful overview of Mormon history and theology. He marvels at how it is both profoundly wrong and genius at the same time:
Even if one thinks that Smith was profoundly mistaken (as I do), one cannot help but marvel at the religious genius of this project: It has all the advantages of Reformation Protestantism and nineteenth-century Restorationism (“Let’s get back to what Jesus and the apostles originally taught”) with all the advantages of Catholicism and Orthodoxy—an apostolic magisterium within the confines of a visible church. Smith has both a priesthood of all believers and a priesthood managed by a church hierarchy. He offers a new gospel unconstrained by centuries of theological precedent, yet it he could claim that it is as old as the apostles. He could, without contradiction, reject tradition while claiming to be the true guardian of an ancient message. It may be wrong, but it was brilliant.
Hewitt rightly identifies and refutes what Beckwith calls the Creedal Mistake ("when a Christian citizen believes that the planks of his creed are the best standard by which to judge the suitability of a political candidate"). However, Hewitt does not address what Beckwith calls the Kennedy Mistake (when someone makes the "claim that his theology and church do not influence or shape his politics").

Beckwith's conclusion rings true to me:
If one does not support Romney’s candidacy, it should not be because he is a Mormon. It should be because one has good reason to believe he is not the best candidate for the office. That is the message of Hewitt’s book. It is one that would resonate with Martin Luther, who once tersely said, “I’d rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.”

The Dangerous Book for Boys

If you have a son, be sure to read Albert Mohler's blog post on a book hitting the U.S.:
What do boys need to know? That question led brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden to write The Dangerous Book for Boys, and boys of every age will love it. The book took Britain by storm last year, and arrives this year just in time for summer reading. A boy armed with this book will have a very fun summer indeed.
A runaway bestseller in the U.K., the publisher expects to sell 4 million copies in the U.S.

Mohler closes: "So put this book in your boy's hands and turn off the television and the PlayStation. Then get ready to watch the paper airplanes fly and the water bombs burst. And, to be honest, it wouldn't hurt to keep a few Band-aids handy . . . just in case."

CT Books Awards 2007

The winners are here.

Dever's Message of the OT

Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made has won an award of merit in the biblical studies category of Christianity Today's 2007 book awards.

Christianity Today has published an excerpt, from Mark's sermon-to-chapter on Obadiah. CT also points out that MP3s of the sermons in The Message of the Old Testament, including Obadiah, are available online.

Converse with Scholars: Tom Schreiner

Tom Schreiner will be on the live web program tonight, Converse with Scholars, at 10 pm EST, talking about the case for believer baptism. Gregg Strawbridge, representing the paedobaptist position, was on last week, and I think the show is now archived if you want to listen to it as well.

Piper: “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth

The final session of the Gospel Coalition is by John Piper, on the theme of "The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth." Don Carson introduced Piper by saying that with regard to the transcendence of God, Piper is our generation's Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

Piper began by saying that, in his opinion, Lloyd-Jones is the greatest preacher of the 20th century. Piper listens to him every Monday morning. Every preacher should go to We are shaped by those we hear.

Piper wishes every pastor could have been asked to preach this sermon. God loves to give insight to desperate pastors.

Gen 1:1: creation. Gen 1:27. Man created in God's own image. Gen 1:31. Very good. Gen 3: Adam and Eve reject God as their supreme wisdom, beauty, and desire. Then God curses them and the ground. Gen 3:15: I will put enmity between the creation-destroying serpent and the woman and her seed. The apostle Paul hears in that the hope expressed in Rom 8:20-21:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
God created the universe out of nothing and it was very good. Then Adam and Eve did something horrifyingly evil in their hearts: they preferred the fruit of a tree to fellowship with God. God not only sentenced them to death but subjected the entire creation to futility and bondage to corruption. Every human dies and suffers. As do animals. Rivers, volcanoes, tsunamis, storms, AIDS, malaria, cancer, heart disease, tornadoes, freak accidents. If we could see 1/10,000 of the world's suffering at the moment we would pass out or throw up. Only God almighty can bear that sight.

Why did God do this to the world? The creation didn't do anything--why did he subject it to such decay? God said: "cursed be the ground because of you." Why the kaleidoscope of tragedy?

God put the natural world under a curse so that the horrors we see around us would become a vivid picture of how terrible sin is. Natural evil is a signpost to the unspeakable wickedness of moral evil.

Our hearts are so dull and blinded to the exceeding wickedness of sin. Do you know anyone who feels the abhorrent evil our sin is? Almost no one is incensed or nauseated at how we belittle the glory of God? We don't see it or feel it. But let God touch my little finger and he's in the dock--what is he doing; where is the justice?

This is God's way to help you hate your sin.

(See also Piper's sermon, Where Is God?)

God mercifully shouts to us in our sickness and pain and calamities: this deformity or tragedy is like preferring television to me, or like wanting to be in heaven without me.

What do you say to the parent whose child will never have a mental ability beyond six months? You open your Bible to Romans 8.

Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible. Everyone should memorize it.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Young pastors: this text is one of the most important texts to get clarity on, from the beginning of your ministry.

One of Piper's first sermons 27 years ago at Bethlehem was Christ and Cancer. Piper did a funeral every 3 weeks for the first year and a half. He did not want them thinking that if they just had faith, they wouldn't be in the hospital--because of v. 23: "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." In your ministry, nail this on the front end. Your people need to know where you stand, so that when you stand by their bed, they have a theological framework for what you say. And if you've done it well, you don't have to say anything.

Four Observations

1. God promises that there will be liberation for this creation from its bondage and decay. V. 21: "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption." This earth will be a new earth. Isa 65:17; Isa 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1; Acts 3:19. "New earth" means "renewed earth"--not in the way that you get a "new car."
Your disabled son will have an eternity to run and leap to the glory of God--and this world will have seemed like a light and momentary affliction.
2. This liberation from its natural order will be a participation in the freedom of the glory of God. V. 21: " the creation . . . will . . . obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." The creation follows man into corruption--and into glory. The creation is drawn up into the freedom of the glory of God. Note the order: the freedom of the glory of the children of God comes first; then, after glorifying our bodies, the whole creation is fitted as a suitable dwelling for the glorified family.
Your child will not be changed to fit the new glorified universe. The new universe will be changed to fit the glory of your child. He will not have to adapt anymore; everything in creation will be adapted to him.
The world (which we should care about) is not important in itself, but as the playground, temple, farm, craft store, of the children of God.

3. The arrival of the new liberated creation is compared to a birth; so there's not only continuity with this world, but also discontinuity. V. 22: "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now." A child is human (continuity) but not his mother (discontinuity).

On discontinuity, see: 1 Cor 15:35ff; 2 Pet. 3:7-13; Rev. 21:1, 22. On continuity, see Phil 3:21; Luke 24:39-43;
Will my disabled son ever grow up? Will he eat on his own? Will he be able to make anything? God will make this world in a way that nothing is wasted. Your son will eat with Jesus. God will give him full development, for his maximum joy and God's maxim joy?
What's the deepest assurance and highest hope we can give these parents?

4. The hope of having redeemed bodies in the new creation is secured by our salvation which we received in the gospel--but this (receiving new bodies) is not our best hope. Vv. 23-24: "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved." With reference to his hope, we are saved. When we were saved, this hope was secured for us. We are saved by banking on Christ crucified and risen (1 Cor 15:1-3). If there were no gospel for sins, we would not be included in the new heavens, and there would be no heavens and earth.

The ultimate gift and good of the gospel is not the redeemed bodies, not propitiation, not justification, not forgiveness of sins--these are all means. The ultimate good of the gospel is the glory of God himself in the his crucified and risen Son. 1 Pet. 3:18: "
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God."

The risen Christ will never lay down his risen body, but will keep it as an emblem of Calvary, where God's grace was displayed most fully. We will sing of the slain lamb forever.

Carson: What Is the Gospel Coaltion?

I missed Don Carson's brief session this morning explaining what the Gospel Coalition is. Justin Buzzard, however, took some brief notes.

The website will launch in a few weeks (mid-June). And the plan is for there to be a national conference during April of the off-years for Together for the Gospel.

Willson: Christ and Culture in Light of the Gospel

The Gospel Coalition breakout session I attended was by Sandy Willson (pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis), whose topic was Christ and culture.

His experience is that the more he's been engaged in culture, the better he's come to know Christ. The whole world belongs to Christ. You cannot do theology without cultural contextualization.

Definition of Culture

Here is his working definition:
a social environment in which we define the meaning of life (including the meaning of truth, goodness, and beauty) through the means of worship, beliefs, values, traditions, language, social and political organization, art, technology, and social customs.

Culture is the corporate expression, in some ways, of what a human being is.

Our task is to proclaim and demonstrate Christ to the world, carefully engaging the culture without making inappropriate assumptions.

We are facing what Paul faced when he was called to evangelize Antioch (Acts 11). It was a very multicultural city, and the gospel just exploded there. It ended up being the staging ground for the Pauline mission.

We need to be aware of and avoid two dangers:

1. Assimilation (being co-opted by the culture--typically the danger of those on the Left; but at least they are addressing the dominant questions). The reason this happens is lack of confidence in the Gospel. An example of this error is the Colossian heresy.

2. Withdrawal. An example of this error is found in Galatians. Typically the danger of those on the Right--though it happens on the Left as well. John Sommerville on the irrelevancy of the secular university: they don't want to talk about religion, though that's what people care about and where they are at. Evangelicals paral

Willson has been influenced by Don Carson's forthcoming book on Christ and Culture Revisited (Eerdmans). Carson interacts thoughtfully with Niehbur, who used the following categories:

Nieburh's Categories for Christ and Culture

1. Christ against Culture. Tertullian (Christianity is a "third race"), medieval Judaism, Quakers, Amish. Perhaps Stanley Hauwerwas would fit in this category.

2. Christ of Culture. Schliermacher, Ritschel, mid-20th c mainline denominations. Christ is revealed in every culture. Sort of a gnostic view. Carson says that this is not even a Christian option. Niehbur has allowed a gnostic view to be considered a legitimate option.

3. Christ over Culture. Roman Catholics, Thomists, Christian Right. The church takes charge of the culture.

4. Christ and Culture in Paradox. Lutheran. Christians are to be in the world, but no confidence the world can be transformed, so we overwhelm it with salt and light. But there's no clear definition of what you do once you're in the culture from a worldview standpoint.

5. Christ Transforming Culture. Augustinian, Calvinistic. We are to reshape the world, creating fields of discourse in every discipline.

Carson's view: The proper approach is a blended approach, based on the circumstances.

How the Gospel Enables Us to Engage Culture Properly

The reason for this blended approach is because of the gospel itself. The gospel does five things that enables us to engage it properly:

1. The gospel enables us to affirm the positive aspects of every culture. Acts 17: Paul is apoplectic at the gods because God's glory is being stolen. But Paul starts by observing that they are religious people. He loves sinners, and because of the gospel he's able to see with new eyes. We need to go into culture and listen.

2. The gospel enables us to adapt to the neutral things in culture.
If you don't put your focus on the main thing, it's amazing what else we will focus on (money, power, customs you don't like). It's the duty of every one of us to adapt to our culture, not for our culture to adapt to us. Christ experienced the ultimate culture shock in his incarnation. We must be willing to adapt to the neutral things around us. We have to learn to use what's around us. The theology of Christianity (as opposed to say, Islam) is to preserve culture.

3. The gospel enables us to denounce the evil aspects of every culture
. Jesus and Paul do this regularly. When Jesus tell us that we are salt and light, what does this say about the world? It's dark and decaying, and the world desperately needs the truth of God.

4. The gospel
enables us to build a model society. See the Gospel Coalition's theology of ministry statement. David Anderson (pastor in Maryland): to build a multicultural church you have to be able to die to your native culture in order to create a society within the church. Newbigin: the church is the greatest apologetic to the world. In Acts 2, people were asking what they must do to be saved. People aren't asking that anymore because of the nature of the church. Also, the church must also practice church discipline. There's almost no discipline in evangelical churches. If we are going to transform culture, we are going to have a transformed culture under our own noses. The gospel allows us to confront the sins in our own family without losing hope.

5. The gospel empowers to seek the shalom of every culture. Gen 1:28 (cultural mandate); Matt 5:13-16 (salt and light), model fo the ministry of Jesus (teaching the truth of God, proclaiming the gospel, and dealing with the tangible needs of people).

How Do We Do This?

1. We have to enter serious dialog with unbelievers around us. The gospel deals with the heart, and you don't know their heart till you listen. Why do they reject the gospel? What are their ultimate values? What do they really care about?

2. We have to preach the gospel into the broader culture of your people and the people you want to reach. Tim Keller: preach to the empty pew (the people you want to be in your church). When you start appealing to the arguments of the broader culture around you, you start appealing to your church members, too (who are influenced by the broader culture). You're engaging their culture and issues they are wrestling with, though they might never mention it in Sunday school.

3. We must serve the culture, particularly in partnerships. Jesus drew crowds through serving people, then he would interpret the meaning of his service. But if we're not serving, we have nothing to interpret.

You cannot engage Christ and culture without a cross: the cross of Chirst, and the cross of the Christian. The reason we don't engage the culture is because we are where Peter was before the resurrection: without a cross. When culture is engaged Christianly, by men and women bearing the cross, God is praised.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Loritts: Passing on the Gospel

Crawford Loritts on "Passing on the Torch," using Psalm 78:5-7:
5 He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments.
The character of God and the content of Scripture must be poured into our lives. Don't ever get cute; don't ever wander away from it. Therefore Asaph reminded them of God's history in their lives.

1. a passion (for the character of God and the content of Scripture)
2. a process (looking to future generations, realizing it ain't about you)
3. a product. There are three outcomes ever succeeding generation needs:

(1) It will give them a sense of confidence, so that they will be "set their hope in God." (It's all about him, what he's doing).

(2) It will give them a sense of history. There's an absence today of strong leadership, lack of passion, lack of certainty--because the stories of God's faithfulness are missing.

(3) It will give them a will to obey, to "keep his commandments." We need not only theological accuracy, but also biblical transformation. The point of good theology is to give people a right vision of God.

  • What signature are you writing on the souls of future generations?
  • What's in your hands?
  • Is there a clear pathway that can be seen in how you approach ministry back to the character of God and the content of Scripture?
  • How are you thinking about what God has entrusted to you.

Keller: Gospel-Centered Ministry

Rough notes on Tim Keller's address, "Gospel-Centered Ministry," from the Gospel Coalition conference.

What does ministry profoundly shaped by the gospel look like?

Peter was addressing a church being actively and passively persecuted. Peter is seeking to show how the gospel should shape how we should live.

Text: 1 Pet 1:1-12, 1:22-2:12.

Peter shows us that there are seven features used to describe the gospel:

1. The gospel is historical.

The gospel is good news, not good advice. Lloyd-Jones: Advice is counsel about something to do that hasn't happened yet, but you can do it. News is about something that has happened. If a king defeats an invading army, he sends back messengers (heralders, good-newsers) who bring a report: respond with joy and live in because it's all been the defeat has happened. Every other religion sends military advisors.: rites, rituals, laws so that the people can fight for their lives. One is a response of joy; the other is a response of fear. And in the short run, they look alike.

Ministry implication: the significance of declarative preaching is irreplaceably central. If Tim was teaching an advanced homiletics course, he'd make everyone read C. S. Lewis's Studies in Words. Last chapter: you don't use words to instruct someone how to tie a tie. But words are required to explain a historical event. How-to's require modeling. But if you believe the gospel is good news, declarative preaching will be irreplacably central.

"Preach the gospel--and if necessary, use words." That's a misunderstanding of the gospel.

2. The gospel is doxalogical
. Doxology is the basis of the entire Christian life.

Luther's Larger Catechism: the first commandment summarizes all the rest. Underneath every sin is idolatry in general, and underneath that is some form of works righteous. First commandment: believe the gospel and you can't look to anything else for your justification--and that's the basis for everything else.

Everything from eating disorders to racism is functional worship--the heart's imagination dotes on something more than God (my thinness, my race, etc.). The only way to change is to worship.

Sometimes we have X on "video" and God on "audio." When audio and video are on at the same time, video wins. You say it but don't believe it. The solution is worship.

Ministry implication (from Edwards): the purpose of preaching is not just to make things clear, but to make them real. We need to make things vivid. The heart is one's core commitments, capturing our imaginations. JE is rational, persuasive, logical--but he uses images. We must teach Christ vividly and practically, from a change life. We can't just take a narrative approach or a commentary
The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently . . . It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit.
Thomas Chalmers:
It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom, that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning. It may be done by excessive pampering - but it is almost never done by the mere force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed, may be dispossessed and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its, power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind.

It is thus, that the boy ceases, at length, to be the slave of his appetite, but it is because a manlier taste has now brought it into subordination - and that the youth ceases to idolize pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has become the stronger and gotten the ascendancy and that even the love of money ceases to have the mastery over the heart of many a thriving citizen, but it is because drawn into, the whirl of city polities, another affection has been wrought into his moral system, and he is now lorded over by the love of power. There is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered; but as to its desire for having some one object or other, this is unconquerable....

Thus may we come to perceive what it is that makes the most effective kind of preaching. It is not enough to hold out to the world's eye the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration, however pathetic, of the evanescent character of all its enjoyments. It is not enough to travel the walk of experience along with you, and speak to your own conscience and your own recollection, of the deceitfulness of the heart, and the deceitfulness of all that the heart is set upon....
3. The gospel is christological. Jesus gave an advanced hermeneutics seminar in Luke 24: everything in the OT points to me. Here in Peter there is an echo in 1 Pet. 1:10-12.

Ministry implication: every subject of every sermon should be Jesus. Tim doesn't want to have a party spirit here. (I'm of Goldsworthy; I'm of Chapell; etc.) Kathy's feedback to Tim years ago: when you say "here's what you ought to do" I already know. Sometimes you say, "But you can't do it, here's one who did. If you believe in him, you'll begin to be able to do it, too--to the degree you truly understand the good news." That's when the "lecture" becomes a "sermon." You gotta get to Jesus. If you don't get there, you're just wailing on people's wills.

Read Sinclair Ferguson: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. Most people not only don't preach Christ in the OT, but not in the NT either. The Bible is mainly about Him, not about you:
Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, "Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me," now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, "Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us."

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God's justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people's victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn't just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn't just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He's the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible's really not about you – it's about him.
(HT: audio via gilbert)

4. The gospel is personal and individual. Imputation and the historic understanding of the gospel are in dispute right now. Packer: to understand grace, you have to understand both (1) how great your debt is; (2) the magnitude of the provision. They may only believe that Jesus died the death I should have died ( he died for our sins and paid our penalty, hence I better live a pretty good life"). But you must also believe that Jesus lived the life I should have lived.

Some people are changing the gospel in response to the misunderstanding-distortions of the legalistic moralists and the easy-believing liscentiousness.

The gospel is individualistic: individual sinners are saved from the wrath of a personal God. But...

5.The gospel is cultural. The gospel creates a culture--called the church. It's not just a collection of sinners. The gospel is massively transformational and creates a counter-culture, and also makes us relate to the people around us. Those of us who believe in an individual gospel often miss the communal implications.

1 Pet 2:11-12: "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."

The gospel says there are dangers of both cultural accommodation and cultural withdrawal. No one sees your good deeds of those who withdraw from the world. On the other hand, people who accommodate the culture are never persecuted.

We're to go in deeply, but to stay very different. We need to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7).

Those who want to be prophetic tend not to be priestly. Those who are servant-hearted tend not to talk about hell and wrath.

1 Peter depicts an effective, persecuted counterculture. You'll always be both attracting people and facing persecution.

6. The gospel is the basis for a worldview; it's massively transformational.

7. The gospel is wonderful. 1 Pet 1:12, "It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look." Tim's been thinking about this verse for 20 years. Angels are very smart people! They're like us except they don't die, so they know more. They "long" (Gk. epithumaio) to look into the gospel. Gospel ministry is endlessly creative, ever new, never boring. It's not the ABCs of Christianity. It's the A-Z. The gospel drives everything we do. It's the solution to every problem. Every theological category should be about expounding the gospel.