Saturday, May 31, 2008

NLT Study Bible

The new Study Bible for the NLT (New Living Translation) will be published by Tyndale on September 15, 2008. The official website for the NLT-SB just recently launched.

Trinity United Church of Christ

Barack and Michelle Obama have resigned from the church.

In his March 18 speech on race in America he had addressed the issue of why he didn't join another church:
Why not join another church? . . . [I]f Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.

Friday, May 30, 2008

How to Have God-glorifying, Grace-filled, Relationship-building, Memory-making Vacations

C.J. Mahaney on family vacations:
Here’s what I’ve learned. The difference between forgettable vacations and unforgettable vacations is not the location or attractions. Nope. The difference between forgettable and unforgettable vacations is the father’s attitude and leadership. This makes all the difference.

Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be recreated by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in the vacation.

So in this season where family vacations are being carefully planned and eagerly anticipated, I thought it might be helpful if I passed along seven lessons I’ve learned over the years, in hopes that your family vacation will be a God-glorifying, grace-filled, relationship-building, memory-making time together.
See part 1, part 2, and part 3. Here's the outline of lessons:
1. A Servant Heart
2. A Tone-Setting Attitude
3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin
4. Studying Your Family
5. Skillful Surprises
6. Intentionally Together
7. Gratefulness to God

How to Waste Your Theological Education

45 suggestions from Derek Brown.

HT: Keith Plummer

Keswick Movement and Theology

Andy Naselli (whose first PhD dissertation was on Keswick theology) recently delivered some lectures at Detroit Seminary on the topic. See:

1. Handout (five-page PDF)
Power Point presentation as a PDF (eighty slides with lots of pictures) [12.1 MB]
HT: Jim Hamilton

What Can Be Learned from Barth

Carl Trueman shares some thoughts. (And some.)

The True Story? Or Removing the Offense of the Gospel?

Trevin Wax has an excellent, multi-part review of James Choung's new book, True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In (IVP, 2008). The True Story model has become for many in InterVarsity the main way of doing evangelism, and there are tracts to help students learn the model.

Here are Trevin's posts on it:

True Story 1: A Summary

True Story 2: What I Liked

True Story 3: Sin, Punishment, and the Long Lost Law

True Story 4: The Truncated Cross

True Story 5: Conclusions

Here are a couple of excerpts to give you a flavor of Trevin's review:
Choung’s presentation has many commendable aspects. I hope that readers will incorporate some of the above emphases into their own presentations of the gospel. Choung puts his finger on many of the weak spots in traditional gospel presentations. He is right to seek to capture more fully the biblical portrait, and yet, as we will see tomorrow, I believe his missteps actually make his gospel presentation less complete than the traditional presentations he is critiquing.
Among the things missing in Choung's presentation? Heaven. Hell. The Law of God. The Holiness of God. Penal substitution (caricatured as "cosmic child abuse").
James Choung’s True Story seeks to remedy the incompleteness of traditional presentations of the gospel by filling in the central aspects of the biblical Story (kingdom, mission life, church) that we have tended to leave out. Yet as he takes on this worthy challenge, Choung downplays and minimizes other aspects of the biblical teaching on salvation (atonement, personal sin against God, holiness, Law), omissions that ultimately prove detrimental to his gospel presentation.
Here is Trevin's conclusion:
If the outcome of our gospel presentation allows listeners to avoid the issue of personal sin, then we have completely missed the boat. The gospel answers more than the problem of individual sin, yes. But it never answers less. And to excise the offensive nature of our sinfulness and God’s holiness from the gospel is to remove the stumbling block. At this point, we are not being more faithful to Scripture, but less.

James Choung’s True Story helpfully points out some of the deficiencies of our gospel presentations. We would do well to incorporate many of his insights into our presentation of the gospel. But True Story fails, not in what Choung adds, but in what he takes away. At the end of the day, I believe the traditional presentations (for all their flaws) are actually more complete than the gospel of True Story.

Presidential Nominee for Bethel University

Jay Barnes is the pick:
James (Jay) H. Barnes III has been a leader in Christian higher education for more than 30 years. Most recently, he has served for 13 years as executive vice president and provost of the College of Arts & Sciences, College of Adult & Professional Studies, and Graduate School at Bethel University.

Prior to his time at Bethel, Barnes was active in the area of student development, serving first as the dean for student development and then the vice president for student development for 15 years at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He was a residence director at Wheaton College for four years, and served as teacher, vice principal, and then principal at Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany, in the early-mid 1970s.
HT: Matthew

The Last Men's Book You'll Ever Need

Dave Moore has a new book out that looks quite good: The Last Men's Book You'll Ever Need.

It's divided into six parts, exploring your relationship with: (1) God; (2) family; (3) others; (4) work; (5) time; and 6) things. It's serious Puritan-esque theology told in a non-Puritan way (chapter titles include, "'Narcissistically Wounded Men' and Other Screwy Ideas," "Storming the Castle of Unbelief," and "A Pooping Elephant Is at Your Dinner Party."

Below is a description of the book and the author:

Product Description
Guys might hate asking for directions, but they certainly won’t resist the guidance found in The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need. Author David Moore combines his Bible scholar background with a humorous Dave Barry-esque style of writing that makes sensitive subjects like sexual temptation, love of money, busy-ness, and “the shrinking American soul” much easier to ponder and improve upon.
And the seemingly playful title is actually based on a strong thread of sincerity. Moore is concerned about the overabundance of spiritual “how-to” books that fail to put enough emphasis on the sufficiency of the Bible. “One very clear tactic of the Enemy is trying to get us away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ,” he says.
Put first things first with The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need.

About the Author
David Moore is founder and president of Two Cities Ministries and holds degrees from Arizona State University, Dallas Theological Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His dynamic speaking schedule has taken him to Canada, Mexico, Poland, and Croatia, and he has led chapel services for several Major League Baseball and National Football League teams. Moore lives with his wife and two sons in Austin, Texas.

Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Pub. Date: May 2008
Type: Paperback
Price: $12.99 (Amazon: $9.61)

Transracial Adoption, the Church, and the Gospel

Russell Moore has a superb blog post here responding to the recent study that effectively discourages transracial adoption.
Old George Wallace once stood in the schoolhouse door, and now his much more progressive-seeming heirs stand in the orphanage door. But both are saying the same thing, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." And both pretend that they're just being "realistic" about racial discrimination.

Right now, there are untold numbers of children, many of them racial minorities, languishing in the foster care system in the United States. Would the social workers really have us believe that it is better for an African-American child to grow up bounced from home to home in this bureaucratic limbo than to be a child to parents whose skin is paler than his? Do they really believe that a white Russian child would do better to live in an orphanage until she is dismissed at eighteen to a life of suicide or homelessness than to grow up with loving African-American parents?

This approach loves the abstract notion of humanity more than actual humans. It neatly categorizes persons according to their racial lineages rather than according to their need for love, for acceptance, for families. Our love for neighbor means we ought to prioritize the need for families for the fatherless--regardless of how they're skin colors or languages line up with one another.

But there's an even bigger issue here: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You really should read the whole thing.

Moody's President Resigns

Out of Moody:
Dr. Michael J. Easley has announced his resignation from the Presidency of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Ill., effective June 30, 2008.

After much thought, prayer, and consultation, I have asked the Board of Trustees of the Moody Bible Institute to relieve me of my duties as President so that I may devote more time and energy seeking medical treatment for my back,” said Dr. Easley in a letter to the Moody community. “Surgery has already once interrupted my tenure for several weeks, and unfortunately it has become clear that more treatment is required. I have come to the difficult conclusion that under the circumstances I cannot be as effective a President as the Institute deserves.”

Read the whole thing. Pray for that God would raise up the right man. Moody now joins Bethel, Gordon-Conwell, and Trinity (among others) in looking for a new president.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Together for Adoption

In a previous post I mentioned "Together for Adoption" being on a radio program: here's their new website: Here's a brief description of who they are:
Together for Adoption (T4A) sponsors regional adoption conferences that focus primarily on vertical adoption (i.e., God adopting us in Christ), with a secondary focus on its implications for orphan care and horizontal adoption (i.e., couples adopting children). In fulfillment of our objectives, we desire to see conference attendees walk away from a T4A event:
  • understanding why it is that vertical adoption is the highest blessing of the gospel
  • rejoicing afresh in the gospel
  • moved to act on James 1:27 both locally and globally
T4A’s goal is to see churches partnering together with established orphan care and adoption organizations that recognize the importance of vertical adoption, in order to sponsor regional adoption conference events. Ultimately, we believe that these conferences will help serve the church in fulfilling its responsibility to visit orphans in their affliction. For more information about Together for Adoption regional adoption conferences in general or on how your church may partner with us, contact Dan Cruver at dan.cruver (at) TogetherForAdoption (dot) org or Jason Kovacs at jason (at) abbafund (dot) org.
You can read more about the vision here.

Together for Adoption

On today’s “Calling For Truth” Radio Program they will discuss the theology and practical application of Adoption.

Their guests on the program today include:
  • Dan Cruver, Outreach Coordinator for Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency
  • Dr. Joel Beeke, President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and Pastor of Heritage Reformed Congregation
  • Dr. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he also serves as Executive Director of the Henry Institute.
Each of these men shares a common bond . . . they are all passionate about the subject of Adoption.

To listen to the broadcast go to

Stezter Interviews Dever

This is a great interview of Mark Dever by Ed Stetzer, who asks great questions. They cover worship (Capitol Hill and Sovereign Grace), contextualization (MacArthur, Driscoll, Mahaney), the seeker-sensitive movement, partnership with those you disagree with, whether the gospel is too big (Dever admits he was being provocative at T4G, that some qualifications are needed, and that euangelion is semantically larger than the God-man-Christ-response scheme), and whether working for Habitat for Humanity is necessarily kingdom work.

It's really worth watching:

How A Roman Catholic Anti-Calvinist Can Serve Today’s Poet-Calvinists

John Piper celebrates the power of paradox in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, who was born 134 years ago today.
He did all he could to keep me from becoming a Calvinist, and instead made me a romantic one—a happy one.

If I thought his broadsides against predestination really hit home and undid true biblical doctrine, I would keep my mouth shut or change my worldview. But his celebration of poetry and paradox undermines his own abomination of the greatest truth-and-mystery-lovers around today, the happy Calvinists.

Nothing in this Calvinism-abominating book came close to keeping me from embracing the glorious sovereignty of God. On the contrary, the poetic brightness of the book, along with the works of C. S. Lewis, awakened in me an exuberance about the strangeness of all things—which in the end made me able to embrace the imponderable paradoxes of God’s decisive control of all things and the total justice of his holding us accountable.

One of the reasons that Calvinism is stirring today is that it takes both truth and mystery seriously. It’s a singing, poetry-writing, run-through-the-fields Calvinism.

It’s the Arminians that are the rationalists. Arminianism trumps biblical sentences with metaphysics: God can’t control all things and hold us responsible. God can’t choose some and love all.” Why? Metaphysics. Out with mystery! It just can’t be!

So Chesterton’s anti-Calvinist shotgun sprays all around today’s poet-Calvinist and misses the mark.

Read Orthodoxy.

A few of you may be swept away into the folly of Roman Catholic sacramentalism. A few others may be confirmed in your tiff with joyless Calvinists. But for many readers, especially the Bible-saturated ones, this book will awaken such a sense of wonder in you that you will not feel at home again until you enter the new world of the wide-eyed children called the happy-Reformed.

Read the whole thing!

New Survey on Books and Reading

Despite the growing availability of other formats for reading-such as online or with an e-book reader or PDA-- the vast majority of readers still like to read the old-fashioned way - 82% said they prefer to curl up with a printed book over using the latest in reading technology, a new Random House/Zogby poll shows. Women (85%) are more likely than men (79%) to say they prefer reading printed books. Reading printed books also has greater appeal among older respondents, although it is by far the preferred method among all age groups.

Just 11% of respondents said they are comfortable reading books in other formats, such as online or with an e-book reader or PDA. Men (13%) are more open than women (8%) to reading books in other formats, as are 13% of those younger than age 30, compared to just 6% of those age 65 and older.
Here are some of the other summaries from the survey:
  • Most book buyers head to bookstore with a purpose - but are often tempted into unplanned book purchases
  • Most admit to judging a book by its cover
  • Most head online or to chains for books, but nearly half also shop at independent booksellers
  • Readers most frequently buy books online or at chains
  • Nearly one in four are reading more - but slightly more said they are reading less than usual
Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Spiritual Health Survey

Tenth Presbyterian Church has a Spiritual Health Survey for its congregants, which looks very helpful.

HT: Unashamed Workman

The Harris Brothers on NPR

Alex and Brett Harris were recently interviewed on NPR's Tell Me More program (13 minutes, 40 seconds).

Sproul Reviews Flew

R.C. Sproul reviews Antony Flew's There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

Henry Alford's Greek NT

John Piper has frequently commented on how he is consistently helped by the exegetical work of Henry Alford (1810-1871). For example, "When I’m stumped with a . . . grammatical or syntactical or logical flow [question] in Paul, I go to Henry Alford. Henry Alford mostly answers—he . . . comes closer more consistently than any other human commentator to asking my kinds of questions." Dan Phillips has persuaded Phil Gons and Logos to see if there is interest in making available from Libronix Alford's The Greek Testament: With a Critically Revised Text; a Digest of Various Readings; Marginal References to Verbal and Idiomatic Usage; Prolegomena; and a Critical and Exegetical Commentary (1849-1861).

You can pre-order it for $129.95. (It's basically unavailable in print.)

Dan Phillips has a great post giving more information on Alford, whose life I knew nothing about.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Billy: The Early Years

CT Movies reports on a new upcoming movie, tentatively slated for a fall release, telling the story of a young Billy Graham "from the viewpoint of a dying Charles Templeton. As a young man, Templeton had been one of Graham's friends and colleagues in Youth for Christ, only to later turn his back on his faith, becoming an agnostic."

Keller: The Gospel in All Its Forms

Tim Keller writes in Leadership magazine about the gospel in all its forms. He takes as his starting point the simple, traditional, evangelical presentation of the gospel, then examines two criticisms of it (that it is too individualistic, or that everything is contextual).

At the end he explains the ways in which he tries to integrate the individual and corporate aspects of the biblical gospel in his preaching:

1. I don't put all the gospel points into any one gospel presentation.

2. I use both a gospel for the "circumcised" and for the "uncircumcised."

3. I use both a "kingdom" and an "eternal life" gospel.

4. I use them all and let each group overhear me preaching to the others. N

Read the whole thing.

International Survey on Biblical Literacy

Matt Harmon has a summary, along with some thoughts, on a new international survey on biblical literacy.

New Attitude

If you go to the New Attitude site you can, you can see Justin Buzzard's live-blogging of their conference, as well as download for free all of the messages (Josh Harris; Bible Q&A with Al Mohler; John Piper; Eric Simmons; C.J. Mahaney).

Friday, May 23, 2008

An Interview with Darrell Bock

I recently had the privilege of asking Darrell Bock (NT professor, Dallas Theological Seminary) about his Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture's Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ (co-authored with Daniel B. Wallace).

Central to your book is the claim that there are two competing Jesus stories: Christianity and Jesusanity. Can you explain what you mean by these terms and how these visions differ?

Christianity is the old, well-known, biblical story that Jesus was the Messiah and came to restore a broken relationship with humanity through his work as Son of God. In other words, Jesus’ person is key to Christianity.

Jesusanity is the alternative “cultural Christianity,” where Jesus is a prophet, even a religious great, but his person is not involved in God’s program, only his teaching on how we can know God through ourselves. Thus the person of Jesus and the centrality of him in what God is doing is ignored. This is now a quite widespread claim in many TV documentaries about Jesus, especially on niche historical channels.

What are the questions you seek to address in the book?

  1. Is the New Testament text reliable? (Bart Ehrman)
  2. Does the Gospel of Judas prove alternative Christianities for the first century?
  3. Does the Gospel of Thomas give us a look at the real (and different) Jesus who merely points to God?
  4. Did Paul hijack Christianity from Jesus and James (Tabor’s The Jesus Dynasty)
  5. Did we find Jesus’ tomb at Talpiot in Jerusalem?
  6. Is Jesus’ message fundamentally one about political oppression? (Crossan and Borg, The Last Week of Jesus)
Don’t secret Gnostic gospels, such as Judas, show the existence of early alternative Christianities?

The short answer is, “Yes, but when?” These gospels are from the second century. As such, they are evidence for what was going on then and the pressure to make Christianity more palatable in that period, when the pressure on the faith was intense. What these works do not show is that there was an alternative Gnostic Christianity in the first century. It was beginning to surface by the time of the Johannine epistles, but not before and certainly not early enough to be able to claim equal space with the Christianity represented by James, Peter, Paul (Paul himself notes he is in agreement with them when he writes Galatians in the late 40’s or early 50’s). So claims that these alternatives reach back into the first century or have equal apostolic roots are simply exaggerated.

Doesn’t the Gospel of Thomas radically alter our understanding of the real Jesus?

The short answer is no. Here is why. This gospel is from the early second century, even though it does use some material that is in contact with the same Jesus material the gospels use. If you read this gospel, you see that about 25% is like our four gospels, 25% is close to the four gospels, and 50% of it is unlike the four gospels. It is a hybrid gospel, drawing form a variety of places. This gospel is actually nothing more than an anthology of sayings, 114 of them, that claim to go back to Jesus. Most scholars think only a small portion of them actually do go back to Jesus. So this gospel is so disconnected to the real Jesus that it does not really tell us enough about him to be able to alter our picture of him. Another key feature of this gospel is that many of those who like to appeal to it argue that originally what we was recorded about Jesus was limited to his sayings and that that teaching was only full of wisdom like elements, not material about eschatology and the kingdom. Both of these assumptions are unlikely to be true. We have no real evidence that only sayings were originally passed on, and the tradition of Jesus teaching about God’s program runs too deep through all the tradition layers to have been added later.

A recurring theme in the book is the idea that these Jesusanity scholars often propose either/or options, when in reality it’s a both/and situation. Can you give some examples?

The Son of Man is split into three categories to try to lessen its multiple attestation. Some would have us choose between Jesus as a prophet or as a Messiah. Jesus is either an eschatological figure or one of wisdom. He either taught about the kingdom or himself. All of these are actually both-and, not either-or.

What are some of the reasons so many people seem to find the Jesusanity visions viable?

Simply put, they fit the culture, making Jesus a great religious figure without making him especially unique.

Can you explain to readers what “Lessing’s ditch” is, and why you believe it can be crossed?

It is the alleged great difference between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith (i.e., of the Scripture). I believe the tradition feeding the gospels is solid and means that the portrait we get of Jesus there is a reflection of who he really was.

Can you speak a little bit about the strategy that evangelicals should follow for countering the Jesusanity visions? It seems to me that one great disadvantage is that it’s virtually impossible for the evangelical view to make headlines (“Breaking News! Evangelical Scholars Believe the NT Portrayals of Jesus Are Reliable!”). And on the other side, it seems that people can become persuaded of the Jesusanity perspective—not through persuasion and argumentation per se, but rather from the mere fact that scholars are saying these things and being touted in the mainstream press. So what’s the counteroffensive gameplan in your view?

We need to place Jesus in context by pointing out what the scholars are failing to note. We need to say they are far more reliable than critics often suggest. But we need to do it in a way that does not merely sound like the same-old, same-old, but takes on the critics at the level at which they are used to working. We have enough material to get there in the New Testament.

Books (like the excellent ones you’ve written!) will play a strategic role in convincing people of the reliability of the gospels. But what positive, potential role do you see new media playing (e.g., blogs, websites, DVDs, documentaries, etc.)?

It is important that this media possess as high quality a production and information as is often produced on the other side. Unfortunately we do not invest enough to get there, but we should, because that is where the under 30’s especially are.

With regard to your own writing: are there any new books and/or commentaries that you have in the works?

I am editing a major work on the historical Jesus that is 18 months away. I will be doing a commentary down the road on Matthew for pastors and playing a role in editing the entire series for the NT.

The Metastatic Gaffe

Charles Krauthammer has a good article today on a troubling foreign-policy dogma of Barack Obama: "What started as a gaffe became policy. By now, it has become doctrine. Yet it remains today what it was on the day he blurted it out: an absurdity."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Maria Sue Chapman (2003-2008)

We weep with those who weep, grieving, but not as those who have no hope. News from last night:
Steven Curtis Chapman's youngest child died Wednesday evening after being struck by a car driven by her teenage brother in the driveway of the family's Williamson County home.

Maria, one of the Christian singer's six children, was taken by LifeFlight to Vanderbilt Hospital, which confirmed the death, according to Laura McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The 5-year-old was hit by an SUV. . . .

Singer/songwriter Chapman, who recently was inducted into Music City Walk of Fame, is one of contemporary Christian music's most recognizable and most awarded names.

He and his wife, Mary Beth, have long been supporters of international adoption, having brought three girls from China into their family. Maria was the youngest.

The couple is so active in the cause that they formed an organization, Shaohannah's Hope, to aid families wanting to adopt.

You can donate to Shaohannah's Hope here.

Update: A blog in memory of Maria has been set up here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Walked on the Moon

Sorry for the light posting lately: we've been in the process of adopting a newborn, and the ESV Study Bible work has been relentless of late, preparing for an October 2008 release!

So for a change of pace, here's a video clip of comedian Brian Regan. No, it's not everyone's type of humor, but in addition to the laughs, I often think of this clip in seeking not to be a "me monster"!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Atheism Remix

Al Mohler's latest book, Atheism Remix, is due out this July from Crossway. The link takes you to the book's official site, where you can pre-order it for 35% off.

D. A. Carson writes: “I know of no other introduction to this crucial debate that is as comprehensive and clear in such brief compass. Dr. Mohler has chosen to provide us with masterful coverage of the dominant writers on both sides.”

The Shack Reviewed

Tim Challies offers a more in-depth review of the self-published bestselling book, The Shack. As Tim writes:
Despite the book’s popularity among Christians, believers are divided on whether this book is biblically sound. Where Eugene Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, says it “has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress did for his,” Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says, “This book includes undiluted heresy.” While singer and songwriter Michael W. Smith says “The Shack will leave you craving for the presence of God,” Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, says, “Regarding the Trinity, it’s actually heretical.”
You can access the 17-page review (nicely formatted if you want to share it with others) here.

Interview with Carson on Christ and Culture

Derek Thomas recently chatted with D.A. Carson on the topic.

Here are the last two exchanges, questioning the wisdom of the nomenclature "redeeming the culture" and how young pastors should think about "engaging the culture:

DT: Why don't you like the terminology of "redeeming the culture"?

DC: Redemption terminology in the NT is so bound up with Christ's work for and in the church that to extend it to whatever good we do in the broader world risks a shift in focus. Not for a moment do I want to deny that we are to serve as salt and light, that exiles may be called to do good in the pagan cities where Providence has appointed them to live (Jer 29), that every square foot of this world is under Christ's universal reign (even though that reign is still being contested), that the nations of the world will bring their "goods" into the Jerusalem that comes down from above. But many of those who speak easily and fluently of redeeming the culture soon focus all their energy shaping fiscal and political policies and the like, and merely assume the gospel. A gospel that is merely assumed, that does no more than perk away in the background while the focus of our attention is on the "redemption" of the culture in which we find ourselves, is lost within a generation or two. At the same time, I worry about Christians who focus their attention so narrowly on getting people "saved" that they care little about doing good to all people, even if especially to the household of God. Getting this right is not easy, and inevitably priorities will shift a little in various parts of the world, under various regimes. Part of the complexity of the discussion, I think, is bound up with what the church as church is responsible for, and what Christians as Christians are responsible for: I have argued that failure to make this distinction tends to lead toward sad conclusions.

DT: What are some key things for young pastors to keep in mind when they are urged to "engage the culture"?

DC: Know what the gospel is first, comprehensively, accurately, faithfully. Work out from there. Learn to preach to your own people, not to the aggregates set out in books by Barna and Wuthnow (though much can be learned from such books). Whether the "engagement" is part of how you engage people evangelistically, or part of how Christians in your church do good in your own community, keep thinking through what the Bible itself says -- and then try, like the men of Issachar, to understand your own times.

Flying Over Mars

Here's what it probably looks like.

HT: The Corner

Prince Caspian: Better Movie Than Book?

Yep, say Frederica Mathewes-Green and John Mark Reynolds.

Gospel Translations

Gospel Translations is "a project to make biblical books and articles freely accessible in as many languages as possible."

They are looking for volunteers to translate and to help in other ways.

Here's a video explaining more:

Sing and Learn NT Greek

Matthew Montonini interviews Ken Berding, associate professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology of Biola University, who has recently published (through Zondervan) New Testament Greek with Sing and Learn New Testament Greek: The Easiest Way to Learn Greek Grammar.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Barack Obama on "What Is at Stake in This Election"

Every evangelical should watch the first 10 minutes or so of this speech by Barack Obama, delivered to Planned Parenthood in July 2007. It contains an impassioned defense of partial-birth abortion.

Note carefully:

"This is what is at stake in this election."

"It is time to write a new chapter in American history."

"I have worked on these issues for decades now."

"This election is not just about playing defense, it's about playing offense. It's not just about defending what is, it's about creating what might be in this country."

"On this issue, I will not yield."

A Quick Comment on Gutter Blog Commenting

I hate to sound like the "parent" of this blog (and this doesn't apply of course to 99% of readers), but if your idea of Christian dialogue includes calling someone a "pansy" or "lower than a pig intestine," then please take your interaction elsewhere.


Sinclair Ferguson's book on Jonah (Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah), out of print for two decades (!), is now back in print. Here's the book description:
Jonah is not a book about a great fish! It is really a book about God, and how one man came, through painful experience, to discover the true character of the God whom he had already served in the earlier years of his life. He was to find the doctrine about God come alive in his experience. It is this combination of doctrine and experience that makes Jonah such a fascinating, instructive, and practical book.

The teaching of Jonah searches our hearts and consciences in a special way because it is the story of a man who was on the run from God. It traces not only the path of his journey, but unravels the inner workings of his heart—his fears, motivations, and passing moods. Christians today still experience these 'Jonah-syndromes'.

If you've never read anything by Dr. Ferguson, you're in for a treat.

My friend Tullian Tchividjian recently wrapped up a sermon series on the book of Jonah, which would be well worth listening to. The sermons are available here, and the titles are as follows:

  • Introduction to Jonah (Jonah 1:1-6)
  • Calming The Storm (Jonah 1:11-16)
  • Flight from God (Jonah 1:1-6)
  • Revealing Power of Storms (Jonah 1:4-10)
  • Two Ways to Run (Jonah 1:4-10)
  • The Salvation of the Saved (Jonah 1:17-2:1-10)
  • The Worship That Frees (Jonah 3:1-2)
  • Everything Big (Jonah 3:1-5)
  • The Deployment of the Defeated (Jonah 3:1-5)
  • The Centrality of Repentance (Jonah 3:5-10)
  • Angry at God (Jonah 4:1-4)
  • Death Before Deference (Jonah 4:5-11)

For those interested in ESV Study Bible details, Mark Futato did the notes on Jonah.

Moo on Jesus, Paul, and the Law of Moses

Here are a number of articles by Doug Moo (NT professor at Wheaton) on Jesus, Paul, and the Mosaic law.
I have found each of these articles to be especially helpful on this difficult issue!

HT: Upper Register

Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Leen Ritmeyer has a file simply called "Weird" (!), which is where he has placed the latest archaeological claim about those on the trail of the ark of the covenant.

The Bethlehem Institute

I had the privilege of being in the first class (1998-2000) of The Bethlehem Institute at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis--an intense time of study that decisively shaped my thinking and ministry. So it's a delight to read John Piper's letter about the future plans for T.B.I., which includes moving toward becoming an accredited college and seminary.

1 Corinthians 7

Andy Naselli:
My pastor, Dr. Mike Bullmore, is currently preaching through 1 Corinthians, and this morning he finished a sensitive, insightful, pastorally wise exposition of chapter 7.
  1. Marriage in God’s World (April 13, 2008)
  2. A Oneness That Glorifies God (1 Cor 7:1–7) (April 20, 2008)
  3. Glorifying God in Challenging Marital Situations (1 Cor 7:8–16, 39–40) (April 27, 2008)
  4. To Marry or Not to Marry: Singleness and the Glory of God (Part 1) (May 4, 2008)
  5. To Marry or Not to Marry (Part 2) (May 18, 2008)

Today’s sermon (#5 above) is particularly outstanding. Its target audience is older teenagers and their parents, but it is especially applicable to singles in their 20s, 30s, 40s, etc. Bullmore gives two reminders followed by five statements summarizing biblical priorities in preparing for marriage. Highly recommended!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

Over at the New Attitude blog I give a few thoughts on responding to a couple of objections on this issue.

Whether or not you read my ruminations, be sure to watch the seven-minute video at the end where R.C. Sproul addresses the issue. It's well worth your time.

An Interview with David Wells

Collin Hansen interviews David Wells about his new book, The Courage to Be Protestant.

Here's the last exchange:
What is your next project?

I am working with a skilled Hollywood director to turn my last book into a film project with DVDs and study guides for the churches. I have been preoccupied for some time with trying to understand what has happened to evangelical faith in the modernized West. This book summarizes the five main themes about which I have been writing: truth, God, self, Christ, and church. I hope that we can now speak creatively and constructively to these issues.

Carson and Horton on Galatians and Justification

Here is the audio from the recent Clarus conference at Desert Springs Church:
I've heard that the first talk by Carson is especially powerful.

Interview with D.A. Carson

The following is Adrian Warnock's video interview with Don Carson:

Adrian summarizes: "We spoke about his reasons for coming to the UK, about how he chose to leave the field of chemistry to become a pastor and then left pastoral ministry to train ministers in a seminary, the crucial importance of the local church, and his relationship with his father." "In the second part of my interview with Don Carson we spoke about how to prepare people to serve as leaders and preachers in the Church. We spoke about the place of seminary, and about those who, like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, serve without spending time there. We also spoke about conferences, and the importance of recognizing that most of us are just going to be ordinary Christians."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Building Faith in Busy Moms

Last Sunday Josh Harris preached A Mother's Day Message (Psalms 127 + 128), built around three questions:

1. Do you think you can do this?

2. Do you see your kids accurately?

3. What do you fear as a mother?

I've not yet listened to it, but I've heard wonderful things about it.

Red-Letter Bibles

Peter Head (Tyndale House, University of Cambridge) has an interesting post wondering if red-letter Bibles are so bad after all.

Also of interest may be this post by Allan Fisher on the origin of red-letter Bibles.

Update: Link fixed; sorry.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Worldliness and Modesty

Here's a helpful link from C.J.'s blog, where you will find a PDF containing his chapter on modesty for the forthcoming book he edited, entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (foreword by John Piper). The link above also includes a discussion guide on the chapter, as well as a limited-time coupon to pre-order the book for 35% off.

What Is an Evangelical?

That's the latest question in the Washington Post/Newsweek forum On Faith. The question is brought about by the publication of An Evangelical Manifesto. Respondents include N.T. Wright, Cal Thomas, Chuck Colson, and Martin Marty.

Young, Restless, and Reformed

Here's the conclusion to their exchange.

Related to info on the young/restless/Reformed subject:

Doug Sweeney (church history professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) recently discussed the movement with Hansen, which you can listen to here.

Finally, I'd encourage reading (and heeding!) Kirk Wellum's wise posts on the subject. Wellum teaches systematic theology and biblical studies at Toronto Baptist Seminary.

He offers (and explains) five exhortations for this group:
  1. Those who are young, restless and reformed must not become too self-conscious.
  2. We (and I include myself in all of these things) must avoid a triumphalistic attitude.
  3. We must put our hope in God and not in our theological systems.
  4. With regard to the way we structure our churches we need to give people some breathing room.
  5. We need to work and pray when it comes to evangelism.
Be sure to read the whole thing. Here's the conclusion:
There is much to be thankful for, much good has been done, churches have been established, seminaries put back on the right track, and much, much more. But we must keep our focus, we must not take ourselves too seriously, we must make much of God calling upon him to move in our lives and in the lives of others. If we combine our zeal for the word with a passionate love for God and a lost world then great opportunities lie ahead. But if our zeal turns inward and we start judging and dividing along party lines as if we alone have the truth, God will raise up help from somewhere else, as he has done many times before.
Wellum also has a follow-up post On Being Restless, where he explores how "theological precision [can] be joined to gentle patience that is willing to bring people along step-by-step"--and why this is often not the case.

Carson on Red-Letter Christians

The latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology looks incredibly helpful (especially Peter Gentry's essay on the covenants):
One highlight from SBJT is often D.A. Carson's contribution to their Forum. In this issue he is asked "What are the most common errors that people make when it comes to understanding and proclaiming the kingdom?" He lists several, the final one being the tendency to make "'kingdom' an adjective that blesses whatever I want blessed" (e.g., "kingdom ethics"). In particular, he applies this to the so-called "red letter Christians":
A particularly virulent form of this approach is hidden behind what Tony Campolo now approvingly calls “red letter Christians.” These red letter Christians, he says, hold the same theological commitments as do other evangelicals, but they take the words of Jesus especially seriously (they devote themselves to the “red letters” of some foolishly printed Bibles) and end up being more concerned than are other Christians for the poor, the hungry, and those at war. Oh, rubbish: this is merely one more futile exercise in trying to find a “canon within the canon” to bless my preferred brand of theology. That’s the first of two serious mistakes commonly practiced by these red letter Christians. The other is worse: their actual grasp of what the red letter words of Jesus are actually saying in context far too frequently leaves a great deal to be desired; more particularly, to read the words of Jesus and emphasize them apart from the narrative framework of each of the canonical gospels, in which the plot-line takes the reader to Jesus’ redeeming death and resurrection, not only has the result of down-playing Jesus’ death and resurrection, but regularly fails to see how the red-letter words of Jesus point to and unpack the significance of his impending crosswork. In other words, it is not only Paul who says that Jesus’ cross and resurrection constitute matters “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3), and not only Paul who was resolved to know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1–5), but the shape of the narrative in each canonical gospel says the same thing. In each case the narrative rushes toward the cross and resurrection; the cross and resurrection are the climax. So to interpret the narrative, including the red-letter words of Jesus, apart from the climax to which they are rushing, is necessarily a distortion of the canonical gospels themselves.

Some of the gospel passion accounts make this particularly clear. In Matthew, for example, Jesus is repeatedly mocked as “the king of the Jews” (27:27–31, 37, 42). But Matthew knows that his readers have been told from the beginning of his book (even the bits without red letters) that Jesus is the king: the first chapter establishes the point, and tells us that, as the promised Davidic king, he is given the name “YHWH saves” (“Jesus”) because he comes to save his people from their sins. Small wonder for its first three centuries the church meditated often on the irony of Jesus “reigning” from a cross, that barbaric Roman instrument of torture and shame. And it is Matthew who reminds us that, this side of the cross, this side of the resurrection, all authority belongs to Jesus (28:18–20). These constitute parts of the narrative framework without which Jesus’ red-letter words, not least his portrayals of the kingdom, cannot be rightly understood.
Update: You can read Carson's whole response here (HT: Rod Decker).

First Things: Why We're Not Emergent

Kristen Scharold, a Wheaton grad and a NYT employee, writes in First Things about the book Why We're Not Emergent. Here's a quote:
Despite my hipster leanings and stale Christian pedigree, I am not emergent, if emergence is defined by its theology instead of just its ethos. And after reading this book, I am even more grateful that I never jumped onto the emergent bandwagon. I am not the only young Christian who appreciates many aspects of postmodern culture but who also yearns for the absolute conviction that DeYoung and Kluck present.
And here's the conclusion:
In the end, the authors of Why We’re Not Emergent are not making a case for a new kind of Christianity. They are not trying lure emergent Christians into their fold with a hipper take on things. They are simply trying to replace the errors of the emergent church—which is, nonetheless, making important contributions to evangelicalism—with scripturally sound theology.

And it should not be so counterintuitive that young evangelicals such as myself prefer theology rooted in tradition to a spirituality waffling in relativism. We want a story with a climax so profound that it leaves us worshiping God, not reducing him to fit into our cultural paradigm. And if that story comes with a Guinness and some Coldplay, great. If not, no big deal.

A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes

P&R has just published what looks like an outstanding book: A Theological Guide to Calvin's Institutes: Essays and Analysis. Here's the book description:
Capturing both the best of elite scholarship, as well as exhibiting a firm understanding of and passion for Calvin's own work, these essays by twenty elite Calvin scholars who appreciate the abiding value of Calvin's Institutes provide definitive and section-by-section commentary on Calvin's magnum opus. Capturing both the best of elite scholarship, as well as exhibiting a firm understanding of and passion for Calvin's own work, these essays provide definitive commentary from Calvin scholars who seek to elucidate his work and display its abiding value. This long-needed work serves as the natural companion to Calvin's The Institutes of the Christian Religion for classes, students, pastors, and others for years to come.
I'd recommend reading Packer's foreword (online) which is instructive in and of itself and a joy to read. Here's a good quote
Great theology, like the Bible in which all great theology is soaked, is essentially transhistorical and transcultural, and interprets us, joltingly sometimes, as we seek to interpret it. The 1559 Institutio is great theology, and it is uncanny how often, as we read and re-read it, we come across passages that seem to speak directly across the centuries to our own hearts and our own present-day theological debates. You never seem to get to the book’s bottom; it keeps opening up as a veritable treasure trove of biblical wisdom on all the main themes of the Christian faith. Do you, I wonder, know what I am talking about? Dig into the Institutio, and you soon will.
If you plan to make a serious study of the Institutes, you also may want to pick up

Ford Lewis Battles's Analysis of the Institutes of the Christian Religion of John Calvin, which contains a detailed outline of Calvin's entire work.

If you've only heard or read about Calvin but never actually read him, you'll probably be in for a surprise. As Packer writes, "Still today, one simply cannot read it receptively without being searched, humbled, and challenged regarding one’s sincerity and progress (Calvin’s favorite word), or lack of it, in one’s personal Christian life."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Burma Disaster Relief

From Sovereign Grace Ministries:

As disaster-relief efforts continue in Burma, Sovereign Grace Ministries has the opportunity to provide assistance through ministry relationships we have in that country. We are establishing a Burma Disaster Relief fund and are contributing financially toward aid efforts in Burma.

Any who would like to join us in this effort can donate to the Burma Disaster Relief fund via our website.

Most importantly, please join us in praying that amid the destruction caused by Cyclone Nargis, victims of the storm would receive swift and effective help, and that many in Burma would hear and respond to the gospel.

ESV Study Bible: Luke Intro and Discount

A couple of updates on the ESV Study Bible:

(1) The introduction to the Gospel of Luke is now online (7 page PDF).

(2) The 35% off discount pre-order discount ends on May 15.

"Wheaton Is the Counterculture"

Kent Gramm is a popular English professor at Wheaton College; he has taught there for two decades, and been married to his wife for three decades. Now he and his wife are getting divorced. Wheaton allows divorced faculty members to retain employment “when there is reasonable evidence that the circumstances that led to the final dissolution of the marriage related to desertion or adultery on the part of the other partner." Dr. Gramm, however is retiring; as he told the Chicago Sun-Times last week: "I think it's wrong to have to accuse your spouse and to discuss with your employer your personal life and marital situation."

Obviously the policy has caused some to scoff at Wheaton's values; so it was refreshing this morning to see an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, admiring the fact that Wheaton has convictions and is willing to enforce them:
Being different is nothing new for Wheaton. The most famous building on campus was once a way station on the Underground Railroad. That was a time when abolitionist evangelicals were out of touch with the reality of slavery in a nation whose claim to liberty rested on God-given truths about human dignity. Today Wheaton advances a proposition that may be equally radical, at least in the groves of modern academe: That character is as important as chemistry – and that teachers have some obligations as role models for their students.

. . . [Wheaton] proposes that people who freely join a community that is honest and upfront about its beliefs can reasonably be asked to abide by them. Wheaton's ways are not my ways. Yet there is something refreshing about an institution willing to stand up for its convictions rather than trim its sails to the prevailing winds.

I wish Mr. Gramm and his wife only the best, and hope that they find good jobs and can get on with their lives. But I also find myself wondering how much richer our nation's university life would be with a few more Wheatons willing to be out of touch for the sake of their deepest beliefs.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wheaton Alumni Symposium: Hatch, Noll, and Piper

This past weekend there was an alumni symposium held at Wheaton College regarding the evangelical church of the past 40 years; it consisted of a conversation between Nathan Hatch, Mark Noll, and John Piper (all of whom graduated from Wheaton in 1968).

If you click the link below you can hear the audio from their conversation (10-minute open statements, interactions, and Q&A).

1968, A Year in Crisis: Evangelical Churches Then and Now
A Conversation with Dr. Nathan Hatch '68, Dr. Mark Noll '68, and Dr. John Piper '68

Nathan Hatch Nathan Hatch is in his second year as president of Wake Forest University. A nationally respected historian, Nat was provost of the University of Notre Dame when he was selected as Wake Forest’s 13th president. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington University in St. Louis and held post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard and Johns Hopkins Universities.
Mark Noll Mark Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. Before going to Notre Dame he was privileged to teach for over a quarter century in Wheaton’s history and theological studies departments. His books include The Civil War as a Theological Crisis (2006) and The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (2004).
John Piper John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has earned degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books.

Guinness and Mohler

Os Guinness will be Al Mohler's guest tonight on Mohler's radio program, where they will discuss the Evangelical Manifesto. You can listen to lit live online.

Update: Their conversation begins about 12:00 into the program.

Jim Hamilton to SBTS

Congratulations to Jim Hamilton, recently appointed as associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary.

More on Aid to Myanmar

A friend passes along some first-hand accounts of what is going on in Myanmar in terms of getting aid to those in need. I post this (with permission) to encourage your prayers that relief would find its way to those who need it:
As they were sitting in the airport waiting to board their plane they saw the international aid arrive on big planes. Then they saw the army's helicopters arrive, fill up with loot and fly away. They promptly came back after 30 minutes to fill up again. Others confirmed that the aid went to a government warehouse.

On Myanmar TV and maybe on your own TV you have seen the military distributing aid. However, confirmed reports are that when the cameras go off, the military takes the food and medicine back and leaves.

Thus far no one is allowed to go to the delta region. Some sneak in hoping to bring some food, water, and medicine to their family. But most get caught and sent back to Yangon.

The army is just now starting to come and clear the streets of tree debris, electricity poles, and wires. However, they do not have the proper equipment like chainsaws, tractors, trucks, etc. needed for such a task. Instead they, like the people, are using machetes and small saws to hack away at the huge trees. Any help that the army/government gives is only for PR. They work for a while, maybe an hour or two and then sit in the shade for the rest of the day. If cameras come by for the local TV stations they work again until the cameras go off.

Several theories on why the gov't won't let foreign aid in:
  1. They are afraid to loose face/be embarrassed in front of their people. If others come in then they have to admit that they cannot handle the problem.
  2. They hate the UN, US and the EU so much they will not work with them.
  3. Saturday, May 10 the people were supposed to vote to approve a new (and complete sham) constitution. No foreigners should see that the election was not free and fair. Reports are that the ballots were printed with the Yes box checked and the army was standing beside the boxes being intimidating.
  4. Aid workers coming in feels too much like a foreign invasion. Perhaps these workers will have guns and help the people to revolt.
Most foreigners that can get in try to carry money and supplies. Rumor is that they are being stopped, searched, and “extra” money and supplies are confiscated.

Mohler's Response to "An Evangelical Manifesto"

Al Mohler has a lengthy, thoughtful response to the Evangelical Manifesto. Read the whole thing; here's the conclusion:
In the end, I must judge "An Evangelical Manifesto" to be too expansive in terms of public relations and too thin in terms of theology. I admire so much of what this document states and represents, but I cannot accept it as a whole. I want it to be even more theological, and to be far more specific about the Gospel, I agree with the framers that Evangelicals should be defined theologically, rather than politically, culturally, or socially. This document will have to be much more theological for it to accomplish its own stated purpose.

Myanmar Cyclone Aid Caught in Red Tape

Stan Guthrie interviews an emergency communications officer for World Vision about the situation on the ground, regarding the red tape and what readers can do to help. Here's the final answer:
One of the things that makes World Vision unique as an NGO is that we are "child-centric." We were founded with the biblical call to work with women and children—to protect them and to be an advocate for them. And we're very concerned about the children that we have.

We have about 10,000 children in the center of the destruction in the five regions that have been marked as the hardest hit, and we have 42,000 children total in Myanmar. We're concerned for them because in a natural disaster, children in particular are very vulnerable to disease. They're vulnerable to dehydration. And they're also vulnerable to the emotional stress and the toll that takes when a little child has to go through a situation like this.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What Is the Most Crying Need of the Church in America Today?

I noticed tonight on the Gospel Coalition website that a number of the council members answered that question. Here are some of the answers:

D. A. Carson
Much depends on the context of the question. If the context is hunting for a universal need, such that the phrase “in America today” assumes that whatever the local phenomena we should focus on human needs that are found everywhere (including “in America today”), then we must return to fundamentals: the most urgent need is to know God as he has disclosed himself, by the means he has given to know him, and thus be reconciled to him, both for this life and for the life to come. That means a focus on Christ Jesus, on the full-orbed gospel of which he is the center. But if the context of the question focuses on “in America today,” such that there is an implicit comparison with other places (e.g. Rwanda, France) or times (e.g. America in the nineteenth century), then one thinks of the sweep of challenges particularly characteristic in America at the beginning of the twenty-first century: rising biblical illiteracy, relativism steeped in the more extreme forms of postmodernism, formulaic forms of “evangelical” belief characterized by neither delight in God nor obedience to him, the seductive power of the strange mix of secularization and assorted “spiritualities,” the perennial invitation to live in fear or be snookered by visions of imperial strength, the world awash in an astonishing diversity of entertainments to fill up all the moments when we are not being seduced by either power or sex, and much more of the same. And finally, if the question becomes distributive — “in America today” demanding that we think through the various sectors of American life — then there are peculiar challenges in different geographical parts of the country (e.g. north versus south, coasts versus Midwest, etc.), in different racial sectors of the country (not only traditional black/white divisions, but the newer alignments triggered by recent immigration patterns), in different social arrangements in the country (especially rural/urban), in different theological loci in the country (e.g. Arminians attracted to “open” theology, Reformed people attracted to theonomy or the new perspective, and cultural conservatives, in a pendulum swing, to the “emerging” movement). Faithful pastoral ministry demands that we think through all of these contexts simultaneously.
John Piper:
One could answer at different levels of ultimacy. I choose to assume the urgency of the two ultimate levels (heart-felt passion for Christ, and radical obedience to Christ), and move one level down: To the end of pure and passionate lives of Christ-exalting mercy and world evangelization, the greatest need of the church is to know and understand the full biblical witness of God’s love (including the grace that raises the spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:4–5; and justifies the ungodly by faith alone, Romans 4:4–5; 5:8–9), the full biblical witness of God’s wisdom (including the knowledge of all future events, Isaiah 41:23, 26; 42:8–9; 44:7–8, 26–28; 45:21; 46:10; 48:3), the full biblical witness of God’s power (including his rule over every bird that dies, Matthew 10:29, and every role of the dice, Proverb s 16:33, and every act of man, Jeremiah 10:23), and the full biblical witness of God’s justice (including his everlasting wrath upon the impenitent, 2 Thessalonians 1:9). “My people go into exile for lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:13); “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3); “A people without understanding shall come to ruin” (Hosea 4:14); “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). The assumption here is that American Christianity is plagued by truncated views of all God’s attributes. And a truncated view of God will give raise to truncated Christian living and truncated awakenings. Therefore the awakening and revival that I pray for will be not just for the fullness of the Spirit’s power, but for the fullness of the Spirit’s illumination of God in the word.

Ron Sider’s recent article in Books and Culture, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,” contains the too familiar stats on how evangelicals and born-againers live lives a millimeter above the pagans in America, or sometimes below, in the Bible belt. Nine percent of born again people (who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus which is still important in their lives) have biblical world view (absolutes exist, God is the all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator who still rules the universe; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life; Satan is a real, living entity; salvation is a free gift, not something we can earn; every Christian has a personal responsibility to evangelize; and the Bible is totally accurate in all it teaches). However, this group of people stand out with significantly different behavior from the worldly “born-againers” and “evangelicals.” Here is Sider’s comment:
"Barna’s findings on the different behavior of Christians with a biblical worldview underline the importance of theology. Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches” (Jan/Feb, p. 42).
Indeed, orthodoxy was the only factor the article pointed out correlated with a significant difference in Christian behavior.

Truncated theology > truncated lives.

C.J. Mahaney:
The greatest need in the American church today is the recovery of the church’s central message, the gospel. Far too often in evangelical churches the gospel is simply assumed and, being so assumed, its voice is muffled, its entailments are ignored, and its power is drained. More significantly, when the gospel is assumed it is in grave danger of being displaced. The church is, therefore, in great need of a thoroughgoing return to gospel-centrality. The measure of such centrality will be the extent to which the gospel is functional, determining the nature of the church’s life, the substance of its teaching, the content of its worship and the core of its proclamation.
Mike Bullmore:
Not just a biblical/theological literacy but a functioning biblical/theological literacy, especially a functioning gospel. I believe a local church is healthy to the degree that: 1) its pastor-teachers are able—accurately, effectively and broadly—to bring the gospel to bear specifically into the real lives of the people; and 2) its people have a deep personal understanding of and a deep personal appreciation for the gospel so as to be able to live in the good of the gospel daily and thus call attention to the glory of God. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” One of the greatest challenges, yet one of the most important tasks, of pastoral ministry is to help people actually see the connections between the gospel and the thinking and behavior that make up their everyday lives. We know well the centrality of the gospel message but in order for it to have a functional centrality it must be clearly, carefully and consistently connected to the real issues—issues of thought and conduct—of people’s lives. This kind of ministry is most greatly needed.
Mark Dever:
For pastors to know and understand what a local church should and can be and for pastors to teach this to their congregations. Much of the blessings and benefits of good teaching in evangelical churches in America goes into the hearts of individuals and then perhaps into the lives of their family and friend but is then largely lost in the sands of American individualism. If the preaching of the gospel and expositional preaching are the glorious founts of life, the local church is to be the bowl, the container, in which that life is caught and held up for display to a thirsty world. That pastors should know and understand and teach this is the most crying need in evangelical churches in America today.
Ligon Duncan:
There are many ways this question could be legitimately approached and answered. Furthermore, the condition of the Christian church in various parts of our nation and world would dictate different responses corresponding to the local situation. However, for this local church pastor, the biggest need is for a biblical doctrine of the church to be lived out in the local churches, and for a theological center to be restored in evangelicalism, under the steadying influence of Reformed pastor-theologians with a high doctrine of Scripture.

To elaborate on the first point, the church needs to what God says the church is to be in Scripture. That is, we need to be what God intends us to be, rather than what the world wants us to be (or what the latest evangelical fad or “model” tells us we need to be). For instance, the church is called (among other things) to be salt and light in the world. Yet in order to do this, in order to have a beneficial impact upon the world and an effective witness to the world, we have to be different from the world, we have to love something more than the world, we have to march to the beat of a different drum. However the American church is worldly (in our methods and membership), and that is the single greatest defect in our witness to Christ in this ailing culture.

So what’s our need? To think Christianly. To live Christianly. To be transformed by the renewing of our minds according to the Word of God and no longer be conformed to this passing world and its way of thinking and living. How can we be this way? By God’s grace, of course. By desiring Christ more than anything. And by following God’s plan for the church, where there is (1) Expositional Preaching – preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation; (2) Biblical Theology – the people of God must be committed to know the God of the Bible, as he has revealed himself in the Bible, rather than to worship a god of our imaginations. There is a god we want and the God who is, and the two are not the same, says Pat Morley; (3) Biblical Understanding of the Good News – the Gospel is the heart of Christianity, not just an additive to give us something we naturally want (i.e. joy or peace); (4) Real Conversion – the spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself by its fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion. (5) Christian Discipleship – the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These qualities are increasing rare in American churches. Recovered for today, true discipleship would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.
Tim Keller:
I’m throwing in with Jim Boice on this one (cf. his Two Cities: Two Loves.)

The evangelical church must stay true to its biblical foundations, and it must maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its expository preaching, the holiness of its members, the ‘thickness’ of its counter-cultural community, the fervor of its evangelism. But if it doesn’t learn how to do this in our biggest cities then we don’t have much hope for our culture.

If our cities are largely pagan while our countryside is largely Christian, then our society and culture will continue to slide into paganism. And that is exactly what is happening. Christians strengthen somewhat away from the cities and they have made some political gains, but that is not effecting cultural products much. It is because in the center cities (NYC, Boston, LA, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Washington DC) the percentages of people living and working there who are Christians are minuscule.

Jim Boice proposed that evangelical Christians need to live in the major cities at a higher percentage than the population at large (See Two Cities, p.163ff.) Currently 50% of the U.S. population live in urban areas (and 25% lives in just the 10 largest urban areas.) Boice proposes that evangelicals should be living in cities in at least the same percentages or more. As confirmation of Boice’s belief consider how much impact both the Jewish and the gay communities have had on our culture. Why? Though neither is more than 3-4% of the total population, they each comprise over 20% of the population of Manhattan (and in other center cities. )

So we have two problems. First, evangelicals (especially Anglos) in general are quite negative about U.S. cities and city living. Second, you can’t ‘do church’ in exactly the same way in a city as you do it elsewhere, not if you want to actually convert hard-core secular people to Christianity. There are churches that set up in cities without adapting to their environment. Ironically, they can grow rather well anyway in cities by just gathering in the young already-evangelicals who are temporarily living in the city after college. But that is not the way to make the cities heavily Christian—which is the crying need today.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Introduction to Theology

If you've ever wanted to learn more about theology, check out this new course on Introduction to Theology, which starts next month. I recommend the work of the Theology Program and the folks at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

Ministerial Students, Calling, and PhD Studies

A very wise and helpful post here by Sean Lucas for anyone considering a PhD--and why many students enter seminary planning to be a pastor and leave wanting to be a professor.

The Medium, the Message, and New Media

Here are the essay contest winners on the question, "If the medium affects the message, how will the Christian message be affected by the new media?"

Isaac a Type of Christ?

Gerard Van Groningen, writing in massive (1,000+ pages!) Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (pp. 144, 145):
. . . it is assumed by many Christians that Isaac, the only beloved son place on the altar by his father Abraham as a sacrifice to God, is a clear and definite type of Christ who, as the heavenly Father's only beloved Son, was sent by his Father to die on the cross. When, however, it comes to explaining precisely in which way Isaac was a symbol of Christ and his sacrificial death for sinners, and then an actual forward-looking type of Christ on the cross, persistent difficulties have not been overcome.

But Isaac was not sacrificed; he was not put to death; he was not burned as an incense gift to God and he made neither expiation nor propitiation for others. It was the ram provided at a suitable moment that became a substitutionary sacrifice on the altar, substituting, in fact, for Isaac. Thus, the ram slain served as a symbol and was a type of Christ who died in the place of others.