Friday, December 29, 2006

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol

A couple of years back I finally actually read A Christmas Carol. A good friend of mine reads it each year at Christmas. I was struck by how good it was and how much superior the actual book was to the various stage versions I have seen- and how much more explicitly Christian. If you, like me, have managed to skip reading the book but feel like you know the story well enough, I would encourage you to read it. It is short and well worth the read.

Here are a few quotes:

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas-time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open there shut up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that, while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

“Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou has at thy command, for this is thy dominion! But of the loved, revered, and honored head, thou canst not turn one hair to thy dread purposes, or make one feature odious. It is not that the hand is heavy, and will fall down when released; it is not that the heart and pulse are still; but that the hand was open, generous, and true, the heart brave, warm, and tender, and the pulse a man’s. Strike, Shadow, strike! And see his good deeds springing from the wound, to sow the world with life immortal!”

“Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them, for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset…”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from our family to you!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Poem, Robert Southwell

As Christmas draws near, I wanted to share a favorite Christmas poem. This is actually only a portion of the poem, but it is the most relevant and best part. I appreciate how the poet moves appropriately from the “baby” imagery to the purpose of the incarnation- “to rifle Satan’s fold” (“The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John 3:8).

New Heaven, New War

This little Babe so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak, unarmed wise,
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows made of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus as sure his foe to wound,
The Angels' trumps alarum sound.

My soul with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath dight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from the heavenly boy.

By Robert Southwell

Friday, December 15, 2006

Regarding Thomas Goodwin

When I was a student at Trinity Evangelical School I was blessed to have Dr. Ray Ortlund, Jr. as a professor and in one of our Hebrew classes he handed out a sheet with the following quote. Goodwin's example is a helpful one for us as we seek to shepherd the poeple of God. Dr. Ortlund used the quote to stress the combination of learning and godliness.

Regarding Thomas Goodwin (d. 1658):
“He was a learned and a godly person, and it is difficult to say which of the two had the pre-eminence: they seemed to keep pace, and he was eminent in both. He was a great proficient in the study of divinity and in a knowledge of the holy scriptures. Like Ezra, he was a ready scribe in the law of the Lord; and, like Apollos, mighty in the scriptures. Though he was young, his attainments were very great; God gave unto him abundantly of his spirit. In prayer he had much of the spirit of devotion, and was filled with the breathings of the Holy Ghost. In preaching, he was most exemplary, both as a Christian and a minister. His preaching was admired by the godly and the learned, yet persons of the meanest capacity could understand him. He had such a winning method, that his sermons were never tedious, but the attention of his hearers seemed to be chained to his lips. He took great pains in his ministry, and was frequently engaged in preaching, in which he took great delight. The love of Christ, and the souls of the people, made frequent preaching his recreation and his pleasure.”
-Benjamin Brook, The Lives of the Puritans (London, 1813), III:301

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Heart Prepared to Preach

Some years a go I came across this quote from Spurgeon in a secondary source under the heading given here. I have kept it with me and appreciated it so I thought I would pass it along.

“When we speak as ministers and not as men, as preachers instead of penitents, as theologians instead of disciples, we fail; when we lean our head too much upon the commentary, and too little upon the Savior’s bosom; when we eat too largely of the tree of knowledge, and too little of the tree of life, we lose the power of our ministry. I am myself a sinner, a sinner washed in the blood, and delivered from the wrath to come by the merit of my Lord and Master – all this must be fresh upon our mind. Personal godliness must never grow scanty with us. Our own personal justification in the righteousness of Christ, our personal sanctification by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, our vital union with Christ, and expectancy of glory in Him, yea, our own advancement in grace, or our own declension; all these we must know and consider.”
-C.H. Spurgeon

Monday, December 11, 2006

Student Statement on Pastoral Ministry

This is finals week so I am knee-deep in grading papers. Here is one particularly encouraging quote from a student essay, where the student is addressing the question of what the nature of pastoral ministry is.

“It should be the heart of every minister that he does not lose one of the sheep that he has been given, but that he works with all his might, intellect, sweat, and blood for their sanctification so that the church, the bride of Christ, may be presented blameless before the bridegroom at the end of days.”

Well put, and Amen!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Live What You Preach

While rummaging back through variosu papers this evening looking for notes for some teaching tomorrow, I came across this quote sent to me by a pastor friend 8 years ago. He had mentioned it in a sermon and i had asked for it. It coems from T. H. L. Parker's book on Calvin's preaching, and, as I understand it, is a quote from Calvin:

"It would be better for him to break his neck going up into the pulpit if he does not take pains to be the first to follow God."

This quote grabs me as it did then as a good reminder of beign earnest about livign out ourselves what we preach to others. Let us be faithful in this as we enter pulpits in the morning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

O Shepherd, Where Art Thou?

O Shepherd, Where Art Thou?, Calvin Miller
Broadman & Holman, 2006

I am writing a review of this book for the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology so in fairness, I cannot write a full review here. Let me just say that this is a very valuable book on pastoral ministry, a tract for our time. There are things I would say differently, a place or two which concerned me, but overall this is an excellent book. If every pastor would read it and heed it, we would be much better off. It is a short, easy read as well so many might read this when they would not read other things.

In typical Miller story-telling fashion he lampoons a common view of success in pastoral ministry (gathering more and more people into your service) and argues that pastoral care is an essential part of pastoral ministry. He focuses on hospital visitation, but the principle points to the larger issue of the oversight of souls, keeping up with each of those under our care a ministering to them as individuals. Readers of this blog will know that this resonates with the key theme of what is written here. Get a copy for yourself, and give copies to other pastors. It would make a great gift for pastors this Christmas.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Resource for Fathers

I am convinced that one key thing for pastors to do is to encourage fathers to take up their proper role of shepherding their families, discipling their children, etc. This is so foreign in our typical context but is clear in the Scripture as well as in the history of the church. Reclaiming this role of fathers is essential for achieving health in the church. This is a big subject, but my point here is simply to introduce a book that will be helpful in encouraging fathers in this direction. This is not a book that directly speaks to fathers on this issue. Rather it is a book that fathers can read to their children, particularly sons.

I am referring to the Crown and Covenant Series published by P&R. I have posted a review of the first volume in this trilogy over at my blog on children’s books. I will not repeat the review here, but simply suggest that these would be great books for pastors to urge the fathers in their churches to read to their sons. Sons will enjoy it and fathers, if they even barely pay attention, will be encouraged and convicted by the father in the book. The father in the stories, Sandy M’Kethe, takes seriously his role in discipling his children, leading his family, teaching them in word and example, etc. If you can encourage your fathers to read these books to their sons, you will accomplish much. Simply reading to their children is one good thing. Secondly, as they enjoy time together they will see a good example. Third, as the story wrestles with significant theological issues you may get them thinking on such topics as well.

Lastly, the books are best suited for children no younger than six. They are actually aimed children even a bit older than that. The review can guide you further.

Monday, December 04, 2006

ESV Reverse Interlinear

ESV Reverse Interlinear

The actual title of this book is The English-Greek Interlinear New Testament, English Standard Version. Most people, for obvious reasons, do not use the full title. :)

While carrying this book down the hall I was stopped by a colleague who practically exclaimed, “What are you doing with an interlinear?!” Greek professors are not supposed to affirm interlinears. I am sure this is somewhere written in the Greek professor equivalent of the Hippocratic oath. And, up to this time I have never found an interlinear that I thought much of. I picked one up as a student but found it to be of little help.

Thus, I was a bit skeptical when approaching this book. I had heard good things though so I wanted to see what it was like. I found myself not just pleasantly surprised, but amazed. This is truly a helpful volume.

One of the problems with typical interlinears is the English is so wooden that it is of little help with the result that you really only have a cluttered Greek text. The reverse feature helps this by starting with an English translation and arranging the Greek text according to the English. I knew this feature but was skeptical about the fact that the Greek word order would be lost. However, each Greek word is numbered so that you can easily see what the Greek word order is. Also where more than one English word is required to translate a Greek word, it is clearly noted what Greek word these English words are derived from. Each Greek word is also parsed. More features could be discussed, but in short I am really impressed with all that has been done to provide access from the English into the actual Greek text. This is a significant work.

I think this will be a great tool for various sorts of people. People who do not know Greek but want to can use this New Testament and dip into Greek as they have the opportunity. I have already recommended this to a doctor friend who simply out of personal interest took a crash course in Greek. This New Testament provides a good way to begin or maintain some element of contact with Greek. In the same way it can be a useful tool for first year students. Of course, it could provide a temptation for first year students to cheat on parsing exercises but laziness already has enough outlets so that this book does not seriously increase the temptation.

Also, since I am writing for pastors, this could provide the much needed opportunity for many to refresh some Greek skill. This tool would allow you to do as much or as little as you could in any given week. I think one major obstacle many pastors face in trying to refresh is the feeling that you have to jump all the way in. Thus, you begin to feel like there is no point in trying. Perhaps this tool can alleviate that fear and get some past that obstacle. If so, then this will have been a very useful tool.

Finally, the Preface by John Schwandt is very good on how and why knowledge of Greek is helpful. He does a great job of dispelling shallow reasons some times given for studying Greek and arguments against such study. This essay is one of the best on this topic that I have read.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, review

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God , ed. John Piper and Justin Taylor
(Crossway, 2006), pb. 256 pp.

I have not read this book all the way through, but I am very impressed with it so far. I think this will be a very useful resource for dealing with suffering and for helping, pastoring those who are suffering.

The book, as many of you will know, grew out of the 2005 Desiring God National Conference. I was taken with the introduction written by Justin Taylor. He stresses the point that this is not a book of abstracts ideas, but is a book of applied theology. This book is not the final word on suffering (as if there could be such a thing!), and it does not claim to be. I liked how Taylor presented the authors as “fellow pilgrims on the journey … friends who are taking the time to write to you about what God has taught them concerning his mysterious sovereignty in the midst of pain and suffering” (11). Overall, as I have dipped into various essays, the book stresses the importance of a confidence in the sovereign control of God over all things in helping us to persevere through pain and suffering. At the same time, various people also remind us that a good theology does not remove the pain. There is the temptation to think that if we have our doctrine arranged correctly, suffering will not hurt so much. The authors make it clear that this is not their claim. In fact, they remind us, to suggest that right theology will minimize suffering is to err considerably and to fail to love others by teaching them error. The sovereignty of God is not a talisman to ward off suffering, but is an anchor to stabilize us as we go through suffering. This is imminently helpful and practical material for us pastors.

The table of contents is viewable at Amazon, so I will not bother with listing the contributors and essay titles. One essay that I especially appreciated was Stephen Saint’s “Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Work of Missions.” It read to me primarily like a personal account of how God has used suffering in his life. He first indicts us by pointing out what we consider suffering here in the US as compared to what many in other parts of the world consider suffering. This alone is a worthwhile reminder. It deals a lot with how we expend so much effort to avoid suffering. Of course we need not pursue pain, but his point is well taken. He goes on then to point out that “sufferers want to be ministered to by people who have suffered.” Our efforts to insulate ourselves essentially cut us off from ministering to people. I was impacted by this essay, his experience with his father, his daughter and his Waodoni friend moved me. I have found myself reflecting much on this essay at various levels, even beyond what Saint himself was aiming at I think.

So, this is a great resource which I recommend fully. I appreciate again what Taylor said in his introduction:
Our prayer is not that this book would make the bestseller list or receive acclaim or praise. Rather, our prayer is that God would direct the right readers- in accordance with his sovereign purposes- to its pages, and that he would change all of us so that we might experience more grace and hope.
Amen! And I think this book has been well prepared to achieve just this end.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Book Reviews Coming

Over the next few weeks I plan to post several book reviews. This will be more reviews at once than typical for me, but I will do this for two main reasons. One, this is the time in the year when I come across more new books. Second, it is also a time when people are typically considering books for presents so it seemed to me that it might be useful.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Shepherd Press Newsletter

I appreciate the work of Shepherd Press, and their regular newsletter is a good resource. They produce a number of good books primarily on family life. Their best known book is probably Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child's Heart , which is a great book.

My point here though is their email newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it. Here is an excerpt, written by Tedd Tripp, from the most recent newsletter. Great exhortation and reminder.

Until your childrenhave seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, until theyhave come to see that he is the Lily of the Valley, that he is theBright and Morning Star, that he is the One who is altogether lovely;until they have seen and understood that it is worthwhile to divest of everything, that nothing in all the earth matters but knowing and loving Jesus, they will never know him and love him and serve him.They might play church. They might even be teen VBS helpers, or go on short-term mission’s trips, but until they are convinced that Christ is the treasure, they will never truly know him.

You cannot over-estimate the importance of showing your children the glory of God. If they do not know who God is, how God thinks,what God feels, and why he does what he does, they will have no grounds for finding joy in him, no reason to celebrate his abundant goodness and no basis for finding satisfaction in him. Delight in God cannot occur in an intellectual vacuum. Your careful display and demonstration of the wonders of God’s glorious being is crucial for your children. Joy in God is the fruit of what you know to be true ofhim. The spiritual heat of joy, delight, and wonder in the face of God cannot take place in a conceptual vacuum.

Wow! My purpose in my children's literature blog, The Children's Hour, is to recommend books we find helpful in pursuing this goal, though this from Tripp reminds me of how far we are from meeting this goal.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Hymn for Thanksgiving

As we begin our Thanksgiving, let me share this hymn. It is good for us to give thanks to God for all things, but we must take care that we not sound as if we are really worshipping the idol Materialism. In other words, while we thank God for things, we have much to thank God for if we lose all we can see or touch. This Watts hymn moves me and reminds me to cry out in deep thanksgiving to God for saving my soul. Verses three and four especially drive this point home. As I gather with my family and friends today, I want to thank God for salvation and then, as in this hymn, let my thanksgiving overflow in prayer for the salvation of the nations.

How Sweet and Awesome is this Place
By Isaac Watts (you can hear the tune here)

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear
Thy voice,And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Christian Counselor’s Commentary, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus

The Christian Counselor’s Commentary, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus,
by Jay E. Adams
(Timeless Texts, 1994)

I was very intrigued with this book when I saw it advertised. I am no expert on Jay Adams, but I know that he has stressed a reliance on the Bible in addressing the issues of life and the place of the church in life transformation. With those themes I resonate, so I was interested to discover what he was doing in this book.

This book is part of a series in which Adams is commenting on the entire New Testament. The goal is not to produce a standard commentary but to comment on the text as it relates directly to the work of counseling believers. It is necessary to understand what Adams means by “counseling.” He means something quite different from what many of us might think. In essence, I think he means discipleship. He envisions individual pastoral work where one helps a believer face sin and change. This is the regular work of the pastor. Coming to the Bible with the question of how we do this sort of work is a very important task. Simply as an example, this is a helpful book. It is too easy to simply find things to ‘preach’ about or to remain at an ethereal level, but we must also consider how we get our hands dirty in the helping address the messiness of lives.

I would recommend this book. There are places where I would differ with the exegesis (smaller issues) or where the discussion is unaware of more recent scholarship, etc., but the book does a good job in accomplishing its stated goal. I think this would be a helpful book for pastors both in helping us think through how we do our “house to house teaching” and simply in thinking about application to make as we preach these texts.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Broadus, Preachers Without Fame

Here is a good word from John Broadus, one of our SBC giants of the past. Writing about “Preachers without Fame” he encourages us not to worry about the applause of man- something we know we ought not live for but something which has a sinister, alarming allure.

“Hail, ye unknown, forgotten brethren!...The Christian world feels your impress, though it has lost your names. And we likewise, if we cannot live in men’s memories, will rejoice at the thought that if we work for God, our work shall live…”
Let us labor for the glory of God and the advance of His kingdom, which is the good of humanity – and in light of this, what is the favor of man!

I am currently rejoicing in the number of faithful men I am having the opportunity to fellowship with at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting who evidence this very spirit. May the tribe increase.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism in the WSJ

Today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal ran a front page story by Suzanne Sataline on the issue of pastors preaching others’ sermons. The story is titled, “That Sermon You Heard on Sunday May Be From the Web” (you have to subscribe to read articles online, though they appear to offer a free trial). Mrs. Sataline interacts with this blog and conversations we had by phone. She also talked to Steve Sjogren, Ed Young Jr. and Thomas Long, preaching professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University (who opposed the practice).

I am glad to see the topic continuing to get attention because I think it is a problem that needs to be addressed. The posts on this blog on the topic have also been commented on in two German news sources. Here is one. Society sees that this is a problem. Sadly too many church leaders do not.

Friday, November 10, 2006

New Text on NT Interpretation

Interpreting the New Testament Text: Introduction to the Art and Science of Exegesis,
ed. Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning
(Crossway Books, 2006), hb., 480 pp.

This is an exciting and interesting new book. The title states it is an introduction to New Testament exegesis, but it also has been compiled in honor of Dr. Harold Hoehner, who has taught at Dallas Seminary for almost 40 years. I know from personal experience that putting together a festschrift that publishers will be happy with is a tricky task. Bock and Fanning have done a fine job with this one, gathering students and friends of Hoehner and producing a new guide to NT interpretation. The book essentially pulls together two common types of books. Part One of the book is a textbook written by the faculty of one school (DTS). Part Two contains the more traditional festschrift element, essays on various portions of the New Testament.

The first section is a step-by-step walk through of the basic elements of NT interpretation. These chapters are written by current Dallas Seminary faculty. The chapters are (I have summarized the actual chapter titles):
Definition and philosophy of exegesis, D. Bock
NT Textual Criticism, Daniel Wallace
Grammatical Analysis, J. William Johnston
Diagramming sentences, clauses; tracing the argument, Jay Smith
Word Studies, D. Bock
Exegetical problem solving, David Lowery
Background studies, Joseph Fantin
Narrative Genre, Michael Burer
Epistolary Genre, John Grassmick
Apocalyptic Genre, Hall Harris, III
Use of OT in NT, D. Bock
Theological Analysis, B. Fanning
Application, Ethics, Preaching, Timothy Ralston
The second section provides typically brief exegetical examples from various places in the New Testament. Here are the passages addressed and the author of each essay.
Mark 1:1-13- Howard Marshall
Mark 1:1-15- Narry Santos
Mark 7:27- Joel Williams
Acts 8:26-40- Edwin Yamauchi
Romans 15:9b-12- Don Howell, Jr.
Galatians 3:10-13- David Catchpole
Ephesians 2:19-22- Scott Cunningham
Ephesians 5:26- Helge Stadelmann
Philippians 2:6-7- Timothy Savage
Colossians 1:12-20- Earle Ellis
James 1:19-27- Donald Verseput
1 Peter 2:2a- Edward Glenny
3 John- Herbert Bateman, IV
In the first section, the chapters vary considerably in length. Furthermore, though I have not yet read all the essays, one can see that the strength of the essays vary as is always the case in such a collection. Some essays seem primarily to rehearse basic information, but others are particularly helpful. One of these particularly helpful ones is Jay Smith’s discussion of tracing the flow of argument in Paul’s letters. His introduction (and defense of logical thinking) is valuable in itself. This essay (one of the longer ones in the book) will provide very practical help to many in this crucial work of tracing the apostle’s flow of thought so that we actually mine his thoughts rather than imposing our own. I have already recommended this essay to one of my classes.

In the second section one can see that the essays group particularly around the gospel of Mark and the prison epistles. This will be of particular interest then when one is working in these areas.

In conclusion, Bock and Fanning are to be congratulated for producing such a helpful resource and fitting tribute to Dr. Hoehner. This is a helpful book for any student or pastor to have.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Carl Trueman, on need for accountability

I met Carl Trueman while we were both at the University of Aberdeen- him as a professor, me as a PhD student. Carl is a good friend, able scholar and writer. He has just posted a piece on the recent moral scandal that has rocked the church. This piece is helpful reading with a warning against placing our faith in human leaders and a warning to those of us who serve in leadership. Here is an excerpt:

And it serves as a warning to all who aspire to be leaders: to whom do you make yourselves accountable? Who can tell you when you are crossing the line? Do you have even one person who can go toe-to-toe with you and tell you, if necessary, that your behaviour is out of bounds? If you are not careful, your gifts may long outlast the grace in your life. The tragedy of so many fallen Christian pastors is that they became too big to be accountable to anyone, and they mistake the acclaim of their congregations for true Christian grace and divine favour. And those errors are no respecter of theological or confessional position.

Oh, how we need to heed this advice. This is one great blessing in having a plurality of pastors and avoiding “senior” terminology.
(HT: JT)

The Victory According to Mark, review

The Victory According to Mark, Mark Horne
(Canon Press, 2003), pb., 200 pp.

I am not familiar with this author, but I was drawn to this book after preaching through the first half of Mark. The promotional material noted that this commentary paid particular attention to OT backgrounds of much of Mark, and I think that is an important (and often neglected in the commentaries) point.

This is obviously not a technical or comprehensive commentary. It is English based (though with clear awareness of Greek), theologically oriented and often moves naturally to application. These points make it helpful for sermon preparation. It is written from a Reformed, Evangelical perspective.

First, then, some particulars. The Table of Contents would have been much more useful if the chapter titles also included the scripture reference of the portion covered in each chapter. Horne’s chapter titles are creative and interpretive so that the Table of Contents will not tell you where you can find a discussion of a given passage. The first page of each chapter does list the passage dealt with in that chapter (except for chapters 7 & 8). The Scriptural index is useful since he so often deals with OT texts. Also, Horne accepts the longer ending of Mark and provides exposition of it.

Horne notes in his epilogue various influences on his thought and he mentions the influence of N. T. Wright. This influence is abundantly clear throughout (even the title seems to reflect this influence). This is a fine thing, as the commentary then shows a pastor seeking to work out in this gospel the implications of some of Wright’s ideas on Jesus. However, I am still not completely convinced of all of Wright’s ideas so I found myself questioning some of the directions in the commentary. For example, should the coming of the Messiah be seen primarily as God’s return from Exile? I am drawn to aspects of this thought, but I am not ready to allow it central place in the exposition. It is just not certain enough in my mind.

Another key aspect of the commentary is the interest in OT background of the thought in the gospel. The importance and relevance of the OT in Mark is certain. However, I think Horne overplays this quite often. For example, his treatment of the cutting off of the ear of the High Priest’s servant is entitled, “The Circumcised Ear” (178). Horne says this wound “is significant” and suggests this is a sign to Israel, “a sign that the nation needs its ears opened that the people may no longer be servants, but have the status of full sons in the household” (178). This is rooted the piercing of the ear of slaves in the Old Testament. Frankly, without any further evidence, I find this fanciful. To be fair, this may be one of the most far fetched examples but it does illustrate a tendency.

Lastly, this commentary can be a helpful addition to the standard commentaries as it explores theological and canonical connections. The standard commentaries then can help reign in some of the excesses. I still think the best overall commentary on Mark’s gospel is David Garland’s volume in NIV Application Commentary series.

Friday, November 03, 2006

More from Vos Bio

Following on from my review of Letters of Geerhardus Vos , here are some more quotes from the biographical sketch. As I noted in the review, one of the best parts of the sketch is when Dennison addresses Vos’ dissatisfaction with cultural conservativism masquerading as Christianity. The last portion of the second quote is particularly sharp. By “Conservative Christianity” Dennison does not mean Christianity which is faithful to historic doctrine but a Christianity which parades its conservatism while operating according to the ways of the world. It certainly is a good warning.

“…it was the tepid, indeed vacuous, preaching that distressed him more. The gospel was crowded out from the pulpit and Sunday school in the interest of cultural relevance and contemporary moralizing.” (59, in footnote 164)

“The world he inhabited from 1881 to 1932 had been attenuated and acculturated by a ‘gospel’ that Christ and Paul and the New Testament world would not comprehend – the gospel of the self-consciousness of modern man: man, only man, nothing but man! Posturing, preening, manipulating, dominating, moneymaking, power brokering: these are the mantras that drive the influence of peddlers of contemporary Protestant orthodoxy. Such worldliness was incomprehensible to Vos; hence, he has remained incomprehensible to them. And perhaps Geerhardus Vos came to realize that what was stamped on the hearts, souls and behavior of these gurus was but another variety of that age-old depravity – tyranny. Conservative Christianity is provincial – pedantic, morose, dull – even soporific; it is Christian conservatism with very little brain, let alone heart. And perhaps that is why the brighter adolescents of that tradition grow up to become liberals. Liberalism is, at least, engaging.” (83)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

For All The Saints

Last year I posted two items concerning Reformation Day and our need for a new Reformation. This year let me look more towards the idea of All Saints Day. I am not big on an official liturgical calendar, but it is right for us to pause to consider the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. We impoverish ourselves when we act as if ours is the first (or even second or third) generation to seek to follow Christ and think through what it means to be His people. Below is a hymn that I love- I use that word advisedly. I did not grow up singing this hymn- but I wish I had. I remember where I first heard it and how it moved me. Since I have found all the verses from Cyberhymnal. I am almost always moved to tears when contemplating this hymn. I offer it for your contemplation. You can listen to the original tune here (some have produced new tunes for the hymn, but I do not think they are an improvement on this one).

We are not alone in this. Our brothers and sisters have gone before, and noticing their faith and endurance and God’s provision to them will aid us on our way. We are not alone. We are a part of the great fellowship of all the saints! And one day we will celebrate together in the presence of the Savior of us all. Let us give thanks for the example of those who have gone before us (Heb 13:7).

For All the Saints

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
Words: William W. How, in Hymns for Saint’s Days, and Other Hymns, by Earl Nel­son, 1864.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Letters of Geerhardus Vos, A Review

Letters of Geerhardus Vos , ed. James T. Dennison
(P&R Publishing, 2005), hb., 274 pp.

This is an interesting book. Before reading it I knew of Vos as a key figure in the development of biblical theology, but I knew little else. I was drawn to the book precisely because I knew little about him, because letters tend to reveal the man more than anything else, and because I saw that it included some of his poems (I had not known he had written poetry). I enjoyed reading the book.

The title of the book may mislead you because the contents are actually both more and less than what one might anticipate. It is more in that the book contains significantly more than letters. It includes a 75 page biography, a 20+ page bibliography, and 10 pages of poetry. It is less in that most of the letters contained in it are not that profound. You do not find here the sort of thing you find in Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Counsel, or Rutherford’s Letters, or Newton’s Letters for example. These are not typically letters of counsel but just regular correspondence. The letters still contain interesting material, but probably not much to hold the attention of the average theological reader.

Probably the most useful part of the book is the biographical sketch. The Preface states, “This volume contains the most thorough account of the life of Geerhardus Vos published to date” (11). I am not in the position to judge this claim, but this would make the sketch significant. Apparently, not much has been known about Vos personally. Dennison refers to Vos as “the mysterious premier Reformed biblical theologian of the twentieth century” (11). It becomes apparent fairly soon that one significant reason for interest in Vos has to do with his place in the split within the PCUSA and the exodus of some Princeton faculty to found Westminster. Vos had been the teacher of Machen, Van Til, Murray and others but he did not leave Princeton himself. Vos expressed his appreciation of and support for Machen and the others but did not follow them. Apparently this has puzzled some and various speculations have arisen to explain. Dennison clearly seeks to argue the view that Vos could see through the power agenda that truly underlay some of the pastors who were supporting Machen. According to Dennison, Vos could see this though Machen could not. Vos agreed with Machen theologically but could not support the worldly motives and objectives of these others. According to Dennison, the power agenda of these other pastors eventually came out.

Now, I must first admit that I do not know enough about this episode of Presbyterian life to adjudicate between these opinions. I can though make two observations. First, whether or not Dennison is right he certainly overplays his data at places. Various times he slides from simply suggesting possible motives of various people to asserting the motives as clear fact. At one point he even posits what Machen may have been thinking while laying on his deathbed! Of course this neither means that Dennison’s analysis is right nor wrong. It does mean that this is not a real objective analysis.

My second observation, is that if Dennison is just basically on track, there are significant parallels (and thus lessons) for other denominations, particularly my own- the SBC. The warning that work for theological fidelity will typically be mixed with lesser motives is a sane, realistic reminder. Vos then emerges as a reminder that our allegiance is to the gospel not any other agenda- even a conservative one. He is also a reminder that we cannot defend the gospel by acting in anti-gospel ways.

I found the biographical sketch interesting reading. The writing ranges from hagiographic, to melodramatic, to rousing prose. The best parts, in my opinion, are where Dennison shows Vos articulating the centrality of the gospel and the ways in which we so easily accommodate to another, cultural message. For example Dennison reports, “…it was the tepid, indeed vacuous, preaching that distressed him more. The gospel was crowded out from the pulpit and Sunday school in the interest of cultural relevance and contemporary moralizing” (59, in footnote 164). Surely this is true in far too many churches today as well. A key theme that emerges is the way in which a culturally or politically conservative message easily passes for the gospel. We need this warning in our day.

Well, this review is already too long by bloging standards. I have already posted one quote from this book and will plan to post a few more separately. Let me simply conclude by listing in summary what I think are the benefits of this book for people in my circle:
- Strong reminder of the centrality of the gospel and the danger of mere moralism
- warnings about accommodation with culture, particularly on the conservative side of things
- warnings about denominational politics and the compromises which allure so
- greater awareness of a key figure in the history of biblical interpretation
- A picture of handling oneself in dialogue with others

Shelf Life, an Encouragement to Read

Following on from the previous post on reading, let me strongly recommend a little book by George and Karen Grant entitled Shelf Life: How Books Have Changed the Destinies and Desires of Men and Nations . This book is not a sustained treatise on the need for reading but a reflection on the value and enjoyment of reading. It includes various thoughts from the Grants on what they have done in their family to encourage reading, brief looks at historical figures who loved books and (perhaps most significantly) many, many quotes from various authors on various aspects of the value of books.

For the good of the church, indeed for the good of civilization in general, we need to return to being a reading people. This book can serve as an unassuming resource to that end and can provide useful quotes in encouraging others in reading. I have amassed seven pages of quotes from the book, but here are a few of my favorites:

“It is an old and healthy tradition that each home where the light of godliness shone should have its own bookshelf. Blessed is the man or woman who has inherited such a cultural and spiritual bequest.”
-John MacLeod (1872-1948)

“A well-read people are easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but difficult to enslave.”
-Baron Henry Broughman (1778-1868)

“Perhaps the greatest gift any father can bestow upon his children, apart from the covenant blessings of parish life and a comprehension of the doctrines of grace, is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives a knowledge of the world, and it offers experience of a wide kind. Indeed, it is nothing less than a moral illumination.”
-Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)
I have posted some other quotes at The Children’s Hour, my blog on children’s books.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Spurgeon on the Need to Read

Check out the Spurgeon quote posted by Justin Taylor. This is another great statement on the value and importance of reading. Here’s a piece of the quote:

How rebuked are they by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for men to utter, yet
he wants books! He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Andrew Blackwood on Revivalism

Here is another selection from the same Blackwood piece. His critique is probably not new to most. What I found interesting is thathe was saying this 50 years ago. Furthermore, the eccentric methods he describes have often found their way into our regular meetings today. We desperately need to be reminded that God does not need a "show" to reach people. The Bible is clear that God is pleased to save people through the clear preaching of His word (e.g. 1 Cor 1:18-2:5). However, many today will think your church insufficient if you do not use the latest technology and have all the latest trappings. Technology in itself is not wrong but the question is, "What are we relying on?"

“I might enumerate still other reasons why the revivalism of other days alienated many persons whom we longed to reach. They would not have objected to innocent horseplay among boys in a barn, but the critics of revivals saw no connection between the stunts that often preceded a ‘soul-winning’ sermon and the spirit of the message itself. When the man in the pulpit wishes the one in the pew to fall down on his knees and give himself into the hands of God, as young Isaiah did in the Temple, all the steps that lead up to a decision ought to be in harmony with the holiness of the occasion. This does not mean that any part of an evangelistic service ought to resemble an old-time funeral, full of grief and despair. Neither does it mean that a man ordained of God to pray and preach ought to compete with a vaudeville show of
the coarser sort. ‘Let all things be done decently and in order.’

Other objections have to do with the prominence of human factors. New Testament evangelism stressed the presence of the Living Christ, with His pierced hands, and the power of the Holy Spirit. The human agents relied chiefly on prayer, preaching, and personal work. They did not strive for the glory of the workers, many of whom we do not know by name. In America at times the stress of revivalism has fallen on men, money, and machinery. Such activities properly call for expenditure of money on no Lilliputian scale.” (292)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Andrew Blackwood on Outreach

I recently stumbled across an essay by Andrew Blackwood entitled “Evangelism and Preaching.” It was in an older book edited by Carl F. H. Henry, Contemporary Evangelical Thought (1957). I had only seen Blackwood’s name in passing and simply knew he was a popular author in the area of pastoral ministry from that time period. I thumbed through the essay, however, and was struck by what I found! Blackwood in one section addressed weaknesses in American approaches to revival meetings. He raised several criticisms. One was the failure of serious discipleship and nurture arising from an inordinate attention to gathering crowds and building the program. He then addressed the issue of whether these ‘conversions’ truly resulted in disciples. It was striking to me to read something written 50 years ago making the very same points that manyof us are trying to make today.

“Whatever the reason, many church members today give no visible evidences of having been born again. In New Jersey a church bulletin recently compared the statistics of the home congregation with those of fifty years before. With a resident church membership practically twice as large as half a century ago, attendance at morning worship averages less than half the attendance fifty years ago; attendance at the church school has fallen off still more; there is at present no evening service, and no mid-week meeting, whereas such gatherings were formerly well attended, as such things went in that older time. Meanwhile, what has taken place? Year after year, the congregation has welcomed many new members, including boys and girls of proper age. Few of these boys and girls have formed the habit of attending their own church. And yet this congregation has helped to swell the official statistics that lead Protestants to boast that the number of our church members has kept increasing by leaps and bounds!” (294)

“With the work of evangelism, hand in hand, ought to go the most careful Christian nurture, especially by the pastor. Why else did the Apostle keep writing ‘letters to young churches?’ Guided by the Holy Spirit, Paul knew that the didache ought to follow the kerygma. In the Jersey congregation, as among the Ohio churches, a study of the facts would show that the falling off in church attendance, and in other visible signs of invisible grace, came during a period when the local minister felt too busy to do pastoral work, either by home visitation of by counseling at the church. Since 1925, when I ceased to serve as a full-time pastor, I have ministered as a pulpit supply in all sorts of churches….Again and again I have come home with the conviction that our noblest laymen wish the dominie [pastor] would quit doing many other things not wrong in themselves, and begin to take loving care of the home flock, especially the weaker sheep and the little lambs.” (295-296)

This is a good reminder that the way to advance the kingdom is by the faithful day to day work of teaching, preaching, shepherding and overseeing souls. The quick fixes rarely ever 'fix.'

Monday, October 23, 2006

God at Work, Even When We Can't Se It

Anyone who has preached much knows the agony of it. Hopefully you know the ecstasy as well, but there is often a hollowness that I feel after preaching. You have just laid out your heart with all the earnestness you have, and as you sit down you are painfully aware of the inadequacy of your efforts. And this feeling is augmented because the inadequacies which are so evident to you have just been publicly displayed before the people of God! Of course much can be learned from this. For one, I have had to train myself not to make too much of it. It can be good for learning humility. I also must flee again to the cross being reminded that Christ alone is sufficient and if He has been lifted up then all is well. I also have had to face the reality at times that I should have been more diligent in some area of preparation. One danger though is in being too hard on ourselves. We can only do so much.

In this vein the following quote has been encouraging to me. It comes from Gardiner Spring, and it describes the beginning of great revival in his area. Much can be gleaned from this quote. My point here is first of all my ability to identify with his emotions in the first paragraph. Note it well! This pastor who is regarded as one of the giants would linger in his pulpit after the service because he was embarrassed to face his people, fearing that they would rebuke his preaching. He was laboring faithfully but felt no power, no result. However, at that very time God was indeed at work. So it often is. God is not required to allow us to ‘feel’ when he is at work. Of course it is great when you can sense that the people are with you. But we must not be dependent upon that. We must preach the word and trust God to be at work.

The year 1814 was a year of great labor and deep solicitude. Many a time after preaching did I remain long in the pulpit, that I might not encounter the reproaches of the people of God for my heartless preaching, and many a time, as I left it, has my mind been so depressed that I have felt I could never preach another sermon. But I did not know to what extent the Spirit of God was carrying forward his own noiseless work . . .
God was already beginning a precious work of grace among the people. He had taken it into his own hands, and was conducting it in his own quiet way, convincing the church and the world that it is ‘not by might, nor by power, but by his own Spirit,’ as the Author and Finisher of the whole. The spirit of grace and supplication was poured out upon the people, and they ‘looked on Him whom they had pierced.’ The weekly prayer-meeting and the weekly lecture were full of interest. Days of fasting and prayer were occasionally observed, and a Saturday evening prayer-meeting was established by the young men of the church, for the special purpose of imploring the divine presence and blessing upon the services of the approaching Lord’s day . . . Our Sabbaths became deeply solemn and affecting. We watched for them as those who ‘watch for the morning.’ I verily believe we anticipated them with greater pleasure . . . expectation, than that with which the sons and daughters of earth ever anticipated their brightest jubilee. (Iain Murray, Revival and Revivalism, 205-6)
Be encouraged brothers. God is at work. He honors His word. So, as you face a Monday, remember that if you have taken up the Scripture and preached what it said, God is at work.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The John Newton Project

I have recently received information about an exciting new work in Britain, The John Newton Project. The Project is in the process of making available on their site the complete works of Newton, including previously unpublished material. What a resource that will be! Their objective, however, is not merely historical. Their mission statement is:

The Project has as its objective the transformation of society through faith in Jesus Christ, using the life and works of John Newton as one great example.

Yes! This is the purpose of historical study- to see how God used servants in the past so that we might be better prepared to serve God today.

The Board of Reference for the project includes Timothy George, John Piper, J. I. Packer, John Stott among others. This is an exciting project and one to watch.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thielicke’s Little Exercise

One book that I recommend to all who study theology (pastors, academics, etc.) is Helmut Thielicke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians . Along my way in theological education I came across this book and was greatly helped by it. I said then that if I ever taught I would require this book, and now I do. Once a year I work back through this little book with a group of students. Just this week I did this once more. In order to encourage you to read (or re-read) this book, let me share one student’s response to the book:

“At the risk of overstatement, I consider this short book to be one of the most meaningful and personally applicable that I have read. Thielicke’s clarity of thought and colorful expression led me into one of the most deeply convicting reading experiences of recent memory…. I can think of few books in the category of this one, which seemed to look with a penetrating gaze into my very life and gently rebuke me for the secret impurities and ‘gnostic pride’ that have long been locked away in my heart concealed behind doors of humble clichés and gentleness of speech.”

Well put. Thielicke particularly deals with the problem of pride in studying theology and of thinking that because one has studied certain issues he has mastered them. While upholding the value (indeed necessity) of theological study he punctures the arrogance which so easily arises.

Much could be said about this book, but I will simply point out that Thielicke does not merely give a warning. He gives sound advice for pursuing theological study in a devotional and relational manner, for uniting head and heart. He encourages engagement with the people of God and regular reading of the Scriptures. It is not fancy, but this is the way. Here are a few quotes.

“But it is all the more important to insist constantly and almost monotonously that a person who pursues theological courses is spiritually sick unless he reads the Bible uncommonly often and makes the most of opportunities by which, in preaching and Bible classes, that cornerstone is made visible.” (pg. 40)

“How all-important it is that a vigorous spiritual life, in close association with the Holy Scriptures and in the midst of the Christian community, be maintained as a background for theological work…” (pg. 37)

“…insofar as we are determined to be true theologians, we think within the community of God’s people, and for that community, and in the name of that community;--how shall I say?—we think as a part of the community itself…” (pgs.4-5)

Amen! He is no true theologian who does not work from within the church for the good of the church.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Piper on the Sin of Comparing

It is unlikely that anyone reading this blog has not already seen Justin Taylor’s posts over at Between Two Worlds. Typically I do not point out posts from the really popular blogs because I figure you have already seen them. However, this time I will make an exception this time. Justin’s recent post on John Piper’s comments on the sinfulness of comparing ourselves with others is a key item for us pastors to read. Drawing from John 21:18-22 and referring to his fellow speakers at the recent Desiring God conference Piper stated:
What is it to you that David Wells has such a comprehensive grasp of the pervasive effects of postmodernism? You follow me.
What is it to you that Voddie Baucham speaks the gospel so powerfully without notes? You follow me.
What is it to you that Tim Keller sees gospel connections with professional life so clearly? You follow me.
What is it to you that Mark Driscoll has the language and the folly of pop culture at his fingertips? You follow me.
What is it to you that Don Carson reads five hundred books a year and combines
pastoral insight with the scholar’s depth and comprehensiveness? You follow me

Failure to grasp this truth is in fact often what leads to the preaching of other men’s sermons as we have discussed here before. It is what leads to envy of others success rather than simply seeking to be faithful in our own calling. This is a particularly good word.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Smell of Perfumed Assemblies

Just today I came across a used copy of Karl Menninger’s Whatever Became of Sin? This is one of those books I have often heard about but never read. So I opened it to have a glance. A previous owner had placed a note in the front pointing to a poem on a certain page. The poem, printed below, is a searing critique of the modern Western church as it is typically practiced. I think it is a good word for us to hear headed into the weekend.

"The Smell of Perfumed Assemblies"
By Elmer F. Suderman

Here they come,
my nonchalants,
my lazy daisies,
their dainty perfume
disturbing the room
the succulent smell
seductive as hell.

Here they are
my pampered flamboyants,
status spolied, who bring
with exquisite zing
their souls spick and span
protected by Ban,
their hearts young and gay
decked in handsome cliché,
exchanging at my call
with no effort at all
worship for whispering
God for gossiping,
theology for television.
Baptized in the smell
of classic Chanel
I promote their nod
to a jaunty God
Who, they are sure,
is a sparkling gem
superbly right for them.
There they go
my in-crowd
my soft-skinned crowd,
my suntanned,
so so elegant, swellegant,
natty, delectable,
suave, cool, adorable

Meninger continues:
Yes, damned. Saved by grace perhaps. Certainly not helped by my cowardly silence. A word of reproof? A suggestion of sin? A confrontation? The parable of the rich young ruler? Something to disturb the Country Club coziness and complacency of my perfumed assembly? Dare I? (pp. 202-03)
Two points need to be made. First, we must indeed speak the difficult word, point out sin and call for repentance. We must not allow ourselves to become merely advocates of a cultural religion blessing the people in our narcissistic pursuit of self-fulfillment. Faithfulness to the Scripture will not allow us to do so.

Secondly, though- neither must we allow ourselves to be self-righteous ‘condemnation-mongers.’ Let us first confess that the convicting words of the Bible speak not simply to ‘them’ but to ‘us.’ They wield the scalpel of God’s words most effectively who have themselves known its bite. Furthermore, while the Biblical message begins with confrontation and the call to repentance, it does not end there. We must be clear and sharp concerning sin. But, if we leave people there we have failed to preach the gospel. Having exposed sin, let us clearly, passionately point people to the cross, where damned people like us can find forgiveness and the power to change.

The gospel requires both notes: judgment and hope, rebellion and redemption, sin and forgiveness. Either one is diminished by the absence of the other. Let us then sound forth both with vigor.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Do the Next Thing

Here is a poem which contains much wisdom for Christian living in general and is very helpful for pastoral ministry as well. I found it in Elisabeth Elliot’s The Shaping of a Christian Family (pg.178-179). Elisabeth Elliot’s writings have meant a lot to me along the way, and I have often heard her discuss her “do the next thing” philosophy. I did not realize until recently that her language came from this poem which her mother had. There is much simple wisdom here. Do you find yourself on Monday feeling your soul is scorched, terribly aware of your inadequacies, fearful of what is to come? Since God is still in heaven and His steadfast Word declares His love for you, just carry on and do the next thing. Take the next step of obedience. Do you worry how your children will turn out, what the future will hold for your church, how the finances will look at the end of the month? Resist the allure of self pity, and just take the next step of obedience. We are typically given enough grace just for the next step. Fret not about what lies around the bend. Perform faithfully the next step, and we will make it home safely in the end.

This poem is a balm to my soul.

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Thrust them with Jesus, doe the nexte thynge.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, doe the nexte thynge

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, doe the nexte thynge.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Carson on Prayer

One of the Wednesday night classes at our church this semester is studying D. A. Carson’s book, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His prayers. I bought this book 10 years ago, and it has been a significant help, challenge, and encouragement to me in many ways. I recommend it heartily. It has been helpful to take biblical prayers as models for my praying. It really is a simple idea but one I had not seriously considered before reading this book. Here are some quotes from his introduction on the need of the church to be serious about prayer.

“The one thing we most urgently need in Western Christendom is a deeper knowledge of God. We need to know God better.” (15)

“One of the foundational steps in knowing God, and one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God, is prayer – spiritual, persistent, biblically minded prayer. . . . Robert Murray M’Cheyne declared, ‘What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more.’” (16)

“Where is our delight in praying? . . . How much of our praying is largely formulaic, liberally larded with clichés that remind us, uncomfortably, of the hypocrites Jesus excoriated?” (16)

“…is it not nevertheless true that by and large we are better at organizing than agonizing? Better at administering than interceding? Better at fellowship than fasting? Better at entertainment than worship? Better at theological articulation than spiritual adoration? Better – God help us! – at preaching than at praying?” (16)

[quoting J.I. Packer] “I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face.” (16)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Chruch Discipline and Revival

Last week I posted about preaching on the church during a series of “Revival” meetings, arguing that if we truly want to see revival we must begin with the church. I also commented on preaching on church discipline in one of the services. While in my experience it seems church discipline would be the least likely topic considered for such a setting, it seemed to me to be one of the most obvious topics once I thought about it. I remembered hearing that a return to discipline in churches in the past had at times been a precursor to revival. So I went back to Greg Wills’s excellent book Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900and found the quotes below. Before going to the quotes, however, let me earnestly recommend this book. It is very readable and provides many useful insights to our current church situation.

This first quote makes the point in and of itself:
“Pastor T.H. Stout took the occasion of a revival to inculcate the doctrine [of church discipline]. The members of Bethel Baptist Church became zealous for discipline and excluded two offenders. Stout recounted the result:
Very soon, a perceptible improvement was seen in the church. Brethren began to take up their crosses. They met and conversed on the condition of Zion, confessing and bewailing their coldness. Brethren, discipline is the life of our churches. We have no right to look for the blessing of our precious Savior unless we ‘come out from the world.’ Be ‘ye separate,’ says God. . . . May not many of our churches be incurring the displeasure of the ‘Great Head of the Church’ by laxity of discipline? During July…the church was greatly revived. . . . Quite a number of brethren prayed [publicly] who had never done so before. . . . Twenty-four were added to the church; 12 by experience and baptism, and 12 by letter.’
Discipline brought revival.” (p. 36)
Then, these other quotes I also found helpful:

“Through discipline, they would, moreover, sweep the nation, for they believed that God rewarded faithful pruning by raining down revival.” (p. 8)

“After the Civil War, Baptist observers began to lament that church discipline was foundering, and it was. It declined partly because it became more burdensome in larger churches. … Urban churches, pressed by the need for large buildings and the desire for refined music and preaching, subordinated church discipline to the task of keeping the church solvent. Many Baptists shared a new vision of the church, replacing the pursuit of purity with the quest for efficiency. They lost the resolve to purge their churches of straying members.” (p. 9)

“Baptists saw discipline as a source of spiritual revival. A church with no discipline was no church. ‘When discipline leaves a church,’ Baptist theologian John L. Dagg contended, ‘Christ goes with it.’” (p. 33)

“Mississippi Baptist Elias Hibbard, who worried about excessive discipline, conceded its benefits: ‘I am aware that discipline when exercised in a proper manner is the life of our churches, and often precedes the blessings of the Almighty.’” (p. 34)

“Even with ‘the elegant preaching and eloquent prayers and the splendid appearances,’ Baptists reasoned, ‘no church can prosper spiritually if there is no discipline. . . nothing is more essential to church prosperity than the maintenance of faithful discipline.’” (p. 35)

“one of the churches that [Jesse] Mercer planted continued to intone that ‘correct
discipline is the life of the Church, without it the Church is despised by the world, shorn of its power & will soon fall to pieces.’” (p. 35)

“Mercer believed that ‘most of our church difficulties grow out of neglected church discipline’ or discipline improperly administered.” (p. 35)

These are useful words for our day. Let us affirm the great desire to see renewal in the church in our day. We do indeed long to see God move mightily among His people renewing the church and converting the lost. However, all the talk about this is surely futile (to the point of being silly) if we are not willing to conform ourselves to His word, to take one of the clear steps he has provided us for the pursuit of holiness. The call for a return to church discipline does not (or ought not) arise merely from historic nostalgia, legalism, exclusivism or rash youth but for a desire for the salvation of souls and a renewal of the church- those things which will bring glory to God.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Stewart on Preaching the Good News

I have come across another old book of sermons by James S. Stewart, the prominent Scottish preacher of the mid-20th century. I have previously posted quotes from his book on missions (first post; second post; third post).

This book, The Strong Name, was published in 1941 so I imagine the sermons were originally preached in the early days of WW II. This seems to be the point in the opening of his sermon “The Romance of Orthodoxy.” Preaching from 2 Kings 7:9 he rebukes the idea which was apparently (and understandably) current then that “these are bad days and not time for the announcing of good news.” Stewart rebukes such an idea for the church by pointing to the Gospel. No matter our situation we have been loved and redeemed by God! Stewart closes the sermon with the following words which are a good exhortation to us in any day. Perhaps it is especially good as we approach Sunday and many of us will be preaching. Proclaim the Gospel, brothers!

If the Church were witnessing with all her might, and in all her members, to the things which she most surely believes and by which she lives, how incalculable might be her achievement in this perplexed, distracted generation! If we, the children of Zion whose captivity God has ended, had our mouths filled with singing for the gladness of that great deliverance, what threatening shadows might be scattered, what dark and dreary places flooded with the blessed light of hope! If every professing Christian were a veritable ambassador of Christ, how the royal banners of His Kingdom would go from strength to strength, conquering and to conquer! This is a day of good tidings. One thing is needful. The world cries for it. Honour claims it. Christ commands it. Send the good tidings on!


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Kierkegaard in KJ

I continue to benefit from reading Kairos Journal, the online resource for pastors. You must register, but it is free.

The following is from KJ. The first paragraph is an editorial introduction to the quote (second paragraph) from Kierkegaard. This is a much needed exhortations to pastors, lest we play at our task, willing to rebuke the sins of the world, but unwilling to address the sin in our own congregation, flying the banner of inerrancy while conveniently avoiding difficult texts concerning issues like church discipline or ministerial pride.

Kierkegaard has received well-deserved criticism from modern evangelical theologians. Nevertheless, the following passage taken from his Journal powerfully exposes the terrible problems that develop when the Church fails to understand the seriousness of her task in the world. To the Church of his day, Kierkegaard exhorted: your battle is spiritual, and war is grim business: get on with it. To the preacher, he underscored the need for risky sermons, which could cost him his comfort, his position, and even his life.

We all know what it is to play warfare in mock battle, that it means to imitate everything just as it is in war. The troops are drawn up, they march into the field, seriousness is evident in every eye, but also courage and enthusiasm, the orderlies rush back and forth intrepidly, the commander’s voice is heard, the signals, the battle cry, the volley of musketry, the thunder of cannon–everything exactly as in war, lacking only one thing . . . the danger.
So also it is with playing Christianity, that is, imitating Christian preaching in such a way that everything, absolutely everything is included in as deceptive a form as possible–only one thing is lacking . . . the danger.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Preaching this week

From Sunday until this Wed (9/17-20) I am preaching in a “series of meetings” at a church here in town. I have explained to the people that I will approach these services in a way perhaps not typical of Revival meetings. I have argued that if we truly want revival, we must start with the church being the church- the people of God must get right first. Therefore, I am preaching on the church. Sunday morning I preached on the identity of the church from 1 Tim 3:14-16. In the evening I took up Ephesians 4 :1-16 pointing out that Paul describes gospel living in terms tied up with living in community (contra our typically over individualistic views of holiness, Christian growth) and that Paul in this passage stresses the importance of each member, that no one can grow as they ought unless their church around them functions properly. Thus, your own growth will be hindered if your church is not being healthy. Also, your fellow members cannot flourish as they ought if you are not supplying to the body. This is a crucial point in light of the fact that in most churches about 50% of the people on the membership roll have not attended in years.

This evening then I preached from Heb 3:12-4:16 pointing out that the author presents three antidotes to apostasy, answers to how God supplies for His people to persevere. The first one, that receives most attention in this text, is the community itself. There is strong language here about watching over one another, exhorting one another daily which presumes significant interaction between church members between Sundays. The other two then are exposure to the Word of God and drawing near to our High Priest.

I think tomorrow I will then preach from 1 Cor 5 on church discipline. Historically the renewal of discipline has often sparked revival, so it would seem to be a very appropriate (though atypical) topic.

I am convinced that if we really want to be effective in evangelism we must get serious about the purity and integrity of the church. For too long we have ignored this and sought to just “get ‘em in.” Surely we can see the lack of effectiveness of this approach. Scripture would call us to another way.

Lastly, this church is a great group of people with a real hunger for the Word. I am encouraged by them and their faithful pastor.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul

Randall Bush, my creative colleague who's field is philosphy but is also a gifted musician and poet, has set out to compose a hymn dedicated to each of the faculty members of the School of Christian Studies here. This week he passed on this one for me. Taking the oversight theme, he begins with the 23rd Psalm and moves to the Good Shepherd passage. See what you think.

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul

Jehovah, Shepherd of My Soul,
Let Thy staff my steps direct.
May Thy crook of comfort my heart console
Through dark death’s vale protect
In pleasant pastures greened by grace
Make Thou my soul to lie
By peaceful waters wind my ways
Till I to Thy fold draw nigh.

Good Shepherd, Jesus, save Thy sheep,
Our wayward souls restore.
From robbers, thieves, and ravenous beasts
Secure Thy sheepfold’s door.
Away from sin’s entangling snares
Direct our straying feet,
Of strangers’ lures let us beware,
As we hear and follow Thee.

“If you love me,” sounds the Shepherd’s voice,
“Then feed my hung’ring sheep.”
To deny him can never be our choice
If our love for him runs deep
As Jesus did his life lay down
His sheep one flock to make,
May we His gift of love compound
In our service for his sake.

Great Shepherd guide us to Thy fold
When life’s great course concludes
Past starry heavens bring our souls,
To realms of highest good,
Till we find Mercy’s mystic source,
Shall drink from Goodness’ well,
And in Thy house forevermore
Secure with Thee shall dwell.

Added Note: Dr. Bush has also composed an original tune which I hope to get to hear soon. If I can find someone tech savy enough, maybe it can be posted too.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pastoral Plagiarism Revisited

Those who have been reading this blog for sometime may remember the interchange that took place here last March on Pastoral Plagiarism (post 1, post 2, post 3). These posts brought a bit of traffic and some strong debate. An edited version of the original post has this week been published in the “Baptist and Reflector”, the TN Baptist state paper, under the title Pastors must be messengers of God, not ‘talking heads’. I hope to raise this issue in local church life because this seems to be a rising problem. I continue to receive email from people who have discovered that their pastors are preaching sermons taken directly from other men or lifted directly from a book. These people are shocked and feel betrayed. Whatever sort of rationalizing a pastor might do, the fact is that the pastor’s integrity is seriously blemished by this. This issue needs to be raised and addressed for the good of the church.

Joe Thorn is also discussing this here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I’ve obviously been out of blogging for a while. Some have heard what has happened and have inquired, so I thought I’d give a brief update. Last Thursday afternoon my oldest son, Nathan, was struck by a truck. It was a hectic time getting information, getting to the ER, him being sent by helicopter to LeBonheur to Memphis, etc. In the end he had only one serious injury, a depressed skull fracture which punctured the membrane surrounding the brain. That was serious enough, but there could have been so much more. At LeBonheur we had a great surgeon who repaired the fracture and membrane. Now Nathan is totally fine. The doctor sent us home Sunday morning with all clear.

Many have called and written telling us of their prayers, and we are very grateful. We have been very blessed. So many have been helpful, caring, etc. Friends and family came through in so many ways. We were reminded again of the importance of community.

Praise be to God!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Great Conference this Weekend

I just received word from James Grant, pastor of FBC Rossville, TN, that their Fall Bible Conference which begins this Friday (Sept 8) will feature Dr. Dan Block speaking on the theme “The Gospel According to Moses: Recovering the Message of Deuteronomy.” You can view the conference brochure here. The conference will run from 7pm-9pm Friday night and then 9am to 2pm Saturday with lunch provided and the cost is only $10!! That’s amazing. There is also a special session for church leaders at 2:30. Dr. Block will also speak twice on Sunday.

I did not find out about this in time to attend myself, but I wanted to let anyone else know who might have the chance to attend. You can find contact info at the church website or on the conference brochure.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More from Wylie Johnson

Here are some more nuggets from the address mentioned in the previous post. Johnson goes to some length to exhort young pastors to remember their place. He is no enemy of pastoral authority; but he does take dead aim at abuse of authority. He writes:

“Let no Baptist preacher ever seek to reimpose these barriers [priestly acts] that Jesus removed at so great a cost.
I believe Baptist laymen everywhere would like for me to say to young preachers here today, ‘Remember always, you are not a priest.’ You are God’s messenger to preach Christ as our only priest. . . . never get the idea that you are part human and part divine. Remember that no church congregation is obligated to follow your will rather than God’s will.”

“So never yield to that human temptation to substitute your authority for God’s authority, or to claim your will to be God’s will, or to make your goals to be God’s goals, or to accept self-praise where God alone ought to be praised.”
These are good words of reminders especially since the culture of self-aggrandizement continues to be encouraged in pastoral circles. This is worsened in situations where pastors think they are the only ones who hear from God and can simply tell their people God has told them to do something and the people should obey. The New Testament does uphold significant pastoral authority but only as it is rooted in the Scriptures. When pastors suggest their inner promptings are authoritative we might as well return to a Pope! Johnson even says (writing in 1954!):

“The greatest threat to our Baptist faith is our trend toward modernism in organization; the tendency to revert back to the priesthood and build a religious hierocracy.”

“Let us never forget that is was over-organized and over-commercialized religion that sent Jesus to the cross.”

These quotes also speak to the issue of what our churches need today- not primarily better organization or marketing. We simply need to teach and live the word of God, and we pastors can lead the way by actually taking the cues for pastoral ministry from the Bible- teach the Word, shepherd the flock, live holy. Then God will do His part.