Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oxford Press Holiday Sale

Each year I look forward to the annual holiday sale from Oxford University Press. They regularly have exceptional deals on prominent books. This year the sale is even better because they teamed up with Amazon. See the sale homepage here.
There are not many things in their bible/theology section that I like. They are good for broader reading, which brings back a point I have mentioned before: Pastors need to read broadly.
Some of the categories I particularly like from Oxford are: American history, world history and reference works. Happy reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Work, Worldview and Maturity

I am quite behind in items I intend to write about here, but the rush of finals and a cracked screen on my laptop are conspiring against me. :)

I am almost half way through listening to the audio version of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life , by Peter Robinson, and it is surprisingly good. Whatever you think about Reagan (I like him), this book is compelling and worthwhile for several reasons. First, the author is honest enough to state that as he came to the White House (getting his first real job by fluke as he says) in his early 20’s he was looking for an older man to serve as a role model. We all need such role models, though sometimes people do not want to admit it. The account of this young man trying to define his life, looking for an embodied example of a ‘good life’ reminds me that there are people all around asking this same question. The author did not tell Reagan he had begun watching him as an example. He just watched, thought and discussed with others. Who is watching us without our knowing? What sort of example are we providing? As pastors we should expect to serve as examples to the church (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7; my previous post mentioned the sore lack of good examples).

The life lessons mentioned in the book so far are really good ones, typically rooted in a Christian worldview. The discussion about working hard and persevering were particularly good. It made me think this would be a good book to give to young men in keeping with the “Month of Man” address I mentioned previously. Robinson discusses the value of work and how we were made for meaningful work (drawing from his conversations with a theologian friend). This idea is so important and contrasts clearly with the spirit of the age which was illustrated in an email I recently received. The email encouraged me to sign up for a certain service which would make me money. It promised to “help you make the income you want without the stress of a job.” Get all you want without the bother of a job! Work is not only a means to an economic end. It is a worthwhile end in itself.
We need to teach once more the biblical idea of work, and it is encouraging to find this concept in a book like this one.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Importance of Example

Here is a sad comment from a student. He was discussing his call to ministry and wrote:

“when I felt God calling me to ministry I was truly ignorant about how to live the life, because I can’t say that anybody truly set a good example for me growing up.”

This is far too common. We need for the church to be the church and for pastors to lead well with teaching and example (1 Tim 4:16). This is also a reminder of why we need not just good examples out there somewhere but faithful churches and faithful pastors in every place. May God give us grace to provide examples to the young men coming behind us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Studying Romans

Each year in the SBC a certain book of the Bible is chosen to be the focus of the “January Bible Study.” Churches are not required to do this, but it does provide a good way to encourage careful study of various books. This year the study focuses on Romans, and this Saturday I will meet with a group of pastors to study through the book in preparation for them teaching their churches.

I have written a brief article on “The Opportunity of Studying Romans” to encourage pastors and others undertaking this study. Romans has had such a significant impact on the church historically and this brief article traces some of this in the stories of Augustine, Luther and Wesley. Gordon Fee has written, “This letter is arguably the most influential book in Christian history, perhaps in the history of Western civilization.”

May the Lord be pleased to bless these studies going on around the country to the good of His church.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sermon on Rom 8:18-30

I meant to post this last week but failed to in the midst of other things. Last Sunday Lee Tankersley, one of our pastors currently on sabbatical, was back with us and preached on Romans 8:18-30 in our ongoing series through Romans. Here you can read the text and find a link to the audio. It was an excellent sermon on a variety of levels. It is a good example or preaching pastorally. Sermons ought to expound a biblical text and be rooted in sound exegesis. However, exegesis is the engine and not the destination of the sermon. Some times in reaction against shallow preaching, people tend to think bare exegesis is the goal. Bare exegesis is better than nothing of course, but the goal is to explain what a text means so that people can follow and then to apply that well to a specific congregation. This sermon is a good example of this.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"Month of Man"

This past Monday night I spoke to a group of guys here at Union on the topic of manhood. Some students had organized “The Month of Man” (‘official’ website) for some humorous celebration of manhood and also to call on themselves and others seriously to pursue maturity in manhood. I applaud their efforts and was honored to speak at the event.

You can see the rough notes of my address here as well as a link to the audio. This is not a sermon, but more of a ‘sit down chat’. Somewhere I came across an author saying every young man needs an older man who regularly gets in his face about growing up and becoming a man. That is basically what I have tried to do here.

One of the real needs in the church is for us to encourage, help and challenge our young men to resist the culture’s call to perpetual immaturity and encourage them instead to pursue maturity.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

ETS Annual Meeting

I travelled to San Diego today for the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting followed by the Society for Biblical Literature meeting. I have various responsibilities over the next week so I expect blogging will be rare.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Amend ETS Article Online

I have commented here previously about the effort to amend the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society. Following the "ETS" label at the bottom of this post will take you to the previous posts. Denny Burk and I have been working on this and have written an article to explain our concern, proposal and rationale. The ETS Annual Meeting will begin next week and our proposal is tto be read to the members. The proposal would not be voted on until next year.

Below I have slightly reworded Denny's announcement about this article being made available.

In order to get the word out about this amendment, Denny and I have written an article that was published this fall in the Criswell Theological Review. The title of the article is “Inerrancy Is Not Enough: A Proposal to Amend the Doctrinal Basis of The Evangelical Theological Society.” The editor of CTR has allowed us to post a free copy of the article on the journal’s website, and you can now download and read our rationale for the amendment. Even though the article relates most directly to voting members of the ETS, the issues we raise here are relevant to anyone who is concerned about the shape of contemporary American evangelicalism.
Denny Burk and Ray Van Neste, “Inerrancy Is Not Enough: A Proposal to Amend the Doctrinal Basis of The Evangelical Theological Society” Criswell Theological Review n.s. 5 (2007): 69-80.
[For more information, visit the website]
[For information on how to subscribe to CTR, visit]

Monday, November 05, 2007

Survey Article Online

The 2007 Bibles and Bible Reference Survey Article which I mentioned in the previous post is now available online here. Due to space I was not able to say a lot about each book, but I aim to give an overall feel for what has come out in the past year in each area and which books might be helpful in specific ways.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

2007 Bibles and Bible Reference Survey Article

The latest issue of Preaching Magazine has just come out containing my article which surveys new study Bibles, commentaries and other books on Bible study that have come out since last Fall. The print magazine has a shorter version of the essay dealing with Bible commentaries, introductions, etc. Eventually the article will be made available online, and the online version will also include books on theology, church history and some other books which arrived too late to be included in the print edition.

Michael Duduit is the editor of Preaching Magazine and he does a good job with it. There is much helpful information in the magazine. If you get the print version I would welcome any feedback on the article. Once it goes online I will mention it here and will be interested in more feedback. I am slated to do the article again next year so I want to do what I can to make it as useful as possible to pastors.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day 2007

It is Reformation Day once again! There is much to celebrate and remember on this day commemorating the recovery of the gospel. This year I want to highlight two related points that I don’t think are thought of enough in connection with the Reformation. They are: suffering and missions.

The Reformation had a missionary impulse from the beginning. As people understood the gospel for the first time they instinctively sought ways to take this gospel to their neighbors and other countries around them. As they went with the gospel, then, many of these individuals were killed for their allegiance to this gospel. Through the years many have criticized the Reformation for not being missionary enough because there were no mission ‘boards’ and little was done outside of Europe. However, this criticism of people who gave their lives for the gospel by people who suffer little for the gospel rings hollow. Europe it self was a dangerous mission field in the 16th century, and Calvin did support the first mission endeavor to the Americas. I have written elsewhere on Calvin’s missionary concern and a recent significant book has detailed Luther’s concern for missions.

At this time preaching the gospel of grace almost certainly brought persecution. So, I want to post here a hymn Luther wrote in response to the first martyrs for the evangelical cause. The background of the hymn is given by cyberhymnal:

On June 23, 1523, two young Augustinian monks, Heinrich Voes and Johann Esch, from Antwerp, had been, after examination by the Cologne Inquisitor, Jacob von Hogstraten, and at the instigation of the Louvain professors, condemned to death and burnt at the stake in Brussels. On receipt of the news of this first martyrdom for the Evangelical cause Luther’s spirit was fired, and he wrote this spirited narrative, ending with the prophetic words [translated by Richard Massie, 1854]:
Summer is even at our door,
The winter now hath vanished,
The tender flowerets spring once more,
And He, Who winter banished,
Will send a happy Summer.

Here is the hymn:

Flung to the heedless winds,
Or on the waters cast,
The martyrs’ ashes, watched,
Shall gathered be at last.

And from that scattered dust,
Around us and abroad,
Shall spring a plenteous seed,
Of witnesses for God.

The Father hath received,
Their latest living breath,
And vain is Satan’s boast,
Of victory in their death.

Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet tongued, proclaim,
To many a wakening land,
The one availing Name.

[Words: Martin Luther, 1523 (Ein neues Lied wir heben an); translated from German to English by John A. Messenger.]

May we be so faithful with this glorious gospel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Aging and Maturity

Yesterday I commented on an article by Carl Trueman which criticized infatuation with youth and appearance. Just this morning I read Dorothy Sayers essay “Strong Meat” in her book Creed or Chaos and it addressed this very issue. The entire piece- indeed the whole book- is valuable reading, but here are just a few samples on this topic:

“There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as adult, mature, experienced, venerable; they know only snarling and sneering epithets, like middle-aged, elderly, stuffy, senile, and decrepit. With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as if abuse were an incantation to exorcize the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that ‘makes mouths at the invisible event’ [Shakespeare] nor
the reasoned courage that foresees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate fury of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.”

“From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth – their own or other people’s.”

“Now, children differ in many ways, but they have one thing in common. Peter Pan – if indeed he exists otherwise than in the nostalgic imagination of an adult – is a case for the pathologist. All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up.”

Monday, October 29, 2007

Trueman on Pandering to Youthfulness

Carl Trueman has written a good piece on how too often churches and pastors pander to the culture in an immature effort to be Cool” or “hip.” He starts with a humorous discussion of baldness. I encourage you to check it out.

Trueman is really on to something. We need to get over ourselves and get more caught up with God. My generation is really too concerned with appearing young. We need to lead the way in showing that the goal is to grow in wisdom and grace as we age in years- not to follow Peter Pan in a puerile pursuit of being forever young. Idolizing youth is adolescent.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pondering the Omnipotence of God

I am looking over my notes for Sunday School in the morning. We are covering the doctrine of God and are currently discussing some of his attributes. Last week we discussed God's omnipresence and omniscience, so in the morning I am to cover omnipotence. What an exhilarating, awe-inspiring topic!

I was just reading Dagg's section on this in his Manual of Theology and
came across this quote:

We are filled with awe in contemplating the omnipotence of God. When we hear the voice of his thunder in the heavens, or feel the earth quake under the tread of his foot, how do solemn thoughts of things divine fill our minds! From the rending cloud, and the quaking earth, let us look back to the power which brought creation into being, and forward to that display of his power which we are to witness on the last day. Such a being, who will not fear?

The whole section is helpful. Dagg goes on to note that all of the universe is under God's "immediate and perfect control." He helpful contrasts our power which causes a finger to move and God's will which launches planets into orbit "with a force which the cannon-ball gives
but a very faint conception."

So much could be said here but let me briefly note some benefits of thinking deeply on this truth about God:

  • As C. J. Mahaney notes, thinking of God's power in contrast to our weakness cultivates humility
  • As noted by Dagg knowing the overwhelming power of this God to whom we will all give account cultivates the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. Surely it is the height of folly to scorn such a God and good proof of wisdom to submit to such a One.
  • This is the fountainhead of assurance, certainty and stability. God is the bedrock of faith and He cannot be forced to change. My salvation is secure because God has declared and no one is 'big enough or bad enough' to reverse or resist his decree. (see Rom 8:33-34)
  • This is the basis of courage. How shall we obey God in spite of those who would intimidate and threaten us? By being convinced that God reigns, that His will will triumph, and that we would rather spurn any man than spurn this God. By being convinced that he is able to keep that which we have committed to Him (2 Timothy 1:12; cf. 2 Timothy 4:17-18). If this all powerful God is with us, who can stand against us?! (Rom 8:31-19).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Student response, Pastors

I have a quote from a student response to an assignment in my survey class today. I have not addressed issues surrounding pastoral ministry in this class so far. However, the students in reading Mark Strom’s Symphony of Scripture were asked to respond to this question from Strom:
Peter described leaders as shepherd in 1 Peter 5:1-4. What do the pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd (see John 10) and the one who washed feet suggest about the way church leaders should function? Do you see many leaders acting this way? …
One student wrote this:
I don’t think church leaders today act like shepherds for Christianity. Leaders seem to be more wrapped up in how big their church is and how they need bigger offerings to support their church fund.
Of course this is not true of all pastors, but this is the perception of too many. May we, each in our own sphere, provide a different model, showing to those around us the way of Christ.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rejoice, the Lord is King!

I mentioned in a previous post having preached last week in our chapel on Psalm 97. Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Rejoice, the Lord is King” is a wonderful exposition of the truth of this psalm. The ground of all our joy is the fact that “Jesus, the savior reigns”. This hymn is rich for meditation as it communicates these biblical truths, partiuclarly the benefits of knwoing God's providence. Here are the lyrics including verses typically left out of hymnals.

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

Words: Charles Wes­ley, Mor­al and Sac­red Po­ems, 1744

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two New Books from B&H Academic

It is really encouraging to see the high quality of books now being published by B&H. Two recent books I have been looking at are Passionate Conviction: Contemporary Discourses on Christian Apologetics and Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Introductory Christology.

Passionate Conviction, edited by Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, is a collection of addresses from the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the C. S. Lewis Institute and the Christian Apologetics program at Biola. The essays are divided into six categories: Why apologetics?, God, Jesus, Comparative Religions, Postmodernism and relativism, and Practical application. The contributors are top flight scholars such as, in addition to the editors, Craig Evans, Charles Quarles, N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, and Francis Beckwith. These are helpful essays.

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, edited by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler, is a collection of 6 essays dealing with the person and work of Christ in light of the Trinity as a whole. These are significant, helpful essays of serious theological work. Bruce Ware contributed a chapter titled, “Christ’s Work, A Work of the Trinity.” I have been particularly intrigued with Donald Fairbairn essay on the Patristic witness to the unity of Christ. Fairbairn, a significant Patristics scholar, corrects a common error in the understanding of the debates about Christ’s person and nature. Particularly Fairbairn seeks to rehabilitate Cyril of Alexandria arguing that Cyril was “the Christian church’s most significant Christological teacher” (80). These essays are not light reading but they are informative and helpful.

May we continue to see such substantive, thoughtful, helpful materials form B&H in the future.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Groothuis on Techno Temptation

Doug Groothuis has posted at his blog a column he wrote for the Denver Seminary Magazine. It is well worth the read. He addresses the problem of plagiarizing sermons and the problem of relying on the ease of technology to look up verses rather than really learning the Bible for ourselves. The first issue has been discussed here before. The second has not. But every time I read great preachers of old or open A. T. Robertson’s big grammar I am reminded that the references these men made to other scriptures were not culled from a quick computer search but flowed out of their deep awareness of Scripture. Technology has benefits, but as all things has its limitations. Let us beware the temptation of the appearance of biblical awareness with out the reality which is what shapes the soul and leads us in Christ-likeness. I encourage you to read Groothuis’ article.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Leupold on Psalm 97

Today I was privileged to preach in chapel here at Union, and I preached on Psalm 97 which is a wonderful exhortation to rejoice in the sovereignty of God. I may post some thoughts from the Psalm in the future, but here I will simply post a few quotes from H. C. Leupold’s Exposition of The Psalms. I did not quote these in the sermon, but I appreciated them in the preparation. I was also pleased to ‘discover’ Leupold. I have not really heard much of his work, though I have seen it around. I picked up this volume second hand and have been pleased with it. I am always on the look out for good material on the Psalms. Leupold is older now, but he engages the text seriously, commenting on the Hebrew text while also commenting theologically for the church today.

vv. 2-3- “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and burns up his adversaries all around.” (ESV)
Leupold comments: “This brief description is blinding in its brilliance, but such a God is our Lord.” (688)

On v. 3- “There is no good reason for changing ‘His adversaries’ to ‘His steps’ in the Hebrew text and giving another meaning to the verb. It would appear to be a part of the trend of modern thinking to remove every possible trace of divine wrath from the concept of the deity.” (690)

On v. 10- “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (ESV)
Leupold comments: “Those interpreters who believe that an exhortation to hate all evil is out of place at this point will alter the text to arrive at the result: ‘The Lord loves those who hate evil’ (RSV). In place of the forceful statement of the Hebrew text a mild platitude is obtained by such a change.” (691)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Burk on Osteen

Those who have been in my classes (at school or church) know of my concern about the influence of Joel Osteen. Denny Burk has written a good post interacting with Osteen’s appearance on 60 Minutes. Too few people note the serious danger inherent in Osteen’s ministry. Some see the shallowness and assume no one will really be taken in by this. Others note his popularity but say that while they may not agree with him on everything he is not saying anything really wrong. Both of these are mistaken. Pastors, we are commanded to guard the flock by warning them about false teaching (Acts 20:28-29; Titus 1:9).

I encourage you to check out Denny’s analysis. Here are his closing words:
Listen to Joel Osteen at your own risk. He is peddling death. And he is affable enough to make you feel like it’s life. But do not be deceived. Nothing could be further from the truth.
James Grant provides helpful links on this topic here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hating Sin, Again

Some time back I posted on the topic of hating sin including an exhortation I preach to myself. This is such an important topic for me- both to learn myself and to pass on to others. Here is a quote I have found helpful from Richard Sibbes commenting on Psalm 97:10:

Ver. 10. Ye that love the LORD, hate evil. It is evident that our conversion is sound when we loathe and hate sin from the heart: a man may know his hatred of evil to be true, first, if it be universal: he that hates sin truly, hates all sin. Secondly, true hatred is fixed; there is no appeasing it but by abolishing the thing hated. Thirdly, hatred is a more rooted affection than anger: anger may be appeased, but hatred remains and sets itself against the whole kind. Fourthly, if our hatred be true, we hate all evil, in ourselves first, and then in others; he that hates a toad, would hate it most in his own bosom. Many, like Judah, are severe in censuring others (Ge 38:24), but partial to themselves. Fifthly, he that hates sin truly, hates the greatest sin in the greatest measure; he hates all evil in a just proportion. Sixthly, our hatred is right if we can endure admonition and reproof for sin, and not be enraged; therefore, those that swell against reproof do not appear to hate sin.
—Richard Sibbes (from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, on Ps 97:10)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Testimonies and Building Community

At our church part of the process of coming a member is sharing your testimony with the church in our Sunday night prayer time. Since we uphold regenerate church membership and since it is the congregation that will accept people into membership we realized it is important for the body to have the opportunity to hear how prospective members came to faith. Another benefit however is the community building effect of hearing each other's stories. These testimony sharing times have become especially special times. Tonight we had the opportunity to hear the testimonies of 10 people. It was moving and greatly encouraging to hear once more the grace of God in saving and transforming lives. What better way to be reminded of grace, be encouraged and knit your hearts together.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Power of Grace, Newton

I just received the latest copy of the John Newton Project Prayer Letter, and it contained a few lines from Newton’s hymn “The Power of Grace.” I checked out cyberhymnal for the rest of the hymn but they don’t have it. I finally found it at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. I really appreciated the poem so here it is in its entirety.

The Power of Grace

Happy the birth where grace presides
To form the future life!
In wisdom’s paths the soul she guides,
Remote from noise and strife.

Since I have known the Savior’s name
And what for me he bore;
No more I toil for empty fame,
I thirst for gold no more.

Placed by his hand in this retreat,
I make his love my theme;
And see that all the world calls great,
Is but a waking dream.

Since he has ranked my worthless name
Amongst his favored few;
Let the mad world who scoff at them
Revile and hate me too.

O thou whose voice the dead can raise,
And soften hearts of stone,
And teach the dumb to sing thy praise,
This work is all thine own!

Thy wond’ring saints rejoice to see
A wretch, like me, restored
And point, and say, “How changed is he,
Who once defied the LORD!”

Grace bid me live, and taught my tongue
To aim at notes divine;
And grace accepts my feeble song,
The glory, LORD, be thine!

- John Newton, #60 in Olney Hymns

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Thoughts from Ray Ortlund, Jr.

Ray Ortlund was one of my professors in seminary and is a man I esteem in many categories including teacher, pastor, husband and father. He recently posted some weekend thoughts that I have found challenging and helpful. These are the sort of deeply searching, application oriented sort of questions I need to confront myself with often that I might truly progress in being shaped by the gospel not only in my words but in the depths of my being.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Helpful Books on Evangelism

In response to my post on Dever’s new evangelism book, Jeff asked what other books I had found encouraging and/or challenging on evangelism. We’re not back to full sleep yet at my house- so who knows how clearly I am thinking :) -but here are a few books that come to mind. Feel free to mention others in comments.

Directly on the topic:
Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls
Thomas Boston, The Art of Manfishing
Iain Murray, Spurgeon Vs Hyper Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching
Ichabod Spencer, A Pastor’s Sketches
C. H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner

Pastoral Ministry Books which address this topic:
Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry

Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot
Michael McMullen, God's Polished Arrow: W.C. Burns

Share some that have been helpful to you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Baby is Here!

Timothy Van Neste made his appearance this morning at 8:16 am. He weighed 9 lbs 5 oz and was 20.5 inches long. He and mom are both doing very well.

Brothers and sister got to come visit and were delighted with him.

Yes, I am cropped out of the picture!

We are grateful to God for our new little boy, and his and Tammie’s good health through it all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dever’s New Evangelism Book

Just yesterday I in the mail came my copy of Mark Dever’s new book, The Gospel & Personal Evangelism (Crossway; pb., 124 pp.). I am about a third of the way through it now and it is really good. Dever states clearly his purpose:

“My prayer is that because of the time you spend reading this book, more people
will hear the good news of Jesus Christ” (16).
This is a good, succinct discussion of the task of evangelism and a clear, strong, humble exhortation to get to it from a fellow pastor who has worked at being more faithful and intentional in this important task. He closes with “A Word to Pastors.”

This is really helpful book.

Amazon says this book is not yet available but it is at Crossway. It should be available at Amazon any day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

J. B. Gambrell, Pastorate is Hard Service

I just came across this quote in a paper written by Tom Ascol. Gambrell was a leader among Southern Baptists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries serving as President of Mercer, professor at Southwestern and SBC President.

In his commencement address in 1913 at Southwestern he said:

My first word is that you are going into a hard service. There is a place where good preachers and good Christian workers will have a good, easy time–but it is not in this world. It lies beyond Jordan. There is not going to be any way for you to get out of a hard place. If you undertake to run out of it, you will run into it and all the harder because you run. It is a great thing for soldiers to know what they are going into.

The key word this morning is: Hold fast. I have less and less regard for the brilliant people who soar aloft and more and more regard for the plain man who sticks to his work and just keeps on, and keeps on, and keeps on. (Baptist Standard June 15, 1913)
This is a good word for today as well. Let us not seek ease but faithfulness. Let us not whine or complain as if we are the only ones to face difficulties but rather embrace the calling God has given recognizing it is only by His mercy that we have the privilege of serving His church. Let us persevere by His grace for His glory.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Davis on OT Narrative

Dale Ralph Davis. The Word Became Fresh: How to Preach from Old Testament Narrative Texts.
(Christian Focus Publications, 2006) pb., 153 pp.

I have already mentioned several other really good books from this year on preaching the Old Testament. Here is one more which may be my favorite. I have appreciated Davis’ popular commentaries in the past and am really enjoying this book. He shares the concerns of books previously mentioned that the Old Testament has been taken out of the church’s hands. Some blame he places on the way the OT has too often been handled:

“For nearly two hundred years a skeptical brand of Old Testament criticism has largely held sway in our universities and divinity halls; it ‘un-godded’ the Old Testament, implied the Old Testament documents were extremely complex and involved, and managed to make Old Testament studies mostly boring, lifeless, and dull.” (i)

“I still believe that traditional Old Testament criticism has had the effect of killing the Old Testament for the church.” (ii)
Davis then makes it clear that we are not seeking some magic key to unlock the Old Testament. Too much of hermeneutics is so complex it ends up sounded like this. Instead Davis calls for a sensible, sensitive, and careful reading of the text.
“Nor do I have any tricks. I cannot offer any magical procedure which, if followed, will unlock the riches of the Old Testament narrative. . . . I simply want to stir up the biblical juices of preachers and students, to help people walk away from the text muttering about what a delightful book God has given us.” (3)
If we read in this way looking particularly for what we can learn about God we will understand much and be enriched.
“It’s safe to say that usually the writer’s purpose is theocentric – he intends to communicate something about God, i.e., his character, purposes, demands, or ways.” (4)

“…whenever you see God clearly in a text you can be sure there is something very applicable there for you.” (9)
I think Davis succeeds admirably in his goal. I found myself stirred up reading the book. He writes well and shows how, even though there are difficult and confusing parts of Scripture, it is not that difficult to find key truths. This is a very encouraging and helpful book.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Meet the Puritans

Meet the Puritans, Joel Beeke & Randall Pederson
(Reformation Heritage Books, 2006), hb., 896 pp.

This is an incredible, monumental work! This is the most significant, most helpful guide to the Puritans I know of. The book provides a brief bio and list of reprinted works of over 120 Puritans as well as a brief history of English Puritanism and an essay on how we can benefit from the Puritans. It also contains similar bios and reprint lists of Scottish and Dutch writers who paralleled the Puritans. Less people are aware of these writers. I discovered some of the Scottish writers during our time in Scotland and only more recently have encountered some of the Dutch like Herman Witsius. All of these are covered here in one volume. This is now the one stop place for Puritan overview and we are indebted to the authors for such a helpful volume.

Available at Amazon or at the publisher’s site.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Motive for Studying Theology

In preparing to teach our opening Sunday School class on systematic theology- on why such study of theology is important- I read the opening of J. L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology. I thought the opening paragraph was particularly good and wanted to pass it along:

“The study of religious truth ought to be undertaken and prosecuted from a sense of duty, and with a view to the improvement of the heart. When learned it ought not to be laid on the shelf, as an object of speculation; but it should be deposited deep in the heart, where its sanctifying power ought to be felt. To study theology, for the purpose of gratifying curiosity, or preparing for a profession, is an abuse or profanation of what ought to be regarded as most holy. To learn things pertaining to God, merely for the sake of amusement, or secular advantage, or to gratify the mere love of knowledge, is to treat the Most High with contempt” (13)
May we pursue our study of Scripture with this aim and teach our people to do so as well.

NB: I have searched sometime for a copy of this book and thought it out of print since it was not available at Amazon. However it is available from Sprinkle Publications which can be reached at 1-800-460-3573 (no website).

Friday, September 07, 2007

Previously Unpublished Edwards Sermons

I am swamped just now with various things including preparation for a new baby (any day now) and a flood of good new books- both blessings! So, I will plan in the next several days to primarily post some book notes.

For the first one, I am excited to mention a brand new press, The Northampton Press, founded by Don Kistler. Kistler previously led Soli Deo Gloria Press where he edited and republished many great Puritan works and other books. He is continuing his work in Northampton Press and his first book there is Sermons on the Lord’s Supper, a collection of previously unpublished sermons by Jonathan Edwards. There is to me something exciting about the publication of old materials that have not previously been published. This volume contains nine sermons on communion and six other sermons on various topics. I have looked through proofs of the book and appreciated it. The book will be available soon and a pre-publication special is being until September 15.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hercules Collins on Preaching

I have previously commented on contentment as a theme in the new book on 17th Century London Baptist pastor Hercules Collins. In the second half of the book a number of excerpts are drawn from Collins book on pastoral ministry, The Temple Repaired. I am very pleased to hear that Steve Weaver is preparing an edition of this book for publication. Collins has much wisdom for us today on pastoral ministry.

I was amazed at how so many of Collins’ comments spoke directly to our situation today. Take for example this quotation on preaching:

“A good workman in the gospel lays his work well together, or else it wants that profit and beauty that otherwise it would have. Our discourses should hang as it were in a link or chain. Thus it is in all our Savior’s sermons and Paul’s epistles. There is a wonderful coherence and dependence of one thing upon another. When we name a text we should not take our farewell of it, as too many do, and not return to it again in our whole discourse. But we should closely follow the scope and design of the Spirit of God in that text, with that order and connection of the parts, that it may look beautiful and prove profitable.” (93)
We still need such good exhortations for orderly, coherent preaching, especially preaching which follows the flow of thought of the passage at hand. I could not help but smile at Collin’s reference to preachers reading a text and then never coming back to it. I know this is a common problem today but it was interesting to find it so clearly described in the past.

Collins also addresses the common problem of procrastination in sermon preparation:

“We should get the substance of our sermons if possible for the Lord’s day before Saturday, or else we may be at a loss, and have very poor and lean discourses.” (103)
So, pastors struggled with Saturday Night Fever in the 17th century as well!

Collins exhortations are timely, wise, gospel-centered, and God-honoring. I have been helped and encouraged by this book.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spurgeon and the Centrality of Preaching

Here is a great quote from Spurgeon on the importance of preaching from Kairos Journal.

The pulpit has become dishonored; it is esteemed as being of very little worth and of no esteem. Ah! we must always maintain the dignity of the pulpit. I hold that it is the Thermopylae of Christendom; it is here that the battle must be fought between right and wrong; not so much with the pen, valuable as that is as an assistant, as with the living voice of earnest men, “contending earnestly for the faith once delivered unto the saints.”

For more on this excerpt see here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hercules Collins book

There have been several announcements in the blogosphere about the new book on Hercules Collins edited by Steve Weaver and Michael Haykin. I am now a little over half way through reading the book, and it is really good. The book begins with a brief biographical sketch and the rest of the book is excerpts from his writings. This is a great way to introduce writers from the past who have been largely forgotten. I am not sure I would commit time to starting a lengthy book by someone I don’t know, but it is easy to take up a little book like this. Then, once I discover in these excerpts gems of real spiritual insight and pastoral warmth I am very interested in reading more. This also has made me very interested in the series in general.

One thing I have most appreciated in the book is Collins’ comments on contentment. I find contentment to be one of the most significant issues I deal with in shepherding the flock. Singles find it hard to be content without marriage. Couples who do not yet have children find contentment difficult without children. Those with young children struggle to be content with the labor and limitations that a young family brings. Those who are older may find it difficult to be content with limitations of age. Collins speaks well to this issue, and as one who was persecuted and imprisoned for the faith he speaks with authority. He exhorts us to trust God, to remember that God knows our situation and to see that endurance under trials proves the reality of our faith to a watching world.

“For, as a tree is known by his fruit, so is a Christian by a patient wearing [of] Christ’s cross. This will and hath convinced an adversary, when a bare profession will not. And though a man should make a great profession, or preach with great demonstration of truth, . . . an unsuitable living, or a sinful declining [of] sufferings, may greatly hinder the belief of the truth.” 36

“How much of the presence of Christ have they had to enable them to bear the cross quietly, patiently, contentedly, not like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke. And some cannot boast of raptures and ecstasies, yet they have cause to bless God for making good that promise to them, John 16:33, that as in the world they have tribulation, so in Christ peace.” 51

“Thinking people will conclude they must needs be the Lord’s that suffer patiently under such apparent wrong.” 54

“We can never know God as we ought without temptations. … In this school of affliction it is that the soul is taught to suck sweetness out of the Word of God.” 75
This is a great little book, one to read yourself and to pass on to church members.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Preaching Christ from Genesis

Sidney Greidanus. Preaching Christ from Genesis: Foundations for Expository Sermons. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007. Pb., 518 pp.

Here is another great new book on preaching from the Old Testament Greidanus, long an advocate for proclaiming Christ from all of Scripture, has written this big book to demonstrate this in Genesis. I appreciate that his goal is sermons, not academic papers. There is nothing wrong with academic papers, but they are not nearly as important as sermons.

Here is one quote. Tomorrow I will plan to post another.

“As Genesis sketches the beginnings of redemptive history, it teaches about God’s coming kingdom, God’s love for his creation and his creatures, God’s judgment of sin, God’s grace for sinners, God’s covenant faithfulness, God’s sovereign providence, and God’s presence with his people. As Ken Mathews puts it ‘If we possessed a Bible without Genesis, we would have a ‘house of cards’ without foundation or mortar. We cannot insure the continuing fruit of our spiritual heritage if we do not give place to its roots.’ The church today needs to get in touch with its roots. After TV, videos, DVDs, pop music, and magazines have bombarded God’s people for a whole week with a worldview that excludes God, God’s people need a ‘reality check’ on Sunday, that is, sermons that expound the biblical worldview. God’s people need to hear more sermons from the book of Genesis.” (p. 7-8)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Carson on Keeping the Gospel Central

Here is a lengthy quote once more from Carson’s Basics for Believers. It is long, but I think this is a good word for us today when many issues are crying out for our attention. This no doubt speaks to many situations, but I confess I am thinking primarily of my own denomination, the SBC. Far too long we have assumed people ‘get’ the gospel, and we may be tempted therefore to spend the bulk of our time on denominational distinctives, cultural engagement, etc. We must not make the error of assuming the first things. Let us be gospel-people first.

“In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus of the periphery. I have a colleague in the Missions Department at Trinity whose analysis of his own heritage is very helpful. Dr. Paul Hiebert labored for years in India before returning to the United States to teach. He springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless. One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following generation denied the gospel; the ‘entailments’ became everything. Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with
some drifting toward the third.

What we must ask one another is this: What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? What consumes your time? What turns you on? Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and much more. The list varies from country to country, but not few countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not thin about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?”
Carson next acknowledges the great cultural work of people like Newton and Wilberforce and others.
“But virtually without exception these men and women put the gospel first. They were gospel people. They reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. In short, they put the gospel first, not least in their own aspirations. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel.” (26-27)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Three Dollars Worth of Gospel

I always recommend to pastors that they purchase all of Don Carson’s little paperback expositions because I think they are some of the best expositional material available. They are models of exegesis, application, and preaching in general.

I just came back across this following quote from Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians . This is piercing application. I am cut to the quick. I know the approach to life he is satirizing not simply by looking out at others but by looking within. I need to hear this word again. And, how we need this word in our churches! All too easily we warp the gospel into a way for securing the ‘good life’ for ourselves.
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust. I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races – especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family
secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of the gospel, please.” (pp. 12-13)

Brothers, we must preach this searching point. Many will be entirely content for us to “do our sermon”, but when you begin to press the call of the gospel to shape our lives, rebuke our sin, calling for repentance many will rebel. But without this we have failed to discharge our ministries (Col 4:17). Without this we are mere hirelings awaiting rebuke from the Master on the final day. There is no discount version of the Gospel. It is all or nothing. Let us wield the searching sword of the Spirit (Heb 4:12) as those who have first been pierced by it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Majesty of God in the Old Testament

I am currently working on Preaching Magazine’s annual Bible and Bible reference survey article for early Fall, so it is likely that you will find several book notes here in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the main impression I have received so far in seeking to survey all the Bible reference material that has come out since last fall is that there has been a boom in really good material for preaching the Old Testament. I previously commented on Christopher Wright’s book on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I will mention briefly in the next several days other really good, new books on this topic.

Here, I’ll mention Walter Kaiser’s The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker). This is a great book for preachers, providing a homiletics refresher as veteran bible scholar and preacher Kaiser walks through the study and preaching of 10 Old Testament texts. Beyond simply giving help for these 10 passages, Kaiser models the preaching of the OT with a concentration on the character of God. He is particularly concerned with the need for us to be teaching our people about the greatness of God. Here are two quotes:

“One of the greatest enhancements that could come to most evangelical teaching and preaching- indeed, the best among the people of God worldwide- is a whole new appreciation for the majesty and greatness of our God as presented in the Scriptures. Unfortunately, one of the best sources for this teaching- the Old Testament- is all too often neglected in our teaching and preaching.” (p. 9)

“Alas, however, much of our teaching and preaching suffers from a mediocre view of God’s majesty. We are too much like those chided in Psalm 50:21 [in which God says, ‘You thought I was altogether like you.’]” (p. 10).

The church will benefit greatly if this sort of admonition is heeded and more preaching reflects the glory of god rather than our own navel gazing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jerome on Reading and Learning

Brian Denker sent me this quote from Jerome recently. It is a good exhortation to earnest study, and perhaps especially relevant as start of term approaches here.

“Read often, learn all you can. Let sleep overcome you, the roll still in your hands; when your head falls, let it be on the sacred page.”
- St. Jerome c.340-420 AD

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Lord's Day Poem

I recently returned to this hymn and discovered (thanks to cyberhymnal!) that it has more verses than I knew. This is a great poem from 9 centuries ago. It is a wonderful aid in meditation and prompts me to wonder, appreciation and worship, stirring and training my affections. This makes it particularly helpful for Saturday night for me, in preparation for the morning. May it be a blessing to you as well.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

Words: Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 12th Cen­tu­ry (Je­su dul­cis me­mor­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Ed­ward Cas­wall, Lyra Ca­thol­i­ca, 1849.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Virtue of Grieving in The Last Battle

In the church we often are unsure of how to handle grief. To grieve- whether the death of a loved one or the loss of a job or dream- is sometimes thought to demonstrate a lack of faith or an unwillingness to submit to God’s ways. If God is good and He has allowed this, then why do you want something different? Do you not believe that God’s ways are best? If you are grieving a death, do you not believe in the resurrection?

Of course our grief can involve rebellion against God, fostering anger at God for not doing as we willed. And our grief can be connected to a failure to trust that God is good and His ways are best. However, not all grief is so tainted. There is a rightness to grief, and those who would eliminate it all together fail to embrace our humanity and to face squarely that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Jesus wept and groaned inwardly at the results of sin (John 11:33, 35-36, 38).

This is nicely pictured in The Last Battleas Narnia is finally destroyed. Having seen the final destruction of Narnia and then being called further into a beautiful new land, Peter is surprised to find that Lucy is crying. He says, “What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?” Lucy, who always “gets it” more than the others, replies, “Don’t try to stop me, Peter. I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia. Think of all that lies dead and frozen behind that door.” Eventually Tirian weighs in saying, “The ladies do well to weep. See I do so myself. I have seen my mother’s death. … It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”

Here is significant pastoral wisdom. Scripture tells us not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). It does not forbid grieving but instructs us on the manner of our grieving. Not to grieve over the death of a loved one would be inhuman and unnatural. It would be “a great discourtesy.” To stand beside a friend, a church member, who has just seen some cherished dream slip away and fail to share in his grief is indeed “a great discourtesy.” Such stoicism does not communicate so much faith as it does lack of care. After Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus, the crowd says, “See how He loved him” (John 11:35-36).

Scripture tells us to mourn with those who mourn (Rom 12:15). We are to share in the grief of others and honestly face our own, not to hide behind platitudes. In fact the glorious promises of the gospel tend to be seen most magnificently through the veil of tears. So in the face of loss or grief, mourn and cling to the blessed hope.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Perseverance in The Last Battle

King Tirian and Jewel the unicorn are good examples of perseverance (as well as friendship) in a number of ways. What particularly grabs me is a phrase which I believe shows up elsewhere in the series (I think on the lips of Reepicheep in Dawn Treader). When their backs are against the wall, all looks hopeless and their deaths seem certain, Jewel says, “Sire … There is now no need of counsel. … Nothing now remains for us seven but to … proclaim the truth, and take the adventure Aslan sends us.” Out of context this line may not seem very impressive. However, in its context it is a compelling approach to obedience in the face of overwhelming odds. At this point in the story they have done all they can to resist the enemy and yet the enemy has cut off all their hopes of reinforcement. Their duty is clear- fight the enemies who have invaded their land, enslaved their people and deceived their people with lies about Aslan. However, it would appear equally clear that their possibility of success is almost zero. What shall they do? Shall they barter their honor for their lives? Shall they abandon the ways of Aslan and make peace with his enemies since they have no way of winning? These same questions approach us in life and ministry. And many- so many- counsel obedience only when success seems probable. Otherwise they suggest compromise. Oh, how we need the example of courageous obedience that says simply, “Let us go forth in obedience and see what adventure the Lord has ordained for us. Whether we live or die we serve the Lord” (for a biblical example see Daniel 3, esp. vv. 16-18).

Do we truly believe God is sovereign? Do we owe Him obedience at all times, or did He fail to consider this particular incident? Is this all about us, our survival and success even though we drape it in language about God’s glory? Or will we see that our task is to obey and simply see what happens? God is working his purposes out and we do not know what our part will be. Our part may be to see the work of God prosper in our hands. Or our part may be to go down in noble defeat. Our own particular outcome is not to be our great concern. We are simply to be faithful and trust God to use it. I do not need to be a mastermind; I just need to mind the Master.

So when our duty is clear (e.g., discipline for an unrepentant but influential member, standing on biblical principles though it incur the wrath of friends, members, or denomination, etc.), then let us remember the noble unicorn of Narnia and like him step out in obedience, “proclaim the truth, and take the adventure Aslan sends us.” Better a noble death than ignoble survival. And who knows how many great victories are simply awaiting those with enough courage to go forth in simple obedience.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reflections on the Last Battle

I was able to be home last week with my family, so I did more riding around with my boys. As we have ridden this last week we have listened to the the audio of C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle. Patrick Stewart does the reading and does a great job.

I have read/listened to this book numerous times and still find it fresh, fun and stimulating. Listening again I was reminded of my post from a few weeks ago on preaching with imagination. In the comments I was asked for examples of such preaching. I have heard such preaching but was not prepared with some good, easily accessible examples. C. S. Lewis is a great example of good imaginative communication (though it is not preaching). In the Narnia series he powerfully communicates truths in fresh ways. I plan to take a few posts to reflect on some examples from The Last Battle.

As one preliminary note, let me acknowledge that The Last Battle does contain the most significant theological error in the Narnia series: a worshipper of the false god Tash is invited into heaven and is told he was really worshipping Aslan all along even though he did not know it. It is clear what Lewis is suggesting, and I will be as clear in saying Lewis missed it here. Mature reading requires the sifting of wheat and husk, and the presence of some husk does not negate the presence of some really good wheat as well.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Pastoral Love Exemplified

Last Sunday was a significant day in the life of our church. Last year the church voted to give Lee Tankersley, one of our pastors, a 2 year sabbatical to complete coursework for a PhD. This past Sunday was Lee’s last Sunday before beginning that sabbatical. He and his family will be back with us in between terms, but the sending off of one who has done the bulk of the preaching for the last 8 years is a big deal.

Even though Lee will just be away for a time, I was reminded of a statement I heard from a layman I had had heard in a seminary chapel years ago. He told us, “Any church you can leave with out tears is a sterile place where your heart failed to find a home.” Its goes both ways- for a pastor and the church. This is not a corporation simply changing employees. This is a family, in which dearly loved members are moving away for a time.

This was a powerful day in the life of our church, illustrating once more how much we are bound together. One of our members has reflected on this here.

Lee’s farewell sermon is a great example of a pastor’s love for his people. This is what a pastor should be able to say to his people. As we see the beginnings of a renewal of substantive teaching in the church, we must remember that pastors shifting from CEO’s to simply the ‘professional teacher’ is not enough. We need men who teach the depth of Scripture because they love their people and want them to know God. Lee is such a man and his labors have been greatly blessed in our midst.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Caring for Pastors’ Wives

Here is a great post on the great amount of work pastors’ wives do and suggestions on how church members can aid them. This guy knows what he talking about! A number of people in our church have done several of the things listed here for my wife and it has been a great blessing.

This is a good one to pass around.

(HT: JT)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Humility & Henry

I have just finished reading a good book on Patrick Henry by David Vaughan. In this book Vaughan recounts Henry’s life and seeks to draw lessons in leadership. In a chapter entitled “Humility” Vaughan gives a powerful warning.

“Fame is dangerous, of course, because it is deceptive. At the heels of popularity there lurks pride and all of its attendant evils: arrogance, egotism, and selfishness. With every successive victory, or every promotion in public esteem, there is the danger of secretly congratulating oneself, thus edging closer to a fall from the pinnacle of pride. Once a leader succumbs to pride, he disqualifies himself from holding a position of power because he can no longer fulfill one of leadership’s most important tasks: to guard and guide those under his authority. Self centered leadership is an oxymoron.” (165-66)

Too true! Examples of this failure are all too easy to find. Let us beware, guard our hearts, and open ourselves to those who are willing to rebuke our conceit when (not if) it begins to rise.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Local Paper on "Church"

The local paper here ran a story this weekend entitled, “It's time we gave selfish ambition a swift kick - out of church.” I was pleased to find this in our paper. The author might be downplaying the role of doctrine (hopefully not), but she is surely right about how consumerism has infiltrated popular thinking about church. She writes:

Instead, church meetings for many have become a time for showing up at a building once or twice a week to be a spectator.
Worse, recent statistics show our obsession with being entertained has Christians church-hopping in epidemic proportions to meet their designer needs, only to walk away less than a year later in search for something new.
With that kind of constant upheaval, it's no wonder churches are largely ineffective at taking care of the needs of their congregations, not to mention those outside the four walls.
You can find statements like this in some Christian literature, but I was glad to see it in our local paper. The labor for a healthy church is a crucial labor for the advance of the gospel.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the OT

Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the OT
By Christopher J. H. Wright
(IVP, 2006), pb. 159 pp.

I have perused this book today as part of a broader review project, and I am impressed. You know right away that this topic is useful since it combines two areas where our understanding in the church tends to be limited- the Holy Spirit and the Old Testament.

The book grew out of 5 addresses given at a conference in Northern Ireland in 2004. He mentioned how many people wondered if he could find enough material to fill five talks, and then writes:

“Such is the widespread lack of awareness among many Christian people of the identity, presence and impact of the Spirit of God in the Bible before Pentecost. It’s not that they don’t believe he existed before Pentecost. They believe in the Trinity after all. It’s just that they have never noticed how extensive a role the Spirit actually plays in those centuries before Christ. Of course, it could be that they just never read the Old Testament, but let’s be charitable” (9).
He argues that since the indwelling Spirit mentioned in the New Testament is the same Spirit of the Lord God of Israel found in the Old Testament, then to understand and know this Spirit we need the Old Testament.

The five chapters of the book correspond to the five original addresses. I was particularly taken with the chapter titled “The Empowering Spirit.” Inthis chapter he notes how the Spirit is the one who empowers the people of God. He then notes this same Spirit produces humility in His people. Thus one section is entitled, “Power with Humility.” Good stuff!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

There Goes the Bride—The Decline of Church Discipline, 19th Century

The most recent Kairos Journal updated included an article by this title. You can view it here. This is a well done succinct piece on the decline of discipline in the church.

KJ is a great resource for pastors. For registration (free) go here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Preaching and Imagination

Too often when people join these two words they mean something speculative, preaching about things we don’t really know. That is not what I am talking about. I have in mind preaching in such a way that you draw your hearers into the biblical world so that they see, feel, experience it anew so that the text impacts them powerfully. I found this well expressed in a collection of sermons by James S. Stewart entitled Walking With God (Edinburgh: St. Andrew Press, 1996; recently republished by Regent College). The memoir of Stewart contained at the beginning of the book quotes John McIntyre describing Stewart’s preaching. This is a good description of what we ought to aim for in preaching.

“At a conference in the Pollock Halls, attended by members of the Presbytery of San Francisco, he gave an address of Jesus’ use of imagination in his life and teaching as we encounter them in the Gospels. Here for me was the clue to his own preaching and teaching that I had missed all these years. For I have known expository preaching which was dull in excess, being little more than flat commentary; as I have known pastorally-oriented preaching which did not rise above counseling. But, by the use of imagination, Dr. Stewart gave exposition and pastoral perception new power and relevance. As he described so graphically the situation of the biblical passage, he gradually incorporated his hearers in the situation. They so became part of it that they identified with the persons of whom, or to whom, Jesus was speaking. The nearest analogy I know is the ability of a great artist to draw the viewer into the action he is portraying.
But there was more. It was not merely an exercise in empathy. Embodied in the situation, the hearers could not escape the urgency of the words of Jesus directed to them. The Gospel appeal, or challenge, or invitation, was not a codicil [i.e., supplement] to the descriptive passages going before. Each one of them was an integral – an inescapable – part of the whole presentation, directed at each listener.” (7)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Einstein, God & Humility

Several weeks ago on a shopping trip to Wal-Mart, my boys and I were able to do one of our favorite things on such trips- slip away to the book aisles! On this occasion I had the opportunity to thumb through Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Einstein. I was particularly intrigued to find a chapter titled, “Einstein’s God.” I later checked out the book from a library and read with much interest this chapter. Einstein was of course a Jew and never professed faith in Christ. However, he was convinced that the orderliness of the universe demonstrated the design of a deity. Isaacson wrote of the impact on Einstein of this belief in God:

“For Einstein, as for most people, a belief in something larger than himself became a defining sentiment. It produced in him an admixture of confidence and humility that was leavened by a sweet simplicity. Given his proclivity toward being self-centered, these were welcome graces. Along with his humor and self-awareness, they helped him to avoid the pretense and pomposity that could have afflicted the most famous mind in the world.” 385
If the belief in a fairly impersonal, deistic concept of God had such a humbling effect on an incredibly gifted, non-Christian scientist, why doesn’t knowledge of the redeeming work of Christ produce more humility in less brilliant, Christian pastors like us? Far too often pastors are marked by more knowledge of God but less evidence of His grace than is suggested in this quote. Far too often “pretense and pomposity” are words associated with Christian leaders. Let us ponder the greatness of God that we might see his glory and our smallness, and find joy in both.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

James Stewart and the Missionary Church

Those who have read this blog for some time will know of my appreciation of James S. Stewart, the prominent Scottish preacher and New Testament scholar (previous posts). I am currently working on an encyclopedia entry on Stewart, and have come across another great quote. In his book on preaching, Heralds of God, Stewart stated:

“no church is anything more than a pathetic pietistic backwater unless it is first and fundamentally and all the time a world missionary church.”

Well put! As pastors we must see to it that the task of world evangelization stays front and center in our churches.