Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from
the Van Nestes!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas, God Working in the Dark

It seems that many people think you can only celebrate Christmas if all is well. You can see this in the various statements beginning with, “It just does not seem like Christmas because ….” Perhaps we set ourselves up for failure by expecting everything to be just right at this time of the year.

If we pay attention to the Biblical text we notice that Christmas is in no way connected to things going well. In fact, as we can see from numerous texts, Christmas is typically set in dark and difficult situations. The message of Christmas is that God is still at work in such times accomplishing salvation for His people. This is why there is hope and why we can be merry despite what may be happening around us.

One place we see this is in the familiar Christmas story in Luke 2. The chapter opens by stating that the pagan Roman emperor had decreed that people would have to register for tax purposes. This would certainly not have been received as good news by Jewish people in that time. First of all, what government requires registration for taxes in order to decrease taxes? This decree would have been an odious reminder of their subjugation under pagan rule. This decree was a symbol of oppression. They were not free and had to pay high taxes to far away rulers who served idols. Furthermore they would have to return to their hometowns in a day when travel was difficult and costly. For those like Joseph’s family who had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, this would be a long journey which would interrupt work (and thus pay) and exact a toll on the family.

It is highly likely that this decree of Caesar’s would have been met with protest among the Jews of the day. Some may have cried out, “Where is God? Why does He allow us to be so mistreated? When will he deliver us? Does he care? Has he forgotten us? Is our suffering hidden from God?”

What they could not know was that God was right there working through this hateful decree to bring the Savior into the world. God was at work moving the heart of this unbelieving king to make this decree so that Joseph and Mary would travel to Bethlehem so the Messiah could be born there in fulfillment of prophecy. The very thing which looked to them like evidence of oppression was actually the beginning of deliverance. What looked like the absence of God was preparation for the incarnation, Immanuel, “God with us”. When God seemed most absent, He was there working as He often does, in the dark, accomplishing the deliverance of His people.

This is fruitful to ponder and apply to our own lives. Christmas is not the pretence that all is well now. Such pretence is a sham and people see through it as Scrooge did. No, Christmas is the blessed assurance that God is still at work redeeming His people. It is the reminder that God accomplishes salvation even when it looks bad. This gives us hope and points us forward to the coming day when God will make all things right. With this truth in mind we can celebrate in hope and declare our hope and joy as a statement of faith.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Thanksgiving Hymn by Douglas Bond

Readers at my children’s books blog will know that one of our favorite authors is Douglas Bond. It has been a delight over the last several months to get to know Doug via email as we have prepared for his visit to Union as part of the Psalms Project.
One of the things I appreciate about Doug is his appreciation of poetry and good hymnody. He recently sent me a Thanksgiving hymn of his and gave me permission to post it. I hope you appreciate it as much as I have.

We Rise and Worship
"O taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8).

We rise and worship you our Lord
With grateful hearts for grace outpoured,
For you are good-O taste and see!-
Great God of mercy rich and free!

Electing love from God on high!
In gratitude I wonder why
This Sovereign Lord-O taste and see!-
In love decreed to rescue me?

Your Son obeyed the Law for me,
Then died my death upon the tree.
O Jesus Christ, I taste and see,
And marvel that you purchased me!

In might, your Spirit drew me in,
My quickened heart from death to win.
O Holy Spirit-taste and see!-
From death to life you've set me free!

With thankful praise our hearts we give,
And grateful now we serve and live.
O Trinity, we taste and see
Your glorious grace so full and free!

(Douglas Bond, November 19, 2007)

You can learn more about Doug and his work at his website.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pastor’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire

I recently came across this “Pastor Self-Evaluation Questionnaire” thanks to a link from Steve McCoy. The questionnaire was written by Tim Keller and David Powlison. I have only looked it over so far, but it is a wonderful, searching tool. It opens citing 1 Timothy 4:16 where Paul calls Timothy to pay close attention to his life and doctrine. This resource will help us to do that. Keller and Powlison walk through various areas of pastoral ministry asking searching questions. They are wise and, therefore, search out both extremes of each issue searching out if we are too lax on one side or to strict on the other. It is well thought out.

One might worry that such a tool might simply end up heaping condemnation on you. However, again, these are wise Gospel-centered men, and they set this up well, grounding it in the gospel. The best way I know to illustrate that is simply to quote their opening two paragraphs:

The questions that follow help you to pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching. The purpose is to bless you and those you seek to love and serve. For the vast majority of readers, it will help you set a positive, personal agenda for growth as God’s instrument. The Great Shepherd of the sheep will by His grace continue to develop you in His image. Conduct your self-evaluation in the light of His love.
Perhaps for a few readers it will prove to be a pass-fail test for your current ministry. Perhaps God has not given you certain gifts. Perhaps you are walking in some disqualifying pattern of sin. Even in these cases the questionnaire serves a positive purpose. The Lord has another place for those gifts that He has given you. The Lord has a way of repentance and renewal for sins that sabotage pastoral integrity and effectiveness. Remember the grace of the gospel.
Just this intro alone is rich in pastoral modeling. May we be careful to obey 1 Timothy 4:16 and also be faithful in this same firm, loving gospel-drenched way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Psalms Project at Union

I mentioned previously that with funding from a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship Union will host a series on the Psalms and Christian Worship. We now have finalized the schedule and speakers. In our chapel services (10:00 am) we will have the following speakers connected with the project:

2/18- John Witvliet (Director, Calvin Institute for Christian Worship)
2/20- Craig Blaising (Provost, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
2/25- Marty Goetz (Messianic Music Minister)
3/4- Ray Ortlund, Jr. (Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville)
3/6- Douglas Bond (author of numerous books including the Crown and Covenant series)
3/11- Calvin Seerveld (Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto)
3/13- Carl Stam (Professor of Music; Director, Institute for Christian Worship, SBTS)
3/20- Craig Christina (Pastor, FBC Jackson, TN)
4/3- Leland Ryken (Professor of English, Wheaton College)
4/8- Richard Wells (Dean of the Chapel, Union University)
4/24- Don Whitney (Professor of Biblical Spirituality, SBTS)
4/29- Ben Mandrell (Pastor, Englewood Baptist Church, Jackson, TN)
5/1- Web Drake (Professor of Communication, Union University)
These presentations range from sermons, singing and reading the Psalms, to lectures on various aspects of the Psalms including their place in private and corporate worhsip, the inmportance of lament, and how the Psalms have sustained suferign Christians in the past.

We will also have two afternoon sessions with dates still being set. In March James Grant (Pastor, FBC Rossville, TN) will discuss how he successfully introduced his church to singing the Psalms. In April Don Whitney will teach on praying Scripture including the Psalms.

All of these sessions are free and open to the public.

"This program is made possible through a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas and Missions

My friend Phil Eyster at Eagle Projects International just posted this photo sent to him from a friend in a Muslim country (you can see his comments at the blog). You can see the blood covering the streets after the Festival of Sacrifice last week. As we approach Christmas it is good to be reminded that we are celebrating the coming of the One who takes away sin, the one “who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14).
Christmas is the great missions story as God the Son crosses cultural barriers to redeem for Himself a people. May our celebrations indicate this truth.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wedding Folder

Here is a basic practical post. When I first began doing weddings as a new pastor, one of the challenges was keeping up with my notes, the vows and the order of the ceremony. I tried putting the pages in my Bible but that did not work well. In the end I picked up an unused choir folder at it worked marvelously! This has become one bit of advice I pass down to other pastors.

The choir folder is black so it looks the part in the ceremony, and I can slip in two sheets of paper (having trimmed the margins) both face up. The clear plastic in the inside holds the paper securely while not obscuring my reading. Usually, with the right font, I can have right in front of me the order of the service with vows and notes all in order.

So I pass this along in case it may be of help to others. You can usually find a left over choir folder lying around at church and put it to use.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

E. V. Hill, His Wife's Funeral

As part of the pastoral labor my wife and I do a fair bit of pre-marital counseling. As we were doing some more of such counseling this Fall I remembered hearing, while in college, a recording of Pastor E. V. Hill preaching his wife’s funeral. It was a powerful sermon filled with insight and anecdotal wisdom on marriage and parenting. Since I have lost the tape I had of the sermon I searched youtube and was delighted to find that the sermon is available there. It is found in two parts and is well worth listening to.

The sermon was preached in 1987 and is titled “My Wife’s Death in Biblical Perspective.” His text was Job 1:21, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Throughout the sermon he refers to his wife with the name he called her, “Baby.” He explains at the beginning of the sermon that he did not choose to preach her funeral to display special strength; rather, he said, “I stand fulfilling a task my member asked of me.” His wife, one of his church members, asked him to preach her funeral so he did so.

The first part of the sermon (all of part 1 and into part 2) Hill expounds “The Lord giveth” in reference to his wife as a gift from God. He said, “In my wife He gave a great gift.” Along the way he acknowledged the labors of his wife’s parents in raising a godly pure woman. In this section he digresses to talk about parents’ (especially fathers’) roles in selecting spouses for their children (about 2:55-6:50 in part 1). The story of him turning away from his door a young man who had come to see his daughter is classic. It is a good example of fathering well and is humorously told. Hill told the congregation plainly, “some of these relationships have to be broken up!” This was no passive fathering! He also said, “You can’t get no race horses out of mules!” He goes on to encourage male headship and to extol the femininity of his wife.

At the end of Part 1 and beginning of Part 2 (you can just pick up at the beginning of Part 2) he tells a couple of stories to illustrate his statement, “She was my protector.” These stories move me even as I listen to them for the 50th time. He tells about a time when he took on a business venture that she had warned against and then he lost a large sum of money in it. She did not berate him or hold it over his head. Rather, in a very touching way she extolled his virtues rather than his failings. At another time when they did not have enough money she did not complain but tried to obscure the fact that their lights had been cut off by setting up a candle light dinner. Of these instances he stated: “She could have broken me at that point. … she could have broken my spirit … and demoralized me.” But instead she supported him and believed in him. There is also the story of how she sought to protect him from a death threat by placing herself in the way (you’ll have to listen to it).

Lastly, he takes up “the Lord taketh away” (about 4:30 in Part 2) making the important point that a sign of Christian maturity is being able to say “Blessed be the name of the Lord” not only when the Lord gives but also when He takes away. This is such an important point. Then as he repeatedly shouts “Blessed,” it seems to me that he is right there practicing what he is preaching, blessing the Lord in that moment acknowledging that the Lord had indeed taken away the wonderful gift He had given in Mrs. Hill. The sermon closes in a moving anticipation of heaven.

I could listen to this sermon over and over. It means a lot to me for various reasons not least because I have been blessed with a wife who has supported me in similar ways. This model and message needs to be shared. So I encourage you to listen to this sermon and pass it along to others.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

David Dockery’s Annual Booklist

Each year, Dr. Dockery typically circulates a list of top picks of books from the previous year. He just sent out the list for this year and kindly gave me permission to post it here for any who might be interested. Here is his list with his introductory comments:

Of the making of books there is no end . . . (Eccl. 12:12). Trying to keep up with the books that are made seems to get more challenging each and every year. Some of you have asked if I had plans to publish the recommended books list for 2008. I know that it is time to shop for good books for good friends and family members, and perhaps to pick up a book or two for yourself. I have tried to keep the list to books published in 2008, though a few 2007s found their way onto the list.

Baggett, David, Gary Habermas, and Jerry Walls. C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty IVP, 2008.

Beale, Greg K. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry. IVP, 2008.

Beale, G. K. and D. A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.
Baker, 2007.

Berding, Kenneth and Matt Williams, Editors. What the New Testament Authors Really Cared About: A Survey of Their Writings. Kregel, 2008.

Carson, Donald A. Christ and Culture Revisited . Eerdmans, 2008.

Colson, Charles with Harold Fickett. The Faith. Zondervan, 2008.

Copan, Paul. When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics. Baker, 2008.

Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. IVP, 2008.

D’Souza, Dinesh. What's So Great about Christianity Tyndale, 2008.

Dyrness, William A. and Veli-Matti Karkkaianen, editors. Global Dictionary of Theology. IVP, 2008.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (Gifford Lectures). Basic, 2008.

The ESV Study Bible, Crossway, 2008.

Flew, Anthony. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. Harper One, 2008.

Forster, Greg. The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics. IVP, 2008.

Garrett, James Leo. Baptist Theology: A Four Century Study. Mercer, 2008/09.

George, Robert P. and Christopher Tollefsen. Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Doubleday,

Harris, Alex. Do Hard Things. Multnomah, 2008.

Haykin, Michael A. G. and Kenneth J. Stewart, editors. The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuity. B&H, 2008.

Horton, Michael. Christless Christianity. Baker, 2008.

Jacobs, Alan. Original Sin: A Cultural History. HarperCollins, 2008.

Jenkins, Philip. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia—and How It Died. HarperCollins, 2008.

Kaiser, Walter. The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Zondervan, 2008.

Keller, Tim. The Prodigal God. Dutton, 2008.

Lindsley, Art. Love The Ultimate Apologetic. IVP, 2008.

McGrath, Alister. Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith. IVP, 2008.

Mohler, R. Albert, Jr. Atheism Remix. Crossway, 2008.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert A. Peterson, editors. Suffering and the Goodness of God. Crossway, 2008.

Nichols, Stephen J. Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches us About Suffering and Salvation. Brazos, 2008.

__________. Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of Christ. IVP, 2008.

Pink, Daniel H. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. Berkley Publishing, 2006.

Poe, Harry L. Edgar Alan Poe. Metro Books, 2008.

Redmond, Eric. Where Are All the Brothers? Crossway, 2008.

Schreiner, Thomas. New Testament Theology. Baker, 2008.

Schultz, Quentin J. and Robert H. Woods. Understanding Evangelical Media: The Changing Face of Christian Communication. InterVarsity, 2008.

Smith, Christian. Passing the Plates: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money. Oxford, 2008.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Belknap, 2007.

Toobin, Jeffrey. The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. Anchor, 2008.

Wells, David. The Courage to Be Protestant. Eerdmans, 2008.

Whitlock, David W. and Gordon Dutile, editors. A Noble Calling: Devotional Essays for Business Professionals. Wipf & Stock, 2008

Wittmer, Michael. Don’t Stop Believing: Why Living Like Jesus is Not Enough. Zondervan, 2008.

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Very Short Intro to Augustine

Earlier this week I mentioned reading a couple of short books over Thanksgiving and commented on one of them. The second book is Henry Chadwick’s Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001). This book is only 134 pages and is a great size for carrying in a coat pocket. Chadwick, who died earlier this year, was a prominent Anglican theologian well acquainted with the writings of Augustine, and he provided here an accessible stimulating overview of the life and work of this key theologian of the early church.

As I have said before, I think these brief surveys of key people or issues by people imminently familiar with the topic and qualified is a great service to the rest of us. I had a basic awareness of Augustine already but this book in brief compass has substantially increased my awareness and appreciation of Augustine, his formative influences, setting and writings.

Here is a sampling of quotes from the book. Quotes directly from Augustine’s works are indicated by wo sets of quote marks and reference to the source:

“Among ancient men he had an unsurpassed power to articulate feelings.” 1

[as he was moved towards conversion]“The professor of rhetoric found that his copy of the Pauline letters was becoming important to him.” 26

“’Vision will be granted to him who lives well, prays well, and studies well’ (O ii. 51)” 36

“Augustine records with some astonishment that there were contemporary Christians in Africa who read no book other than the Bible . . . . He was sure that wider studies were necessary. A biblical scholar needed to know some history, geography, natural science, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric (how to write and speak clearly and appropriately). There could be places where a little knowledge of technology might well help the interpreter. Certainly some knowledge of Greek was most valuable for checking translations and variant readings.” 27

“ ‘one should begin each day not with complacency that one has survived another day but with compunction that one more day of one’s allotted span has forever passed’.” (T xiii.12) 45

“The lay community met regularly for daily prayers and recitation of the Psalter. (It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Psalter for Augustine’s spirituality; psalm quotations have been shown to be essential to the very structure of the Confessions.)” 46

“He wanted to be a monk, not a busy town parson continually beset by unreasonable people.” 58

“ ‘He who does not think of the world to come, he who is a Christian for any reason other than that he may receive God’s ultimate promises, is not yet a Christian’ (S 9.4).” 59

“But he was sure that those who praised a bishop for being easygoing could only be wicked people (P 128.4).” 63

“At long last I came to love you, beauty so ancient, yet ever new.’ (C x.37).” 74

“ ‘Take away justice, and what are governments but brigandage on a grand scale?’ (CD 4.4).” 106

“. . . but he remained pre-eminently a master of persuasive speech. . . . A fascination with words never left him.” 125-126

Abbreviations of sources:
O- De Ordine (On Order)
T- De Trinitae (On the Trinity)
S- Sermones (Sermons)C- Confessions

C- Confessions
CD- De Civitate Dei (The City of God)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

2008 Bibles and Bible Reference Survey Article

The latest issue of Preaching Magazine contains my survey of new Bibles and Bible reference materials (e.g. commentaries) that have come out since last fall. The longer web version of the article is now available online as well.

There were quite a few new study Bibles that came out in this time period like the ESV Study Bible, the NLT Study Bible, the Orthodox Study Bible, the Chronological Study Bible and many others. I comment on each of these as well as language helps, commentaries, surveys, and biblical theology. The web version, though does not show that the magazine decided to print a photo of me this time and chose to use this photo!

This issue also includes interesting items from Walt Kaiser and Sidney Greidanus on Christo-centric preaching (not available without a subscription).

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Atheism Remix

Over Thanksgiving I read a couple of smaller books, one of which was Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists, by Al Mohler. It is a very helpful book which I commend to you.

I had heard of the book but had not seen it and did not know its aim. I decided to read it over this break because it was short. It is the sort of ‘short book’ that we could use more of: one written by someone very aware of the issue and which summarizes carefully an important topic helping others to be aware of a significant topic or conversation. Mohler does not here seek to provide a thorough refutation of the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens), but summarizes their writings and their place in the history of ideas so that the rest of us who have not read all the relevant books and articles can be more aware of what is going on. This is very valuable for a variety of people, not least pastors whose members may be hearing about these writings. I benefitted significantly from this overview.

One thing I noticed, which Mohler pointed out, was how often these atheists (like many before them) rejected Christianity after being exposed to a pretty lousy example of Christianity. It is as if people are inoculated against Christianity by being exposed to a very weak strain of it. Once that weak strain is conquered, they are then impervious to examples of vibrant Christianity. The analogy does not hold entirely, but it reminds me again of this point: laboring for the purity and vitality of the church is not drag on evangelism but is, in itself, evangelistic. The greatest hindrance to the advance of the kingdom is an impure church; and, the greatest tool for the advance of the kingdom is a pure church.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Amend ETS: A Successful Effort

I have been away from the blog for the last week due to a busy schedule at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). Readers of this blog know that my friend Denny Burk and I had co-sponsored an effort to amend the doctrinal basis of the ETS and that the vote on the measure was to take place last week. Now that the meeting and the vote are over, the story can be told and reflections given.

In short, we feel that our effort was successful, even though the Society decided not to adopt our specific proposal. The final vote was 130 opposed and 47 in favor (with 177 total votes cast, it was an abysmal turn-out for such an important vote). How can I claim that our effort was a success after we got only 26 percent of the vote? Let me explain.

Denny and I are realists. We knew over a year ago that our proposal had very little chance of getting the support of a majority of the ETS, much less of the 80 percent super-majority that is required to amend the doctrinal basis. When the Executive Committee (EC) made clear their intentions to oppose our measure last year, we knew that its passage would be highly unlikely. Nevertheless, we pressed forward with our effort because we thought that there would be something to be gained by soldiering on.

What Was Gained by This Effort?
First, we believed that if we pushed forward we might be able to spur the EC on to take this matter up for themselves. It was clear on Friday that we had achieved that goal. After the final business meeting, we were assured that the EC would be taking up this issue to see if there is any significant interest among the membership to clarify the ETS’s evangelical commitments. We are grateful for this result and will support the EC’s efforts in this regard going forward.

Second, we thought it would be good and healthy for the Society to debate the matter publicly and for everyone to get their cards out on the table. I have to say that the two sessions of debate and discussion were some of the most stimulating sessions I have ever been to at ETS. To hear the members speak both for and against was highly instructive. I think we have a much better feel for how different members think about things as a result. Moreover, Denny and I were encouraged that so many distinguished members stood to speak in favor of our proposal: Wayne Grudem, Al Mohler, Michael Haykin, John Warwick Montgomery, Robert Saucy, and others. We have the utmost regard for dear brothers who stood to oppose it. ETS needs to be a place where people of good will can debate and disagree without rancor and without fear of recrimination.

The Meaning of the Vote
I think there may be some misunderstanding about the meaning of the vote. The vote tells us only that 130 members by and large did not favor our specific proposal. The vote did not tell us that there is no will in the Society to change the Doctrinal Basis or to implement some other compromise position.

How do I know that this is the case? There were members who spoke at the debate in favor of our proposal but who nevertheless voted against it in the business meeting. These members liked the idea of a change in principle, but for whatever reason could not sign the specific amendment that we were sponsoring. So the vote didn’t tell us much about the Society’s will to make changes. It only told us that the Society didn’t favor our proposal. Denny and I like our proposal, but we aren’t married to it. Through deliberation and debate, the Society may come up with something even better. For these reasons, it is good that the EC will be exploring the issue further.

Going Forward
As the EC considers polling the membership and discussing what might be appropriate changes to the doctrinal basis, here are some questions that need to be answered before any other proposal comes forward.

(1) What is the distinction between a doctrinal basis and a doctrinal statement? After the debates, I am even more convinced that the membership does not understand what this distinction is. The EC assumes that the distinction was vital to the formation of the Society, but I believe that point still to be in dispute. I have read the founding documents and the minutes from the deliberations at the founding meeting. These documents show that the word basis was used not to define a “methodological principle,” but to designate the basis for membership. I do not see in those documents that the founders distinguished “basis” from “statement” as the EC has argued.

That being said, it may very well be that the distinction could be a helpful one to make. But it needs to be one that the whole Society understands and affirms, not one that comes down from a historically dubious reading of the founding of ETS. If the Society does decide to embrace such a distinction as vital, then for consistency’s sake the Society should remove the Trinity from its doctrinal basis. As it stands now, the Society has spoken to the issue. In 1990 when the Trinity clause was added to the doctrinal basis, the Society was saying in effect that the doctrinal basis can be expanded without turning it in to a doctrinal statement. As a matter of history, therefore, the EC has the burden of proof in making the distinction that they have made.

(2) Does the Society want to expand the grounds upon which a member might be expelled from the ETS? According to the ETS constitution, membership challenges can only proceed based on defections from inerrancy and Trinity. Does the Society want to enumerate other evangelical identity markers upon which one’s membership might be terminated (e.g., the person of Christ, salvation by grace through faith alone, etc.)? We still believe that a basic evangelical affirmation needs to be included in the doctrinal basis itself.

It may very well be that the Society has no will to expand the basis for membership challenges. If that is the case, there are a number of ways in which the Society could clarify its basic Evangelical commitments without expanding the grounds for membership challenges.
One, the Society could adopt a “doctrinal abstract” and insert it into the constitution. Members would then be required to affirm the current “basis” and the new “abstract,” but then membership challenges would happen based on defections from the “basis” only. In this scenario, members would be affirming a fuller evangelical statement each year when they renew their membership, but their membership would only be in jeopardy if they were to deny inerrancy or Trinity.

Two, the Society could simply add a fuller statement to its by-laws, just as it added the Chicago Statement a few years ago. Of course the statement would in no way be binding and members would not even have to affirm it. Nevertheless, it would give some direction to prospective members who want to understand what we mean by “Evangelical” in the name of our Society.
As far as these two compromise positions are concerned, Denny and I would favor the first over the second.

What Now?
As for Denny and me, we are happy that the EC is taking a leadership role in the continuation of this effort. We will support them as they do so, and we look forward to seeing how the membership will respond. We do not intend at this time to put forth another proposal but will wait and see what the EC is able to achieve in the coming months

Monday, November 17, 2008

Applying the Doctrine of Hell

We must teach our people doctrine. As we do so, we must also apply the doctrine well- thoroughly, convincingly, pastorally, searchingly- so that it cannot be no mere mental exercise but having addressed the mind it moves the heart bringing about conviction, joy, repentance, worship, etc.

I am currently teaching our church’s Sunday School class on the Doctrines of Sin, Man and the Person of Christ. This week the topic was the doctrine of Hell with an emphasis on its reality and eternality. Here is the portion of my notes dealing with applying this sobering truth.

What are the practical, pastoral, every-day implications of this truth that those who die in their sins will suffer eternal torment as their judgment?
1. Evangelism- If you care about people, and realize the truth of this doctrine you cannot help but labor, pray and speak the gospel so that souls might be saved from this result.

2. Pity on the lost- In addition to seeking their salvation, this truth should cause us to have extra pity on unbelievers, even if they mock, mistreat, or abuse us. It is this truth which will allow us to forgive them as we see that they will be judged.

3. Don’t envy the unrighteous- Psalms 73 & 37. It will seem at times that those who ignore God get ahead, but as the Psalmist notes, contemplation of their final end will keep us from dishonoring God by envying the wicked.

4. Forgive- We can forgive those who wrong us, not hold grudges, and forego retribution because we know that God will punish all sin, even those which go unpunished here & now. This is what enables people to go on when justice is not meted out.

5. Greater awareness of Christ’s suffering on the cross- If the punishment deserved for an individual’s sins requires eternal torment, what must Christ have suffered as he received in his body the punishment deserved by thousands/millions in a period of no more than three hours?
With this in mind we are all the more prepared to sing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and many more of or hymns.

6. Worship- The more you realize the horror of what we deserve and see that God has graciously rescued you from that, your heart should well up in worship! Regardless of what troubles beset us today, this greatest of our troubles- receiving the fury of god’s righteous wrath- has been removed by the cross of Christ! Let us then exalt the Lord our God. Let us bear this in mind as we come to the Lord’s Table this morning.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Amend ETS, Vote Next Week

I have commented here previously about the proposal I am co-sponsoring with Denny Burk to amend the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Next week the Society will meet in Providence, Rhode Island where our proposal will finally come to a vote. Today Denny posted a very helpful summary of the discussion which I would encourage you to read. It has been seven years since I first delivered a paper challenging the adequacy of the doctrinal statement, and this year their will be a vote on the proposal.

Here is the schedule for the discussion of and vote on the proposal:
11/20 – Thursday
5:20-6:00pm – Van Neste, Burk, and Executive Committee discuss the proposal followed by a Q & A with audience. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom E

8:30-9:30pm – Business Meeting: Discussion of the Amendment proposal. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom

11/21 - Friday
8:30-9:00am – Business Meeting: Vote on the Amendment proposal. Rhode Island Convention Center Ballroom A

This is an important conversation about the definition of evangelicalism and doctrinal clarity.
To quote Denny:
If you want to get acquainted with the rationale for our amendment, there are three items that you need to read:
1. Our website:
2. Our 2007 article in Criswell Theological Review: “Inerrancy Is Not Enough”
3. Van Neste’s 2004 article in SBJT: “The Glaring Inadequacy of the ETS Doctrinal Statement”
If you are a member and are interested in signing up to support our amendment, please visit here. Thanks for your help.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Pulpit, Cowper

Ray Ortlund posted today this excerpt from William Cowper’s lengthy poem, “The Task.” It is a wonderful, power description of the role of preaching. It is thrilling, convicting and humbling.

The pulpit, therefore, (and I name it filled
with solemn awe, that bids me well beware
with what intent I touch that holy thing;)
the pulpit (when the satirist has at last,
strutting and vaporing in an empty school,
spent all his force, and made no proselyte;)
I say the pulpit (in the sober use
of its legitimate, peculiar powers)
must stand acknowledged, while the world shall stand,
the most important and effectual guard,
support, and ornament of virtue's cause.
There stands the messenger of truth. There stands
the legate of the skies; his theme divine,
his office sacred, his credentials clear.
By him, the violated law speaks out
its thunders, and by him, in strains as sweet
as angels use, the gospel whispers peace.
He 'stablishes the strong, restores the weak,
reclaims the wanderer, binds the broken heart,
and, armed himself in panoply complete
of heavenly temper, furnishes with arms
bright as his own, and trains, by every rule
of holy discipline, to glorious war,
the sacramental host of God's elect.

- William Cowper, 1731-1800.

The Journal of Modern Ministry

I subscribed to this journal about a year ago and have enjoyed it. I admit that “modern” does not typically bring positive connotations to me when connected to ministry, but this journal, edited by Jay Adams, is devoted to exploring various aspects of day to day ministry from the perspective of absolute confidence in scripture. It is published three times a year. More information can be found at the journal’s website.

What I particularly appreciate about the journal is the fact that it contains articles which wrestle with very practical, “nitty-gritty” issues from a substantive theological basis. For example the latest issue (Winter 2008) contains a helpful, two-page item by Lou Priolo titled “Postmarital Checkup Questions.” It consists primarily of a list of questions he uses in a follow up session (about 3 months after the wedding) with couples for whom he has done pre-marital counseling. This is not necessarily earth-shattering stuff, but it is very helpful for me in prodding my thoughts in following up with new couples in our church. There is also a detailed article on “Helping People with Crippling Fear.” This is an issue which I know is dealt with within our church, so I appreciate items to help me think of how to help my people.

Now, I know there are debates about different ways Christians understand the counseling ministry, and Adams is identified with a certain approach. I have critiqued elsewhere places where I think Priolo has pushed some passages too hard. For Priolo and Adams, both, their use of Greek is sometimes lacking. With all that said, however, I benefit from dialoguing in this way with faithful brothers who are seeking to mine all the riches they can from scripture in order to shepherd the flock of God.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Visit the Sick

Visit the Sick: Ministering God's Grace in Times of Illness, by Brian Croft
(Day One Publications, 2008), pb., 92 pp.

I was very pleased recently to receive a copy of this book and to see that it was now available. It was my privilege to read a pre-publication copy of it and to write a commendation for the book. Here is my blurb found in the book:

“Visit the Sick is an excellent and much-needed resource today when the actual practice of ‘shepherding souls’ is so often neglected. Many younger pastors (and not so young ones as well) have never received the sort of very practical guidance which Brian Croft gives in this book. This book has the potential to be a great blessing to pastors and those they shepherd. It will now be a recommended text in my Pastoral Ministries class and I heartily commend it to others.”
Brian Croft is pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, where former students of mine and former members of our church are members and serve. Brian is a faithful pastor who seeks to oversee souls, and he has particular experience in this realm of visiting the sick (as Mark Dever discusses in the foreword).

Visiting the sick used to be one of the top things thought of in pastoral ministry but today it is often overlooked or shuffled off to others as much as possible. This ought not be the case. Even as we hold up the importance of preaching and teaching, we may not neglect shepherding such as in this area. This is not what was done by those who went before us.

I commend this book to all pastors. Brian Croft has done us a great service.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Introducing Your Church to Psalm Singing

I mentioned a few weeks ago here an upcoming project on the Psalms and worship. One of the key inspirations to me in this realm is my friend and fellow pastor James Grant. James has thought much about this topic and has successfully brought Psalm singing into his church. He has just posted some of his advice on how to begin this process in a church that has no previous history of singing the Psalms. This is very useful, practical advice and well wroth reading.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Word Within the Word

Last month I mentioned that Dr. Don Carson will be our plenary speaker at the Ryan Center conference this coming April. The conference web page is now up and online registration is open.

The conference theme is “Word Within the Word: The New Testament Use of the Old Testament.” Dr. Carson will develop this theme in his three plenary addresses.

Breakout sessions will further develop the main theme as well as addressing other issues in studying the Bible. David and Sally Michael, from Children Desiring God and Bethlehem Baptist Church, will join us to lead a breakout session on engaging children in Bible study. Ray Clendenen and Terry Wilder, both of B&H Academic, will lead sessions on Malachi and the book of Romans respectively. Other Union faculty will lead breakout sessions.

The conference will begin Friday evening, April 24 and conclude sat afternoon, April 25. The cost is $50 per person until March 23, when the price becomes $60. That covers the entire conference (3 addresses from Dr Carson, 3 breakout sessions, 2 meals and a continental breakfast).

You can also keep up with details about the conference at the Center’s Facebook page and the Conference Faecbook page.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Reformation Roundtable

I was privileged to participate in a roundtable discussion of the 5 sola’s of the Reformation and their contemporary relevance at Union on Monday of this week. The participants and topics were as follows:

Kevin Chairot (pastor, Covenant Presbyterian Church)- Sola Scriptura
Daryl Charles (Union University)- Sola Gratia
Brad Green (Union University)- Sola Fide
Sean Lucas (Covenant Seminary)- Solus Christus
Ray Van Neste (Union University)- Soli Deo Gloria

It was a particular blessing to meet Sean Lucas for the first time
The presentations were recorded and as soon as they are posted I will link to them here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

"Education with Force"

In one of our Wednesday night classes we are reading and discussing Thabiti Anyabwile’s What is a Healthy Church Member? (which I have commented on here previously). Last night we came to this quote which Anyabwile cited from Jay Adams:
“When we are baptized into the church, we thereby matriculate into Christ’s school. Then, for the rest of our earthly life, we are to be taught (not facts alone, but also) to obey the commands of Christ. This is education with force, education backed up by the discipline of good order that is necessary for learning to take place.”
That is a great quote getting at the heart of what it looks like to mature in the Christian life and the role of the church in that maturation. Many today talk about the lack of discipleship, but often people fail to realize the missing link is “education with force.” The church has mirrored many of our schools- the removal of discipline has made it impossible for real learning and formation to take place.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Reformation Day 2008

Happy Reformation Day! Others may engage in Halloween or worry about Election Day, but let the church rejoice in the reminder of the recovery of the Gospel and in the reminder of the value of laboring for the purity of the church!

At Union we have had two wonderful chapel messages this week dealing with the Reformation. On Wednesday Kevin De Young, co-author of Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, gave a great exposition of the gospel of justification by faith and you can find the audio here. Today Jim Patterson, Professor of Church History here, gave a moving overview of Luther’s work and its implications for the church today.

In a day where there is much concern about what will happen with our government (understandably), let us be reminded that the church is central. The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim 3:15) and the church is where we are to see the glory of God displayed (Eph 3:21). We need a recovery of the gospel in our day along with a renewal of teasing out the implications of this gospel in every area of life.

Previous Reformation Day Posts:
2007- Reformation, Mission & Suffering
2006- For All The Saints
2005- Parallels Between the 16th Century and Today
(In the photo I am holding a Luther-o-lantern carved by talented students!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

CT Article on the Psalms

Christianity Today has just published an excellent article on praying the Psalms by Ben Patterson. Patterson recounts his own experience of learning more about prayer by praying the Psalms. This is an excellent article which makes me interested to check out the book from which this article is drawn- God's Prayer Book: The Power and Pleasure of Praying the Psalms.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

“My problem with the Psalms was my problem with prayer: There was too much ‘me and Jesus’ in my praying, and there needed to be a lot more ‘we and Jesus.’”

“Enter the Psalms: I may not personally be in the dark pit the man who prayed Psalm 88 was in, but there are many who were and are this very moment, my sisters and brothers in the persecuted church worldwide. We are part of the same body; we are family in a family closer and more enduring than any earthly family. The psalm enables me to enter into real fellowship with them, whether or not I ever meet them on earth, whether or not I ever experience personally what they experience. Their experiences are ours.”

“I started reading and praying the Psalms like a child learning how to read, learning a new "vocabulary, a grammar, and a plot line"—discovering a family tree I didn't know I had.”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stetzer on Living the Gospel

Ed Stetzer was our speaker in chapel here at Union today. He did a great job preaching on living the gospel from 2 Cor 5:16-21. You can access the audio here.

He quoted Mark Twain saying that the church is good people standing in front of good people telling them how to be good people. This is indeed how the church is viewed too often- both inside and outside of the church. We so desperately need to become gospel-centered people- people who know our own deep need of the gospel, who have seen and experienced the beauty and power of the gospel , whose lives are increasingly shaped by the gospel, and who therefore seek to share this gospel with others.

The Use of the Psalms

Over the years I have become increasingly interested in the role that the Psalms have played historically in the worship and life of Christians. Rarely in my circles does one ever hear of how central the Psalms have been in the congregational singing of the church historically or how common has been the practice of praying the Psalms. Yet, when you discover eras where these practices have been common, you typically find particularly hardy saints (e.g. the Huguenots & Covenanters). What is it in the soil of the Psalms that we are missing? Why have we paid so little attention to divinely inspired songs and prayers which can give us words for singing and praying? These are ongoing concerns of mine which will be reflected in a series of chapels at Union this Spring.

In thinking about this I was delighted this last week to purchase Solid Ground Christian Books’ recent Trilogy on the Psalms. Included are these books:
Rowland Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (orig published 1903)
William Binnie, A Pathway into the Psalter: The Psalms: Their History, Teaching, and Use (orig. published 1870)
John Ker, The Psalms in History and Biography (orig. published 1886)

These are fascinating books. Ker’s volume goes through each Psalm in canonical order commenting on people or situations where that Psalm was used to encourage, challenge and bless. Prothero then goes chronologically through history commenting on how the Psalms were used by Christians in each period. Binnie, the longest book, deals with a number of technical issues in the Psalms, surveys their theology and then closes by examining hwo the church has used the Psalms over the years. These summaries of how the church has made use of the Psalms makes me yearn to make more of this great treasure.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Persecution and Slavery in Asia

My friend Phil Eyster, of Eagle Projects International, has just returned from a mission trip to Asia and has reported on it in his mission ‘plogs’ (follow the link and click on ‘plogs’). The photo shown here is of some girls they have helped rescue from the child slavery market. Phil wrote:

I wanted to relate one story from our last night in Nepal. We had the privilege of meeting with 4 of the 24 young girls that we have rescued from the child slavery market. The statistic is that each year over 15,000 young girls are taken, from Nepal and sold on the worldwide market. In the last few months we were able to rescue 4 more. Their stories are too graphic and terrible to share here. It will take them many years to heal, but they are on their way. When they first came to us, they would not smile at all.

In the previous ‘plog’ Phil commented on their work in a very sensitive area, where they were monitored closely even having police watching them as they “shared” with 300 people gathered in the area. They were able to meet one of the first believers in this tribe and to hear his story of persecution and perseverance. Phil commented:

There are some extremely dedicated people here who are working under very difficult conditions. They are front line messengers who are plowing virgin territory for Christ. They are the real heroes of the faith.
These posts can help us in praying specifically for brothers and sisters who suffer for the faith in other parts of the world. You can also learn about, support and participate in the worthwhile work of EPI.


I have been thinking a good bit recently about the problem of fatherlessness in our churches. In crisis after crisis I discover that one root has been the absence of a father in someone’s life- through absence, neglect, or abuse. I have seen enough of this that it has made me all the more earnest in fathering my own children, and it has made me begin to think how the church can address this pain in the lives of our people. It is not accidental that the commandment which marks the shift from dealing directly with God (1-4) to commands dealing with our interaction with other people (6-10) calls for the honoring of parents. As marriage is to portray Christ and the church, so fathers provide the earliest portrayal of God the Father.

While thinking on this, I came across James Grant’s post commending Doug Wilson’s review of The Shack. Wilson’s review is very helpful, both in being aware of this book and in diagnosing this key problem- fatherlessness- in evangelicalism. It is well worth reading.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Proverbs Driven Life

The Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships
by Anthony Selvaggio
(Shepherd Press, 2008), pb., 201 pp.

I received a copy of this book last week and was immediately interested. Good books on Proverbs are a real draw to me. Wisdom is a missing item in our culture which is far more interested in technique- and the lack of wisdom shows.

I have read various portions of this book so far and have been pleased. It is well written, engaging, substantive, and practical. The book is divided into six parts which address foundations, work, wealth, friends, marriage, and children. Each part is summed up in one sentence and is unpacked in two chapters. In the first chapter Selvaggio makes some very helpful observations on reading and interpreting the Proverbs well and he discusses how the Proverbs point to Christ. This discussion of interpreting Proverbs will be very helpful in a book where people sometimes get lost.

This is a good book that will be helpful in many contexts.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Douglas Bond on Calvin

I have commented often on my children’s literature blog on the books of Douglas Bond. Bond is a strong favorite in our family because his stories are so much fun and so theologically rich. I have had the privilege of reading a pre-publication copy of Bond’s forthcoming historical novel on the life of John Calvin. This book is aimed at adults rather than children, but it continues the winning aspects of his earlier books. Here is a jacket blurb I wrote for the book:
Another great piece of historical fiction from Douglas Bond! As in his previous books, Bond provides a compelling narrative with clear historical accuracy and rich theological reflection. I don’t know if I have ever seen these aspects so compelling combined as in Bond’s books. This is why Douglas Bond is one of my family’s favorite authors.
In this book Bond helps the reader grasp the humanness of Calvin, the manner of life in 17th century Europe and the real struggle for the gospel. This is a great entry way into the life of Calvin and the Reformation in general. It is entertaining and spiritually edifying so I commend it heartily.
The book will be published by P&R. Look for its release. It is a great read for those who are very familiar with Calvin and those who are not.

UPDATE: The Book is now available!-
The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin

Friday, October 10, 2008

Latest Issue of JBMW

The latest issue of JBMW has just been released. You can view a number of articles online, though I have decided this is a journal for me to subscribe to for the hard copy.

I have a couple of little pieces in the new “Odds & Ends” section. In one of them I interact with Harvey Mansfield’s book, Manliness, which has a lot of good to it. However, I critique the way in which he juxtaposes the man of action and the poet, arguing that our culture is the aberration in history in separating these two aspects of manliness. In older tales and history, the hero is both warrior and poet. We need to reconnect our ideas of manliness and poetry, between action and thinking.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Blessing of Providence

Due to some of my reading and preparing last week to preach on Psalm 97, I have been contemplating the blessing of the doctrine of providence, the comfort of truly knowing that God is in control. This doctrine is the root of hope, and thus joy. It is the basis of courage and perseverance as can be seen in the lives of many who have gone before us. Sadly, too often, the truth of God’s sovereignty is considered only as an abstract idea, often one to debate. Of course, we need to think about and wrestle with doctrine, but we must also live doctrine; and, this doctrine is truly one for living.

“The LORD reigns let the earth rejoice!” (Psalm 97:1)

This is the truth animating the end of Romans 8. This is why we have the confidence of Rom 8:28 that indeed all things will work together for good for those who love God and are called by Him. This is why nothing can separate us from His love. This is why the Psalmist regularly rejoices- indeed boasts- in the sovereignty of God.

This quote reflecting on Rom 8:28 has ministered to me this week:
“The truth is that all things, including the fruit of your own blunders and stupidity, sinfulness and ignorance, including the things we cry to God for deliverance from (as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:8), work together for good to those who love God” (Leith Samuel).

Praise the LORD! Because of Christ there is therefore now no condemnation on me (Rom 8:1)! Indeed, even the fruit of my stupidity and sin (quite a bumper crop!) will be caused by God my Father, the Almighty, to work together for my good. Can there be greater news than this? Do I now have cause to rejoice and to persevere regardless of what befalls me?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ryan Center Conference 2009

A few days ago I commented here on the need for Bible teachers in our churches. Aiding the growth of such teachers is at the heart of the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies here at Union University. As we say, we exist to encourage and enable sound biblical interpretation and application. One of the ways we do this is by hosting a conference for pastors and laypeople every other year that focuses on biblical interpretation.

Our next conference will be this coming Spring, April 24-25, 2009 and our plenary speaker this year will be Dr. D. A. Carson. Continuing the general theme from our last conference, Dr. Carson will discuss the connection between the Old and New Testaments by examining some key texts in Hebrews. Anyone who is familiar with Dr. Carson knows this will be a special treat. Dr. Carson combines great scholarship with a heart for the church and an ability to communicate to the person in the pew.

In addition to the three lectures from Dr. Carson there will be a number of breakout sessions led by Union faculty and guest speakers. Some of these sessions will further examine the relationship between the testaments and others will discuss key steps in studying the Bible well. These are not technical, academic discussions but practical studies aimed at helping people study and teach well.

This will be great opportunity for training, teaching and encouragement for pastors, Bible study leaders and anyone interested in studying the Bible.

The conference will go from Friday night (April 24) through Saturday afternoon (April 25). More detailed information will be forthcoming. You can get the latest news from the Center’s website and the Conference’s facebook page.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Orthodox Study Bible

I mentioned previously the amazing number of new study Bibles coming out this year. Some are intended for a broad audience and others have a specific niche audience. As I reviewed them for Preaching Magazine, the most interesting niche study Bible was The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today's World(Nelson). It is the first full-length Orthodox study Bible in English including a new translation of the Old Testament from the Septuagint (since that is the version of the OT used by the Orthodox) and study notes written by leading theologians of the Orthodox Church.

I of course have differences with the Orthodox Church, but I found this study Bible stimulating in a positive way. I am especially intrigued by the OT section since you have here a translation of the Septuagint (Greek) text instead of the Hebrew Masoretic text as found in our standard Bibles. The differences are intriguing and the notes commonly point out such differences. These differences could be confusing to people who are unaware of such issues, but for trained pastors seeing such things can be helpful and challenging as you dialogue with another portion of the historic church.

The notes are theologically focused, thus aiming at the overall meaning of the text. Also, the notes often provide quotes from early church fathers. In this way this study Bible sometimes accomplishes in a more usable manner the goal of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series (ed. by Tom Oden).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Love and Perseverance

My good friend Ron Sloan, owner of Refiner’s Fire Bookstore, recently sent me this quote from C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, and it fits well with the topics I mentioned in my post on preaching about the church:
"The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of 'the brethren' and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them."
We need this sort of active, caring unity for the church to advance the kingdom as we ought.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Need for Teachers

Last week after one of the services where I was preaching, an older man came up to talk with me. One of the joys of these situations for me is the opportunity to hear from such saints who have walked with the Lord for many decades. This man was 89 and told me how he was converted at a meeting held over 70 years ago just a few yards from where we stood. His testimony was encouraging.

At one point he leaned in closer and said, “Preacher, you want me to tell you what’s wrong with our churches today?” I responded eagerly, “Yes, sir!” He said, “We don’t have enough Bible teachers anymore.” I really was amazed. I hear people point to many things, but this dear brother who had served the Lord in this same area for seven decades put his finger on a key issue. He talked about how he reads the Bible and learns on his own but how much we need more teachers in the church, how we need people who will give themselves (pastors and lay leaders as well) to know and teach the Bible.

Brothers, take this as a cry from the pews. Those who are aware enough are crying out to be taught the Bible. Let us faithfully feed the flock and train others to teach the Bible also. This sort of training is the mission also of the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies which I direct. I will be saying more in coming days about an upcoming conference which will be a great training opportunity for pastors and bible study leaders to help fill the void pointed out by this dear elder brother.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Discipleship Study Bible

With all the new study Bibles coming out this year and new editions of previous ones, a number of people have dubbed this the “Year of the Study Bible.” I have commented on these in my forthcoming annual survey of bibles and bible reference books for Preaching Magazine (you can see last year’s installment here). In this post, though, I want to give further comment on one of The Discipleship Study Bible, one of the new study Bibles this year.

This study Bible sets itself a good aim in the introduction stating that there is no need to choose between explaining the text in its original setting and applying to contemporary readers. I agree with this approach wholeheartedly. However, the execution is disturbing to me in various places. This is due primary to the critical stance taken toward the Scriptures.

One example will suffice. In Exodus the notes display little confidence on the historical accuracy of the account. Worse than this are the comments on 14:30 where mention is made of the Egyptians destroyed as they sought to follow the Israelites through the Red Sea. The notes state:

We need always to remember that there is more than one side to a story. For Egyptians this is a story of tragedy and defeat. … We need to hear the story of Egyptians and the slaves … Israelis and Palestinians. We must hear even the stories of our enemies. Perhaps as we consider not only our own inclinations to oppress but also the consequences, we’ll be inclined to heed the voices of those crying out to be let go.
What?! We hear in this text the divine interpretation of this event. Of course this was a tragedy for the Egyptians. They were being judged for their rebellion against God. We should take from this text, not “Oh my! There are two sides to the story!” but “It is a terrible thing to fall under God’s judgment!” Of course in our dealings with people we need to hear both sides of a story- Proverbs tells us that- but that is not the point of this text.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident in the notes for this Bible. Skepticism of the text and political correctness obscure the Bible, so it is not suited to be a help in one’s spiritual growth.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revival messages on the church

Sunday I began preaching a series of meetings at a small church in the next county. I am attempting to do the same basic thing I mentioned here once before, preaching to the people about what the church should be on the ground that a true work of renewal begins with the people of God. I have so far preached on the same texts I mentioned before:

1 Tim 3:14-16- on the nature of the church
Eph 4- on the necessity of every
member supplying
Heb 3:12-4:16- on the responsibility of members to exhort
(encourage & rebuke) one another every day as a key to our perseverance.

My intention is to preach on 1 Cor 5 tonight on church discipline as the logical outcome of Eph 4 and Heb 3-4. This is how we show that we truly do love one another and that we love the glory of God. I have also stressed to the people that one of their primary fields of evangelism in this area will be people who profess faith but demonstrate by their life and lack of concern for the things of God that they do not know God (Titus 1:16).

I will hope to post in the next few days some other encouraging things I have seen during these meetings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints

Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints, ed. John Piper & Justin Taylor
(Crossway, 2008), pb., 157 pp.

I just received my copy of this book and thumbed through it reading various portions. I had not intended really to read anything just yet, but I found myself captivated. “Perseverance” is a word I talk about often with my boys. They call it “our word,” because I stress it so often. I do so because it is such a lacking theme in the culture around us (including the church) and it is so important. So, I was very interested in this book.

There is much wise reflection here from people who have endured. The exhortations from Jerry Bridges, John MacArthur and John Piper are solid and piercing as always. The personal story of Randy Alcorn particularly grabbed me. I knew Alcorn only by some of his books, but I had no idea of his own setting or experiences. His account of enduring persecution, particularly as his children watched, suffered and endured with him, was especially moving and challenging. This is material I will share with my family today.

May we glorify God with faithful perseverance.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Charles Brown posts

This past Spring I read Charles Brown’s The Ministry and found it a wonderful little book packed with much wisdom for pastoral ministry. Since that time I have been meaning to comment on various portions of the book. I have been delayed for numerous reasons but Eric Smith over at Shepherd of the Sheep has provided a number of good posts from the book. He has also posted several thoughtful and helpful meditations from Titus. I commend them to you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Be Faithful

In a recent conversation a friend told me of the church experience of a mutual friend of ours. Our mutual friend is in his later 30’s like me and has been in church for about 16 years. During that time he has been in four or five churches and in everyone one of them the pastor has fallen in sexual immorality. How many today have this same experience that every pastor they have had has eventually had to step down due to immorality (sexual, financial, etc.)?!

Of course we are all sinful, but this cries out for us to be ‘above reproach’ (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6). Brothers, we need to be diligent and to have other men around us who are ‘in our business.’ Do not allow yourself to be aloof and alone. That is a recipe for disaster, and it is not the biblical model for pastors. We need the Body as much as anyone else. Such accountability and openness will puncture our pride releasing the harmful gas which inflates our egos- which is to say it will encourage us to godliness and real joy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ella Broadus Robertson

Since I commented on Broadus yesterday it is appropriate today to link to a recent Kairos Journal article on his daughter, Ella Broadus Robertson. Her husband was A. T. Robertson, prominent Greek scholar at Southern Seminary in the early 20th century.

This Kairos Journal article summarizes Mrs. Robertson’s work in speaking to women and encouraging a biblical world view with books like The Fine Art of Motherhood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Broadus Book

John A. Broadus: A Living Legacy
Ed., David Dockery & Roger Duke
(B&H Academic, 2008), pb., 272 pp.

It continues to be so encouraging to see the quality of material coming from B&H Academic these days. I recently received a copy of this book on John Broadus, and it looks great. Broadus was a giant in the land, and it is good to recover awareness of key leaders in or past. Charles Spurgeon said Broadus was the “greatest of living preachers,” and comparatively few people are truly aware of him today. This book contains essays on various facets of Broadus’s work and legacy by accomplished scholars including David Dockery, Jim Patterson, Timothy George, Tom Nettles, Rick Melick and Mark Overstreet.

I believe this book is also the first in a new series, Studies in Baptist Life and Thought, edited by Michael Haykin. This series looks promising as well.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Minor Prophets Study

This summer in adult Sunday School at our church we surveyed the Minor Prophets taking up one book each week. Several different people shared in the teaching. I found these to be very profitable (no pun intended this time!) and I have heard from many others who did as well. Due to the labors of Jeremy Rasnic the audio of each of these lessons are online.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wesley Dramatization

As part of the “starting back” activities at Union we had the opportunity to see “The Man from Aldersgate” performed by B J Johnston. Johnston gave a wonderful presentation of Wesley with humor and good theological application. Sure, I have my differences with Wesley, but this presentation hits they key areas of evangelical agreement- and there is no doubting Wesley was a dear brother greatly used of God. I found this presentation stirring and engaging and would commend it to you if you have a chance to see it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Spurgeon on Gossip

I am to preach on Psalm 15 in the morning so I was looking over Spurgeon’s comments in his Treasury of David. Spurgeon’s comments on gossip are worth noting, especially since gossip may tear more churches apart than any other sin. We ought to deal directly and forcefully with any who bring gossip to us. Spurgeon helpfully makes the point of how dangerous this sin is and how we should respond accordingly.

"Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour." He is a fool if not a knave who picks up stolen goods and harbours them; in slander as well as robbery, the receiver is as bad as the thief. If there were not gratified hearers of ill reports, there would be an end of the trade of spreading them. Trapp says, that "the tale-bearer carrieth the devil in his tongue, and the tale-hearer carries the devil in his ear." The original may be translated, "endureth;" implying that it is a sin to endure or tolerate tale-bearers. "Show that man out!" we should say of a drunkard, yet it is very questionable if his unmanly behaviour will do us so much mischief as the tale-bearers insinuating story. "Call for a policeman!" we say if we see a thief at his business; ought we to feel no indignation when we hear a gossip at her work? Mad dog! Mad dog!! is a terrible hue and cry, but there are few curs whose bite is so dangerous as a busybody's tongue. Fire! fire!! is an alarming note, but the tale-bearer's tongue is set on fire of hell, and those who indulge it had better mend their manners, or they may find that there is fire in hell for unbridled tongues. Our Lord spake evil of no man, but breathed a prayer for his foes; we must be like him, or we shall never be with him.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Derek Thomas’ Commentary Guide

I recently purchased a copy of the revised edition of Derek Thomas’ The Essential Commentaries for a Preacher’s Library and have enjoyed looking through it. I always appreciate seeing what commentaries are found useful by preachers or teachers whom I respect. I must say I find more benefit from Carson and Longman’s commentary surveys though. Thomas tends to list with no or little comment whereas Carson & Longman provide more description and critique (esp. Carson).

Still, this is a useful tool.

I purchased my copy at Solid Ground Christian Books.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Owen on Divine Aid in Bible Study

In going back over my OT Survey material in preparation for the beginning of term, I came across this quote from John Owen. It is well put in so many ways and a good warning to us not to rest in our own abilities when approaching Scripture. Of course we must study and labor, but we must also pray.

“For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of Scripture without invocation of God, to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation of him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who thus proudly engages in a work so much above his ability.”
- John Owen