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.