Abigail while looking at one of her Bible story books: “Dad, why did God have to die?”
Matthew while walking behind geese at Pickwick: “I guess geese never do get potty trained”
Matthew after spotting a snake in the pool at Pickwick: “Dad, there’s some sort of reptile in there.”
Nathan, in a discussion of the horrors of war, after a younger brother said he would just play dead in a battle: “But what about your honor!”
Abigail singing: “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy ending!”
Abigail singing: “Silent Night, Holy is come.” Pretty good theology really.
Abigail with her arms around me, to Tammie, “Mama, this is my man!’ :)
Thursday, December 31, 2009
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
In commenting on the angel’s announcement of “good news of great joy” in Luke 2 Calvin stated:
“Since the angel invites us to rejoice at the coming of Christ, not in any ordinary way but with unbounded delight, let us make the most of the message. What can we say about this joy? If we involve ourselves in worldly pleasures and are wholly absorbed by our own wants, we will never rejoice in the grace of Christ. Let the shepherds instead be or example. Their earthly lot did not change, despite the fact that they had heard the angel’s word and had witnessed the birth of God’s Son. They went back to their flocks exactly as before; they continued to live as poor men, guarding their herds. In terms of the flesh and of this passing world they gained nothing from the privilege which we read about here. For all that, they were full of joy. Theirs is a lead we should follow. For although the gospel might earn us neither wealth nor fame, and although it might not bring us gratification or amusement, nevertheless we should be glad that we are the objects of God’s favour. This is where true blessing and happiness lie, and where real rest is found.”The joy of the Christmas message is available to all who will believe. This joy is in no way dependent on our circumstances. Praise be to God!
Monday, December 21, 2009
“For what it is worth, I would make a strong plea that we do not exclude from the Lord’s Table in our Church those who are undoubtedly sincere Christians.” (61)
J.B. Phillips, Appointment with God;: Some thoughts on Holy Communion
Sunday, December 20, 2009
“It is obvious that the Christian life can be maintained without Holy Communion at all. Indeed, it is so maintained, for example, both by the Quakers and by the Salvation Army. But it is surely not the normal, surely not the ‘Catholic’ way (in its proper sense), in which the Spirit has led the Church through the centuries. A man may lead a happy and useful life with only one lung, or with part of his internal organs removed by surgery, but that is not the norm. Obviously it is possible for God to give His grace in a dozen different ways, but it is difficult to see why Christ instituted this particular means of spiritual nutrition unless it had a particular point and purpose for the vast army of His future followers. Indeed, it is true to say from experience that Christians, unless they are prejudiced, or conditioned by their upbringing, are drawn intuitively toward Holy Communion. Their own natural spiritual hunger draws them instinctively toward the holy provision of the Lord’s Table.” (33-34)
“…we can accept the cordial of God’s free forgiveness and reinstatement. There is no question of our deserving such generous love, but it is a fact of life of which we can be quite sure.” (57)
J.B. Phillips, Appointment with God: Some thoughts on Holy Communion
Saturday, December 19, 2009
“Christians of every kind need to beware of pietistic individualism, and this no less true at the focal point of worship than at any other place in the Christian life.” (26-27)
“Holy Communion is surely always falling short of its true purpose if it fails to produce some sense of solidarity with our fellow worshippers.” (28)
Part of the point according to 1 Cor 11 is awareness of our fellow members of the congregation. We often miss this in our individualistic practice of shutting everyone else while we individually commune with God. This is why at our church we have gone to keeping our eyes open and drawing attention to the fact that we partake of these elements together, as one body reaffirming faith in this one Savior who has made us all part of His one Body.
J.B. Phillips, Appointment With God: Some Thoughts on Holy Communion
Friday, December 18, 2009
“But, if the truth were told … there is a good proportion of people to whom Communion is very little more than a sacred duty. . . . They continue to be Communicants out of a sense of duty or loyalty, but somehow the glowing, precious secret which is plainly experienced by others seems to elude them.” (5)J.B. Phillips, Appointment With God: Some Thoughts on Holy Communion
“But we cannot make any progress spiritually without the most uncompromising honesty. We could save ourselves and the Church at large a great deal of unhappiness, unreality, and inward dissatisfaction if we dared to use the clean cold sword of truth. If Communion is in fact largely a disappointment to us, let us have the courage to admit to ourselves and to God that this is so.” (6)
“The early Christians found their deepest fellowship with their unseen Lord as well as with one another in what began as a very simple rite.” (11)
“To put it quite bluntly, evangelical Protestants have been so busy saying what the Holy Communion is not that they have left themselves sometimes with a sterile bundle of denials, and very little positive doctrine.” (12)
Thursday, December 17, 2009
In this post, I will just draw attention to an introductory comment Phillips made. He mentioned that he wrote the book “to show how, for Christians who are prepared to use their minds and imaginations, it [communion] can deepen and enrich their spiritual lives” (vii). This comment grabbed me. Surely this exposes one reason why so many today fail to see the value or to appreciate the wonder of communion. We are not training people in the biblical value of and use of the imagination. You can’t read the imagery of the Psalms, the prophets, the parables of Jesus or Revelation and miss the use of words to stir the imagination. Too many evangelicals are scared of the imagination, imagining it to be in opposition to historical fact. But there need be no contradiction here. We have abandoned one important aspect of the mind and are the poorer for it. We desperately need to reclaim a sanctified imagination.
(previous post on preaching & imagination)
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
This year’s article surveying new study Bibles and Bible reference works for Preaching Magazine has just gone online. As with previous articles I have focused on study Bibles and commentaries though I also comment on surveys, dictionaries, and some works of biblical theology, biblical languages and church history.
By necessity the comments are brief. I hope that the article will be helpful to pastors and others teaching the Bible as they consider which of the recent books might be helpful to them in their ministries.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A few days ago I saw this quote on Ray Ortlund’s blog. It has given me so much enjoyment and blessing that I wanted to pass it along. This is classic Luther!
It is the supreme art of the devil that he can make the law out of the gospel. If I can hold on to the distinction between law and gospel, I can say to him any and every time that he should kiss my backside. Even if I sinned I would say, ‘Should I deny the gospeI on this account?’ . . . Once I debate about what I have done and left undone, I am finished. But if I reply on the basis of the gospel, ‘The forgiveness of sins covers it all,’ I have won.”
Martin Luther, quoted in Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Times,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 67 (2003): 42.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Douglas W. Phillips, The Little Boy Down the Road: Short Stories & Essays on the Beauty of Family Life (xxi-xxii)
Friday, December 04, 2009
“The choice and flower of all things profitable in other books the Psalms do both more briefly contain, and more movingly also express, by reason of that poetical form wherewith they are written . . . What is there necessary for man to know which the Psalms are not able to teach? They are to beginners an easy and familiar introduction, a mighty augmentation of all virtue and knowledge in such as are entered before, a strong confirmation to the most perfect among others. Heroical magnanimity, exquisite justice, grace moderation, exact wisdom, repentance unfeigned, unwearied patience, the mysteries of God, the sufferings of Christ, the terrors of wrath, the comforts of grace, the works of Providence over this world, and the promised joys of that world which is to come, all good necessarily to be either known or done or had, this one celestial fountain yieldeth. Let there be any grief or disease incident into the soul of man, any wound or sickness named, for which there is not in this treasure-house a present comfortable remedy at all times ready to be
(cited in A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms. Reprint. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982; viii)
Thursday, December 03, 2009
So I was delighted to see Tim Keller’s recent post on this very topic and Eric Smith’s reflections of Keller’s comments. I encourage you to read both (neither are very long).
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
“But as for footmen like you and me, let us never desire to meet with the enemy or presume ourselves able to do better when we hear about the struggles of others. When we hear of others who have been sorely tested, let’s not be deluded by thoughts of our own manhood, for those who do so are often the ones who have the worst time of it when they are tested.” (p. 182-83)
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
At times, though, I see the error in the opposite direction- the idea that those who are serious about their faith can be seen by their grave expression. Such people are never too carried away. When asked how they are doing they will immediately mention their struggle with sin, the reality of our fallen condition etc. and than say something like “What else can we expect in a fallen world.” While there is truth here, it is really the opposite extreme of the prosperity gospel.
God knows we suffer and told us to expect it. God does take sin seriously and does not want us to take it lightly. At the same time, the scriptures clearly teach us that because God has loved us and resolved our sin problem we should be joyful! I find that I too easily get caught up in the struggles and fail to ponder the reality of all that God has done for me, fail to revel in the assurances of the gospel. And revel I should and would if I think clearly about the amazing truth declared to me in the gospel!!
As Matthew Henry wrote:
“By holy joy we do really serve God; it is an honour to him to rejoice in him; and we ought to serve him with holy joy. Gospel-worshippers should be joyful worshippers” (on Psalm 100)The Psalms have brought this all to my mind. The very Psalms which teach us to take our complaints to God also command us to approach God with joy.
Psalm 100:2- “Serve the Lord with gladness”
William Kethe’s famous versification of Psalm 100 rendered this “Him serve with mirth.” Later editors changed this to “Him serve with fear.” That is a proper rendering of Psalm 2 but not of Psalm 100!
Psalm 27:6 – “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.”
One versification renders this:
“Within his tent with glee
I’ll offer sacrifice.”
Such commands abound in the Psalter. God declares that we should approach him with joy because He has been so good to us. The command in Psalm 27 comes in the midst of the psalmist crying out to God because of enemies who are after him. This is no escapist imagination. Rather, it is the real assurance which births joy even in the midst of trouble. “If God be for me who can be against me!”
Saturday, November 28, 2009
“What the singers undertake has to do with the world, and should their horizon be at all foreshortened, the happening would immediately decay into something else. Against all practicality or human expectation of being heard, they summon mankind. … nor do they measure their words against their only resources and possibilities. No, they look to him who is he focus of what they undertake and shout “all the earth” because no lesser assembly can be contemplated where he is concerned. What they gather to do must always be set in the midst of the world, or it is surrender of truth ad future from the start.”
-James L. Mays, “Worship, World, and Power: An Interpretation of Psalm 100”, Interpretation 23.3 (July 1969): 320.
Friday, November 27, 2009
This truth came back to mind recently as I read Pilgrim's Progress to my children one night. As Evangelist comes back to Christian and Faithful before they come to Vanity Fair, Bunyan notes what the two Pilgrim’s hope to hear from Evangelist, that is, why they want to hear a sermon:
“They hoped to hear from Evangelist things that would help them resist and overcome trials they were likely to encounter as they continued their journey.”*Brothers, let us make sure that as we stand before the people of God we teach them from the mighty truths of Scripture how they can fight temptation and endure to the glory of God.
* Quote from the new edition edited by C. J. Lovik, p. 126
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
As I mentioned previously, I am participating in a blog tour for the book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic, written by Chris Castaldo, one of the pastors at College Church in Wheaton, IL. Chris is well prepared to write such a book since he grew up Catholic but is now an evangelical. (Some of the questions I asked Chris were similar to the questions of others so there is some overlap with some other stops on the blog tour).
Here are four questions with Chris’ answers:
1.) Why did you write Holy Ground?
My former pastor and colleague, Kent Hughes, deserves credit for planting the idea to write Holy Ground. During my second year of ministry at College Church, I counseled several couples—one member a Catholic and the other a Protestant—helping them see that, despite doctrinal differences, their marriages could remain intact. With these folks in mind I eventually offered a Wednesday night class on the topic entitled “Perspective on Catholicism,” intended to bring a more biblically informed balance. With John 1:14 as our model, the class sought to emphasize the need to follow after Jesus’ example of “grace and truth.” The material eventually became a manuscript and, thanks to Zondervan, Holy Ground was born.
2.) What are the distinct features of Holy Ground that separate it from other such books?
Among evangelical books that address Catholicism, Holy Ground has a couple of features that make it unique. First, many such books convey an unkind attitude. The doctrinal emphasis of these works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the loving character of Jesus. It's the tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, "Don't preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive life, so should his followers." This life is communicated in the content of God's message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, I seek to express genuine courtesy toward Catholics, even in disagreement.
Second, most books on Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism emphasize doctrinal tenets without exploring the practical dimensions of personal faith. Important as it is to understand doctrine, the reality is there's often a vast difference between the content of catechisms and the beliefs of folks who fill our pews. Holy Ground is concerned with understanding the common ideas and experiences of real-life people.
3.) What do you miss most from the Roman Catholic tradition?
Great question! No one has asked me this yet. Of all the elements of which Catholic tradition consists, I’d say the one I miss most is the reverent ethos of the Mass. Even here at College Church where we work hard to emphasize transcendent realities, it’s rare that we focus on the cross with quite the same intensity that I remember from my boyhood parish. Granted, there are aspects of the Mass that are doctrinally and existentially troubling, seriously so; but the atmosphere of solemnity, organically woven into the overall worship service (and not simply tacked on to an otherwise regular sermon), unafraid of protracted moments of quietness, perhaps kneeling, concentrating on the crucified Savior with all our God-given senses, is something I’d like to see us more carefully incorporate into our services.
4.) What can a Roman Catholic learn from an evangelical?
I don’t mean to sound cheeky, but I think most of all we can help Catholics to understand the Gospel—the message of divine grace in Jesus’ death and resurrection accessed through faith apart from one’s meritorious behavior. This may sound terribly condescending and perhaps even anti-Catholic, but, to a large extent, it is the reality of the situation. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes the problem:
“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).
This is the concern of Holy Ground—that the grace of God in salvation remains central. When talking with Catholics, there are myriads of potential rabbit trails. We may enter into a conversation to talk about how Jesus provides life with meaning and suddenly find ourselves enmeshed in a debate about the apocrypha or Humanae Vitae. Sometimes it’s right to broach these subjects, but too often we do so at the expense of the gospel. This is tragic. What does it profit a person if he explicates a host of theological conundrums without focusing attention upon the death and resurrection of Jesus? In all of our discussion with Catholics we must consider, celebrate, and bear witness to the splendor and majesty of our Savior, the one who died, rose, and now lives.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I continue to enjoy greatly Rowland Prothero’s book, The Psalms In Human Life, where he the use of the psalms through the history of the church.
Here are a couple of quotes:
“From the treasure-house of the Psalter, whether in the ancient Latin version, or in vernacular prose, or in rough rhyme wedded to simple music, Roman Catholics and Protestants alike drew inspiration. The Psalms clave to the memories, and rooted themselves in the hearts of the people.” (p. 114)
Quoting Casaubon, a Huguenot scholar:
“This is the peculiarity of the Psalter, that everyone can use its words as if they were completely and individually his own.” 142
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!” ( Psalm 100:1-2)
“This doxology needs to be understood not only as a literary assertion of trustful simplicity (which it is) but also as an action which reorients life. When the community praises, it submits and reorders life. It is not only a moment of worship, but also an embrace of a doxological life which is organized differently. So the summons is a summons to reorient life.”
- Walter Brueggemann, “Psalm 100”, Interpretation (Jan 1985): 65.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Two things drew me to this book right away. First, the fact that Chris serves on staff at College Church, Wheaton, spoke volumes. Second, I noticed that D. A. Carson had this to say about the book:
“This is the best book I have read that chronicles such pilgrimages. And it is full of godly commonsense."Significant praise from a significant source!
My official part of the tour is later this month but I wanted to go ahead and ask Chris how this book would be helpful particularly to pastors. Here is Chris’ answer:
Here it is in a nutshell: estimates say there are 14 million former Catholics in the United States who now identify as “evangelical” or “born again.” These are people who struggle to understand how their Catholic background still exerts influence upon them and who need to confront patterns of faith that are less than biblical, while simultaneously applying more of the gospel. At the same time, they wrestle with the challenge of effectively communicating the hope of Christ to Catholic family and friends. Most of us pastors have at least some of these folk in our churches. Holy Ground is written to help church leaders offer these individuals the contextualized form of discipleship they so desperately need.
The biggest surprise for me since Holy Ground’s release has been the book’s appeal among evangelical Protestants with no Catholic background. They have Catholic neighbors, coworkers, and friends whom they want to understand and relate to more effectively. They have questions like: Are all Catholics the same? Where do the doctrinal lines of continuity and difference fall? How can I initiate gospel conversations? The depth of interest in these issues reveals a much broader audience than I anticipated.
Through an extended narrative describing my personal journey as a devout Catholic who worked with bishops and priests before eventually becoming an Evangelical pastor, Holy Ground tries to help readers to understand:
Priorities which drive Catholic faith and practice
Where lines of continuity and discontinuity fall between Catholicism and Evangelicalism
Delicate dynamics that make up our relationships
Principles for lovingly sharing the gospel of salvation by faith alone
Historical overview from the Reformation to the present
Because Holy Ground is a pastoral work, there are several aspects pertinent to church ministry, but let me mention one I constantly deal with in my role of equipping our people for evangelism.
When we communicate the gospel to Catholics we often make the mistake of thinking that our conversations should directly address doctrinal issues. This is not only incorrect, it is impossible. When speaking to a friend about faith, we don’t speak directly to his religious beliefs; we speak to a person who holds religious beliefs. This is a crucial, overlooked distinction. John Stackhouse in his book Humble Apologetics puts his finger on it:
To put it starkly, if “message without life” was sufficient, Christ didn’t need to perform signs, nor did he need to form personal relationships in which to teach the gospel to those who would believe him and spread the word. He could simply have hired scribes to write down his message and distribute it (John G. Stackhouse, Jr., Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002], 134).
This is what sometimes frustrates me about books written to equip Evangelicals to discuss Jesus with Catholics. They seem to operate according to the assumption that if you can simply pile up enough proofs, Catholics will have no choice but to surrender under the weight of your argument. Sure, we must have reliable evidence and must know how to marshal it effectively; but, we can’t ignore the personal, cultural, historical, and religious dynamics which are also part of these conversations. Like, for example: What are the different types of Catholics in America today? How do Catholics generally view Protestants? What are the prevailing caricatures? What landmines do we routinely step on? What language is helpful and what terms undermine fruitful discussion? How can we navigate through controversies related to one’s ethnic background or the history of anti-Catholicism in America? Where is common ground and where must we necessarily draw lines of distinction? And the list goes on. Holy Ground addresses these and other such questions in order to help ourselves and the people we serve more effectively proclaim Christ’s glory among our Catholic friends and loved ones.
Monday, November 16, 2009
There is a place for speaking the hard word. Rebuke is necessary and a true example of love. However, if you think rebuke and “calling out” is cool, you are missing the heart of God- and are currently in danger of harming the church. In fact this is a sign of immaturity. Mature leadership speaks the hard word, when necessary, from a heart broken for the people and yearning for their growth and obedience.
This text is worth meditating on often:
12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Let us go and do likewise.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Today in chapel at Union we had a great message from Jonathan Newman, a great friend whom I have been privileged to know since our student days here at Union. Jonathan planted and pastors Koinos Christian Fellowship in Troy, OH.
Jonathan challenged us with the necessity of dealing with conflict in the church lest we suggest by our actions to the watching world that God really does not matter. This is a wonderfully practical message tied to glorious truths. If we ignore the situations where we have offended others or where we have been offended we compromise the gospel and undercut its influence in and through us. I encourage you to listen in.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Justin Taylor cited this passage from Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (pp. 7-8). Peterson is really good on pastoral ministry and this quote resonates with much discussed here so I wanted to pass it along.
For a long time, I have been convinced that I could take a person with a high school education, give him or her a six-month trade school training, and provide a pastor who would be satisfactory to any discriminating American congregation. The curriculum would consist of four courses.
I: Creative Plagiarism.
I would put you in touch with a wide range of excellent and inspirational talks, show you how to alter them just enough to obscure their origins, and get you a reputation for wit and wisdom.
II: Voice Control for Prayer and Counseling.
We would develop your own distinct style of Holy Joe intonation, acquiring the skill in resonance and modulation that conveys and unmistakable aura of sanctity.
III: Efficient Office Management.
There is nothing that parishioners admire more in their pastors than the capacity to run a tight ship administratively. If we return all phone calls within twenty-four hours, answer all the letters within a week, distributing enough carbons to key people so that they know we are on top of things, and have just the right amount of clutter on our desk—not too much, or we appear
inefficient, not too little or we appear underemployed—we quickly get the reputation for efficiency that is far more important than anything that we actually do.
IV: Image Projection.
Here we would master the half-dozen well-known and easily implemented devices that that create the impression that we are terrifically busy and widely sought after for counsel by influential people in the community. A one-week refresher course each year would introduce new phrases that would convince our parishioners that we are bold innovators on the cutting edge of the megatrends and at the same time solidly rooted in all the traditional values of our sainted ancestors.
(I have been laughing for several years over this trade school training with which I plan to make my fortune. Recently, though, the joke has backfired on me. I keep seeing advertisements for institutes and workshops all over the country that invite pastors to sign up for this exact curriculum. The advertised course offerings are not quite as honestly labeled as mine, but the content appears to be identical—a curriculum that trains pastors to satisfy the current consumer
tastes in religion. I’m not laughing anymore.)
Friday, November 06, 2009
Here is a comment from a church member that I thought was well put and edifying so I share it with you:
I just wanted to let you know that the Lord has spoken to me through your messages on Galatians. I know you feel like you are saying the same things over and over, but you also rightly recognize that we can never really mature beyond justification by faith.
If I could express something of the impact that your messages have had on me, I would say that the sting of my sin has been blunted. This is true not only in the sense that guilt and creeping despair have lost power over me because of the gospel, but also in the sense that sin seems less alluring because of the doctrine of justification by faith. I recognize much more readily now how easily I slip into tying my subjective sense of standing with God to my performance. Thank you for exposing that to me and killing it through your faithful proclamation of the Word of God. Christ is addressing his people through you week by week.
Don't let the pressure toward novelty cause you to lose sleep during sermon preparation. We don't need something new. We need the old truths that have been proclaimed for centuries….
Let us be faithful to keep preaching the old truths.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
I have just finished reading Robert Godfrey’s spiritual autobiography, An Unexpected Journey: Discovering Reformed Christianity. It was a wonderful, refreshing read. The portrait of vibrant Christianity (in the church where he came to faith, and elsewhere) which he describes is so compelling. As a Baptist I have places of difference with Godfrey, but this book was good for my soul and I commend it to you. He discusses the importance of a vibrant community and the danger of turning our churches into “debating societies” where truth is discussed but less concern is given to caring for one another. He describes his own struggle with resting in the sincerity of his faith rather than just trusting the faithfulness of Christ (as noted previously). There is much pastoral wisdom to be found here.
Interestingly he structures most of the book around the Psalms. At the end of the book he discusses how valuable the Psalms have been to him. As anyone who has been reading this blog will know, I have been increasingly impressed with how central the Psalms were for the life and faith of our forebears coming out of the Reformation. When I see the strength of the trees which grew out of this soil, it makes me want to use the same fertilizer.
Interestingly, while Godfrey discusses the Psalms throughout, the chapter where he focuses on them is titled, “Passion.” There, in the closing words of the book, he writes of the Psalms:
“They have focused and united for me the theology, the worship, the piety, and the church life taught in the Scriptures. They have united for me head, heart, and mouth in the praise of the Lord. They are the soul of the Reformed faith.” (150)
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
You just have to love a commentary which opens with a preface like the one in Bob Yarbrough’s 1, 2, and 3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Now, I was already a Yarbrough fan having had him for German while at TEDS and enjoyed several interactions with him. Therefore, what he wrote in this preface did not surprise me, but left me with a smile thinking, “Vintage Yarbrough!”
This preface is worth reading in its entirety, but I will post some excerpts here as good examples of the approach to biblical study.
“It is customary for commentary writers to muse aloud to try to justify yet another painstaking study of biblical books that have already been treaded repeatedly. Nearly one hundred commentaries were written on the Johannine Epistles from patristic times to the early 1980’s . . . . I offer no defense for this commentary if the requirement is earthshaking novelty, unprecedented profundity, or unrivaled comprehensiveness. Life is not long enough to do justice to even epistle-length snippets of Christian Scripture, and publishers are not going to wait a lifetime for the manuscript anyway. . . . What I have written is limited in scope, incomplete in breadth, and restricted in insight. . . Experts should prepare to encounter any number of limitations, serious even if not criminal, in the present work.
Since a commentary is supposed to be explication rather than creative or even historical fiction, its redeeming value, if any, will lie in communication of any truths observed and articulated. Here I may express more optimism, for even a modest witness to gospel verities carries divine promise. . . . Like the exegetical labors of many interpreters through the ages, my work on the biblical text has grown out of a sense of conviction of sin, seizure by divine grace, and fascination with biblical wisdom as I sometimes think I understand it.” (ix)
“While academic protocol moves perhaps most commentators to take their primary discussion partners from among current doyens of the discipline, I have (without ignoring our day’s intellects and critical industries) tried to draw on a range of thinkers from across temporal and cultural boundaries. . . . For better or worse this may give my commentary a sense of addressing classic Christian concerns and not only current technical and postmodern ones. . . . In my choice of discussion partners, I have sought to assure that the way I have approached John’s Letters and the things I have found in them are not unduly confined to my short lifetime’s frequently quirky agenda.” (xi)
“…in reading John’s Letters, I confess as much interest in how they look to followers of the prophet Muhammad or to citizens of a post-Marxist country trying to rebuild after decades of political assault on Christianity or to a pastor in Singapore, as to the direct heirs of Dodd and Bultmann. . . . What does John have to say to Christians who are dying for the faith they profess, in part because of the trust they have based in writings like the Johannine Epistles? These are questions typically
untouched in the Western professional guilds where what used to be the study of ‘divinity’ has become the pursuit of rarified ‘biblical studies’ or even bloodless ‘religions.’” (xii)
Monday, November 02, 2009
“As Americans, we live in a culture that looks for fast, simple solutions to all problems. … we must testify that no such solution exists for the process of sanctification. Rather, we must adorn our faith with serious discipline and continuous work to grow in grace. But that seriousness must not be grim. We pursue holiness not to earn our standing with God, but because we are filled with love and gratitude to God for the standing that is ours in Christ. We pursue holiness sustained at every point with the grace and support that our God gives us in his church and among his people. We pursue holiness with the confidence that on the day that we are with Christ forever, we will be perfectly holy.”
- (Robert Godfrey, An Unexpected Journey, p. 127)
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Sadly, some Baptists think they have no part in this. They believe the Reformation is someone else’s story, and it does not relate to them. This is simply the separatist folly that afflicts us in various places. The Church was blessed by the recovery of the gospel, and we ought to celebrate that.
I pulled down an old book I found a few years ago titled, Scenes in Luther’s Life. It was published in 1848 by the American Baptist Publication Society (the author’s name is not given). This Baptist work was written, it says, to celebrate the work of God in the life of Martin Luther and to draw lessons from his life for us today. The author clearly believes this connects to the Baptist story. The introductory essay closes with this paragraph:
“The Reformation, therefore, in whatever aspect viewed, must be interesting to all classes of men. Its history cannot be studied too critically, or understood too well. Its leaders, also, especially Luther who was the most prominent, are our bothers, whose thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, conflicts and victories; it affords great pleasure to understand.”Amen. Let us remember the past that we might be faithful in the present and future.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I have been delayed in getting this up due some technical issues, and that has caused me to reflect on the fact that it has finally, in full form, gone up just as we get to Reformation Day. It seems to me appropriate in a few ways.
1. Doug had a great appreciation for the Reformation and the truths recovered there.
2. In fact some of these Reformation truths were what he most liked to talk about.
3. One of the last things he did was to order study bibles drawing from the Reformation for his daughters.
4. The truth of justification by faith, far from merely an academic, abstract doctrine, is a central ground of comfort in the light of death.
“to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
In this volume I found the following quote from Luther on the beginning of the Reformation. May we also be so committed to the Word of God and bold in its teaching.
“I, Doctor Martin, was called and compelled to become a doctor out of pure obedience, without my will. So I had to assume the office of a teacher (das Doctorampt) and swear and promise my most beloved Holy Scripture that I would preach and teach it faithfully and purely. In the course of this teaching the papacy blocked my way and wanted to keep me from doing so. But it fared as you may see, and it will fare increasingly worse and will not be able to defend itself against me. In the name and at the call of God I will ‘tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon [I will] trample under feet’ (Ps. 91:13). And this shall be begun during my life and completed after my death. St. John Huss prophesied of me when he wrote from his prison in Bohemia: They will no roast a goose (for Huss means a goose), but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing; him they will have to tolerate. And so it shall continue, if it please God.” (p. 1175)
Monday, October 26, 2009
There were so many portions that I thought about quoting here because Spurgeon is so theologically rich and so good with his words and illustrations. The main point I want to emphasize here, though, is what a powerful example of real pastoral preaching this little book is. Spurgeon is not here simply restating truths (however glorious those truths may be). Rather he is in earnest to communicate these truths well to the benefit of his reader. This thought came to mind repeatedly as I listened and then Spurgeon himself made it explicit in his closing when he wrote:
It is all in vain, dear reader, that you and I have met, unless you have actually laid hold upon Christ Jesus, my Lord. On my part there was a distinct desire to benefit you, and I have done my best to that end. It pains me that I have not been able to do you good, for I have longed to win that privilege. I was thinking of you when I wrote this page, and I laid down my pen and solemnly bowed my knee in prayer for everyone who should read it. It is my firm conviction that great numbers of readers will get a blessing, even though you refuse to be of the number. But why should you refuse? If you do not desire the choice blessing which I would have brought to you, at least do me the justice to admit that the blame of your final doom will not lie at my door. When we two meet before the great white throne you will not be able to charge me with having idly used the attention which you were pleased to give me while you were reading my little book. God knoweth I wrote each line for your eternal good. ... The tears are in my eyes as I look at you and say, Why will you die?
This same sort of personal earnestness ought to mark our preaching. May we always have our specific people clearly in mind as we prepare. We are not merely describing truths but proclaiming them with the intention that our people understand and benefit eternally.
Friday, October 23, 2009
“It should also be noted that for all their imaginative and intellectual capacities, the Fahters remained pastors. Their use of the sacred Scriptures was not the abstract debate of the academy but the concrete pastoral care and nurture of the church. Hence, their use of the Old and New Testaments is shaped by churchly needs. Homiies, catechesis, apologetic and liturgy are prominent. Even the few commentaries are deeply pastoral in that their exposition addresses the church’s life.” (xix-xx)
I think this serves not only as a description of these leaders of the past but also as the goal for us today. May the same be said of us. I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but I remember thinking early on in my training that this deep connection to actual church life was a limitation of people’s work- they were not able to step back and analyze more objectively. I now see the folly of my thinking, and this description is what I have in mind when I talk about “pastoral preaching” and the way in which oversight impacts preaching.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Both of these brought back to mind a comment from J. I. Packer in the recently released volume of essays on his life and work, J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of His Life and Thought. In Packer’s response essay he wrote:
“ ‘Our people die well,’ said John Wesley somewhere, commending Methodist Christianity. Dying well, as the final climactic step in living well, was a prominent theme in older Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox teaching on the Christian life and in some places may still be so. But in the West death has become the great unmentionable, like sex in Victorian times, and little is taught to Christians in these days about preparing for it. Instead, we live as if we shall be here forever, and very many churchpeople, one fears, have matched the self-protective young man in Charles Williams’s Many Dimensions who ‘passed . . . a not unsuccessful life in his profession, and the only intruder he found himself unable to cope with was death.’ This being so, and knowing as we do that life in this world is a terminal condition, it is surely most important that our catechesis should promote readiness for dying. When the late Dag Hammarskjold wrote that only one who knows how to die can know how to live, he was absolutely right, and our churches are much at fault in having forgotten it.” (177)
These are reminders of important truths. As pastors, our teaching and preaching is not merely abstract. We must keep in mind that we are preparing people to live well and ultimately to die well. We will all die. Let us prepare to do so well.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The care of souls is the radical idea of the pastor’s office. he is a shepherd to whom a flock has been committed to guide, to fee, to defend; and the divine command enjoins: ‘Take heed to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers’ (Acts 20:28). he is to be the personal religious guide, the confidential Christian friend, of his charge. Our Lord, in his description of the Good Shepherd, said, ‘The sheep hear his voice; and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before the, and the sheep follow him; for they know his voice’ (John 10: 3-4) Each member of his flock is a soul entrusted to his care by the Lord; and if true to his trust, he is one of those who ‘watch for souls as they must give account.’ Paul, when in Ephesus, taught not only publicly, but ‘from house to house;’ and in his farewell charge to the elders of that city he said, ‘Watch, and remember that, by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn every man night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31).
- Hezekiah Harvey, The Pastor: His Qualifications and Duties (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society, 1879), 78.
Monday, October 19, 2009
“ ‘Very much of his power as a preacher lay in the way he had of getting close to his people. His custom was to visit all of them, and so anxious were they not to miss the expected pleasure that he made engagements ahead often as far as three months. The humblest householder was glad to entertain ‘Brother Mell,’ and the same ease of manner characterized him whether he sat at the bountiful board of the rich, or broth the plain bread and partook of the cup of milk from the pine table of the poorest. . . . If a poor man was harassed with debt, broken hearted over a willful child, or bowed down with bereavement, he never felt his load to be quite so heavy after he had talked it over with ‘Brother Mell’.”
(reminiscences of Mrs. D.B. Fitzgerald about Patrick Hues Mell, in P.H. Mell, Jr. The Life of Patrick Hues Mell [Harrisonburg, VA: Gano Books, 1991.], 61-62)
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The entire post (which is brief) is worth reading. Here is his closing:
If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher. It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be--someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people's struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher. (emphasis added)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
"Now I want you to remember a few things about the pastorate. Being a pastor today involves more than merely teaching and preaching. You’ll be the comforter of the fatherless and the widow. You’ll counsel constantly with those whose homes and hearts are broken. You’ll have to handle divorce problems and a thousand marital situations. You’ll have to exhort and advise young people involved in sordid and illicit sex, with drugs and violence. You’ll have to visit the hospitals, the shut-ins, the elderly. A mountain of problems will be laid on your shoulders and at your doorstep."
"Just ask yourself, son, if you are prepared not only to preach and teach, but also to weep over men’s souls, to care for the sick and dying, and to bear the burdens carried today by the saints of God."
HT: Chad Davis
P.S. Justin's photo of Piper 30 years ago is well worht seeing. :)
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Pauci viri de cura animi cogitabant.
Which means, “Few men were thinking about the care of the soul.”
Given the concern of this blog and the paper I gave this last week, it felt providential. The Latin source being summarized probably had something a bit different in mind, but I think it is true today in the church that too few people are giving serious attention to the care of souls.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Several bloggers gave summaries including:
Also audio of all the sessions are now available.
My paper was an exposition of the central thesis of this blog: that the oversight of souls is the heart of pastoral ministry. In the context of this conference I argued that the future of any broader church movement (any denomination or ‘evangelicalism’) is dependent on the health of specific local churches, and the health of churches will depend on (among other things) faithful pastoral ministry. Yet, this vision of caring for souls, it seems to me, is not a common idea in the church today. I am calling for a recovery of this vision, arguing that is the command of Scripture and the testimony of the church through the ages.
Monday, October 05, 2009
One great source is the letters of Samuel Rutherford (available in complete text on Google Books). Letter 225 is particularly powerful as he writes to his beloved church while he is away from them in exile in Aberdeen. Here are two excerpts from that letter:
This is the heart of a pastor.
Friday, October 02, 2009
“Sermons, like arrows shot at a venture, seldom hit the mark when we do not know the character of our hearers; and, in many instances, our knowledge of their character must be imperfect if we contract no familiarity with them. Yet this, however desirable, is next to impossible in a numerous charge, or in a charge almost continually shifting its inhabitants.” (191-192)- John Erskine, “Difficulties of the Pastoral Office,” in John Brown, compiler, The Christian Pastor's Manual(1826. Reprint. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 2003)
Thursday, October 01, 2009
The audio of this lecture is now available here. Bray was informative and entertaining as always! Perhaps the most intriguing portion of the lecture is the beginning where he discusses his personal interaction with and knowledge of Piper and Wright. Bray described the trajectory of Wright’s thought as beginning in a thoroughly Calvinistic framework (Bray referenced Wrights first book, a co-authored piece, published by Banner of Truth) to which was then mixed a more critical approach to biblical studies. Bray then described Wright’s position (apparently his work on Paul) as essentially hyper-Calvinistic.
This is an informative lecture worth listening to.