Monday, August 31, 2009

The Gospel is Glad Tidings

“The Gospel is good news- glad tidings. To whomsoever it is glad tidings and good news, to him it is the gospel. It has come to make troubled consciences peaceful, and wounded hearts whole, and anxious distressed spirits glad. Sinner! does this doctrine of Christ crucified and risen to give repentance and forgiveness, make you glad? Then it is yours.”

- Melancthon Jacobus (1816-1876), p. 82 of his Notes Critical and Explanatory on the Acts of the Apostles (reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books).

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Questions for Pastoral Candidate to Ask a Church

Earlier this year I posted on the value of a church asking good questions of pastoral candidates. In the comments Barry Maxwell asked about a list of questions for such a candidate to ask the church. Just today I read a list of good questions for a pastoral candidate to ask from Colin Adams, a Baptist pastor in the UK. Questions to be asked will inevitably vary based on settings of the church and pastor (age, family, etc.), but this is a good starter.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Dockery’s Fall ’09 Reading List

My president, David Dockery, has just released his recommended reading list for this fall. He does this on a regular basis recommending new and important books. His recommendation is not of course an endorsement of everything said in these books but an acknowledgement of the importance of the book in current discussions.

Recommended Reading List
Fall 2009

Armstrong, Chris R. Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future. Downers Grove: InterVarsity. 2009

Baker, Hunter. The End of Secularism. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009

Bannister, Nonna, Denise George, and Carolyn Tomlin. The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2009

Casey, Shaun A. The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Collins, Jim. How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Conyers, A. J. The Listening Heart: Vocation and the Crisis of Modern Culture.Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009.

DeYoung, Kevin and Ted Kluck. Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. Chicago: Moody, 2009.

Geach, Mary and Luke Gormally. Faith in a Hard Ground: Essays on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics by G. E. M. Anscombe. Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2008.

Hankins, Barry. Francis Schaeffer And the Shaping of Evangelical America. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Holloway, Carson. The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2008.

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

Kostenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: B&H, 2009.

Lundin, Roger. Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. God, Philosophy, Universities. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009.

Moore, Russell D. Adopted for Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2009.

Nettles, Thomas J. James Petigru Boyce. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009.

Noll, Mark A. The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Poe, Harry L. and James Ray Veneman. The Inklings of Oxford: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Their Friends. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Rah, Soong-Chan. The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Slatton, James H. W.H. Whitsitt: The Man and the Controversy. Macon: Mercer University Press, 2009.

Smith, Gary V. Isaiah 40-66. NAC. Nashville: B&H, 2009.

Sweeney, Douglas A. Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word: A Model of Faith and Thought. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Ten Elshof, Gregg A. I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

VanHoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Walton, John H. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009.

Wills, Gregory. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Wolfe, Christopher, editor. The Naked Public Square Reconsidered: Religion and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Wilmington: ISI, 2009.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The God I Don't Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.

Wuthnow, Robert. Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches.Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Value of Small Church

While thumbing through William Lumpkin’s Baptist Confessions of Faith I came across a fascinating point in the confession of faith of one of the Baptist groups in Amsterdam. The document is titled “A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland” and is dated 1611. As this Baptist group summarized the principle tenets of their faith, emphasizing their understanding of the church, they included this statement (#16 in the list). I include it here first as originally written and then in updated language:

That the members off everie Church or Congregacion ought to knowe one another, that so they may performe all the duties off love one towards another both to soule and bodie. Mat. 18.15. 1 Thes. 5.14. 1 Cor. 12.25. And especiallie the Elders ought to knowe the whole flock, whereof the Holie Ghost hath made them overseers. Acts 20.28; 1 Pet. 5.2,3. And therefore a Church ought not to consist off such a multitude as cannot have particuler knowledg one off another.

Updated English:
That the members of every church or congregation ought to know one another, so they may perform all the duties of love to one another, both spiritually and physically. (Matt. 18:15; 1 Thes. 5:14; 1 Cor. 12:25) And especially the elders ought to know the whole flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers. (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-3) Therefore a church ought not to consists of such a multitude that each member cannot have individual knowledge of one another.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ortlund Encouragement to Read the Bible

Ray Ortlund has recently posted three items that are powerful encouragements in reading the Scriptures- not just today but over the decades. These thoughts have lingered with me, some over several days, challenging me deeply and encouraging me just as deeply. They have made me want to be more diligent, more consistent, more believing and hopeful, and a better parent.
Here they are:
- Reading the Greek NT over 4 decades
- Wesley on reading (Bible and other good books)
- Note in Bible given to Ray by his Dad on his 17th birthday

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Africa Bible Commentary Series

Just this week I received an advanced copy of the inaugural volume of the Africa Bible Commentary series, and this volume is on the Pastoral Epistles! I have not had time to read much of it yet, but I wanted to go ahead and mention this volume to others.

The series grew out of work on the one volume Africa Bible Commentary. The introduction for the series states:

The contributors are Anglophone or Francophone African scholars, all of whom adhere to the statement of faith of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa.

The series is aimed at pastors and sermon preparation with more technical issues handled in footnotes. It is also self-consciously aimed at the African context- illustrations are drawn from life there and the current concerns of churches in Africa are addressed. Study questions at the end of each section raise specific issue current in African churches. One of the key aims of the series is then to be more directly accessible by African readers. Of course, for those of us in North America or Europe, it offers us the opportunity to hear from the church in Africa, to see how they are wrestling with the scripture in their context. I am particularly interested to read how the issues discussed in the Pastorals are being dealt with by my African brothers and sisters. This looks like a promising series.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Trueman on Leadership and Making Difficult Decisions

Carl Trueman has another insightful article this time on leadership. Trueman discusses the tendency today to avoid any decision which will cause any offense. This, he argues, is not an option for those in real leadership positions. Pastors are leaders and we ought to know the reality of Trueman’s statements. If we are going to be faithful to our calling we are sometimes going to have to make decisions which are not all that clear, ones that perhaps later on will be shown to be unwise. We will be tempted to avoid the issue, to stall or to shift responsibility in some way. If we give in to this temptation we will be guilty of cowardice (see 2 Tim 1:7). Sure there is a place for waiting to seek wisdom, etc. But at times in real life a decision will have to be made by leaders who are willing to make a call and receive whatever consequences come. This will not require us then to maintain we were right in all such decisions. It may often require that which is even more difficult- publicly admitting we were wrong. But we must be willing to ake decisions and while living semper reformanda, always reforming in light of the Scriptures.
The church needs such leaders among her pastors.

Here are some quotes to entice you to read the full article:

it is perhaps not surprising that as adolescence creeps into middle age, so does the fear of making choices and closing down options; but I wonder if most lethal of all will prove to be not the lack of commitment and stability that characterises Marks' `cult of options'. Rather the worst of it may well be that a generation is growing up that is happy to sneer and snipe at the decisions of others, but for whom making decisions that bind is something they themselves are incapable of doing, an alien concept no less; and that means not only, as I suspect Mark Dever fears, that a generation will grow up with no real commitments other than to themselves as individuals but also with no real leadership potential.

Too often I suspect that aspiring statesmen in the church are driven more by a need to be liked and to avoid conflict than by a real desire to provide strong leadership; but being a statesman is not a career path; it is something that is earned over many years of making hard decisions, taking unpopular stands, and proving one's mettle under fire.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What are Great Books?

My colleague, Brad Green, sent me this quote from Serge Lancel in his book, St Augustine, on what great books are:

“ . . . they are the repositories of irreplaceably personal words which achieve their deepest meaning in the setting of a closely circumscribed area of someone’s life.” (p. 204)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

M. E. Dodd on Joyous Communion

In a previous post I took issue with J. M. Pendleton’s morose description of communion. It has not been heartening to find Pendleton’s sentiments echoed in various other Baptist authors of the past. However, today I was encouraged to find M. E. Dodd addressing his own church members, reminding them of their times of celebrating communion as:

“That glad, joyous occasion when our memories are refreshed and when our gratitude is enlarged as we meditate upon the things that Christ did for us as represented in this supper.” (Baptist Principles and Practices [Alexandria, LA: The Chronicle Publishing Co., 1916], 75)

Dodd gave serious time and effort to rehabilitating the practice of communion in his church (as evidenced in his intro to Christ’s Memorial). May we also be able to look back to glad, joyous occasions where we celebrated communion with our fellow church members.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Calvin on God’s Promises to Individuals

Recently I have in a number of settings felt the need to stress that God’s promises in Scripture to the church apply to each individual who is redeemed. This has at times come up in situations where God’s love for his people is mentioned, and some struggle with thinking, “I know God loves His people in general, and I even believe God loves those believers there who are more faithful etc., but really I doubt that he loves me.”

With that in mind, this quote from Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 125 (pointed out to me by my fellow pastor Lee Tankersley) is helpful:

whenever God speaks to all his people in a body, he addresses himself also to each of them in particular. As not a few of the promises are extended generally to the whole body of the Church, so many contemplate them as at a distance, as far removed from them, and will not presume to appropriate them to themselves. The rule here prescribed must therefore be observed, which is, that each apply to himself whatever God promises to his Church in common

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bunyan Poem on Valor and the Christian Life

John Bunyan is one of many historical examples of a pastor/poet. Pilgrim’s Progress contains a number of poems by Bunyan. Below is on e I have appreciated for some time. In the story it comes from Mr. Valiant-for-Truth. Louis Benson, prominent hymnologist, described this song as “dramatically virile” and stated, “to Bunyan bravery is the root virtue of Christian character and the only possible equipment for the pilgrim life.” Coming from a man who was imprisoned for over 12 years, this is all the more meaningful.

This poem in a slightly modified form was set to music and included in some hymnals as “He Who Would Valiant Be.”

This though is Bunyan’s original:
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.

In our day, when we suffer less, may we still share this resoluteness and faith.
(Quotes from Louis F. Benson, "The Hymns of John Bunyan," Papers of the Hymn Society, 1930)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“There are plenty of bad things that need killing”

Every once in a while I mention here items on my Children’s literature blog. Certainly one role of a pastor is to encourage families in the training of their children.

Yesterday, I posted a reflection on a line from George Macdonald’s book, The Princess and Curdie. The wise, mysterious woman character encourages Curdie, a young boy, not to destroy his weapons even though he has just done wrong with them. Instead, she urges him:
“Keep them, and practice with them every day, and grow a good shot. There are plenty of bad things that want [need] killing, and a day will come when they will prove useful.”
This is a good point and one we should be communicating. Here is what I said at the other blog:
This is the real truth, but not very often told in children’s books today. We encourage not pacifism, but restraint and wisdom. For, we know there are bad things which need destroying. I intend to raise sons who can recognize such bad things and are able and willing properly to wield destructive force when necessary.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with John Thornbury

Recently I had the privilege of talking for a while with John Thornbury who recently retired from his church, Winfield Baptist, after pastoring there for over 40 years. He has also written several books. I was struck by the amount of wisdom and experience he has to offer to the rest of us, particularly as a man who has faithfully labored in one place for more than four decades weathering the ups and downs and seeing God build His church.

He graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me to post here. I was particularly struck by his comment, “Growing in the Lord means growing in love for his sheep”. I hope this is an encouragement and help to you as well.

1. What advice would you give to a younger pastor beginning ministry at a new church? Any warnings or particular encouragements about how he begins?
Candidates for pastoral ministry need to be aware up front that "the churches are not into you." They perceive that the pastor is there to minister to them, to nurture, care for and bless them. This seems selfish and is I guess. I believe, however, that with time they will come to appreciate a true shepherd and will begin to seek to return the caring and loving relationship. Particular advice: respect has to be earned, it cannot be demanded immediately. Many people are suspicious of preachers, due in part to the bad reputation some have projected to the public.

2. I have heard you talk about key problems which can “torpedo” a man’s ministry. Can you list those and discuss them, explaining why they are key problems and how we can avoid them?
Problems that torpedo a pastoral position.
1. Greed. The pastor must beware of appearing to preach for money. A contract and understanding should be worked out with the church before he accepts the position so he does not have to rattle the cup after getting into the office. A friend of mine once said, "You can live on what God provides for you."
2. Lust. No need to expand on this.
3. Ambition. The pastor must be able to look himself in the mirror without embarrassment. Sure, the goodwill of the people is necessary, but he must lovingly, but firmly stick by his convictions. If God has called him He will see the pastor through his difficulties. Craving to be popular is deadly.
4. Intellectualism. Beware of thinking that the only task of the preacher is to get up into a high tower and "hand down" the word a couple of times a week. He must be involved in people's lives: hospital, funeral, counseling. Young pastors tend not to have natural compassion, so they should pray for it. Growing in the Lord means growing in love for his sheep.

3. While in many circles we have reclaimed the importance of preaching, there seems to be a lack of awareness among some preachers of the importance of actually shepherding the flock. Could you speak to the importance of the “out of the pulpit” side of ministry, including visiting the sick, counseling, and personal conversations?
Of all the spiritual roles one can have, the PASTOR is the most like Christ. He is a shepherd. What does a shepherd do?
1Feeds the flock. Teaching the whole counsel of God, expounding the word from the pulpit.
2. Cares for the flock. When sheep get in the ditch, he must be there. He must learn to pull them out. As I heard a preacher say yesterday, “Sheep are ignorant, defenseless and dirty.” Jesus will help the pastor to learn to be there for them.
3. Protects the flock. Protects them from false doctrine, false teachers, and wolves that abound today.

4. What basic advice would you give on establishing long term patterns for faithful sermon preparation?
One of the greatest examples of a balanced minister, from a Reformed standpoint (He would not like this term) is Spencer H. Cone, pastor of First Baptist of New York early in the 19th century. He believed that preparation for the pulpit is a 24/7 business. It is not just poring over book, but he is preparing all the time. Wherever he is: observing the world around him, at athletic events, at the beach. He believed a true preacher should be able to preach at the drop of the hat. The preacher should be aware of the world around him, every field is important. Drink in life and draw illustrations from real life experiences. Summary: the preacher should read but be thinking and preparing ALL THE TIME.

5. Is there any other particular advice you would like to give?
1. Pick the right wife. A pastor's wife can make or break him. She should share the burden of ministry.
2. Put Christ in ever message. Take a text and sometime head with it to the cross. People need to hear about JESUS. "Sirs, we would see Jesus."
3. Avoid the Moses syndrome. I have come to the conclusion that Moses was rebuked by God and did not enter the promised land because he became angry and impatient with the people. I believe God was saying to him, "If I can put up with these people, you can." His smiting the rock instead of speaking to it showed his disgust.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Communion Is Not for Self-Flagellation

I am currently working on a chapter on the practice of communion in churches (I promise, Tom and Matt, I am chasing that deadline!). I recently found an older expression of a view of communion which I want to counter. Here then is an excerpt from my work at this stage:

J. M. Pendleton in his Baptist Church Manual states, “If ever the tragedy of Calvary should engross the thoughts of the Christian to the exclusion of every other topic, it is when he sits at the table of the Lord.”[1] He draws this conclusion from Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 11:26- “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (ESV). I think Pendleton has improperly applied this verse and the results of such application are widely seen. Very often people do in fact approach the Lord’s table in this way, focusing exclusively on the tragedy of Christ’s death. The sense is that the purpose of this exercise is for us to focus on our sin, to remember afresh the depth of our wickedness and how much this cost God. It is almost as if God is that mother who constantly reminds the family how much she has suffered for everyone and wants to make sure you never forget it! But this most certainly is not the point Paul is making. Pendleton (and others after him) unnecessarily infers the word “tragedy.” Yes, the table proclaims Christ’s death, but not simply- or even primarily- the tragedy of His death. Notice the point is that this is “proclamation.” Elsewhere in the New Testament what is being proclaimed when Christ’s death is in view? It is not tragedy, but hope! It is the fact that the death of Christ has made possible the forgiveness of sin, reconciliation with God, transference from being enemies of God to being children of God! What is proclaimed is good news, the gospel. We do wrong when our participation in communion is some sort of self-flagellating focus on tragedy. We do not gather to tell God we’re sorry He had to go through this. We are reminded of our sin, and the length to which the love of God went, but the focus is celebrating the grace of God and giving thanks to God for his amazing grace.

Pendleton goes on to say that communion is “a solemn celebration of his atoning death.” Here, I could not agree more. I simply think that the full weight of the word celebration was not allowed in his previous discussion and is often absent in our practice today. The taking of the elements is the tangible proclamation and reminder of the forgiveness of sins. It is one of God’s prescribed means of reminding His people that he has forgiven their sins. So, let us celebrate communion certainly with awe, amazed that God would do this for us, and with deep thanksgiving.

[1] J. M. Pendleton, Baptist Church Manual (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1966), 89.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ken Myers on Titus and Cultural Engagement

In the recent issue of Touchstone Magazine Ken Myers' article “Waiting for Epimenides” draws from the letter to Titus lessons for cultural engagement. This is a good article both in its handling of Titus and in its observations of the current church scene. Here are some quotes:

“A passion for Christian maturity is easily obscured when church leaders become preoccupied with the church’s cultural relevance.” (9)

“Far from looking more like their neighbors in the interest of winsomeness, they are enjoined to live lives that put their neighbors to shame.” (11; commenting on Titus 2:1-10)

“St. Paul’s letter to Titus is a bracing rebuke to much of the vague talk about cultural engagement one hears in so many Christian settings. … It recognizes that cultural moods and styles can be enemies of faithfulness.” (11)

Noting that there are often secular voices pointing out the deadening effects of cultural trends, Myers goes on to say:

"But, all too often, these prophetic voices are ignored, as American churches have emulated the most popular trends of our time to attract people who want a spiritual supplement to the cultural status quo instead of a radical critique of the conventional wisdom. Christian leaders have assumed that ‘engaging the culture’ means finding out what the majority wants and figuring out how to exploit those desires in the name of Jesus." (11)

If you are not a subscriber to Touchstone, I would encourage you to try out the magazine.