"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thankful on Thursday - The Gospel

[If this post is too long, please read either this one or this one.]

What's Wrong?

Have you noticed that the world is really messed up? All you have to do is turn on the TV, pick-up a newpaper, listen to talk radio, or read a blog and you'll find out pretty quickly that this is one big train wreck. Why is that?

The Bible calls this problem sin, which is to say that we have missed the mark and that we have fallen short. We have missed the mark of righteousness and fallen short of God's glory. In other words, we do not live as our Creator intended for us to live.

Now, I don't have to delve very far into my own heart to know that I'm part of the problem, not the solution. And while I don't know you or your heart directly, the Bible says what is true about me is true about you, too, whether you are willing to admit it or not. We are enemies of God; estranged from the One who created us live in His presence forever.

Can We Fix It?

So, should we become more moral and ethical people? Stop cheating on our taxes, obey all the traffic laws, be more courteous, and spend more time with family? I suspect our lives would improve if we did these things, but it would only be a temporary improvement. Morality is not the solution.

Then should we form another civic organization and try to do better? Feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and visit the sick? Those are all good activities, but none of them will make up for the evil in our hearts. In the words of John Mellencamp, "I do charity work when I believe in the cause but my soul it bothers me still." Social activism is not the solution.

So, you can see it coming, right? What we really need is religion. Join a church, study the Bible, pray, and give money to the church. Again, this is all worthwhile, but being a church member is not sufficient either. Religion is not the solution, either.

In fact, as long as the focus is on something we do, no matter how good and right it seems, we are on the wrong path. Why? Because we are spiritually dead. You may not know it but you have the sixth sense - you see dead people every day. Anyone who has not been born by the Holy Spirit is dead. Sin kills. We are on the gurney and there is no sign of life. We need someone outside of ourselves, a Physician, to bring us to life.

Such a Great Salvation

That Physician is Jesus. The Bible proclaims that new life is possible through the gospel (the good news) of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul explains the gospel as follows:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV)
The good news is that Jesus died "for our sins" as had been prophesied hundreds of years before His birth. We cannot reach God on our own merits, but God, in His grace, sent His Son to pay the debt we owed. Therefore, God justifies us (declares us to be righteous) because Jesus has born the punishment of our sin. Now, God the Father will treat us as if we have lived the righteous life that Jesus lived.

All we have to do is believe. When the crowds asked Jesus what they needed to be doing in order to do the works which God required, Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29 ESV) We participate with Christ in His death if we stop relying on what we have done, and throw ourselves to the mercy of God, trusting that Jesus' sacrifice is sufficient for our salvation. Then we can sing with Horatio Spafford:
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Today Is the Day

I bear testimony that I'm thankful this Thursday, and every day, that 2000 years ago the penalty for my sins was paid, and that over 20 years ago now the Holy Spirit caused me to be born spiritually so that I would trust in the finished work of Jesus.

So I plead with you be reconciled to God. Trust in the work of Jesus that you might be with God forever.

Will your life be free from trial and tribulation if you believe? No. In fact, in our current society, it is likely to get worse if you truly follow Jesus. But for those who are in Christ there is joy even in suffering. And the difficulties of this life will pale, both in duration and quality, to the blessings of the life to come.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

WoW: Bridges and Unforgiven (Prov. 28:17)

Near the end of Unforgiven, Clint Eastwood's Billy Munny stands by a tree where "The Schofield Kid" sits. The kid is drinking whiskey, having just killed his first man. He had mistakenly thought that this act would transform him into a larger than life figure, a "Billy Munny". The following exchange rings with the weight both men now bear.
The Schofield Kid: It don't seem real. How he ain't gonna never breathe again, ever. How he's dead. An' the other one, too. All on account of pullin' a trigger.
Billy Munny: It's a h**l of a thing, killin' a man. You take away all he's got an' all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah. Well, I guess they had it comin'.
Billy Munny: We all have it comin', Kid.
It is the last line that is the most poignant and real. An acknowledgement of man's depravity. But it is the whole exchange, which reflects, most likely unknowingly, on Proverbs 28:17 that I want to consider. In Proverbs 28:17, the wisdom of Solomon says:
If one is burdened with the blood of another, he will be a fugitive until death;
let no one help him. (ESV)
The first thing of note here is that for all but the most amoral, murder is a burden. As the Schofield Kid learned, killing does not bring you status or self-worth. Instead, it places a weight on the soul that, humanly speaking, can never be removed. Even after all the murders he had committed, Billy Munny felt the weight of his actions.

But this burden is not enough. Proverbs tells us that a murder should have no safe harbor. He will flee until captured and has been made to pay for his crime. No one should shelter or hide him (let no one help him). Of all crime, murder is the first called out in the Scriptures, and a penalty is clearly specified:
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:5-6 ESV)
Murder is a grievous act against another human (You take away all he's got an' all he's ever gonna have), but even more heinous is that it is an act of violence against the image of God. Therefore, it demands the harshest retribution. Even in the New Testament, Paul says in Romans 13:4 that governments have the authority for capital punishment.

Remember that when Paul wrote those words he was not under a kind or just government. He was telling his Roman readers to submit to Nero. Nero's authority, just like Nebuchadnezzar's, was derived from God. Rulers have a responsibility, therefore, to enforce this most basic of all laws.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, writes of this verse:
It is miscalled philanthropy, that protest against all capital punishments. Shall man pretend to be mere merciful than God? Pity is misplaced here. The murderer therefore of his brother is his own murderer.
But this is not where the story ends for Bridges, nor do I think, for us. We are commanded to provide no help for the one who is fleeing. So we support the authorities and aid in capture and not escape. But that doesn't mean we do not offer forgiveness. As Bridges writes:
Yet we must not cast off his soul. Visiting the condemned cell is a special exercise of mercy. While we bow to the stern justice of the great law-giver, joyous indeed it is to bring to the sinner under the sentence of the law, the free forgiveness of the Gospel; not as annulling his sin, but shewing the over-abounding of grace beyond the abounding of sin. (Romans 5:20)
Jesus said that any one of us who is angry with a brother is a murderer (Matt 5:21-22). Let us therefore not pass final judgment on another. And if we should preach the gospel to the murderer, what sin can one commit that we should not preach the gospel to them?

Postscript: This is the second post I've made on Wednesday from Proverbs with the aid of Charles Bridges' commentary. I think I may continue this pattern, hence the WoW. I stated here that BoB's in engineering terminology was "best of the best" though I use it here for "Best of the Blogs". WoW's are "worst of the worst" in my vocation, but here it is "Wisdom on Wednesdays".

Having said that, I must make apologies to Pastor Hunter for (1) stealing his title, and (2) adding to his teaching. Patrick has been going through Proverbs during the evening service for a significant period of time (even he will admit it's been a long series). He's taking larger sections and looking at them briefly. What is more of a statement about how my mind works than his teaching, I frequently find myself captivated by a single verse (or maybe two). These posts have grown out of that "fixation". So while he has undoubtedly influenced the content, he should not be blamed for the content.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Calvin on Election

Last week on Tuesday I posted a quote from John Piper in honor of his restarting his Romans' series. This week I'm posting from another John (Calvin) on election. The following is from The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Three, Chapter 21. It is all of section 1. I'm posting this in honor of Jonathan Moorhead, who couldn't resist whacking the hornet's nest (here and here).

1. The covenant of life is not preached equally to all, and among those to whom it is preached, does not always meet with the same reception. This diversity displays the unsearchable depth of the divine judgment, and is without doubt subordinate to God’s purpose of eternal election. But if it is plainly owing to the mere pleasure of God that salvation is spontaneously offered to some, while others have no access to it, great and difficult questions immediately arise, questions which are inexplicable, when just views are not entertained concerning election and predestination. To many this seems a perplexing subject, because they deem it most incongruous that of the great body of mankind some should be predestinated to salvation, and others to destruction. How ceaselessly they entangle themselves will appear as we proceed. We may add, that in the very obscurity which deters them, we may see not only the utility of this doctrine, but also its most pleasant fruits. We shall never feel persuaded as we ought that our salvation flows from the free mercy of God as its fountain, until we are made acquainted with his eternal election, the grace of God being illustrated by the contrast—viz. that he does not adopt all promiscuously to the hope of salvation, but gives to some what he denies to others. It is plain how greatly ignorance of this principle detracts from the glory of God, and impairs true humility. But though thus necessary to be known, Paul declares that it cannot be known unless God, throwing works entirely out of view, elect those whom he has predestined. His words are, “Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work,” (Rom. 11:6). If to make it appear that our salvation flows entirely from the good mercy of God, we must be carried back to the origin of election, then those who would extinguish it, wickedly do as much as in them lies to obscure what they ought most loudly to extol, and pluck up humility by the very roots. Paul clearly declares that it is only when the salvation of a remnant is ascribed to gratuitous election, we arrive at the knowledge that God saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure, and does not pay a debt, a debt which never can be due. Those who preclude access, and would not have any one to obtain a taste of this doctrine, are equally unjust to God and men, there being no other means of humbling us as we ought, or making us feel how much we are bound to him. Nor, indeed, have we elsewhere any sure ground of confidence. This we say on the authority of Christ, who, to deliver us from all fear, and render us invincible amid our many dangers, snares and mortal conflicts, promises safety to all that the Father has taken under his protection (John 10:26). From this we infer, that all who know not that they are the peculiar people of God, must be wretched from perpetual trepidation, and that those therefore, who, by overlooking the three advantages which we have noted, would destroy the very foundation of our safety, consult ill for themselves and for all the faithful. What? Do we not here find the very origin of the Church, which, as Bernard rightly teaches (Serm. in Cantic). could not be found or recognized among the creatures, because it lies hid (in both cases wondrously) within the lap of blessed predestination, and the mass of wretched condemnation?

Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Translation of: Institutio Christianae religionis.; Reprint, with new introd. Originally published: Edinburgh : Calvin Translation Society, 1845-1846. (III, xxi, 1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Textual Criticism and the "Pericope Adultrae"


The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, in Article X, reads as follows:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

What is this statement asserting about the text of Scripture?First, that the books of the Bible, as originally written, were inspired. Men who have copied the Scriptures and translated the Scriptures are not inspired (there is a debate here with those who would hold to a "King James Only" view that I'm not going to address; those interested in pursuing this debate farther should reference the resources available on James White's Alpha and Omega website). Second, that while we no longer have the originals, we can reconstruct them with a high degree of faithfulness to the originals. This is the key point I want to discuss and will come back to it. Third, that what we have today in many modern translations (I would exclude most if not all paraphrases and some more creative translations) is Scripture. That is to say that translations like the King James, New American Standard, English Standard, Holman Christian Standard, and the New Internation Version are faithful enough to the original writings to be considered the word of God.

The second point is the link between the first and the third. How do we get from what we no longer have, the inspired texts written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, to the Bible in English? One obvious key is translation. But if we no longer have the originals, can we trust the copies? Do the copies agree? If not, how do we know which copy to trust?

Textual Criticism

On the question about whether or not the copies agree, the answer is in large part yes. Let me give a specific example from recent history that affirms that the text of Scripture has been faithfully preserved. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of texts that predate the time of Christ. Contained within this collection are some of the oldest copies of Old Testament writings that we have. These books are hundreds of years older than any copies we had before they were found. What is significant is that the texts do not show significant variation from the texts on which we had been basing the Old Testament. So there is a large consensus within the copies as to what the original texts said.

However, there are differences. In most cases, these differences are minor, like an additional word or a slight change in the phrasing. The possible causes are varied. If you've ever tried to transcribe a document, when you are trying to make a lot of progress you sometimes will try to remember a longer phrase than what you should have. So a Scribe adds a word or leaves a word out by doing this. Today we have computers and can simply add in the missing word. But in the painstaking process of past, adding or removing a word once it was in place was very difficult. Paper was not readily available. The scribe, if he recognized the error, might decide it was not significant enough to warrant losing the page and the work already put into it.

More rare, but possible, is that a scribe might think a passage unclear, so he adds something to help clarify. Those who did the work of transcription were, as the Chicago Statement points out, not inspired. So we have fallible men who either make unintended mistakes or make misguided alterations. In either case, what results is some variants in the text.

The science of textual criticism is that field of study that attempts to ascertain what the original texts actually contained based on the copies we have today. This is not as easy as it might sound. First, the number of original texts and text fragments that we have is extensive. If anyone watched the TV show on the Gospel according to Judas, the process for the Biblical text is different. With the Gospel of Judas they had one text that had holes and were trying to guess what words best filled the missing parts. In textual criticism, you do not lack information, you have too much. The question is not about missing words, but which of these different words belongs. Or, does this word that does not occur in these other manuscripts belong.

Second, what criteria do you use to judge? Is it as simple as using the variation that occurs in the largest number of texts (a "majority" text)? Should we base our text on the oldest available copies, assuming that older copies would be less likely to have scribal errors? Do we attempt to determine whether the difference appears to be an attempt to clarify what would otherwise be a difficult text to explain? Should we apply all of these in some way?

The Problem of John 7:53-8:11

I'm not going to answer all the questions above, as my concern is with a specific passage. However we choose what variant of the text we are going to use, in most cases the end result is not very significant. The variations just do not significantly alter the meaning of the text. However, there are exceptions. The two biggest are Mark 16:9-20 and John 7:53-8:11. In both cases, but even more so for John 7:53-8:11, there is significant variations in the manuscripts we have. What does this mean for a study of John's Gospel.

Broadly, one can hold one of three positions. The first position is that the text of John 7:53-8:11 is not Scripture and should not be taught. The second position is that the text is not Johannine, but does reflect a real incident in the life of Jesus and may be taught. The third position is that the text is genuinely Johannine and therefore should be taught. I recognize that these are very broad categories and that people may not neatly fit into one category, but the categories are helpful in progressing the discussion.

The majority of commentators I have referenced on the text hold to the second position. For example, in the Expositors Bible Commentary it states:

Although this narrative is included in the sequence of the outline, it can hardly have belonged to the original text of this Gospel. It is absent from most of the oldest copies of the Gospel that precede the sixth century and from the works of the earliest commentators. To say that it does not belong in the Gospel is not identical with rejecting it as unhistorical. Its coherence and spirit show that it was preserved from a very early time, and it accords well with the known character of Jesus. It may be accepted as historical truth; but based on the information we now have, it was probably not a part of the original text.

D.A. Carson expresses a similar view in his commentary on John's gospel (published by Eerdmans). So likewise does R.V.G Tasker in the Tyndale New Testament Commentaries and MacArthur in his study Bible. Borchert, in the New American Commentary, argues that the passage fits better in Luke, where some manuscripts do place the story. The Bible Knowledge Commentary relegates discussion of the text to an appendix and perhaps leans toward the first position.

A proponent of the first position is Daniel Wallace. Dr. Wallace argues: Second, the pericope adulterae is most likely not even historically true. It was probably a story conflated from two different accounts. Thus, the excuse that one can proclaim it because the story really happened is apparently not valid. [emphasis mine] I agree with Dr. Wallace that we have to be consistent. Our goal should be to hold to the true Scriptures, and simply believing in this passage because it's in the King James is not sufficient.

Making the Choice

So, is there no one anymore who holds to position 3? Hendriksen defends the passage in the Baker New Testament Commentary. He feels this is genuine Scripture. After citing three arguments against including this text, he provides four reasons for its inclusion. First, the story fits the context. Second, the primary players in the drama, especially Jesus, are "in character" with the rest of Scripture. Third, Eusibius, the early church historian, relates that Papias, who died shortly after 100 A.D., tells a similar story. Fourth, Augustine states that the story was removed by scribes because it was being used as an excuse for immorality.

Let me dwell on that point for a moment. Even today, one of the most frequent uses of this passage that I hear is someone trying to turn away correction by saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." So even today the passage is being misused in this manner. It is not hard for me to see that Augustine is correct about this.

James Montgomery Boice in his commentary on John argues similarly to Hendriksen to include this text. His most developed argument is the argument from context:

A good case can be made for its inclusion at this particular place in John’s Gospel. For one thing, without it the change of thought between the fifty-second verse of chapter seven and the twelfth verse of chapter eight is abrupt and unnatural. We do not know where Jesus is in John 8:12, nor to whom he is speaking. For another thing, the introduction of a story at this point seems to fit the pattern that John has been using in these opening chapters. In each case, from chapter 5 onward, a story is used to set the theme of the teaching that follows. Thus, the miracle of healing the disabled man, which begins chapter 5, becomes the text of the sermon that follows. The feeding of the multitude in chapter 6 leads into the discourse on Christ as the bread of life. The discussion between Jesus and his brothers about going up to the feast in chapter 7 is an introduction to Christ’s words at the feast. So, likewise, is the story of his dealing with the adulterous woman an introduction to that speech on the combination of righteousness and freedom in Christ that the rest of the chapter declares that Christ brings.

Finally, Dr. Curt Daniel also adopts the position that the text is genuine. His discussion can be found at the Faith Bible Church website. Scroll down on this page to Sermons from our Sunday Morning Service.

So my choice is to assume that this is indeed Scripture, written by John and belonging at this place in his gospel.

Favorite Hymns - Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

I have run across references to this hymn numerous times this week. It is an older hymn (of course) from 1758. It is the second half of the second stanza and all of the third that resonate with me, but the rest of the hymn is wonderful as well. It is a hymn of the greatness of God's salvation. How He saves us, keeps us, and one day will glorify us.

If you wonder about what an Ebenezer is, click on the word to find out.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Friday, August 25, 2006

BoB's for the Week Ending August 26th

BoB's in the engineering world are "Best of the Best". Here they're "Best of the Blogs".

Mark Driscoll may have spent too much time in Starbuck's this week as he has a couple of rants on his blog at Resurgence.com. In the first he uses the LA Times to show why mainline denominations are in trouble and in the process provides ten steps to destroying a denomination. Then later this week in a second post he discusses how mainline denominations want to rename the members of the Trinity. Hmmm, ranting may be the best response after all.

Two items to note on Islam. Over at Truth Is Still Truth (even if you don't believe it), the series "Blogging through the Quran" continues with Sura 4. Much of what is discussed there is also reflected in Kim Riddlebarger's post One More Time - Islam Is Not a Religion of Peace. In the post Kim wonders if American Christians know their faith well enough to engage the increasing number of Muslims in America. Addendum Sunday Night: Here's a link to some posts about a teaching session James White held on Islam.

Phil Johnson over at TeamPyro posted Personal Memories of Spurgeon. One tidbit of information that stood out was the following: "Mrs. Spurgeon, a most gifted and charming lady, had a dozen cows and the profits of her dairy then supported a missionary in London; and the milk was sent around the neighborhood in a wagon labeled, 'Charles H. Spurgeon, Milk Dealer.'" If you've ever read Spurgeon, you know he dealt in meat as well.

Mark Lauterbach draws a distinction between Suspicion and Discernment then later discusses how we should read the Old Testament.

Tom Ascol reads Christianity Today and reflects on signs of hope for the church in America.

Tim Challies reflects on what the climatic scene of the Lord of the Rings says about human depravity.

On the lighter side, Tim Challies investigates accusations that Mark Driscoll is theo-doping.

Late addition on Saturday morning: Jonathan Moorhead discusses preaching election with the gospel. This is an interesting look at what place, if any, does election have in a gospel presentation.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Thankful on Thursday - The Transmission of Truth

I have come to recognize in my life a tendency to be cynical. I find that somewhat ironic given that I was generally a pretty happy child. Perhaps, as Solomon has noted, ". . . in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain." (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NASB) I'm not sure I can claim the wisdom part yet, but I definitely know more now than when I was younger. And lest I sound too cynical here, not all of that is bad, given that the Lord brought me to Himself in my 20's and has blessed me with wonderful teachers most of my Christian life.

Before I get too far off track here, let me quote Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 NASB)

Paul's exhortation to us is to focus on the good. So, I'm going to make a concerted effort to do that at least once a week here. This week, I want to acknowledge that I'm thankful for the transmission of truth (without getting bogged down into a rant about those who deny that truth is something that exists and/or can be known).

I have about a 40 minute drive twice a day going to and from work. I also have an MP3 player that I keep loaded with material (recently, messages from the 2005/2006 Shepherd's Conferences). I am thankful that the technology exists that allows me to hear men expound on God's truth to which, in the not too distant past, I would never have been able to listen.

I'm thankful for the means by which these messages are recorded and delivered, the computers and internet. I'm thankful that these same means allow me access to written material, including blogs, websites, and eBooks.

I'm thankful for the precursors to this technology that continue today. The written word in book form. Books like Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul helped form my Christian mind.

More than these, I'm thankful for having been able to sit under the preached word. As a young Christian under the preaching and teaching of Dr. David Allen, Dr. Danny Akin, and Chuck Lewis, to learning the Reformed faith from Dr. S. Lewis Johnson and Dr. Curt Daniel. Continuing to hear the word proclaimed by Pastor Glenn Rumrill, Pastor Mike Lockwood, Jeff Wilson, Pastor Dave Richards, and most recently Dr. Patrick Hunter. These are men to whom I too infrequently said, "I thank my God upon every rememberence of you."

But I am most thankful for the transmission of truth from my heavenly Father. He has given to us His infallible word through the mediation of prophets and apostles. Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled He Is There and He Is not Silent. God has revealed Himself to us, the tranmission of the ultimate truth of existence. The author of Hebrews (whom we all know is Apollos) said, "God . . . spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways." (Hebrews 1:1 NASB) Peter concurs, writing "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:21 NASB) So I am thankful for Moses and Daniel, for David and Solomon, for Peter, Paul and John, and for other men that God the Holy Spirit moved to write Scripture.

But the greatest transmission of truth is not the written word of Scripture, but the living Word of God. I am preeminently thankful for Jesus, who is "the way, the truth, and the life." What the author of Hebrews writes completely at the start of his book is, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." (Hebrews 1:1-2 NASB)

Father, I am thankful to you for all these things. For being able to hear your servants from different times and places proclaim your truth. For the men who have endured my stubborness and hardness of heart to teach me about You. For the men whom the Holy Spirit used to record Your word. But most especially I thank you for Jesus, the Word of God made man. The One who showed us the truth of Your holiness, Your justice, and Your grace. Amen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bridges and Being Tested by Praise

How many times have you heard someone talk about the difficult times in life being times of "being purified" or "being refined"? The image is taken from that of the refiners' fire for metal, where metal is heated up and the dross (impurities) come to the top and can be skimmed off, leaving a more pure metal in the process. When this is discussed in Scripture, it is typically that the passage refers to either gold or silver or both. The Bible is also clear that we are refined by times of difficulty.

"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;" (1 Peter 1:6-7 NASB)

So I'm not about to dispute that we are purified and refined by the "valleys" of our life. But in Proverbs 27:21 Solomon has a slightly different take on the process of refining. "The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, And a man is tested by the praise accorded him." (Proverbs 27:21 NASB) This testing is not refining, but the first part of heating the metal so that the dross is revealed.

What does it mean to be tested by praise? I think this verse is reflected by Paul in the requirements for an elder when he writes elder, "[should] not [be] a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6 NASB) Those who have prominent positions will frequently garner more praise than the janitor. Charles Bridges writes on this in his commentary on Proverbs: "Fearful often is the trial to a minister of Christ. When he becomes the object of popular applause--his people's idol; when men of strong impulse and weak judgment put the servant in the Master's place--then he is in the fining-pot. He that is but dross consumes. Even if there be true metal, the man of God "is saved, yet so as by fire." Without painful discipline his usefulness would be withered, his spirituality deadened, his soul lost."

Additionally, the very act of being selected as an elder is act of praise. When one is selected, does he suddenly have a high opinion of himself? Does he suddenly imagine that he is fit to rule because of who he is? Then he is close to falling "into the condemnation incurred by the devil."

But it is not only elders who are tested by praise. How each of us reacts to praise reveals how much refining has been done in our life and how much dross remains. Bridges notes, "He that is praised is not only much approved, but much proved. . . . Praise is a sharper trial of the strength of principle than reproach." We have lived for a generation or more with the gospel of self-esteem. We don't need the cross and we don't need to talk about our sin. Instead, "preachers" have been telling us we need to love ourselves more. All this has done is brought the dross of our sin to the surface. The praise of ourselves has converted no one, or purified our hearts. Bridges notes, 'Do you know '--remarked M. de Stael on her death-bed--'what is the last thing to die in man? It is self-love.'

What shall we do then? Bridges suggests that it is best to be sparing with praise, and carefull when praised. Regarding the former he writes: "Therefore till the day appointed for manifestation, it is well to judge each other, whether for good or evil, with becoming moderation. And to which--is it merciful to expose a weak fellow-sinner to the frown of a jealous God, by stirring up the innate corruption of his heart? For put even the finest gold into the furnace, how humbling is the spectacle of the dross that yet cleaves to it!"

Regarding the latter, he writes: "Guard against dwelling even in thought upon anything, that brings man's approving eye upon us. Delight mainly in those works, that are only under the eye of God. Value alone his approbation. Ever think of the love of human praise as the most deadly bane of a Christian profession, to be resisted with intense energy and perseverance."

P.S. By now if you didn't know before you surely realize that Charles Bridges was not a child of the 20th Century. He ministered in England during the first half of the 1800's. C. H. Spurgeon considered Bridges' commentary the best commentary on Proverbs. A copy of the commentary on Proverbs by Charles Bridges is available on the internet. NOTE! This is the entire commentary in HTML. Do not click on the link if you have dial-up.

Commentary on Proverbs

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Romans Series Continues

Pastor John Piper returned to the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist a couple of weeks ago, but this week he picked back up the series in Romans. In expositing Romans 15:14-21, Pastor Piper stated the following:

Now what about today? Should we be expecting the same miraculous confirmations of our witnessing today? My answer is yes, but not in the same measure that the apostles experienced this miraculous power. The reason I say yes is that I don’t see any compelling reason given in the New Testament that God has declared a moratorium on miracles. But I do see lists of miraculous gifts for the church (not just apostles) in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. So I think God intends to bless his word and his people with miracles in our day—extraordinary works of divine power that go beyond the laws of nature.

But the reason I say, probably not in the same measure that the apostles experienced this miraculous power, is that there is good evidence that miracles were especially prominent in the early days to vindicate the deity of Christ and the authority of the apostles as they laid the foundation of the church. For example, Jesus said in John 5:36, “The works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.” So it seems that the miracles of Jesus had a special function role to play in confirming that the Son of God was here.

Then there is evidence that Paul saw his miracles as a special validation of his apostleship. For example, in 2 Corinthians 12:12 he says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” So it seems that Paul saw the signs and wonders God worked through him as a special mark of his apostleship. Not that God only uses apostles to do miracles, but there was something extraordinary in how God blessed his founding apostles.

So when the Lord Jesus returns to heaven and the apostles have laid the foundation of the church in the New Testament and are taken off the scene, I think what we have is not a de-supernatualized religion. Not at all! The Holy Spirit has been poured out, and he is still fully capable of doing signs and wonders. Rather, we have a centralized focus on the word of God, the gospel, because all the central acts of salvation are now in history and it is the word that connects us with these saving acts of God in the past.

Check out the entire text of the message here.

Theological Triage or Which Hill Will You Die On

A Long Introduction

I recently listened to a message given by Dan Dumas entitled "Hills to Die On". The message was a seminar session at the 2005 Shepherd's Conference (a PDF of this and other messages from the conference can be found here). The message reminded me of a message Dr. Albert Mohler delivered at Union University on Baptist Identity: Is There a Future. Coming from somewhat different perspectives (in terms of the aims of the messages) there was overlap in what was discussed.

Pastor Dumas was focused on encouraging Pastors to determine ahead of time the things for which they would be willing to die (figuratively speaking). Specifically, what are non-negotiables that would cause them to risk losing their pastorate and/or splitting the church. Pastor Dumas starts with an example from history, that of Jonathan Edwards and his opposition to the half-way covenant which led to him losing his pastorate.

Dr. Mohler, as the title of his message suggests, was looking at issues facing Baptists which much be addressed if the conservative resurgence is to be more than a blip on the slide into obscurity. One key is what Dr. Mohler referred to as "theological triage." By this he means that like a triage nurse in the emergency room, we have to be able to recognize what issues demand immediate attention, and what issues can be shelved, at least for a time. Or, to borrow Pastor Dumas' language, we must be able to determine on which hills we would be willing to die.

Dr. Mohler described three levels of theological issues. First order issues are those doctrines that define whether a church is a Christian Church or not. In older times, we would have called these the fundementals - doctrines which the church cannot compromise if it wishes to remain the church. Second order issues are issues which do not divide us as Christians, but divide us as local bodies. One example that has tended to divide local congregations is that of church government. Third order issues are issues that believers in a local congregation can and do disagree on without breaking fellowship.

[Side note: Dr. Mohler notes that the besetting sin of Fundementalism is to confuse third order issues for first order issues and the besetting sin of Liberalism is to confuse first order issues for third order issues.]

Why This Is Important

While Pastor Dumas was primarily speaking to other Pastors, I think much of what he said is applicable to everyone. Especially that exhortation that we must carefully consider which doctrines are non-negotiables. One of my first Sunday School teachers (a seminary student) quoted one of his teachers as saying that the time to determine what the Bible says about a doctrine is before it becomes an issue for you. Emotions can tend to cloud our judgment, so we need to think about areas of controversy before we find ourselves in the middle of the storm.

In his message Pastor Dumas noted two key guidelines. One, that there are some things that are worth losing your job (or worth being kicked out of church if you are simply a member) or splitting the church. Two, that before we cause that to happen we need to make sure the issue isn't just about personal preference. I agree with Pastor Dumas that much of the conflict in the church today is over preferences and an unwillingness on the part of anyone to defer to another.

So What Does This Mean to Me?

Whether we are talking about how we relate to fellow members of our local congregation, or how we relate to other believers in the church universal, we must determine what issues are hills on which we will die. On the theological landscape there are many discussions. Some of them are issues that will determine whether the church in America goes the way of the church in Europe, which is to say that it nearly vanishes, or becomes a light shining forth the gospel of Jesus Christ. The former will surely be the case if we spend all our time fighting the wrong battles.

What are some of these issues? A brief scan of the internet and/or the bookstore will the following among the major issues currently being discussed:
  1. A "new perspective" on what Paul means by justification
  2. A proclamation that the Reformation is over and/or Evangelicals and Catholics Together
  3. A resolution that calls for "total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages"
  4. Whether it is appropriate for Baptists to allow those who are convinced of paedo baptism to be admitted into membership without having been baptized as a believer.
  5. The use of labyrinths and other rituals from outside of Christianity
  6. An emphasis on engaging the culture and being "missional"
  7. Whether the "charismatic" gifts continue
  8. The order of events around the Second Coming (do you want to be left behind?)
  9. Which version of the Bible should we use?
  10. What form of church government should we have?
  11. What style of music should we use in worship?
  12. Egalitarian vs Complementarian view of men and women
  13. Is there objective truth?
  14. What does it mean to affirm the Scriptures in light of textual criticism (should we preach/teach John 7:53-8:11?)?
  15. Does God infallibly know the future or is He merely the universe's best prognosticator?
  16. Is God one God in Three Persons or should we embrace a modalistic view of God?
  17. Is the substition theory of the atonement divine child abuse?
  18. Should we live a purpose driven life?
I could go on (emergent church, Federal Vision, . . .) but that's probably enough to make the point. There are a lot of issues. Which ones of these (all? none? half?) are worth breaking fellowship? Which ones of these are preference matters? How do I determine how I should react when confronted with these issues?

Deciding the Level of Engagement

The question is how do I determine which battles to fight? The following basics are a good start.

First, bath yourself in the Scriptures. I whole-heartedly endorse studying church history and being familiar with the historic creeds and confessions, but nothing substitutes for a first hand understanding of the Bible.

Second, bath your decision making and action (preaching, teaching, rebuking, etc.) in prayer. Pray for wisdom; pray for humility; pray for discernment; pray for those who are on the other side; pray that God is glorified by your activity. This should actually be done in concert with spending time in the Scriptures.

Third, do not be hasty. Pastor Dumas notes that Edwards studied a long time before bringing up the issue of the half-way covenant. Don't rush to the battle until your sure what the fighting is about and which side you should be on, or if you should be a peacemaker because it is something about which believers shouldn't be fighting. That is, be sure that the issue is not a preference issue. Ask yourself if your involvement will bring glory to God. Temper this with the realization that some issues will demand that you deal with them immediately. In either case, be sure you are continuing to pray and study.

Fourth, be humble and peaceable. Rember Paul's exhortation from Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV) Temper this with the realization that there are errors which we must confront. Be sure you are continuing to pray and study.

Fifth, realize that how you handle yourself will have an impact (Titus 2:7-8). Different people respond differently, but if you are calm and focused the discussion will tend to go a lot smoother. Remember to continue to pray and study.

Sixth, if you are in leadership, recognize that some people must be silenced (Titus 1:11), that some discussions are not worth having (Titus 3:9); and that those who cause division must be dealt with promptly (Titus 3:10-11). Also be sure you are continuing in prayer and study.


None of this is to say that we cannot have discussions about non-essentials. But they should be discussions among people who hold another in higher esteem than we hold ourselves. Nor is it to say that there are not important issues for the health of the church about which we disagree without separating.

The important take away is that we have to be more thoughtful about distinguishing non-essentials from the hills on which we should die. I am not going to die on the hill of whether you should wear a suit (or dress) to church or not. I am going to die on the hill of substitionary atonement (along with 1, 2, 5, 12, 13, 15, 16, and 17; I have strong reservations about some of the others, e.g. 14 - I do plan to teach through John 7:53-8:11 next Sunday in Sunday School, but if someone was convinced it should not be the Bible . . . I'm just not sure yet). What hills will you die on?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Timeline of the Life of Jesus


An interesting article about Logos Bible Software can be found here.

The timeline is available here.

Original Post:

With reference to this post:

We have completed version 1.0 of the timeline (just checking links before we publish it to the Logos community). Lest anyone assume I put forth a lot of effort on this, let me post here what I put on the Logos newsgroup:

To anyone who uses this, Barry deserves a major thank you. Barry's "beefed up skeleton" was a complete outline with just titles and references missing. Then he enlisted his sons and completed the majority of that work.

In other words, I edited a few lines which Barry had already created. Barry has generated other "user created" material for Logos (for a fairly complete list of all user created material, look here). He's definitely more savvy about this than I. We have been discussing how we might improve the timeline for 2.0. This is based on A.T. Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels. There are other harmonies we might use. I'm also thinking about adding more resolution to some of the dates. But at the very least this gives a general chronology and order (and something to tinker with to make improvements).

So this is what it looks like (there are parts off-screen to which you can scroll - and it may be too small to see any details). Once this is officially out I'll post a link for any Logos users who happen to stumble across this.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More Favorite Hymns - How Firm a Foundation

I have been relistening this week to Dr. S. Lewis Johnson's series on New Time Religion. Through this series it was impressed upon me again that though men assault the truth as found in Scripture, Scripture stands. Have we built our house on the solid rock of the Word of God? If so, we have a firm foundation that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27-29).

I am especially encouraged by how this hymn begins, and even more so by how it ends (Romans 8:31-39).

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

BoB's for Week Ending August 19th

Let's end the week with a few links to some of the better blog posts this past week.

Pastor Mark Lauterbach over at Gospel Driven Life series on Indwelling Sin (Posts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) were at the top of my reading list this week. Mark tends to say things that I'd like to say, and he does it in about a quarter of the words it would take me.

Pastor Mark Dever has posted about the Southern Baptist Mistake over at the Together for the Gospel blog. This prompted a supportive response from Pastor Shane Anderson that provides more detail on the issue.

Tim Challies reflects on his son's attempt to repay a gift and sees the heart of the Father.

Jonathon Moorehead and Dan Phillips dissect the recent Billy Graham article in Newsweek and see that Charles Finney's shadow still looms large over the popular American brand of "Christianity".

Phil Johnson opens up a can of worms and discusses the popular tendency to declare people guilty by association, even when there really is no association.

Less serious posts find Kim Riddlebarger aping Jeff Foxworthy with "You know you're not reformed if ..." and Purgatorio reviewing Snakes on a Plane.

Addendum: The following isn't technically a blog post, but John Piper has a good statement about Talking to People Rather than about Them over at the Desiring God website.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Those Outside

Live Peaceably with All

There are some verses that have lingered with me either at different periods in my life or in some cases for most of my Christian life. One such verse that I have tried to use as a guiding principle is Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV) That Christians should, as much as possible, seek peace is a repeated theme in the Scripture. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and peace is a fruit of the Spirit.

Of course this verse applies to our relationships with other believers, but I think it also applies to our relationship to the unbelieving world. In the summer long discussion over SBC resolution #5 much of the debate has focused on whether or not Christians are forbidden to use alcohol as a beverage by the Scriptures. But, as a few other astute observers have pointed out, that is not the most troubling aspect of the resolution. It is the emphasized point of the following: RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages;

This, it seems to me, violates the intent of Romans 12:18. It does so by assuming a stance of opposition to those, many or most of whom would be outside the church, who are involved in these activities. Some will respond that we have to stand-up for what is right. They will note that the resolution lists the negative impacts alcohol abuse has had on our society, and that the church should be involved in redeeming the culture. I do not disagree with this sentiment. After all, Jesus was frequently moved with compassion when He saw the physical needs of the masses. But there is a problem here with the resolution beyond the assumption that alcohol consumption equals alcohol abuse.

Those Outside

Paul writes:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that we should associate with the sexually immoral, the greedy and swindlers, the idolaters, if they are not professing Christians. This does not mean we join in on their sinful activities, but we eat with them, commerce with them, work with them. We do this without passing judgment on their activities (the context is the need to pass judgment on a sinning brother in Christ).

I think this attitude is further supported by our doctrine of soul competency:

We affirm soul competency, the accountability of each person before God. Your family cannot save you. Neither can your church. It comes down to you and God. Authorities can't force belief or unbelief. They shouldn't try.

Against this backdrop of religious freedom, it's important for us Baptists to set forth our convictions. By stating them in a forthright manner, we provide nonbelievers with a clear choice.

According to the second paragraph, we need to set forth our convictions. Here's the more difficult question - which convictions are those? If each person is accountable before God, should not those convictions be primarily that which would make a person right before God, that is, the Gospel? Yet we have passed a resolution that is focused on a morality issue.

Over at Centuri0n's blog he makes note of a comment from Tim Keller (from one of the videos promoting the upcoming Desiring God 2006 National Conference). The point that Keller makes and Frank picks up on is that if we are not careful with how we address the lost, they will assume we are inviting them into a works based religion. Salvation by being more moral or, to use our term, holy. But that is not the gospel. That is the opposite of the gospel.

Well Thought of

Of course, there is a fine line to be walked. If we live just like the rest of the world, the rest of the world will ask why should they become believers. We are called to be different. Again, we associate sinners without becoming involved in the sin.

The passage of Scripture that I think speaks directly to this is 1 Timothy 3:7, where Paul says that elders are required to meet the following.

Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (ESV)

What does it take for a believer to be well thought of by outsiders? I think it requires consistent living. That means first of all that we practice what we preach. If we are preaching the gospel, this means at least three things:
  • First, the gospel says we are sinners saved by grace, which means there is no room for an air of superiority. We are not above the lost; we are just as dependent on God's mercy as they are.
  • Two, the gospel says we have died with Christ, which means we should not live like "he who dies with the most toys wins." If we profess that Jesus is Lord, but then run our lives by the world's priorities, the name of God will be blasphemed on our account. This is how we live, but not how we require others to live.
  • Three, the gospel says that we have a hope beyond this world, which means we should express a Biblical joy. The trials and temptations of this life are nothing compared to what awaits us. In the introduction to Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

    Believing as I do that the greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church the subject dealt with in these sermons is to me of the greatest possible importance. Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation for the Christian Faith; and there can be little doubt but that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity.
These are the things that will cause us to "have a good reputation with those outside the church" (NASB). These are not easy things, but things to which we should all aspire and to which leaders should have, in some measure, attained.


What I want you to hear is that this is of so much greater importance than a moralistic stance on alcohol, that I ache over this debate. Those who have supported this ammendment have mentioned that the SBC stance on this has not changed in over a hundred years. I want to ask if those are a hundred years you want to see repeated in the church in America?

If the church is to impact society it will not be because we have passed a resolution. It will not be that have opposed social sins. It will be because we have preached and lived the gospel. That means we strive for peace in all our relationships; we do not expect the lost to live like they are saved; and we have a winsome witness. The gospel will turn many people away. But let us endeavour to be sure it is the gospel, and not Christians, from which they are turning away.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bible Study and Software

Back in 1991 I bought my first computer. I had been working on them since high school in the early 80's (TRS80's), but had never broken down and purchased one until early in 1991 (with the rationale of working on my resume). It was a very decent 286DX machine with a VGA monitor. The downside to this was it made it easy to feed by video game addiction, but that's for another time.

I used that computer for a number of purposes, including Bible study. At this stage, I was using PC Study Bible (I still have some notes from studies I did with that early version of Bible software). Eventually, I decided to trade in PC Study Bible for Logos 2.0. At the time, it was impressive, but we have really come a long way in the last decade or so.

I've read some about Accordance for the Mac and know a few people who use BibleWorks on the PC, but I'm still a convinced Logos (aka Libronix) user. Librononix 3.0 was released earlier in the summer, and there are some really nice improvements (though, as is typical with major releases of Libronix, it takes a hefty machine to run it fast).

This is not a review (or a sales pitch) but a note that I'm spending more time with 3.0 trying to learn some of the newer tools available. As part of doing this I've agreed to support an attempt to create a timeline of the life of Jesus in Libronix. This is being coordinated through the Logos newsgroups (if you don't know, it would take to long to explain). All of this rambling is about the slowdown in posting that is likely to continue. Blogging is interesting, but this work could be valuable (to me at least). We get close to being done of the timeline, maybe I'll publish a screenshot out here.

As a final note, I highly recommend checking out Pastor Mark Dever's latest post at the T4G blog.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

More Favorite Hymns - O Sacred Head

Having completed my survey of my five favorite hymns, I thought I would, at least for a time, follow the lead of others and post a hymn (I may on occassion post prayers) for the Lord's day.

The first hymn I posted was Bernard of Clairveaux's Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. It seems fitting then to begin this next series with another hymn attributed to Bernard, that being O Sacred Head, Now Wounded. There are more stanza's at cyberhymnal.org, but this is how we used to sing it.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
1 O sacred head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown;
How art Thou pale with anguish,
With sore abuse and scorn;
How does that visage languish,
Which once was bright as morn!
2 O sacred Head, what glory
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine:
Thy grief and Thy compassion
Were all for sinners gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine, the deadly pain
3 What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine for ever;
And, should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.

It is the second stanza that means the most to me, especially the last two lines. In this stanza I see the reminder that, "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Random Links

After travelling this week for work, I took today off, somewhat with the hope of being able to get some yard work done. However, it happened to rain most of the morning, making yardwork a non-activity, so I got caught up on a lot of my normal Saturday morning reading. Here are some of the more interesting things I've found.

An interesting article on worship styles from Quentin Schultze

If you didn't know (I didn't until today) there is a blog for the upcoming Desiring God national conference.

Some articles related to a moralistic Christianity are out and worth reading, including:
Phil Johnson's series of posts on 2 Corinthians 5:21 is now complete. These are excellent reads, particularly for anyone looking at the subject of justification.

Interested in Podcasts? Looking for something about broader cultural issues? Let me recommend Audition from Mars Hill Audio. No, this has nothing to do with Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Church in Seattle (though there are some excellent resources available there as well).

On a less serious note, this post on Purgatorio should serve to lighten your mood.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Being a Berean


I have recently been revisiting some old, and sometimes cherished, texts and their interpretations. This was brought about in part by this post by Dan Phillips over at the Pyromaniacs blog and this post by Marty Duren over at SBC Outpost. In many cases, at least for me, there are interpretations (often very popular) that were taught to me as a young Christian that I never really questioned. The church I was in at the time said, "This text means . . ." and I accepted that was what the text meant. I believe (hope?) that one reason some of the false interpretations persist is that the errors are not that serious. But given the questions about misused texts, and thinking about exegetical fallacies, I've been prone to review long held interpretations when events cause me to turn to these texts.

For many people, my critical evaluation would be referred to as "being a Berean". There are Berean churches (in nearly every city) and Berean bookstores. Why all this fascination with Bereans? Because of Acts 17:11 where Luke writes, "11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." (ESV) So, the popular interpretation says, the Bereans approached the Gospel with a critical ear, not trusting the Apostle until they verified what he said agreed with Scripture. The application drawn from this is that we too should approach those we hear with a critical ear, and verify what they say.

A New Meaning for Being a Berean

There are a few things that got me thinking about the Bereans again, and reconsidering what it should mean to be a Berean. The first was studying through 1 and 2 Thessalonians a few months ago (if this doesn't make sense, look at Acts 17:11 above again). Also, there are the posts I have already mentioned. But the major catalyst was becoming involved in the blogosphere. As I have read the comments in many blogs, negative reactions to some people is justified as "being a Berean."

The problem is the context. Yes, the Bereans "examined the Scriptures daily" and are in that respect to be emulated. The question is whether or not this is really Luke's, and more importantly the Holy Spirit's, primary intent in the passage. Interestingly, many of the best (IMO) commentaries on Acts do not focus on this part of v.11. Instead, they focus on the point of the passage.

Notice that the issue in v.11 is a contrast between the Thessalonians and the Bereans. The Bereans are described as being "more noble" than the Thessalonians. What does it mean to be more noble? It is to be open-minded or willing to evaluate something fairly.

This fits the context of contrasting to the Thessalonians. Note that it is the Jews who are specifically mentioned in Acts 17:11. In Acts 17:5 we are told about the Jews in Thessalonica: "5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd." (ESV) The primary contrast being drawn in Acts 17:11 is that the Jews in Berea were, first and foremost, willing to hear Paul out.

Furthermore, they received what Paul said "with all eagerness." Paul uses the same Greek word to describe the willingness (readiness) of the Corinthians to give (2 Corinthians 8 and 9). The Berean Jews were receptive to the message Paul brought, and not hostile like the Thessalonian Jews.

Tarred and Feathered?

None of this is intended to deny what else is said about the Bereans. After they received the message, they searched the Scriptures, verifying whether or not what Paul was telling them was the truth. This says that we do not accept every teaching. Other parts of the New Testament are full of warnings about false teachers. One has only to continue in Acts to 20:29-30 to find Paul warning the Ephesian elders: "29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." (ESV) So discernment is urged in the New Testament. We must be on our guard.

But the error comes in when we don't see Acts 17:11 for what it says primarily. Our first reaction should be open. We should receive the teaching of others receptively and warmly. Then we examine it. We take it to the Scriptures and look at it in the light. My impression is this is not the way we approach most teaching and preaching. Preachers and teachers are guilty until proven orthodox (or fundemental).

I cannot judge the hearts of others, even those I know personally. So to try to do this with written words on blogs and in the "meta" is a fool's task. I can only say, perhaps in part reflecting on my own reactions, that we seem sit at the keyboard, or in a room with our MP3 player and headphones, with a bucket of tar and pound of feathers hoping for a chance to use them. We are like John not willing that any outside of our circle be heard (Luke 9:49 John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” 50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” ESV)

Instead, we should be more noble-minded and be willing to listen to all those that take the Scriptures seriously, even if they are not inside our camp. As I write this, I remember that a year ago, I would not have considered listening to someone like a C.J. Mahaney. I had nothing to learn from a charismatic. Except humility.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Legalists, Libertines, and Galatians


Note: I hesitate to call the position that the Bible forbids using alcohol as a beverage "the abstinence position" because a number of Christians who don't believe that the Bible forbids using alcohol as a beverage still hold that the wisest decision for a Christian is to abstain. For this post, I will use "strict abstainers" or "strict abstinence position" to desribe those who believe Scripture prohibits consumption of alcohol as a beverage.

As I've mentioned before, there has been an on-going debate over SBC Resolution 5 (2006) and whether or not the Bible teaches that one must abstain from alcohol. It now seems to me that the worst of this storm has blown over (whether people have just gotten tired of debating the issue or whether we all finally realized we were spending more time on the discussion than it deserved, I'm not sure). I acknowledge that I was an active participant in this debate, hopefully maintaining a Christian attitude throughout, but willing to accept correction if someone disagrees. The following is only tangentially related, and, I think, touches on a more serious matter about which alcohol consumption is merely an example.

What Is Legalism?

During this argument, a number of labels got thrown around, primarily "legalist" applied to those who say the Scripture requires believers to abstain, and "libertine" applied to those who believe the Bible teaches drinking in moderation to be acceptable. Both sides have denounced the use of the labels as being appropriate to them. Both sides have acknowledged that the use of the terms do not help to foster a reasoned discussion. But some (thankfully, a small number) on both sides continue to use the terms. Both terms (or the closely related terms moralist and antinomian) carry heavily negative connotations in Christian circles. Therefore, before we apply these labels to others, we need to be clear on what we mean.

I'm less concerned about the terms libertine and antinomian in this post. I hold to the Biblical allowance position on alcohol, so in the discussion these terms would be applied to me. I'm more concerned about the term legalist (for my purposes here, I will assume moralist has the same basic meaning). I'm more concerned about this term because a few who hold a similar view to mine on alcohol will use this term to describe the strict abstainence position.

But I'm primarily concerned about this term because, in order to shed themselves of the label, those who hold to a strict abstinence position will argue that the term legalism only applies when we are discussing justification. One blogger has put it this way, "maintaining Biblical standards of holiness as a way of life is not legalism, rather, legalism is an insistence on certain behaviors to accomplish salvation."

Is this a good, Biblical definition of legalism? I would argue that no, it is not.

The Biblical Picture of Legalism

What then is legalism? I think the best place to understand what legalism is from a Biblical perspective is Galatians. Specifically, I'm thinking of Galatians 2:11-3:3. In this passage, Paul is attempting to get the Galatians to realize that keeping the law is not a requirement of the Christian life. He begins with a negative example, that of Peter succumbing to peer pressure in Antioch. Peter had formerly been eating with the Gentiles in Antioch until "certain men from James" arrived. At this point, Peter withdraws from the Gentiles, leading the other Jews including Barnabas to withdraw as well.

It is at this point that Paul is driven to act and confront Peter. He states openly Peter's hypocrisy and proceeds to expound on the gospel. So is what Paul confronts here "an insistence on certain behaviors to accomplish salvation"? I presume many would think the answer to be yes. After all, does not Paul say "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16 ESV) Paul here is talking about justification, isn't he?

As is likely obvious by now, my answer is, "no, not in the sense many think." Sure, Paul is reminding Peter that justification is by faith. It is not about what we do. But notice that Paul is telling Peter that they "have believed." Peter's problem was not he was displaying that the law was necessary to obtain salvation, but to be sanctified. "How," you might ask, "can you say that, given Paul's repeated use of 'justified'?" Because of what Paul tells the Galatians immediately after relating to them the incident with Peter.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3 ESV)

The issue in Galatia was not how salvation starts (justification) but how it continues (sanctification). Paul's concern about legalism, therefore, is not restricted to justification.

Untangling the Knot

Then why does Paul spend so much time in the early part of Galatians talking about the gospel? For example:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-8 ESV)

But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14 ESV)

Now, I need to breifly talk about the antinomian. The antinomian believes that one does not need to live a holy life. His motto is, "If grace abounds to cover my sin, then I will sin all the more (see Romans 5:20-6:1)." In other words, there is essentially no linkage between justification and sanctification, if sanctification is to be becoming more like Christ.

The New Testament knows nothing of this (continue reading in Romans 6 for a more detailed explanation). In the Scriptures there is a clear link between justification and sanctification. Those who have been justified are being sanctified. Sometimes, in the lives of some believers, sanctification might be hard to see, but it is there. What Paul is saying in Galatians is that sanctification is not keeping the law, but is the "fruit of the Spirit." (Likewise, in Colossians, Paul adds that no mere regulations will be effective against the flesh).

What does all this have to do with defining legalism? Paul is saying in Galatians that legalism is anything that adds requirements to salvation, whether we are discussing justification or sanctification. Stated slightly differently, legalism is not just adding requirements about how one begins the Christian life, but even adding requirements to how we progress in the Christian life. If, therefore, we state that one who drinks alcohol in moderation will always be a second class Christian, then we are legalists. Therefore, legalism is an insistence on certain behaviors for progression in the Christian life.

Legalism and Holiness

Let me tangle the knot again. In the quoted definition of legalism at the start of this post, the statement begins with, "maintaining Biblical standards of holiness as a way of life is not legalism." If my definition of legalism states that any insistence on certain behaviors is legalism, what about sins that the Bible explicitly names, like sexual immorality or bitterness? I believe that there are some behaviors so explicitly condemned in Scripture that just and reasonable men could and should agree that they are sin. If you repeatedly do something that you understand to be a sin, you will hinder your spiritual growth, perhaps to the point of stifling it entirely (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

Down the rabbit trail: This applies not only to true sin, but also to violating your own conscience (the act itself may be permissible, but if you consider it sin, than for you to do it is sin). The flip side isthat just because you are convinced that the Scripture allows a behavior does not mean that behavior is not sin. We may, and I think often do, participate in that behaviors that are sin and therefore hinder, but do not halt our spiritual growth. In fact, part of our continued growth will (likely) be coming to understand that the behavior is in fact sin.

Back to our main path: So how do I reconcile the Bible's clear teaching that some behaviors can in fact hinder, or even halt, our spiritual growth, with my definition that "legalism is an insistence on certain behaviors for progression in the Christian life"? The point is in who's applying the standards. There are some behaviors which the Bible explicitly identifies as sin and participation in them will significantly hinder spiritual growth (Galatians 5:19-21). Matters about which just and reasonable men have essential agreement. With resepct to these we should apply Galatians 6:1. If there is unrepentant sin, we must exercise church discipline. But even in that case we are to act with the aim of restoration (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 5:5).

Legalism is an insistence, maintained with an attitude of condemnation and/or superiority, on certain behaviors for progression in the Christian life.

Final Thought

What about other behaviors which the Bible does not address directly or about which just and reasonable men can and do have differing opinions? We should follow Romans 14:3. What is needed is clarity among believers on what these matters are. I do not think the debate over alcohol as a beverage was bad in and of itself. We need to have these kinds of discussions (for good examples of the kind of discussion we need to have, see this post and this post at centuri0n's blog). But we need to have them in a spirit of humility and mutual submission. And when there is substantial disagreement over these matters over Christian living among believers who are united on the essentials, there has to be freedom. That does not mean we do not discuss the issue, but it means we do not despise and we do not pass judgment.