Wednesday, March 31, 2010

'Clean sea breeze of the centuries'

D.A. Carson on "The Trials of Biblical Studies"

D.A. Carson offers helpful advice on the trials and temptations of biblical studies (.pdf). Some of Dr. Carson's ideas are paraphrased here by Andy Naselli:
  • Your desire to be admired and recognized is dangerous.
  • The sheer joy you find in your work does not make you spiritually superior to people who work in other disciplines.
  • Your academic specialty in an area of biblical studies does not make you a superior pastor.
  • Knowing more about the Bible than most people you serve does not make you a superior person.
  • You may experience inverted pride (i.e., being threatened because you are insecure and jealous) if successful professionals in secular work think lightly of your job.
Thanks to Justin Taylor for the link.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Doctrine, drama, direction

Jimmy Davis has written a fine, succinct essay (with a very helpful diagram) on how to read the Bible as theology book, story book, and guide book.

Apt app?

Jared Bridges shares his experiences of the first time he took his e-Bible, rather than the printed one, to the Sunday assembly.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Accepting his agenda

Eddie Arthur: "It’s no use getting all excited and shouting and cheering for Jesus, if the Jesus you are shouting and cheering for is the wrong one!"

Preparing for prayer

This is helpful: Thirteen tips for leading a congregation in prayer (and a hat tip to Charles Savelle for the link).

Keep running

Jeff Weddle writes about the mundane call of Christ. He writes to counter the view of Christian discipleship as an "adventure":
The problem with advertising the Great Commission as a great adventure is that it really isn’t, at least not in the way people generally define the word “adventure.”

In fact, what Christ is doing is calling people to a way of life. It’s a day-to-day existence with some triumphs and many failures. If you’re doing it for the thrills, expect to be disillusioned quickly.

We are called to run a race, not an “X-treme Gr8 Race” either, just a race. A long, tedious, injury filled race of faith. Our only advice for this race is–put off sin that besets us and run. Just run. Day in and day out. Run.
Amen. Posts like that one one remind me why Jeff Weddle is one of my favorite writers (but more on that later).

Friday, March 26, 2010

Textual criticism and preaching

Hammer and fire

On angels and the gospel

Which are most people more interested in: angels or the gospel? Mike Leake writes:
I am saddened (though not surprised) that I would probably get a better hearing on a Sunday night with a series concerned with unlocking the mystery of the end times than I would a series unveiling the mystery of the gospel. More people would probably take a class on angelology than they would on atonement.

This is not surprising; angels are comfortable, the gospel isn’t. You can talk to a stranger (even if he hates Christianity) about some angel named Gabriel. Worse thing that will happen is that he will probably consider you a fruitcake and leave smiling. But the gospel will get you killed. I cannot remember reading of people getting persecuted to death for belief in angels. And why would they? Angels do not divide history. Jesus does.
Indeed. I recommend Mike's whole article.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Secure in Christ

Jared Wilson shares a short, revealing anecdote on why "the security of the gospel makes no sense to the world."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Still alive and killing

'Daily needs' and the Kingdom of God

Bob Spencer has been blogging about the Lord's Prayer. One thing Bob has noticed is how easy it is to focus more "on our daily bread" than "thy kingdom come":
The Bible is put to the service of therapy. Anything that is not immediately recognizable as therapeutic is simply overlooked. This way of dealing with the Word of God is promoted in most daily devotionals. People don't even recognize the possibility of an alternative.

The same is true, as I was saying, of prayer. We put it to the use as a tool of therapy, not as a conversation with the One whose mission includes far more than our need for ease. Self expands, and the soul atrophies. Psychology trumps theology, and we don't even notice.

It's as if "give us this day our daily bread" expanded to take over the whole Jesus prayer, crowding out God and his kingdom. Or, better, as if we simply cut away the rest, ripped "daily bread" from its context, and let it mean whatever we needed it to mean. Kinda like we do with the rest of the Bible.
That stings, but nevertheless, Bob's whole post is well worth reading. In a related blogpost, Bob considers the positive results of praying as Jesus intended for us to do:
First, my prayer-life is no model of Christian piety. Believe me, I am no expert. I am a stuttering, befuddled, mind-wandering kind of pray-er. I pray often, throughout the day in fact, most often the age-old gem, "Help me, Lord!" But what I have found is that praying for myself and others in the way that Jesus taught us to pray has tended to cleanse my prayer-life of self-focused pleading, and helped me to picture myself as I pray not as the client of some wise and supernaturally gifted therapist and sugar-daddy, but as a front-line representative (one of many) of God's onrushing Kingdom.
Amen. You can find more of Bob's thoughts on the Lord's Prayer here and here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Two gardens, one savior

Colin Adams compares and contrasts the ‘two great gardens of temptation.’

Real vision

Proverbs 29:18 is one of the most misunderstood and mis-applied verses of the Bible, so it's good to read Dr. Claude Mariottini's post on what it's really about.

Monday, March 22, 2010

On '.45 caliber bread'

Fear and the new covenant

Jeff Weddle has more to say on fear of the Lord:
The “fear of the Lord” is one of those Old Testament concepts people don’t think they need anymore. That was for those under the Law who had to fear the earth swallowing them. Today we’re under grace and God is love now, not fear.

So goes the rationale. I beg to differ.
Jeff explains at the link. His earlier essay on fear of the Lord is here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Of bumper stickers and good works

Christian, don't be an idiot.

The plan with a man

Keith Brenton: ". . . you can preach 'the plan' all you want to, and if you don't preach 'the man,' you'll have converts to a system, not the Savior."

Praying for smallness

Steven Williamson shares more thoughts on Christian leadership. His earlier post on the topic is here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Who are you?'

Buzz Trexler: "Come forward and pick up a promise in the desert."

Preaching and fear of the Lord

Jeff Weddle looks at fear of the Lord and guilt-based preaching. What he has to say is pretty insightful:
If you can make people feel guilty maybe they fear God. Isn’t guilt an admission that they’ve offended someone higher than them?

It may be, but if their guilt is primarily there because you are there, then this is not fear of God. This is fear of you, which many pastors settle for, because it is quite an ego booster.

I think the only way to teach people to fear God is to teach them about God. His power, His majesty, glory, beauty, strength, justice, perfection, holiness, love, mercy, and all else that is God.

Underlying all that is the Gospel, the manifestation of God’s love toward us. If the Gospel’s goodness does not shake a man to his core, there is nothing you can teach him to make him fear God.
Amen. It's not easy to call sinners to repentance without playing psychological games. But if we really believe in the power of God's Word, our preaching can bring repentance without resorting to manipulation of any kind.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On leadership and following Christ

Good point: "Leadership is never an aim for the Christian in the Bible."

Update: Bob Spencer shares related thoughts, and Steve Williamson has posted a follow-up essay.

God's love in a sea of narcissists

Very good question (and even better answers): "How does one communicate the truth of God’s love without feeding the narcissism of the age?"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jesus and the DMV

John Frye shares an excellent analogy that illustrates how radical Jesus' teaching really was.

Jesus the bridegroom

Is it just me, or is the image of Jesus as bridegroom not particularly popular in West? Perhaps it's Western individualism that sometimes denies Christians the richness of the bridegroom imagery.

Friday, March 12, 2010

In church planting. . .

Preaching Jesus Christ crucified

"A robust theology of the cross is a reminder to us preachers that there is no eloquent, rhetorically savvy way by which our congregations can ascend to God. All of our attempts to climb up to God are our pitiful efforts at self-salvation. The gospel is not a story about how we are seeking God, but how God in Christ seeks us. God descends to our level by climbing on a cross, opening up his arms, and dying for us, because of us, with us. Paul’s thoughts on the foolishness of preaching that avoids “lofty words of wisdom” suggests that Christian rhetoric tends to be simple, restrained, and direct – much like the parables of Jesus. The Puritans developed what they called the “plain style” of preaching out of a conviction that Christian speech ought not to embellish, ought not to mislead hearers into thinking they there was some way for a sermon to work in the hearts and minds of the hearers apart from the gift of the Holy Spirit that makes sermons work."

Imperatives in context

Peter Mead encourages preachers to resist the temptation, when preaching a biblical text, of simply jumping to the commands without considering the broader context of the passage:
In a lot of preaching situations it is easier to simply present the text and press home the imperatives. Whether or not there is technically an imperative in the grammar, we can easily turn a passage into an instruction and press for change through our words.

I wonder how often we miss the opportunity to go a step or two deeper and recognize the “why” behind the “should”? Typically the epistles offer lists of instructions, but in the context of the letter, these instructions are very much set in the context of theological truth. We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, but it is in view of God’s mercies that we are to do so. We are to walk in a manner worthy, but specifically it’s in a manner worthy of the calling we have received.
Good points, and there's more at the link.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Defining the word 'world'

Jeff Weddle is looking at Calvinism and atonement--and so are his readers. And in a related post Jeff looks at the three ways of faith. I heartily recommend both posts.

Of vine and branches

New life in Christ, writes Victoria Gaines, frees us from the frustration of spiritual self-improvement:
Old things have passed away, y'all. Would Jesus die for us, only to abandon us in a struggle to decrease or improve self in our own strength? Self can't be improved... Jesus didn't die to improve mankind. He saved us from our sickness and sin by transplanting NEW life into us. I love this, because it means I don't have to patch myself up anymore - just let His life generate in me.
Amen. Vicki is one of the best bloggers around for reminding Christians that we already are new creations in Christ, and I'm grateful for her work.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Article of the month

Pain reliever or penalty remover?

Acts 11 in context

Eddie Arthur offers some outstanding context on the importance of Antioch in Acts 11. Here's how the essay begins:
At first glance, it seems as though Antioch marks just another step in the process of the Jesus movement becoming more open, but in fact, Antioch marks a paradigm shift: a complete break with the past. In this short passage we see two very significant things happening.
The whole thing is rather brief, but rich. I recommend reading it all.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Shaped by the good news?

Lingering on the Lord's Prayer

Bob Spencer has been looking at Jesus' model prayer in Matthew 6 and notices that it's a little different from what you often hear in prayer today.
There are ten lines in this little poem-like prayer. The first five embody a longing for the Kingdom of God. That's what the whole first half of the prayer is about. Only then does the prayer turn to immediate personal needs of the one doing the praying, and I would add they are as much spiritual needs as temporal.

Note: the prayer is not an encouragement to self-absorption. It is not a litany of personal needs. More importantly, it puts first things first. The need above all other needs, the supreme subject of prayer, we might say, is the Kingdom. "Your kingdom come." The personal prayer requests (such as "daily bread," which is a far cry, by the way, from praying for prosperity) come after, and within the kingdom context.

Monday, March 08, 2010


Real regeneration

Jeff Weddle is writing about regeneration. As he is wont, Jeff pulls no punches in describing current thinking on the matter. Here's how his blog post begins:
Self-help has overrun Christian thinking. We’ve replaced Biblical teaching with 8 ways to improve your marriage and 5 ways to pay off the mortgage for Jesus.

This has led to biblical illiteracy amongst professed Christians. Incidentally, it has not seemed to help professed Christians’ marriages or finances either. Go figure.

The real problem is that we’ve cancelled out one of the central tenets of Biblical Faith: regeneration.

Professed Christians are not remotely aware of the fact that they can have new life in Christ. To the extent they are aware of this, they chalk it up to mind games, vision coaching or something. “Think happy Jesus thoughts and you will become a happy Jesus.”
Too true. There is a positive side to Jeff's article, but I've already quoted quite liberally from it. You can read the whole essay here.

Don't skip a step in preaching

"Too often, perhaps in this generation in particular, it is easy to preach comfortable messages and avoid the discomforting but vital step of calling for repentance. Are people helped by being reassured of God’s grace without also being urged to repent? If God is a relationally jealous God, and we have been adulterous and unfaithful to Him, then is it enough to have feelings placated by assurances of His goodness? Surely a jealous lover’s goodness is little comfort to an unfaithful spouse unresponsive to the necessary conviction for sin?

"It may be harder to preach, but giving people opportunity to repent, reminder to respond, must be a necessary step in some sermons."

Friday, March 05, 2010

On 'the freedom of obedience'

Jeff Weddle: "Our self-focused pursuit of liberty and happiness sure seems like it would lead to liberty and happiness. Funny how it doesn’t."

Free, not cheap

"The cross is a dagger through the happy talk of "you’re okay, I’m okay" and if we just try harder we can get past our issues and change the world. The center of history is a weapon of torture—imagine holding hands around a guillotine or electric chair and you’ll get the idea. The cross informs us that things have gone horribly wrong, and they won’t be right unless somebody dies.

"That somebody is Jesus."

On cruciform preaching

Will Willimon's latest blog post is pure cruciform gold. Here's the opening:
A cruciform faith in the God who reigns from a cross requires a peculiar way of preaching that is foolishness to the world. When the speaker points to Jesus hanging helplessly on the cross and says, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” the predictable audience reaction is, “Why? How?”

Then the speaker is tempted to offer assorted evidence for such a patently ridiculous claim: citations from religious authorities, illustrations from everyday life, personal experience, and connections with the presuppositions of the audience. Classical rhetoric said that there were three means of persuasion of an audience: reason, emotions, and the character of the speaker.

Note that Paul, in writing to the Corinthians about the folly of his preaching 1 Cor. 1), rejects all of these classical means of persuasion, perhaps because there is no way for a speaker to get us from here to there, from our expectations for God to God on a cross, by conventional means of persuasion. When asked, “What is your evidence for your claim?” Paul simply responds, “Cross.” What else can he say? The cross so violates our frames of reference, our means of sorting out the claims of truth, that there is no way to get there except by “demonstration of the Spirit” and by “the power of God.” The only way for preaching about cross to “work” is as a miracle, a gift of God.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Another good reminder

Singleness and 'singles mess'

Dan Edelen looks at Christians, marriage, and the man-child. His observations are worth reading and go well beyond glib answers to systemic problems. Here's a sample:
. . . the way we prepare young people for the work world today exacerbates the problems. Beyond men and women competing for the same jobs, we use college as an excuse for job prep. We throw young people into a largely unsupervised college environment, expect them to put off marriage for four years, expect them them put off marriage for more years after graduation while they “establish their careers” (and justify the massive costs of a college education), and then we wonder why dating and mating is a giant mess.

Yet what Christian leader out there today is willing to question the way we work, earn money, and get an education? Instead, we find a convenient whipping boy, the man-child, and tell him to act like a man—when our entire system is geared for preventing him from doing so.

As I see it, the problems are systemic and difficult, which is why it’s easier for Christians to simply ignore them as we pursue our careers and gather for ourselves the only thing that seems to matter in life: money. Telling men to act like men doesn’t get us anywhere unless we’re prepared to make the changes necessary to mold them into our professed ideal. And those changes may mean revising every aspect of our society and culture.
Yes, indeed. I recommend Dan's whole article.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

'Him we proclaim'

These are edifying thoughts on three words in Colossians 1:28.

There can be only one

Jeff Weddle explains the two types of Christianity, and how only one really is.

Monday, March 01, 2010

No doubt about it

Churches need more Dwight Schrutes.

Revival or regression?

Collin Brendemuehl: "Does anyone besides me think that American Christianity is in real trouble?"

On virtue and visibility

Eddie Arthur offers some good reminders on mass media and true value:
Every now and then, Facebook pops up a suggestion that I should join a Christian group called 'Lets find a million Christians on Facebook' or 'Jesus has the most fans' or words to that effect. . . . But are these groups worth the effort?

The implication is that if lots of people sign up to a Facebook group, or download a single, then it says something positive about the Gospel, but does it?

I think that we have to question whether demonstrating that something is popular makes any comment regarding its value. Pornography, in one form or another, is one of the most popular uses of the Internet; does this mean that pornography is good because millions of people look at it? Of course not. Popularity has never been a good guide to moral issues. Getting a million people to sign up to a Christian group in Facebook proves nothing more than there are a million people signed up to the group.