Thursday, December 30, 2010

"The Legalism of Tolerance"

Derek Webb likes to stir it up every now and again. His favorite targets of disdain are those rascally conservative Christians. Recently he's made a few headlines by offering his troublingly thoughts on homosexuality. Along with his seeming agnosticism on that particular perversion, however, is an even more troubling lack of clarity concerning the Gospel. These tendencies are on full display in a recent interview he granted to the Huffington Post.

In response to the HuffPo interview, Frank Turk has written a thoughtful, helpful, and tough open letter to the singer. Frank has also posted a follow-up in which he further deals with the specifics of Webb's comments.

Among Turk's keenest observations about the trouble with Webb's perspective is what he refers to as the "legalism of tolerance."

Christ died to call out the Church. This is an unquestionable fact of the New Testament; it's the key-note point of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and also the "book ends" of Paul's letter to the Romans. Somehow, if Christ died for us, we are a new people set apart from the world and it's fallenness. Right? Colossians 3? So when we make the confession that we are sinners, we are also making the confession that we ought not to be sinners. Making allowance for the sins of others so that we can "love them" is unloving because it is spiritually deadly. It completely squashes the actual Gospel in place of a new kind of legalism. Rather than seeking to find out all the ways in which we ought "not to do," we are in fact seeking out all the ways we can allow all the things we ought not to do. It's a legalism of tolerance -- which you exchange in your interview into a legalism of love. It's not love, you might say, if it doesn't include those who mutilate themselves to justify their sexual urges. It's not love, you might say, if we can't bless the sexual union of two people who are sexually identical rather than sexually compatible. It's the legalism of permissiveness, which is merely license raised to a moral imperative.

More "Best Books"

Sam Storms has posted his favorite books of 2010 HERE.

On his list is one that could easily have made mine but I neglected to list it. It is Tom Schreiner's outstanding
40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.

He also lists a volume that has been on my wish list for a while -
God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark.

Storms notes:

To be brief, Stark dismantles the long-held myth that “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam” (8). Nothing, notes Stark, could be further from the truth. There’s no other way to say it: this superb historical treatment will challenge and, dare I say, change virtually everything you ever read or heard about the Crusades. It is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and persuasive.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Top Reads for 2010

The following are the books published in 2010 that I enjoyed most. I am limiting the list to those books from Christian publishing houses.

The Heresy of Orthodoxy by Kostenberger & Kruger
The authors carefully and effectively dismantle the arguments of Bart Ehrman and a generation of liberal scholars who sought to discredit the essential unity of early Christianity.

Excellent and highly readable study of how to properly read and "do" history.

Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas Schreiner
Perhaps the most readable and helpful introduction to the theology of the New Testament I have read.

A Place for Weakness by Michael Horton
Previously published as Too Good to be True, this reissue under a new title is, in my opinion, a must read.

Provocative. Controversial. Polemical. Need I say more?

Must reading for anyone in church leadership.

Deyoung has done the church a great service by introducing and reintroducing many to the beauty of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Moving account of modern martyr.

Okay, I'm cheating a bit because I have not yet completed reading this book. However, so far it is outstanding.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Domesticated Transcendence

From Michael Gerson writing in The Washington Post:

Christmas has become a kind of alternative religion, offering watered-down versions of profound theological doctrines. Its miracles are found on 34th Street, not in Bethlehem. The visitation of Gabriel has become the visitation of Clarence, assuring us that it is a wonderful life. The modern cult of Christmas offers a domesticated form of transcendence. Naughty or nice instead of good or evil. A jolly old elf rather than an illegitimate child, destined for an early death…

I choose to take a more liberal view of the Christmas cult. Its tacky materialism can be unattractive. But the desire for Christmas miracles and visiting angels – for Tiny Tim not to die and for hooves on the rooftop and for George Bailey to be the richest man in town; for just one night of calm and hope – are not things to be lightly dismissed.

‘If I find in myself,’ says [C.S.] Lewis, ‘a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.’ In this argument, the sentimental desires of Christmas are hints and rumors and reminders of a birth that somehow represents their culmination. Put another way: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.
HT: Denny Burk

How "mere" can Christianity be before it ceases to be Christian?

Carl Trueman calls attention to a very interesting article in The Spectator. Bruce Anderson, an atheist, makes some insightful claims about Christianity which suggest that he understands the Christian faith far more than theological liberals.

Anderson writes:
"We unbelievers are entitled to regard the Bible as magnificent literature. More is demanded from the faithful. Yet these days, even some soi-disant Christians would claim that the miraculous elements of the New Testament are only metaphors. To me, that is agnostic slop. Faith is more than literature. Faith is an epiphany of abasement, ardour and rigour, in the hope of grace, redemption and joy. But there is an entrance fee. “If you do not believe in the literal truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, you are not a Christian”." [my emphasis]
Trueman comments:
Reading this, I found my mind wandering back just over a decade. As the new, young, and very naive editor of Themelios, I had just lost my first subscriber, a self-identifying evangelical academic at a Welsh university, who had written me a letter to say that, after being a faithful subscriber to the journal since its inception he was, `with heavy heart,' canceling his subscription. The problem? I was, he said, `narrowing the bounds of Christianity beyond charity and common sense.' Specifically, I had written an editorial in which I claimed that those who denied the resurrection could not be Christians. I responded to said academic with a very gentle and respectful letter, apologising if I had transgressed in tone, and asking him where I had deviated from Paul's teaching, as I had no wish to teach error in the pages of the journal. Suffice it to say, I never heard back: it was apparently a worthwhile use of his time to accuse me of lack of charity and false teaching, but not to teach me a better way as this gentleman understood it.

Given the choice of dinner with that gentleman or Bruce Anderson, I would have to ask, `Is that a question?' Mr Anderson understands the New Testament in a way that that evangelical theologian, for all of his life spent studying the faith, does not; and, indeed, to update the scenario, Anderson grasps Christianity in a manner which also seems beyond those who hold to that specious antithesis that 'Christianity is a way of life, not a set of doctrines.' Yes, doctrine divides and excludes; and Anderson knows that that is central to the message of Christianity, unpleasant as that may appear.

It was Nietzsche who declared that what is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons. What he did not realise was that he was prophetically speaking about Christians at least as much as atheists.

Can you explain the Gospel?

What is the Gospel? from Southern Seminary on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Will a Christian deny the virgin birth of Jesus?

Writing for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the virgin birth of Jesus as evidence of that conservative Christians are a bit dim. There are even so-called evangelicals who cast doubt on the importance of belief in virgin birth (more correctly virgin conception) of Jesus. Rob Bell has referred to the virgin birth as just one spring on the trampoline of Christianity that be disconnected without disrupting the fun. But this begs the question, "Just how important is the virgin birth?"

Al Mohler weighs in on Kristof's pronouncements:

Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding? “The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine America’s emphasis on faith,” Kristof argues, “because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth … as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith.” Here’s a little hint: Anytime you hear a claim about what “most Biblical scholars” believe, check on just who these illustrious scholars really are. In Kristof’s case, he is only concerned about liberal scholars like Hans Kung, whose credentials as a Catholic theologian were revoked by the Vatican...

Kristof also cites “the great Yale historian and theologian” Jaroslav Pelikan as an authority against the Virgin Birth, but this is both unfair and untenable. In Mary Through the Centuries, Pelikan does not reject the Virgin Birth, but does trace the development of the doctrine.

What are we to do with the Virgin Birth? The doctrine was among the first to be questioned and then rejected after the rise of historical criticism and the undermining of biblical authority that inevitably followed. Critics claimed that since the doctrine is taught in “only” two of the four Gospels, it must be elective. The Apostle Paul, they argued, did not mention it in his sermons in Acts, so he must not have believed it. Besides, the liberal critics argued, the doctrine is just so supernatural. Modern heretics like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong argue that the doctrine was just evidence of the early church’s over-claiming of Christ’s deity. It is, Spong tells us, the “entrance myth” to go with the resurrection, the “exit myth.” If only Spong were a myth.
Ultimately Mohler concludes:

Must one believe in the Virgin Birth to be a Christian? This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.
Read the entire article HERE.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

There's a sermon illustration in this somewhere...

Read about a woman who cannot experience fear.

"The heart wants what the heart wants"...

So said Woody Allen as he sought to justify his sexual relationship with his step-daughter. In one sense it is easy to dismiss Allen's behavior as isolated albeit disgusting. But now David Espstein, a political scientist from Columbia University, has been charged with incest for carrying on a sexual relationship with his adult daughter. Most of us have a reflexive response of disgust concerning such behavior. It is sinful. It is gross. But based upon what the left has told us for years about homosexuality must we now embrace incest so long as it is "consensual"?

Over at Slate, William Saletan asks, "If gay sex is okay, how can incest be wrong?"
Nowadays, when we talk about incest, we tend to think of child sexual abuse. That's how we use the term in the repressed-memory debate and in abortion legislation. When politicians such as President Obama make exceptions in abortion laws for "rape and incest," they're using the terms synonymously, except that in the incest scenario, the rapist is your dad.

But you can't prosecute Epstein under that theory. According to news reports, his daughter is 24, and their affair began in 2006. That makes her an adult. Furthermore, police say the sex appears to have been consensual. Four years ago, Ohio's Supreme Court upheld the incest conviction of Paul Lowe, a former sheriff's deputy, for what the court called "consensual sex with his 22-year-old stepdaughter." And last month, a 27-year-old Florida woman was sentenced to five years of probation for sex with her father. Clearly, we're prosecuting people for incest regardless of age or consent.

At this point, liberals tend to throw up their hands. If both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the law get involved? Incest may seem icky, but that's what people said about homosexuality, too. It's all private conduct. To which conservatives reply: We told you so. We warned you that if laws against homosexuality were struck down, laws against polygamy and incest would follow. And now you're proving us right.

Read the entire article HERE.

Take time to read observations on this case from Al Mohler and Carl Trueman.

This article is a very interesting window into the sexual confusions that lie at the heart of our age. To his credit, Saletan gets the conservative argument basically right:

The conservative view is that all sexual deviance—homosexuality, polyamory, adultery, bestiality, incest—violates the natural order. Families depend on moral structure: Mom, Dad, kids. When you confound that structure—when Dad sleeps with a man, Dad sleeps with another woman, or Mom sleeps with Grandpa—the family falls apart. Kids need clear roles and relationships. Without this, they get disoriented. Mess with the family, and you mess up the kids.

That’s a pretty fair summary. Of course, the Christian argument goes much deeper than the merely conservative argument, affirming the fact that, with exacting precision, God has spoken to the sinfulness of such behaviors — specifically condemning both homosexuality and incest. In other words, Christians move the question from mere wrongfulness to sinfulness and place all issues of sin within the biblical account of sin and redemption.
- Al Mohler

Monday, December 20, 2010

Not with a bang but a whimper

“That God would take human flesh, and that not of one of the great and the good but of a child born of apparently dubious parentage to a young woman scarcely more than a child herself, that he would be delivered in a stable - these are things that are an affront to us as human beings. That God would make himself weak and helpless, vulnerable to all of the things that plague this fallen world is outrageous. That he would risk his person through being born in a stable, without even the most rudimentary of medical assistance then available, is ridiculous. Indeed, had one stood at the door of the stable in Bethlehem on that first Christmas night, and seen the tiny mite lying in a manger, it is very doubtful that anyone could have persuaded you that you were gazing upon the very fulfillment of history, the arrival of the last Adam, and were thus in the presence of God himself.

“If we are to be rescued and redeemed, we want it to be on our terms, by a redeemer worthy of us: a great and mighty one, powerful in word and deed, one who strikes instant fear and commands immediate respect. It is an insult to us that we should be rescued by one weaker than ourselves. And yet that is the glory of the gospel. Of course, as Paul points out, this gospel foolishness culminates in the cross on Calvary; but it is foreshadowed in the absurdity of the manger. God needs no advice from us; he does not pander to our expectations; the eternal explodes into time, not with a bang, but with the whimper of a new born infant.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Today's sermon was entitled "Born to Raise the Sons of Earth" and was taken from Matthew 1:18-25. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

George and West

The following video is of Princeton professors Robert George and Cornel West. It is an excellent discussion. Dr. George is perhaps the most formidable conservative intellectual in America while Dr. West is a well known man of the left. Their discussion is a model of respectful dialogue. Among the issues they discuss is whether the left is on the wrong side of history regarding abortion.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thinking about Christmas...

Ref21 has posted some excellent articles by Carl Trueman reflecting on the miracle of the incarnation. These three articles are well worth reading.

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I concluded a series of messages through Hebrews. Part 50 was entitled "Benediction" and was taken from 13:20-25. You can listen to or download the sermon HERE.

Book Review

My Review of Carl Trueman's Histories and Fallacies has now been posted at TGC Reviews.

Histories and Fallacies is a different kind of book for Carl Trueman. He is accustomed to writing history, not about how history ought to be written. In a rather candid moment Trueman admits that his view of the historical task formerly mirrored Shaw’s attitude toward teachers: “those who can write history, do write history; those who cannot, write books telling others how to do it” (p. 13). Thankfully, however, Trueman has come to believe that there is indeed a place for the historian to weigh in on those questions that underlie the task of writing history.

Not only is Histories and Fallacies a different kind of book for Trueman, it is a different kind of book for Crossway. That is, it is not an explicitly “Christian” book as we tend to measure such things in our present moment. I commend Crossway for publishing such a work. For while this present volume does not deal with explicitly Christian themes in the sense that a book on the doctrine of Christ does, Histories and Fallacies is nevertheless an important book for Christians whose hope is wrapped up in thousands of years of history. After all, we say that our salvation depends upon a series of objective events in the past. Christians, therefore, ought to be competent historians.

Trueman readily admits that there are unavoidably subjective realities in the interpreting and writing of history. “History,” he writes, “is not simply a collation of facts which can only be related together in one valid narrative” (p. 17). However, as we consider the past we must “rule out of bounds the possibility that there are a potentially infinite number of sometimes contradictory yet equally valid ways of talking about the past” (p. 17). Using the rather amusing example of theories suggesting that Elvis is “still alive and well and working as a shelf-stacker in a supermarket,” Trueman warns against “a kind of epistemological nihilism that has so relativized everything that access to the past in any meaningful way is virtually denied” (p. 18). This, I suggest is the heart of Histories and Fallacies. It is also the reason why this volume is important. Many of us who labor as pastors are often confronted with the fruit of historical deconstructionism and “epistemological nihilism,” which has become rather chic in certain evangelical circles.
Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fathers - Indispensable for a child's good...

There's a fascinating, albeit not surprising article posted at Touchstone concerning the importance of fathers regarding the Christian commitment of their children.
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely diminished role, in Western liberal society.

A mother’s role will always remain primary in terms of intimacy, care, and nurture. (The toughest man may well sport a tattoo dedicated to the love of his mother, without the slightest embarrassment or sentimentality). No father can replace that relationship. But it is equally true that when a child begins to move into that period of differentiation from home and engagement with the world “out there,” he (and she) looks increasingly to the father for his role model. Where the father is indifferent, inadequate, or just plain absent, that task of differentiation and engagement is much harder. When children see that church is a “women and children” thing, they will respond accordingly—by not going to church, or going much less.

Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a “grown-up” activity. In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s decision. Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.
Read the entire article HERE.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Issues Etc. on Harold Camping's latest prediction

Kim Riddlebarger was featured on Issues Etc to discuss Harold Camping's exotic approach to interpreting the Bible in light of his prediction that Jesus will rapture the church on May 21, 2o11.

Take a listen HERE (scroll down to the episode on Camping).

Books Worth Giving this Christmas...

Knowing God by J.I. Packer
What else can be said about Knowing God that has not already been said? It is number one on my list of books I wish every church member would read. Of the books written over the last 100 years none have had such a profound impact on my understanding of and desire to know God than Dr. Packer's classic.

The Cross of Christ by John Stott
"There are not many 'must read' books—books that belong on every minister's shelf, and on the shelves of thoughtful laypersons who want a better grasp of what is central in Scripture—but this is one of them." - D.A. Carson

A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
This little volume on the character of God is one I would like to get into the hands of every believer. In his typically warm style Ferguson offers a passionate portrayal of God's holiness, his tender care, and his faithful love. Highly recommended.

The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor
The Great Work of the Gospel begins with the bad news of human sin and corruption. John Ensor does not skip over or sugar coat the depravity of the unregenerate heart. But this is precisely why the Gospel of God's grace in Jesus Christ shines so brightly in this beautiful book. This is not a book I read once and then put away. My copy is dog eared and beaten up from being turned to so often. Ensor helps us rejoice in the forgiveness purchased for us by our Savior.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller
"This is as fine a book on prayer that you will ever read, but it is so much more. It is the story of our struggle to actually live like we believe that our Heavenly father really does love us. If we did, nothing could keep us from being committed to the day by day hard work of prayer. Paul exegetes our struggle in a way that is convicting, insight giving and encouraging. This is a book on prayer that actually makes you want to pray!" - Paul Tripp

A Body of Divinity by Thomas Watson
Thomas Watson's masterful commentary on the Shorter Catechism is a model of theology that is at once devotional and doxological. A Body of Divinity is my favorite of all the Puritan classics. It has been and continues to be a regular presence in my practice of devotions.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Strategic Church Attendance

Colin Marshall has written a helpful article for The Briefing. There is far more ministry that can happen "in the pew" than we often think.

Once we make the attitude shift from being passive pew sitters and receivers to active workers and givers, there is no end to the difference we can make to others and to the running of the meeting. All of the suggestions below are of the informal type—things we can do at our own initiative. They are the types of involvement that every congregation member can have. The key to people work is to observe what happens around you and respond to people's needs. Think through your church meetings chronologically. What can we do before, during and after the meeting?

One of our great contributions is our preparation. The minister should not be the only one preparing for church. We prepare by praying for the preacher, the musicians, the service leader, the Bible readers and the newcomers. We prepare by studying the Bible passages so that we maximize this learning opportunity by being sensitised to the issues and questions in the passages being taught. Such preparation also has other benefits. We are better equipped to enter into discussion with others if we have looked at the passage beforehand. It is also a great encouragement to the preacher to know that the congregation is eager to understand the Bible and willing to put in some effort. Preaching is hard work, both for the preacher and the listeners. An intelligent question, comment or observation upon the sermon is an enormous motivating factor for the preacher who, week by week, has to try and engage the congregation's minds and hearts in the word of God. Those who sit in the pew can make a great contribution to those teaching from the pulpit.

Meeting visitors and newcomers
We enjoy meeting our friends at church, but we need to develop a nose for new people. We need to sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on. We should greet the non-Christian friends of other members and introduce our friends to others. It's all about genuine hospitality. The way we welcome and look after people when they visit our homes should be a model for the household of God. And genuine, relaxed hospitality will slowly evaporate some of the prejudices held by outsiders.

Arriving early
All of this requires that we arrive not on time or late, but early. That may be the greatest miracle of all.

Active listening
People in the pews have an enormous impact on those who are teaching and leading. Communication is always a two way process. Energetic listening through taking notes, making eye contact with the preacher, sitting at the front, laughing at jokes (even old ones), will spur on the preacher. It is very hard to preach enthusiastically to a sleepy, distracted, fidgety group. Our active listening will also infect others with enthusiasm for learning, just as our fidgeting will discourage them. Unbelievers will also pick up that these ideas are worth listening to if they see rows of regulars eagerly soaking up the Bible.

Similarly, those in the pew can be a great help to the singing and leading of music. It is everyone's responsibility to share in the corporate singing of the congregation. The music may be well chosen and played but if it is poorly sung it is disheartening. Our enthusiasm and gusto in singing the great anthems of the faith is of great help to those around us and those leading the music, even if we can barely hold a tune. Just pretend you're under the shower.

Each member in the pew also has an important part to play in the smooth running of the meeting. The devil will use anything to distract people from hearing the word of God. We musn't rely on ushers to fix things. If the window needs to be opened, get up and do it. If the microphones are not right, signal to the speaker so the problem can be fixed before they continue on without being heard.

Keep attending to newcomers' needs. If they can't find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don't have a Bible, or they need to find the creche, help them yourself. It is your meeting, not the minister's. It's all about being observant and outward-looking.

Discuss God's word
We have just heard the word of God and we spend all of morning tea talking about last night's video. It isn't right and we know it, but many of us are just uncomfortable starting up ‘spiritual’ conversations. If you get the ball rolling, others will pick it up. During your preparation and the sermon, think up some comments or issues to raise with others. Asking “What did you think of the sermon?” will usually put your neighbour into a coma, but making a specific comment like “I didn't know Abel was a prophet. What makes someone a prophet?”, may generate a fruitful conversation. Even if the conversations don't always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible will be contagious and non-Christians will see that church is not dull and boring but fascinating and life shattering.

Pray with others
Use the supper time to meet others and find out their concerns and pray quietly with them. This will look a bit weird to newcomers with pairs of bowed heads all around the building, but they will know that we love each other and trust God's providence.

Newcomers tend to leave fairly quickly so we have to move fast by identifying the visitor in our pew and offering them conversation immediately the service ends. It's all very purposeful: make sure they are welcomed properly by you and your friends, maybe introduce them to the minister and help them see how they can fit in to the congregation. You may have to postpone catching your friends until after the newcomers have been cared for.

Stay late
Once you catch this vision of church, you are always the last to leave because the opportunities to minister don't end until the last person leaves. Gone are the days of fitting church in between breakfast and brunch. Ministry of the pew takes time. In the forthcoming issues of Factotum, we'll continue to explore practical ways in which we can be better Christian servants. Sorry to have ruined your ‘day of rest’. Church requires a lot of effort, if we are to build the body of Christ. Don't worry: you have Monday to Saturday to rest so that you'll be fit for next week's work at church.

Training outline
This outline can be used to discuss Ministry of the Pew in a small group to work out how to implement these ideas in your church.

1.Why think about where to sit in church?
2.How would your church members express their reasons for attending church?
3.How do these reasons affect what they do in church?
4.Who in your church is actively engaged in the ministry of the pew? How can youencourage and support them?
5.What is the attitude of your members toward bringing others to church?
6.What practises in your church meeting last Sunday would have alienated non-Christians?
7.Next Sunday carefully observe who in church is ‘left out’ in some way.
8.What are your plans for your ministry from the pew?

Read the entire article HERE.

Great prices on Children's Books

Westminster Bookstore is having a 50% off sale on outstanding children's books.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Mighty Battle

From Fred Zaspel's wonderful new work, The Theology of B.B. Warfield:

For nearly a century before Warfield arrived on its faculty, Princeton Seminary had stood out as the scholarly bastion of the historic Reformed faith. And due in large measure to the towering influence of Old Princeton, much of the new liberalizing tendencies in the church had been held back in significant degree. By means of his 2,700 students and his endless literary output, Warfield played an enormous role in this. But the undercurrent was always present, and within a decade after his death, liberal currents of thought would gain prominence in the Presbyterian church and at his beloved Princeton also. Warfield once met the wife of the seminary president J. Ross Stevenson while walking down a Princeton street, and she implored him: “Dr. Warfiled, I hear there is going to be trouble at the General Assembly. Do let us pray for peace.” To this he replied, “I am praying that if they do not do what is right, there may be a mighty battle.”

Roger Nicole (1915-2010)

Roger Nicole died on Friday. He will be missed.

Justin Taylor has written an outstanding remembrance of Dr. Nicole.

The Glory of the Atonement (essays in honor of Roger Nicole)
Our Sovereign Saviour
Standing Forth

Friday, December 10, 2010

Alistair Begg

In November Southern Theological Seminary hosted Alistair Begg for a series of messages on preaching the gospel.

Preaching the Gospel from Ecclesiastes

Preaching the Gospel from Acts

Preaching the Gospel from Revelation


The latest issue of Themelios (always worth reading) is now available online and pdf.


1.D. A. Carson Editorial: Contrarian Reflections on Individualism
2.Carl Trueman Minority Report: Terrible Beauty, Beauty, and the Plain Terrible
3.Daniel J. Estes Fiction and Truth in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature
4.Daniel J. Brendsel Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined
5.Stephen M. Garrett The Dazzling Darkness of God’s Triune Love: Introducing Evangelicals to the Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar
6.Philip Graham Ryken Pastoral Pensées A World Servant in Christian Liberal Arts Education
7.Book Reviews
1.Old Testament 3 reviews
2.New Testament 22 reviews
3.history and historical theology 4 reviews
4.systematic theology and bioethics 25 reviews
5.ethics and pastoralia 13 reviews

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What is Philip Yancey thinking?

Philip Yancey will be the keynote speaker for an event hosted by the "Gay Christian Network" (gcn).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

This week's sermon was part 49 in our series through Hebrews. It is entitled "The Advantage of Having Joyful Leaders" and is taken from Hebrews 13:17-19. You can listen to or download it HERE.

The Gospel According to the Old Testament

Westminster Bookstore is offering this wonderful set at 50% off. This is a great series of books. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 6, 2010

When will we stop listening to false prophets?

As many of you know, Harold Camping is at it again. This time he predicts that Jesus will return in May of 2011. It's not hard to dismiss Camping as a bit of a nut. But let us not think that he is unintelligent. He also has followers who are true believers. Some of them invade our church parking lot from time-to-time to bless us with Camping's propaganda. The question that fascinates me is not so much why is Camping a false prophet but why are so many willing to follow a demonstrably false prophet?

Take time to read Scott Clark's comments about what may be the very heart of the errors of "Campingism."

How we interpret the Bible matters folks!

Is God Cruel?

Have you ever encountered someone who says something like, "The God of the Old Testament seems cruel. He's not at all like Jesus"? It is not an uncommon error. There are so-called evangelical Bible scholars who insist that the God of the Old Testament is not the God of the New Testament. I have had conversation with a scholar who teaches his students precisely that. He explains that anything the Bible attributes to God that he cannot picture Jesus doing or saying must be an error. Much can be said about the weakness of his hermeneutic. But his error assumes that Jesus, in his incarnation, revealed everything there is to reveal about God. This of course is not true. In his first advent, for instance, Jesus did not reveal the wrath of God. Rather, Jesus came proclaiming the mercy of God (although he certainly warned about hell and the judgement to come). Is there any question that upon his return Jesus will reveal certain realities about God that he did not directly reveal in his first advent?

There is much debate and confusion surrounding the nature of certain Old Testament laws and some of God's directives to his people. One issue that is frequently raised is God's command to his people to destroy the Canaanites. Was God calling for genocide? Was God justifiably using his people to bring judgment upon a pagan and violent people? Does the Bible justify slavery and polygamy? A new book by apologist Paul Copan addresses these issues and many others. I have not yet read the book but I have found Copan helpful in the past. The new book is
Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

Justin Taylor has posted some highlights from Dr. Copan:

THE HUMANIZING NATURE OF ISRAEL’S LAWS IN CONTRAST TO THE REST OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST: I argue that virtually point-for-point, Israel’s legislation is significantly morally elevated—even if not ideal or universal. God meets Israel in the midst of deeply embedded fallen social structures and elevates them, even if not to the ideal level (cp. Matthew 19:8, where Moses permits certain laws because of the hardness of human hearts). The Mosaic Law’s morally elevated status is apparent in the far less-severe nature Israel’s punishments; the Mosaic Law’s lack of mutilation texts (I argue that Deuteronomy 25:11-12 is definitely NOT a mutilation text); the protection of runaway slaves from their masters (anti-return laws); servants automatically freed if bodily harm comes to them from their employers (anti-harm laws); and so on.
CANAANITE WARFARE DIRECTED AT NON-COMBATANTS: Noncombatants were not targeted in the Canaanite (or Amalekite) campaigns but rather non-civilian military, political, and religious centers (“cities”) like Jericho, Ai, and Hazor; these were not civilian centers. War texts using comprehensive language regarding “women” and “children” are stock ancient Near Eastern phrasing, even if women and children are not involved.
HYPERBOLE AND ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN BRAVADO: The biblical text, like other ancient Near Eastern war texts, uses exaggeration or hyperbole (.e.g., “let nothing remain,” “everything that breathed”). However, the biblical text itself (especially Judges, which is literarily linked to Joshua) reveals that a lot of breathing Canaanites remained and lived among the Israelites. “Wiping out” all the Canaanites was not what Moses intended in Deuteronomy 20 (the term “driving out” or “dispossessing” is much more prominent in these texts—which is NOT the same as “wiping out”). So Joshua (who didn’t literally destroy everything that breathed) “carried out what Moses commanded.”
CONCUBINAGE AS HAVING A “SECONDARY WIFE”: A “concubine” often refers to a “secondary” wife rather than a female used for a male’s sexual pleasure (e.g., after the first/“primary” wife has died—like Abraham’s wife Keturah after Sarah died).
POLYGAMY PROHIBITED: Leviticus 18:18 indicates that polygamy is prohibited by the Mosaic Law; it is not morally permissible even if less than ideal—which is unfortunately commonly assumed by Christians.
OLD TESTAMENT SLAVERY AS INDENTURED SERVITUDE: While critics commonly equate Old Testament “slavery” with the antebellum South’s common harsh treatment of slaves, the term “slave(ry)” is misleading and should be understood as “contractual employment” or “indentured servitude”—much like a sports player who is “owned” by a team or a person contracted to serve a set time in the military. Normally, according to the Law of Moses, servitude within Israel was poverty-induced, and it was to be voluntary and temporary (no more than seven years). I deal with a number of difficult servitude passages.
NEW TESTAMENT SLAVERY AND ONESIMUS: I dip into the New Testament on the topic of slavery, as this is a different issue than Old Testament indentured servitude. In addition to arguing for the radically humanizing treatment of slaves in the New Testament, I argue that Onesimus was in all likelihood not a slave; that interpretation of Philemon comes significantly later in church history. For example, there are no “flight” verbs in Philemon, which would be strange if Onesimus had run away. Various scholars argue that Philemon and Onesimus were not only (alienated) Christian brothers, but possibly biological brothers as well.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"You probably think this Psalm is about you."

How we read and interpret the Bible matters. I know that sounds obvious but it would be hard to estimate the number of serious doctrinal errors that are born from rather simple errors in interpreting the biblical text. I think about the prosperity teaching which is bound up (among other things) in a failure to understand the difference between old covenant promises made to Israel concerning the land and God's promises to his people that are now 'yes' in Christ.

Check out
the latest installment of the White Horse Inn.

According to Michael Horton, an alternative title for this broadcast could be, “You’re so vain, you probably think this psalm is about you.” On this special program recorded live at the Desiring God Conference in Minneapolis, the hosts discuss the predominance of me-centered Bible interpretation. Featuring numerous readings from best-selling evangelical books and devotional guides, the hosts argue that most Christians today are not engaging in proper biblical exegesis, but rather are reading themselves and their own stories into the text of Scripture. Sitting in for Ken Jones for this program is Stephen Nichols, author of Ancient Word, Changing Worlds and Jesus: Made in America.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Point / Counterpoint

Very interesting discussion over at the Gospel Coalition on the role (if any) of unbelievers in the public worship of the church.

Your thoughts?