Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The outward proclamation and the inner scream

From God's Prophet, God's Servant by John Goldingay

I have heard many people whispering –
There is terror on all sides.
“Report him, let’s report Him!”
All my friends are watching for my downfall.
“Perhaps he can be persuaded and prevailed over,
then we can catch him and take vengeance on him.
- Jeremiah 20:10

Curse the day I was born!
May the day my mother bore me never be blessed!
Curse the man who brought the news to my father,
“It’s a boy! You have a son!”,
making him glad.
May that man be like the cities
that Yahweh overthrew without pity,
may he hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon,
because he did not kill me at birth,
so that my mother would have become my grave,
and her womb would have been enlarged forever.
Why did I come out of the womb,
to see trouble and affliction
and end my life in disgrace?
- Jeremiah 20:14-18

“Why is there recorded in Scripture the personal and private agonizing of the man of God with God? One reason may arise out of the fact that it is obviously not easy to be hard as a rock outside when you are being torn apart inside. The tension between the outward proclamation and the inner scream itself threatens to rend the man apart. The scream, indeed, cannot finally be stifled or repressed. It has to receive expression. So writing it down helps to give expression to it in the only way that is possible. It gets it out of the system. That may be the reason why Jeremiah put it in writing…

“I remember once noticing a poster on Nottingham Railway Station: ‘There is a religion which sees life as a challenge to be met, not as a cross to be born.’ If there is, then it is not the religion of Jeremiah, nor of Jesus. Nor is it a religion I am very interested in. Because a religion that is worth following has to be able to cope with the fact that life is not always a thrilling challenge; it is sometimes an experience of crucifixion. And being a prophet, or being any kind of faithful servant of God, is not always a thrilling challenge. Sometimes, the experience of the cost, in isolation and opposition, in the loss of any right to run one’s own life, in being torn apart even as one is as hard as a rock outside, is rather an experience of crucifixion.”

The Pastor As Chief Sinner

I have been thinking lately about how difficult it must be to serve actively in a church as a layperson. It isn’t the demand on one’s time that is the hardest thing but the more challenging demand on one’s heart. To serve a local body of believers is to inevitably be exposed to both the best and the worst in others. The layperson actively involved in ministry to the Body of Christ will see extraordinary acts of kindness and even self-sacrifice. But often, perhaps more often, what is observed is pettiness, gossip, and appalling acts of selfishness. Adding insult to injury the layperson soon realizes that their pastors are sinners as well.

Of course everyone knows that pastors are sinners. What is difficult, however, is to actually see the sins of your own pastor on full display. Perhaps he is jealous or insecure. Maybe he struggles with anger, pride, depression, or a critical spirit. Seeing these things in one’s pastor can be a heavy burden to bear. As a pastor I know what it is to disappoint people that I care about. I know what it is to go home feeling miserable because some of the ugliness in my heart escaped in the site of people I am called to shepherd. In those times I say with Paul, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).

This is not false humility on the part of the apostle. Neither are we to surmise that Paul committed more heinous sins than anyone who ever walked the face of the earth. I am pretty sure that the point Paul is making is that he is the worst sinner he knows. This displays the default position that all Christians should embrace: “Knowing the condition of my heart in a way that I cannot know yours, I can only safely conclude that I am in worse shape than you.” This doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to our brother’s sin. Indeed, we are to hold each other accountable in a loving, but if necessary, firm way. However, the wickedness in my own heart ought to always be a greater source of concern to me than the wickedness present in anyone else.

So, I am a sinful pastor. I sometimes wear my sins and flaws on my sleeve for all to see. Very often, perhaps more often than not, I fail to live up to my confession. As far as I know, my heart is in worse condition than that of any of my brothers and sisters. So I will endeavor to take my own sin more seriously than yours. I will try to be more offended by my own sin than by yours. I will, by God’s grace, always be ready to receive the loving correction of my fellows in Christ. This, I believe will guard me from the pessimism and cynicism that so easily accompany service to the church.

Sermon Audio - Savior of Lost Causes (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The only skill required of church leaders...

“In the church the risen Christ rules through His word. This is why the only skill required of church leaders is that they can teach, rightly handling and applying the word of God. Their authority is a mediated authority. They have no authority in and of themselves. Instead they exercise Christ’s authority on His behalf as they teach and apply the word. This defines the amazing extent of their authority: when they apply the word they are exercising the authority of God himself. But it also defines the limit of their authority: they have authority only as they teach God’s word. They should not exercise an authority that comes because of the position they hold or the force of their personality. It is through their teaching that leaders exercise the authority of Christ, the Head of the church.”

Tim Chester & Steve Timmis from Total Church

Speaking Truth to Ehrman

It's no surprise that the media love Bart Ehrman. Through his highly promoted books, he mounts a seemingly endless attack on the reliability of the Bible and historic Christianity. Ehrman is a man on a mission. His disdain for the faith in which he was raised is, at times, palpable in his writing. But Ehrman is no slouch. He is a scholar and thus his challenges to the Bible ought to be carefully critiqued and refuted.

Michael Kruger is one who has done this quite effectively. The following videos featuring Dr. Kruger will give you a taste of the sort of believing scholarship from which the church benefits.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Future of Mortification

Now that I am moving from Philadelphia to Harrisonburg, VA (more on that later) I am being asked if the humble little podcast I record with Carl Trueman will continue. And since most of the evangelical world seems to be holding its collective breath over this vital issue I want to assure you that the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has marshaled its considerable resources to insure the continued production of the Mortification Of Spin.

Carl adds his two cents here:
A number have been asking if Todd's move means an end to the Mortification of Spin podcasts.  I am sorry to disappoint: since the podcast is almost the ultimate chewing gum and paper clip production, now involving four guys, two microphones, one computer and a plastic table and four chairs in the entrance lobby of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Ambler, it looks set to continue.  And in a world where evangelical comment is increasingly censored from within by the humourless and the Top Men, a samizdat operation is unlikely to lose its purpose in the near future.  Of course, now that Todd is a presbyterian, I will not be able to mock him mercilessly for his Schwaermerite credentials but, seeing as he is still only PCA, I can guarantee that the sneering condescension will continue until the denominational affiliation improves. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mortification of Spin

Here is the latest:
Today's episode of The Mortification of Spin takes on a more serious tone as Todd and Carl offer a pastoral approach to the sensitive topic of spousal abuse. In tragic cases of abuse within the church, where does the dividing line between church discipline and civil law exist? Does abuse stand as justifiable, biblical grounds for divorce? During their thoughtful discussion, the hosts answer these questions and more, offer helpful book recommendations on this challenging topic.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Dwindling Consensus?

From Patrick Chan at Triablogue:
In the prologue of his recent book Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, Stephen Meyer cites several books and articles from scholars in relevant scientific fields which "express[...] doubt about various aspects of neo-Darwinian theory, and especially about its central tenet, namely, the alleged creative power of the natural selection and mutation mechanism." Meyer notes these are just a few examples. BTW, I filled out the citations a bit so people can look them up more easily (although I left out page numbers which Meyer did cite in several cases), but they're hardly to the standard one might see in a scientific journal. I tried to be as accurate as possible, but I could have made a mistake here or there (e.g. publication year). I've added links to the resources as well; I just hope they won't become broken in the future.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Shout Out From Carl

Well, as my friend Carl Trueman points out, I have crossed over Lake Geneva.
It is great to announce that the congregation of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Harrisonburg, Va., has voted to call Todd Pruitt, co-host of Mortification of Spin as pastor.   A salutary lesson to all: if you hang around with Presbyterians long enough, you eventually end up becoming one.

Now that Todd has swum Lake Geneva, I hope he will provide us with an account of how he came to see the light on polity and the means of grace.

Kruger on the Canon

If you are not familiar with the work of Michael Kruger then I encourage you to check him out. Dr. Kruger is President and Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC. He is the author of the EXCELLENT Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. He is also the writer of the helpful blog Canon Fodder. His forthcoming book is entitled The Question Of Canon.

The following articles written for his blog are well worth the time to read carefully:
  1. “The New Testament Books are the Earliest Christian Writings We Possess”
  2. “Apocryphal Writings Are All Written in the Second Century or Later”
  3. “The New Testament Books Are Unique Because They Are Apostolic Books”
  4. “Some NT Writers Quote Other NT Writers as Scripture”
  5. “The Four Gospels are Well Established by the End of the Second Century”
  6. “At the End of the Second Century, the Muratorian Fragment lists 22 of Our 27 NT Books”
  7. “Early Christians Often Used Non-Canonical Writings”
  8. “The NT Canon Was Not Decided at Nicea—Nor Any Other Church Council”
  9. “Christians Did Disagree about the Canonicity of Some NT Books”
  10. “Early Christians Believed that Canonical Books Were Self-Authenticating”

9 Marks Journal

The new 9 Marks Journal is focused on the topic of the sufficiency of Scripture. Specifically the writers deal with whether or not the Scriptures are sufficient to govern the polity and worship of the church.

Why New Testament Polity is Prescriptive by Bobby Jamieson

Contextualizing Ecclesiology by Ed Roberts

I Was A Pragmatist by Jeramie Rinne

The Sufficiency of Scripture by Carl Trueman

When Is Pragmatism Prudent by Jamie Dunlop

The Twin Temptations of Pragmatism and Authoritarianism by Jonathan Leeman

Regulative Like Jazz by Jonathan Leeman

Must All Regulative Principle Churches Look The Same? by Tripp Lee

What About Movie Clips?  by Aaron Menikoff

Does The Regulative Principle Demand Exclusive Psalmody? by Robert Letham

Thursday, July 18, 2013

An authentic preacher or a collection of echoes?

From John Piper's deeply moving address on the life and ministry of Charles Spurgeon who was himself the target of unremitting criticism...
The question for us is not, How do you live through unremitting criticism and distrust and accusation and abandonment; for us the question is also, How do you preach through it? How do you do heart work when the heart is under siege and ready to fall?

For just over a year now that has been perhaps the uppermost question of my life. And, if I am not mistaken, I believe it is now, or will be, uppermost for many of you as well. Just last Sunday night I spent a half-hour on the phone with the wife of a pastor who would love to be here. He is under so much criticism and accusation that she found it hard to go to church and marveled that he could preach last Sunday morning—and I know this is a pure and faithful servant whose church I would gladly attend for the sake of my soul.

Preaching great and glorious truth in an atmosphere that is not great and glorious is an immense difficulty. To be reminded week in and week out that many people regard your preaching of the glory of the grace of God as hypocrisy pushes a preacher not just into the hills of introspection, but sometimes to the precipice of self-extinction.

I don't mean suicide. I mean something more complex. I mean the deranging inability to know any longer who you are. What begins as a searching introspection for the sake of holiness, and humility gradually becomes, for various reasons, a carnival of mirrors in your soul: you look in one and you're short and fat; you look in another and you're tall and skinny; you look in another and you're upside down. And the horrible feeling begins to break over you that you don't know who you are any more. The center is not holding. And if the center doesn't hold—if there is no fixed and solid "I" able to relate to the fixed and solid "Thou," namely, God, then who will preach next Sunday?

When the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "By the grace of God, I am what I am," he was saying something utterly essential for the survival of preachers in adversity. If, by grace, the identity of the "I"—the "I" created by Christ and united to Christ, but still a human "I"—if that center doesn't hold, there will be no more authentic preaching, for there will be no more authentic preacher, but a collection of echoes.
Read or listen to the entire message HERE.

Homosexuality and the Christian Life

From Rosaria Champagne Butterfield - Her testimony, then a helpful Q&A:

Her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert was my top book of 2012.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunday's Sermon

On Sunday I preached part four in our series through Jude, The Alert Christian. It is entitled "Persevere" and you can listen to it HERE.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thinking biblically about the death of DOMA

Rosaria Champaign Butterfield has written a thoughtful and thoroughly biblical reflection on the Supreme Court's decision to demolish DOMA and thus pave the way to make homosexual "marriage" the law of the land.

Also, her thoughts on the closing of Exodus International and reparative therapy are, in my opinion, exactly right.

Mrs. Butterfield writes:
This has been an electric few weeks for a former atheist, now Christian disciple. First, Exodus International closes down. Truth be told, this is fine by me. Reparative therapy was never part of God’s method, and Jesus Christ did not die to make any para-church his bride. But Exodus detonated with a colossal bang, and took with it gospel integrity, leaving even more theological turbulence in its wake.

Now the Supreme Court, using strong, cosmological, moral language defending the human dignity of same-sex unions, overturns DOMA and Proposition 8, sending a resounding rebuke to the Christian ideal of creation ordinance, and with it, the normative (albeit not always redeemed) heterosexuality that undergirds it...

So I did what parents across the country did — believing parents and unbelieving parents, gay parents and heterosexual ones. I gathered my children in close, and I talked with them. You probably did this, too. No big surprises in my talk.

No new news. No identity bombs were dropped. My children have always known that their mother used to be an atheist and a lesbian. They cut their teeth on this vocabulary, and could say the words before they knew what they meant. Saved by grace. Closets are for clothes, after all.
Here is what I know: God is bigger than my sin. And God is sovereign over Supreme Court decisions and shifting worldviews. He has had the first and he will have the last word on all matters of sin and grace.

The Church, Christ’s bride, is a God-made institution and will sustain herself in majesty in times of persecution or revival. Context matters not. Providence will paint the walls of this worldview.
Read the entire piece HERE.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Power of Punctuation

There is a bit of a mystery going on over at the Ref21 blog. My first post is causing quite a bit of stir within the evangelical world. From what I understand, there are already high level meetings going on with the leadership of the Gospel Coalition to discern its meaning and whether or not it relates to them in any way.

I don't know if it is wise to reveal whether or not I actually wrote the particular post or if it was some strange technical error. Given the expertise of the folks at the Alliance it is highly unlikely that the later is the case. So I leave it to you the reader to plumb the mystery HERE.

Can I Trust The Bible?

The latest edition of the Mortification of Spin is up and running:
Todd and Carl interview Steve Nichols, author and professor of Christianity and Culture at Lancaster Bible College, and they respectfully dub their guest the "Peter Pan of reformed theology." While Steve may look young, he is certainly insightful when it comes to this episode's topics of discussion: the doctrine of Scripture and the current relevancy of church history. If you can put up with the hosts' frequent wise cracks, listen in to hear Steve raise what he calls the compelling question of the modern age.
Here are a few of Dr. Nichols excellent books:

The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World

Ancient Word, Changing Worlds

Getting the Blues: What Blues Music Teaches us About Suffering and Salvation

J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought

"Minds emancipated from the fetters of traditional beliefs"

Charles Spurgeon was a man who contended for the faith. As a result he was reviled and misunderstood. Refusing to yield ground to those who attacked the inerrancy of the Scriptures, the substitutionary atonement, the necessity of the new birth, etc. led eventually to his being censured by his denomination. Some say the Downgrade Controversy took such a toll on Spurgeon that it hastened his death.

But what choice is there for the man of God? He must contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The following are excerpts from an editorial Spurgeon wrote in The Sword and the Trowel in response to those who savaged him for his commitment to the truth.
Let half a word of protest be uttered by a man who believes firmly in something, and holds by a defined doctrine, and the thunders of liberality bellow forth against the bigot. Steeped up to their very throats in that bigotry for liberality, which, of all others, is the most ferocious form of intolerance, they sneer with the contempt of affected learning at the idiots who contend for "a narrow Puritanism," and express a patronizing hope that the benighted adherents of "a half-enlightened creed" may learn more of "that charity which thinketh no evil."

To contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints is to them an offense against the enlightenment of the nineteenth century; but, to vamp old, worn-out heresies, and pass them off for deep thinking, is to secure a high position among minds "emancipated from the fetters of traditional beliefs."

Great is their indignation at the creeds which render their position morally dubious. Churches have no right to believe anything; comprehensiveness is the only virtue of a denomination; precise definitions are a sin, and fundamental doctrines are a myth: this is the notion of "our foremost men." For earnest people to band themselves together to propagate what they hold to be the very truth of God, is in their eyes the miserable endeavor of bigots to stem the torrent of modern thought...

The proper course, according to their "broad views," would be to leave doctrines for the dunces who care for them. Truths there are none, but only opinions; and, therefore, cultivated ministers should be left free to trample on the most cherished beliefs, to insult convictions, no matter how long experience may have matured them, and to teach anything, everything, or nothing, as their own culture, or the current of enlightened thought may direct them...

It appears to be, now-a-days, a doubtful question whether Christian men have a right to be quite sure of anything. . . . He who teaches an extravagant error is a fine, generous spirit: and, therefore, to condemn his teaching is perilous, and will certainly produce an outcry against your bigotry. Where the atonement is virtually denied, it is said that a preacher is a very clever man, and exceedingly good; and, therefore, even to whisper that he is unsound is libelous: we are assured that it would be far better to honor him for his courage in scorning to be hampered by conventional expressions. Besides, it is only his way of putting it, and the radical idea is discoverable by cultured minds. As to other doctrines, they are regarded as too trivial to be worthy of controversy. . . .
I have been preaching through Jude. You may listen to the message on verses 3 and 4 HERE.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What is Covenantal Apologetics?

Dr. Scott Oliphint on Covenantal Apologetics and his new book by that title:

I was honored to have Dr. Oliphint preach for me twice this year. I would encourage you to check out his two excellent sermons HERE.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Constant Reader

Crossway has begun publishing an excellent series of what I would call spiritual biographies. It began with Fred Zaspel's excellent B.B. Warfield On The Christian Life. I am currently reading Bill Edgar's volume on Francis Schaeffer and am very much looking forward to Carl Trueman's contribution on Martin Luther.

Here are the current and future titles:
  • B.B. Warfield on the Christian Life by Fred Zaspel (March 2012)
  • Francis Schaeffer on the Christian Life by William Edgar (February 2013)
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the Christian Life by Stephen Nichols (June 2013)
  • John Wesley on the Christian Life by Fred Sanders (August 2013)
  • John Calvin on the Christian Life by Michael Horton (June 2014)
  • John Owen on the Christian Life by Michael Haykin and Matthew Barrett (June 2014)
  • Martin Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman (August 2014)
  • Jonathan Edwards on the Christian Life by Dane Ortlund (February 2015)
  • John Bunyan on the Christian Life by Derek Thomas (April 2015)
  • John Newton on the Christian Life by Tony Reinke (June 2015)
  • Herman Bavinck on the Christian Life by John Bolt (August 2015)
  • J. I. Packer on the Christian Life by Sam Storms (October 2015)
  • Charles Spurgeon on the Christian Life by Michael Reeves (unknown)

  • Contending For the Faith

    I have been preaching a short series of sermons through Jude. One sermon, covering verses 3 and 4 focuses on Jude's call to "contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." The White Horse Inn recently posted some helpful links on this very theme. Check it out HERE.

    Yet another ESV?

    I'll admit that I tend to think we have more than enough specialty Bibles. There are Bibles for every conceivable market niche. Although I'm still waiting for the middle-aged balding dude Study Bible. That said, I am enthusiastic about the latest version of the ESV. It is entitled the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. This appears to be a study Bible that will help the reader read the Bible the way Jesus taught us when he said that the "law and prophets" speak of him.

    God's "Yes" and "No" to Humanity

    Good stuff from Stephen Nichols:
    I know it is summer time, but here is a quiz. It’s only one question and it’s fill in the blank. Ready? Christology is by nature bound up with the doctrine of _________ ?

    This sentence comes from lectures given by Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the University of Berlin in 1932. After that year, the Nazis would rise to power in Germany. Bonhoeffer would lose his license to teach and eventually become the director of one of five underground seminaries to serve the Confessing Church—a church that rose up against the German Lutheran Church, which had embraced and endorsed the Nazi party.

    Now back to the quiz. Here’s Bonhoeffer’s answer: “Christology is by nature bound up with the doctrine of justification.” This sentence comes from his lectures on twentieth-century systematic theology. He began the last lecture, which he entitled, “Preaching,” with a simple but urgent and ultimate question, “What should we preach?” We must preach Christ, he declares. Preaching Christ means nothing other than preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel means, and only can mean, preaching the doctrine of justification.

    Pulling a page from Luther’s playbook, Bonhoeffer speaks of how the cross is God’s “No” to humanity and to any attempt to achieve salvation, to attain righteousness. The cross slams the door on any and all attempts to merit salvation, to merit God’s grace. The cross is also simultaneously God’s “Yes” to us. Through his active and passive obedience, Christ has achieved for us what we could not. Christ died for the penalty of sin, enduring God’s wrath. Christ fully kept the law as the perfectly obedient Son. At the cross, Christ both undid what Adam had done and did what Adam could not do. “This is the reason,” Bonhoeffer says, “for the cross.” We have no hope without it.
    Continue reading.