What I Read Online – 08/23/2011 (a.m.)

    • The idea for my series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers came a few years ago, in 2008, just before Calvin’s 500th anniversary, when I was burdened by the lack of serious Christian biographies for children under 12 years of age. The books on the market (for that age bracket) were mostly hagiographies, historical fiction with an emphasis on fiction, and a few other oversimplified accounts. Not much (if any) on theologians, because most doctrine seemed to be out of children’s reach. On the other hand, my children were reading biographies of presidents, world-changers, artists, and musicians, many of them quite sophisticated in contents. Meeting that need was my primary motive, and John Calvin, first volume in my series, was published. I tried to be simple without being simplistic and to add photos and illustrations to provide both a sense of reality and context and vehicles to excite the imagination.
    • Historically, this type of books has been oversimplified, but today’s children are exposed to much more information and I believe they are ready to understand the idea of complexity. This has now become my third goal.
    • The more I hear from the brothers putting truth in hip hop, the more I love it.  I love being able to bob my head and not worry about the lyrics.  I love being able to tune into the lyrics and find my soul forcefully challenged.
    • But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of going to heaven, when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honor here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. Alas, what could you do in heaven? It would be no place for you. Its joys would be no joys for you. Its happiness would be a happiness into which you could not enter. Its employments would be a weariness and a burden to your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late!
    • “The worst this life can shove down our throats, but with the nearness of Jesus, is heaven on earth. The best this life can give, but without Jesus, is a living hell.”
    • What is it which chiefly makes you desire to go to heaven when you die? Indeed some have no great desire to go to heaven. They do not care to go to hell; but if they could be safe from that, they would not much concern themselves about heaven. If it be not so with you, but you find that you have a desire after heaven, then inquire what it is for. Is the main reason, that you may be with God, have communion with Him, and be conformed to Him? That you may see God and enjoy Him there? Is this the consideration which keeps your hearts, and your desires, and your expectations toward heaven?”

       

      If you might live here in earthly prosperity to all eternity, but destitute of the presence of God and communion with Him—having no spiritual intercourse between him and your souls, God and you being strangers to each other for ever—would you choose this rather than to leave the world, in order to dwell in heaven, as the children of God, there to enjoy the glorious privileges of children, in a holy and perfect love to God, and enjoyment of Him to all eternity?

       

      Could you be content to stand in no child-like relation to God, enjoying no gracious intercourse with Him, having no right to be acknowledged by Him as His children? Or would such a life as this, though in ever so great earthly prosperity, be esteemed by you a miserable life?

    • But that is, in fact, more or less the sum of the problem. The big challenge in any church is to get people to go beyond mere listening to the wisdom of others and become truly engaged with the challenge of wrestling with the truth for themselves, not just during the 10, 20, 30 or 40 minute sermon (delete as appropriate) but out into the week that follows. And the pew Bible, mundane and outdated as it may seem, is perhaps the most powerful single tool at our disposal to drive that kind of engagement.
    • So with the Bible, we must surely desire that people get to know the territory, and are equipped to make their own explorations, even more than that they slavishly follow the particular points made in any one sermon, however valuable those points may be. Otherwise we’ll be creating poor followers of the local Apollos or Paul rather than mature disciples of Jesus.

       

        And that’s why your church needs its pew Bibles.

    • By his Spirit, Christ’s continuing subjective work in me consists of his constant, daily driving me back to his completed objective work for me. Sanctification feeds on justification, not the other way around. To be sure, both doctrine and devotion go hand in hand, but the gospel is the good news announcing Christ’s devotion to us, not our devotion to him. The gospel is not a command to hang onto Jesus. Rather, it’s a promise that no matter how weak your faith may be in seasons of spiritual depression, God is always holding on to you.
    • The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel.
    • In terms of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the most urgent question related to beginnings has to do with the questions related to the existence of Adam and Eve as the first parents to all humanity and to the reality of the Fall as the explanation for human sinfulness and all that comes with sin.
    • Furthermore, it is clear that the historical character of these chapters is crucial to understanding the Bible’s central message — the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    • The Apostle Paul, for example, clearly understood Adam to be a fully historical human who was also the genetic father of the entire human race. The fall of the human race in Adam sets the stage for the salvation of sinful humanity by Jesus Christ
    • The denial of an historical Adam and Eve as the first parents of all humanity and the solitary first human pair severs the link between Adam and Christ which is so crucial to the Gospel.
    • The encroachment of the kingdom of self in ministry is really a matter of shifting treasure. Called to have everything I say and do ruled by the Christ-centered, grace-driven treasures of heaven, my ministry begins to be shaped by a catalog of earth-bound treasures. My ministry begins to be shaped by subtle but formative shifts in the kind of treasure that rules my heart, and therefore, shapes my words and behavior. Things begin to rise way beyond their true importance, as they do when they begin to control the thoughts and desires of my heart, and in so doing, shape the way I do ministry.
    • Identity: From identity in Christ to identity in ministry
    • Rather than the hope and courage that comes from resting in my identity in Christ, my ministry becomes captured and shaped by the treasure of a series of temporary horizontal affirmations of my value and worth.
    • Maturity: My spiritual well-being not being defined by the mirror of the Word but by my ministry
    • Biblical literacy is not to be confused with Christian maturity. Homiletic accuracy is not the same as godliness. Theological dexterity is very different from practical holiness. Successful leadership is not the same as a heart for Christ. Growth in my influence must not be confused with growth in grace.
    • Reputation: From ministry that is shaped by a zeal for the reputation of Christ, to a ministry shaped by my hunger for the praise of people
    • My ministry should be functionally motivated by the glory of Christ, that his fame would be known by more and more people, and that together, we would all know practically what it means to submit to his lordship
    • Essentiality: From a rest in the essential presence of Jesus the Messiah, to beginning to see myself as way too essential to what God is doing
    • Where once I viewed myself as one of many tools in God’s kingdom toolbox, I now begin to see myself as too central, too important to what God is doing in my local setting
    • Confidence: From ministry out of a humble confidence in transforming grace, to being way too confident in my experience and gifts
    • We are all capable of becoming all too confident in ourselves. A confidence shift begins to take place from the treasure of humble confidence in the power of rescuing, forgiving, transforming, and delivering grace, to beginning to rest in my own knowledge, abilities, gifts, and experience.
    • Garretson, James M. Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry
    • Grossi, Gabriel. Preaching with Biblical Passion: A Scriptural and Historical Study
    • Gordon, T. David. Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers
    • Hughes, Jack. Expository Preaching with Word Pictures: With Illustrations from the Sermons of Thomas Watson
    • Kistler, Don (ed.). Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching
    • Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers
    • Logan, Samuel T., ed. The Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century
    • There is no greater way you can spend your time, energy, and effort than pursuing Christ with all your heart.
    • Join a church
    • Make a plan for your first semester about how you are going to be in the Word
    • As now so then. Don’t spend your college career talking about how you will follow Christ in the future. Follow him now the way you want to follow him then
    • Take advantage of the unique opportunity to get to know a wide variety of people from different backgrounds who have all been sovereignly put in the same dorm
    • Seek to radically love others as Christ did
    • Remember, following passionately after Christ is not going to be the norm
    • Look for opportunities to serve
    • Remember that others are going through the same changes and new experiences. Look for opportunities to speak truth about the gospel to people who want a fresh start in college
    • Attend every opportunity for biblical teaching that you can
    • Work hard
    • When you find someone you are interested in dating, make sure that their one aim in life is the same as yours (see #1 above.)
    • Take advantage of the variety of classes and opportunities that will be available to you only in college. Look for at least one class to take for the sheer love of learning about a subject you have never studied before
    • Make a prayer list and pray for the people on it
    • Pursue God joyfully
    • The first thing to remember is that we must never separate the benefits (regeneration, justification, sanctification) from the Benefactor (Jesus Christ). The Christians who are most focused on their own spirituality may give the impression of being the most spiritual but from the New Testament’s point of view, those who have almost forgotten about their own spirituality because their focus is so exclusively on their union with Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished are those who are growing and exhibiting fruitfulness. Historically speaking, whenever the piety of a particular group is focused on OUR spirituality, that piety will eventually exhaust itself on its own resources. Only where our piety forgets about us and focuses on Jesus Christ will our piety be nourished by the ongoing resources the Spirit brings to us from the source of all true piety, our Lord Jesus Christ.
    • For instance, the experience in many churches involves being collectively castigated from the pulpit as “lukewarm” or short of “sold out” to Jesus for doing just what is prescribed here: living quietly, minding their own business, and paying close attention to their work. If the average layperson is not doing what the office-bearers are supposed to do, the fault is often placed at the feet of the former rather than the latter. Pietistic fundamentalism and evangelicalism taught us that whatever couldn’t be justified in terms of soul winning and personal piety was somewhat inferior.
    • There is every reason to believe that the newer “Reformed” identification of secular vocation with “the sacred” and “kingdom work” is inferior to the older Reformed distinction between legitimate secular callings (common grace) and the office of the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (saving grace).
    • But until that time, the two cities are divided and with them the goals to which they are directed and the means through which these goals are attained. The kingdom of God advances through Word and Sacrament in the power of the Holy Spirit, while the kingdoms of this world advance through the arts and sciences, technology, literature, education, agriculture, business, medicine, and so forth. When a Christian is called to cabinet-making, he or she is not engaged in “kingdom work” or a sacred calling. But that is not to demean this trade, as it was in the case of medieval Rome and much of modern Evangelicalism. Rather, it is to liberate us from thinking that something has to be justified by its usefulness to redemption, as if creation is not sufficient as a sphere in and of itself. A calling to make cabinets is the same for Christian and non-Christian alike. Because the unbeliever is still created in God’s image and is the beneficiary of God’s common grace, he or she is given a vocation by God in this world. God did not abandon the world and creation in order to work with his elect people, but rather he patiently endures the world’s rebellion during this interval, restraining wickedness, while he extends his kingdom of grace to the ends of the earth (2 Pet. 3:1-13). This creates space for this shared sphere of human activity which is neither sacred nor sinful, but common and eminently worthwhile.
    • Oil painting does not a “minister” make. It is not kingdom work (if it is the kingdom of God that is meant), but cultural work. The only reason we would find that distinction offensive to our secular callings is if we already assume that whatever is not somehow a part of the kingdom of Christ is unworthy of a believer’s passionate attention and interest. We need to recover creation as a sphere of common grace activity. Christians need to be freed to embrace the world which God has created without being burdened with trying to justify everything in terms of its “kingdom value.” It is enough to serve one’s neighbor and society without having to figure out how it all contributes to the regime of “redeeming culture.”
    • Calvin urged believers to “learn to measure carefully their powers, lest they should wear out, by ambitiously embracing too many occupations. For this propensity to engage in too many things … is a very common malady…. God has so arranged our condition, that individuals are only endued with a certain measure of gifts.”
    • Where did we get this sort of thinking? The only reference to God’s “perfect will” is in Romans 12:2: “… that you may prove what is that good and perfect will of God.” But God’s good and perfect will, as the same writer makes clear, is simply that will which he has revealed in Scripture.
    • It is not as if God has a revealed will (Scripture) and a perfect will. Rather, God’s revealed will is that which defines what is good and acceptable and perfect.
    • In other words, the Law reveals God’s will for our direction, but the Gospel reveals God’s direction toward us: saving us from the guilt and lostness of having wandered from that course.
    • There is only one will we can access, then: God’s revealed will. God does indeed have his secrets, mysteries to the moral mind. “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom. 11:34).
    • When asked what God was doing before he created the world, Augustine replied, “Creating hell for curious people.” Calvin likewise calls such speculation a presump-tuous entrance into a maze from which there is no safe exit. We must stay with what is revealed instead of attempting to penetrate God’s secrets. As Scripture reminds us, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
    • Godly wisdom from Scripture and from other believers who are guided by Scripture is indispensable for making decisions about vocation, whether the calling at issue happens to be education, work, or marriage.
    • God does give us the desires of our hearts. He is not out to get us, or to make us wander the vocational wilderness forever. Sometimes we are “dumped” into short-term vocations which to us seem utterly meaningless and yet in some way providentially equip us with a skill which will be vital in our as yet unknown calling in life. We just cannot figure out God’s secret plan, but we can trust it and learn from natural as well as biblical sources how we might better discern our calling.
    • That is why there are avocations. An avocation is a side-vocation: a hobby, sport, or pastime.
    • So we cannot place expectations on this calling or vocation which are so unrealistic that we end up becoming despondent, paralyzed with fear because we cannot find the one calling in which all of our skills and interests may be satisfied. We need to realize that our calling in terms of work is only one of our vocations. We are also called to be saints, parents, children, siblings, citizens, and a host of other things. These are truly vocations or callings.
    • Right now, make no mistake about it, flipping burgers is Sue’s calling. It is not that she is called to teach literature, and this work at Burger King is beneath her; she is fulfilling her calling. For now, Burger King is her calling. But she knows that it is not her long-term calling, as it may be for others. Sue can get up every morning and go into work knowing that what she does now is providing the means for realizing her long-term calling. She aspires “to live quietly, to mind [her] own business, and to work well with [her] hands … so that [she] may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.” Nothing is said here about kingdom work or redeeming Burger King.
    • I only bring this up because I want the church to care more not less about the suffering that comes from poverty. Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. And “all suffering” includes the miseries of unbelievers who live in extreme poverty.
    • It doesn’t help this cause to use biblical pillars that are designed to motivate mercy for suffering believers.
    • These are strong pillars for caring for believers in need. And we should do more of it.
    • But the wealth of biblical pillars for caring for unbelievers in need is so great, why would we weaken our case by using wrong pillars?
    • This is a plea for the sake of the unbelieving, suffering poor. They should have better than bad arguments. Don’t defend them with careless exegesis.
    • I’ve never been willing to die on the hill of cessationism: that is, the belief that the miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues have ceased.  I’m still not.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that this position is neither exegetically sound nor historically compatible with Reformed theology. Furthermore, the surprisingly widespread popularity of more radical views of ongoing sign-gifts, coupled with political ambition, pushes me into the unpleasant position of challenging the views even of far sounder brothers with whom I agree on so many important points.
    • At the same time, the Calvinism-Charismatic bridge goes in both directions and his view of continuing prophecy has contributed to a curious hybrid that in my view cannot survive in the long run.
    • There is much to admire in these men and their labors.  I am not targeting these friends and brothers, but pleading with them—and with all of us—to rediscover the ordinary means of grace, ordinary ministry, ordinary offices, and to long for a genuine revival: that is, a surprising blessing of God on his ordinary ministry in our day. The false choice between head and heart, the Spirit and the Word, has been a perennial polemic of the radical wing of Protestantism.  Mark Driscoll’s plea above reveals that dangerous separation of the Spirit from his Word.  Only by assuming such a cleavage can one argue that Reformed theology ignores the Holy Spirit.
    • Although the New Testament establishes the offices of pastors/teachers, elders, and deacons, it does not establish perpetual prophetic or apostolic offices with their attendant sign-gifts.  With this in mind, we must examine each gift in question.
    • Paul treats prophecy (prophēteia) as preaching, which although illumined by the Spirit is (unlike the scriptures) un-inspired and therefore must be tested (1 Cor 12:29; 1 Thes 5:19-21).
    • We should therefore understand “tongues” as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret.
    • Similarly, the gift of healing was a sign that Christ’s kingdom had arrived, bringing a preview of the consummation in all of its fullness at the end of the age.  Yet signs always cluster in the Bible around significant turning-points in redemptive history.  Like the temporary prophesying of the elders in Moses’ day, the extraordinary gifts of signs and wonders are given to validate the sacred ministry of human ambassadors.  Once that ministry is validated, it no longer requires further confirmation.
    • With Grudem I agree that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which speaks of prophecies and tongues passing away “when the perfect comes,” is inconclusive.  Paul is most likely referring to the consummation, when there will be no need for faith and hope and all that will endure into eternity is love (v 13).
    • However, I do not find Grudem’s case for continuing prophecy persuasive.  He clearly distinguishes prophecy today from the prophecy that delivered the sacred oracles of Holy Scripture.  This is both the strength and the weakness of his position.  Grudem believes that the kind of prophecy that is ongoing in the church is distinguished from preaching and teaching by being “a spontaneous ‘revelation’ from God….” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1058)
    • In my view, this interpretation introduces a definition of prophecy that is not consistent with its practice in the apostolic church.  Nowhere is prophecy distinguished by its spontaneous quality.  Furthermore, in spite of his salutary caution against raising such prophecies to the level of Scripture, this interpretation still raises the question as to whether the Spirit issues new revelations that are not already communicated in Scripture.  If prophecy is defined simply as Spirit-given insight into Scripture, then is this not synonymous with preaching?
    • Today, the Spirit validates this ordinary ministry of the gospel through preaching and sacrament: the signs and wonders that Christ instituted to confirm his Word.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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About Joe Fleener

Lover of Christ & His Gospel, Husband to Mandy, Father to three wonderful children, Servant to the Local Church, Bible College Lecturer
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