Saturday, 28 November 2009


An interesting article at Newsweek shows how Hindu assumptions influence beliefs and culture in the West nowadays more than Christianity. An acute observation is how cremation has gained ascendancy as Judeo-christian beliefs on the significance of the body have declined.

preaching keller

Here is an excellent blog by Keller on the need for preachers to be pastors,and not just preachers.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Another Doctrine of Justification = Another Religion

Darryl Hart has the following Machen quote over at Old Life:
. . what was the difference between the teaching of Paul and the teaching of the Judaizers? What was it that gave rise to the stupendous polemic of the Epistle to the Galatians? To the modern Church the difference would have seemed to be a mere theological subtlety. About many things the Judaizers were in perfect agreement with Paul. The Judaizers believed that Jesus was the Messiah; there is not a shadow of evidence that they objected to Paul’s lofty view of the person of Christ. Without the slightest doubt, they believe that Jesus had really risen from the dead. They believed, moreover, that faith in Christ was necessary for salvation. But the trouble was, they believed that something else was also necessary; they believed that what Christ had done needed to be pieced out by the believer’s own effort to keep the Law. From the modern point of view the difference would have seemed to be very slight. Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical – not even, perhaps, the temporal – order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified. The difference would seem to modern “practical” Christians to be a highly subtle and intangible matter, hardly worthy of consideration at all in view of the large measure of agreement in the practical realm. What a splendid cleaning up of the Gentile cities it would have been if the Judaizers had succeeded in extending to those cities the observance of the Mosaic law, even including the unfortunate ceremonial observances! Surely Paul ought to have made common cause with teachers who were so nearly in agreement with him . .

Paul saw very clearly that the difference between the Judaizers and himself was the difference between two entirely distinct types of religion; it was the difference between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. If Christ provides only part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. . . . Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

From J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923)

I challenge you to find even 5 evangelical churches in Glasgow preaching from a conviction like this.

depart from me, I never knew you

Our churches, by this I mean our evangelical churches, may well be full of false believers who will be eternally lost. I am not trying to be melodramatic or controversial. I write with heaviness of heart.

How can I know I am saved? How can I be sure I am not eternally lost? Both biblical words and biblical questions.

The answer is, I must have a faith in Jesus and his saving work that turns me away from sin and enables me to wholeheartedly repent if it does, through carelessness, erupt in my life. Saving faith enables me to hate sin and love holiness.

The gross sins of the flesh simply do not belong in a believer's life. They are alien and incongruous. If they are habitually present I can have no confidence that I am a believer and require to urgently deal with the matter. This may mean speaking to church elders and seeking help.

Paul says unequivocally,

1 Cor 6:9 '... the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.'

In Galatians we are reminded of some other blatant sins that are quite inconsistent with any claim to be a believer.

Gals 5:19-21 'Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.'

If you are a sexual sinner, get drunk, are envious, jealous and coveteous of others, or greedy do not be sure you are a Christian, you may well not be.

If you feed a need to be better than others, are abusive to others (wife, children, colleagues, church members) do not assume you are saved for Paul tells us people like this do not inherit the Kingdom of God. Uncontrolled erupting temper is no trivial matter that can be blamed on genes or upbringing; it is a sign of a seismic spiritual problem of eternal life proportions.

We cannot afford to be casual about such sins in our lives. Indulged and continued they will damn us, of this we can be certain. And all the religious enthusiasm in the world will not compensate.

You cannot authentically sing for Christ while serving the flesh. You mock the gospel and the very God you profess to worship. You cannot proclaim Christ (in word or song) and parade in your life the ugly realities of the flesh. People who are not Christians will mock such hypocrisy. How do you think God will reract when you blaspheme his name?

These are serious matters. Of course we may fail in any of these matters and be forgiven. But forgiveness involves turning away from them. It means putting these practices off. It means being ruthless with sin and staying far away from those sins in particular we know we are susceptible to.

The Christian life is not a garden party. It is a fight and a fight to the death; either we kill the flesh or the flesh will kill us.

How terrible to have been one of the busiest people in church and on the day of judgement to hear the cosmically final words, 'Depart from me, I never knew you'.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

gospel old and new

There is a 'must read' on the difference between the 'old and new gospel' over at Kevin de Young's blog.

Monday, 23 November 2009

I wish this wasn't in the bible but....

How many times have we heard well meaning preachers, when confronted with exegeting a passage on the eternal punishment of the wicked, say something like "Now I wish this part wasn't in the Bible. I wish it wasn't true, but it's there, and I have to preach it." Such an expression is ungodly and wicked.

It is ungodly because it betrays unbelief in the righteousness of God. The eternal punishment of the wicked is absolutely just. It is just, because our father Adam longed for eternal life without the giver of life (Gen. 3:10). It is just, because Adam believed the devil rather than God (Gen. 3:6). It is just, because we are Adam's children (Gen. 5:3). It is just, because God has continually showered the good gifts of natural creation upon his ungrateful creatures who have continued to hate him (Matt. 5:45). It is just, because every expression of the thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). It is just, because even our best deeds (never mind our idolatry, murders, genocides, rapes, lies, adulteries, occult practises, gossipping, greed) are like filthy tampons (Isi. 64:6). God's eyes are so pure (Habb. 1:13) that even when he looks upon our best deeds, our humanitarian efforts, our charity work, etc, all he sees is actions dripping with menstrual blood. It is just, because we killed the second Adam, God's dear Son, for daring to challenge our sin (Luk. 20:13). It is just, because God could have annihilated creation long before now, but he didn't. In his great mercy he has prolonged the day of salvation and still mankind rages on in rebellion (2 Cor. 6:2, 2 Pet. 3:9).

Not only is such a sentiment ungodly, but it is wicked. It fails to love what God loves and hate what he hates. When God's people are born into the new covenant, he writes his laws upon their hearts (Heb. 8:7-13). No longer is the law booming from outside to fearful sinners who can't keep it (Heb. 12:18). Now, having been fulfilled in Christ, it becomes the heart of the new believer through the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22). To hate final judgement is to be ambivalent about sin and therefore, about God and the agony Christ suffered. It is to hate the law that is supposedly engraved on the believers' heart. No, the Christian loves the law; even the sentences against sin that it pronounces (Rom. 1:32).

So when the Christian reads of God's judgement in Scripture, he finds with Ezekiel that even God's words of 'lament and mourning and woe' (Eze. 2:9) taste 'as sweet as honey' (Eze. 3:3). Indeed, when God judges the earth, the cry of God's people isn't, along with Brian McLaren, a pietistic lament that attempts to sound more compassionate than God. No, they sing hymns rejoicing in the righteousness and goodness of God's judgement (Rev. 19:1-3). Can you imagine one of our boyband worship leaders penning a hymn about the destruction of the whore of Babylon with a chorus going: "Oh Babylon, gonna get some shocks. God's gonna dash your babies heads on rocks." (Ps. 137:9)?

While the Christian never takes delight in the death of the wicked (Matt. 23:37, Eze. 18:32), and while he yearns for those who don't know Christ and are headed for destruction (Rom. 9:1-5), he still has a correlating sense of sweetness and joy in the doctrine of eternal punishment.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

holy ground

Chris Castaldo, a converted Roman Catholic who has written a book, 'Holy Ground - Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic' is interviewed by Doug Phillips at his blog. Here is an extract where Chris expresses his concerns about the average Roman Catholic.

'Of more immediate concern to me is the penetration of the biblical gospel—the message of divine grace accessed through faith alone—into the hearts of Catholic people who haven’t a clue why Jesus died, much less how salvation is appropriated. Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft describes this problem:

“There are still many who do not know the data, the gospel. Most of my Catholic students at Boston College have never heard it. They do not even know how to get to heaven. When I ask them what they would say to God if they died tonight and God asked them why he should take them into heaven, nine out of ten do not even mention Jesus Christ. Most of them say they have been good or kind or sincere or did their best. So I seriously doubt God will undo the Reformation until he sees to it that Luther’s reminder of Paul’s gospel has been heard throughout the church” (Peter Kreeft. “Ecumenical Jihad.” Reclaiming The Great Tradition. Ed. James S. Cutsinger. [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997]. 27).'

Romans Seven

Romans Seven has been and will no doubt continue to be a chapter in Scripture over which controversy will rage. Who does it describe?

Does it describe a Christian? But how can it? In the light of Ch 6:14, how can a Christian possibly say, 'For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin'? Does it describe someone who is not a Christian? Seems highly unlikely. What non-Christian is described in Scripture as someone who, 'delights in the Law of God in the inner man'?

The key to Romans Seven is 7 v 6.

'But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. '

Paul's concern is not distinguishing between two anthropologies (Christian or non-Christian) but between two epochs (Law and grace). His concerns are redemptive-historical, that is, he is describing the difference between life under the old covenant of law and life in the new covenant of grace. It is, as 7v6 makes eminently clear, a question of 'how we serve'. Romans Seven describes service under 'the old way of the written code'. It is equivalent to Gals 3:23-4:3. It is a service of effective slavery. Romans Eight describes service 'under the new way of the Spirit'. It is Gals 4:5,6. It is the freedom of sons.

The key to the transformation between the slavery of Ch 7 and the freedom of Ch8 is 8:1-4

'There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For jGod has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son nin the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.'

In the parallel passage in Galatians the key to the transformation between the infancy (effective slavery) of Gals 3:23-4:3 and Ch 4:5,6 is 4:4

'But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.'

The decisive change lies in the death of Christ. There a key redemptive-historical act takes place. The old age of flesh finishes and the new age of the Spirit arrives.

Romans Seven describes OT believers under the old covenant of Law. Romans Eight describes NT believers under the new covenant in the Spirit.

Do you agree?

Friday, 20 November 2009

redeeming culture

I'm still gnawing away at this 'redeeming culture' notion. In part it's a semantics issue but underlying the semantics is an important matter - what is the church's responsibility to society and what can it hope to achieve.

The Kuyperians (not a Star Trek race but followers of A. Kuyper a dutch calvinist) believe the task of the church is to transform the structures of society and through this advance the Kingdom of God cosmically. Some use language about 'redeeming' culture.

I have big problems with this. The first is a singular lack of emphasis on such a mission in Scripture. We read the epistles in vain for Christians to renew, redeem or rescue culture. Redemption in the 'already' of the Kingdom is emphatically of individuals. It is the church who are described as 'the redeemed' and no one (and nothing) else. In fact they are described as 'redeemed from the earth' (Rev 14:3).

Even for believers redemption is presently partial. For example, they await the 'redemption of the body'.

There is to be sure a 'day of redemption' still to come. It is a reference to the consummation of the Kingdom when God's people will be fully rescued from all that oppresses and the creation itself will be 'set free' from its bondage to corruption (Roms 8:21). However, Scripture carefully distinguishes between God's liberating of creation and his judging of culture.

Human culture in a fallen world is, in Scripture, the world in opposition to God. It cannot be redeemed nor does Scripture give any encouragement to try to redeem it. God does not intend to redeem it but judge it; it is Babylon that will 'fall in one day' (Rev 17,18). The best that Christians can do for culture is a kind of 'law-work'. Indeed, a law-work is all that God himself does. In common grace God institutes structures and authorities to limit evil and punish wrongdoing (Roms 13). Christians, acting as salt, can be part of this law-work. They can work for fairer structures in society and be involved in humanitarian causes. But these, we should never forget, are bandages not a cure.

We should never confuse these with 'redeeming society'. In fact what they do, with greater or lesser insight and effectiveness non-Christians do to and non-Christians are certainly not redeeming society.

God is not redeeming society or culture or the world. He is redeeming a people 'out of the world', 'ransomed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation' (Rev 5), to be his chosen 'peculiar' people, and he does so by the gospel.

It is important to use biblical concepts carefully. When we get too loose and cavalier we end up with a skewed theology and a church with a skewed agenda. It is not our job to christianize culture. Nor is there such things as a Christian economics policy; a Christian political policy; a Christian Social policy. There is only Christians active in culture seeking to stem evil and promote good according to their sanctified abilities.

Sometimes the myth is sold that if only Christians forgot doctrine and concentrated their energies on societal reform they would be united. But it is a myth. For, in practice, when Christians try to agree such policies they end up in much greater disagreement than they even do over matters of the gospel. The reason is simple; the Bible tells us what the gospel is (which at least limits disagreement) but it says nothing about political, economic or social theory at all (therefore grounds for difference are boundless).

Let biblical words bear their proper biblical weight and intention. God is presently redeeming for himself a people out of the world; he is not redeeming culture. Let the church preach the gospel of redemption and let redeemed Christians not forget as they evangelize to 'do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith'.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Sarx - Flesh or Sinful Nature?

I am neither a C1 Greek scholar, nor the son of a Greek scholar, so when it comes to NT bible translation issues, I completely at the mercy of the translators. One issue that has kept me awake at night is how different translations render the Greek word sarx (lit. flesh).

Now according to Doug Moo, in The Challenge of Bible Translation, sarx has a range of meanings depending on the context. I'm more interested in how to translate it in instances when the NIV renders it 'sinful nature'. Many Greek scholars are unhappy with this kind of rendering (including Moo himself). Moo, in the aforementioned publication, mentions James D.G. Dunn:
He [Dunn] argues that the meanings of sarx in Paul do not fall into separate, watertight categories but occupy a spectrum of meaning. In contrast to scholars who suggest that Paul may have derived his more neutral sense of sarx from the Old Testament and the Jewish world and the more negative sense from the Greek world, Dunn, along with many others before him, traces the spectrum o Paul's usage to the Hebrew basar, with its sense of "human mortality." One implication of this conclusion is that a certain negative nuance often clings to sarx, even when Paul uses it in apparently neutral senses. (p369)

Most of the scholars who have protested against the NIV/TNIV rendering "sinful nature" would probably agree with James D.G. Dunn: "A much more satisfactory rule of translation would be to recognise that sarx is an important and technical linking term in Paul's letters and is therefore best translated consistently by the same term, 'flesh.'" (p374)
I am sympathetic to this view. One need only see what is lost to TNIV readers when they compare Romans 8:1-4 with the ESV/NRSV/NASB/HCSB in this regard. Nevertheless, more often than not, when I hear preachers teaching from a formal translation and they come to the word 'flesh' they end up explaining it using 'sinful nature' type language. For example, Hywel R. Jones in his article 'Justification by Faith Alone' in the magnificent 'Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry' says:
What is flesh? The term has more than a physical connotation in Scripture. It is more than a body....It is..associated with deeds and words of the body but also with its "desires," even strong ones (Gal. 5:16-17, 24). Flesh is therefore the unrenewed nature of the justified believer. (p303)
So perhaps for readability and comprehension, "sinful nature" ain't too bad. Yet re-reading Jones' quote leaves one with the impression that perhaps the "sinful nature" language fails to encompass that sarx means much more than strong desire, but also includes the idea of a mortal body. Hmm.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Office Hours - The Law is Not of Faith

The latest podcast from the Westminster Seminary California 'Office Hours' team is a peach. RSC interviews J.V Fesko, David VanDrunen and Bryan Estelle on the work they edited 'The Law is Not of Faith.' They discuss the sheer Reformed-ness of the idea that the Mosaic law was a republication of the covenant of works. Gripping stuff and well worth your time.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

transforming culture

Some evangelicals believe that the task of the church is to transform culture. They believe the church is called to 'redeem culture'. Nature, they say, is restored by grace.

There are a number of mistakes in this analysis it seems to me. I want to focus only on one. I think the idea that nature is restored by grace is flawed. It implies that what the gospel ultimately achieves is merely a return to Eden. This is far too limited a perspective. The gospel is about 'new creation'. New creation is not simply the old restored it is the birth of a new plane of being and existence.

Nowhere is this distinction more clearly and succintly made than in 1 Cor 15

1Co 15:45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

The First Creation is energized by the 'soulish', the earthy the Second is energized by the 'spiritual', the heavenly. Adam, even in pre-fallen condition, was not the ultimate; the ultimate is Christ in resurrection, the Lord from Heaven.

Eschatology precedes everything. God's first plan was always the Second Man, the Last Adam. God's goal for humanity is not the reinstated image of the earthly Adam but the 'image of the man from heaven' His is the spiritually energized life that truly images God in righteousness and holiness.

This world in its unfallen state was transient, and in its fallen state is condemned. It is passing away. God's vision from before the beginning was a new creation and that vision gives to his people. They live here as pilgrims looking for a city built without hands whose builder and maker is God. They pant as aliens for a better country, that is an heavenly one. They look by faith to 'a new heavens and new earth' that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. That is their vision, their goal, and their home.

Of course, this does not mean they selfishly neglect the world in which they live. Rather the opposite. They seek the welfare of the city in which they live as aliens. They seek to show compassion to its citizens. They help them where possible and more, strive to introduce its citizens to the world to come that will never pass away. But they are under no illusions. They know this world and the fashion of it is destined for destruction. Their primary and most urgent task is to call others to flee from the City of Destruction, Babylon the Great, and begin a pilgrimage to the Celestial City, the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, that comes, not by redeeming culture, but 'comes down out of heaven from God'.

God's plan is not that grace may restore nature but that grace will birth from the death of the old a new creation unspeakably more glorious and vibrant where the former things are no more. Grace does not restore nature, or transform nature, it transcends and eclipses nature in its vision of the future. A vision summed up by John in Revelation when he says,

'Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."'

Monday, 16 November 2009

Should We Divide Over 1 Timothy 2:12?

You hear from time to time in conversation and from articles in the blogosphere that Christians need to unite around the 'essentials', whatever they may be (BTW in many cases you'll find that one man's essential doctrine is another's expendable inconvenience).

One issue that rears its ugly head as an 'expendable' is that of women's ordination/preaching/leadership. "There's a world out there that needs the gospel," goes one argument, "and it's tragic that Christians are divided over such trivialities as women in leadership." As such, churches that hold to opposing views on female ordination are encouraged to put aside their petty differences and work together in evangelistic rallies, political endeavours, social justice campaigns, etc, for the good of the gospel.

Here again, we see the twin headed beast of egalitarianism and modern tolerance trumping the text of Scripture. I believe that the biblical writers would affirm the contrary, that for the good of the gospel, churches should not work with others that are in error in this matter. One may ask, why this tight ass approach? Well, with long broom stick protruding from my bottom, I simply reply that female ordination betrays an attitude to the word of God that, given time, will spew it's unbelieving vomit all over even those 'essentials' we've united over.

Lig Duncan once remarked that if there was a text in Scripture which stated, "I do not permit you to baptise infants" then the whole paedobaptism argument would be settled. Yet we have such a text in 1 Tim. 2:12 regarding female ordination and many in the church still find ways around it. It's phenomenal to read the exegetical hoops some commentators jump through in order to make the text say, "I utterly affirm that women should teach and have authority over men. In fact, I think it's splendid."

If one can make black say white in 1 Tim. 2:12, why not do it elsewhere? Why not make 1 Cor. 6:9 say that "fornicators, gossips and homosexual offenders WILL inherit the kingdom of God"? Why not make Isaiah 53:5 say that "punishment wasn't necessary to bring us peace. There is no central motif in the Messiah's death"? Why not make Rev. 22:18 say, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: don't see these words as timeless truths. Try to hear what the Spirit is saying in your own faith community"? Why not make John 1:1 say, "the Word wasn't God"? Why not make 1 Cor. 15:14 say, "And if Christ has not been raised, it shouldn't effect whether you believe in God or not. Rob Bell says the Christian faith is a trampoline to enjoy, not a brick wall preserving doctrine"? Why not make Gal. 1:8 say "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, give him a fair hearing. Truth after all is plural and he's probably bringing a fresh perspective"? Why not make Rom. 4:5 say, "However, to anyone who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, that person should be more concerned about social justice"?
The hermeneutic which affirms female ordination in 1 Tim. 2:12 is a ravenous beast that is not content to let sacred truths abide unscathed. If we are to guard the gospel we must be willing to make hard choices regarding those individuals and denominations who affirm female ordination. We must not commune them, fellowship with them, share a platform with them, or work with them. And if this hurts their feelings so be it.

casino faith

Christians have a right standing with God by faith. Faith is both objective and subjective, that is, it is as much about what we believe as believing itself. Who and what we trust is as important as the fact that we trust. Sometimes the 'who and what we trust' is referred to as 'the faith'. Jude, the brother of Jesus, refers to it as 'the faith delivered once and for all to the saints'.

What I find remarkable is how many people seem to be willing to push the boundaries of this 'faith delivered to the saints'. Folks who call themselves Christians, even evangelical Christians, seem quite cavalier in what they dismiss or distort in the Bible. They boldly champion 'beliefs' that plainly conflict with clear statements of gospel faith revealed in the Bible.

For example, we find people claiming to be Christian who 'believe' that God is all love and has no wrath, despite the Bible's unequivocal and regular statements about God's wrath and judgement. Some claim there is no hell, others that all will be saved. Some suggest that there is saving truth in other religions, even in no religion. Some evangelicals believe and teach that homosexual stable partnerships are acceptable to God. All these 'beliefs' fly in the face of 'the faith' as revealed in the Bible.

The question is just how often can one 'believe' what is contrary to the Bible before these beliefs constitute 'unbelief' and make one an 'unbeliever'.

Many seem blithely prepared to believe and advocate what the Bible condemns and risk perdition. They seem willing to drive close to the edge and even with wheels spinning over the edge. Theirs is a foolhardy faith, a profligate faith. It is an irresponsible casino faith that gambles recklessly with the most expensive chips of all, their own souls.

Saving faith is not faith itself, not even faith in Christ since we are all too accomplished at creating Christs that suit us; it is faith that submits to the Christ revealed in the Bible and what God has revealed in Christ. It is faith in 'the faith delivered to the saints.'

Saturday, 14 November 2009

moderate love

Rev 2:1-5 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."

Rev 3:14 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: 'The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation. I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Moderate love is a sin. Maybe a damning sin.

Friday, 13 November 2009

preaching that ensures failure

D A Carson on Parables

'There are some audiences to whom you preach where the preaching of the word guarantees that they will not hear. Cf. John 8:45: “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!”'

Thursday, 12 November 2009

can you say 'shibboleth'?

Cultures are defined by their history and their language. In fact, their history creates their language and their language preserves and explains their history. Thus a culture is a community of people who share in a common history and language.

Language is powerfully cohesive (and divisive). When God wanted to scatter peoples across the earth he simply divided their language. People groups are language groups. Indeed all subcultures within a main culture find their identity in a common language. There is the language of the dancer, the footballer, the lawyer and so on. Without their own ‘language’ these community groups would have no real identity, could not function and actually would cease to exist.

Where is all this going?

It is simply to observe that the Christian Church must of necessity have its own language. To be a Christian is to share in a common community history. It is to be part of a ‘peculiar’ people, part of a story that has generated its own language and vocabulary. This language expresses all that is rich and valuable in its heritage. Without its language the Christian Church loses its links with its past. It loses its understanding of the past. It loses its distinctiveness. In fact, it loses its gospel.

If the Christian Church discards for the sake of cultural engagement its own vocabulary and so history it will become so culturally assimilated that it loses its identity. This is what happens to communities that assimilate.

Thus, the church must preserve and protect its language and heritage, just as other communities seek to do. It must make its members familiar with its biblical history and with its distinctive language for in this language and history lie its identity, its cultural richness and its very existence. It is important that Christians understand words like justification, reconciliation, redemption, creation, providence, the fall, sin, Messiah, Son of Man, and so on for these are its life blood. Phrases like ‘the stone the builders rejected’ are meaningless to outsiders but to those in the Christian heritage they are culture- rich.

Christians are often eager to rid themselves of ‘in-house’ language. More about this in a moment, but for now I want simply to observe that this is mistaken for all the above reasons. More, we should not be embarrassed by a degree of ‘oddness’. Every alien culture seems odd to a resident culture. And Christians are ‘resident aliens’. They belong to a country with a different heritage and different values and so different language to the one in which they live and as a result will always be ‘different’.

Now a word of balance is needed here. This is no plea or excuse for unnecessary eccentricity unrelated to the gospel heritage. Nor is it an excuse to avoid engagement with an alien culture. We cannot excite others about the Christian heritage, nation and commonwealth to which we belong unless we engage with them. If we live in a foreign country we must learn its language. However, learning its language is one thing, losing our own is another. When we lose our language, we lose our history and so we lose our identity. We are culturally assimilated. We lose the gospel.

Do you speak the Christian language? Are you familiar with its vocabulary? Does it identify you? Can you say shibboleth?

humiliating the gospel

Good post at Evangel by Ray Ortlund Jnr. Here is a flavour.

'Imagine the evangelical church without the gospel. I know this makes no sense, for evangelicals are defined by the evangel. But try to imagine it for just a moment. What might our evangelicalism, without the evangel, look like? We would have to replace the centrality of the gospel with something else, naturally. So what might take the place of the gospel in our sermons and books and cassette tapes and Sunday school classes and home Bible studies and, above all, in our hearts?

A number of things, conceivably. An introspective absorption with recovery from past emotional traumas, for example. Or a passionate devotion to the pro-life cause. Or a confident manipulation of modern managerial techniques. Or a drive toward church growth and “success.” Or a deep concern for the institution of the family. Or a fascination with the more unusual gifts of the Spirit. Or a clever appeal to consumerism by offering a sort of cost-free Christianity Lite. Or a sympathetic, empathetic, thickly-honeyed cultivation of interpersonal relationships. Or a determination to take America back to its Christian roots through political power. Or a warm affirmation of self-esteem. The evangelical movement, stripped of the gospel, might fix upon any or several of such concerns to define itself and derive energy for its mission. In other words, evangelicals could marginalize or even lose the gospel and still potter on their way, perhaps even oblivious to their loss.

But not only is this conceivable, it is actually happening among us right now.

Whatever one may think of the various concerns noted above as alternatives to the centrality of the gospel—and some of these matters possess genuine validity and even urgency, especially the family—not one of them is central to our faith. Not one of them is the gospel or deserves to push the gospel itself to the periphery of our message, our agenda and our affections. But the gospel of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is today suffering humiliation among us evangelicals by our conspicuous neglect of it.'

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

every picture tells a story

Are the Post-millenialists right. Has the Kingdom renewed the animal creation?

apologetics - words or life?

Mike Horton comments on the demise of apologetics.

'Apologetics has a place in every Christian's life, but ministers should have a more specialized knowledge of it. Ministers are called to proclaim the gospel in a way that is distinct from the calling that every Christian has to be a witness. This means that they need special training for that vocation. It's really amazing how many seminaries, including evangelical ones, are now doing without apologetics. There seems to be an anti-apologetic mood around at the moment. I suspect that part of it has to do with a retreat from the confidence of modernism (the ‘I have all the answers’ approach) to postmodernism's more sceptical attitude toward people like that. Nowadays, a lot of people are saying non-Christians don't want people coming to them with a lot of arguments. They want people to come to them and show them a Christlike life.'

The last two sentences highlight the false antitheses we evangelicals seem to so often adopt. Christian apologetics consist not of 'faith arguments or Christlikeness' but 'faith arguments AND Christlikeness.'

Horton of course agrees with this.