Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: The Decalogue through the Centuries



This book is a collection of essays, focused on the Decalogue, its interpretations and devotional usage throughout the centuries. Many of the great Christian thinkers are examined such as, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Aquinas and Karl Barth. The book is edited by Jeffrey P. Greenman, who is the Associate Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies and Professor of Christian Ethics at Wheaton College and Timothy Larsen who functions as the Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College.

I will admit from the start that this type of book is difficult to review. Each chapter interacts with a “giant” of the Christian thought and boiling down his or her musings on the Decalogue is a challenging task for each of the 14 contributors. Therefore, I am striving to highlight certain chapters, which grabbed my attention for either positive or negative reasons. Please forgive my trendy, categorical approach to this review. 

The Most Interesting Chapter

To its credit, the book begins with a bang. Daniel Block gives a wonderful introduction to the Decalogue and addresses some of the most fundamental issues like, “Why are there ten commands and not five or seven?”, “Is the Decalogue primarily a covenantal document or a recapitulation of moral law?” and “Does the Ten Commands have a special place in the Pentateuch and/or the Hebrew bible?” Block is not comprehensive with any of his answers, but sets a stable foundation for the upcoming chapters.

Block’s most interesting observation is the debunking of the traditional understanding of the two tablets. Tradition states that the Ten were divided (in some way) on each tablet. Professor Block argues that the use of “two” tablets were meant as a Near Eastern covenantal document and therefore, each tablet contained the “Ten” and were kept as a visual covenant between YHWH (one tablet) and Israel (one tablet).

The Most Biblical/Historical Chapters

Chapter two is titled The Decalogue in the New Testament and the subsequent chapter is Early Syriac, Greek and Latin views of the Decalogue. These two chapters will satisfy the cravings of both the Biblicist and Church historian. Dr. Craig Evans does a complete job analyzing the multiple NT texts that deal directly or indirectly with the Decalogue. He also deals with specific individuals of the NT (John the Baptist, Jesus, James and Paul) and their use of the Ten Commandments. In my opinion, his abbreviated summary/chart on the Decalogue’s use in the NT is the most practical (and re-usable) part of the chapter.

Dr. Alison G. Salvesen is a research lecturer at Oxford and specializes in the areas of rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity. She shows her researching prowess in her overview, which spans to the fifth century. This chapter interacts with both common and obscure characters with her attention placed firmly on the Patristics’ view of the authority of the Decalogue.

To this reviewer, Salvesen’s presentation of Justin Martyr and Tertullian were both informative and captivating. She excavates from the writings of Justin Martyr that he accepts the absorption view of the Decalogue, which views Christ’s two commands (love God, love others) as absorbing the authority and moral emphasis of the Ten Commandments.

Tertullian, according to Professor Salvesen, holds that the Decalogue remains in force but is presently more stringent because Christ expanded its commands. Yet the Latin Father’s dogmatism regarding the communication of the Ten Commandments to Adam and Eve (whether embedded in their conscience, verbalized or written is unclear) is fascinating and thought-provoking.

The Most Pastoral/Homiletical Chapters

If the above category needs further definition, I am referring to the applicational and homiletic aspects of the Decalogue. In examining the decalogical musings of Martin Luther (Chpt. 6) and John Calvin (Chpt. 7), the reader will clearly observe the pastoral sensitivity of both Reformers. Timothy J. Wengert, who teaches at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, spends the majority of his chapter examining Luther’s shorter and larger catechism, which discusses the practical ways to obey the Ten. Of all the essays, Wengert’s is probably the most practical and therefore, the most pastoral.

Susan E. Schreiner, who is a historian at the University of Chicago’s divinity school, provides the reader with a softer view of the Reformer, who is often identified by the doctrine of predestination or the burning of Michael Servetus. Dr. Schreiner’s essay focuses primarily on the third purpose of the law (i.e. sanctification), which is seen through the lens of Calvin’s Geneva, a unique bastion of church and state. One of Calvin’s sermons on Deuteronomy 5:22 emphasized the completeness of the Decalogue and therefore, encouraged his congregants to never add anything to the law, especially by the irresponsible use of imagination. This intriguing application defined Calvin the preacher and provides homiletic help to the pastors of the 21st century.

The Most Confusing Chapter

George Hunsinger, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, has the unfortunate task of presenting Karl Barth’s view of the Decalogue (chpt. 12). I admit that this reviewer has always been stumped by the dialectic method of Barth and his neo-orthodox/Christological hermeneutic is both annoying and refreshing.

I was hoping Dr. Hunsinger would be a “Barth-whisperer” for me, but he did little to defuse my bias towards the Swiss theologian. So unless you are a fan of Barth and his works, this chapter will likely leave you bored and perplexed.

The Most Unnecessary Chapter

I wanted to use the adjectives bias or political to describe this category. Why? Because though I find Christina Rossetti fascinating as an Anglican, as a women and even as a poet, I was convinced her inclusion in these essays is not about her impact in Decalogical studies, rather it was that she was a woman and possibly, a feminist.

Timothy Larsen, one of the editors of this book, spends many pages forming a biological sketch of Rossetti, defending her approach to hermeneutics and her lifelong decision to be celibate, rather the discussing the actual influence (or lack of) she has made in

But the most disturbing element of the chapter is Larsen’s relentless effort to exonerate Rossetti from the label of “feminist”. In one breath, he asserts that Rossetti voted against the woman’s right to vote, but then writes how “gleeful she is when the bible shares that the wife is the more impressive of the pair”. Rossetti seems to have an unusual preoccupation with Eve. Larsen says later, 
“In a striking inversion of Victorian gender stereotypes, Rosetti reads this (the account of the Fall) as the woman being lead by her “mind” and the man by his “heart”. 
Never mind that scripture says Eve was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3) and theologically, there is no distinction between the mind and the heart. The bottom line is Christina Rossetti is a charming character, but she offers little clarity to the issues surrounding the Ten Commandments.

The Most Impactful Chapter

Out of all of the authors, this reviewer was most familiar with the works of Carl R. Trueman. Dr. Trueman is Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. His topic was John Owen and his views of the Decalogue.

There is one reason why this chapter was the most impactful: Dr. Trueman strove to answer this question (from Owen’s theology), “If the Decalogue is primary moral law, rather than covenantal law, what was the purpose for giving the tablets on Mt. Sinai?” It is a monumental task of which Trueman (via Owen) delivers.
The answer? Dr. Owen believes that the delivery of the law at Sinai was essentially a recapitulation of the covenant of works. For this reviewer, who stands in the dispensational camp, this interpretation was original and eye-opening. This is not to say I agree with the interpretation of Owen, but it does provide a robust argument for the legitimacy of the covenant of works, especially since it is assumed to be clearly understood by our first parents (according to Covenant theologians), though the means of divine communication continues to be an in-house debate.

Conclusion

As a resource in Decalogical studies, I judge this work to be of reasonable help, primarily for those in academia or those who have a taste for scholarly work. Unfortunately, most Christians and sadly, most pastors will not take the time to excavate the “diamonds in the rough”. To be honest, this resource would not be in my “top five”, though as a specialized Decalogical study, I would place it in my “top ten”. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Did the "Giants of the Faith" make New Year's resolutions?


Is setting resolutions for 2013 wrong? Did the men/women of old participate in a similar activity? Well, to be honest, no they didn't. The reason is New Year's Day is originally based on a pagan holiday and therefore, Christians of old didn't celebrate such days.

Does that mean we shouldn't have a party or make resolutions? Ultimately, each Christian must act according to their conscience. That being established, America is not Rome (where New Year's Day originated) and there is no church/state government-regulated worship. Therefore, it is apples and oranges, as the saying goes.

Actually, I strongly agree with the sentiment of Burk Parsons (editor of Tabletalk magazine and co-pastor at St. Andrews Chapel), who states that Christians should be resolving to be resolved. In his post, he encourages Christians to be resolving sensibly, dependently, humbly and for the sake of Christ. To read the whole article, click on http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/resolved-grace-god/?mobile=off .

So even though the giants didn't write down specific resolutions, I challenge you to examine (in the quotes below) their resolving to be resolved




A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent. 

                                   John Calvin



Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth: help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart 

                                 Martin Luther



If we do not abide in prayer, we will abide in temptation. 
                       John Owen


When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me. 

                                    John Wesley



O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams. 

                                     Augustine



The truths that I know best I have learned on my knees. I never know a thing well, till it is burned into my heart by prayer. 

                                    John Bunyan



A bushelful of resolutions is of small value; a single grain of practice, is worth the whole. 

                                  Charles Spurgeon 



The secret formula of the saints: When I am in the cellar of affliction, I look for the Lord's choicest wines. 

                                  Samuel Rutherford



Lord, be pleased to shake my clay cottage before Thou throwest it down. Make it totter awhile before it doth tumble. Let me be summoned before I am surprised.
                                
                                  Thomas Fuller



Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any such account, immediately to throw it by. 

                                 Jonathan Edwards

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Facts about John Knox: 

  • He remarried a woman named Margaret Stewart (age 17), who was 33 years younger than Knox.

  • 1/5 of his writings were about predestination.

  • John Calvin was his primary mentor.

  • Knox wrote none of his sermons down (only two sermons survived).

  • He was his spiritual father’s bodyguard and carried a broadsword.

  • His son-in-law was in prison for insubordination to the throne. The king asked Elizabeth (Knox’s daughter) to persuade her husband to submit to his authority. Her response: “Please your Majesty, I’d rather have his head here.”

  • Knox is one of the four reformers on the wall of Geneva. The words next to the Scottish reformer, “One man with God is always in the majority.” 


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Who is John Knox?


He was a minister of the Christian gospel who advocated violent revolution. He was considered one of the most powerful preachers of his day, but only two of the hundreds of sermons he preached were ever published. He is a key figure in the formation of modern Scotland, yet there is only one monument erected to him in Scotland, and his grave lies beneath a parking lot.

John Knox was indeed a man of many paradoxes, a Hebrew Jeremiah set down on Scottish soil. In a relentless campaign of fiery oratory, he sought to destroy what he felt was idolatry and to purify Scotland's religion.
Biography 

John Knox was born around 1514, at Haddington, a small town south of Edinburgh. Around 1529 he entered the University of St. Andrews and went on to study theology. He was ordained in 1536, but became a notary, then a tutor to the sons of local lairds (lower ranking Scottish nobility).

Dramatic events were unfolding in Scotland during Knox's youth. Many were angry with the Catholic church, which owned more than half the real estate and gathered an annual income of nearly 18 times that of the crown. Bishops and priests were often mere political appointments, and many never hid their immoral lives: the archbishop of St. Andrews, Cardinal Beaton, openly consorted with concubines and sired 10 children.

In the early 1540s, Knox came under the influence of converted reformers, and under the preaching of Thomas Guilliame, he joined them. Knox then became a bodyguard for the fiery Protestant preacher George Wishart, who was speaking throughout Scotland.

In 1546, however, Beaton had Wishart arrested, tried, strangled, and burned. In response, a party of 16 Protestant nobles stormed the castle, assassinated Beaton, and mutilated his body. The castle was immediately put to siege by a fleet of French ships (Catholic France was an ally to Scotland). Though Knox was not privy to the murder, he did approve of it, and during a break in the siege, he joined the besieged party in the castle.

During a Protestant service one Sunday, preacher John Rough spoke on the election of ministers, and publicly asked Knox to undertake the office of preacher. When the congregation confirmed the call, Knox was shaken and reduced to tears. He declined at first, but eventually submitted to what he felt was a divine call.

It was a short-lived ministry. In 1547, after St. Andrews Castle had again been put under siege, it finally capitulated. Some of the occupants were imprisoned. Others, like Knox, were sent to the galleys as slaves.

Nineteen months passed before he and others were released. Knox spent the next five years in England, and his reputation for preaching quickly blossomed. But when Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne, Knox was forced to flee to France.

He made his way to Geneva, where he met John Calvin. The French reformer described Knox as a "brother … laboring energetically for the faith." Knox for his part, was so impressed with Calvin's Geneva, he called it, "the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles."

In 1555, they invited Knox to return to Scotland to inspire the reforming task. Knox spent nine months preaching extensively and persuasively in Scotland before he was forced to return to Geneva.

Away from his homeland again, he published some of his most controversial tracts: In his Admonition to England he virulently attacked the leaders who allowed Catholicism back in England. In The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women he argued that a female ruler (like English Queen Mary Tudor) was "most odious in the presence of God" and that she was "a traitoress and rebel against God." In his Appellations to the Nobility and Commonality of Scotland, he extended to ordinary people the right—indeed the duty—to rebel against unjust rulers. As he told Queen Mary of Scotland later, "The sword of justice is God's, and if princes and rulers fail to use it, others may."

Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, and he again deployed his formidable preaching skills to increase Protestant militancy. Soon he was elected the minister of the Edinburgh church, where he continued to exhort and inspire. In his sermons, Knox typically spent half an hour calmly exegeting a biblical passage. Then as he applied the text to the Scottish situation, he became "active and vigorous" and would violently pound the pulpit. Said one note taker, "he made me so to quake and tremble, that I could not hold pen to write." Knox finished out his years as preacher of the Edinburgh church, helping shape the developing Protestantism in Scotland. During this time, he wrote his History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland.

Though he remains a paradox to many, Knox was clearly a man of great courage: one man standing before Knox's open grave said, "Here lies a man who neither flattered nor feared any flesh." Knox's legacy is large: his spiritual progeny includes some 750,000 Presbyterians in Scotland, 3 million in the United States, and many millions more worldwide.

*This biography was copied and adapted from ChristianHistory.net. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: Ruth: From Bitter to Sweet


Dr. John D. Currid is Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has a PhD in archaeology and has authored several commentaries (e.g. The Pentateuch, Habakkuk). In his introduction, Dr. Currid breaks up the book of Ruth into five sections: Part one—Setting the scene (1:1-5), Part two—Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-laws (1:6-22), Part three—In the fields of Bethlehem (2:1-23), Part four—The scene at the Threshing Floor (3:1-18) and Part five—Redemption (4:1-22). These sections encompass the majority of the commentaries’ brief 136 pages. Also, the introduction contains the author’s valuable thesis statement, “Thus the book is serving a greater purpose than merely being a moral story of human goodness: it points to the future reality of the coming King”.

I would label Professor Currid’s commentary somewhere between an exegetical commentary and a devotional one. To be clear, both elements are beautifully integrated throughout. The exegetical component is not only seen in the author’s commitment to the literary / historical context but also in his detailed explanation of key words and phrases of each verse. As to the devotional feature, Currid incorporates in each chapter the orthopraxical Points to Ponder, which helps the reader be not just ‘a hearer of the Word, but also a doer’ (James 1:22).

For those readers who love Reformation history, you are in for a treat. Every chapter is woven with either Puritan anecdotes or quotes from the spiritual giants of previous times. Admittedly, Dr. Currid’s affection for the past may not connect the young or modern reader, but what else would you expect from a professor who received his doctorate in archeology, the study of old stuff?

One of the most important concepts of the book of Ruth is the goel (Heb.) which means literally, kinsman-redeemer. Here Dr. Currid is at his literary best. His clear, engaging exegesis of this Israelite societal provision is eye-opening. In just three pages, the author describes the four duties of the goel, which all revolve around the concept of redemption. Though most readers will automatically perceive the link to the coming Messiah, Currid leaves no room for blindness and states, “Jesus claims (in Luke 4) to be the one who will bring release and liberty to His people; He is the goel for the believer” (p. 92).

Criticism                                                                                                                               

If you were to ask any pastor or scholar, “What is the most provocative part of Ruth?”, the answer is always, “The scene of the threshing floor, of course!” This scene is the apex, the crescendo of the story. Ruth, by the advice of Naomi (her mother-in-law), dolls herself up and sneaks into the bed of Boaz and lies down at his feet. Provocative, indeed!

Dr. Currid argues strongly that not only was this act culturally appropriate, but there was no sexual activity between Ruth and Boaz. He does admit that the term “uncover” is often used to describe sexual activity in the OT, but the connection to Boaz’s feet speaks to redemption, not sexual conduct. He states on page 104, Ruth ‘is asking that Boaz would be willing to take her under his redemptive wings to protect her……the placing of the blanket over her is symbolic of that protection and security’. Though I agree with the author’s conclusion, I think this issue required direct interaction with those views critical of his, of which he did not do.

Finally, I continue to be unsettled with the need for Ruth’s nightly encounter with Boaz. Dr. Currid gives no cultural precedence for such an interaction and his application of Ezekiel 16, though original to this reviewer, is not convincing. I am left wondering if Naomi’s advice reveals impatience, rather than godly discretion.
                                 
                                                     Conclusion

In my opinion, this resource is a wonderful addition to the short list of Ruthian commentaries. Currid’s work is brief, readable and from the reformed tradition (though it doesn’t feel that way). If you are just starting to build your library, I would start with this work.  

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

5 things we learn from David Brainerd and his fight with Depression:

#1—Godly people can get depressed.

Jonathan Edwards writes in the introduction of Brainerd’s memoir,
“There is one thing in Mr. Brainerd, easily discernible by the following account of his life, which may be called an imperfection in him, which -- though not properly an imperfection of a moral nature, yet -- may possibly be made an objection against the extraordinary appearances of religion and devotion in him, by such as seek for objections against everything that can be produced in favor of true vital religion; and that is, that he was, by his constitution and natural temper, so prone to melancholy and dejection of spirit…..But that Mr. Brainerd's temper or constitution inclined him to despondency, is no just ground to suspect his extraordinary devotion to be only the fruit of a warm imagination….As to Mr. Brainerd in particular, notwithstanding his inclination to despondency, he was evidently one of those who usually are the furthest from a teeming imagination; being of a penetrating genius, of clear thought, of close reasoning, and a very exact judgment; as all know, who knew him.”
Yet Brainerd lived a godly life. His peers described him as a “holy” man. His memoirs revealed he was certainly a man “of the Word”. So why did he struggle with bouts of depression (i.e. melancholy)?

I think part of the answer lies in Edwards’ statement, “….and that is, that he was, by his constitution and natural temper, so prone to melancholy and dejection of spirit”. In other words, Brainerd was born with a propensity towards depression.

Here are Brainerd’s own words:
“I was from my youth somewhat sober, and inclined rather to melancholy than the contrary extreme; but do not remember anything of conviction of sin, worthy of remark, till I was, I believe, about seven or eight years of age.”
To be clear, Edwards’ words should not be understood as an excuse or a reference to a disposition that is exempt from the renewing power of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Rather, because humanity is born with sin, many individuals are more susceptible towards certain sins. Brainerd’s dark disposition was in a sense, his personalized consequence of Original Sin, which was used by the Father to cause “all things to work together for good” and to carve him into the image of His Son (Romans 8:28-29). 

Don’t forget…

· Elijah was so depressed he wanted to die (I Kings 19:4).

· King David experienced a spiritual depression because of his murderous / adulterous sin (Psa. 32:3-4)

· Job’s depression led him to curse the day he was born (Job 3:1).

· Solomon’s depression was ignited when his own efforts did not bring satisfaction (Ecc. 2:20).

All these men loved the Lord, but for a time succumbed to seasons of despair.


#2—Depression must be fought at the spiritual level.   

I am aware that some readers will criticize my narrow perspective on this issue. What about chemical imbalances? What if there was something medically wrong with the young missionary? To be clear, as a biblical counselor, the first task I give a counselee is to fill out a Personal Data Inventory Sheet, which among other things, asks the necessary medical questions.

But if there is no legitimate medical disorder, the counselee must conduct an all-out assault against sin (specifically in Brainerd’s case, the sin of unbelief). The mental and emotional presence of depression is not necessarily sin, but neglecting to “put on” the fruits of the Spirit and “put off “ the deeds of the flesh is both active and passive disobedience towards God. 

I hope I am not coming across as indifferent or insensitive. I can empathize to some degree with Brainerd. After a certain recent event in my life, I found myself in a state of depression. This condition is unusual for me and I could not seem to climb out of the pit of despair. I knew the right verses to meditate on, but I felt numb, both emotionally and physically. Though in previous dark times I have been able to “grind through”, but this time was different.

How did I pull out? After some long bouts of wrestling and arguing with God, I repented of my anxiety, impatience and lack of trust in God’s perfect plan. Then….

I chose to abide in Christ.
I chose to trust His plan and His promises.
I chose to believe that His word is truly sufficient.
I chose to have joy.
I chose re-engagement with the mission.
I chose to pray for others when I start to wallow in self-pity.

Do I still have dark moments that tempt me to slide into the mire of depression? Yes, but I strive to live the words of McCheyne who said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”


#3—Too much spiritual introspection is harmful.

I wrote about this in a previous post, so I won’t rehash much. It is important to note that people that struggle with depression are often self-absorbed and prone to obsessive thoughts.

I mused,
“To be clear, some introspection is good, necessary and biblical. Paul evidently taught and lived the below truth.
2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
So, test yourself. Ask others to assess your spirituality. Pray that God reveals to you the pervasiveness of your sin. Small portions of this are necessary to become like Christ (Rom. 8:29). But be warned, excessive reflection is idolatry. Your personal sanctification becomes the idol. Mind you, this type of idolatry is rare (in my opinion), but if the heart is a factory of idolatry (as Calvin says), then each heart fashions different idols since each heart belongs to a uniquely created person.”


#4—Mental and physical fatigue increases depression tendencies.

Today’s medical community has established the connection between fatigue and depression. A recent medical study states,
“Depression and fatigue may feed off each other in a vicious cycle that makes it hard to determine where one begins and the other ends, according to a new study. Researchers found people who are depressed are more than four times as likely to develop unexplained fatigue, and those who suffer from fatigue are nearly three times as likely to become depressed.” (WebMD Health News—June 2004)
Ironically, Brainerd’s biographer labels his two greatest imperfections as being prone to melancholy and living in a state of constant fatigue
“Another imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his life, was his being excessive in his labors; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
As I wrote in a previous article, the reader must not judge the frail missionary too harshly. Yet the fact remained that Brainerd’s zealous fervor likely exasperated his dark disposition and took years off his life.

Brothers and sisters, run hard the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). But remember: ALL the greatest athletes take care of themselves, which includes knowing (and listening to) your physical limits.

Check out my previous post for some practical help regarding this issue.



#5—Don’t live according to your feelings.

This is the most important lesson the reader can absorb from the life of Brainerd. If you follow Jesus, but seem to be plagued with seasons of depression, please read carefully (and prayerfully) the following words.  

First and foremost, David Brainerd never let his feelings guide his life. His journal revealed that he constantly fought feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. Yet instead of lying in bed, whining or numbing the pain, he bathed himself in the scriptures and continually asked for divine help. Did Brainerd always have strong affections for those Indians he was called to serve?  He admitted in his journal that often he did not. But did he choose to love them anyways? Yes, he did.

God simply wants our obedience. This is where faith lives. Scripture is clear, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). One of my mentors used to say, “Think right, act right and someday you will feel right.” Remember, God never commands His children to act according to our feelings, but simply to act according to His will

Wayne Grudem, in his magnum opus Systematic Theology, states, “Sin makes us irrational”. The unavoidable reality is that our feelings will fluctuate until we are made perfect in Heaven.
2 Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Brainerd longed for Heaven. He longed for Christ. He longed to get rid of this perishable body. He longed for the eradication of his sin nature. He made an active decision to listen to the Spirit’s voice of illumination, rather than his frail feelings which tried to lead or keep him wallowing in Bunyan’s Slough of Despond. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology


The author is Brian H. Cosby, who is the lead Pastor at Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. He is the author of the youth ministry best-seller, Giving up Gimmicks and has also published biographies on John Bunyan and David Brainerd. 

Cosby begins the book by asking an important question, “What is Reformed Theology?” In this introductory chapter and/or introduction, the author sets the course for this brief 112 page book. His goal is simply stated on page 3, “This book is an introduction to Reformed Theology with a particular view towards teenagers”.

How does Cosby plan to achieve such a lofty goal? To begin, he purposely makes the book ascetically relevant. The front cover is bright red with funky lettering and a title that attracts the rebellious teenager, Rebels Rescued. Also, the graphics of the chapter titles remind the reader of paintbrush strokes and possibly a subtle graffiti theme. For all of his anti-gimmick language, Cosby is keen to draw upon the angst of the American adolescent.

Furthermore, the words of the chapter titles are simple and shrewd. Total Depravity is replaced by Rebels at Heart. Limited Atonement is For His sheep. Irresistible Grace is booted for Mastered by Grace. Sola Scriptura is cast aside for Enjoying God’s Word. Cosby’s emphasis on theological concepts rather than the classic terms is a clever, astute strategy. Lastly, the illustrations used by the author are modern, personal, well-placed and humorous. Oh, and one more thing: Dr. Cosby surprisingly evades the fatal flaw of cheesy rhetoric, which can quickly annoy a perceptive teenage reader.

Another pertinent question this reviewer asked was, “Did the author water-down Reformed Theology in order to make it palatable to his teen audience?” Not at all. In Cosby’s chapter on Unconditional Election, the author seeks to save Calvin from popular criticism. He argues,
“Because Calvin seemed to take freedom away from man, Calvin has been given a bad rap. But what Calvin sought to do, however, was to show that man’s heart is not free to begin with. Our hearts are prone to wander away from Christ every time—if left on our own. Apart from God’s grace in giving us new hearts to love him, we remain chained and imprisoned by sin and unbelief. There is no freedom apart from God’s work of grace and it’s grace precisely because his salvation is something we don’t deserve.”
No mincing of words here. How about Limited Atonement? Cosby must have soften on this point, right? Judge for yourself.
“God is not in the business of taking risks. He’s in the business of purposefully saving his people by grace. He doesn’t scatter the breadcrumbs of atonement across the world in hopes that some will happen to see them and eat. No, God sent his Son to die for his people “according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). Christ’s death was purposeful, intentional, and definite!”
And yet Dr. Cosby never shoots over the heads of his audience. Though he uses illustrations generously, he intensely desires the reader to understand that ‘Reformed Theology is first and foremost biblical theology (p. 5). This statement is reinforced by a liberal splattering of biblical references, which can be found on virtually every page.

Any theological system has its detractors and the Reformed perspective is no exception. In this book, Dr. Cosby endeavors to address the most common objections to Predestination and Limited Atonement. Again, I was astounded how seamless and succinct these arguments were. No tangents, no hobby horses. In dealing with the issue of evangelism and predestination, the reader is simply reminded that God ordains not only the end, but also the means. Therefore, there is no room for indifference towards the proclamation of the gospel. 

The concept of Limited Atonement is without question the most debated of the Five Points of Calvinism. Cosby wisely funnels all his attention to 1 John 2:2, the preeminent text used to attack this doctrine. Here he gives the typical retort, discussing the various ways to understand the word “world” and then gives the reader John’s contextual meaning of the “whole world”. I was a little surprised the author did not allude to the wide evangelical disagreement about this doctrine, but again, a comprehensive 100 page book on Reformed Theology limits such eye-opening statements.

Criticisms

It is a habit of this reviewer to alert the reader to inherent flaws or inconsistencies within each book. I have no criticisms. In my opinion, this is one of the clearest treatments of Reformed Theology I have ever read. Rebels Rescued is a literary landmark in the genre of Youth and Theology.

I guess if I would to add anything, I wish Dr. Cosby would have included a robust appendix, which would better prepare the small group leader or young theologian from the verbal darts of the anti-Reformed community.

                                                     Conclusion

This book is a masterpiece. It should be read by every youth leader and used as annual curriculum in every teenage small group. Furthermore, Cosby’s work should be used as a theological primer in Christian colleges and/or given as a membership gift in churches that reside in the Reformed tradition. 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, December 10, 2012

David Brainerd—A man whose influence was greater after his death


***The article was taken and adapted from David Brainerd: A Constant Stream by David B. Calhoun, Ph.D.




Brainerd’s influence grew remarkably within the transatlantic evangelical community through The Life of David Brainerd, Edwards’s most frequently reprinted and widely read book. It was the first American biography to reach a large European audience. It became the best-selling religious book in nineteenth-century America (with more than thirty different editions) and remains in print to the present day.

John Wesley prepared an abridged version of Edwards’s book and recommended it with the words: 
“Let every preacher read carefully over The Life of David Brainerd. Let us be followers of him, as he was of Christ, in absolute self-devotion, in total deadness to the world, and in fervent love to God and man.”
In 1769 John Newton wrote: 
“Next to the Word of God, I like those books best which give an account of the lives and experiences of His people… No book of this kind has been more welcome to me than the life of Mr. Brainerd of New England.”
Brainerd’s missionary career spanned less than five years, but Edwards’s Life of David Brainerd revealed a missionary hero whose impact was astounding. The little book made a significant contribution to the new era of missions that sent British and American Christians to many parts of the world. 

As William Carey prepared to go to India, Brainerd’s Life was “almost a second Bible.” When Carey, Ward, and Marshman signed the historic agreement that laid down the principles of their missionary work at Serampore, they agreed to “often look at Brainerd in the woods of America, pouring out his very soul before God for the perishing heathen without whose salvation nothing could make him happy.”

Robert Murray McCheyne was deeply moved when he first read Brainerd’s Life in 1832. He remarked that as a result of Brainerd’s example he was “more set upon missionary enterprise than ever.” A few years later McCheyne wrote in a letter: “O to have Brainerd’s heart for perfect holiness.”

In the preface to an 1851 reprint of The Life of David Brainerd, Horatius Bonar warned against taking Brainerd’s life as a perfect life and points out some few defects, but goes on to hold up his life as a protest “against the easy-minded religion of our day.” If Brainerd’s life, Bonar stated, is used to quicken our consciences and urge us forward in the “same path of high attainment,” we will find it “an unspeakable blessing.” The example of Brainerd’s “life of marvelous nearness to… God, which he lived during his brief day on earth,” continues to inspire Christians, Bonar wrote. “His life was not a great life, as men use the word,” Bonar concluded, but it was “a life of one plan, expending itself in the fulfillment of one great aim, and in the doing of one great deed—serving God.”

Two hundred and fifty years after Brainerd’s death, The Life of David Brainerd still challenges and inspires readers.  

Oswald J. Smith, founding pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, paid tribute to Brainerd with these words:
So greatly was I influenced by the life of David Brainerd in the early years of my ministry that I named my youngest son after him. When I was but eighteen years of age, I found myself 3,000 miles from home, a missionary to the Indians. No wonder I love Brainerd! Brainerd it was who taught me to fast and pray. I learned that greater things could be wrought by daily contact with God than by preaching. When I feel myself growing cold I turn to Brainerd and he always warms my heart. No man ever had a greater passion for souls. To live wholly for God was his one great aim and ambition.3

A few years ago, John Piper wrote:
I thank God for the ministry of David Brainerd in my own life—the passion for prayer, the spiritual feast of fasting, the sweetness of the Word of God, the unremitting perseverance through hardship, the relentless focus on the glory of God, the utter dependence on grace, the final resting in the righteousness of Christ, the pursuit of perishing sinners, the holiness while suffering, the fixing the mind on what is eternal, and finishing well without cursing the disease that cut him down at twenty-nine.

The “constant stream” still flows.


To read the whole article, click on the link below. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: Missional Moves


The subtitle reveals the simple premise of the book: 15 tectonic shifts that transform churches, communities and the world. As expected, each chapter deals with one of the fifteen tectonic shifts. What are these tectonic shifts? In a word, these shifts interact with the concept of mission, missional living or the more technical term, missiology. It is the belief of the authors that most churches are unaware of these shifts and therefore, are less effective in reaching the world for Christ. So this book boldly seeks to inform a generation of church leaders through the experimental lens of Granger Community Church (a megachurch in Northern Indiana where the author, Rob Wegner, is one of the lead pastors).

It is not in the scope of this review to critically interact with each tectonic shift, but extensive comments on a few key shifts are necessary.

Let’s begin with the Shift #1: Saved souls to Saved wholes. The authors contend that many churches preach an incomplete gospel or maybe more specifically, only part of the grand story of salvation. These churches tend to focus on the life insurance aspect of the gospel (i.e. saved souls), rather than the salvific blessings which are intended for this life and the next (i.e. saved wholes). According to the authors, the sad result has been a response that is decisional and private, rather than transformational and public. In other words, what is often missing in the “saved souls” version is the emphasis on Lordship.

To the majority of the above paragraph, I say, “Amen”. Furthermore, I appreciate the authors beginning with the gospel. I agree with the statement found on page 40, “Every other missional move is contingent upon getting this one right”.

Yet I am still slightly uncomfortable with the distinction of “saved souls” to “saved wholes”. Scripturally, there is no theological distinction in justification between soul and whole. Justification by faith alone assumes trust, which assumes Lordship. When the soul is regenerated, the whole is also regenerated.

So though I like that the move is “catchy”, let us not become weary in pursuing theological “precision” as well.

My favorite chapter is Shift #2, From Missions to Mission. Though I am personally familiar with this shift, the basic graph on p. 49 says it all. The graph places the ministry of “missions” alongside arts, children, small groups, youth, etc. The problem? Missions is seen as a specialized category of ministry, rather than “THE MISSION” given to every Christian. In my opinion, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  

Now this does not mean I embrace everything in chapter two. The formula espoused by the authors: Local church on mission + People of God on mission = Apostolic movement is again catchy, but invoking the word “apostolic” for anything other than the direct ministry of the 12 original apostles is unwise and hermeneutically cavalier. Post 1st century Christians are called disciples, followers and slaves of Jesus Christ, but never His apostles.

Another helpful element is that this book not only explains the “shifts” themselves, but also how to implement these movements into the life of the local church. The clearest example of this is found in chapter 7, From Transactional to Transformational Partnerships. The authors explain,
“The old model sent out organizations to do the work of mission, leaving the local church behind to provide money. The local church was involved, but not directly” (p. 168).
So the issue the authors wrestle with is, “How do we get local churches involved directly and still use these essential partnerships?”

With the use of illustrations, graphs and the experimental history of Granger, the reader is given a roadmap to build local church involvement and partnership, which functions as a wonderful resource, especially for those leaders in established churches.

Criticism

Other than the occasional examples of theological ambiguity, my only other criticism is this: 15 missional moves was too much. I think the maxim “Less is more” applies here. Limiting and then expanding 5-7 moves would have been more useful in my opinion.


                                               Conclusion

Would I recommend this book? Yes, but only to mature pastor or church leader. The authors are unabashedly seeker-driven (attractional, in their words) and their philosophy is woven through this book. Yet there are also profound insights regarding missiology that if absorbed correctly could benefit both the church leader and the church itself.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

David Brainerd—A man who lived on mission (as ALL Christians should be)

David Brainerd was special. Not because he was a missionary (every Christian is a missionary), but because of how he lived as a missionary. His words below reveal his heart: 
"All my desire was the conversion of the heathen... I declare, now I am dying, I would not have spent my life otherwise for the whole world."
I want to live like David Brainerd. I want to love others like David Brainerd. I want to have the heart of God for the lost. Do I need a specific people group to do this, to "live on mission"? Nope. Just obey and follow Christ. He was very clear before He left to tell His followers what we should be doing until He returns. 
Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Recently, I wrote the post below for a friend's blog. In it, I dealt with a few practical ways to engage our culture. Sometimes we need just a gentle reminder....getting back to the basics, the fundamentals, if you will. 

An Idiot’s guide to successful (and biblical) "cultural engagement”:


To anyone who is already offended by the title of this blog post, please read the disclaimer below:

Disclaimer: The use of the word "idiot" is not meant to be an intellectual assessment of the readership of this blog. Rather, I use this word as a "cultural point of reference" or an example of contextualization (since the first Idiot’s Guide was published in the late 1990’s).

I often describe myself as a “detoxing fundamentalist”. To be clear, I still embrace and appreciate the historical definition of “fundamentalism”, but reject the fundamentalism of last 60 years which often implanted Christian orthopraxy into the fight for Christian orthodoxy.

I say all this because 10 years ago I would have rejected the term “cultural engagement” and 5 years ago I would have looked it with suspicion. For me, the term was just another way to dilute the message of the gospel and/or justify unholy affections.

Today, I embrace the term mainly because I understand more clearly the realities of my mission. 

So in a way, this Idiot’s Guide is meant to guide the young pups, remind the adult dogs and teach the old dogs (detoxing fundamentalists) new tricks.

Here are four practical ways to “engage the culture”:

Be observant.

Acts 17:16 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”

Paul was living a single-minded, strategic, eyes-open” approach to his mission. He was not just looking for people, but looking around in culture to see what people are worshipping. In other words, the zealous apostle was observing with the goal to find common ground (i.e. talking points) with unbelievers.

So, look around. Where to begin? Well, this advice helped me. Pray for a missional mindset in your recreation, occupation and residential location. Catchy and practical.


Be a listener.

I once read that ‘Francis Schaeffer, the great 20th century apologist, was asked what he’d do if he had an hour to share the gospel with someone. He responded by saying he’d listen for 55 minutes and then, in the last 5 minutes, have something meaningful to say’.

In other words, he listened in order to speak the gospel directly to their story.

Chuck Colson spoke of something similar. He wrote,
“We must enter into the stories of the surrounding culture, which takes real listening. We connect with the literature, music, theater, arts, and issues that express the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, and fears. This builds a bridge by which we can show how the Gospel can enter and transform those stories.”
Yet, let us not deceive ourselves, listening is not natural. It is a work of grace because listening requires humility and compassion. I have often meditated on the verse below.

James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;


Know your bible.

This is not just important because it is vital in the Christian's process of maturity, but it also crucial to our knowledge of ourselves and our fellow man.

John Calvin, the Genevan reformer, states,
"No man can survey himself without immediately turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone."

Calvin understood that since humanity is made in the image of God then seeing God means seeing ourselves. Studying the bible, then, widens our view of God, renews our sin-cursed mind and reveals to us what true humanity is and more importantly, in WHOM true humanity is seen.   

Finally, it is important to remember that a scripture-informed mind makes you a skillful surgeon, one who is able to pinpoint not just the symptom but the cause of the individual’s unbelief. Knowledge of specific cultures and societal idiosyncrasies is helpful, but knowing the Creator of humanity and His gospel provides the confidence to disseminate the universal antidote to every tongue, tribe and nation.  


Pray for revival.

Let us never forget that methodology is always the subservient to Pneumatology (i.e. the doctrine of the Holy Spirit). Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3:8). Therefore, God is the ONLY ONE who can open up the eyes of blind humanity. We must pray for it. Plead for it. It is amazing to me that all God desires are willing servants who are faithful to communicate His message to a dying world. Have you prayed for a revival in your context today? Are you ready to be a part of the answer to that prayer? 


Conclusion

To sum it up: If we are on my knees, praying for a revival, loving what God loves, we will see the harvest for what it really is: a sea of fruit that is ripe today, but may be withered and dead tomorrow.