Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The fall and rise of churches

Why do churches decline and die out?

Is it due to a failure to transition from one culture to the next, shedding what is culturally obsolete and retaining what is theologically permanent?

Is this a law, an observable principle that makes church growth and decline predictable?

How important are forms of church life (small groups, worship styles in relation to culture etc.)? Are these indicators of how a church will flourish or ossify?

How do our answers to the questions above relate to the presence, gospel preserving and life giving power of the Holy Spirit?

What is the relationship between church growth and divine sovereignty?

What difference does the view of divine sovereignty that we take, make to our cultural analysis and perspective on "means" when it comes to church health and growth?

What is the relationship between church decline and the judgment of the church by its Head?

Do churches decline on a predictable, observable pattern, or because of the disciplinary action of Christ? If the latter than what are the biblical indicators of being under the Lord's displeasure?

What precisely are the right biblical categories in assessing the fall and rise of churches? Are they the ones that bring clarity and focus to our thinking and practice on these matters?

What difference does this make to our assessment of church growth?

Recovering the Reformed Confession: out now

You can order it here, and have a look at some sample pages here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Seeking God's approval

The following searching comment is from Iain Murray's short bio of Thomas Chalmers (in A Scottish Christian Heritage, p. 94). It would be worth reading and contemplating before preaching:
The governing principle upon which the strength of all ministerial duties depends is regard for the approval of God.

If a minister lacks that principle his public work will be dominated by regard for himself or for the approbation of men.

Where that principle is truly present it will operate first in the sphere of the preacher's own inner life.
Chalmers expressed it thus:
How little must the presence of God be felt in that place, where the high functions of the pulpit are degraded into a stipulated exchange of entertainment, on the one side, and of admiration, on the other! and surely it were a sight to make angels weep when a weak and vapouring mortal, surrounded by his fellow sinners, and hastening to the grave and the judgment along with them, finds it a dearer object to his bosom to regale his hearers by the exhibition of himself, than to do, in plain earnest, the work of his Master.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Of course you do understand that everyone loves doctrine

When I worked with student Christian Unions it was not self evident to some that having a doctrinal basis, a statement of core non-negotiable beliefs, was a good idea.

In fact the very idea that we should set down what we believe in words, and use language that was as clear, concise and helpful as possible, went against the grain of what some understood being Christian or evangelical to be about.

Now when confronted by this response it is easy to take the objections at face value and to accommodate yourself to assumptions that need exposing and challenging.

One way that this happens is to bend over backwards to show that "doctrine" (that dry, dusty, archaic word), is in fact vibrant and vitally connected to life-giving Christian experience. I'm not disputing for a moment that it is. And you would think that people at university would have the smarts to know that doctrine is simply another word for teaching.

But everyone who begins to spit and hiss at the sound of the word doctrine, much as Dracula does when shown a crucifix, in reality loves doctrine. You just need to figure out what kind of doctrine they love and what kind they hate. One thing is for sure, they must be committed to doctrine. Whether that doctrine is really compatible with Biblical Christianity is the question.

As counter-intuitive as it may appear to be, people who find doctrine a switch-off are actually deeply committed to doctrine and couldn't live without it.

The Bible is simply instinctive with the impulse to confess the true identity of the Lord, his Triune identity, and to confess, believe, and proclaim his mighty works of creation, providence and salvation.

For example take Psalm 93:1-2:
The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty;
the LORD is robed in majesty
and is armed with strength.
The world is firmly established;
it cannot be moved.

Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.
And Daniel 4:34-35:
I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.
His dominion is an eternal dominion;
his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

All the peoples of the earth
are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases
with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: "What have you done?"
And 1 Corinthians 8:4-6 (once you have read it take a look at Deut. 6:4 and see what Paul has done with it):
We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
We might add Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:1 into the equation too.

There are truths that have been revealed, and they are to be believed, confessed, taught, defended and proclaimed. Any aversion to this betrays a spirituality, as well as a theology, cut adrift from biblical norms. And that of course is the real issue here.

Aversion to the biblical doctrines of God, his sovereignty and Triune identity, the person and work of Christ, the Creator-creature distinction, and so on, any aversion to speaking clearly about these matters as publicly revealed truths to be confessed by all believers and articulated in words is the tell-tale hallmark of pseudo-Christianity.

We are all going to be doctrinal, it is merely a question as to whether we are committed to the kind of truths and their authoritative source that Paul spells out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, or else to the doctrines of uncertainty, vagueness, theological plurality and experiential tyranny.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

God of the Covenant

A date for your diary...

Iain D. Campbell will be speaking on Covenant Theology at the EMW Ministers Day Conference on Wednesday 3rd February 2009 at Bryn-y-Groes in Bala (North Wales).

There will be two sessions during the day:

"Covenant Theology: The Exegetical Foundations"


"Covenant Theology: The Practical Implications"

More details soon

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Praying to a sovereign God

From the pen of John Flavel:
Prayer begets and maintains holy courage and magnanimity in evil times. When all things about you tend to discouragement, it is your being with Jesus that makes you bold, Acts 4:13.

He that uses to be before a great God, will not be afraid to look such little things as men are in the face.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Messenger of Grace

Wonderful words for preachers to think on:
Would I describe a preacher...I would express him simple, grave, sincere;
In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain,
And plain in manner; decent, solemn, chaste,
And natural in gesture; much impress'd Himself, as conscious of his awful charge,
And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds may feel it too; affectionate in look, And tender in address, as well becomes a messenger of grace to guilty men.
William Cowper, The Task

Available to order

If you live in the US you can order it at a good price from the WTS bookstore.

Top Ten UK Christian Bloggers

Dave Bish has the list


I have fallen out of the top ten! Good job that my blog ranking doesn't justify my existence.

By the way Dave Bish doesn't actually look like Sir Jimmy Saville. And how a blog with the title "Against Heresies" could make the list is beyond me. Although I have been thinking about changing it to "Reformation Central."

(Technically he could add Ref 21 to the list)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Living for Christ in a hostile world

If you live in North Wales, Chester, Cheshire, Liverpool, or Shropshire why not come along this Saturday to the EMW day conference "Living for Christ in a hostile world"?

Speakers are Gwynn Williams (Welsh Evangelical Church Cardiff) and Justin Mote (Director of the North West Partnership training course). The venue is Ebenezer Baptist Church Mold.

The church will be open from 12pm for drinks and lunch (bring your own sandwiches or buy locally) and the first session begins at 1pm. The programme is simple and straightforward:
1pm Daniel 1-2

2.30-3.30pm Coffee, news and interviews

3.30-5pm Daniel 4
There will be a creche for young children and a programme for primary age children.

B.B. Warfield and the Simpsons

Geoff Thomas has a delightful little article on the life of B. B. Warfield over at the Calvin500 blog.

The Simpsons connection is in the third paragraph.

Consumerism the Church and the abnormal Christian life

This is a re-post from earlier this summer. Consumerism is theological problem and a major one at that.

The following is from an editorial written for the Evangelical Magazine:

“The big theme of the story that follows is the defeat of politics by shopping...Consumerism has shouldered aside other ways of understanding the world—real political visions, organised religion, a pulsating sense of national identity.” So begins Andrew Marr's bestseller A History of Modern Britain. It is this consumer mentality that is bleeding to death Christian service.

Tragically much of this has been self-inflicted. No amount of exhortation to passionate, sacrificial service will alter the mess that we are in. In fact no amount of actual serving on camps, overseas mission trips, beach missions, or attending conferences will change it either. Instead it will simply mask over the problem. The real problem is that we have adopted a consumer mentality when it comes to thinking about the Church.

There are some threats to the Christian faith that are unsubtle and obvious. You know where you are with books like The God Delusion that make a direct attack on the truth. Yet there are dangers that are far more subtle and devastating. One of the dangers is the way in which living in the West in the 21st century has changed the way we think about God, the Gospel, and the Church. We live, and move, and have our being in an atmosphere where individualism, consumerism, and felt needs shape our approach to the Church.

By God's design the Church is the means of grace, of Christian growth and nurture, of teaching and training, of outreach, accountability and service. We, however, have succumbed to a mind-set that sees this as optional at best, or an impediment at worse. Instead of the Church being the context for growth, service and outreach we have come to terms with finding input and output elsewhere.

This crisis has been a long time coming. Dr. Lloyd-Jones identified it as a loss of nerve by Christians in the 19th century when faced with the intrusion of error into the churches. Their response was to set up movements as outlets for united service instead of facing down the false teachers infiltrating the sheep fold. Today, the error driving our Church crisis is the triumph of shopping.

The sign that we are not thinking biblically on these matters is that we are asking all the wrong questions about Christian activities. “What's in it for me?” is the unspoken assumption as we listen to sermons and sing God's praise. Our reasons for choosing a church, or even staying in a church, can be exactly the same as the reasons we have for choosing a product. How does it make us feel? What are the personal benefits? What activities are on offer for the children? A further sign of wrong thinking is that a culture of criticism about church activities is tolerated.

When was the last time that you went to church in order to do others good spiritually? Is that your deliberate aim? The Bible is full of images that describe Christians as part of a greater whole. We are sheep in a flock, parts of a body, members of a family, bricks in a building. Each image undermines the idea that we can think about being, and acting, as a Christian apart from the Church. We are to build one another up in love, to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

Think of the impact that individualism and consumerism can have on growth and nurture. There is no need to be dependent on the local church for teaching when there are so many books, downloadable sermons, and conferences available. Not, of course, that these things are wrong. It is the use that we make of them that is the issue. We gather as God's people each week to listen to his Word. This demands that we respond to and apply the Word together in a way that isn't the same when we listen to recordings or attend conferences. There is an accountability upon us in the local church that is lost when we are in the big conference surrounded by people many of whom we don't know, and others that we see once or twice a year.

The same danger can be seen in evangelism. Being involved with camps and beach missions can be a great opportunity to learn and serve. Nevertheless we are all aware that living the Christian life in that context is somewhat artificial. It is far more demanding to build good relationships and tell the gospel in the week by week context of church life. By God's design it is the local church that displays the lived out reality of the Gospel. The local church is the place where you see the God of grace at work as people love one another, carry burdens, and forgive each other.

The challenge to do this is there for ministers too. As a friend of mine put it “ministers need to cut it at the local level.” It is easy to pour our energies into wider activities to the neglect of building up, in love and in numbers, the local church.

Involvement in the local church is not “another” option on the spiritual menu for 21st century Christians. To belong to God's people, to be part of God's family, is the high privilege conferred on God's children. Here is the place where God dwells by his Spirit. Here is the place where God assembles us, speaks to us, and sanctifies us. Here is the place where he has given gifts. Here is where we are to serve him, serve one another, and display the Gospel. It is time to put consumerism back on the shelf.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jonah and Christ

"E. J. Young recognized years ago that the main message of Jonah is focused on Christ:
The fundamental purpose of the book of Jonah is not found in its missionary or universalistic teaching. It is rather to show that Jonah being cast into the depths of Sheol and yet brought up alive is an illustration of the death of the Messiah for sins not his own and of the Messiah's resurrection.
Jonah, first and foremost, plain and simple, has the most important message for the Christian church today: Christ, the risen One who is greater than Jonah, brings salvation through judgment and mercy to his people, those inside and outside of Israel who call on his name. What is foreshadowed and illustrated in Jonah becomes reality in Christ."

Bryan D. Estelle, Salvation Through Judgment and Mercy: The Gospel According to Jonah, p. 2-3

Monday, September 15, 2008

Salvation is of the Lord

"...the doctrine of monergistic regeneration--or as it was phrased by the older theologians, of 'irresistible grace' or 'effectual calling'--is the hinge of the Calvinistic soteriology, and lies much more deeply embedded in the system than the doctrine of predestination itself which is popularly looked upon as its hallmark.

There is accordingly nothing against which Calvinism sets its face with more firmness than every form and degree of autosoterism. Above everything else, it is determined that God, in his Son Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, shall be recognized as our veritable Saviour.

To it sinful man stands in need not of inducements or assistance to save himself, bit of actual saving; and Jesus Christ has come not to advise, or urge, or induce, or aid him to save himself, but to save him. This is the root of the Calvinistic soteriology.

He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate indeed if he gave not the glory of salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God."
B. B. Warfield, "Calvinism" in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield volume 5: Calvin and Calvinism, p. 359-60

Preaching a great and gracious God

Then Job replied to the LORD :
"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted...My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1, 5-6)
"No wonder Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century New England theologian and preacher so mightily used by God, wrote that he found the most gracious work of God was generally performed when he was preaching on the sovereign Lord.

When God is seen and sensed as the living Lord he really is, then the groundwork is laid in our lives for true spiritual restoration."

Sinclair Ferguson, Man Overboard! The Story of Job, p. 52

Friday, September 12, 2008

Gifts and Grace: Great pastoral counsel for preachers

From John Newton:
"Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.

The minister may be assisted in public for the sake of his hearers; and there is something in the nature of our public work, when surrounded by a concourse of people, that is suited to draw forth the exertion of our abilities, and to engage our attention in outward services, when the frame of the heart may be far from right in the sight of the Lord."
Quoted in Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah, p. 30

Preachers and their reputations

"When I watch the working of my own heart...this is what I am compelled to write:

I am Jonah. In the matter of my own reputation as a preacher that is. For I used to say, Let me die first before I am eclipsed by another in my pulpit and among my people.

I fought with a Jonah-like fierceness against the remotest thought of my reputation ever passing over, in my day at any rate, to another."

Alexander Whyte

Quoted in Sinclair B. Ferguson, Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah, p. 27

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seeing our sin and seeing the Saviour

Some extracts from a letter that Robert Murray M'Cheyne wrote to a "soul seeking Jesus.
If you did not know your body was dangerously ill, you would never have sent for your physician; and so you will never go to Christ, the heavenly Physician, unless you feel that your soul is sick unto death. Oh, pray for deep discoveries or your real state by nature and practice!

Pray to see yourself exactly as God sees you; pray to know the worth of your soul. Have you seen yourself vile, as Job saw himself? (Job xi. 3, 5, xiii. 5, 6); undone, as Isaiah saw himself? (Isa vi. 1, 5). Have you experienced anything like Ps. li.?

Perhaps you will ask, Why do you wish me to have such a discovery of my lost condition? I answer, that you may never look into your poor guilty soul to recommend you to God; and that you may joyfully accept of the Lord Jesus Christ, who obeyed and died for sinners.

You will never stand righteous before God in yourself. You are welcome this day to stand righteous before God in Jesus.

Vintage M'Cheyne

"Pray for me, that I may be made holier and wiser--less like myself, and more like my Heavenly Master."

"It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God."

So wrote Robert Murray M'Cheyne (1813-1843), minister of St. Peter's, Dundee. It is a long time since I have picked up Andrew Bonar's deeply affectionate Memoir of M'Cheyne's life. It is a work full of impressive insistence on godliness and grace. Spurgeon said that "This is one of the best and most profitable volumes ever published...The memoir of such a man ought surely to be in the hands of every Christian and certainly every preacher of the Gospel."

Here's a thought provoking comment from his diary:

"We may be too engrossed with the shell even of heavenly things."

How true that is, even for ministers of the Word.

In an age of surface, superficial, spirituality Bonar's account of M'Cheyne offers a way to find a deeper, greater, more self-effacing godliness of character founded upon the experiential reality of the gospel of free grace in Christ.

Bonar wrote of young M'Cheyne's journey toward the truth of the gospel:
...it was the reading of The Sum of Saving Knowledge, generally appended to our Confession of Faith, that brought him to a clear understanding of the way of acceptance with God...I find him some years afterwards recording: "March 11, 1834.--Read in the Sum of Saving Knowledge, the work which I think first of all wrought a saving change in me."

It will be observed that he never reckoned his soul saved, notwithstanding all his convictions and views of sin, until he really went into the Holiest of all on the warrant of the Redeemer's work; for assuredly a sinner is still under wrath, until he has actually availed himself of the way to the Father opened up by Jesus. All his knowledge of his sinfulness, and all his sad feeling of his own need and danger, cannot place him one step farther off from the lake of fire. It is "he that comes to Christ" that is saved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Major New Series: Classic Reformed Theology

Scott Clark gives us the heads up on a new series of texts being produced by Reformation Heritage Books. The series is called Classic Reformed Theology and the first volume is a series of sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism by William Ames. The series will provide critical English editions of key texts from the vitally important era of Reformed orthodoxy.

Richard Muller says of this series:
"This is an important project that promises to make available in good editions and translations a series of eminent works of Reformed theology from the era of orthodoxy. These volumes will offer students of the Reformed tradition an invaluable resource and will hopefully stimulate interest in the highly refined and carefully defined thought of an era that was formative of the Reformed faith and that assured its intellectual and spiritual vitality for later generations."
You can have a look at the book here. It will be available, appropriately, on 31st October.

The introduction to the series, by Scott Clark, is available here.

Here is Scott on the importance of this series:
"We call this series Classic Reformed Theology because, by definition, a period is classical when it defines an approach to a discipline. During the period of Protestant orthodoxy, Reformed theology reached its highest degree of definition and precision. It was in this period when the most important Reformed confessions were formed, and when the Reformed churches took the form they have today.

There are at least three reasons why classic Reformed theology ought to be studied and thus why this series of critical English translations should exist. First, Reformed orthodoxy forms the intellectual background of modern theology. Second, Reformed orthodoxy merits attention by those who identify with the Reformed confessions because it is their heritage and thus shapes their theology, piety, and practice. Third, contemporary scholarship has shown that it must be regarded as a vital intellectual and spiritual movement, and thus an important subject for continued study."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The wrong kind of peace

One day just before the meeting of the General Assembly Mrs. Stevenson, the wife of the seminary president, met B. B. Warfield on the street and said,

"Dr. Warfield, I hear there is going to be trouble at the Assembly. Do let us pray for peace."

"I am praying," replied Warfield, "that if they do not do what is right, there may be a mighty battle."

From Calhoun, Princeton Seminary Volume 2, p. 347

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Doctrine matters: If you tolerate this then your children will be next

Sadly the idea that doctrine is somehow bad, unhelpful, the cause of pride, an evangelistic impediment, not necessary for spiritual growth, divisive etc. etc. has more traction and plausibility than is warranted. Of course people who downplay doctrine are not really anti-doctrine at all, just anti a particular form of doctrine that they don't like (like God's sovereignty, or penal substitution).

If all that was at stake here was the matter of correctness the situation would not be so dire. But when people deliberately set out to diminish the importance of sound doctrine, and encourage others to do the same, they are a clear present danger to the Church. And they are acutely shortsighted.

The following words from David Calhoun (Princeton Seminary Volume 2, p. 398) should not only be read careful but weighed:
"When the Presbyterian church rejected the Old Princeton message and chose institutional unity above doctrinal integrity, it undermined not only its own history but also its witness.

Opening the doors to the influences of a secularizing society, it became more and more difficult for the church to sustain its Christianity and to pass it on to the following generations. Most of the baby boomers surveyed in a recent study of Presbyterians who have left the church said they knew little about what their parents believed--a finding that led the authors to conclude that in passing on their faith to the next generation, parents have to teach their children about doctrine.

A second conclusion from the study was that children of the church were more likely to maintain their Christian identity if they were taught that Christianity is the only way of salvation.

In the words of the sociologists themselves, "the single best predictor of church participation turned out to be belief--orthodox Christian belief, especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ."
That conclusion should make large segments of evangelicalism, and other contemporary movements, think again.

Old Princeton vs. Yale

A. A. Hodge once said to a Yale teacher who was making fun of the "fossilized" theology of Princeton: "The trouble with you Yale theological professors is that you only teach your students to think...In Princeton we let God do the thinking and teach the students to believe."

From David Calhoun's wonderful book Princeton Seminary Volume 2: The Majestic Testimony, 1869-1929, p. 408-9

Losing Patience

Pastoral ministry in an age of remarkable technological advance brings significant blessings and challenges. One of the challenges is to be aware of just how much technology is able to reshape our internal world and to reconfigure our expectations.

Ministering in the midst of so much human efficiency carries with it the temptation to think that God's work can be similarly managed, controlled, manipulated and predicted. Of course this has been clearly with us since Finney, perhaps even before that. This mindset of utilizing "new measures" to achieve certain results went hand in glove with a theology of grace that Pelagius would have been proud of.

Could it be that those who embrace the theology of Augustine, and Calvin, when it comes to divine sovereignty in salvation are immune from this approach? I know that it is counter-intuitive to think that Calvinists forget their Calvinism as they engage in ministry, but the pressure remains to place too much weight on what we are able to achieve at a pace that we can direct.

I'm not arguing for passivity, or the neglect of strategic thinking and the responsible use of people and resources. I am asking whether the technological atmosphere in which we live, move, and have our being, plays at times an unhealthy role in shaping our expectations and norms. All of which seems a far cry from the atmosphere of 2 Timothy.

God's work is not amenable to our timescales. Paul calls Timothy to exercise patience as he corrects false teachers (2:24, knowing that they need God-given repentance), and to follow his example of patience in ministry (3:10). Timothy's ministry is to have the hallmark of complete patience in teaching (4:2). The very image of the hard working farmer itself encourages a long term perspective on Word ministry (2:6).

So for Paul these things go hand in hand. Timothy must be committed to the Scriptures, which means accepting their authority and grounding his ministry in their teaching and application (3:14-17). As he does so he is to take his cue from them as he navigates the shifting positions of his listeners and the wider theological scene (4:1-5). He is not to be overwhelmed if at times it appears that he is preaching "out of season." Paul has called him to stay always on the apostolic track, which has given him a pattern for what to teach and how to live (3:10-12).

This perspective, the deliberate cultivation of patience in the work, is always to be offset against the temptation that we have to think that God's work can be micro-managed by us with immediate success.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Michael Haykin reviews Brian McLaren's "Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices"

You can find it here at the Andrew Fuller centre. Well worth a read. Here's the blurb:
"The first review is Dr. Haykin’s review article on Brian McLaren’s Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices which appears in the current issue (Summer 2008) of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. As you will be able to tell if you take the time to read the article, it is not a recommendation of McLaren’s use of “Ancient” church history. Instead, you will find a devastating critique of the whole emergent co-opting of the practices of the ancient church by a historical scholar trained in the field of Patristics.

Don’t miss this review, and continue to check back periodically as more reviews will be added every one or two weeks. Future reviews will generally be recommendatory of various works on Baptist history in particular, or church history in general."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Christ the Center Interview: The Emerging Church and Cultural Captivity

The guys at Christ the Center recently invited me to join them on their podcast. The discussion mainly takes up my contribution to the forthcoming book Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church but we also get to discuss the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The link is here. I'm the one without an American accent, you know being a Welshman and all that.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Always a delight when new books arrive

Slightly earlier than expected John Fesko's Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine arrived. I've spent a good bit of time in the last few years reading books on justification and this one looks grand. Here's what Mike Horton has to say about it:
"This book is destined to become a standard work for all those who want a deeper understanding of this crucial doctrine. In addition to providing sound exegesis of relevant passages, Fesko is sensitive to important nuances in historical theology and contemporary discussions."
I have also gotten hold of Dennis Johnson's Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ From All The Scriptures. So far this book has been very profitable reading, more on this in future posts.

And if that were not enough Ben Witherington's Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians volume 1 also arrived. That's to help my reflections on 2 Timothy which I will be preaching through on Sunday evenings.

I've also been helped in preparation by listening to Sinclair Ferguson on 2 Timothy. I listen to some preachers and think "I wish I could preach like that." I listen to Sinclair and think "I wish I could be a Christian like that, I wish I knew God like that man does." There is a big difference between the two.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A strange encouragement

I have often wondered why Paul refers to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:6-9. Here is the text:
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all,as was that of those two men.
This reference has a strange encouragement for Timothy. In the battle of the gods recorded in Exodus, Pharaoh's sorcerers matched Moses and Aaron on points for a few rounds. Eventually, however, they were outclassed and forced to concede that the finger of God was at work (Exod. 8:19).

It seems that this reference is part of Paul's pastoral counsel to Timothy. In the long run, as with Pharaoh's court magicians, the false teachers will be exposed as bogus. So don't be intimidated by them, neither by their claims or their results. It is a show, a pretense, the appearance of godliness but not the power (2 Tim. 3:5). And no wonder. These men have cut themselves off from the ministry of the Holy Spirit. They oppose the truth (3:8; cf. 2:17-18, 4:15).

Timothy, on the other hand, must fan into flame the gift of God (1:6-7) and by the Holy Spirit "guard the good deposit," the apostolic gospel, that has been entrusted to him.

The battle for truth and error in ministry must be entered into with a long term view. The truth will endure and triumph. There is no need to panic and no need to be intimidated.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Reforming or Conforming? Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church

Details are available at the WTS Bookstore. Here are some endorsements:

"Reforming or Conforming is a serious feast of reflection on theology and ministry, and it offers the reader a rigorous wrestling with some of the issues and problems that arise from trying to derive a doctrine of the church out of the potent cocktail of postmodernism.

These essays touch on some of the major flashpoints in the current conversation about what the church needs to be, think, desire, and do if it is going to be effective in engaging our culture. These authors (some of whom are among the brightest of a young generation of faithful, conservative, classical evangelicals, and some who are already numbered among our tried and trusted scholars), frankly, view the so-called post-conservative and emergent solutions to our present dilemma as dead ends. But they tell you why, with clarity, persuasiveness, and humor.

All of these writers believe that the very first thing the church needs in our time is a doctrine of the church and theology of ministry that is based on the Bible rather than the mood of the moment. If you are skeptical of these neologies being pushed ubiquitously in the churches of "what's happening now" then this book will provide substance to confirm your hunches and to help your understand why the ground is moving under your feet.

If you are tugged in the direction of a rethinking of the church in light of emergent critique of evangelicalism, then you need to reckon with the rejoinder provided in these essays."

- Ligon Duncan, Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi, President, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

"Though there is nothing new under the sun, this book is most timely. When so many in the pews are asking questions about the emergent church, great is the need of thoughtful and courageous theological analysis.

These distinguished authors recognize the importance of the ECM's emphasis on mission. They nevertheless warn that the radical, cutting edge represents the latest form of liberal compromise with fallen culture. They point out that in cutting the heart (the cross) out of the gospel, as all forms of liberalism in the past have done, these modern false prophets, if unchecked, will lead many unsuspecting and theologically unprepared evangelicals into serious and soul-destroying heresy."

- Peter Jones, Director, truthXchange, Scholar-in-Residence and Adjunct Professor, Westminster Seminary California