22 July 2014

Why Would We Be 'Ashamed of the Gospel'? (Rom. 1:16)

Bishop Handley Moule's answer:
What is there about this revelation of the heart of Eternal Love, this record of a Life equally divine and human, of a Death as majestic as it is infinitely pathetic, and then of a Resurrection out of death, to occasion shame?

For our part we believe the solution lies near the words sin, pardon, self-surrender.
The Gospel reveals the eternal Love, but under conditions which remind man that he has done his worst to forfeit it. It tells him of a peace and strength sublime and heavenly; but it asks him, in order to receive them, to kneel down in the dust and take them, unmerited, for nothing. . . .

Such views are deeply repellent to the soul that has not yet seen itself and God in the light of truth. Well then did Paul remember his old hatred and contempt when he presented Christ at Rome--imperial, overwhelming Rome. But then he looked again from them to Jesus Christ, and the temptation was beneath his feet, and the Gospel, everywhere, was upon his lips. 
--H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle to the Romans (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1894), 36-37

12 July 2014

Filled the Enemy with Madness

Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan descend upon the Orcs at the end of the battle of Helm's Deep--
Down leaped Shadowfax, like a deer that runs surefooted in the mountains. The White Rider was upon them, and the terror of his coming filled the enemy with madness. The wild men fell on their faces before him. The Orcs reeled and screamed and cast aside both sword and spear. Like a black smoke driven by a mounting wind they fled. Wailing they passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.
--J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, p. 529

06 July 2014

Four Years In

Four years ago today I started working at Crossway. So, four reasons I love this place.

1. A single-minded mission. Crossway exists for one purpose: to get the gospel out to the world through theologically responsible books and Bibles. That's why the back of my business card says "gospel-centered publishing." This mission is shared by all departments across the company and creates a wonderful dynamic and shared enthusiasm. As a company we exist for a reason that will matter forever.

2. My colleagues. What a remarkable group of human beings. I'm an introvert, but I love bobbing down the hall to chat with my colleagues. God has given us an amazing team of gifted men and women, so different in our temperaments and wiring, so united in what we are trying to do in the world through our work together. Under God, it is due to the president, Lane Dennis, and his wise leadership, along with a godly and shrewd board of directors.

3. Our history. The company was started on a $20 tithe by Clyde Dennis, Lane's father. Good News did tracts for forty years, then began books in the late 1970s, then the Bible in 2001. It's a nonprofit to this day. Key influencers along the way have been Francis Schaeffer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and J. I. Packer. All along, leadership has demonstrated a deliberate trust in the Lord and counting on him to carry forward the ministry to get the gospel out to the world. For all these reasons, I cherish our history.

4. Content-first publishing. If we don't make money, we shrink and eventually disappear. And of course we want to sell widely: if we really believe our books and Bibles will help people, the greater the sales the better. But we say no to book and Bible projects that might sell widely but compromise our doctrinal standards, and yes to projects that make an important contribution to the kingdom and the church even if we anticipate modest sales. I love that. Truth trumps the bottom line. Because of #1 above.

02 July 2014

Real Church

Confess your sins to one another . . . that you may be healed. -James 5:16

There's a strange idea I’m unlearning these days. Actually if I'm honest, I'm not yet unlearning it at all. But I'd like to. I need to. 

The strange idea is: church is for displaying the best about us, not revealing the worst about us.

The result is: burdened, burned out, suffocating Christians and church leaders.

We’ve all heard the stats about how pastors are leaving the ministry in droves, and how all the rest would like to but don’t have a medical or law or business degree to fall back on. Is it because they feel unable to exhale the carbon dioxide of their failures and inhale the oxygen of grace? Are we letting our leaders be human beings?

And church members. How many actually enjoy small group? Honestly—how many go not out of a sense of duty?

Someone gets wonderfully converted and we all rejoice, then promptly saddle them with spiritual disciplines to help them "grow." They’re not Christians two weeks before they feel like worse failures than they ever did as an unbeliever. Maybe they were dealing crack before conversion, but at least they didn’t feel hypocritical about it.

What if we let a new convert breathe in some grace for a while? Until--I don't know--they die?

What if the leaders in a church stepped off the cliff of face-saving into the mile-long freefall of humiliating honesty and found themselves floating into the delicious clouds of actual, real, for-sinners, grace

What if church discipline was used not to scare sinners but to kick out those who make sinners feel alienated, from God and from others?

It is terrifying to confess sin. But so is going into surgery. Surely the life that follows surgery is better than the misery of living diseased?

It feels like death to take the mask off. Not just pain, not merely embarrassment. Death. We feel as if we are shutting down in a profound, existential way. But perhaps it is just here that the odd theme running all through the New Testament about life through death will suddenly move from mental assent to felt experience.

James tells us to confess our sins to one another that we may be healed. I can stuff my sins inside and let the sickness fester; or I can confess, and be healed. Those are my two options. That's the opposite of how reality feels. Stuffing it in feels healthy, feels like survival. One more reason we need the Bible to correct our natural intuitions about human health.

Maybe revival is just another name for corporate relaxing. Calming down. Letting our guard down. Taking off the clothes of pretense because we're clothed in Jesus' righteousness. If we say we rejoice in the gospel but cannot get honest about how we're really doing with other Christians (not everyone, but a trusted few), the diagnosis is not that we need to add something horizontal to our vertical belief. The diagnosis is that we don't have the vertical belief.

It will need to be wisely chosen friends and counselors. Even then, they may not respond in grace. They may forget their own sin, and withdraw. So this is a risk. But it is the only path of healing. And there is one Friend who will always respond in wisdom and grace, who will never withdraw.

Anyhow, something I'd like to move into more deeply in days ahead, as I consider my own disbelief and strange reluctance to calm down into honesty.

The Silence of God


30 June 2014

Knowing the Bible: Year 2

It's been a lot of fun to steer along the Knowing the Bible series for Crossway. This summer 6 more volumes are added to the 6 that were released last summer, with another 8 already submitted for release next summer and another 8 under contract for the summer after that. We intend to complete the whole Bible in six years.

Here's one more video intro, from Kathleen Nielson, to orient you to one of the newer volumes. The two dashing chaps below are editing the series (think Gandalf and Sam).




09 June 2014

What is the Bible?

Here's about the best summary I've read, from the introductory matter in the Bibles created by our friends The Gideons:
The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here Paradise is restored, Heaven opened and the gates of Hell disclosed.
Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.
It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever.
It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

05 June 2014

Do You Want a Beautiful Wife?

Tim Savage of Camelback Bible Church in Phoenix has some of the best teaching on Christian marriage I've come across. Here are some posts, each one quite brief.

A sample:
Many men say they want beautiful wives.

Few men understand how much the beauty of a wife depends upon her husband.

Worry, criticism, ‘helpful’ critique – all of these things tear down a wife. After a few years of nothing but fault-finding from her husband, she begins to show the signs of weariness, like a public building.

But welcoming love and encouragement builds up a wife. Pretty soon, she looks like an opulent palace.

Several years ago, I had a friend who was getting ready to marry a woman who had a bit of a checkered past. Her personality was, to be honest, abrasive. She was cantankerous and strong-willed, and I could not imagine how my very good friend thought they were suitable for a life-long partnership.

As they were courting each other, I worked up the courage to tell him about my concerns. He listened respectfully, and then responded with four simple words: ‘But I love her.’

At the time, I dismissed it as sentimental drivel. I wondered why he was so blinded by emotion that he couldn’t take my concerns seriously.

But over the years, those words – ‘But I love her’ – have been translated into a remarkable work of glory. In later years, when I met the happily married couple again, I noticed a wife whose character was still strong, but also full of gentleness and kindness. A bit of heaven itself appeared on her face.

How did it happen? Clearly, she had been transformed by the daily gift of her husband’s love.

When a husband loves his wife, as Christ loves the church, she becomes a beautiful creature. She is cleansed, by the washing of water with the word. She becomes spotless, holy and blameless without blemish. She comes to her husband in splendor. (Ephesians 5:26-27)

Men have been talking for centuries about changing society for the better. They’ve poured a vast amount of energy and countless time into the endeavor. The result: an explosion of technology, but little improvement in the level of happiness in our lives. If only husbands would pour that amount of energy and time into their wives! Society would be transformed overnight – as marriages were transformed by the power of God into an image of divine beauty.
HT: Wade Urig

04 June 2014

Disposes of the Whole Thing

When God pardons, he does not say he understands our weakness or makes allowances for our errors; rather he disposes of, he finishes with, the whole of our dead life and raises us up with a new one.

He does not so much deal with our derelictions as he does drop them down the black hole of Jesus' death. He forgets our sins in the darkness of the tomb. He remembers our iniquities no more in the oblivion of Jesus' expiration.
He finds us, in short, in the desert of death, not in the garden of improvement; and in the power of Jesus' resurrection, he puts us on his shoulders rejoicing and brings us home. 
--Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom,  Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2002), 188

02 June 2014

Why I Love Covenant Seminary

This pretty much sums it up. Seminary should feel more like the Shire than Mordor.


31 May 2014

Amazing What Human Beings Are Able to Create

A bit from the Batman musical score, by Hans Zimmer.


30 May 2014

Where the Gospel Takes Us

Thank you, Tullian. I have affection for you, across the miles.

29 May 2014

Theology for Life

Thrilling to see the new theological education web platform uniontheology.org, which has just launched and is being overseen by our brother Mike Reeves of WEST. Get to know Mike a bit through this 9Marks interview, back when he was head of theology at UCCF.

I had the privilege of contributing to the new platform a short piece on Jonathan Edwards' view of sanctification. Though I was invited to do it last year, in rereading it I was struck by how relevant the essay is for current confusion and discussions about how Christians grow. I hope it helps people. We have so, so much to learn from Edwards and the great saints who have gone before. How impoverishing to neglect church history. 

A fuller enjoyment of Edwards' theology of Christian living will be released in August by my favorite publisher (who also very kindly provides my paychecks). More on that later. I mention it now to say that if you find help in the essay you may want to consider ordering the book and thereby supporting said publisher!

Here is a compelling articulation from Mike on the need and vision for Union.

15 May 2014

Remember Your Leaders

Francis Schaeffer died thirty years ago today. If you are an evangelical Christian born after he died, you may know nothing about him, maybe never even heard of him. But you owe him far more than you know.

For me, I know of no other modern leader in whom was so beautifully manifest the blend of thinking faith and real-time dependence on the Holy Spirit.

14 May 2014

Grumpiness

Maybe you don't vent--you just stew. A leaking, low-level irritability is a great temptation on a journey of love. You feel you have the right to be moody--you've earned it. It is a way of exacting emotional payment from a disappointing life. Grumpiness provides momentary relief, but it always involves a splitting of the self. I commit outwardly, with my hands, but not with my heart. I go through the motions of love, but anger smolders just below the surface like a simmering rant. . . . The result? I'm split. My will has slipped off the tracks of quiet surrender to the Master, and I'm just going through the motions. Life ceases to be fun. If left unchecked, my inner moodiness begins to distort my heart, and I can slip into cynicism, which begins a downward trajectory into bitterness.

Self-pity, compassion turned inward, drives this inward spiral. Instead of reflecting on the wounds of Christ, I nurse my own wounds. . . . But self-pity is just another form of self-righteousness, and like all self-righteousness it isolates and elevates. . . .

The cure for a cranky soul begins by repenting, by realizing that my moodiness is a demand that my life have a certain shape. Surrendering to the life that my Father has given me always puts me under the shelter of his wings. That leaves me whole again, and surprisingly cheerful. 
--Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships (Crossway, 2014), 109-10

28 April 2014

Hierarchy is Edenic

Lewis:
I do not think that equality is one of those things (like wisdom or happiness) which are good simply in themselves and for their own sakes. I think it is in the same class as medicine, which is good because we are ill, or clothes which are good because we are no longer innocent. I don't think the old authority in kings, priests, husbands, or fathers, and the old obedience in subjects, laymen, wives, and sons, was in itself a degrading or evil thing at all. I think it was intrinsically as good and beautiful as the nakedness of Adam and Eve. . . .

The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other, the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow, is a prosaic barbarian. . . .

Under the necessary outer covering of legal equality, the whole hierarchical dance and harmony of our deep and joyously accepted spiritual inequalities should be alive.
--C. S. Lewis, "Equality," in Present Concerns (London: Fount, 1986), 17-19

24 April 2014

Clean Power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
I remember a woman who was a spiritist, and even a medium, a paid medium employed by a spiritist society. She used to go every Sunday evening to a spiritist meeting and was paid three guineas for acting as a medium. This was during the thirties, and that was quite a large sum of money for a lower-middle-class woman.

She was ill one Sunday and could not go to keep her appointment. She was sitting in her house, and she saw people passing by on their way to the church where I happened to be ministering in South Wales. Something made her feel a desire to know what those people had, and so she decided to go to the service, and did so. She came ever afterward until she died and had become a very fine Christian.

One day I asked her what she had felt on that first visit, and this is what she said to me. She said, “The moment I entered your chapel and sat down on a seat among the people, I was conscious of a power. I was conscious of the same sort of power as I was accustomed to in our spiritist meetings, but there was one big difference. I had a feeling that the power in your chapel was a clean power.” 
--Elizabeth Catherwood and Christopher Catherwood, eds., The Christ-Centered Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Classic Sermons for the Church Today (Crossway, 2014), 34