18 December 2014

Against All Intuition

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. (1 Sam 2:4)

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (Prov 11:24)

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Prov 29:23)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. (Isa 40:29)

Thus says the Lord GOD: Remove the turban and take off the crown. Things shall not remain as they are. Exalt that which is low, and bring low that which is exalted. (Ezek 21:26)

So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matt 20:16)

Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained it--the righteousness that is by faith. (Rom 9:30)

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:10)

15 December 2014

Sharing Christ with Nominal Family Members

Lovely counsel here from our brother Chris Castaldo, via the Billy Graham Center. 

03 December 2014

Reflections on Christian Publishing

I've only been in the industry four years, but I continue to ponder what Christian publishing is.

Here are a few reflections I jotted down this week. 

1. We live in an age of blushing abundance of biblical and theological and churchly resources. Jonathan Edwards died with 300 books in his personal library; most of us surpassed that by the time we finished school. Not only in print but also, now, digitally, for a modest price, or often for free, I can learn about any point of doctrine or any passage of the Bible or any ethical issue or any point of church history or any theological development easily and promptly.

2. This embarrassment of riches is both a great boon and a great challenge. It is a great boon because biblical and theological ignorance is now only a choice, not a necessity. Anyone can become an expert on anything—they need not travel to Rome or become a monk; all they have to do is get off Facebook and put down the remote. It is a great challenge because the richest are often the poorest: the millionaire lives off junk food and dies early, the pro athlete succumbs to substance abuse due to its sudden pervasive availability and torpedoes his career prematurely, the everyday Christian is overwhelmed at Barnes and Noble and stops reading anything at all, the budding scholar is paralyzed by the mass of secondary literature and retreats into hyper-specialization.

3. What is the calling of Christian publishers in this golden age of publishing? (By "Christian publishers" I have in mind, quite generally, publishing companies in North America and around the world, whether for-profit or non-profit, that are not only operated by regenerate believers but also seek to publish resources that promote Christian faith as defined, at the very least, by Nicea and other early Christian creeds.) The calling of Christian publishers at the present time is to be a steward—that is, neither to wipe our hands off and close up shop because there’s already so much out there, on the one hand, nor to get caught up in frantically pumping out more resources just for the sake of activity, on the other. Instead we are to wisely discern what is most needed and publish it in a beautiful way.

4. But what is most needed? Here is where different Christian publishers begin to diverge. Seems to me that what is most needed is that which will do the greatest good. And the greatest good in this miserable, exhausted world is Jesus Christ, the Friend of Sinners, and the good news of his reconciling work, through which the soul is delivered and sanity restored and peace descends and the entire created order is guaranteed eventual restoration. So what is most needed in Christian publishing is resources that give us that good news, not resources that dance around the periphery.

5. But this gospel, as Kuyper and Schaeffer and others have taught us so well, while about a very specific thing, speaks to everything. How I write an email is informed by the gospel. How I treat my kids, what I do with my money, how I handle my body, everything. Our entire lives are now under the lordship of Christ, and the entire created order will one day be restored to Eden 2.0. Conclusion: Christian publishing appropriately centers on the gospel, but produces resources on everything, from art to technology to physical disability to mathematics to sports. The gospel is the sun of a Christian publisher’s solar system—the blazing center, but also shedding light on all else. For us at Crossway that means publishing the Bible (the book that gives us the gospel in God's own words) and a host of solid books and other resources grounded in the Bible (books that communicate the gospel in various authors' words).

6. To come at things from a different angle: Christian publishing is doing a very specific thing: communicating heaven-sent truth. It is a truth industry. We are merchants with a ware, and this ware is not cell phones, or silverware, or paper, or contact lenses, or tractors, or vacations, or software, or shoes, but truth. Publishing is not even competing with preaching. Preachers are called to shepherd a specific congregation, to herald the gospel in the weekly event of pulpit proclamation. Christian publishers come alongside the local church and flood the believing community, both clergy and laity, with help in understanding truth. Christian publishing exists to take our perplexing, opaque lives and map those lives onto solid truth, making the opaque clear. It exists to enable sinners to make sense out of their lives; to bring truth to a truth-starved world, preeminently with the gospel and then to a thousand gospel-informed elements of life.

7. From yet another angle: God created language. In the beginning, God spoke. Then he made us in his image, as speaking creatures. Then Christ came as the Word. Language is built in to this universe; language is at the very heart of the meaning of the universe. And of humanity: we are word-creatures. Christian publishing exists because of this. We seek to supply small, boxy objects called books that give people coherent, organized words that help them coherently organize their world, around the Bible’s revelation of truth, and supremely around Christ.

8. Christian publishing, to be healthy, requires two things: healthy publishers and healthy authors. What is a healthy publisher? A publisher who functions essentially not out of desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian publishing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. What is a healthy author? An author who functions essentially not out of a desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian writing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. When an author driven by love partners with a publisher driven by love, that project will have the kiss of God upon it. Christian publishing is an act of love.

9. Christian publishers and authors must hold justification by faith alone before their eyes in all their work. Publishers must remember they are justified not by number of employees or high-profile authors or respect among literary agents or visibility at conferences or annual net sales. They are justified by Christ alone through faith alone. Their okayness, their "matter-ing," is entirely alien to them. And authors must remember they are not justified by copies sold or glowing endorsements or rave reviews or big advances, but Christ alone. They too draw their total (total) significance from heaven, not earth.

10. Just as with every human endeavor to lift up Christ and spread truth, so in faithful Christian publishing, Satan hates it. He will do what he can to mute our efforts. In the early church, Satan tried to stop the gospel first by inflation (an appeal to pride, Acts 3), then by persecution (the Jewish authorities, Acts 4), then by corruption (Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5), then by distraction (squabbling widows, Acts 6). So too in Christian publishing, Satan would be delighted to inflate us when our books sell well, persecute us when we take a stand against (say) same-sex unions, corrupt us through immoral employees, or distract us by taking our eyes off the mission at hand. So one goal of Christian publishers, among others, is to infuriate Satan by publishing humbly, perseveringly, purely, and single-mindedly.

21 October 2014

God's Work Begins When Ours Ends

Jack Miller, writing in 1987 to a fellow pastor under criticism--
God's work begins when ours comes to its end.

Sometimes His presence is not felt with power through our methods however useful they may be, especially when we are confident we have the right approach and insights. God has a way of wanting to be God and refusing to get too involved where we have our own wisdom and strength. Then when we run out of wisdom and strength, He is suddenly present, a lesson I find myself relearning practically every day that I am in my right mind. (On my crazy days I am not ready to learn much!)

I think He wants our confidence to be exclusively in Him, and when we lose our self-confidence then He moves in to show what He can do. Perhaps self-dependence--and forgetting the strength to be found in Christ-dependence--is always our biggest blind spot. There is also presumption and pride that go with self-reliance.

So let's not lose our trust in God and the power of His gospel and the spirit of praise which goes with its proclamation (Rom 15:13; 1 Cor 1:18, 22-25; Gal 6:14).
--Barbara Miller Juliani, ed., The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 200-201

20 October 2014

Confession, Freedom

HT: Sean Brown

17 October 2014

How Does the Holy Spirit Actually Produce Change in Us?

A rich and wise answer from Abraham Kuyper:
Dwelling in the elect, the Spirit does not slumber, nor does He keep an eternal Sabbath, in idleness shutting Himself up in their hearts; but as divine Worker He seeks from within to fill their individual persons, pouring the stream of His divine brightness through every space.

But we should not imagine that every believer is instantly filled and permeated. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit finds him filled with all manner of evil and treachery. . . . His method of procedure is not with divine power to force a man as though he were a stock or block, but by the power of love and compassion so to influence and energize the impulses of the feeble will that it feels the effect, is inclined, and finally consents to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .

This operation is different in each person. In one it proceeds with marvelous rapidity; in another, progress is exceedingly slow, being checked by serious reaction which in some rare cases is overcome only with the last breath. There are scarcely two men in whom this gracious operation is completely the same.

It may not be denied that the Holy Spirit often meets serious opposition on the part of the saint. . . . And the Holy Spirit bears all this resistance with infinite pity, and overcomes it and casts it out with eternal mercy.

Who that is not a stranger to his own heart does not remember how many years it took before he would yield a certain point of resistance; how he always avoided facing it; restlessly opposed it, at last thought to end the matter by arranging for a sort of modus vivendi between himself and the Holy Spirit? But the Holy Spirit did not cease, gave him no rest; again and again that familiar knock was heard, the calling in his heart of that familiar voice. And after years of resistance he could not but yield in the end.
--Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (trans. Henri De Vries; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 529–30

HT: Steve Porter

13 October 2014

The Fury of the Theologians

On April 17, 1560, Philip Melanchthon was two days away from death. He asked friends of his to take him into his study. He could not walk, but was placed in a bed in his study. There he silently looked around at his books.

He asked those gathered around for a piece of paper to be brought to him. With trembling hand he wrote on it the reasons why he was glad to die. On one side he wrote:
You shall be done with sin.
You shall be free from trouble and vexations and from the fury of the theologians.
On the other side he wrote:
You shall come into the light.
You shall see God.
You shall behold the Son of God.
You shall learn the secret mysteries which in this life you cannot understand--why we are created as we are, and what is the character of the union of the two natures of Christ.
HT: Dr. David Calhoun

09 October 2014

Man or Rabbit?

"Christianity will do you good--a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won't enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called 'good'--all that about 'leading a decent life' and 'being kind'--isn't quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can't be 'good' (not for 24 hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn't have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of your life. You were made for something quite different than that. . . . Confucius simply didn't know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a decent life without Christ, don't know what life is about. . . .

"Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear--the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy."

--C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002; repr.), 112