January 2016 Books read

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Mark A. Knoll (begun in 2015)

  • Great premise- all of man’s intellectual endeavors should be centered and motivated by Jesus Christ: the Christ presented in Scripture and the great ecumenical creeds.
  • Some poor execution- the church is absent. To be intellectually acceptable you must jettison young-earth, creation-science, etc.

 

Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa, Osadolor Imasogie

  • Poor handling of church history.
  • Helpful, if now pretty standard, survey of some of the key components of an African worldview.
  • Confirmed something I have thought about as I have been working in Africa and studying it: the traditional African worldview is, in many respects, close to the medieval European worldview. I need to read more medieval history and theology.
  • A bit redundant, and didn’t devote as much space to the actual guidelines he proposed:
    • Appreciation of the efficacy of Christ’s power over evil forces
    • Emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit and the present mediatory efficacy of the Living Christ
    • Emphasis on the omnipresence of God and the consequent sacramental nature of the universe

 

Preparing for Jesus’ Return: Daily live the Blessed Hope, A.W. Tozer

  • This is the best book on prophecy most people will never read. Evangelicals will not be satisfied due to a lack of commitment to the pretrib rapture. Reformed will look at it and dismiss it as yet another flight of fancy by a delusional dispensationalist.Both would be poorer for their neglect of this title. In A.W. Tozer, Revelation finds just the right kind of interpreter. Someone who believes Revelation speaks to us today because Revelation speaks to us about Christ.

    If you love Christ and love His return, you will love this book. If, on the other hand, you love “prophetic” speculation, you will not.

 

A Reader in African Christian Theology, John Parratt

  • A collection of essays on The Theological Method, Aspects of Doctrine, and The Church and the World considered from an African perspective.
  • Dated, but still helpful in suggesting ways to advance the African church in an African way.
  • Most challenging article was “The Church’s Role in Society,” by Julius Nyerere. A brief summary of poverty along the lines of that offered in When Helping Hurts. How far should the church go in advocating for the disenfranchised?
  • Parratt offers a helpful summary comparing and contrasting some of the main divisions and agreements.

 

Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice, Edward W Klink III and   Darian R. Lockett

  • So what exactly is biblical theology? Well it turns out it depends on who you ask. In a manner of speaking, there is no biblical theology. Only biblical theologies.
    Klink and Lockett helpfully divide the field of biblical theology into five distinct approaches. They summarize each approach then offer an extended summary and interaction with a leading representative of each approach.
    This would be an ideal textbook in an introductory course on biblical theology. Pastors interested in the field would benefit from it as well.
    Understanding Biblical Theology is a helpful resource to map and engage with the various versions of biblical theology.

 

A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament, Alec Motyer

  • An absolute gem of a little book. This book is pregnant with meaning and truth and would be an excellent basis for a course on introducing the Old Testament. Those who have done more extensive study in the O.T. should find it an invaluable aid in teaching others. If I ever have occasion to teach such a course, this will almost certainly be the book I use.
  • I love the question Motyer asks in chapter 3, “…is there such a thing as the Old Testament.” In very important ways, the answer is no. This no answer is taken in directions that I heartily agree and disagree with.
    • In the positive direction, Motyer certainly has the witness of Scripture on his side when he writes, “The Old Testament does not belong– let me say it to you sensitively– does not belong to the Jewish people. The Old Testament is our [Christian’s] book, and the things that happened in the Old testament are our prehistory, yours and mine because we belong to Jesus.” Amen.
    • In the negative direction, this leads to Motyer embracing the standard reformed teaching that God has only made One Covenant with His people. All the covenants in the “Old” and “New” Testaments are just different administrations of this one covenant. (If that sounds like Dispensationalism with the terms switched around a little, well…) Such teaching is thoroughly contradicted by Hebrews…and Jeremiah and Psalms.

Sunday Evening Service: In remembrance and protest.

I grew up as one of those “when the church doors are open…” kids. I can’t really say I remember a lot about Wednesday’s other than playing chess with Russ, but I am pretty sure I was in church nearly every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.

In 2010, I became pastor of a church in rural Indiana about 45 minutes south of Fort Wayne. One of the things that stuck out as strange was the absence of a Sunday evening service. Soon I found out it wasn’t so strange. Hardly any church in a 20-mile radius had an evening service. On Sunday evenings we had youth group; or we just went to one of the strange churches with an evening service; or we just did what we normally did Monday through Saturday: watch PBS.

In August the wife and kids, and even I, moved back to northern Indiana. In the intervening five years, it seems churches in the area caught up with their brethren to the south-east. Most of the churches we have visited do not have a Sunday evening service. We visited one church that had over 200 in the morning service, and less than 20 in the evening service. The pastor of one church said they just liked it better to have family time Sunday nights. I guess if the pastor doesn’t want a Sunday evening service, there isn’t much point in having one.

All that to say, over the past five years I, we, have gotten out of the rhythm of Sunday morning and Sunday evening church.

Last night we set out to go to a church that I thought had an evening service. We got there and it was dark. We went by a couple of other places: dark. My wife reminded me of a church that had an evening service at 7. We had been driving around since 5:40 and we had five kids and a daddy who had not eaten since noon…but we made the trek. From Goshen, to Elkhart, to Goshen, to Wakarusa.

There, on a Sunday night, a missionary couple was speaking. There, on a Sunday night, were almost 200 people gathered to hear a missionary speaking: not bad for a town of less than 2,000. During the testimony and presentation of the missionaries, it hit me: what if tonight was the night? What if tonight was the night the Holy Spirit decided to call out one of my children to salvation or to missionary service? What if tonight was the night he wanted to open one of their heart’s to Christ or Great Commission service?

And we were at home. Reading a book. Surfing the web. Playing Small World. Watching Despicable Me: in Spanish now since we’ve seen it so many times in English.

The Spirit would just work some other time. Would He? “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

In all our evening driving, a question came to mind, “Does our forsaking of the Sunday evening service stand against our culture’s increasing ungodliness or simply mirror it?”

I am familiar with arguments. I know Scripture does not command us to have a Sunday morning and Sunday evening service. I will do you one better and acknowledge that Scripture does not even command we have a Sunday morning or Sunday evening service. The Word of God has given us freedom on when we meet, but how have we used it? We have forsaken a tradition of meeting together. Hebrews commands us to meet together “all the more’’ as we see the Day of Christ’s return approaching. Apparently Jesus has told quite a few of us that we don’t need to worry about that anytime soon.

But you have “life groups.” Oh yes. Where twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people all gather with other twenty-somethings, or home-school families, or gluten-free people to reinforce their peculiarities. Because, after all, what need does the eye have for the ear?

Maybe the way we did Sunday evening church was broken. Maybe it needed to be changed. Maybe it still does. But after 5-plus years of going without it, I am not convinced that simply going without it is the best remedy. Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. I think, if I have the opportunity, I should try to spend another 60-90 minutes a week with her. Christ has promised to bless the gathering of his people and the preaching of His Word. Why would I reject a blessing from such a One?

The Great City and the Holy

John is a binary thinker. The apostle thinks and writes in contrasts. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness (1 John 2:9). No lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil (1 John 3:7-8). By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John 3:10). Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20). John habitually expresses himself in contrasts of light and darkness; love and hate; life and death; sin and righteousness.

In Revelation, contrast gives way to conflict. The Apocalypse is an unveiling of a conflict stretching from when the morning stars sang for joy until that great day when night will be no more. The Dragon savages a Lamb only to find a Lion. The Lamb who roars and Dragon who spews are each fighting for girl. The Lamb protects his bride; the Dragon pimps his harlot. They each battle for their kingdom. In John’s terminology, they each have their city.

The Dragon has a Great City. The Great City is strong in power. All other kingdoms of earth bow to its authority (Rev. 17:18). The Great City is rich in possessions. The only thing approaching the power of its strength is the intoxication of its wealth. The City controls so much wealth that it controls the very souls of mankind (Rev. 18:12-13). The City is so wealthy, that it has the freedom to determine who else will be wealthy and who will be poor (Rev. 18:19). The City of the Dragon is the incomparable pride of the earth (Rev. 18:18). Whether it is London yesterday; or Washington D.C. today; or Beijing tomorrow, its name is one: Babylon the Great. The power will be overpowered. The luxury will be spoiled. The light will be extinguished. The Great City building itself on oppression and painting itself with blood will be “no more” (Rev. 18:21-24).

The Lamb has a Holy City. The Holy City is rich for what it does not have: no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain, nothing unclean or detestable, nothing false (Revelation 21:2-4, 27). Forever. The Holy City is glorious in splendor not for what is there, but for who is there. God dwells with man (Rev. 21:3). We will see his face (Rev. 22:3-4). After the former things have passed away, the Holy City will stand forever and ever (21:4; 22:5).

The resolution of this conflict awaits its great cataclysmic ending. But the conflict is ongoing. It is the conflict I acutely feel as a pilgrim in America. Which city will I yield my allegiance to? Which city will I orient my life toward? The Great?

Or the Holy?

Thoughts on Psalm 32

Last week’s prayer meeting was an exercise in praying through Psalm 32. Psalm 32 begins with a statement of fact: true blessing is found in a relationship with the Lord unhindered by sin. Psalm 32 ends with the worshiper’s personal enjoyment of that fact.

Some things that stuck out to me:

To enjoy fellowship with the Lord you must have your sins covered (1). But to have your sins covered, you must uncover them before the Lord (5). God does not put away what you do not give to Him.

When you uncover your sins before the Lord only to have Him cover them again (through the forgiveness in His Son), you enjoy the freedom to hide in Him (7).

What a tender thought: the Lord plays hide and seek.

Every day you have a choice: “Where will I find my security?” Every day you can wrap yourself up in the clutches of sin: seeking to shield yourself from God, others, and even yourself. Living life hidden behind a fig leaf.

Or you can tell God what he already knows anyway (5). You can uncover yourself before Him and be clothed in the righteousness of His Lamb. You can seek; and find; and hide (6-7).

Stop hiding from God.

Hide in Him.

Beginning Anew

Last night we held our first prayer meeting at the church I pastor. Not Bible Study and Prayer. Not even Prayer and Bible Study. Just prayer.

But we are not exactly flying blind. Before praying we took turns reading Psalm 32 aloud. For the prayer time I would again read 1-2 verses of the Psalm and then we would pray as those verses led us to. (See Learning to Pray through the Psalms.)

We still have mid-week Bible Study. This is just for prayer.

So what will happen because of this? What will be the result? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Which is pretty much what has been going on the past four years.

But I’m praying the Lord make me a praying pastor. And that He makes our church a praying church. If that happens, we will at least have Him: which is the most we could look forward to.

The Gospel (Coalition) and Ferguson

There is an interesting contrast of perspectives on happenings in Ferguson over at The Gospel Coalition. I am not sure “contrast” is strong enough; nor if “interesting” is clear enough; but nonetheless…

Thabiti Anyabwile has had several posts on the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath.

Voddie Baucham contributed some thoughts published on Wednesday.

These two men have radically different views on what has been happening in Ferguson, and what should be done in the aftermath. Thabiti has already put forth a rebuttal of Voddie’s arguments.

In a moment this will sound contradictory, but I am not writing to take a “side” in the debate: even though I am in pretty much full agreement with one of them. I am not writing to take a side, but I think a side has to be taken.

I realize the ethos of TGC is that we are in agreement on the gospel, while we may disagree about “lesser” matters. Even as it is pretty much recognized that one only gets cache in said Coalition if he has a Calvinistic soteriology and non-Dispensational ecclesiology/eschatology.

Agreeing on the gospel is all well and good, but the gospel demands discrimination. Given the larger subject matter here, “discrimination” risks being incendiary; that is not my intent though.

The noun “gospel” occurs more times in the little book of Philippians more than in any other New Testament book except Romans. The “big center” of the book (1:27-4:9) is really all about living a citizen worthy of the gospel-kingdom. At both the beginning and end of the book, believers are confronted with the truth that the gospel changes our minds (1:9-11; 4:8-9). The gospel changes what we think about; how we think; how we distinguish/discern/discriminate; how we live.

It is good for brothers to come together and discuss their differences. Some differences are long-lived. Justin Martyr speaks of differing eschatological viewpoints even in his day. Some differences are going to last until the Great Day. But even in these agreeable disagreements, someone is wrong. Even if we don’t yet know who it is. Other disagreements can and should be hashed out.

The opinions of Anyabwile and Baucham are opposed to one another. I think Anyabile’s reply makes that unmistakable. I think these men understand they have different viewpoints- with little middle ground. They both might be wrong, one might be right, but both are not and cannot be right.

So I am not sure what TGC is hoping to achieve by presenting both viewpoints without further comment. The gospel indeed holds Thabiti and Voddie together in a bond that can never be broken. But that same gospel demands that their opposing views by examined in all love, knowledge, and discernment so that what is excellent may be recognized.

Are we all to just pick our side?

Or can the gospel bring us together?

My Life is a Dream Come True

The Lord has blessed me with an invaluable companion. I am married to woman who loves me faithfully. My wife is faithful to me. More importantly, she is faithful to the Lord. She loves the Lord and desires to please Him. She is far more precious than jewels. My heart trusts in her.

The Lord has blessed me with 5 children. They are happy children. They are growing children: growing in the Lord. They love me with eagerness and excitement. I have no greater joy than seeing them walking in truth.

The Lord has blessed me by counting me faithful, appointing me to his service. For what thanksgiving can I return to God for you, for all the joy that I feel for your sake before our God? I am the pastor of a patient flock of the Lord. They are faithful and forgiving of my faults; though they be many.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Confessions of a failing pastor

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.

As a pastor, to a lesser extent- a much lesser extent- I share in this being “a spectacle.” One aspect of that is the public nature of my failings. Sure, like you, I can harbor my secret sins. But I do not have the luxury of coming to church, not saying anything to anyone, and leaving. When things are “going bad” at church, no one is blaming the janitor. No one is murmuring about the secretary. No one whispers about the nursery worker. For better or worse, whether you like it or not, the state of the church is a reflection of the pastor’s work. My failings are on display every week. People see my mistakes. People have been my mistakes. People know my failures.

But people have no idea of my failures. I have read the books, I have aced the classes. I know what a “good” pastor should do and be. I have read the books, I know what a “good” sermon should be and do. Have you seen my failures? You have not seen the half of them. Have you seen my failures? Be thankful you do not know their weight. I know what God expects. I know what Christ deserves. I know my failures, be glad you do not.

The Lord confronted me with some of my failures several months ago. I was leaving church and walking home. I was 8 steps out the door. I was at the edge of sidewalk ready to step onto the gravel parking lot.

“What if everyone at this church cared about it as much as you do?” (And by “as much” the Lord unmistakably intended “as little.”)

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

I felt like just getting in my car and driving until there was no more road to drive: and then driving a little more for good measure.

I am the problem.

I have failed at the most important job I have: magnifying a God who is worth loving with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I have failed at leading people to fall in love with Christ.

I was in love with “the church.” Not so much with “this church.” I was in love with Hebrews 12:18-24. Not so much with Hebrews 12:14-17. I was in love with Revelation 4, 5, and 7. Not so much with Revelation 2 and 3. The “ideal and end” are a lot lovelier than the “here and now.”

Since that time, slowly, surely, painfully, the Lord has been pressing home a different passage.

 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

The Lord has been taking my narrow, constrained, hard heart and healing it the only way he knows how: by smashing it to smithereens.

I have been a failure. I have decided that if I am going to fail, I am at least going to fail trying. I do not know if it is too late. I do not know if I have built a bridge too far…or burned a bridge too short. But at least I care now. I do not know if it is too late to lead other people to care too.

I am not too fond of the frequent tears. I am not comfortable with my wife and children wondering about my well-being. I am not sure about the cost of caring.

But the Lord has been pressing upon me the anxiety for “this church.” To what end? Hopefully to the end of:

 …as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. I have spoken freely to you; my heart is wide open. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in my heart, to die together and to live together.

I do not know what the future will bring. I do not know the end of this. Did the Lord allow me to be a pastor just to convince me that I shouldn’t be? It very well may be. Until He makes that clear, I am pledging to do all I can to keep my heart on his anvil.

There might be hope yet.