Monday, January 30, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Michael Horton: The Law & The Gospel

This 1996 article from Michael Horton is one of the best discussions of the differences between "The Law" and "The Gospel" I've ever read. Thanks to Justin Holcomb for linking to it.
In much of medieval preaching, the Law and Gospel were so confused that the "Good News" seemed to be that Jesus was a "kinder, gentler Moses," who softened the Law into easier exhortations, such as loving God and neighbor from the heart. The Reformers saw Rome as teaching that the Gospel was simply an easier "law" than that of the Old Testament. Instead of following a lot of rules, God expects only love and heartfelt surrender. Calvin replied, "As if we could think of anything more difficult than to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength! Compared with this law, everything could be considered easy...[For] the law cannot do anything else than to accuse and blame all to a man, to convict, and, as it were, apprehend them; in fine, to condemn them in God's judgment: that God alone may justify, that all flesh may keep silence before him." Thus, Calvin observes, Rome could only see the Gospel as that which enables believers to become righteous by obedience and that which is "a compensation for their lack," not realizing that the Law requires perfection, not approximation.  
Of course, no one claims to have arrived at perfection, and yet, Calvin says many do claim "to have yielded completely to God, [claiming that] they have kept the law in part and are, in respect to this part, righteous." Only the terror of the Law can shake us of this self-confidence. Thus, the Law condemns and drives us to Christ, so that the Gospel can comfort without any threats or exhortations that might lead to doubt. In one of his earliest writings, Calvin defended this evangelical distinction between Law and Gospel: All this will readily be understood by describing the Law and describing the Gospel and then comparing them. Therefore, the Gospel is the message, the salvation-bringing proclamation concerning Christ that he was sent by God the procure eternal life. The Law is contained in precepts, it threatens, it burdens, it promises no goodwill. The Gospel acts without threats, it does not drive one on by precepts, but rather teaches us about the supreme goodwill of God towards us. Let whoever therefore is desirous of having a plain and honest understanding of the Gospel, test everything by the above descriptions of the Law and the Gospel. Those who do not follow this method of treatment will never be adequately versed in the Philosophy of Christ.  
While the Law continues to guide the believer in the Christian life, Calvin insists that it can never be confused with the Good News. Even after conversion, the believer is in desperate need of the Gospel because he reads the commands, exhortations, threats, and warnings of the Law and often wavers in his certain confidence because he does not see in himself this righteousness that is required. Am I really surrendered? Have I truly yielded in every area of my life? What if I have not experienced the same things that other Christians regard as normative? Do I really possess the Holy Spirit? What if I fall into serious sin? These are questions that we all face in our own lives. What will restore our peace and hope in the face of such questions? The Reformers, with the prophets and apostles, were convinced that only the Gospel could bring such comfort to the struggling Christian.
You can read the whole article here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Did Jesus Ever Have a Stomach Virus?

Russell Moore:
Several years ago, a brutal stomach virus crept through the seminary community where I serve as dean. One day, knowing that most of the students in my classroom were on the upswing from this sickness, I posed the question, “Did Jesus ever have a stomach virus?”

On a more typical day-a day in which the question of such illness would have been a more abstract reality-I doubt there would have been anything less than consensus. Of course, these future pastors would have asserted, Jesus assumed everything about human nature, except for sin.  
But this wasn’t an abstract question. These students were still reeling not just from the discomfort of the stomach flu, but also from its indignity. They had been wracked with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and chills. They still smarted from the sense of having no control over the most disgusting of bodily functions.  
So when I asked this question, these ministers of the gospel hesitated. The stomach virus wasn’t just awful; it was undignified. And thinking of Jesus in relation to the most foul and embarrassing aspects of bodily existence seemed to them to be just on the verge of disrespectful, if not blasphemous.  
Why is it so hard for us to imagine Jesus vomiting?  
The answer to this question has to do, first of all, with the one-dimensional picture of Jesus so many of us have been taught, or have assumed. Many of us see Jesus either as the ghostly friend in the corner of our hearts, promising us heaven and guiding us through difficulty, or we see him simply in terms of his sovereignty and power, in terms of his distance from us. No matter how orthodox our doctrine, we all tend to think of Jesus as a strange and ghostly figure.  
But the bridging of this distance is precisely at the heart of the scandal of the gospel itself. It just doesn’t seem right to us to imagine Jesus feverish or vomiting or crying in a feeding trough or studying to learn his Hebrew. From the very beginning of the Christian era, those who sought to redefine the gospel argued that it doesn’t seem right to think of Jesus as really flesh and bone, filled with blood and intestines and urine. It doesn’t seem right to think of Jesus as growing in wisdom and knowledge, as Luke tells us he did. Somehow such things seem to us to detract from his deity, from his dignity.  
But that’s just the point.
Read the rest of the post.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spoken Word Poetry

The Gospel Coalition has a discussion of spoken word poetry in light of the recent viral explosion of Jefferson Bethke's "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." They have some interesting discussion with rapper Shai Linne and his wife Blair, also a spoken word poet. Worth checking out a very powerful artistic medium being used to proclaim Christ.

They also include some examples some really good videos of Christian spoken word poetry, including some favorites of mine. Here's 2:

My all-time favorite:

And one of the best live readings I've seen:

And here's 2 more of my personal favorites:

"Silence is Deadly"

"True Social Justice"

Monday, January 23, 2012

You Are Christ's!

From Charles Spurgeon via The Resurgence:
You are Christ’s.  
You are his by donation, for the Father gave you to the Son,
His by his bloody purchase, for he counted down the price for your redemption,
His by dedication, for you have consecrated yourself to him,
His by relation, for you are named by his name, and made one of his brethren and joint-heirs.  
Labor practically to show the world that you are the servant, the friend, the bride of Jesus. When tempted to sin, reply, “I cannot do this great wickedness, for I am Christ’s.”  
Immortal principles forbid the friend of Christ to sin. When wealth is before you to be won by sin, say that you are Christ’s, and touch it not. Are you exposed to difficulties and dangers? Stand fast in the evil day, remembering that you are Christ’s. Are you placed where others are sitting down idly, doing nothing?  
Rise to the work with all your powers, and when the sweat stands upon your brow, and you are tempted to loiter, cry, “No, I cannot stop, for I am Christ’s. If I were not purchased by blood, I might be like Issachar, crouching between two burdens; but I am Christ’s, and cannot loiter.”  
When the siren song of pleasure would tempt you from the path of right, reply, “Your music cannot charm me—I am Christ’s." 
Never belie your profession. Be ever one of those whose manners are Christian, whose speech is like the Nazarene, whose conduct and conversation are so redolent of heaven, that all who see you may know that you are the Savior’s, recognizing in you his features of love and his countenance of holiness.  
“I am a Roman!” was of old a reason for integrity. Far more, then, let it be your argument for holiness, “I am Christ’s!”

Music Video of the Week: Needtobreathe

Needtobreathe - "Slumber"

Friday, January 20, 2012

Al Mohler on the Most Common Surgical Procedure: Abortion

Al Mohler:
In recent years, some on the pro-choice side of the controversy have called for abortion proponents to use language indicating that abortion is a painful and wrenching, but sometimes necessary procedure, and to accept that some reasons for abortion are just not sufficient. Nevertheless, this is received as a call for treason within the abortion rights movement, and these voices are regularly sidelined.  
At the same time, there has been an effort to protect abortion with euphemism and evasion. Abortion rights activists speak of being pro-choice, not pro-abortion. The unborn child is reduced to a fetus, or a bundle of cells. Abortion clinics are described as women’s health centers.  
There are some abortion activists who will not join that bandwagon. With chilling candor, they defend abortion as abortion, they defend the decision to abort as a morally superior decision, and they lament the evasiveness of their colleagues in the abortion rights movement.  
Just recently, Merle Hoffman, a major voice in the abortion rights movement and founder of Choices, a major center for abortions in New York City, has written a memoir, Intimate Wars. In telling her story, Hoffman calls for her colleagues in the abortion industrial complex to defend abortion as a moral choice.  
Abortion is the ultimate act of empowering women, she argues. “The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why is is so strongly opposed by many in society,” she asserts.  
A central portion of her memoir deals with the abortion rights movement’s attempt to defend abortion in the face of pro-life arguments that the fetus has a right to life.
“The pro-choice movement had to find a way to navigate these narratives,” she explains. “The simplest option was to negate the claims of the opposition. And so many pro-choice advocates claimed that the fetus was not alive, and that abortion was not the act of terminating it. They chose to de-personalize the fetus, to see it as amorphous residue, to say that it was only ‘blood and tissue.’”  
As she explains, the pro-life movement thought that, if women really knew what abortion was — the killing of an unborn human being — they would decide to keep their babies. She rejects the argument.  
Hoffman argues that woman do know what an abortion is. Abortion does stop a beating heart and that it is not “just like an appendectomy.” Her conclusion is that women know that abortion is “the termination of potential life.”  
She then makes this statement: 
“They knew it, but my patients who made the choice to have an abortion also knew they were making the right one, a decision so vital it was worth stopping that heart. Sometimes they felt a great sense of loss of possibility. In the majority of cases, they felt a great sense of relief and the power that comes from taking responsibility for one’s own life.”  
Rarely do we see abortion defended in such unvarnished terms — “a decision so vital it was worth stopping that heart.” Merle Hoffman goes on to explain how she can speak of abortion so directly. She has, she tells us, no conception that life is sacred. “Abortion is as American as apple pie.”  
Hoffman made that statement in a recent interview about her book. She laments that abortion is the cause of shame in some women and that shame attaches itself to abortion in the large culture, even now. In her view, if women would start talking more honestly and directly about their abortions, the shame would be removed and women would discuss their abortions like they speak of “a bikini wax.”
Read the whole article.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Theology and Artistic Criticism

Some good thoughts from Stephen Altrogge:
After the recent brouhaha (I love that word) over Jeff Bethke’s “Why I Love Jesus and Hate Religion” video, I’ve been doing a little more thinking about criticism and creativity. See, I love sound doctrine and I love creativity, and I don’t think that the two are mutually exclusive. But for some reason, us Reformed folks have gotten a bad rap, at times, as being anti-creative and anti-art. I think that part of the reason is because we don’t always treat creativity fairly.  
Systematic theology is a wonderful thing. I love Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, and I think that I’ve probably learned more from that book than from any other. But, when it comes to interpreting a song or a piece of poetry or spoken word, we have to use our theology carefully. We need to interpret and critique the piece on it’s own terms rather than immediately plopping all of our systematic theology on top of it.  
This is how we read the Psalms. When I read that in Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings,” I don’t say, “Well God is spirit and doesn’t have wings!” I understand that the Psalm is poetry and is painting a picture of how God acts, not a physical description of God. I don’t put all my theology on top of the Psalm, I let it first speak for itself.  
A song can only say one thing. It can’t say everything and it can’t make every qualification. There are going to be some sharp edges to a song. A book or sermon can make qualifications, a song or piece of poetry cannot. Jeff Bethke couldn’t say everything about religion in his video so he only said one thing: that Jesus is against false religion. Our temptation is to first run creative pieces through the grid of all our systematic theology and then point out the places that it falls short. That’s probably not the best way to do it, and it will probably end up frustrating the artist...
...So for us Reformed folks, let’s preserve our passion for sound doctrine and the Bible. I’m not in any way suggesting that we should abandon sound doctrine or that words don’t have meaning. But let’s also be fair to those who create art. Our critiques and endorsements should always flow from the Bible, but they also should address the main point of the piece.
Read the whole post.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Freedom of the Gospel

Tullian Tchividjian: 
Because of this newfound freedom, we suddenly discover how expendable we really are. I know none of us likes to believe we’re expendable, but we are—every single one of us. The world will go on without you; the world will go on without me.  
But only the gospel can cause you to rejoice and be glad in your expendability—because the gospel shows us that while we matter, we’re not the point. That’s liberating, because when we become the hero of our own story, life becomes a tragedy.  
Because Jesus was someone, we’re free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, we’re free to be ordinary.  
Real slavery is self-reliance, self-dependence. Real slavery is a life spent trying to become someone. But the gospel comes in and says we already have in Christ all that we crave, so we’re free to live a life of sacrifice, courageously and boldly.  
When “Jesus plus nothing equals everything” becomes your way of life, and not just a phrase you like, only then will you experience the freedom and fulfillment you were rescued by God to experience.  
Jesus + Nothing = Everything (pp. 163-164). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Music Video of the Week: David Crowder Band

David Crowder Band (ft. Matt Chandler and John Piper) - "How He Loves"

Friday, January 13, 2012

Helpful Critiques on "Why I Hate Religion"

Jared Wilson:
And the really controversial point we ought to make is this: Jesus did not hate religion. He was in fact a religious person. We are used to using the words Pharisee or Pharisaical in the pejorative senses, as labels, but in Jesus' day, the most faithful, biblical religion going, for all its problems, was the religion of the Pharisees. Between Zealots on one side and Sadducees on the other, the Pharisees had carved out a decent niche as the "evangelicals" of the day. 
The great sin of the Pharisees was not, in the end, their religious dutifulness -- they sought to interpret the Scriptures literally, were conservative in doctrine and practice, believed in the resurrection to come, and thought God's Word had immediate application to every day life -- but their self-righteous rejection of Jesus. And Jesus, believe it or not, was closest in theology to the Pharisees. 
Jesus was a good Jew. He attended synagogue faithfully, observed the feasts and festivals and religious holidays, kept the Law (better than anybody), and made it his mission to obey God perfectly. You better hope Jesus was super-religious, in fact, because it's his perfect religion we rely on for our righteousness. 
So, again: Jefferson Bethke is on to something good and right. But we are on to something good and right to make the right distinctions, lest we put ourselves in the Pharisaical place of saying "I thank you God I'm not like those religious people."
Kevin DeYoung (who has an entire verse-by-verse critique):
The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger)—not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance.

Gospel vs. "Religion"

In light of the video I posted yesterday and much of the conversation going on about it online, I thought it would be helpful to re-post this from Tim Keller. 

For Keller and Jefferson Bethke (from the video yesterday), "religion" basically means any man-made or works-based set of beliefs that tries to earn our way into God's favor. That's what Jesus condemned about the Pharisees. It goes further than simply condemning hypocrisy (although those systems tend to make hypocrites).

Keller and Bethke aren't condemning good works or the structures of the church and "organized" Christianity; they are condemning any way of coming to God that isn't through Christ's shed blood, broken body, and gift righteousness. The gospel is what Jesus did, not what we have to do.

RELIGION: I obey-therefore I’m accepted. 
THE GOSPEL: I’m accepted-therefore I obey. 
RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. 
THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy. 
RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God. 
THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him. 
RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe, like Job’s friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. 
THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial. 
RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person’. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs. 
THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism. 
RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment. 
THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him. 
RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I’m not confident. I feel like a failure. 
THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am “simul iustus et peccator”—simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling. 
RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’ 
THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Goliath Doesn't Represent Your Financial Problems

Some take the story of David and Goliath and completely allegorize it, making themselves out to be David and Goliath out to be whatever difficult circumstances or challenges they are facing (such as financial difficulties). Matt Chandler explains why that isn't what the story's about. First and foremost, it's a true, historical story that reveals God's faithfulness to Israel. Second, it gives us a picture of the gospel. Goliath actually represents something far worse than our problems in life (our sin), and David isn't us...he's a picture (a shadow) of his son, Jesus Christ.


Monday, January 9, 2012

Music Video of the Week: Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller - God & Sinner Reconcile

Song starts at about 1:40.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jared Wilson: How To Preach an Unbeliever's Funeral

Jared Wilson:
You can ignore religion your whole life but never at death. And because I am the pastor of the only Protestant church in our town, I most often receive the call to bless those who mourn.  
I have officiated funerals for old men who went out shaking their fist (metaphorically) at God, for middle-aged men well-regarded but without much use for religion, for young men who overdosed and committed suicide. (In God's providence, I have also presided over the funerals of dear saints---all elderly women so far---and I am grateful for the tone of victory that more accompanies these services.) Each of these funerals presents its own unique challenges. As I have preached several funerals for one large family in the last two years, I have even presented the gospel from different angles and from different biblical texts than the customary funeral references.  
I am still learning how to do this. I don't believe I have it all figured out. But I have done a lot of thinking through this sort of service and the stakes involved. While I would not say everyone ought to do it the same way, here are some thoughts born from much reflection and continued experience with preaching the funerals of unbelievers.
Read the rest of the post.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Do We Do With Ephesians 5:12?

Some interesting thoughts from Carl Trueman:
I wonder if there is a more neglected text in the New Testament in the current revival of interest in reformed theology than Eph. 5:12? In the reaction to the taboos of old-style fundamentalism, there is surely a danger that we have lost all sense of what is biblically appropriate when it comes to engaging the wider world. I had my own first-hand experience of this a few years ago when I suggested on this blog that it was perhaps not appropriate for Christians to see the film Milk which was not only a highly fictionalized account of the life of Harvey Milk but also included, according to the reviews, sexual scenes of an explicit and inappropriate nature. I still remember the teacup sized storm of protest as various Christian culture vultures treated me to lectures on how my narrow mindedness was not going to stop them using Milk as a means of witnessing to friends. But none of the outraged evangelists addressed Eph. 5:12. 
More recently, the very public preoccupation in the evangelical world with what are apparently pretty explicit treatments of the subject of sex has brought to my mind Eph. 5:12 once again. Paul, of course, was no legalist. He affirmed free grace and Christian liberty. Yet he wrote Eph. 5:12. So what does it mean? Well, it actually means exactly what it appears to mean. You really do not need a postdoctoral qualification in Second Temple Judaism to crack this one... 
...I have often in the past stood with those who laughed at what we regarded as the ignorant, unsophisticated taboos of the older generation. But now I worry about the ease with which the rising generation talks explicitly of 'the fruitless deeds of darkness' in the name of cultural engagement, fear of being thought passé or simply a desire to slough off the legalisms of their fathers in the faith. You can, after all, get to heaven without ever having seen an R-Rated art house movie or having enjoyed a spectacular love life.  
Here's a question: would it make any difference to you, any difference at all to the way you talk, to what you watch, to the way you "engage culture", if Eph. 5:12 had never been written?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tim Challies' Reviews Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage"

Tim Keller's new book, The Meaning of Marriage, was my favorite book I read in 2011. It is simply the best book on marriage I have ever read, and it's the book I really wish I had read before I got married. It would have saved my wife a lot of headaches... I've been recommending the book to everyone and my wife is currently reading through it and loving it so far.

Anyway, Tim Challies has posted a nice review of the book. Check out the sample below and do yourself a favor and pick up the book today.
It must be intimidating to write a book on marriage. Store shelves are groaning under the weight of titles that claim to have the key to a happy marriage, or a biblical marriage or a gospel-centered marriage. To rise above such a crowded field a book needs to offer something different, something unique, something that distinguishes it from the pack. Tim and Kathy Keller have jumped into the fray with their new book The Meaning of Marriage and the distinguishing feature of their book is a deep gospel-centeredness. This leads the Kellers to invite the reader deep into the gospel of Jesus Christ and also compels them to show how the gospel extends to every part of marriage. 
Though The Meaning of Marriage is written primarily by Tim Keller, his wife Kathy contributes in several ways, and most notably by contributing one of the chapters and by being the wife to whom Tim has been married for almost four decades. Tim explains that the book has three deep roots. The first of these is his marriage to Kathy, the second is his long pastoral ministry, particularly in New York City in a church dominated by singles, and the third and most foundational is the biblical teaching on marriage as found in both the Old and New Testaments. “Nearly four decades ago, as theological students, Kathy and I studied the Biblical teachings on sex, gender, and marriage. Over the next fifteen years, we worked them out in our own marriage. Then, over the last twenty-two years, we have used what we learned from both Scripture and experience to guide, encourage, counsel, and instruct young urban adults with regard to sex and marriage.” They speak from the powerful combination of Scriptural grounding and real-world experience... 
...This is a powerful book; it is my new favorite book on marriage and the best of all the books I read in 2011. The Meaning of Marriage elevates marriage, making it something beautiful and holy and lovely. And with it comes friendship and companionship and sex and everything else God has packaged into the marriage relationship. This book celebrates it all and it does it within the greatest context of all—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having read the book through two times, I’ve found myself wondering how to best measure or evaluate it, but perhaps these criteria are useful: Would I want to read it with my wife or would I encourage her to read it on her own? Would I recommend it to the people in my church? In both cases the answer is an unreserved yes. In fact, I bought the audio book and listened to it with my wife and her assessment is the same as mine: Though there are many great books on marriage, this is the one we will recommend first. 
Read Challies' whole review.

Monday, January 2, 2012

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