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What is commonly called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward or Manager in Luke 16:1-9 has been called the hardest parable to interpret. Some of the people in our women’s ministry struggled with it. This is how I attempted to provide some assistance.

Preliminary Thoughts:
15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you (according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3

If Paul wrote things that are hard to understand, Jesus said things that are hard to understand. That should not surprise us, particularly in light of the quotations from Isaiah 6 regarding parables. See Mt. 13:14ff.

7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. (WCF, I)

This is one of the least clear passages. It is probably most closely connected with the Parable of the Prodigal Sons by proximity and vocabulary, as well as the Unmerciful Servant.

He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. 2 And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 3 And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ 5 So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ 7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ 8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. 9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Is this Jesus’ commentary on the parable?
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Robert Capon calls this the hardest parable in The Parables of Grace.
Capon sees the connection with the Prodigal Son in that both he and the dishonest manager were wasteful. Both then came to themselves after coming to the end of themselves: destitution and impending destitution. One went home to be received, the other tried to make a way to be received. One sought forgiveness thru humiliation of self, the other mercy by showing mercy.

Capon notes this is the reverse of the Unmerciful Servant. There mercy flows top down. Here it flows from the bottom up.

Capon sees the Dishonest Manager as a Christ-figure thru his “death”. He makes much of Christ as “sinner” for us. But that was by imputation, not by act. So … I’m not liking his move.

Leon Morris sees the parable in a group of teaching on money. It is not part of the series of parables on lost things (sheep, coin, sons). “This is notoriously one of the most difficult of all the parables to interpret.”

Many think Jesus was commending his decisiveness, not necessarily the actions themselves.

He puts the parable in context of the questionable practice of charging interest to fellow Israelites called usury. They argued that if the other Israelite had anything he wasn’t destitute and therefore could be charged interest in order to make money. This seems to be an unbiblical loophole.
The steward or manager would tack interest on to the bond on the original transaction. This manager, discovering he was about to be fired, actually removed the interest from the bonds, bringing the owner into compliance with the law, and gaining favor from the borrowers. The owner, in pursuing any claim would have to admit to usury. He admitted the man’s shrewedness.

This parable was spoken to his disciples, and not the Pharisees like Luke 15.

The take away for the disciples to was use the money they had, even if gained by questionable practices in the past, for spiritual purposes. Use it wisely for good purposes, just as worldly people use it wisely for their worldly purposes. Our faith should affect how we use our money (and gain it in the future). A good illustration of this would be the tax collector Levi.

In the follow up lesson we are not to put earthly treasure above eternal treasure. Choose whom you will serve- God or money- because you can’t serve both. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we see the danger of serving money instead of God.

Wilcock notes that as this man was certain he was going to be fired, we all can be certain that we will die. We must make the right use of the opportunities life presents us. Use what belongs to this “present evil age” (unrighteous mammon) to gain an inheritance, a welcome, in the age to come.

Leon Morris’ analysis makes the best sense of the context to me. It also keeps Jesus from affirming dishonesty. This is one of the passages, being hard to understand, that we should be humblest about our interpretation.


For the World: Essays in Honor of Richard L. Pratt Jr. is reflective of Richard’s life and ministry in many ways. First, the subject matter is diverse: Biblical and Theological Studies, Ministry & Missions, Ministry Training & Theological Education. These are the diverse areas of Richard’s work and ministry. Second, the authors compiled by Holcomb and Lucke are also diverse in ways that reflect Richard’s ministry. There are seminary professors and academicians, missionaries, and a counselor. There is also ethnic and gender diversity as well. There are people I know and studied with, and those I’ve never heard of before.

I don’t know the circumstances and commitments of other people but I was disappointed to not see chapters by R.C. Sproul and Chuck DeGroat among others. This reflects the fact that I wish this was longer. For instance this book is 184 pages but the book in John Frame’s honor is over 1,000 pages. Somewhere in between would have been an improvement on an already good book. But let’s focus on what is there.

The book begins with a chapter surveying Richard’s life. I will use Richard because that is what he wanted us to call him. He is one of the two people I’ve allowed to call me “Stevie”. Richard was definitely the most popular professor on campus. As a result, I tended to talk with other professors more often. I am thankful for those relationships. Still, while reading this chapter (shortly after reading a biography of Dr. Nicole) I was struck by the great men that I have been privileged to know: Dr. Nicole, Richard, R.C. and Saul Cruz. In retrospect I wish I had pursued them more. I’m not sure why but surely my own insecurity and shame issues: why would THEY want to invest in me? These men, and others you have never heard of, have been used by God to invest in me. For this I am thankful.

The diversity of the subject matter is both a blessing and a curse. There were some subjects with which I was unfamiliar (and many other readers may be) and therefore I didn’t quite have the pegs to hang the info on yet (hey, just like the first year of seminary). It is very good to learn new things, but some people may similarly feel lost at times. Other chapters were great reminders of the things Richard taught us (particularly Monica Taffinder’s chapter) and delved into the why’s and how’s of his method (Scott Redd’s chater). Other chapters expressed an extension of Richard’s sometimes radical ideas with regard to theological education (Michael Briggs, John Frame and Gregory Perry) with which I generally agree with Richard.

The chapters that I found most helpful were the aforementioned chapters by Monica and Scott Redd, as well as those by Reggie Kidd, Justin Holcomb, David Correa and Simon Vibert. Overall the book touches on a variety of topics helpful for those in ministry and missions: prayer, hermeneutics, counseling etc. This is not just a helpful addition if you were one of his students, but particularly if you weren’t.

One (unintended?) consequence for me was regret that I didn’t take ITS (Introduction to Theological Studies) which was instituted in my middler year so I could take other electives. This may be rectified, so to speak, as I plan on watching some of the Third Millennium materials.

 

 


I had never read a biography of anyone I knew before. That changed with Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole by David Bailey. This is an apt title for a book about our “dear brother” for this phrase from Ephesians really seems to sum up the late Dr. Nicole as a person and Christian.

All who knew Dr. Nicole knew him to be wise and gracious. He knew what he believed, taught what he believed but did it in such a way that was kind. I never heard anyone say anything negative about Dr. Nicole, rather he was beloved by students and colleagues alike. In areas of disagreement, he was gracious and endeavored to understand the opposing position, teaching us to read our “opponent’s” work as a result.

In his preface to this book, Dr. Nicole noted:

“But this is a biography, not a eulogy. I am a Christian, which means that more than eighty years ago and ever since, I have confessed with tears that I am a miserable sinner”born in iniquity, inclined unto evil, inecapable by myself of any good thing, and who transgresses every day in several ways God’s holy commandments.” This is what I was saying every Sunday and a very realistic summary of the biblical doctrine of sin. I know myself as a disobedient sinner, proud, selfish, unbelieving, deceptive, lustful, lazy, insensitive, a ‘lover of pleasure rather than a lover of God’. I have even now not yet begun to plumb the abyss of wickedness from which I desperately needed salvation- how it is that none of these things is very apparent in this biography?”

Most of these sins were not as apparent to us as they were to him (and Annette). He was a godly man. This means that he was outwardly very much like Christ, but that, like Paul, knew the sin no one else could see. We don’t need to know the particular sins of this brother unless they directly impact his story.

David Bailey focuses on his work. That is good in my eyes. I don’t need to know his sins. Many of us wish (selfishly?) that Dr. Nicole wrote more since he was such a wealth of wisdom and knowledge for the church he loved and spent his life edifying.

As I read this book I wished I knew him better than I did, but in reading this book I understand why I didn’t. I met him during his ‘semi-retirement’ when he was a professor at RTS Orlando. He was my first academic adviser and I was fortunate to take 4 courses with him. I didn’t just learn theology from Dr. Nicole but also lessons about how to do theology (which I am still struggling to apply due to my own sinfulness) and live in community.

Our beloved professor didn’t arise in a vacuum. He was very much a product of his family. He inherited a legacy of godly, brilliant people who lived long lives. I see God keeping his multi-generational covenant in the Nicole family.

I was also encouraged to read how God provided for him in unexpected ways. In the early days of Gordon-Conwell professors were not paid well, but due to the gift of land from the seminary he was able to retire comfortably and continue his life of ministry in theological education.

Theological education was not just a job to him. In his “off time” he would teach at other seminaries, particularly in Canada. Dr. Nicole’s students fill the world enriching the church. He also served God’s people as a pastor and interim pastor to a number of churches. In God’s providence, he and Annette had no children and this freed him up to spend more time engaged in these various duties.

His story is one of God’s grace and faithfulness. Therefore this was a very encouraging read. Here we read of the formation of Gordon-Conwell, its struggles and the formation of other seminaries, like Fuller. He was instrumental in the formation of the Evangelical Theology Society. He was also one of the main contributors to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. His was a rich legacy on behalf of the church.

Of note to me was he words regarding the church that nursed me in my early years as a Christian. He had been an interim pastor in that church years earlier. As a result we knew some of the same people. He left them a legacy of covenantal and Calvinistic theology that unfortunately was ebbing away while I was there. Without nurture a church can easily begin to fall into step with more common (and less vibrant) theologies.

There were some subjects that I wish were addressed in greater depth. One that comes to mind was his friendship with Jim Packer (J.I. to you and me). I suspect that is more a function of Dr. Nicole than Mr. Bailey. He struck me as a man of his age, more private than people today. As a result he may have seen that friendship as more for each of them than one for our instruction (I don’t think McGrath touched on it much in his biography of Packer). Due to his involvement in so many organizations Dr. Nicole had friendships and associations with many of the leading figures in the American church in the 20th century. I suspect there would be much for us to learn from those friendships.

There is still much here of interest for those who were his students, or are students of 20th century evangelicalism in America. I would recommend this for all who love Dr. Nicole, and the church.


I hadn’t seen Switchfoot live since before the release of Nothing is Sound in 2005. That was at the short-lived Cypress Gardens Adventure Park (now Legoland). That night they previewed Stars which is still one of my favorite Switchfoot songs.

Since then there have been a series of lost chances and bad chances. For awhile, they only placed festivals in FL, like Rock the Universe. Most of the bands at those events don’t really interest me.

Then in early 2010 they would be in concert close enough in FL to get my hopes up during the Hello, Hurricane tour. Then I realized I would actually be in AZ finalizing things for my new position. So I checked their tour dates to see when they would be in AZ. There was one coming up, while we were driving from FL to AZ.

The last 5 years have seen a similar pattern of festivals and concerts when I was unable to make it (like on at Grand Canyon University). This may be for my good: the saving of my hearing.

When I saw there was a tour with NeedToBreathe I looked at the dates. Nothing near me. So I was surprised when a short time later my wife called to say they would be playing in Tucson. I was surprised. There was nothing on their website, but I found it on the local KLOVE website. Yes, they would be at the Pima County Fair, the night before presbytery.

Argh! I thought. The Choir and Mike Roe would be Phoenix in June for the 25th anniversary of the Circle Slide album Tour. It is the night before I leave for General Assembly so CavWife put the kibosh on that. I thought this might suffer a familiar fate since it would most likely be an overnight trip. Maybe she felt a tinge of guilt, but she actually encouraged me to go. It helped that my session meeting on Tuesday night had been postponed.

I’ve lived here for 5 years and have yet to go to the fairgrounds for ANYTHING including the fair. So on Wednesday night I made the drive south of town into the veritable middle of nowhere to the fairgrounds. It is very easy to get to. Parking was not bad. $5 for parking and $8 for admission made this a $13 concert for me. It was also an hour closer than Phoenix.

I endured the slow-moving crowds to make my way to the main stage. They were the only act. I was about 40 minutes early and camped out between the preferred seating (about $10 extra bucks) and the sound board. I was dead center and less than 100 feet from the stage. There was only one group of people between me and fence. This was a great spot. As the sun went down and the wind picked up, I wondered if I should have worn either a fleece or pants instead of my shorts and t-shirt. But as the area filled with warm bodies it was great weather for a concert.

At 7:30 one of the local rock stations sent a rep up who introduced two people from KOVE. How is that for a bit strange. They had some give-aways, but sent a girl who threw t-shirts like a girl and frisbees like a 3 year-old. If you were more than 10 feet from the stage- forget about it!

At the same time the show started, and for about 30 minutes, there was some aircraft zooming around to the southwest. Non-blinking green lights on one side, and red on the other. I couldn’t see a spot so I don’t think it was a Border Patrol helicopter. At times it seemed to hover like one, but at other times it was moving very fast. It was interesting in distracting as I kept on eye on it and one on the concert.

They opened with a song I didn’t recognize. The most repeated phrase was “Like You Mean It”. From there they went into the aforementioned “Stars”. They seemed to hit their stride at this point.

I wasn’t sure what the next song was entitled but then they moved into a cover of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.” Then they played “Your Love is a Song” which is a great song of off Hello, Hurricane.

For there they played “Love Along is Worth the Fight” from Fading West with a bit of an intro connected with the making of the movie. Jon came down off the stage. First he was walking on the preferred seating fans and then made it to the corner near me, standing of the fence but facing away from me. Then he moved to the other corner and faced me.

From there he mentioned they were back from Australia and open to getting away from the set list. Someone had requested “We Are One Tonight”. In the middle of the song they did a verse from “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine.” Nice little mini-medley there.

They went back in time to play “Dare You to Move” which Jon claimed to have written before he dropped out of college. Then it was “Let it Out.” Jon introduced his little brother Tim on bass who got to pick the next song. I have no idea what the song was but it did have a great bass line to feature him.

From there it was “We Come Alive” (questionable title) before “Dark Horses”. Jon then got his acoustic for the familiar strains of “Meant to Live” to close the set. I looked at my phone to see the time. Only 8:40.

They came back for an encore of “Only Yours” and “Forever Now”, wrapping up at 8:55.

It was a short show, but I figured it was a $13 dollar show. They did put on a good show and sounded good. As a band they don’t focus on elongated solos. The drum “solo” at the end of a song was maybe 30 seconds. That just doesn’t seem to be there thing, which is too bad. Jon’s voice isn’t the strongest so it got lost in the mix occasionally.

I was disappointed by what they didn’t play. I wanted to hear “The Sound (John Perkin’s Blues)”, “Mess of Me” and nearly anything from Nothing is Sound.” But such things are to be expected when you have that many albums. It was still a good and enjoyable show.


At the beginning of his book, Calvin and the Sabbath, Richard Gaffin notes that everyone seems to make use of a quote from Calvin to support their view of the Sabbath. The subtitle helps us understand the quandary: The Controversy of Applying the Fourth Commandment.

This volume is a re-working of Gaffin’s Master of Theology thesis under John Murray at Westminster Seminary many years ago. This means it is not written at a popular level. Most of us will have to concentrate to track with Gaffin at times, and there will not be any interesting stories to help us understand a point. It is still an academic work.

Gaffin’s procedure is pretty simply. He begins with some background to the controversy before examining Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and some catechisms. Gaffin compares different editions of the Institutes as well. He then examines exegetical writings (his commentaries) and sermons. He then includes other Reformers and some of the Reformation Creeds to show a similarity of thought on the issue.

“First, widespread disagreement as persisted about what Calvin meant where he has expressed himself concerning the Sabbath.”

As you read you can see how it is that people can latch on one aspect of what Calvin says to support so many views of the Sabbath and its application to our corporate and personal lives.

In the background material Gaffin summarizes the main theories regarding the Sabbath or Lord’s Day.

1. The Antinomian View. This began with the Anabaptist movement during the Reformation which had a sharp antithesis between law and gospel. It argues that Christ fulfilled the law for us and we no longer have an obligation to keep the ten commandments. To fulfill this command would be to contradict the NT teaching regarding there being no distinction of days and seasons (Rom. 14 & Col. 2).

2. The Seventh-Day Sabbatarian View. Gaffin notes that this view also appears among 16th century Anabaptists. While Christ fulfilled the law for us, Jesus didn’t abolish the law and we keep it out of faith, love and gratitude.

3. The Ecclesiastical or Dominical View. This cluster of views hold that the Sabbath  has its origin in the Mosaic covenant and therefore was strictly for the Jews, not for Christians. The end result is the same as the Antinomian view, but the rationale is quite different. This has been the dominant view in Anglican churches.

4. The Sabbatarian View. This focuses on the Sabbath as a creation ordinance from Genesis 2. The Mosaic regulation of the Sabbath is not binding on us but was for Israel, yet the creation ordinance remains. This view was argued by many of the English Puritans.

On the eve of the Reformation the western church was overloaded with feast and fast days which were required to be celebrated as part of the sacramental system essential for salvation. The Reformers were not only dealing with the Scriptures but also their own historical context. We do best to keep this in mind. At times Calvin is arguing against the view of Rome. At other times he is arguing against the Antinomian Anabaptists. When we forget this we tend to see him as contradicting himself instead of addressing a different series of errors. This, in part, is why Gaffin wants to look at all of Calvin’s writings to get a more comprehensive understanding of Calvin’s view.

We could summarize Calvin’s view as Gaffin does in a number of places.

1. The weekly day of rest which Israel was ordered to keep by the fourth commandment fulfilled three distinct functions.

a) It was a promissory sign, typical of the spiritual rest from sin which God would one day give to his people.

b) It provided a day for public assembly, a stated time for hearing the law and offering sacrifices.

c) It provided a day of rest from toil for slaves and servants.

2. At the first advent of Christ, culminating in his death and resurrection, the Sabbath ceased to function as a type. The spiritual rest promised to Israel by the weekly day of rest, has become a full reality. Christians now enjoy that rest on every day of their lives. In this sense, as a type of spiritual rest, the Sabbath has been abrogated and should no longer be observed.

3. Although the typical character of the Sabbath no longer exists, the other two functions of the Sabbath given to Israel are still in force.

a) The fourth commandment requires the public assembly of the church … Which day of the week is set aside for this assembly, whether one or more, is a matter of indifference.

b) The fourth commandment requires that rest be given to those who in their labors are subject to the authority of others.

4. The fourth commandment must always be seen in its context, that is, as part of the Decalogue, which applies to all people in every age.

There, you got that? The commandment is still binding, but the typological function of the command has been fulfilled in Christ. What remains, basically is a spiritual rest from sin, the need for public worship and the provision of rest for those under authority. This view would be different from the way the Westminster Divines expressed our responsibility in a way very similar to its Mosaic expression. This presents a tension in denominations like my own which holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith and yet holds Calvin in high esteem with many pastors embracing his view (as they understand it).

“Here Calvin shows himself, despite undeniable and decided differences in theological rationale for observing the Lord’s Day, to be remarkably close, in practice, to later Puritan views, like those given confessional status in the Westminster Confession of Faith.”

Calvin’s view would not appear to undermine the system of doctrine in the Westminster Confession. He upholds it as part of the moral law which still abides, but differs on how to apply it.

Yet, I still experience some cognitive dissonance with Calvin’s view. I also experience some with regard to the view of the Confession (I did take an exception). In other words, neither view completely expresses my own view which even I struggle to express. This is because in some ways my views are still “cooking” or developing. I think of it like a stew that needs time for everything to come together.

Gaffin, in his evaluation of Calvin’s view, puts his finger on some of the areas of dissonance for me. First, his understanding of the Sabbath as spiritual rest for everyday seems deprive it of it’s place in the Decalogue. He quotes Edwards as one who recognized this: “And if it stands in force now only as signifying a spiritual, Christian rest, and holy behavior at all times, it doth not remain as one of the ten commandments, but as a summary of all the commands.” In other words it no longer stands alone and doesn’t really command anything in particular. It “merely” summarizes the many other commands to flee sin and pursue godliness.

Second, Calvin does not seem to fully appreciate the Sabbath as creation ordinance. Calvin sees the Sabbath within the context of sin. As a creation ordinance it has bearing on man as man, not only as sinner. He doesn’t seem to do justice to the concept that as made in the image of God I not only work, but rest as God does. I need rest as man, not only as sinner. “The meaning of the Sabbath institution prior to the fall seems not to have crossed his mind.” This is a big weakness in Calvin’s view. This also affects how he views work, or at least how he expresses his view of work. Work is good! But we cannot only work, even if we recognize work as worship.

Gaffin also notes that we lose the full eschatlogical significance of the Sabbath when we do this. Typology, Gaffin argues, is present in every aspect of creation. It points us to the new heavens and earth. We cannot enter into the rest that awaits unless we are in Christ, but also until we have completed the tasks appointed to us like Adam. We are only able to complete those tasks because we have been redeemed by Christ, and those works have been prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10 for instance).

Sabbath as creation ordinance also reminds us that this regular rest, which prefigures our ultimate rest in Christ, is for all people everywhere. They suffer when they do not rest. As Gaffin, and one of my professors notes, they do deserve to suffer so since they are in rebellion. Yet, we should offer them rest as a common grace for the benefit of society.

“Faithful and joyful Sabbath-keeping, we should not forget, is among the most concrete ways for the church to witness to a world full of turmoil and unrest, as never before or at least as much as ever, that there does indeed “remain a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9).”

This is an important book to read, but not always an easy book to read. Anyone wrestling with the Sabbath should include this volume as part of their study. It will be worth the investment of time and mental energy.


2014 didn’t go well for the Red Sox. After going from last to first, and the World Series where they beat the Cardinals, they returned to last place.  There were a number of issues. Lester and Lackey were solid, but the rest of the rotation pretty much stunk. Buchholz was still trying to fix the bad mechanics he picked up when he was hurt in the latter part of 2013. Eventually they gave up on Jake Peavy’s streak of futility and Doubrant’s inability to do just about anything.

Their attempts to replace Ellsbury failed. Sizemore couldn’t maintain his hot spring, and Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t hit- period. With Victorino on the DL much of the year this resulted in a horribly under-producing outfield for the first half of the season. Relying on Jonny Gomes full-time isn’t a good idea.

Their infield plan of Bogaerts and Middlebrooks just didn’t work as Xander pressed after the Red Sox brought Stephen Drew back when Middlebrooks got hurt- again. Napoli was never the same after an injury, and A.J. was a cancer behind the plate.

The rebuild started mid-season as they traded or cut every starter but Buchholz and traded Gomes away. They took a chance on Allen Craig’s track record, hoping 2014 was an injury-induce aberration. They signed Rusney Castillo for the future. Out of desperation they put Mookie Betts in the outfield where he flourished on his third call up.

In the off season they got the Panda for third, making the perpetually injured Will Middlebrooks unnecessary. They also picked up Hanley Ramirez to play outfield and added Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson to Clay and Joe Kelly to replace the under-performing Webster, De La Rosa and Ranaudo.

So … they entered Spring Training with a glut of outfielders: Betts, Ramirez, Castillo, Nava, Craig, Bradley and the surgically-repaired Victorino. They also didn’t have a clear cut ace, and a suspect bullpen.

They left Spring Training with projected starting catcher Christian Vazquez in need of Tommy John surgery, their closer Koji Uehara and Joe Kelly on the DL. The excess in the outfield has Castillo and Bradley in AAA at least until there is an injury to either Victorino or Ramirez, or a trade of either Craig or Victorino. Did you get all that?

Much is made about a $72 million dollar player being in AAA. Well, that is over 6 years so $12 million average, just over $10 million this year. Victorino is making $13 million. So the money is not the issue here. Particularly when we realize Betts played his way into center. Castillo is in the big leagues long term. Next year at the very latest, but most likely earlier particularly if Victorino struggles, gets hurt or traded. Victorino has lots of rust and injury echo to shake off. He is historically not very concerned about spring training. Let’s see if Shane can show up and play every night. Unfortunately the only guys with options were Castillo, Betts and Bradley.

They want to go from last to first again. It might happen, largely because of the offense. This could be a devastating offense. Off-season surgery may have enabled Pedroia to return to being the Destroya, and Napoli to stay awake by actually sleeping at night. Napoli has been killing the ball. Betts has been getting on base and while not as dangerous as the Tiger’s line up it should be a gigantic improvement over last year’s anemic offense.

The big question is the pitching. Clay is looking more like the early 2013 Clay, who dominated, than last year’s model. Porcello is looking good. Masterson seems to have regained his arm slot and has improved velocity. Miley isn’t expected to be a 2 or 3 like in Arizona. His job is to throw 200 innings with an ERA around 4. They just need Kelly to get back quickly

Fortunately they are in a division with a bunch of flawed teams. They have a chance to take the division. But there is also a good chance they won’t. This is like a return to the old Red Sox formula: all hitting and decent pitching. It may get them to the playoffs, but I don’t think it will get them a World Series. The good news for them is that Bogaerts, Betts, Castillo and the Panda will be around for awhile. Next winter they can get some of the elite pitchers who look to be heading into free agency. Or bring up some of their top pitching prospects. They have moved in the right direction, but probably not far enough (yet) to add another title.


In the last few years there has been an explosion of books on the topic of grace. Some of been excellent. Some have been controversial. Some of those that have been controversial had some significant flaws. Not a fatal flaw, mind you. They were still within the bounds of Christianity but not necessarily within the bounds of the community to which the author belonged (how’s this for vague?).

So, it was with a measure of anticipation and trepidation that I read Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness by Barbara Duguid. I had a sense of anticipation because I have found her husband Iain’s books very helpful. Additionally I saw that she was very dependent on John Newton from whom I’ve also benefited greatly. But I also had sanctification controversy PTSD.

Here is my bottom line: I loved the forest, but some of the particular trees may have issues.

Barbara has some obvious influences, and some that aren’t as obvious. In addition to John Newton, she has a certificate from CCEF, and holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith. When she sticks close to those the book is quite excellent and helpful. When she goes beyond them I found it less helpful and has some of the same issues that troubled me about Tullian Tchividjian’s books on grace. I try to remember what Dr. Pratt taught us: you can’t say everything any time you say anything. Yet a qualification or two saves a world of misunderstanding.

The Good

Throughout the book Barbara Duguid is quite honest about her own struggles, which essentially drive the book. This is nothing new. Many theologians have a doctrinal emphasis that reflects their own personal struggles. Think Luther and his emphasis on justification by faith alone. There is nothing wrong with this, particularly when we consider the providence of God in the matter. Yet we should recognize that we, as sinners saved by grace, can still run off into extremes. Her honesty, to get back to my point, is helpful. She is not writing theoretically, but has walked with God through these difficult places.

“God thinks that you will actually come to know and love him better as a desperate and weak sinner in continual need of grace than you would as a triumphant Christian warrior who wins each and every battle against sin.”

This book is easy to read. It is not a technical book but intends to make theology practical. She does a good job of this. The first chapter, Welcome to Your Heart, easily introduces you to her heart and by extension yours through a story. She shows how pride lurks in our hearts, distorting our experience by trying to make us the center of … everything.

The next three chapters, leaning heavily on Newton, are about the three stages of Christian life: babes in Christ, maturing and grown-ups. Sadly, not many people talk about this. It is helpful to recognize the differences so a person has more accurate expectations. Babes often have few trials and lots of joy. God has merciful on them. There is often, in my experience, significant change almost immediately if one converts as an adult. But then life gets hard. God begins to work more deeply, and most often through hardship and failure. The focus is on developing deeper dependence on God, and the destruction of our pride.

“A mature believer studies all the aspects of a person’s struggle with sin and makes allowances. He never stops calling sin the ugly and evil thing that it is, but he understands how deeply rooted it is in human nature and how helpless every Christian is to stand against it.”

Her book offers hope to all of us who struggle with sin, which is every Christian. She reminds us of the providence of God, the preservation of the saints, and the doctrine of assurance (from the Westminster Confession of Faith) which instruct us that sometimes God does in fact bring us through periods of disobedience. The problem is most Christians don’t talk about with struggles (contrary to James 5) so when we struggle with sin we think we are the only one, or more messed up than everyone else in church.  We have to remember that God is up to something bigger than “sin management.”

Our struggles with sin should translate into greater patience with the sins of other Christians. When we consider how patient God is with us, and how sufficient His mercy is to us, we are able to be patient and extend mercy to our brothers and sisters even (particularly!) when they sin against us.

“The more I see myself as the biggest sinner and the worst transgressor, the more I will be able to step up to love others even when they sin against me time and time again.”

I can see Ed Welch’s (a professor at CCEF)  as well as Newton’s influence in the last chapter. Part of how we strive for holiness is in community and making use of the means of grace (Word and sacrament). We need each other profoundly. Her the individualism of Americans is anti-thetical to the gospel. We need help to see our sins. We need help through the prayers of others not only for our illnesses but our sins. We need to remember that the Lord’s Table is for us as saved sinners who still need grace along the pilgrim road.

Her audience is those who are depressed and overwhelmed by their on-going struggle with sin. These people need to know of God’s extravagant grace toward sinners saved by grace. There is plenty of truth to encourage them so they can strengthen their weak knees and keep moving by the grace of God.

“Although God did not create your struggle or tempt you to it, he has called you to walk with it. He has assigned it to you, and he loves you as he calls you to walk through it. He is not disgusted by you.”

The Questions the Reformed Community Needs to Address

There are some questions that are raised by this book, reflecting problems with other books on grace. The sanctification debates seemed largely focused on the third use of the law. These go deeper and are, I think, more important.

1. Is sanctification monergistic or synergistic? This book seems to give conflicting answers at times. Newton often refers to striving for holiness, and she echos that at times. But she is also critical of unnamed pastors who seem to focus on our responsibility. Philippians 2:13 has been one of the key verses for me to understand the relationship between gospel indicatives (facts) and gospel imperatives (commands). God works in me so I will and work according to His purpose. We can’t focus on only one part of that. Edwards noted that it is “all of God and all of me”. I can only work because He works in me (grace!!). But I actually work. He’s not working for me, believing for me, repenting for me. It is typically a hyper-Calvinist view to minimize the exercise of our wills. At times she comes really close to this.

2. What is the nature, or goal, of sanctification? She frequently criticizes the view that it is “sinning less and less.” This seems contrary to the way it is expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to which she holds as a member of the ARP.

Question 35: What is sanctification?
Answer: Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

She doesn’t really qualify or explain what she means. She is correct if she is referring to simply external obedience. The truth is that our “obedience” is often driven by fear and pride instead of faith and love. When we obey out of fear (the fear of getting caught, what people will think etc.) or pride (having a reputation to uphold, a sense of entitlement) we are not really obeying. If this is what she means, I wholeheartedly agree. God is working to address the fear and pride behind so much “obedience.” God also won’t give us “victory” (I hate that term) if it will lead us to spiritual pride. Fear and pride are sins too, but sins that drive other sins as well as counterfeit obedience.

3. What is the Degree of Regeneration?

Our depravity is total, but not absolute. Every aspect of us is affected but we aren’t as bad as we could be. She notes that though saved, we are depraved, weak little sinners. Where is regeneration? To what degree have we changed? Thomas Boston, in the Human Nature in its Fourfold Estate, argues that our regeneration is total in the same way that depravity is. Every aspect of us is affected by regeneration, but not absolutely. While regenerate we still have indwelling sin. We want to be neither triumphalists nor fatalists. She rightly criticizes the former but sounds an awful lot like the later.

4. Does God get angry with us? Can He be pleased by our actions?

She hammers our position in Christ. Indeed there is cause for great rejoicing with regard to our position in Christ as perfectly righteous. This is our hope: union with Christ. But in sanctification does God only see us positionally or does He also see us personally?

She notes the Israelites in the wilderness as the pattern for us in many respects, particularly their failure (she overlooks how many times it does say they did everything the Lord commanded Moses in particular matters). If they were converted (which I think many/most of them were) they were then united to Christ (apart from whom there is no salvation). During the wilderness journey we often see God angry with Israel (with no differentiation between the elect and non-elect). In Hebrews 12 we see that God disciplines us so we bear the harvest of righteousness. He necessarily sees us as less than personally righteous and moves us toward greater personal righteousness. We have Christ’s imputed righteousness in justification, and He imparts Christ’s righteousness to us in sanctification. These distinctions seem to be missing here (and in other some books about grace). If we can’t please God personally, then why does Paul pray for this in Colossians 1.

Love is not contrary to anger, as she seems to argue. Anger is an important part of love to protect the beloved from danger, including the destructiveness of sin. I wonder how much her own anger issues (one of the sins she says she struggles with) influence her views on this. I don’t want God to be angry with me, but I need his fatherly anger at times, as Calvin notes.

“The Spirit of love was given to Christ alone, for the express purpose of conferring this Spirit upon his members; and there can be no doubt that the following words of Paul apply to the elect only: “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us,” (Rom. 5:5); namely, the love which begets that confidence in prayer to which I have above adverted. On the other hand, we see that God is mysteriously offended [wondrously angry] with his children, though he ceases not to love them. He certainly hates them not, but he alarms them with a sense of his anger, that he may humble the pride of the flesh, arouse them from lethargy, and urge them to repentance. Hence they, at the same instant, feel that he is angry with them for their sins, and also propitious to their persons.John Calvin (Institutes 3:2:12)

The Big Picture Problem?

When she moves away from Newton, CCEF and the Westminster Standards, I pick up an organizational principle for salvation that is more Lutheran than Reformed. Lutheran theology (after Luther’s death) made justification by faith alone the organizing principle so union with Christ and sanctification (and all the other benefits) flow out of justification. This, in my opinion, means that justification flattens the other doctrines, our understanding of Scripture and the dynamic rather than static relationship we have with God. This shows up in focusing on the positional almost exclusively.

The Reformed view sees union with Christ as the organizing principle (to borrow Lane Tipton’s terminology, see Calvin’s Institutes, book 3 and the WLC #65-69). Out of our union with Christ we receive all the (distinct) blessings of Christ. We receive the double grace of justification and sanctification at the same time, though they are distinct. We experience definitive or definite sanctification at that point. It focuses on us as positionally sanctified (see Hoekema’s Saved by Grace). Progressive sanctification necessarily focuses on our personal sanctification. He sees us as we are in ourselves (but doesn’t condemn us because of our position in Christ). Reformed Theology has historically held these two in a biblical tension that appears to be lacking here.

Yesterday I looked at some other reviews to make sure I wasn’t missing the boat, or seeing something that isn’t there. Both Mark Jones and Dane Ortland saw the same things or similar things.

Like Dane Ortland I recognize the many good things about this book which includes some things that are rarely taught which need to be heard. But I want to filter out the ways in which she departs from (my understanding of?) Reformed Theology. Enjoy the forest, even if some trees have thorns. Or to use a different metaphor: it is a good meal, but there is some bone and gristle to toss out.

Time for a little Double Cure.

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