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Archive for August, 2009


Books on postmillennialism are rare these days, because postmillennialists are relatively rare (though the number is growing).  200 years ago, a very large number of Christians were postmillennial.  I have friends who are postmillennialists, one of whom wrote a book.  I’ve finally read that book.  Keith Mathison wrote Postmillennialism: An Eschatology of Hope because many people misunderstand this view, and he wants to persuade more Christians that this is the biblical eschatology.

Disclaimer: I probably should get my eschatalogical journey out on the table since this can often color how we view this subject.  As a young Christian, I read lots of books by Dispensationalists on eschatology (because, sadly, they seem to be the ones inundating the market with books).  So, from 1986-1990 or so I was a dispensational premillennialist. But I was finding that Scripture was disabusing me of this view.  By the time I went to seminary in 1991, I was an historic premillennialist without realizing what my view was called.  I was initially suspicious of amillennialism and postmillennialism.  By the time I left seminary I was an amillennialist, and have remained so for 15 years.

Hermeneutical Considerations This is where Keith starts, and for good reason.  He lays out some Presuppositions and Definitions.  He lays out his presuppositions about the existance of God, His willingness to communicate, the authority of His Word, our being made as image bearers and ability to receive that Word before hitting interpretive considerations.  He concisely lays out the necessity of faith, the need to let Scripture interpret Scripture, the role of community and tradition in intrepreting Scripture.  It is only after this that Keith defines the 4 most common eschatalogical views (quiz, I’ve named them all already- what are they?).

“The thesis of this book is simple: Postmillennialism is the system of eschatology that is most consistent with the relevant texts of Scripture, a covenantal approach to Scripture, and the nondisputed doctrines of Reformation theology.”

He just dropped a term he hadn’t mentioned: Covenant Theology.  In the second chapter he distinguishes between Covenant and Dispensational Theology.  He was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary before he went off the theological reservation and I met him at Reformed Theological Seminary.  This is a SHORT chapter, but he concisely defines & critiques Dispensational Theology and then explains Covenant Theology since most American Christians are essentially unfamiliar with Covenent Theology.

Historical Considerations What the church has believed on this issue is important.  It is not definitive or authoritative.  It is also a mixed bag as various theologies came into being and were clarified over time.  The last of these to come into being is Dispensational Premillennialism (though there have been premillennialists for quite some time).  He shows that the historical claims some have made for their positions just don’t hold water.  Postmillennialism was the main position during the time of the Puritans and into the early 20th century, however.

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I remember the infamous Dennis Green press conference while he was coach of the Cardinals.  “They are who we thought they were!”  John Ensor’s book Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart is not the book I thought it was, 2 times.  First, I thought it was connect with his book, The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace.  I’d been wanting to read that book, and thought this was a follow up on obedience.  When my copy arrived in the mail, I discovered I was quite wrong.  It looked like a marriage book.

I began to read it to discover I was still wrong.  But I kept on reading.

It is a book that seeks to lay out some issues related to manhood and womanhood for young adults (and teens) so they can understand what they are looking for in a spouse, and how to find that person.  What you get is an understandable introduction to complementarianism (men & woman are equal, but different, with men granted authority/responsibility to lead in the home and church).  And some helpful dating/courtship advice as well.

Ensor draws upon Scripture as his authority.  To illustrate things, he draws heavily on Shakespear, Wendy Shalit’s Return of Modesty, George Gilder’s Men and Marriage, and Shel Silverstein.  He also draws upon personal experience to create a readable, understandable little book that many should find helpful.  I wish I had been able to read it as a young man.

A few things stood out to me.  His emphasis on unity as the goal of submission and sacrifice.  These 2 are joined together to arrive at unity.  Men are to sacrifice, like Christ, for the well-being of their brides.  This is a high call, and sometimes painful call since we must die to our own agendas and goals.  Women also die to their goals and agendas at times as they submit to the loving leadership of their husbands.  This requires communication, that he might understand the needs and concerns of his wife and they both understand the greater goals they are to pursue together.  It is not about control, but unity.  And so, both seek their happiness in the happiness of the other.

Another item that stood out to me was that of celibacy before marriage being important for the maturation process of the male.  It is how men learn to control their desires, lest they be mastered by them.  It is also a test so the woman can identity men who are maturing versus men who are remaining immature.  A man who is unwilling or unable to wait until marriage for sex is a man who will not sacrifice for his wife in marriage.

As a result, this is a book I would recommend to those working with single adults and youth, as well as single adults and youth themselves.  Many, like myself, did not grow up in a Christian family and may never have had these things communicated to them.  These are important matters that shape many generations, so I’m glad John Ensor wrote this book, and hope he writes the one I thought it was the first time.

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There are some new books out that have piqued my interest, and are now on my wish list.

And looking ahead…

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Jonah 4 seems to be the key chapter of the book (yes, hard to say for such a short book).  Everything has been pointing to this showdown between God and Jonah.  Yet both Ferguson and Estelle cover this in far too pages.  Ferguson takes 3 (short!) chapters to address it, while Estelle takes one longer one.  What they do say is good, I just hoped for more in light of the multiple chapters written on the other chapters in Jonah.

Here we get to why Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah in the first place- he was afraid God would be merciful!  He didn’t want mercy for the Ninevites?  Is there some person or group of people you don’t want mercy to find?  We all struggle with that.  But Jonah 4 reveals that mystery that Paul discusses in Romans 9-11 which was earlier unveiled in Genesis and Exodus.  God is sovereign in His distribution of mercy- He has mercy upon whom He has mercy, and shall harden whom He shall harden.  Despite Jonah’s fears and misgivings, God has had mercy upon Israel’s enemy!

But it is not just about God’s sovereign mercy toward Ninevah.  It is also about God’s continuing pursuit of Jonah’s heart.  Jonah 4 contrasts God’s responses with Jonah’s.  They are at odds, but God moves toward the once again retreating Jonah.

“But God was not willing to give him up.  That was why, in all likelihood, his misery was so miserable.  Jonah was caught between the vice of his own self-will on the one hand, and and the strong hand of God on the other. … He was bound to remain miserable until either he or God let go.  He knew that God had no intention of giving up!”  Sinclair Ferguson

God illustrates the problem for Jonah.  He provides a vine to provide some needed shade from the sun and the hot east wind (which God also appointed).  It may have been his companion, much like Wilson in Castaway.  The Lord gives …. and the Lord takes away!  He appointed a worm to eat the plant.  Jonah was ticked about the demise of this plant.  The word of the Lord came to Jonah a 3rd time!  Jonah was again confronted with the need to either commit himself to God’s purposes or to disobey.

Ferguson continues with this internal struggle in Jonah, relating them to the common missionary experience.  Proper doctrine is not enough, and is not the same as love for Christ.  Jonah had orthodox doctrine, but his heart was not in line with God’s.  Like the commom missionary experience, the pressures of the task brings out the worst in them.  Ferguson quotes a missionary-

“I never knew what a heart of stone and filth I had until I went overseas.”

The key, for Ferguson, is how we react to hardship.  This is a better barometer of where we are.  How do we react to failure, rejection, affliction etc.?  He then talks about success from the life of Martin Luther.  After seeing the progress of the gospel in significant ways “the devil rode his back.”  He experienced great temptation and affliction.  Dan Allender talked about this on a visit to RTS Orlando some years ago.  Elijah experienced a deep depression after his showdown with the prophets of Baal.  Our reaction reveals how much more progress the gospel needs to make in our own hearts.

Another issue Ferguson takes up is the rise in nationalism.  Sadly, Christians (and denominations) are often more American, or British or Kenyan than they Christian.  They are shaped more by their culture and national agenda than by the gospel.  We can care more about how our country propers than about whether or not the gospel prospers around the world.  Like Jonah, we can be more concerned with our comfort than the salvation of anyone.

I was reminded of this last night and this morning.  I returned home from vacation to discover I had no phone (digital), no internet and no digital cable.  A power surge had wiped out my cable modem and DVR.  A minor inconvenience, even the DVR’d movies I’d planned on watching while the family was away.  This morning I discovered my old laptop was also knocked out by the surge.  I had not backed it up before leaving, so months worth of photos, updates to resumes, questionaires were lost.  I can’t apply for a position from home now.  I was surprisingly non-apopyletic.  I was reminded- the Lord gives, the Lord takes away…

I need to remember that many people like the Ninevites are around me.  They are trapped in sin, and don’t know how to get out.  They need people like me to instruct them in all Christ has done to save sinners like us.  We must keep in mind that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and that He now sends us out to tell other sinners of His saving acts.

Sinclair Ferguson ends his book with a bit of a surprise.  He notes, again, that Jonah is biographical.  What we read here really happened.  But he says it operates like a parable (he calls it a parable).  What he means is that the story ends without Jonah’s response to God.  It is ambiguous precisely because Jonah represents us all.  We struggle with the same issues he did.  The point becomes, what will you do?  Will you embrace all that Christ has done for you both in His earthly ministry, and the special providences of His heavenly ministry has He pursues us?  Will we embrace His call and Commission?  Or will we  remain blinded by our selfishness and prejudices?  The ambiguous ending of Jonah puts the ball back in our court, so to speak.  Having heard, what shall we do?

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The “Cash for Clunkers” program may be a good preview of how a government-run, national health plan of some type could run.  And the intitial returns aren’t too promising.

I spoke with a car dealer I know (I know a few of them) about the program which has already needed more funding (shocking!).  Here are some the things mentioned by this car dealer.

  • Instead of a simple form, the government has a 6-page document to be filled out by the dealer.
  • The owner of the supposed clunker must provide numerous forms of proof of long-term ownership.
  • The government documentation outlining the plan and process is 150 pages long.  It is in a pdf file (good) but the Table of Contents lists the sections by Roman Numeral, not page number making it difficult to find the actual section you need at the moment.  They printed it and use Post-It notes to identify the most used portions.
  • The engine must be seized and the car crushed at the time of sale, which proceeds the time of approval.  The dealer will be out $4,500 (pluse the costs of seizing and crushing) should the clunker not be approved.  They received notification that they are unable to hold the former owner of the clunker responsible.
  • This dealer has yet to receive any money from the government.  How? you say.  The increase in funds was based on estimates of clunkers already brought in, but not yet approved.  This means the dealers are left hanging in the wind financially while the government takes inordinate amounts of time to process these applications.  Talk about being held hostage, Mr. President.

If you ask me, it isn’t looking good.  The American consumer may see some short-term benefit.  Not really, only those who have clunkers, which is a small portion of the population (sound familiar?).  But the providers of cars get the short end of the stick.  They spend hours processing paperwork, hoping to get reimbursed by a slow-moving government to might not pay.  They aren’t out a few hundred for tests, but thousands they can’t recover because the car has been destroyed rather than salvaged.  And the American taxpayer gets stuck subsidizing new cars for others without any assessment of why that person is econimically disadvantaged (illness, injury, poor choices etc.).  This does not bode well for the vast majority of us.

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Jonah miraculously survived 3 days in the belly of the fish/whale.  There he was humbled, submitting himself to God who then had the sea dwelling creature spit him up on the shore.

Then the Word of the Lord came to Jonah again.  He is again sent to Ninevah, the difference in wording being “the message that I give you.”  He is still to call out against it, warning the people to prompt repentance.

Some have argued that it could not have been a genuine revival.  How, they argue, could these coverted Ninevites then resume their conquering ways resulting in the defeat and exile of the Northern Kingdom?  Students of revivals will notice that often revivals last but a generation.  The effects are not permanent.  For instance, barely 100 years after the Welsh revivals, Christianity is nearly extinct there.  This shows how long their declension has lasted.

“People who experience mighty revivals may be all the more hardened against God in the generations that follow.  The presence of the Spirit of God is a far more delicate matter than we are prone to imagine.”  Sinclair Ferguson

This is illustrated in the life of Jonah, and repeatedly in the history of Israel and Judah.  So we mich take Paul’s warning against greiving the Spirit seriously.  We cannot be sure we will repent of any sin we are tempted to commit.  But such disobedience will produce spiritual declension at the least, if not be evidence that the person was spiritually dead to begin with.

God’s evangelistic sovereignty is revealed in this passage, as Ferguson notes.  God sent a messenger in Jonah.  He authorized the message Jonah would declare.  It is good to pray for revival, but we must also evangelize for revival.  The God-declared end has a God-ordained means.  He sent an evangelist AND He opened their hearts to the message.  This is the very reason He sent Jonah in the first place.

The message was simple, but the effect was profound.  Historically the Spirit works in 2 ways.  The first is in the messenger or preacher, and is called unction (anointing has also been used but this term has recently been hijacked by televangelists like Benny Hinn to mean something quite different).  The message is delivered with power and conviction.

“That word can only come with power to our hearers when it has come with power to our own hearts.”  John Owen

The Spirit also works in the hearers to illumine them.  Paul describes this in 2 Corinthians 3-4.  God sheds His light into our hearts that we might see the glory of Jesus.  Suddenly people see their need AND the sufficiency of Jesus’ work on behalf of sinners.

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Jonah ran from the face of God, not wanting to bring a message to Ninevah.  He declined (repetition of “went down”) spiritually.  In the midst of a horrific storm he was sound asleep, but for very different reasons than Jesus would sleep in a storm centuries later.  Just as the Lord told him to arise, so did the Captain of the ship.  There it was learned he was the reason for the storm.

Jonah probably didn’t have a death wish at this point, that would come later.  But he knew that the storm would only stop if the Maker of the sea and land, whom he worshipped, was appeased.  Lacking any sacrificial animals, Jonah told them to toss him over.

At this point God again intervenes.  He appointed a fish to swallow Jonah.  Jonah was in the midst of a typical Middle Eastern water ordeal to determine guilt and innocence.  If he survives he is innocent, and if he drowns he is guilty.  It was sink or swim for the Israelite who probably didn’t know how to swim.  He was a dead man, until that fish swallowed him.  And he probably still thought he was a dead man.

It in while Jonah is in the swimming tomb that God begins to work on Jonah’s heart.  Biblical narratives are filled with miracles, and this is just another one.  Biblical narratives are filled with prayers and songs – Hebrew poetry- and this is just another one.  Jonah, perishing in the belly of the fish, returns to the face of God through prayer, prayer which reflects His Word.

This prayer focuses on what God has done, and it isn’t pleasant.  Jonah is in this mess because God put him there as a result of his own disobedience.  Jonah fears for his life, and recognizes that his life is in God’s hand.  He is experiencing the merciful wrath of God- for God’s purpose is to restore Jonah, not destroy him.

“Restoration to fellowship with God must begin in the very areas where rebellion formerly existed.  This is what repentance basically involves.”  Sinclair Ferguson

We cannot underestimate these key issues.  God continues to pursue Jonah, utlizing both ordinary and extraordinary providences.  He does this in the lives of all His adopted children as well.  He pursues us, just as I just pursued my petulent daughter.  He pursues to bring repentance and restoration.  Like my daughter, we doubt His intentions and seek to run further.

His prayer reflects God’s mercy toward him.  God brought him up, and brought him out.  Jonah did not do this- he did not accomplish restoration on his own.  God did it.

I love this difficult to interpret phrase- “those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the [hesed] that could be theirs.”  We tend to treasure all kinds of worthless things more than God.  We think that somehow our reputation, wealth or goodness will deliver us.  However, we forsake hesed, covenant love, when we do.  This word is translated “grace” here, but that word is typically ‘hin‘.  ‘Hesed‘ is usually translated enduring love, faithfulness, etc.  Jonah recognized that he almost threw it all away to protect ….

It is open-ended.  This is because Jonah in this way represents us all.  When we pursue our various idols and addictions, we forsake the mercy, love and covenant faithfulness that could be ours by faith and repentance.  In Jonah’s case it was probably his reputation.  He’d be viewed as a traitor for preaching to the Ninevites, especially since he thought they’d repent (otherwise why preach to them at all?).

We come to the crux of the matter- Salvation is from the Lord.  This has rightly been called the hinge of the Bible.  Jonah confesses that salvation comes from the Lord, and He is a Lord that loves to save.

“No aid and no help can be expected from any other quarter than from the only true God.”  John Calvin

The Lord then commands the fish to spit him out.  Again we see God’s providence in Jonah’s life spelled out for us.  God delivered Jonah from the judicial ordeal, not because he was innocent but  because One greater than Jonah would enter a similar ordeal in his place (and ours).

The sign of Jonah refers to this death that Jonah experienced in the belly of the whale.  He suffered for his sin.  But Jesus would suffer for the sin of others.  Like Jonah he would be hidden from the world, experiencing the wrath of God.  Like Jonah Jesus would be delivered from death.  He was vindicated as righteous- the sin he bore was ours.  So as a result we are free, able to experience the covenant faithfulness we forfeited by our idolatrous pursuits.

Before we can go to our Ninevah, the people God calls us to, we must be humbled and restored for our own sinful pursuits.  This is not something that happens only once- at conversion.  It can happen any number of times as the Father deepens our understanding of our sin, His mercy and His mission.  Let us “marvel at the lengths to which God is prepared to go for his children, and the efforts he is willing to make for them (Sinclair Ferguson).”  Even the death of His Son.

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