Archive for February, 2011

0a5b8d457c3755711406e2dd6c4dac8aRadical by David Platt is one of the books that has been enjoying lots of word of mouth among American Calvinists (mainly neo-Calvinists) since its release.  When I had the opportunity to get a review copy, I took it.  I wanted to read it to see what the buzz was about, and the topic interests me.

“I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.”

Years ago, I preached my Advent series from Revelation.  One of those sermons was on the dual strategies of the Evil One to destroy the church.  The Beast represents governments that persecute the church.  The Prostitute represents seduction, as the world seduces the church such that she slowly becomes like the world.  In some countries the church experiences persecution, but here in America we face the Seductress.  It goes without saying that the message was not well received by some.  So, that being said, I get what David Platt is trying to say in his book.

This is not a new subject.  Michael Horton has written numerous books on the subject of how American Christianity has been warped by American values (instead of the influence going the other way).  People like Ron Sider, Francis Chan and a host of others have tackled this subject in the 25 years since Christ rescued me.  In fact, this book is part Horton (he stresses some theological ideas contrary to American thought- Calvinism), part Francis Chan (a ‘radical’ approach) and part Ron Sider (“pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip).  Which makes this a difficult book to review.

“A command for us to be gospel-living, gospel-speaking people at every moment and in every context where we find ourselves.”

Radical is not as good as the hype nor as bad as most (poorly informed) critics make it out to be.  But let me start with some good things, because there are things I appreciate about the book.  There are things the American Church needs to reckon with regarding how we’ve been seduced by our corner of the world.

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This afternoon I was re-reading a chapter from Paul Miller’s A Praying Life in preparation for Community Group.  He was talking about child-like faith.  One aspect of that is an “as you are” quality.  Kids come as they are: dirty, selfish, excited.  Kids are fully present, even if it isn’t what you want them to be fully present in.

Too often we try to put on a face- like we have things together.  We act ‘religious’ instead of as a child with their father.

It is all about praying as a justified person.  When we are justified (pardoned and declared righteous by God on account of Jesus’ substitutionary obedience and atoning death), we don’t have to pretend with God.  He knows where we are messed up, confused or distracted.  He accepts us despite our messiness because of Jesus.  We don’t have to try and impress with our words and attitudes.

The self-righteous person tries to impress God, to gain God’s approval on the basis of prayer performance.  They think they have to think they have it all together to come into God’s presence.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The self-despairing person isn’t resting in their justification either.  They beg God (or run from Him).  They are depending on their tears, pleading, ‘passion’ etc. to gain God’s ear.  They refuse to rest upon Christ as well.

We will confess sin in prayer.  But we must not think we lose our justification when we sin (remember, it is all about what Jesus has done!).  We even confess as justified people owning up to our failings, resting in Christ’s death for our pardon.  That doesn’t mean we are casual, but neither are we in doubt as to whether or not the Father pardons His children.

Perhaps so many of us struggle in our prayer lives because we struggle in our understanding and experience of justification.  Our access in prayer is a function of our justification.  Prayer is a means to our sanctification.  But we must never make our access to the Father in prayer rest upon our sanctification.  As we understand and experience our justification, we should have a more meaningful, honest prayer life.

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Tim Keller has been quite productive lately.  He’s making use of a lifetime of ministry in putting these books together.  His latest is a bit of  a departure for him.  King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Story of Jesus takes a look at the Gospel of Mark.  I doubt this is a commentary.  But I imagine he’ll do what he often does and makes the material appropriate for a variety of audiences (and he usually does that very well).

Better yet, this book is on sale for 60% for the rest of February at WTS Bookstore.  Your first copy will automatically ring up at the special reduced price.  The rest will “only” be 45% off.  I know I’ll be buying a copy in the next week or so.  Why don’t you?

From the Preface:

“[The Gospel of] Mark does not read like a dry history. It is written in the present tense, often using words like ‘immediately’ to pack the account full of action. You can’t help but notice the abruptness and breathless speed of the narrative. This Gospel conveys, then, something important about Jesus. He is not merely a historical figure, but a living reality, a person who addresses us today. In his very first sentences Mark tells us that God has broken into history. His style communicates a sense of crisis, that the status quo has been ruptured… Jesus has come; anything can happen now. Mark wants us to see that the coming of Jesus calls for decisive action… Therefore we need to respond actively. We can’t remain neutral. We may not sit and reflect and find excuses for not changing our lives now.”

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I am reading a very popular book right now.  I agree with some/much of what the author is saying.  I think he’s omitting some very important things (the review will be forthcoming).  My beef lies more with how he is saying it most of the time.

As I was reading one chapter today, he was lamenting about his blind spot- repeatedly.  Which led me to believe that he is writing out of guilt, not necessarily faith.  He writes like a guilty man to other guilty people.  What do I mean?

Part of what I mean is confused logic.  He sees the problem, but does not quite seem to grasp the root or the solution.  The solutions seem far more grounded in moralism (try harder) than the gospel (Jesus changing our affections).  To show the seriousness of the problem (a sin of omission), he compares it to an on-going sin of comission.

Part of what I mean is the guilt manipulation.  Again, he seems to miss the gospel solution and resorts to unbiblical arguments to motivate people toward obedience.

In a word, he’s making people guilty.  It feels very much like a guilty man trying to make others feel guilty as though this is how we change.  When we write, or preach, as guilty men we produce guilty people.  We lose sight of heart sins, specific hearts sins, and use a shotgun approach instead of a strategic strike with gospel truth.


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Here is an interesting video to get the point of the gospel across, as well as our great need.

I think Jesus’ file should have been about a foot thick to illustrate his obedient life better.  But it does clearly display our need for His goodness (obedience) in justification.  I really like “I only read the articles!”

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Considering a Free Study Guide

Together 4 Adoption is offering a downloadable copy of their study guide.  You don’t need to read the book (Reclaiming Adoption) for the study guide to be helpful.  You can use it and still benefit.  It’s purpose is more than just to get you to adopt.  They want you to grow in your understanding and experience of being adopted by God (assuming, of course, that you’re in Christ).  I’ll have to compare it to my own material on the doctrine of adoption to see which is better for SS in the future.

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I’m nearly finished with reading The Letters of John Newton.  It is a great, humbling and encouraging read that is focused on the gospel.  The reason I bought the book was for a letter that ended up not being in the book.  It is a letter he wrote to a young pastor.  It is suitable for many of us.

Your understanding of the gospel is intellectually sound, but there is much legalism in your experience of Christ, and that perplexes you.  You are very capable of giving advice to others, but I wish you could apply more effectively what you preach.

Did he meet me?  Part of what is scary here is that we can intellectually “get it” but still have a heart bound by legalism.  We still try to relate to Christ with a legal spirit.  We seem quite capable, but don’t seem to live in light of what know intellectually.


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Today, February 17th, at 2 pm EST, there will be a live webcast with Gabe Lyons and Tim Keller about Gabe’s new book, The Next Christians. He explores the shifts that may happen as this nation becomes more pluralistic and Christianity is increasingly marginalized (it may not be as bad for the Kingdom as you think it is).

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It doesn’t happen often.  But when it does, it is scary.  It is like I understand the parts but not the whole.  I intellectually grasp the bits and pieces, perhaps even how it fits into the larger context.  But I don’t grasp what to do with it.

If you are a pastor, you have probably experienced the same thing.  You can’t quite put words to it, but you’ve got your notes, outline or manuscript and you think it is utterly horrible.  You are afraid that if you preach THAT, you’ll soon be out of a job.

I recently had that experience, and people didn’t quite understand.  That’s the tough part, most people really can’t understand.  Sort of like how only infertile couples get how infertile couples feel every month.  It was only after it had happened, again, that I finally understood what it was.

In The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame talks about cognitive rest, a godly sense of satisfaction.  He relates this to the sanctification of the mind (something that Grahame Goldsworthy tackles as well).  The Spirit is at work to sanctify our minds such that our thinking is brought more in line with God’s.  This is similar to progressive sanctification in which our behavior & character are increasingly brought in line with God’s.  Ethical sanctification interacts with the sanctification of our minds: something like the hermenuetical spiral.

“How many seminarians, I often wonder, have the spiritual maturity to warrant the theological  decisions they are asked to make in preparation for licensure and ordination?

Theological maturity is often hindered by spiritual maturity.  He notes that many doctrinal disputes are due to this kind of spiritual-ethical immaturity.  Spiritual immaturity prevents clear perception on the part of one or both of the people engaged in the dispute.

When we lack cognitive rest, we are not yet satisfied with a doctrinal formulation.  Or a sermonic formulation.  I put it together like this: if I am not yet persuaded by my sermon I can’t expect others to be persuaded.  So, when I think a sermon is horrible, lousy or whatever term you want to use, it is not persuading you of something important yet.  It is no less true, but it doesn’t seem important, significant.  The theological and spiritual import of the text is not yet clear.  It is not until that clarity comes that the sermon becomes persuasive.  Then the pastor enters the cognitive rest necessary for him to think (however foolishly) that it is a good sermon.  He finds it persuasive, not merely accurate.

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It is all MTV’s fault when you get down to it.

MTV began to air my sophomore year in high school.  Back then it was really about music, not all those pseudo-reality shows.  The local radio stations didn’t play Rainbow very much (Rainbow was more popular in Europe and Japan), so I saw them first there.  It was All Night Long (sadly, I think it was the sleezy girl that kept me watching at first), and Can’t Happen Here.  Soon I had just about everything Ritchie Blackmore played on (including Green Bullfrog with other great guitarists playing blues-rock).  Soon I discovered that my older brother had most of the albums.  No wonder the songs sounded vaguely familiar.

I didn’t go digital with most of my Blackmore collection.  Didn’t matter, my CD collection was stolen in a break-in.  After that I remember owning a best of collection.  Somehow it was misplaced during our recent cross country trip.  My new iPod needed some Rainbow, so I decided to go with Anthology with its focus on the the early years of the band.

The band began as Blackmore’s frustration with Deep Purple was reaching the breaking point.  A band named Elf opened for them on the Stormbringer tour.  Ritchie was impressed enough to use the band, fronted by Ronnie James Dio, for his solo album which morphed into a band .  Over the years, the line up changed with every album but Blackmore was the reason the band existed.

the late Ronnie James Dio

Anthology kicks off with 16th Century Greensleeves.  It builds off of the old song Greeensleeves.  Blackmore’s love for classical music would often show itself in songs and solos.  The song is representative of the Dio-years.  His obsession with mythology and mysticism would outlast his years with Rainbow.  It was not about occultism so much as the struggle between good and evil.  Of course, apart from Christ the outcome is altogether uncertain.  Together, Blackmore and Dio would lay the ground work for heavy metal.  Blackmore would inspire a legion of guitarists, and Dio another legion of lyricists.

“Someone screaming my name, come and make me holy again.”  Man on the Silver Mountain

The theme continues on The Temple of the King and Man on the Silver Mountain.  Thankfully they did not use any of the live versions of the latter, with Dio screaming “we’re all the man”.  But the latter is a classic Blackmore song that persisted in concert until the end.  The last cut from Blackmore’s Rainbow is an old Yardbird’s song Still I’m Sad.  It is done as an aggressive instrumental as Ritchie lets loose.   This is a great song, and I really enjoyed the live versions.


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Earlier, I had noted that the fear of God is not an Old Testament deal.  It is meant to characterize us in the New Covenant.  But I didn’t get into the source of true fear, which is the gospel.  Some of you might be scratching your head in confusion.  Some might be yelling at the screen in anger, debating with me.  Hold on a moment and let me explain.

Let’s start with a definition of the fear of God.  It is not, as many godly men have said, slavish fear.  It is not the fear of punishment and displeasure that drives people away.  When my son is guilty, he often wants to run and hide (usually covering his bottom just in case).  This is not the fear that is given to us in the gospel.  This the fear that perfect love casts out (1 John 4:18).

“The goodness as well as the greatness of God begets in the heart of His elect an awful reverence of His majesty. … Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness of God to the soul.” John Bunyan

The fear I’m talking about is often called filial fear, or the fear of a son.  It is like a stew comprised of love, trust, awe, reverence and delight.  In various places obedience is attributed to love (John 14) and faith (Hebrews 11).  In my text this Sunday it is the fear of God.  Godly fear includes that love and faith or trust which are necessary for any true, God-honoring & God-pleasing obedience.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 10), so true fear must include faith.  But the idea of awe and reverence point us to delight.


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The Fear of God is one of those topics that is greatly neglected, much to our own hurt.  My sermon text this week includes God’s great test of Abraham to see if he feared God.  Though we hate to think of such a thing, I suppose God tests us often to see if we fear/revere Him or if we’ve given ourselves to an idol of some sort.

“There flows from this fear of God a readiness and willingness, at God’s call, to give up our best enjoyments to His disposal.”  John Bunyan


20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  Exodus 20

They were afraid that God was going to stomp on them.  After all, they were sinners.  But Moses tells them not to fear, but to fear God.  Sounds strange doesn’t it.  We rob God of glory when we fear anyone or anything instead of Him (like when we love anyone or anything instead of or beside Him).  The fear, or reverence, of God is what was to keep them (and us from sinning).

“Moses draws a contrast between being afraid of God and fearing God. … Simply being afraid of God will lead to distrust and disobedience of Him.  But fearing God will keep us from sinning.”  Jerry Bridges


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The wrong pipe broke.  It was just one of those things you could not predict nor prevent.

The ceiling vomited on the kitchen.

Last week Tucson experienced some record-breaking cold.  I had a flashback to last winter in Winter Haven.  I was still at Ace and plumbing and irrigation parts were flying out faster than pizzas on Super Bowl day.  We had run out of heaters, and the supply in the entire SE was depleted.

So, as a result of the cold many people here had pipes freeze.  Some of those broke.  The cold also affected the natural gas supply.  So thousands in Tucson were without water, heat or both.  Here at the church we took precautions to prevent the pipes outside from freezing.  All was well when I left Thursday night (except my sermon that is).  I had Friday off.  Usually my administrative assistant is in on Fridays, but she had car trouble was planned on getting in on Saturday.


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Here are a few videos in which John Piper, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll talk about how the gospel can help the battle against pornography.  Perhaps a bit of overload, but when you’re jacked up on porn you might need a whole lot of gospel.


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Some time ago I had told a commenter that I planned on reading Van Til’s chapter in Introduction to Systematic Theology on the Incomprehensibility of God and blog on it.  I never seemed to find the time.

Since my computer was “resting” on Tuesday, I was flipping through my copy of the book.  Lo and behold, I have already read that chapter.  Silly me.   So here I go!

Van Til starts with the problem of knowing the “living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise…” as our Confession summarizes the Scriptures regarding God.  Such a God, according to Kantian epistemology is beyond our experience.  In their view, God is not just incomprehensible, but unknowable.  The theology of Van Til’s day often embraced such views.  God become unknowable, and faith became irrational.  It was no longer a faith seeking understanding since there is nothing we can understand about an absolute God.

Aquinas put forth the “way of negation” by which we know God negatively instead of positively.  We speak about what God is not rather than what He is.  His dependence on Aristotle means he embraces a non-Christian epistemology that descends into a similar irrationalism.


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Bulls "star" Will Perdue

After worship on Sunday, I was heading home for Community Group.  I decided to put the radio on.  The local ESPN affiliate was airing the Heat-Thunder game.  Former Bulls’ player Will Perdue was providing color commentary.  As time was running out in a quarter Kevin Durant was fouled on a shot.

“I couldn’t stand that as a player.”

Huh?  Perdue described the play in which the foul was called on Joel Anthony.  Joel was reportedly not even near Durant.  But LeBron James was and actually committed the foul.  But according to Perdue, the refs probably didn’t want LeBron in foul trouble.  It was up to the unimportant Joel Anthony to take one for the team and not dispute the foul (I’m guessing any ref can identify LeBron).

He then told a story about this first year in the league.

“We were playing Boston and Michael was guarding Bird.  The whistle blew and Michael told me to raise my hand because I committed the foul.”

Guys like Will, and Joel, are expendable.  They are expected to be scapegoats at times.  They take the foul for the star either by claiming they did it (I’m not sure how anyone could possibly confuse Michael and Perdue), or by the refs calling it on someone else.

I can’t stand it when the stars sit with foul trouble.  But I am not for refs calling the fouls on someone else.  Nor am I for cheating by protecting the star by another player claiming they committed the foul.  But what surprised me is that Will Perdue actually admitted this happens.  If he’s not fired or suspended, I’ll be surprised.

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Author & Pastor Andrew Farley

This summer I had a blog “debate” of sorts with Andrew Farley, the author of The Naked Gospel, about the relationship of the Christian to the moral law.  I come from the perspective of Covenant Theology  which sees a connection between the various covenants in the Bible.  While apart from Christ, the moral law serves as a manifestation of the covenant of works (do and live, don’t and die).  With regard to justification, it is Christ’s obedience that is imputed to us.  So, in this respect, we are dead to the law.  We are not to rely on the law to gain acceptance with God.  As a Christian, we are sanctified by grace such that we increasingly obey the moral law.  It is in the context of sanctification that Paul affirms a relationship with the law (as does James & Peter).

Andrew comes for the perspective of a New Covenant Theology that is similar to hyper-dispensationalism in some ways.  For instance, he thinks that the commands of Jesus given prior to His death and resurrection are not for us.  He says we are not under the moral law of the Old Testament, but are under the Royal Law or the Law of Perfect Freedom (this is why he says he’s not an antinomian).  He takes these out of context (the context is James 1-2 in which James then quotes from the 10 Commandments).  He says the content is: Love the Lord with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Never mind that these are both given in the Old Testament and mentioned by Jesus long before His death and resurrection.

Thomas Boston

I guess I now have 2 questions for anyone who has a view similar to his which thinks that in sanctification we are not led by the Spirit to fulfill the moral law (see Romans 12 for instance).  I could not help him understand that we (Reformed guys like Thomas Boston, John Owen and Sinclair Ferguson) do not think we are sanctified BY the law.  We are sanctified by the power of the Spirit, who applies the work of Christ to us, SO we obey the law.  Jesus said if you love me you will obey me.  We only love Him because He first loved us and have His life as an atoning sacrifice for our sin.  (Hmm, what commands did He have in mind in the upper room when He said that?  oops, 3rd question)

Okay, first question.  This came to me in the shower the other day.  I’m not sure why.  But I pondered the man that Paul told the Corinthians to discipline for incest.  This clearly violates the moral law.  But how does this violate the “royal law”?  What particular sin, as defined by the “royal law” has this man committed?

In my view, the moral law defines what it means to love God and my neighbor.  This is seen because Jesus said all of the law and the prophets hang on them.  It is also clear from Romans 12 where Paul uses the moral law to define what it means to love my neighbor.  But when you gut them of the moral law, what command is it breaking and WHY?

2nd question relates to the Great Commission.  This is given by the resurrected Jesus, so it is binding on us.  The discipleship process is described as baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded them.  So what precisely is the all He has commanded us?  When did He do this since we have no record of Him giving any commands to the disciples/apostles after the resurrection except for this one?

Had I been wiser & quicker I may have asked these questions.  Or are these questions merely more evidence that I am foolish and slow?

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